Saturday, November 14, 2009

Interview: Hazel Allan, author of Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket

Please welcome Hazel Allan, author of Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket. You can read my review here. Hazel previously worked with underprivileged children as part of the Government’s Early Intervention Programme, which was established to tackle the problem of low literacy levels. She has also worked with children on the verge of exclusion from secondary school, and has a keen interest in literacy issues. Hazel Allan lives in Edinburgh with her young son. Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket is her debut novel and was published August 2009 by Strident Publishing.

What inspired you to write Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket?
I always wanted to write a children’s novel. Before I was a writer I worked with children in an area of Edinburgh where literacy levels were very low. There was very little interest in books and I always felt like I wanted to write an adventure story that would appeal to young people who were reluctant readers. In my mind Bree was always going to be a heroine for kids who feel they are a bit of an outsider or who have lived through tough times and come out the other end fighting. The fact Bree comes from a one parent family and lives in a neglected part of town was a deliberate attempt to steer away from the stereotypical family life that is so often depicted in children’s literature. We all need a hero, someone who reflects our innermost thoughts and feelings and someone who we can aspire to be. Having a character to connect with might just encourage those reluctant readers to pick up a book they can enjoy and get taken on the ride of their lives in the process!

I also worked for a while with illiterate adults which made me all the more appreciative of my gift as a writer. So that inspired me too.

It was during a particularly tough time in my personal life that I started writing Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket. My main inspiration came from my little boy, who is now six. I thought it would be nice for him to have something special to look at when he grows up, something to be proud of and to share with his children. That’s why I dedicated the book to him. I wanted to be a good role model for Laurie and to show him that I tried my very best to achieve my potential and that I did everything possible to give him a better life. He continues to inspire me on a daily basis.

Is there anything you have to have while writing?
Coffee! Lots of it. I gave up on biscuits because the crumbs were playing havoc with my laptop (and my waistline!). I have to have peace and quiet too. I really wish I was one of those cool people who can hang out and write in busy cafes but my head just doesn’t cope well with noise. I cannot multi-task when it comes to writing - I need to go into a little bubble and detach myself completely from the world. Because of this, I sometimes have to have an alarm clock. It has been known for me to get so engrossed in writing that I lose track of time. But I’ve only forgotten to collect Laurie from school once!

What character in Bree do you feel most represents yourself?
Bree is a lot like me when I was younger. I was (and still am) a very deep thinking person and I don’t always feel like I fit in. Like Bree there was always something missing from my life and I couldn’t fill the void no matter how hard I tried. I realise now that writing was the only thing that would complete me as a person. Despite her strengths and talents it’s a bit of a struggle for Bree to accept herself and I can really relate to that side of her too. When I first wrote the characters each one had their individual characteristics that got right under my skin and I very quickly found myself identifying with all three of them in some way or another - the rebel, the bully, the broken-hearted, the loyal friend, the eccentric. So I guess it is safe to say that there are bits of me in all the characters. I am unconventional like Honey, I am anxious like Sandy and I am strong minded and wise like Bree. And obviously the mother side of me comes out when I write about Madeleine. She has struggled to give Bree the best in life. She has dedicated herself to being a single mum and I am looking forward to giving Madeleine something nice in the sequel! She deserves it.

What has the process of gaining popularity in the US been like?
Very exciting!! I can’t tell you what it means to me that Bree is travelling the world. I have always wanted to visit the States so it feels wonderful that some small part of me is there now! I can travel vicariously through Bree. When I wrote the book I was careful not to make the story too specific to one area. Rockwell estate could be anywhere in the world and Ramthorpe Junior could be any school. Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket is to all intents and purposes an adventure story and yet underneath this rather obvious exterior there lies many topics that I believe are relevant to all young people regardless of where they live - bullying, self image problems, grief, and relationships. Bree is a solid role model in as much as she shows great courage and determination in the face of extreme hostility and ultimately learns to accept herself, warts and all. She symbolises struggle and survival against the odds and it is my hope that she will become a hero to all children, regardless of their nationality and cultural background. I think children all over the world have something in common. They all love a good story. I would love for Bree McCready to take off in the US in a big way.

Are you working on anything at the moment? Please tell us something about it.
Yes, I’m working on the sequel to Half Heart Locket. It’s called Bree McCready and the Flame of Irenus. The second book takes place during the summer following the first adventure so the gang have all now turned thirteen. There will be lots more action and cliffhanger moments and a bit of fun as well. All the familiar faces will be there and some new ones, including a love interest for Bree. Annie is on top form with her psychic gift and Alice Renshaw is as nasty as ever. Tanas Theramonde is back with another bad guy and there are some other new nasties that will send shivers up your spine!

If I keep dedicating every spare second I have to writing I hope the second book is ready sometime in August 2010. Then I can start on the third book!

Thank you so much for joining us Hazel!

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