Unless you’ve been totally avoiding everything book-related on-line recently, you really can’t have failed to notice the growing praise for Minty by Christina Banach. Published by Three Hares in March 2014 and available in paperback and for Kindle, most people seem to agree that it’s an exceptional first novel – haunting, heartwarming, emotional and compelling.
Fourteen-year-old twins Minty and Jess are inseparable. Maybe they bicker now and then, even crave a bit of space once in a while. But they have a connection. Unbreakable. Steadfast. Nothing can tear them apart. Until a family trip to the coast puts their bond in jeopardy. As Minty tries to rescue her dog from drowning she ends up fighting for her life. Will Minty survive? If she doesn’t, how will Jess cope without her? Only the stormy sea has the answer.
Minty is a story of love, loss and coming to terms with consequences. It’s a spiritual tale that will linger in your mind long after you’ve read the final word.
I really would have liked to read and review this one, but I just can’t manage it at the moment. Instead, I’m really delighted to welcome author Christina Banach to Being Anne.
Christina, it’s a real pleasure to welcome you to Being Anne – would you like to introduce yourself to everyone?
It’s a pleasure to be here, Anne. Thank you for inviting me.
I’m a writer and former Headteacher living in the Kingdom of Fife, Scotland, with my husband and two rescue dogs. I write young adult/crossover fiction. Amongst the things I love are: writing (obviously!); spending time with my family and friends; being curled up with a good book; indulging in great food (not always in moderation!); being on or near the sea; chilling in front of the TV; going for long walks; and nights out at the theatre. Oh – and I’m a bit of a chocoholic! My debut novel, Minty, was a Scottish Book Trust Teen’s Book of the Month, shortlisted for the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award and nominated for a Cybils Award.
I’ve recently realised that Minty was published over two years ago, but it does seem to be everywhere at the moment, with increasing praise from adult readers. What do you think has given the book such great crossover potential?
That’s really kind of you to say so, Anne. When I first met my agent she told me that Minty would have crossover appeal. Since the book was published I’ve received messages from readers as young as nine to those in their seventies, so it does seem to appeal to people of all ages. Maybe it’s because it deals with universal themes such as love and loss, family and friendship, and hope and redemption; whilst also attempting to answer one of the big questions in life, namely, what happens to us after we die? These themes are a part of the human condition so maybe that’s why all ages can relate to Minty and her family’s dilemma.
When you sat at your keyboard, did you deliberately focus on the YA audience as your readers? Or did it just turn out that way?
I suppose Minty’s story couldn’t be anything other than a YA novel, given that it’s a novel about a teenager told from a teenage perspective. However, I never set out to write for this readership, I just tried to tell Minty’s story the best way I could.
There’s a lovely piece on your website – I should say your wonderful website! – on the inspiration for the story. Would it be awful to ask you to tell it again?
Thank you, Anne, I’d be happy to tell it again.
Some years ago, in the middle of the night, I thought I sensed my late father’s presence: the self-same aroma of flour and sugar that used to linger on his overalls when he worked as a baker-confectioner during my early childhood. Although Dad had died the previous November, this wasn’t the first time that I’d detected this distinctive scent around my house. The question was, why? Was my father trying to contact me – to tell me something? These thoughts ran through my mind as, unable to get back to sleep, I sat in the sunroom.
Then, just as the sun rose, I heard my dog panting and put out my hand to stroke her. Until it struck me – how could it be my pet? She’d died the month before. That’s when Minty came to me: the tale of a teenaged girl to whom the unimaginable happens. The story of twin sisters, Minty and Jess, whose unbreakable bond is challenged in the most heart-breaking way. As I sat in that room it was as if could see these girls before me. I knew how their story began and how it ended, plus much of what happened to them in-between, and became convinced that this was a story I just had to write.
I did really enjoy exploring your website – and your Pinterest mood board, and looking at your music playlist. All an essential part of being a writer these days, or something you enjoyed putting together?
That’s very kind, thank you.
A bit of both, actually. Regarding the music from my playlist, these are the songs that played in my mind whilst I wrote the various scenes. By that I mean that I could only hear them in my head, for I’m one of those writers who prefers to work in silence. The Pinterest mood board is something I put together after the book was published. I guess it’s another element of book promotion, and one that I very much enjoyed doing.
I know about your passion for writing and that you’ve now given up your head teacher post to concentrate on it full-time. Everything you hoped for, or some lingering regrets?
In all honesty, even though I loved my time in education and miss the daily contact with people – especially the children – I’ve never regretted changing careers to become a full-time writer. It’s my childhood dream come true.
As for being everything I hoped for, it’s true to say that it took me a while to get to grips with the life of a published writer: juggling the demands of book promotion and social media with the need to get my next book written. That book is complicated and ambitious with a plot and major subplot that has involved a lot of research. Like Minty, it deals with huge universal themes and reflects my view of the world so I’m determined to get it right. That’s why I have to switch off my router some days or I wouldn’t get any writing done at all.
How did you link up with publishers Three Hares? Did you have a long journey beforehand?
I’d written stories, plays and poems in childhood and even made my own comics. In my teens I turned to angst-ridden poetry. Then, when I went to university and college and became a teacher, I stopped. It wasn’t until many years later that I began to write again. The catalyst for this was a prolonged period of ill-health, coupled with a turbulent time in my personal life. I guess I turned to writing as a way of making sense of my reactions to these events. It was at that point that I rediscovered my childhood passion for creating stories and it consumed me.
However, it was increasingly difficult to find the time to devote to my writing so I took a leap of faith and resigned from my then headteacher’s post. At that point my major focus was on creating adult fiction. Then I came across David Almond’s beautiful novel, Skellig, which inspired me to write for young people.
Meantime I devoured as much fiction as possible, in order to study how other writers constructed their books. I also pored over writing advice from authors such as James Scott Bell (his books are so useful!), Christopher Vogler, Robert McKee, Stephen King and Christopher Brooker; in fact, every book on the craft of writing I could lay my hands on. I made notes, cogitated, digested and applied what I’d learned. I joined the SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). I also surfed the Net for anything that would make me a better writer – there are so many great writing blogs online. When I sent work to a literary consultancy, for editorial feedback, they offered to sell me through to agents (they’re also literary scouts). It was through them I signed with my agent and, shortly afterwards I was offered a book deal with Three Hares Publishing.
Tell me a bit about your speaking engagements – that Edinburgh Festival panel looks wonderful. And you’re talking with younger readers too? Is it something you’re enjoying?
Ah yes, the Edinburgh Book Festival Panel was great fun! It was organised by the SCBWI and the theme was “How to Survive in Publishing’. It was such an honour to be invited to this because the other participants were truly stellar: Amber Caraveo, co-founder of the Skylark Literary Agency and also a vastly experienced editor; prolific author Nicola Morgan; the legend that is author, Jane Yolen, and multi-award-winning author, Elizabeth Wein. It was so interesting to hear their perspective on the subject and I’m pleased to say that I chipped in with plenty of my own observations and opinions.
As for talking with young people, I absolutely love that. It’s wonderful to go into schools and libraries and share my love of reading and writing with them and to see their interest and enthusiasm. Such events are extra special to me; maybe it’s the old teacher in me or the fact that I get so fired up by the prospect of switching kids on to literature. I’ll never forget one event I attended: the UKYA event in Waterstones, Birmingham last year. I was one of thirty-four YA authors in attendance and took part in a panel discussion. Immediately afterwards a group of young people came up to me and we had a the most amazing chat, not only about my novel Minty, but about books in general. Throughout the afternoon I had lively discussions with many such readers. Honestly, Anne, their enthusiasm and charm stay with me still. It’s these sorts of encounters that drive me to write the best books I can.
And a little about your reading. What writers do you particularly admire? Do you read a lot of YA fiction? And if someone said “your writing reminds me of…”, who would you like them to mention?
When I mentioned earlier that I’m a chocoholic, I should have confessed that I’m a bookaholic too! Reading is one of my greatest pleasures, so much so that I can’t let a day go by without my literary fix. Although I devour lots of YA fiction, I also read as widely as I can within adult genres. I get through a fair number of books for younger children as well.
As for what writers I admire, that’s a tough question to answer for there are so many: Jane Austen, Kevin Brooks, Malorie Blackman, Sebastian Faulks, David Almond, Christopher Brookmyre, Rosie Thomas, Lee (LA) Weatherly, Harper Lee, Jane Austen, Stieg Larsson, Douglas Kennedy, Adrianna Trigiani, Jenny Valentine, Anne Cassidy, David Nicholls, Ian McEwan, Sophia Bennett…oops, I think I’ll stop there!
If someone said, “your writing reminds me of…” I would be massively flattered if they mentioned David Almond’s name. You see, if I hadn’t come across his marvellous novel, Skellig, I might never have found my writer’s voice.
I see your next book is to be a contemporary mystery. One for YA readers, or adults?
Yes, it’s a contemporary mystery set in the legendary village of Glencoe, in the Scottish Highlands. It centres around a sixteen-year-old girl and is told from her point of view so you could say that it’s another one for the YA readership. That said, it also examines huge universal themes so it may well be another crossover book.
Thank you for asking me such terrific questions, Anne. I had great fun answering them!
Thank you Christina – lovely to meet you, and I wish you every success in all you do.