A day in the life of… author & writing school founder Chantelle Atkins

 

Today I welcome Chantelle Atkins to my blog who as well as writing books runs a writing school. It’s heartwarming to share Chantelle’s passion for life – she really is living her dreams. Over to you, Chantelle.

Like many writers, I can’t rely on my writing income to pay the bills, but I am fortunate, because my other jobs are just as much fun as writing. I’m a self-employed dog walker and pet sitter, and I also run my own writing based business; Chasing Driftwood Writing Group, which provides creative writing clubs and workshops to adults and children in my local area of Christchurch, Dorset. If you include writing, I technically run three self-employed businesses, and although I don’t think any of them will ever make me rich, I do feel immensely lucky to be doing so many things I enjoy and am passionate about. My dreams when I was a child were to work with animals and be a writer, so to be as busy as I am right now, feels like a dream come true. However, with four children to juggle aged between 3 and 14, I do struggle at times to get it all right! I’d like to tell you about a typical day in my life, which is today, Monday.

Morning. I’m up at 6.45 which is a bit of a lay in, as it’s the summer holidays so there is no school run. I’m actually up before the children, so enjoy breakfast and a cup of tea in peace! I feed my dogs and let the chickens and ducks out, and then I have to grab my 3-year-old son and get him dressed as we have some pet sitting duties to see to. Leaving the other kids asleep, we leave the house at 7.45 to drive down the lane to feed a neighbours guinea pigs. From there we drive further down the lane to pick up a dog for dog walking. After that, we also feed her and the resident cat and drive back home. My almost 15-year-old is up by now so she looks after my son while I take our own dogs out for a walk. There is just enough time for a coffee before my mum turns up to look after everyone, while me and my eldest child go to my writing club at a local hall. I normally do kids workshops every school holiday, but this time I am trying something new with a weekly, pay as you go writing club. So far, we have covered comic books, and using local maps to inspire stories! The next few weeks will also involve FanFiction and poetry and song! I absolutely love working with young people like this. I used to be a childminder, so starting Chasing Driftwood was an amazing way to combine working with kids with my passion for writing. An hour later, we are back home, but I only have time to let my daughter out of the car, while I drive off to another dog walking job.

Afternoon. After a gorgeous walk down by the river, I’m back home for lunch and a well deserved cup of tea with my mum and the kids, and my sister who has dropped by with her bunch. We haven’t seen each other much lately, so enjoy a really good catch up and gossip! They leave around 4pm, and I drag three of the kids out for a walk with our dogs down to the little river at the end of our lane. Bliss. At the moment, I am preparing for the release of my 6th novel (YA dystopian adventure called The Tree Of Rebels) whilst also putting the final touches to another novel. However, every time I leave my house and explore my local area of Hurn, I have another story in my mind. I have a four book YA post-apocalyptic story planned and I am just bursting with it. I can’t write it yet, but it’s just getting louder and louder, and every time I walk around this area, I come up with scenes and bits of dialogue. I am forever tapping into my phone as I walk!

Evening. I don’t usually get to do any real writing until my youngest is in bed. If I am lucky I might get the chance to look at my emails throughout the day, but that will be it. Once he is asleep though, the evening is mine, and I grab it hungrily. Writing is in my head all day, so much so that I am often extremely distracted and prone to making silly mistakes, like turning up on the wrong day for something. I’ve always been like this. My mum used to say I lived in my own world, and my nick-name was ‘cloth-ears’ because I rarely paid attention to anything anyone said to me. Now, I find it a struggle sometimes, to keep the house running and the animals sorted and the kids happy, find a way to earn money AND fit my writing in. I manage to do it all, just! The evening is lovely because I make a nice cup of tea, sit up in my room and let rip. At the moment, I am editing what will hopefully be the last draft of a novel called Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature. I am doing bits and bobs to prepare for the release of The Tree Of Rebels, and I am always planning my weekly blog posts. As a self-published author, I am doing everything myself, so need to dedicate a certain amount of time to building my author platform and networking with people. I have to say, I love every moment of it all! Currently, I am also going through the process of turning Chasing Driftwood Writing Group into a Community Interest Company, so that I can better access funding for all the writing based ideas I have! There is always planning in process for my workshops, which I run for kids and adults at various times, and my clubs. I am strict about actual writing though. Although it is editing right now, I commit myself to four chapters a night, no matter what. I do two chapters before I even look at emails or social media, then have a bit of a break to do other things, and then do the next two chapters. Being strict like this is the only way I get things done. I can’t wait to get these next two books out! They’ve taken two years of working on them simultaneously to get them right. After that, I will go back to another YA novel I have at third draft stage, and once that one is done, it will be time for the four book series I mentioned.

I love everything I do, and although there are a lot of ups and downs and uncertainties, I can’t see myself ever doing anything else. I have a lot of plans for the future, and just hope I can hold it all together well enough to succeed!

 

I’m exhausted just reading all that! Thanks so much for sharing, Chantelle.

Chantelle’s latest release, The Tree Rebels will be published on 11th August, you can find it here

Chantelle Atkins was born and raised in Dorset, England and still resides there now with her husband, four children and multiple pets. She is addicted to both reading and music, and is on a mission to become as self-sufficient as possible. She writes for both the young adult and adult genres. Her fiction is described as gritty, edgy and compelling. Her debut Young Adult novel The Mess Of Me deals with eating disorders, self-harm, fractured families and first love. Her second novel, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side follows the musical journey of a young boy attempting to escape his brutal home life. She is also the author of This Is Nowhere, This Is The Day and has recently released a collection of short stories related to her novels called Bird People and Other Stories. Chantelle has had mulitiple articles about writing published by Author’s Publish magazine, and is also a reviewer with Underground Book Reviews. Her next novel, a YA dystopian is due for release August 2017.

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A writer, a mum & the end of an era. What now?

 

Nineteen years.

That’s how long I’ve been doing the primary school run for.

Nineteen years ago my eldest son was in his first year of ‘little’ school and now my youngest son is finishing his final year. A full circle.

Nineteen years of spelling test practice, egg and spoon races, school discos, times tables pinned to the fridge, Christmas concerts with homemade costumes. Nineteen years of knowing all the kids in the school, calling the teachers by their first names, school trips, fun facts and endless questions about stuff they’ve learned over dinner. (Yesterday Finley watched a birth video and that was enough to put everyone off their lasagne).

It’s been an emotional week for me. The end of an era. Primary has been part of my life for almost half of my life and I’ve been building up to today’s leaving assembly with a mixture of denial and apprehension thinking ‘what now?’ My children are growing up, forging their place in the world and admittedly I’ve worried whether that place will still have room for me.

I’ve watched Finley’s two brothers transition into adulthood with a sense of amazement and awe. Knowing I’ve raised such well-rounded young men is a constant source of pride and wonder and I know it’s Finley’s time to gain some independence. Dip his toe into the world. It’s been hard not to feel anxious about him making this leap to ‘big’ school, unfairly assuming he must feel the same sense of creeping dread I do.

Today, I sat in the school hall that always smells of rubber and disinfectant for the last time. Cramped on one of the uncomfortable orange plastic chairs which are too big for kids and too small for adults, trying desperately to keep my emotions inside.

The children were called to the front one by one and presented with a book. Behind them a screen showed their image with two speech bubbles, one saying what they wanted to be when they grow up; the other saying who has most inspired them in the world. Finley’s photo flashed up and I leaned forward, straining to read the words that had come from his heart. “When I grow up I want to be an author of fictional stories.” The walls of my throat constricted as I swallowed hard. The next speech bubble stated “I am most inspired by my mum who is a brilliant bestselling author.” And this was my undoing. Tears streamed unchecked down my cheeks as I fumbled for tissues in my bag.

With a rush of relief I realised that Finley is excited for the future and it was only then I could look at today as a beginning rather than an end. Secure in the knowledge that whatever the next stage brings we will face it, as we always do. As a family. With love.

LIVE author chat this weekend – do join me!

 

This Sunday 17th July I shall be over at The Fiction Cafe on Facebook at 8pm GMT chatting live about books, writing and getting published. Do come pop along and take part – it should be a lot of fun.

If you’re not around Sunday you can post questions before the event and I’ll make sure they are answered.

You can join the group here.

Look forward to seeing you!

One year published, 750,000 sales – what’s it really been like?

 

Exactly a year ago was a dream-come-true- kind of day. I remember snapping awake, brushing the sleep out of my eyes, instantly my stomach swirling with excitement and nerves. It was publication day for my debut novel The Sister which was already receiving rave reviews and flying up the charts. I had a fabulous publisher and a contract to write two more novels. My lifelong ambition was realised as I smiled for the camera and held my paperback tightly in my hand like the precious gift it was. It stands to reason I lived happily ever after, right?

Yes. But it took a while.

Initially it was the cause of much excitement to type my name into Amazon and see my book spring onto my screen but still I didn’t feel like a writer. I was so thankful to have a deal but part of me thought it must be a mistake, it couldn’t possibly last. I clung on to my old job title when introducing myself to new people, feeling like a fraud somehow. The picture-perfect vision in my head of novelists lounging in a field of sunflowers, shielded from the blistering sun under a parasol, jotting down a few words when inspiration hit, partaking in cream teas when it didn’t, was not how it was at all. Working as an author has proved to be many things; sometimes exhilarating and satisfying, sometimes, if I’m being honest, isolating and lonely, and always, always extremely hard work. It’s far more involved than I first thought. The time invested in promoting my books both here and internationally (my titles have now been sold for translation to fifteen territories), interviews, social media, blogging, events, replying to reader emails (often the highlight of my day), mentoring female writers (which I offer free through The WoMentoring Project), and of course, juggling writing new stories whilst taking the previous book through the editing process

After The Sister I was nominated for the Goodreads Debut Author of 2016 and then came publication of The Gift. With both my first two books reaching No. 1 in the UK and abroad came a shift in my thinking. Although I still felt like an impostor, afraid it would all disappear in an instant, no longer did I mutter when someone asked what I did for a living. I admitted to being a writer albeit before looking at my shoes and hurriedly changing the subject. Yet, I didn’t quite feel like an author but it was progress of sorts.

It’s been a whirlwind year and often chaotic and I’ve learned a big lesson in time management, in finding that all important balance between work/family life.

The Sister was nominated for a CWA Dagger Award and amazingly after 12 months it is still sitting comfortably in the top 100 in psychological fiction, as is The Gift and now it has been joined by The Surrogate, my forthcoming novel, which is currently available to pre order and will be released in September. I’m so excited about this book, my best so far I think, already it’s made the Top 10 in psychological thrillers and the Top 50 in the overall UK chart.

Last week my publishers told me I had achieved 750,000 English language sales (more if you take into account sales in other territories) and the thought of three quarters of a million people reading my books caused another shift in my thinking. At a barbecue last weekend someone asked what I did for a living and for the first time ever I said ‘I’m an author,’ and I didn’t even look at my shoes.

Finally, an author. I’m living my dream and with a head full of stories there is honestly nothing else I’d rather be doing. Every day I think how lucky I am – I’m so grateful for this opportunity.

 

 

Flash Fiction – An excerpt from The Surrogate!

Image courtesy of Claire Sheldon

 

My euphoria regarding the future was tinged with sadness as I emptied my locker. It was the end of an era. The corridor was devoid of students but was jammed full of memories. Me and Lisa shuffling along, heads down, new school shoes squeaking on the lino during our first day at this school that felt a world apart from our small, safe, primary. On my way to find Lisa, I pressed the corner of the West Side Story poster back down that was hanging off the wall.

Lost in my memories it happened in an instant. My back slamming against the lockers, hands around my throat.

 

In celebration of the weekend cover reveal for my third novel, The Surrogate, I thought I’d use an excerpt from the chapter I am currently editing which fits perfectly with this week’s prompt. If you wish to do so you can pre-order The Surrogate in the UK here and the US here prior to its September release.

You can join in with Friday Fictioneers, a 100 word story inspired by a photo prompt, over at host Rochelle’s blog, here

Standing where other writers stood

 

Yesterday was my birthday and my husband wrenched me kicking and screaming away from my manuscript to visit Stoneywell, a quaint National Trust property in Leicestershire.

 

The grounds were stunning and the five bedroomed cottage was quirky and cosy. Each misshaped room had a window seat and was crammed with books. I fell in love with it the second I stepped over the threshold, even more so when I learned of the history.

Edward Phillips Oppenheim, a writer born in 1866 was a friend of the family, and wrote several of his 100 published (yes 100!!) novels at Stoneywell. I was in awe to think I was standing where he stood. Perhaps touching the very typewriter he used. (I Googled when I got home and typewriters were patented in 1829 & developed properly in 1867, so you never know).

There’s something utterly captivating about the thought of a writer, of times past, focused on their manuscript. None of the distractions of social media and marketing. It’s easy to romanticize, imagine perhaps they wrote for a morning and then went for a stroll through the gorgeous countryside before returning for tea and cake.

 

The reality was probably starkly different. This cottage was freezing and that was with the addition of central heating. Oppenheim’s fingers were probably numb, and progress perhaps slow, but that didn’t stop me begging my husband to fetch my old typewriter from the loft as soon as we got home.

 

‘I’m going to write book 4 on it.’ I declared.

‘Perhaps wait and see how you feel in the morning?’ He wisely suggested, reluctant to disappear into our roof space crammed with all the things ‘I-absolutely-might-need-one-day-but-never-have-yet.’

Today I am revelling in the luxury of my PC where I can cut and paste and listen to music at the same time, glad I don’t have to tell my publishers my next book could take years to write as I am shying away from technology. But still, I think of that cottage and it tugs at my heart strings. I shall visit again soon. The scones were too good not to!

My first school visit – 250 kids – what could possibly go wrong?

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Last week I was writing when my phone flashed with an incoming call – my son’s primary school – and my heart stuttered as I thought of all the things that might be wrong.

‘Will you come into school on World Book Day and talk to the kids about writing? Just Years 5 & 6. Only around 250 children.’

Only?!? 250!?! I’ve never given a talk before and instantly I felt sick, dizzy, afraid. Options pin-balled around my mind. I could hang up, pretend they had the wrong number, put on an accent and say I can’t speak English. So many words formed on my tongue, but I thought about the amazing assemblies I’ve seen there over the years. How brave the children are to stand up in front of the school and act and sing, and of all of the words that formed on my tongue, the one that came out was yes. The children can’t all enjoy performing and yet they do it anyway. What sort of example would I set to my son if I didn’t at least try?

Yesterday, it was a different story. Riddled with doubt I spoke my lovely friend Victoria who told me to imagine I was speaking to one little girl. The little girl who loved to read. Loved to write. Who wanted nothing more than to be an author. The little girl I once was who had her dreams crushed when the career advisor said writing was neither a ‘proper or viable career choice.’ And a quiet determination grew inside. If in some small way I could inspire one child to follow their dreams it would be worth any amount of anxiety I might feel.

img_9444This morning I stood in front of a sea of expectant faces. I locked eyes with my son. He’d been so excited I was visiting and I wanted to make him proud, not faint/vomit/cry and so I ignored the notes I’d made and I spoke from the heart. I spoke of my passion for writing, my love for my characters, how I can’t imagine ever doing anything else. I spoke of my belief that we can all be who we want to be, if only we dare to dream and never stop trying.

I asked the children questions. They asked me questions. Some had written them down, complete with illustrations. Most loved to read, to write, to fabricate stories and many of them dream of being authors and seeing that raw hope, that ambition, that certainty, I am sure they can do anything they set their minds to.

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It was a real privilege meeting these children and I came away hopeful, and inspired, and itching to write. It was such an enriching experience. I learned a lot about them, but I also learned a lot about me.