Interview with Kesta Fleming
Kesta, welcome to the blog!
Thanks Robert! Very happy to be here.
Marlow Brown: Magician in the Making is the second title in your humorous series, a story of determination, discovery and exciting surprises. What else can you tell us about this title?
The story starts at a showground where Marlow’s dad is taking out all the prizes for his ginormous vegetables following Marlow’s highly successful experiment with gibberellic acid – a plant growth hormone – at the end of book one. Marlow and her trusty dog, Rockstar, have been given the afternoon off to explore the show. They meet up with best friend, Felix, at the sideshow of ‘Mervin the Magical’.
Marlow is totally wowed by the magic, and, in typical Marlow fashion, is smitten with a new idea: what if she too, could become a top-class magician? The trouble is, Marlow has a special talent for creating chaos, and Dad won’t stop laughing…
Never one to give up, Marlow carries on regardless. She is utterly determined, and increasingly so after each fail, to show everyone what a serious and spectacular magician she really is… even if, by the end, certain audience members have unwittingly become part of the act!
Your series also incorporates inclusivity of gender and culture. Why was this children’s series important for you to write?
It’s funny, and perhaps this is the way with stories, but I never started out with the deliberate intention to write a specifically gender and culturally inclusive story. Rather, these were happy biproducts of the process, which have subsequently become an important part of the Marlow Brown books for me.
Marlow actually began as a boy and it was my publisher who suggested I try her as a girl. I’m so glad she did!
I have always thought of myself as broad thinking and very much aware of gender biases. I’ve done my best to bring up my own children without the overlay of these biases. Yet, that whole process of switching Marlow from a boy to a girl highlighted just how much I am a product of my generation – complete with subconscious biases absorbed from my own up-bringing.
It was discussing the changes – which ended up being simply a pronoun switch right the way through the book and nothing more at all – with my then 14-year-old son, that really brought this home to me. It made me look more closely at not only my own biases and how these come through in my writing, but also at the way gender and culture are treated by other children’s writers. I realised we all have these subconscious biases, and we inadvertently pass them on to the next generation in our stories. The process helped me increase my own awareness, and I believe, has resulted in a stronger, more relevant series for today’s readers.
What was the most rewarding part of creating the Marlow Brown series, and your latest title in particular?
This is hard to answer! With writing, there are rewards (as well as trial) all along the way. The first Marlow Brown book was also my first proper book (as against articles, poems and short stories) to be accepted for publication, so that first acceptance was tremendously rewarding. But I also find the writing process itself rewarding.
Finishing the first draft of the latest title was a definite high point. At that point it was still three times the length of the first book and needed some serious cutting down, but I’d finally made it to the end! That felt good.
Favourite part of Magician in the Making?
I really like the hypnotism scene and the build-up to the climax – though I don’t want to give away what happens! It was great fun building the tension and having that scene become more and more chaotic. But I also loved creating the character of Mr Savage, the school principal. He’s a minor character and appears towards the end and has a name and reputation completely contrary to his personality. This amuses me – I can’t help smiling as I think about Marlow sitting outside his office anticipating his response to what’s just happened.
Tell us about the path to publication for Marlow Brown.
Well, it’s rather a long one! I wrote book one back in 2009 while doing a chapter book course with children’s author, Sherryl Clark. I submitted the manuscript just the once in its entirety, before sending a middle chapter as a stand-alone story to The School Magazine. This chapter was subsequently published, and then reprinted a few years later.
I think, because part of the story had already been published, I didn’t pursue sending it elsewhere. In my mind, it had had its success, and I’d even been paid! Basically, I forgot all about the rest of the manuscript until 2016 when Di Bates very kindly offered to assess the first chapter of one of my stories for me. I remember thinking at the time what a shame it was that I had nothing to give her as I’d been focussing on writing picture books for a number of years by then. Luckily, I suddenly remembered Marlow Brown, languishing in my bottom draw, so I sent off the first chapter.
Di’s feedback was incredibly encouraging and supportive, so I ended up submitting it to Hardie Grant Egmont, who were initially interested and asked me to make changes and resubmit. While they didn’t ultimately accept it, very shortly afterward I submitted it to Celapene Press, who did. The rest is history!
Which authors have inspired you?
I’ve been inspired by different authors for different reasons. At a point when I felt ready to give up, I found Di Bates’ stories of tenacity and perseverance inspiring. It wasn’t until she told me how many times she’d submitted some of her manuscripts before eventually having them accepted for publication that I realised I hadn’t been trying anywhere near hard enough!
I’ve found Sheryl Clark’s teaching inspiring, and it was as a result doing a couple of her courses that I had numerous stories published in The School Magazine.
I’ve also been inspired and encouraged by Jen Storer though her ‘Q & Q Friday’ recordings and subsequently by the writing community and platform she’s created – The Duck Pond.
What are your top tips for aspiring writers?
What’s next for you?
To complete the third Marlow Brown book. It’s on the way, but not there yet!
In addition to this, it’s my dream to have a picture book published. So, I’ll be continuing to submit the stories I have already (however many times it takes!) as well as developing new ones.
Do you have an online presence?
Yes. I have Twitter, Insta, Facebook and Goodreads accounts, but of these I’m most active on Facebook.
I also have a website: https://kestafleming.com which I add to reasonably regularly in the form of blogs, new science and magic activities for kids, and recordings in The Story Corner.
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Thank you for joining me on the blog, Kesta!
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