I had the pleasure of connecting with author and actor Holly Hinton a few months back, and the pleasure of reading her book The Summer Sacrifice, discussed in this interview Holly was gracious enough to grant. It's a great read, and I hope you'll check it out and that you enjoy getting to know Holly as much as I have.
*Holly it has been a joy getting to know you a bit—thanks for taking the time to be interviewed, so that even more folks can get to know you too. Your book The Summer Sacrifice just launched on June 21, the Summer Solstice. Congratulations! Why did you pick that date?
I am delighted that my first author interview is with you, Daryl. Thank you for hosting this interview and for introducing me to your readers!
The Summer Sacrifice did indeed have its official launch on June the 21st. From the moment I completed the first draft of the book, I had that date in mind for the release. The day of the Summer Solstice has a particular significance for the Islanders in my world. And there is something inherently magical about a midsummer night.
*Your website tells a bit of the story about Dancing Ledge, but what was the most compelling thing about that vacation five years ago which inspired your story idea? What are some of the most compelling aspects of this book’s journey these last five years, from those incipient moments of inspiration, to the exciting and aforementioned launch a few days ago?
That family holiday in Swanage wasn't any different from all the other times we'd holidayed there. And the trip to Dancing Ledge was in no way unusual: it involved my mother boldly dragging her children across beautiful terrain with little regard for the close proximity of bulls! I would like to say that the image that started this whole journey fell into my head while I was at Dancing Ledge—that would be rather poetic—but it actually happened a few hours later. I wasn't thinking about anything at the time, I'm pretty sure my head was just filled with white noise, when a hundred or so dancing teenagers sprang into my head. They were on Dancing Ledge and having the most incredible time, only in their midst some of their friends (who looked very much like zombies) were throwing themselves into the sea and drowning. That's how it all began.
After the initial idea, I actually had a couple of years where I was out of the country, at first touring a staged show of Gulliver’s Travels which involved a lot of knee pads and stilts, and then playing Desdemona in Othello. The Summer Sacrifice story was still whirring in my mind though, and it wouldn't let go. So I would write notes here and there, make doodles on paper, and write down conversations. The scene in Blue Wood, which is now part of Chapter Four—Stormy Weather, was actually the first scene I wrote. There is something fitting about Jamie, Seveny, George, Max and Ella, who I first met in Blue Wood, being together on the cover—which was designed with meticulous care by the excellent artist David Revoy.
I would say that one of the most compelling—and at the time awfully disturbing—aspects of the book’s journey was my repeated compulsion to throw my computer out the window just before I had a breakthrough. I didn't know I was about to have a breakthrough during the “I want to throw my computer out of the window” phases, which made those times rather difficult. On many occasions my partner had to peel me off the ceiling or mop me off the floor! Another momentous moment was completing my first draft—which in hindsight was not much more than a passing nod to the book it would eventually become. But when I finished that first draft, it felt like the last five years had culminated in something tangible and solid. It was a real high for me, which put me in a great place to start the copious revisions!
*The Summer Sacrifice is the inaugural tale in The Master Game series. Did you know right away that this would be a series? What can fans expect in future books—and when?
I knew straight away that the book would be the first of a series, and I knew this from the very moment that the first image popped into my head. I know it sounds weird that, on the strength of something as miniature as a moving mental GIF, I felt like I had a big story to tell! But that's what happened, and I chose to listen to that feeling.
In terms of future books, readers can expect a similar level of adventure and discovery, less dystopia, and more magic. As the friendship group grow up they'll battle more outer and inner demons, and there will be some emotional fallout from decisions they make—and decisions others have made that involve them. Their world, which grew considerably broader over the course of the first book’s events, will continue to be explored. The series will continue to be dark, yet laced with humour.
In terms of the timing of the books, there should be around a year and a quarter between each book release. Don't hold me to that. As my mum said recently to me, “life is what happens when you're busy making plans.” But I really would like the next few books to come out without too much space between them.
*I love your protagonist, Jamie Tuff. I know our protagonists are sometimes based on a specific individual, often a bit of an amalgam of several people, and sometimes just a creation all our own. What and/or whom inspired Jamie?
The way Jamie looks is very similar to a girl who lived across the road from me when I was a child. The way Jamie acts wasn't based on anyone in particular. She has a quiet strength, and she is sensitive. I am not afraid to say that Jamie and I have similarities. When I have nightmares, I often experience the nightmare as Jamie: I'm at school, I'm in her clothes, and I'm being abandoned. As an actor, you must get close to the characters whom you inhabit. As a writer, it appears that I have got close to a character of my own imagination.
*I have also heard you reference how, at times, Jamie guided you. I have a sense of what this might mean and what it means to me when I write, but can you share what you meant?
Jamie was the first character who found life in my imagination, though when she first appeared she was not fully formed. As the story grew, so did Jamie's personality. And Jamie's actions in turn often moved the story forward. For example, I would hear a conversation from her point of view and then write down the dialogue. Or I would see something from out of her eyes and what I saw would then become a written scene. Jamie is affected by events in a profound way, but she is also effective because she has the ability to bring about great change. Those personal qualities helped me to write the book. Jamie really was there from the beginning.
*I enjoyed this book immensely. Your writing is really tight, and you’ve pulled off something I’m working on in my own WIP, and of which I’m a touch envious—that elusive YA voice which—like Rowling—simultaneously resonates with YA but also with adults. It is all at once smart and will challenge young readers, but won’t bedraggle them into running for the dictionary every second. At the same time it is elevated and biting enough for adults, not dumbed-down, so to speak, plus it has wonderfully dark elements and is just plain fun. Do you find this a difficult voice/balance to achieve, and what are some of your secrets?
Oh my goodness, thank you for those compliments! I didn't write with a particular voice in mind. I knew the age-range of the readers I was aiming the book at, but I don't remember being too conscious about what vocabulary I was using. I did make a couple of revisions to the final draft, as I'd used a couple of words that were unnecessarily overcomplicated. I remember being a child reading The Hobbit and not understanding everything, but enjoying it as a whole. The Summer Sacrifice is possibly a book that children could revisit as adults, glean more things from it, and enjoy it in a different way.
The balance of light and dark in the story came quite naturally, though I worried about the light parts diluting the dark. There are some chapters and characters to which I gave free reign, and I like that the book can breathe in this way. I figured that if those bits were a release for me and made me smile, they might have the same effect on the reader, giving them some respite before the down-slide of the roller-coaster!
A bit of advice I found useful was to choose a paragraph that encapsulates your style, and keep that in mind while writing the book so that you don't veer too far off course.
I'm sure that my love of the dark, funny and surreal grew from my reading writers such as Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, Mervyn Peake and Roald Dahl, and that in turn would have influenced my writing.
*You are also an actor—I’ve seen some clips—you are terrific. Anything in the pipeline on the acting front, and what is the best way for fans to keep up with you there?
I am pleased to say that I have an international tour coming up which will take up the majority of next year. I will be playing Jessica in a TNT production of The Merchant of Venice. Can't wait to get stuck into some more Shakespeare! An indie “romantic dramedy” called Occupying Ed, in which I play one half of the romantic pairing, will be doing the film festival circuit shortly. To keep up with my film work please visit: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4490638/ To keep up with next year's Shakespeare tour, Twitter is your best bet: @HollyHinton1
*Now that the book is launched I know the strength of the story and the writing will carry it, but every writer today needs to be their own best advocate and marketer. What are some of the marketing and social media strategies you are engaging, and recommend for others?
You've hit the nail on the head when you talk about today's writer needing to be their own best advocate. Early on in my acting career I realised that the person who cared most about my career was me. I am not one of life's natural schmoozers, and I really have to psych myself up to push myself forward. But expressing confidence in your own abilities is a really necessary part of representing yourself well, and that relates to the writing world, too. In order to create a ripple in the broad book market, I must start splashing!
On the lead up to the launch, I made sure that I had a website for people to look at, and I started writing a blog. I threw myself into making connections on Twitter, and I looked out for articles that would help me on this journey (such as your own post Building a Literary Community: Why And How which I found on The Creative Penn).
In terms of recommending strategies, I still consider myself a baby in the realms of social media. I've made great strides, but I'm continuously learning. Now, marketing and publicising my book is not something I'm afraid of, whereas just a few months ago that idea filled me with dread. The key thing for me was throwing off the shackles of my own fear. If you write a boring tweet, the world is not going to implode. If you don't get a thousand followers overnight, this does not make you a failure. People hold great stock in the numbers, but what you really need to appreciate is people genuinely engaging with you and your product. I focus my social media efforts on bringing the book to the attention of people who might love it, and making lasting connections. The potentials of social media far outweigh the negatives, and I am excited about sharing The Summer Sacrifice with others. I wrote it to be read!
Ways to connect with Holly: