This month's featured interview is with young adult author Teresa Bassett, whose novels include The Time Crystals, Flight of the Bluebird, The Mystery of Acorn Academy and recently released Tell and You Die.
Teresa with her new novel, Tell and You Die
Teresa Bassett writes mysteries and adventure stories for young and young-at-heart adults, mostly set in her home county of Cornwall, UK. A graduate of the University of Bath, she formerly worked as a foreign languages teacher, magazine writer and translator. She also spent eleven years with educational charity The Eden Project, where she learned all kinds of wonderful things about plants and people.
1. Please could you provide a few words about each of your books?
I’ve had four novels published to date, all with Authors Reach. The Time Crystals and Flight of the Bluebird are the first two novels in my series of time travel mysteries. The Mystery of Acorn Academy and Tell And You Die are standalone suspense novels. All of them are aimed at older children or young adults, but, so I’m told, can also be enjoyed by much older adults!
2. Did you have an ‘epiphany moment’ with your first book idea or did it build-up over time?
Funnily enough, I remember very clearly when I first had the idea for my debut novel The Time Crystals. I was attending a marketing meeting for my job at the Eden Project, where we were discussing how to get kids interested in environmental topics. I drifted off, and an image of my main character Clara sprang into my mind. She ‘told’ me that she might travel to the future and bring back terrible warnings about what she’d seen, then set out on a quest to prevent it.
Originally, I think, I saw Clara with a brother, but that idea morphed into her having three special friends for her time-travelling adventures. I never expressed those ideas at the meeting, but they kept coming, and The Time Crystals was born. This wasn’t technically my first idea for a book, as I’ve been dreaming up potential novels since childhood – but it’s the first of my ideas to become an actual published book.
Teresa's debut novel, The Time Crystals
3. How long did it take to write the first book? Have the others taken a similar amount of time?
The Time Crystals took much, much longer to write than my subsequent novels. This was partly because I was learning the craft of novel writing as I went along. I had written a lot in the past, and had articles published, but with the growth of the Internet, there was now a good deal more advice around than when I started out.
My first draft of The Time Crystals was pretty bad – I think most are – and it went through several different versions before it became something I was happy with and proud of. Since then, although I still produce several drafts of each story, I’ve had a lot more practice, and I have better tools at my disposal (eg writers’ groups, critiquing partners, formatting software). Therefore, the ‘finished’ versions don’t take so long. Having said that, I only release around one novel per year, which is relatively slow compared with other authors.
4. What is your writing process like?
I try to stick to a fairly rigid timetable, working all week and taking time off at the weekends. A lot of that time is spent editing rather than creating original stories. At any one time I have about three or four projects in the pipeline, all at different stages, but some of those will be ‘resting’ between edits. All novels need this resting phase, so that you can come back to them with a fresh eye.
Part of my working week is taken up with marketing and so on. Self-promotion doesn’t come naturally to me, but it’s important for authors nowadays, so I try my best. Readers won’t find my books if they don’t know I’m here!
Teresa's latest novel, Tell and You Die
5. What is the key to finishing a first draft?
Just keep going. I can’t stress how important it is to plough on, even if you think what you have is rubbish. My first drafts tend to be mere skeletons, but the trick is to get down what you can, leaving your inner judge at the door. The real work – and for me the fun part – is working on your skeleton draft, breathing life into it, putting flesh on the bones and dressing it up, to stretch the analogy.
There are many reasons for not trying to perfect your draft as you go along – partly because you might spend a lot of time polishing scenes that you later ditch completely, or which become inaccurate or irrelevant after changes further on. For help with getting over the finishing line, I can recommend Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month, which normally takes place in November of each year. The aim is to write a 50,000 word manuscript over the course of the month, and it’s a very supportive and fun community. You write every day, or as often as you can, and it’s a great way to get that first rough draft nailed. I’ve written three first drafts this way, one of which I’ve since developed into a published book.
6. Do you have any advice for alleviating ‘writer’s block?’
Concentrate on something else. Go for a walk, sow some seeds, bake a cake, visit a friend. We all need a break from things, sometimes.
7. What elements, in your opinion, make a good book?
In terms of fiction, I look for believable, relatable characters, a lively pace and a compelling storyline. Also a good blend of dialogue and action, with enough description to set the scene, but nothing too longwinded (I’m not a big fan of overly clever writing, and prefer clarity and simplicity to anything too convoluted). Those are the kind of books I enjoy the most, but I guess we all look for different things.
What do you hope people will take away from reading your books? I try to make my stories gripping and suspenseful, with twists and turns which I hope will take readers by surprise. I like to think my books are thought-provoking, too, but my first aim is to provide entertainment and escapism. There’s no greater compliment, in my view, than if a reader says they couldn’t put my book down.
8. What is the importance of setting to you? Why did you pick Cornwall for your Time
Although I’ve lived in other places, including Germany, and spent a lot of time travelling, I was born and grew up in Cornwall, and returned here in 1996. This county inspires me in so many different ways, so it naturally creeps into my writing. We have such beautiful and varied landscapes for story settings, along with our own customs and language, and a rich mining history. I was actually born on the site of a former tin mine, in mid-Cornwall, so it seemed only natural that a mine shaft became my time portal! The locations described in The Time Crystals are largely true to life.
9. What does writing mean to you? What power does it hold over you?
It’s hard to explain quite how important reading and writing have been to me throughout my life. Since a very young age, books have given me a magical escape from life’s problems and worries, and it’s always been my ambition to provide that for others in stories of my own. Writing stories is my way of making sense of the world, and there’s nothing quite like it. We all need that – something to aim for and a reason to get up in the morning, whatever it might be.
With many thanks to Teresa Bassett for this interview.
for her occasional newsletter here and receive free suspense story A Mother’s Pride.