Writer Wednesday: Rob Keeley

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On Wednesdays on social media, people use the hashtag #WriterWednesday to chat about all things author, book and writing, including authors promoting their own work. As we love to support self-published authors, we thought we’d join in and we will be featuring a UK self-published author every Wednesday on the website. This week, we met Rob Keeley to find out more…

Please tell us about yourself; when did you first become interested in writing?
I’ve loved reading and writing stories for almost as long as I can remember. Growing up as a disabled kid in the Eighties didn’t give you many opportunities to be creative, especially at special school where I seemed to do more drawing and colouring in than writing. Expectations of children in wheelchairs in those days did not seem to be particularly high. It took until Year Five for them to put me into full-time mainstream education, which was ludicrous. So retreating into fictional worlds became my escape. My imagination took me to places I couldn’t physically go.

Later, in sixth form, I worked as a volunteer classroom assistant one afternoon a week as part of the Community Project. I went into our local primary school to help young children with their reading and I.T., and would read the class a story at the end of the day. I loved seeing all those faces looking up at me, waiting to be transported to somewhere else as I had been. I think it was then I finally decided I wanted to be an author and in particular, a children’s author.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes, it was a sword and sorcery tale with a castle and a magic sword and knights (and these elements have oddly reappeared in my latest novel, of which more below)! I was seven when I wrote that first story and I wrote it lying face down on the hearthrug at home, in half an hour, during the time it took an episode of Fawlty Towers to play out on the TV. I did all the pictures in felt tip and then fastened the book together with so many staples it was barely possible to open it. Then I took it in to my Mum, who was making chicken casserole in the kitchen. She was my first reader.

What genre/genres do your books fall under?
I’m a marketing department’s nightmare, because I hate being labelled or categorised – probably a legacy of the special school days – or tied down to one particular genre. My first three short story collections for children, beginning with The Alien in the Garage, covered everything from sci-fi and fantasy to school story and family drama! But I don’t see why a book shouldn’t offer something for everyone. The more niche our marketing is, the more fragmented the popular audience becomes. After all, people telling stories around the fire in past centuries didn’t say: “This one’s for the hogwardens tonight.” All people of all ages would have sat and listened together. Nowadays, this approach ensures your book-buying audience is as wide as possible.

My current work is the Spirits series of ghost novels for the 8-12s, but they have adult appeal too, and have as much to do with fantasy, humour and the family as with horror. A literary agent who turned me down (and I’m still looking for one to accept me as a client – hint hint) told me I couldn’t mix fantasy, mystery and family situations. Which would be of great interest to the millions of Harry Potter fans worldwide.

What is your latest book called, what is it about and what was the inspiration behind the book?
It’s The Sword of the Spirit and it’s the third in the Spirits series, which began with Childish Spirits and The Spirit of London. It sees Ellie’s investigations into the spirit world reach a medieval castle, where she meets both a knight from the Middle Ages and the ghost of his old enemy. Archaeologists are trying to find a sword which the Church of those days believed had mystical powers. And that’s just the beginning of Ellie’s troubles. The book continues the story arc begun in the earlier novels, and Ellie’s actions set off a chain of events which will continue to the climax of the series.

Having looked into Victorian and Georgian history in the first two books, I wanted to take the series further back in time – and to give Ellie her first taste of time travel. The climax of the book is based around a medieval fair. I’ve been to two of these and they’re great fun. Slipping a real medieval knight into that situation, complete with a secret he’s desperate to hide, seemed an ideal opportunity both for comedy and for drama.

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Besides your current book, do you have any new projects coming up?
Yes, I’m working on the final two novels in the Spirits series and am preparing to launch The Sword of the Spirit at award-winning Linghams Booksellers at the Heswall Arts Festival on 1 October (visit www.heswallfestival.com and www.linghams.co.uk). I’m in the process of arranging a children’s library visit and I’m keen to continue doing all the workshops I can. I also have another project I need to keep under wraps at the moment. Let’s just say I’m keen to make it as a screenwriter as well…

Where can people find your books?
My books are available online and sometimes in-store from all the usual retailers, including Amazon, Waterstones and WH Smith, as well as from independent bookstores such as Linghams. Visit www.robkeeley.co.uk to find all the links. You can also buy them direct from my publisher’s webshop at www.troubador.co.uk, which I would encourage as there are some great discounts here – including a brilliant combo offer on my first two books which everyone keeps missing!

What has been the greatest moment in your writing career?
Being invited to the Mayor’s relaunch of Liverpool Central Library in 2013, as part of the In Other Words festival where I was proud to take part in the children’s storytelling weekend. I’m also very proud of the various award longlistings and commendations my books have received, including for the inaugural Bath Children’s Novel Award and the Independent Author Book Award. I feel very fortunate to have come so far so fast. All I need now is for the traditional literary world to accept that there is a market and a fanbase for my books – which reviews, award listings and children’s reactions to my work have proved there is.

Besides writing, what hobbies or interests do you enjoy in your spare time?
I still love reading and I like going on hikes along our local promenades or out into the countryside. I love going out with friends for meals or to local pubs to do the quiz. Another lifelong passion has been magic and I currently have a puppet rabbit in a hat asleep in my room, along with a magic box and a giant King of Hearts. I play the keyboard a little and I take part in church activities. I also love the theatre, cinema and TV.

Which novelists do you admire?
I love the great humorists like Jerome K Jerome, PG Wodehouse and John Mortimer. It’s much harder to make people laugh than it is to make them cry. I learnt a lot about constructing mysteries from crime novelists such as Agatha Christie and Colin Dexter. In the children’s literary world I would count E Nesbit, Enid Blyton, Richmal Crompton, Gillian Cross and Helen Cresswell among my favourites.

What has been the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?
My Creative Writing tutor at Lancaster University used to say: “Keep your powder dry.” In other words, don’t try to do too much at once in your writing. Hold something back – a plot twist, a character development, an enlightening piece of description or dialogue – until you really need it.

Do you have any tips or advice for other indie authors?
Research the market and know the audience you’re writing for, even if it is a wide one. And don’t submit your work to anyone until it’s as perfect as you can make it. You ideally need to study creative writing technique and you do need a good editor and proofreader, as painful as this part of the process may be. There are people in the literary world who still stereotype indie authors as amateurish and we need to disprove this notion. Then, find yourself a good independent publishing company with a talented team who will know how to produce and market a book professionally. Don’t try to do too much yourself. But you do need to be willing to take personal charge of a project. Otherwise: hang on in there, don’t be discouraged by rejection and above all, have fun with your writing!

For more information, visit Rob’s website at www.robkeeley.co.uk or follow Rob on Twitter @RobKeeleyAuthor.

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