Libby O is the author of Charlotte Aimes, The Great Alpine Adventure, released yesterday. Here, she talks about YA fiction, making use of multimedia and why she went indie.
Who is Charlotte Aimes and where did she come from?
Charlotte’s character sprang from numerous conversations with my daughter, AJ, over the past few years. (She’s now 14.) At the time, she wanted a story with a kick-butt girl protagonist who was ‘sort of like a Sherlock Holmes’. She kept telling me to write it, and I kept saying, ‘ok, soon’, because I was working on a bunch of other fiction projects at the time, and the character of Charlotte hadn’t really settled in my mind yet.
I finally started writing Charlotte when AJ was having a bit of difficulty getting motivated at school, and I had hit a brick wall with my other fiction projects. So we made a deal that I’d write a chapter while she did her homework. It was sort of a mutual cheer-squadding, if you like.
As any writer will know, there are moments of excitement, but there are also long stretches of teeth-gnashing as you go through re-writing and editing over and over again. That said, I definitely enjoyed fleshing out the characters, because even though it’s an action-packed adventure story, it’s primarily character-driven. I enjoy writing dialogue, and I also enjoyed the fact that I had a target reader alongside me the whole way, with whom I could share the twists and turns and wins and flops.
How have you made Charlotte’s world discoverable through transmedia storytelling?
I took the advice of a digital publishing and branding colleague, which was: ‘the book comes first’. I concentrated on making the paperback (and digital) look and feel as delicious as possible, and worked on a few different channels for discoverability. I guess it’s not strictly transmedia storytelling, as I’m not trying to push the plot forwards on different platforms, but maybe it’s more an augmentation of the storyworld.
My approach was to cut a trailer (which is on YouTube and also embedded in the Charlotte Aimes website) because video is a fast way to get a message across, and it’s a medium most teens understand and consume at a rate of knots. I experimented with a 3D printed version of Charlotte (‘Makie’ Charlotte), but I realised that I’d need a clone of myself in order to keep writing *and* do all the fun things you can do with stop-motion and so-on. But Makie Charlotte makes guest appearances occasionally in my Instagram and Tumblr, and she’s on the blooper reel.
I also decided to open up the Charlotte Aimes storyworld on a pop-up Tumblr (attached to my main Tumblr), which is designed to be a discrete, small project that provides a window onto the Aimes world. It’s a locked blog that needs an access code, because it will contain spoilers as it unfolds, and readers can get very crabby if they ‘happen upon’ spoilers. I decided to make the access code fairly easy to ‘discover’, though. (It’s on my main Tumblr or when you sign up for the mailing list.)
What appeals to you about writing YA fiction?
Interestingly, the YA category can quite happily cater to ‘older adult’ readers. That’s an aspect I really like. And, although I try to inject brain-food into my stories, I also shoot for the heart, and somehow this seems to speak to the teen reader experience. I’ve never considered myself a ‘YA’ writer per se, though: that’s a label that came after I looked at the market genre categories and, in fact, on some platforms (like Kobo) I don’t even have an option to categorise myself as YA because I don’t write supernatural, dystopia, paranormal, and so-on. I do think categories are useful in our search-engine-, marketing-driven world, but they’re also restrictive. Grey areas have a legitimate place.
Why did you choose to publish Charlotte independently?
I like experiments, and there is so much fun software and tech to experiment with when you’re going indie. I also like Creative Commons licensing, and because I’ve worked in narrative media for my whole working life (I’ve published old-school zines, and edited and produced a number of other indie publications) it was almost a no-brainer to take the next step with my longer fiction. Daunting, of course, because it’s a lot of work that takes away from writing time, but I’m very lucky to have met and worked with some extremely generous indie writer/publishers who have shared their know-how and expertise along the way.
Tell us about the reactions from your readership.
Seeing as it was released yesterday, I can’t be sure I actually *have* a readership at this stage. However, I built a Google sites website with a reader feedback form for my teen and adult Beta Readers, and that was really useful, because I asked pointed questions in order to gain insights into the kinds of things a reader might have noticed but might not necessarily think to say in a review.
Of course, the fact that AJ loves it is the most important feedback I could get. Partly because she’s a scorchingly tough critic, but also because Charlotte has been a labour of love, and hearing AJ giggling as she read the final manuscript into the wee hours on a school night was … well, at that point I wasn’t sure whether to scold her for staying up past bedtime, or just let myself be the proudest writer on the planet.
Where’s Charlotte going next? And please tell me Mike and Lyla will be with her.
I have ideas brewing. I also have other fiction projects waiting for a home, including another completed novel. But I haven’t decided what to do with those yet, because they veer towards the adult literary genre, and therefore need a different approach. I’m currently reading Charlotte to my son, who’s nearly 12. He has given me some suggestions, but he thinks Charlotte 2.0 is not a priority, because Mike needs his own book. We’ll see which project calls the loudest.