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Author Interview Series (14): Becci Murray

After the 13th interview, I mentioned I'd be taking a break until September. However, as Becci's new and exciting book, Azalea Fern and the Last Ruin of the Extinct launches this month, I wanted to do an interview with her together to post with my review for her fabulous Book Tour. She deserves it!

I met the very talented Becci on Instagram through another author friend, Victoria Smith. I am now a big fan of Becci! She writes chapter books for kids! Her newest book Azalea Fern is the first of a brand new series and I am so excited and honoured to be a part of the Book Tour as well. Thank you, Becci for inviting me to join your tour and writing this amazing book! (You can find the link to my review of the book at the end of this interview.)


Hi Becci! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

B: Hi! My name is Becci Murray and I’m a British children’s author from the UK. I write chapter book fiction for ages 7 years plus and I’m also mum to a teenager, a chocolate Labrador, a big-footed cat and a giant snail. I love collecting children’s literature and I’m a huge fan of the legendary Roald Dahl. I have a life-sized BFG sticker on my bedroom wall (well, almost life-sized).

Oh, I am absolutely fascinated by your giant snail! It's definitely not something you see every day!

So, what inspired and motivated you to write your first book and how long did it take from the initial idea to publishing?

B: My love of writing started with poetry. My mum was really good at writing funny poems, so that inspired me to start creating some of my own. In my early 20s, I joined an online poetry forum. People enjoyed the humorous side of my writing, but I had ideas for stories that were too detailed to fit into one poem – that’s when I started writing my first children’s story. It was about a boy who dug-up a magical recipe in a muddy corner of the school playground and the idea gradually turned into a book called Billy’s Brain Booster Juice. Billy lurked on my laptop for more than fifteen years before I decided to publish it as my first book in 2019.

What are some of the challenges you have encountered on your author and self-publishing journey? How did you overcome them?

B: The biggest challenge was simply not having a clue what I was doing! I thought once the book was written the main part of my job would be done. That’s absolutely not the case. Indie authors don’t have a team of people to help them like writers who are traditionally published. You’re responsible for formatting, editing, proofreading, cover design, marketing (the list goes on) and although you can hire people to help with this, sourcing the right help just becomes another task you have to complete. But as an indie author, you have a secret weapon – everyone in the independent author community wants everyone else to succeed and they’re always on-hand to offer advice and encouragement wherever they can. This has been invaluable in overcoming any challenges I’ve faced.

What has been the most rewarding experience since publishing your first book?

B: The most rewarding part of being an author is receiving messages about how much children are enjoying my books. That’s what it’s all about and it’s by far the best part of being a children’s author.

What was it like launching your first book? What did you learn from the experience? If you could do it again, what would you do differently?

B: If I was launching my first book again, I would definitely have worked on my cover more. We shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we do, so it’s really important to get that right. But self-publishing is a learning curve and there’s a new lesson to be learnt around every corner. I’m sure there are still lots of pits for me to fall down on my self-publishing journey and lots of solutions to be found!

Would you consider traditional publishing? Have you tried reaching out to or pitching to agents and publishers?

B: Yes, I’ve reached out to agencies in the past and I’ve had a couple of near-misses. I used to do a lot of script-writing too, so I’ve submitted some work to the BBC as well. In 2018, I was on the ad hoc writing team for a Children’s BBC programme called Class Dismissed, which was a funny sketch show for primary aged viewers. One of my characters was featured on the programme, which was incredibly exciting!

Wow! That must have been a proud moment! Imagine if a character like Azalea was on that show!

Actually, what was your inspiration for Azalea Fern?

B: I really admire authors who create whole new worlds with their writing, like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books or Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, so I wanted to challenge myself to do the same. It was important to me that my book had a strong female lead, as I don’t think we see this enough in children’s fiction. Azalea is outspoken, clever and fiercely protective of her friends, but she also has a wicked sense of humour. She’s basically my daughter in Homotium form!

Your daughter must love that! I really love that the book has such a strong female lead. We need more Azaleas in the world!

How did you come up with this world and all the names for the characters?

B: Stories that are set in a futuristic world have always appealed to me, because of the endless possibilities they bring. But the traditional idea of rocket-ships and robots has already been done, so I wanted to break the mould and explore a different kind of future. I started to wonder what the world might look like if the human race was no longer here. What if the planet had a chance to heal from the effects of pollution and global warming, and what if a new species had evolved? From there, it felt natural to name the characters after the things they loved most in the world – the flowers, plants and trees of their island.

I really love those names and it's such a fascinating world you have created!

I think it's amazing that you have written books in multiple genres and styles. Do you have a favourite style to write in?

B: I really love writing children’s fantasy, but I’d find it difficult to not put any humour in my work, so I think a combination of humour and fantasy would be my ideal style.

How does your brain work?

B: I often wonder the same thing! My brain likes to come up with as many ideas as it can at the least opportune moments, usually when I’m driving or trying to get to sleep at night. I tend to have an idea about a character first, then a story grows around them and their world expands with every revision of the book. I do a LOT of revisions before I’m anywhere near happy with what I’ve written, so there’s plenty of time for my brain to add extra bits and pieces as I go through the editing process.

Which was the most challenging book to write?

B: Azalea Fern and the Last Ruin of the Extinct was the most challenging book I’ve written, because Azalea’s world is so vast and the storyline is more detailed than my other books. I’ve had the idea for the rest of the series in my head for a long time and it was difficult to set that up in the first title without giving away too much. Saying that, the first Azalea Fern book is also the most rewarding one I’ve written too – you feel a real sense of achievement when you’ve spent six years working on something and it’s finally ready to publish!

Six years?! This is definitely a very special story. Even as I was reading it, I could tell that it must be challenging to write. Everything in it is so complex and detailed! I'm just in awe of it!

What was your favourite book growing up and why?

B: My favourite book as a child was The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl. It’s about a girl who turns her horrible neighbours into ducks by pointing at them. I used to point out of our front-room window at passers-by to see if I had the magic finger too – it didn’t work, but I’ll keep practising!

What is a good book you have read recently which you would recommend to others?

B: I think it’s really important to read a lot of books in your own writing genre, so I get through a lot of middle-grade fiction. I recently read The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by LD Lapinski. It has a really magical feel about it and I’m sure it would’ve been a firm favourite with me when I was a child. When it comes to picture books, I’ve recently fallen in love with a story called Dogs Do Look Like You! by Victoria Smith and I was also lucky enough to read a pre-publication copy of Francesca Watt’s upcoming book, The Crafty Chameleon. I adore picture books and both of these are fantastic for younger children.

I have to agree with those picture book picks! They are so brilliant!