The View From Here Interview:
Shanta Everington has a First Class Honours degree in Education from Anglia Ruskin University (1995) and an MA in Creative Writing with Distinction from Manchester Metropolitan University Writing School (2006). Her debut novel, Marilyn and Me, evolved throughout the course and was published in 2007 through a competition run by Cinnamon Press, a small, independent publisher based in North Wales.
Give Me a Sign, is Shanta Everington’s first novel for young adults, and was published in 2008 (Flame Books). She has also had some poetry, life writing pieces and educational resources published and been involved in numerous charity publications. She is currently an associate lecturer in creative writing with The Open University and deputy editor of a charity journal for disabled parents. She lives in East London with her husband and son and combines writing with motherhood and earning a living. She is represented by Eve White, Literary Agent.
A qualified mathematics teacher is not necessarily someone you automatically associate with creative writing - what led you to combine the two?
I believe I was always meant to be in the arts. My dad is a musician so the creative streak runs in the family. I put my wrong turn down to a pivotal moment at primary school when a teacher ripped apart a story I'd written. We were supposed to be learning how to write in sentences but I'd kind of forgotten about that and focused on the content. She tore it up in front of everyone and I felt so humiliated.
I became known as the one who was good at maths. Maths is safe, you know where you are with it. For me, it was the easy way to succeed. When you do something creative, you open yourself up to scrutiny and judgement and ultimately, ridicule. I trained as a maths teacher but something inside me was deeply dissatisfied.
So, I nearly ended up as a maths teacher. But... I escaped. Instead, I worked in community care and ran a helpline for teenagers before allowing myself to believe I could write something worth reading.
I wrote secretly for a long time. I wrote for myself. I still do but now I also write to share part of myself with others. I write to explore my fascination with human nature. I write about things that bug me and refuse to go away. I write because I can’t not.
It just took me about twenty years to get back on track! Thankfully, I've now developed a much thicker skin. You have to if you want to be a published writer.
In your second book, Give me a Sign, what inspired you to include a deaf character, Doug?
'Give Me a Sign' is a coming of age story. It's about a 16 year old girl, Liz, who loses her self confidence after her dad dies. She's struggling with her relationship with her Mum and Stepdad and the hostility of bullies at school when she meets Doug, who happens to be deaf. Doug transforms the way she looks at herself and restores her faith in happiness.
I already had Liz in my head when I started a new job which involved working with a Deaf-led production company and I was fascinated by the concept of Deaf identity. Doug's struggle for identity and acceptance complements Liz's. They come from very different worlds but they are both searching for the place within themselves where they must root their lives.
How do you write?
The way I write is quite organic; things tend to evolve and are often influenced by things that are going on around me.
How did you get published? I believe Give Me a Sign is your first YA book, but not your first published novel?
My first published novel was adult fiction about a young woman with learning disabilities who models herself on Marilyn Monroe. I did an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University and in the third year we wrote up our novels. I was awarded a distinction. I heard about the Cinnamon Press 'first novel' competition through a colleague on the MA Creative Writing and thought I'd have a go. 'Marilyn and Me' was published the year after in 2007.
I found an agent when I was partway through the course, when I was still working on ‘Marilyn and Me’. I submitted to agents in the usual way of initially sending out three sample chapters with synopsis. I sent out a tween novel about emotional/mental health called, 'Going Bananas'. Eve White loved it and offered to represent me but it never found a publisher.
Can you suggest books you think are really strong recommendations for young readers or Young Adults?
The best YA books I've read recently are 'Before I Die' by Jenny Downham and 'Looking for JJ' by Anne Cassidy. Both deal with very difficult topics in a way that is accessible to young adults and also appeals to older adults. 'Before I Die' is narrated by a teenage girl dying of cancer and 'Looking for JJ' is narrated by a child murderer.
From a reader's perspective, I enjoy first person narratives and both these books were real page turners where you get so envolved with the characters, you're compelled to read on. They are books that make you think and I love that.
From a writer's perspective, they are both beautifully written, very well crafted. You can really feel the amount of work that has gone into them. The way Cassidy uses three identities to let the story unfold is very effective and Downham's treatment of the death scenes is stunning. Both are so strong, I just wish I'd written them myself!
I believe you have just recently received your first royalties check for sales of Marilyn and Me?
Yes! It was a pathetically small amount but it was still a momentous occasion, because it meant that people had actually PAID. MONEY. To buy my book. To read what I had written.
I celebrated in style by splashing out on an Indian takeaway for hubby and me. After we'd stuffed ourselves there wasn't much money left but it was the best meal I'd ever tasted.
Of Shanta Everington's first novel, Jan Fortune-Wood at Cinnamon Press said, “Marilyn and Me really stood out. The main character, a young woman with learning disabilities, is so well realised and completely overturns any stereotypes – she is poignant, but has her own strength and growing sense of identity and she is also funny, likeable and authentic. The voice of the novel is superb and it was great working with Shanta on the novel, which has since been serialised in a newspaper. The book raises lots of issues without preaching and deals with some dark and difficult subjects with great subtlety. It’s an engaging story and one that gets fantastic feedback.”
Read more about Shanta
Her blog: http://www.eastlondonwriter.blogspot.com/
About her Publishers
Cinnamon Press: http://www.cinnamonpress.com/
Writing competition, upcoming deadline November 30th: http://www.cinnamonpress.com/competitions.htm
Cinnamon Press aims to select books about which they feel passionate and concentrates on a small list of titles into which they put maximum effort at every stage of development. The aim of the Cinnamon Press Writing Awards is to offer new writers in different genres publication opportunities. They run competitions twice a year with closing dates of June 30th and November 30th. Competitions are open for poets, short story writers and novelists (including those writing novellas) Cinnamon Press often commissions not only the winner, but also selected short listed entrants.
Flame Books: http://www.flamebooks.com/main.asp
Author photo credit copyright Kelly Mullan, Disability Now.
For the printed edition of this interview at TVFH go here.