There are plenty of things that, as mothers, we simply don’t get the chance to do any more. Sleep is high on the list, we don’t often get the chance to have pretty hairstyles or our lipstick on every day and none of us get to go to the loo in peace…but the one thing that I didn’t realise I would really miss was reading a good book (the fun kind, not baby manuals)!
The problem with reading is that it’s one of those things that you can’t multitask – you can’t read while doing other things at the same time. So how are we meant to have the time to whizz through a book? And where do we find a novel that will grab our attention so much that we’re happy to forfeit that extra hour of sleep at night?
Well I think I’ve got the answer.
Author N J Simmonds is the new bold voice of Young Adult fiction. She’s in Gibraltar early May as part of her European book tour of ‘The Path Keeper’ – the first book of her thrilling fantasy romance series.
Luckily for me I got to speak to the author and quickly discovered that there are no vampires in her books and that YA fantasy may just be what this tired mum needs in her life (and probably you too)!
Congratulations on ‘The Path Keeper’ – it sounds like it’s going really well! Is it true that it received fifty five star reviews on Amazon just six weeks after launch?
Yes, I’m still in shock…it’s been a crazy few months.
Tell me a bit about the book and the rest of the series.
The Path Keeper is a little unusual for a Young Adult Fantasy Romance because it’s not just a ‘girl meets boy’ story and there are no vamps or werewolves – instead it covers the concept of love, destiny and our purpose on earth with a twist of other worldly magic. The book is predominantly about Ella, a nineteen year old girl who’s moved to London after being brought up by her English single mum in the south of Spain. We also go back in time and follow the lives of two best friends Evie and Dolly in World War Two East London, and we see Leo and Lily’s love affair in the windswept town of Tarifa. What do all these young people have in common? Zac – the mysterious (and rather gorgeous) blue eyed man that is keeping a huge secret and somehow features in all their lives. In the first book we get to know Zac and Ella…but it’s a fast thriller of a book, which leaves you on a cliff hanger at the end, so the rest of the series takes you back in time and answers a lot of questions about their past and shows you how their decisions in the first book affect their future together.
It sounds fascinating. You say it’s a Young Adult book, does that mean us older adults can’t read it?
No, quite the opposite! YA is a relatively new genre but it means one thing only – that the characters are young adults and their stories carry the intensity of most ‘coming of age’ tales. I never wrote it with any specific age in mind so the writing, plot and action is far from ‘just for kids’ (there’s plenty of sex, violence and swear words in it…in both English and Spanish)! But the great thing about YA is that we’ve all been teens at one time and most of us are quite happy to escape to that exciting time when we’re stuck at home with crying babies and bills that need paying…I know that’s why I write for this audience! Ironically, though, something amazing has happened since ‘The Path Keeper’ was published, I seem to have bridged the gap between romance thrillers and YA fantasy. I’ve had amazing messages and reviews from older readers saying ‘I haven’t read a book since the kids were born but I couldn’t put this one down’ as well as teens saying ‘I normally only read for school, but this book got me hooked’ – so it seems that love, magic and plenty of thrills is enough to get any age back into reading.
You have two young daughters. How have you managed to juggle motherhood with writing a series of novels?
I have no idea! When I started ‘The Path Keeper’ my girls were one and three years old. My life was an endless round of night feeds and early mornings and the monotony that comes with very small children. I was also working at the time and pretty much at breaking point. Most people may have taken up yoga or meditation or a drinking habit to cope with so much pressure, but I started to write. I’ve written since a very young age, and I have worked in creative marketing for nearly twenty years, so for me writing and thinking creatively has always been how I process things. After a year I had a rough outline of a book that I realised was okay, that could maybe one day see the light of day. And it did. Writing the second was harder as I had a deadline this time round (I’m signed to Accent Press on a three book deal) plus we moved to The Netherlands from Spain with kids aged five and seven so it was tough but one thing motherhood has taught me is how to juggle well and survive on no sleep! I’m still working as a marketing consultant, so basically my kids have raised themselves and I don’t watch TV in the evenings. At times my writing, my fantasy world, is the only thing that gets me through real life. I live in my head all day, but as my children get older it gets easier to schedule my time. I’m no longer conjuring up new characters while doing the 3am feed – thank god!
You say that the book is set both in Spain and England. Why is that? And does Gibraltar get a mention?
I have a house in Estepona and I was living there at the time that I wrote ‘The Path Keeper’. Andalucia has always been a great inspiration for me, yet my heart has remained connected to my birthplace of London…the Thames runs through my veins. When you’ve lived all over the world (I also lived in Australia for a year and I’m currently in Delft, Holland) you find you have the ability to write about places in a fresh way; perhaps a bit nostalgically. But I also understand that sense of displacement and uncertainty about moving to a place that isn’t your home, which is why my main character Ella is so unstable and vulnerable when she moves to London and meets Zac. As for Gibraltar, it’s an amazing place! I’m so excited that is has been included on my tour – especially as it features in the second book ‘Son of Secrets’. I can’t give too much away but a very exciting scene happens at the border crossing…one that I hope never happens in real life!
So what can we expect from ‘The Path Keeper’ (now we know it’s not a vampire story for kids)?
You can expect to not sleep for a few nights, I’ve had quite a few sleep-deprived readers tell me that they had to read just one more chapter. It will also make you question love and fate and the different paths we’ve taken in our own lives. More than anything though I hope it will give you a thrilling escape, a place full of excitement and passion and a little touch of magic…who doesn’t need a bit of that?
N J Simmonds will be in Gibraltar live on The Hub on Wednesday 3rd May as well as being interviewed in press and radio. For more information on her new series visit njsimmonds.com or find her on social media by searching #thepathkeeper. Her first book is available to buy on Amazon and at all good English language bookshops, the second in the series ‘Son of Secrets’ is out Feb 2018.