Today I'm really thrilled to have Chantelle Atkins back on my blog who has just co-authored a book with fellow author, Sim Alec Sansford. I had the pleasure of interviewing them about their latest book: Fortune's Well, Part One, which has just been released.
In the town of Fortune’s Well a dangerous storm is brewing, and two unsuspecting teenagers are standing right at the heart of it.
For JJ Carson, life has not been easy. His father is dead, his mother arrested for the murder, and he has been forced to live on the farm with his alcoholic uncle, Henry.
Just when things could not get any worse, JJ discovers his living situation is not the only thing that makes him different from the other kids. A dark, swirling mist has made itself at home inside him and it is slowly changing him from the inside out.
Enter Darcie Duffield. Beautiful, popular, and incredibly misunderstood.
Darcie is sick of the status quo and wants to make a difference. After a chance meeting with a strange boy at the river she becomes tangled in a web of lies and deceit stretching back generations, as she tries to help save him from the darkness lurking within.
Why is this happening?
Where has it come from?
And why is Darcie the only one who can see it?
Cover design by Luke Fielding
Tell readers about your new book. I hear it's part of a trilogy.
Chantelle: It is the first in the trilogy, yes. It’s a story about two lonely, misunderstood teens who discover they have special abilities, and that the town they live in (Fortune’s Well) is not all it seems either!
Sim: The book, and in fact, the entire trilogy has been so much fun to write. The story honestly took on a life of its own. I can’t say we planned for three books from the start, but it just grew and grew, and I’m still not sure we’ve seen the end of it yet in terms of the universe we’ve created.
I understand the two of you wrote the book together, each doing different chapters. How did that come about?
Chantelle: It was Sim’s idea to write together, and he already had the concept in place before we started. It just seemed natural to devise a character each and tell the story in first person narrative, from alternating points of view.
Sim: As Chantelle says, it seemed right for each of us to have our own characters to reflect our own perspectives of this world. The process was so organic.
What inspired the idea for the book?
Chantelle: I’ll let Sim answer that as it was all his idea!
Sim: At the time I came up with the idea, there was a lot floating around on social media about mental health. I had this sudden thought about creating a story where something negative (anxiety, depression, bullying, addiction etc.) could lead to something beautiful (magic, friendship, adventure). From there the idea grew, I imagined a young boy covered by a thick, dark mist, only he could use it for good. There were various other ideas too. I shared them with Chantelle and asked if she was willing to co-write. I was delighted when she said “yes!”
What did you learn about yourselves from writing jointly?
Chantelle: Mostly just that it is possible! I’ve never written with another author before and didn’t think I would ever want to. I knew of a few authors who did write this way and I just couldn’t understand how it worked! Now that I know, I will definitely be working with Sim again.
Sim: I learned the importance of patience and taking the time to create something. It is so easy to get excited about an idea and just go for it. I’m very much a “pantser” when it comes to writing whereas Chantelle is more of a planner. I feel like her influence helped me a lot with my own solo projects. Having someone else work with you causes you to stay disciplined.
What was the most difficult part of the book or the joint writing process?
Chantelle: Probably for me it was the way we wrote it in Facebook messenger – as in we swapped ideas back and forth that way. Normally, I plan a book to a certain extent first, get the characters right, start writing and then have a notebook/planner running alongside the novel to refer to and add to. We kept meaning to organize it like that but it just didn’t happen. Instead, we swapped chapters back and forth and discussed ideas and plotlines in messages. This worked though! The tricky bit was having to scroll or search back through messages to find plot ideas we’d had and forgotten!
Sim: I think I agree with Chantelle on that. It seemed to work really well to just let the ideas flow via messenger, but at the same time the story grew so big and there is so much history and lore that by the time we got to writing book three and had to backtrack or find a certain piece of information, it was difficult.
What was the most enjoyable part?
Chantelle:I think the energy of it. It was really addictive. We wrote three books in 11 months! They just flew back and forth and we really kept the momentum going. It was a lot of fun. I really looked forward to every chapter I wrote and got so excited every time one of Sim’s arrived in my email!
Sim: The best part of this experience was getting to be a writer AND a reader. Although we’d share ideas back and forth, sometimes the story and characters did take control and I never knew what to expect from Chantelle. It was so much fun! That excitement helped inspire me to respond with my own chapter to see where Chantelle would take the story next.
Did the characters come first or the idea for the story? Who came up with the idea?
Chantelle: It was Sim’s idea, and we build the characters after that. I got a strong idea quite early on for my character and I think Sim did too. They just grew from there until we were quite in love with both of them!
Sim: I completely agree. The idea came first but the characters didn’t hang about at all. One thing I did want for my character, Darcie, was for her to be the polar opposite of JJ in terms of background. Unlike him, she still has both parents in her life. She is also rich and popular. But, despite their differences they still have this fantastic connection. While JJ is alone and bullied (by Darcie’s friend group), she too feels awkward and out of place having moved from America and always having to be perceived as the “perfect” daughter.
Who came up with the title for your book?
Chantelle: I can’t actually remember! We changed our minds quite a few times, I remember that. There were other ideas too. In the end, the town it's set in became a bigger part of the story than we had originally anticipated so it made sense to name the series after that, and then come up with sub-titles relevant to each individual book.
Sim: The original title idea was “A Jar Full of Empty” which was this bizarre paradox that came to me along with the idea of including mental health in the story. The jar full of emptiness being a metaphor for how the kids were feeling. I pitched the name of the town as Fortune’s Well, after a place I used to travel through years ago. Every time I saw the name of the stop on the bus I used to think about how mysterious and magical it sounded.
Did you each stick with your own characters or were they interchangeable between you both?
Chantelle:We stuck with them but obviously we had to get to grips with writing the other characters in our chapters too. That was nerve wracking to start with, but I think because they took on such a life of their own, we were soon easily able to write scenes with the other person’s character in.
Sim: The other interesting thing about characters, is all the minor characters we introduced and how they grew into key players. For example, Chantelle first introduced the character of Jared Wheeler in chapter one as a school bully. I’m not sure if she planned for him to be anything more than part of that one scene, but I took him in my chapter and expanded his story—He’s then became one of the main antagonists in the book.
Have you plans to write any books together in future?
Chantelle: Yes! I had an idea for a short story recently and it appears in my recent collection, The Old Friend – A Collection of Tales and Poems, as The Black Van. Before I knew it, I had a novel idea, possibly a series idea, for a YA dystopian/post-apocalyptic story and I asked Sim if when the time was right, he would consider writing it alongside me in the same way and he said yes!
Sim: How could I say no? This series has been so much fun to write, I can’t wait to see what else we can create. Alongside Chantelle’s idea we have also discussed various sequels and prequels for Fortune’s Well. I can’t wait to see what happens next!
Which of the characters do you relate to the most and why?
Chantelle: For me, I absolutely love JJ who I created but I relate to Darcie more to be honest, probably because she is a girl who has body image issues at the start of the series and that’s something that has followed me around in my life. But I do relate to how much of an anti-social loner JJ can be!
Sim: I agree with Chantelle here. I find both protagonists to be relatable for various reasons. I find JJ to be relatable because of his solitary nature, but Darcie has this strong desire to be herself and to be accepted for that honest version of herself which really resonates with me, and I’m sure many readers.
How much research did you need to do for your book?
Chantelle: Not a lot to be honest as its paranormal/supernatural/superpowers we are writing about, so we could really just let our imaginations fly. We based the town on Dorchester where Sim grew up, so he was always sending me photos and maps of areas we were fictionalizing for the books.
Sim: Like Chantelle says, we were able to completely let our imaginations go. However, there was some research in terms of locations and some supernatural lore. The town is based on my hometown of Dorchester in Dorset, so some of the history is accurate to a certain extent, the rest of the details are dramatised for the story.
How long did it take you to write this book?
Chantelle: I think about three months for each one, roughly? I know it took 11 months to write all three.
Sim: That’s right! I think this book started around Christmas and was finished by March… Madness!
Is this a new genre for you?
Chantelle: For me, yes! I have never written anything about superpowers or ghosts before now! It’s actually made me want to write more in this genre and one of the WIP’s I am working on right now has some similar vibes, with magic, folklore, a weird little town and shapeshifters!
Sim: I absolutely love Young Adult Paranormal/Supernatural stories. Ghosts, Vampires, Angels, Demons. My current solo series, The Denver Falls Saga, is paranormal mystery. There’s just so much you can play with, and I enjoy the world building. I’m currently working on a regular Young Adult Mystery series though (void of magic!) and it’s been really interesting. I actually think it’s much more horrifying not being able to explain away evil acts with magic and instead having to get into the psyche of a regular person and why they would do these things.
Would you like to tell readers who may not be familiar with you work a bit about your books and which is your favourite?
Chantelle: Out of mine, my favourite is and will probably always be The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series. It was with me for so long, as I started writing it at aged 12, and I rewrote it again and again over the years. It got so big and complex and became a 5 book series, and I am currently working on a spin-off book for it!
Sim: For me, I have plenty of books to finish off and get to the publication stage, but short of a couple short stories/novellas, I only have one novel published currently. That being, Welcome to Denver Falls, the first book in the Denver Falls Saga. I think it will always be my favourite because it’s my first published novel. There’s plenty or mystery and paranormal elements, and even a bit of romance. It’s been described as “Twilight without the vampires” which I think is a great description.
When it comes to Chantelle’s book, I love them all! But I highly recommend her Holds End trilogy, starting with A Song For Bill Robinson, I think it’s my favourite series ever! I’ll never stop recommending it.
Do you have a timetable for the publication of Parts 2 and 3 of the trilogy?
Chantelle: Not exactly, but I would imagine they will all come out in 2022.
Sim: Agreed. We have a rough schedule for when they’ll be released (possibly 2 month between each release), however, we are still making some last minute changes to book three… So, we’ll see!
Many thanks to Chantelle and Sim for this fascinating interview and insight into their writing partnership, and for daring to do it! They have challenged all my own ideas that it can't really be done in fiction - they've proved it absolutely can. The book sounds an intriguing read and I know Dorchester a bit, having lived in Bournemouth for many a year. I will leave you with an excerpt from Fortune's Well and links to Chantelle and Sim's social media links and of course, where you can buy the e-book. I believe that a paperback will be following.
This can’t be happening…
It’s like a dream and it all happened so fast that I know I will be lying awake in bed all night trying to piece it back together again. Trying to relive it… I’m shaking hard. My eyes feel too wide and my skin too hot and when I look down at my fists, I swear I can still see the black swirls drifting around them.
Darcie is resting her head on my shoulder and suddenly that helps - suddenly her doing that gives me exactly what I need to think clearly. Jared was hurting her. He was going to attack her.
So, it’s not just me…
She’s shaking too. She must be in shock. I lift my arm slowly and stiffly and wrap it around her shoulder. The torchlight bounces around outside for a few more moments and then starts to drift away. The groundskeeper might be heading off, but Jared and his friends are all still out there.
‘I think we need to get out of here,’ I whisper. She lifts her head and stares at me, biting her lip, trying not to cry and I nod at her. ‘Darcie, right?’
She nods again. ‘And you’re-’
She smiles and wipes a stray hair from her face. ‘I think you just saved my life, JJ.’
‘Nah.’ I glance away before straightening up to check the window. ‘We gotta go.’
She gets to her feet nodding and I open the door slowly and glance out before committing to movement. I start to move when she stops me, grabbing my arm.
‘What was that stuff?’ she hisses, and in the darkness, I can see the whites of her eyes, the fear in them. I stare back at her and I want to tell her I don’t know, I didn’t see any stuff, but I can tell that she is not kidding.
‘I don’t know what you mean,’ I reply softly.
She nods as if this is enough for her and she follows me out of the building. For a moment, I’m lost. I don’t know what to do. I just beat Jared up. The other kids are still around. The black mist…it did something to me. It was like it was there when I needed it, but that can’t be possible, can it? Does all this mean Uncle Henry was right? I’m as crazy as my mother? I want Darcie to ask me again, to tell me what she saw so that I know I’m not losing my mind but not yet. We have to get out of here first.