I have a guest today. American Kim Walker has lived in the UK for the past 30 years, built a family and a teaching career, while dreaming of becoming an author. Her dreams have been realised through two publications, her memoir "A Life Less Lost" and her recently published novel "Once Removed". Having gone through both experiences, Kim chats to us about the pros and cons of self-publishing and finding a publisher.
Hallo, Kim and thank you for talking to us.
You have recently published your book, "Once Removed". Can you tell us a little about it?
In high school, a girl felt close enough to me to reveal the razor slashes she’d made in her legs. I didn’t know what to do. At fourteen, new to the school and recently bereaved, I basically ran away. But I still wonder about that girl and what’s happened to her. In the 90’s, when self-harm was in the media, I did some research and a story was born which explores this complex behaviour. It’s about a young teacher who suspects one of her pupils is self-harming. Abby risks everything to try to help Beth but it all goes horribly wrong.
"Once Removed" is a shade darker than "Playing On Cotton Clouds" or "The Break Up Test". In common with those books, it looks at the impact relationships have on us but also the way in which our own self-image affects those relationships.
For this book you chose to go with an e-publisher, Crooked Cat Publishing. What made you decide to take this route? How have you enjoyed the process?
"Once Removed" doesn’t fit neatly into popular genres and the subject matter was too risky for mainstream publishers in today’s economy. Having self-published my memoir, I knew what hard work it was to get everything right. Crooked Cat offered that ‘seal of approval’ ~ they thought enough of my work to take a risk on it.
Steph & Laurence at Crooked Cat have been great. And the other authors in the “cat basket” have been very supportive, making the whole venture much more fun.
You have also experienced self-publishing, with your memoir "A Life Less Lost". How did that experience compare to that of having a publisher?
There’s a stigma associated with self-publishing because not everyone has their work edited or even seeks feedback so there is a lot of amateurish dross out there. You have to do everything yourself and it’s very easy to fall into traps.
I had a mentor to help me through the process but it was still expensive, risky and very hard work. Writing the book was child’s play compared to self-publishing it. Then there’s the marketing…
Having a publisher who knows the business and can offer advice and support is amazing. They took my word document, did the editing and cover, prepared it for all the e-formats and help with marketing. The other authors also promote each other’s books, which makes the whole thing less overwhelming.
What advice would you give to someone considering self-publishing? What do you think would be the advantages and the disadvantages?
My advice would be to pay for professional editing and/or manuscript appraisal. If your book isn’t well polished people won’t read or recommend it. Createspace is now available in the UK. They offer a fairly low cost, low risk, pod product. You also need to carefully plan your marketing and promotion strategy.
One advantage of self-publishing is being able to have paperbacks as well as ebooks. You can organise an actual book launch and book tours. I’ve sold hundreds of books that way. People who have read my book and/or heard me speak have bought extra copies for friends and family, not so easy to do with ebooks.
Like me, you “married” into British life having grown up in a different country. How easy or difficult did you find living in the UK? Do you think coming from a different culture had an impact on you as a writer?
That’s a very interesting question, Michela, and I’d love to sit down and compare notes with you on your experiences. It isn’t easy living in a different country, thousands of miles from family and friends. Even now, 30+ years on, when I meet people for the first time and they hear my accent, I can see them stop listening to what I’m saying in preferrence to how I’m saying it. Suddenly I remember I’m still a foreigner.
I think it’s enriched my writing, though. Not everyone gets to look at their own culture from outside. It makes you more observant and curious about why things are the way they are in different places. But don’t get me started on the weather…
Your memoir dealt with a serious issue that affected your family and since its publication, you have given talks on the topic and met people who had gone through a similar experience. What highlights do you take with you and what do you hope your story can offer to people?
I wrote "A Life Less Lost" for many reasons. One in particular has been to highlight the challenges of ‘cancer survivorship’. This is an area that is just beginning to attract research. My son wasn’t expected to survive and has had to cope with a disability as a result of his treatment. I believe many survivors suffer from post-traumatic stress and I wanted them to know they weren’t alone or in some way weak or unusual. The feedback I’ve had from the talks has shown this to be very true.
Another thing we have in common is that we are both teachers. How much has your work with young people influenced your work as a writer and viceversa?
A teacher has to be observant and analytical, which helps with writing. You also have to deal with all kinds of people. The main character in "Once Removed" is a teacher so I was able to draw on my experiences to make Abby more believeable, although she’s in secondary school and I mainly taught younger children. But I chose that setting because it was in high school that I came across self-harm and some of the things I learned at that time helped me create the pupil, Beth.
Tell us something about your hobbies and interests.
Reading has been a passion all my life. I also enjoy sports like skiing, swimming, badminton and walking. I’ve a big soft spot for animals and live on a farm, although we’re not farmers. Baking, eating out, cookery programmes and cookbooks fill a big chunk of time and recently I’ve discovered an interest in growing food, losing hours in the garden.
What are you working on at the moment and what future plans are in your writing life?
At the moment, I’m spending all my writing time trying to promote "Once Removed". But next month I plan to get back to my new novel inspired by an agoraphobic woman who vanished.
Once again, I'd like to thank Kim for taking the time to answer my questions.
Kim's memoir "A Life Less Lost" is available digitally in all formats from Smashwords and paperbacks are available directly from her via her blog: http://kbwalker-lifelesslost.blogspot.com
Suspecting self-harm, newly qualified teacher, Abriella Garside, risks everything for a troubled pupil. An incident with a craft knife and unexplained injuries are not enough to secure help for the girl. Unsure whether Beth is being bullied or has problems at home, Abby tries to win her trust and the two begin a friendship. But has the teacher gone too far?
In the midst of Abby’s own complicated life, Beth disappears. Rumour and suspicion ignite, fanned into an inferno with Abby at its heart.
Two lives hang in the balance.
"Once Removed" is a contemporary novel dealing with the often hidden matter of self-harming in a sensitive, eye-opening way.
K B WALKER
A storybook romance swept KB Walker from her American childhood to marriage, life and a teaching career in Yorkshire. Becoming an author seemed as likely as being a princess or an astronaut, but after twenty years at the chalk-face, Kimm left schools behind and set her mind to the dream. She’s had several poems, short stories and articles published, won a handful of local prizes, as well as being invited to speak at events in the UK and US.
Kimm’s two grown up sons have left home now but in 1996, fifteen year old James was diagnosed with cancer and survived against the odds. "A Life Less Lost", her memoir of that experience, was published in 2009.
A foodie, Kimm recently discovered the joys of grow-your-own, loves ‘doing up’ old houses, reading, badminton, skiing and various crafts. Still captivated by the British countryside, she also enjoys bracing walks with her dog.