After reading and thoroughly enjoying Toby and the Silver Blood Witches I was keen to find out more about what had inspired author Sally Doherty to write this first in a new series for 8-12 year olds, and her journey to publication, so I invited Sally to take part in an interview for the blog, and eagerly awaited her answers to the questions I posed. I am delighted with this feature today, as it offers so much more detail to how Toby’s story came to exist, and offers more understanding as to the storyline having so much personal significance to Sally herself. If you haven’t yet read Toby and the Silver Blood Witches I would highly recommend it, and without further delay I am delighted to share my exclusive interview with Sally.
- It is well known that you self published Toby and the Silver Blood Witches. Could you give us an insight into the process of doing this please
I never actually intended to self-publish, but after my publisher closed unexpectedly just before my book was due out, I had to go it alone. It’s definitely been a steep learning curve as you become responsible for the whole process, but I haven’t regretted it at all. To get my book ready, I worked with editors, a proof reader, a formatter and my wonderful illustrator, Sarah Jane Docker. You can self-publish in different ways, but I chose to use KDP (for Amazon sales) and IngramSpark (for bookshop sales). And then once the book is out, you become the marketer, PR consultant and salesperson! I still struggle at times with feeling credible in a world of traditionally published books, but I’m super grateful for the support of other authors, bloggers, booksellers and schools, and for the reception Toby has received.
- Where did the idea of the book come from?
In my early twenties, I unexpectedly fell ill with ME. Being stuck at home and often in bed for the following sixteen years (and counting), however, meant a space for creativity opened up in my brain. This story flew into my head and demanded to be written.
The inspiration for the SMI, the mysterious building behind Toby’s garden hedge, came from an army depot on the outskirts of my home town. It was also surrounded by high barbed wire fence and had miles of abandoned warehouses and only one entrance manned by an armed security guard.
- Why did you decide to have a male character as lead?
It wasn’t planned. I never plan whether my main character will be female or male, just as I never plan whether the story will be present tense, past tense, first person or third person. It’s just simply how the story arrives in my head. That said, I think sub-consciously, Toby is inspired to some degree by my husband. He’s my carer and shares some of Toby’s personality – he’s kind, caring, tends to bottle up his emotions (sorry, husband!) and also loves football.
- Can you give us an insight of your writing process.
Due to my poor health, I can’t spend nearly as much time writing as I’d like! Most of my day is spent resting in bed so I can do essential things like washing, dressing and eating. Health allowing, I try to write for thirty minutes most days if I have nothing else on (like the occasional mini visit from a friend). It’s frustrating as I have so many stories fully written in my head ready to be put on paper (or laptop). However, I have to remember that if I was well, I would be working full time and might never have even discovered my writing vocation.
- I think it’s important that children read about everyday issues and learn that every child life is different, Toby’s mum suffers from M.E. is there a reason for this?
As I suffer from ME myself and it governs my every waking minute, there’s no surprise it ended up in my first book. I really want to raise awareness of what it is like for families who have to live with chronic illness on a daily basis (both the sufferers and the carers). An estimated 250,000 people in the UK suffer from ME (and the number of people living with post viral illness is rising significantly now with Long Covid). This is twice the number of people who live with MS, yet ME receives a tiny proportion of funds for research. It’s a largely misunderstood illness, so the more I can do to spread awareness, the better. Ten percent of my profits go to the ME Association. I also want to help children who may be going through a similar experience themselves to show them they’re not alone and that it’s understandable if they’re struggling.
- If you could offer one piece of advice to children what would it be?
If you are finding life difficult for whatever reason, don’t bottle up your emotions. There are always people who are willing to listen and offer guidance. Asking for help doesn’t show that you are weak – admitting you need help takes courage and shows bravery. So talk to someone and it will become easier.
- Can you tell us what we can look forward to in the next Toby book.
I’m working hard on the sequel (as much as health will allow) and fingers crossed, it’ll be out in autumn 2022. I don’t want to give away too much just yet, but we meet the wizards of Wildhaven, a new young witch called Flame-Red who Toby becomes friends with (once he gets past her fiery nature), and we discover an old foe may have set up camp (and dungeons) in the depths of the Oxford countryside.
Helen’s Review :
I first heard about this book while catching up on my twitter account, so many people were talking about this book that I knew I needed to read it.
The story is unique, I’ve never read anything like this.
The main issue dealt with in the book is Toby the main character is a carer to his mum who has M.E Toby is the same age as my oldest and I couldn’t imagine him caring for me. When Toby finds a strange woman in the attic Toby’s life will never be the same.
This is a great book, full of mystery and adventure, and I’m looking forward to reading the next one.
I liked how Sally brought to our attention what it’s like to live with M.E and the responsibilities young carers have. I am looking forward to introducing Toby to my pupils at school.
-Thank you Sally for answering your questions and I really look forward to reading many more of your books.