I got the opportunity to meet and interview Karla Brading about two weeks ago, an author skilled at tackling difficult subject matter with delicate and heart-warming plots. When I heard an foreign author was coming to Gozo, I knew I had to meet her.
Born and raised in Wales, Brading attended the University of South Wales, in which she studied Creative and Professional Writing. Single-mom of sweet three-year-old, Willow, Karla Brading most certainly is an interesting person. She has a striking look and a confident personality that certainly makes you like her on the spot.
What are your books about and who are they aimed for?
My first book; Zombie Jig and Jive: And Other Creepy Tales, is a collection of creepy stories for young kids with monsters involved. It was my earliest publication. When I finished university, I had produced a lot of work, which I decided to send out to various companies, hoping someone would take a fancy to them. I’d initially sent a picture book idea to a publisher called Candy Jar and was called to a meeting about ‘instead’ writing a longer novel, involving a collection of spooky stories. It was incredibly fun to work on.
My first two books are aimed mainly for primary school, while my latest book is young adult. The Valley of Whispers is a delicate retelling of the historical tragedy The Aberfan Disaster, intertwined with the summer adventures of a young boy, building a home in the trees. Furthermore, The Inn of Waking Shadows takes the frightening history of Wales’ allegedly most haunted inn, The Skirrid, and weaves a tale of a young boy called Emlyn, immersed in the world of Skirrid ghosts. In particular, a young maid, tormented by the ghost of Judge Jeffries. Amidst Emlyn’s struggles with settling into his first year of high school and avoiding the bullies that have taken a liking to him, he makes it his purpose to help the spirit of the maid reunite with her lost sister in the afterlife.
I also had the privilege of ghost-writing some Disney anthologies for Parragon. These were titled: 365 Bedtime Stories for Girls / Boys and were a collection of short pieces derived from official Disney comics. The comics were sent in a mass of email files and I made a point of watching all the Disney films that coincided with my work; familiarising myself with the character’s behaviours. I had quite a short deadline and a lot to get through, so I averaged about 6 stories a day, between my full-time job as a secretary at a print company.
What inspired you to write your books?
The Valley of Whispers is based on my 9-year-old diary in which I used to write about a tree house I built with my sisters. We used to pull wood off of our neighbor’s fences and stole nails and a hammer from our step-dad. We called ourselves the “No Fear Gang,” which inspired the book. Since my publisher takes on books that have a strong Welsh theme, I wanted to primarily write about an important event that happened in my village where I live. You see, there was a catastrophic landslide, which destroyed a school and killed 144 people, mostly children. I tackled the disaster delicately, knowing it would be difficult to retell and relive for some in my village. But I wanted my story to end hopeful and be a resource for young children in search of Aberfan history.
My mom told me not to send it to a publisher when it was first written and so I kept the book locked up in a cupboard for three years, until I finally decided to send it off. A publisher could tell me if it was any good.
Did the way you were raised effect your writing?
I would say so, yes, since my dad left and my mom was a single-parent. In fact, most of my earlier books were about escapism. Even what I used to read was mainly based on disastrous relationships. Subconsciously, I reacted to such a big change in my life and it can be seen in my writing.
Did a past event effect you incredibly in your writing?
I had an upsetting past, thus was constantly looking for a hero/heroine in life and in books. This can be seen, as I create characters who save themselves. I want to inspire others and show that it is ok to feel sad and that eventually your hard work will turn into something beautiful.
How old were you when you started writing?
At the age of six, I started writing short stories. It was when I was ten years old that I started writing thirty-paged books and my teacher would let me read them out loud in class. I liked Goosebumps and it was at this stage in my life, I knew that I wanted to become an author. I sent out my thirty-paged books to publishers who wrote back to me with encouraging letters. When I was seventeen, I self-published a vampire trilogy, the first title being: Destiny in Blood. It was the continuation of a short story I had won some prize money for and decided to keep the work going.
Why did you become a writer?
I was always obsessed with books. All I ever wanted to be was an author. I love the entire aspect of books; the cover artwork, the words, the process of creating and even gluing the things together; everything! It is a true magic, the closest thing to the surreal. Books are and always will be magic. I idolized writers such as Katherine Roberts, R.L Stine, Dick King Smith, Jenny Nimmo and Roald Dahl and wanted to be the one making the magic, like them.
Books are just an affordable and accessible dream, fuelled with the love of so many people who have worked together to put them on bookshelves. Their magic leaves an imprint on my heart every time. When I’ve finished reading a good book, I literally hug it. It’s my automatic gratitude for the journey it’s taken me on. If I didn’t have books in my youth, I wouldn’t have survived, or developed into a sensitive and educated woman. Books fine-tuned my language skills. They’ve hands-down made me a better person. And they’ve also been the bridge between making friends who love them as much as I do.
If you could tell your younger writing-self anything, what would it be?
I would certainly tell myself that everything’s going to be ok because you’re doing everything right. I used to doubt everything and I wasted so much time disbelieving my capabilities. I would go back in time and hug myself, saying that you’re going along the right path.
It’s hard not to doubt yourself, I know. We all do it. Even when your book is on a book shelf. It never feels entirely real because you’re always working hard for the next milestone. Sometimes you need to take a deep breath and take a moment to celebrate the milestone you’ve already nailed.
How long did it take you to write your books? How many hours a day do you write?
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was fed some upsetting comments that my writing career would be over. I decided that person was crazy. I certainly wanted to prove them wrong! When Willow was just two years old, I held her, fast asleep, while I wrote The Inn of Waking Shadows.
I am very determined. I have a slot on Monday afternoons, which I dedicate to writing. When it comes to writing, you need to find time, no matter what. In September, Willow is going to start school, so I will have more time to write.
Where do you write and when?
I have a three-bedroom house and one of the rooms is my office room, which I decorated with a Harry Potter theme, with posters, keys and candles. Sometimes I work at a random café or on the train when I’m travelling somewhere. I need silence.
How do you deal with criticism?
It is very hard for me to change bits of my book. A book is like your baby. During my first couple of months of university, I would be very down-hearted with the criticism. We would write a piece and everyone from the class would get to read it and give criticism on it. The criticism really used to effect me. However, I learned quickly in my youth that criticism is very important since it brings necessary change; one needs to be passionate about criticism. I feel that publishers have the experience and they know what sells, so if needs be, I accept the changes. Yet if there are some things I feel are vitally necessary to keep, I do fight for them.
I’m glad I stuck to my guns, even when people made fun of me. I used to have an old typewriter and once in secondary school, I wrote a book with the typewriter and this boy passed by me in the hallway, snatched the book out my hand and threw the papers all around the hallway. It was my only copy, obviously, and I felt crushed.
I did feel that I was different. I felt that my town was too small and I was different compared to the rest. I never fit in with the girls and so I hung out mostly with guys; I was a sort of tomboy. I dressed differently than most girls too and that made me happy. People used to mock me because I dressed differently. I don’t care anymore as long as I’m happy!
What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
It is probably the editing part. I write long sentences, in which I like how it looks on the page yet when you read it out loud sometimes, it doesn’t feel smooth and it doesn’t look right anymore.
Any future projects or books?
I am starting this new project called The New Crown Inklings. The Inklings was a literary discussion group at the University of Oxford which writers like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were a part of. I am starting a similar project for writers to meet up and talk about their writing. Writers can get to show their work. I would like to arrange monthly events, potentially. The first event is coming up is in June. We have Andy Stanton, a bestselling children’s novelist (Mr Gum books are a particular career triumph of his) and he’ll be talking to a 16+ adult audience about his writing career.
I am also currently writing a book called The Library of Hope; a Sisters Four Novel which is based on my sisters and I. The four of us have very unique talents; one very strong in body, one great with makeup and hair, one is an incredible cook and I am the writer. I see it as Little Women meets A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Where can one find your books?
For Malta and Gozo, there’s Bargate Bookshop or The Agenda Book stores. In the UK you can find them in all good bookshops like Waterstones and WHSmiths or online at places like Amazon or the Book Depository etc.
Meeting Karla Brading was an opportunity I knew I had to take. I enjoy meeting authors and getting to talk about my writing. Unfortunately, there aren’t many writers in Malta. Karla gave me hope that I can make it as an author someday. I’m only starting my career as an author and like her, I sometimes don’t believe it when I say that I’m an author. I’d rather call myself a writer since I am humble in that respect. Just as Karla said, it is because as writers we are always trying to improve. We look up to famous authors and wish to be like them. I certainly know that we can achieve a lot on top of how much we have already achieved.
I certainly could relate to Karla in many ways. She feels different compared to her small village and I certainly feel different to Gozitan people. She intends to move to London just as how I intend to move to New York someday. As writers, we need to live in cities like those where there are so many different people who all think differently.
I enjoyed meeting Karla since she really is an interesting person. I hope I get to meet with her again in the future, and maybe even work on projects with her!
Follow Karla Brading on Twitter!