Blue Poppy Publishing with Oliver Tooley
Q: Welcome to the Fossend Publishing blog Oliver. Can you give readers a brief overview of Blue Poppy Publishing and your books.
A: Blue Poppy Publishing is a new publishing imprint, created to give my first full novel an air of respectability. As such it is merely a concept at the moment. A logo, a corporate image, and a collection of ISBNs.
Q: Why did you create Blue Poppy Publishing?
A: As previously alluded to, I was all ready to publish my first full novel “Children of the Wise Oak” when I looked at other self-publishing authors, notably Liz Shakespeare who uses an image of a red letterbox for her imprint “Letterbox Books” I liked the idea of having a “publisher” that wasn’t just … me.
So I asked around for suggestions for a name, and my son came up with Blue Poppy, in honour of my grandfather, Frank Kingdon-Ward who was a plant collector and brought back seeds of the Himalayan blue poppy in 1924.
Almost as soon as I had come up with the idea of Blue Poppy, it occurred to me that it could become a sort of Self-publishing hub for local authors. A sort of collective or co-operative where each author would add their weight of social media reach, and their own expertise to the group. I had learned a lot about formatting for Createspace, Kindle, and short print runs. I had to learn about distribution, and had bought 100 ISBNs because it was only twice as much as the price for 10. So I needed to find other writers who wanted to be part of the Blue Poppy family.
To that end, I put a page up on the website explaining the idea, and being up front about the fact that there is no money, just a certain amount of experience and a dream.
The first author to come on board was Ben Blake, whose next book (his seventh to be published) will be a Blue Poppy publication. He is doing everything himself because he is already an old hand. All I am doing is providing the logo and ISBN.
I also have a lovely and slightly crazy woman who is considering publishing her children’s stories through Blue Poppy. I’m really excited about that project because the stories are great fun, and also because she has less experience of formatting and publishing, so she will need some help.
Q: What inspired you to write your books?
A: Originally “Children of the Wise Oak” came from three little glittery dragons that my kids bought from a souvenir shop. Each had their favourite colour; blue, red, and green. I imagined creating a story in which the heroes were my boys who had to go on a quest where they would face a fierce elemental dragon to gain a magical jewel. It would have been an almighty cheese-fest, with every fantasy cliché jostling for position. Thankfully I gave up on it and my kids grew too old for it anyway. All that remains of the original concept is three boys, and their sister who bear hardly any resemblance to my four children except their gender, and age gaps.
The other series “Time Tunnel to Londinium” and others, was inspired by my youngest son who was bored in history classes. I set about trying to write a story which was fun but had real history as well.
Q: Did any of your books involve research?
When I started the “Time Tunnel” series I did loads of detailed research mostly on the internet, but occasionally finding specific books, and visiting the Museum of London, which features in the story. Later books involve trips to places that I have visited previously and wanted to highlight; e.g. Blists Hill Victorian village, and at some future point there will be a trip to Stanstead Mountfitchet castle.
My research is, like me, haphazard, and random, but I get there in the end. I hate getting basic facts wrong, so I was furious when I realised the first published version of “Time Tunnel to Londinium” featured the London Wall, at a time about fifty years before the wall had been built.
I had to rewrite large sections and release a new version. Perhaps decades from now; if I become famous, those early versions may be sought after collectors’ items. Ha-ha.
Similarly, I spent a day at a Celtic hill fort and met the Dumnonika re-enactors. I discovered that Celtic swords were always blunt tipped and only ever used for slashing. I realised I had made an error in “Children of the Wise Oak” in which someone was stabbed through a wattle and daub wall with a sword. It had to be a spear.
I would dearly love to do more hands on research; well, I would call it research. What I really mean is sipping chianti near the colosseum, or snorkeling in the Aegean but, you know; looking at old monuments now and again.
Q: What do you enjoy the most about writing?
Also getting excited by something I’ve just written, and seeing others react to the best bits.
Q: What do you dislike the most about writing?
A: I was going to say, starting, but actually, the worst thing is when you are actually in the zone and the words are flowing, but then you have to stop to check a fact, and the internet totally lets you down.
Do you know, it seems nobody actually knows the name of the wife of Nicomedes IV of Bithynia? I mean, how does the name of a queen of an important country in Roman times manage to go unrecorded? Mind you, that’s the homocentric misogynistic world of the Roman Empire for you.
Q: Can you share a typical day in the life of Oliver Tooley as a writer?
A: Oh, a typical day involves me getting up and observing the wife getting the kids ready for school. I fully intend to get on with some writing most days although in reality I spend a lot more time looking at Facebook, Twitter, and checking to see if someone bought a book today. I am a terrible procrastinator although to be fair, I do have to promote my existing books and getting a few sales does motivate me to get cracking with a sequel.
I should perhaps explain that I am autistic (undiagnosed) two of my kids are diagnosed with autistic spectrum condition (as the professionals currently call it) and I am registered as my daughter’s carer.
Recently I introduced an autistic character to my “Time Tunnel” series. Maarten appears in book 4 “Time Tunnel to West Leighton” in which they find themselves transported back to Anglo-Saxon times. He features heavily in book five which I am writing now.
Q: I understand that you are also writing a stage musical too? Can you tell us a little more about it?
A: Ooh yes. Well, we have written it already. ‘We’ refers to my son Morton, and me. The musical, called “Last Days” features the music of two of our favourite unsigned bands; Bison, and Tankus the Henge
We both agreed that the broad range of subject matter and the rock/ska/circus/showtunes-blend of both bands made them a really good candidate for being turned into a show.
The hardest part was having the strength of character to include only the songs which helped convey the story. I would argue that some of the best songs from both artists didn’t make the cut, although there are still stacks of incredible tunes.
The story centres around a circus troupe and an office and deals with themes of square pegs in round holes, and the different ways in which people find the right hole.
It is packed with laughs, and tears, but everyone will leave feeling good and singing “Smiling Makes the Day Go Quicker” which is what I want from a musical.
It is going to cost an absolute fortune to bring the musical to the stage, and we are starting easy by trying to record the soundtrack.
We will be doing a crowdfunder to finance that.
Q: What’s next for Oliver Tooley?
A: I am currently well on the way to completing “Women of the Wise Oak” which follows the adventures of Gwenn, who was the guide to the boys in the first book. She is an interesting character in that she is both a warrior, and a fairly powerful mage. I decided from early on to make her mostly vegetarian, however, she surprised me by being a lesbian as well. This had not been part of the story arch, but when it happened it was really obvious and right. Besides, I certainly wasn’t about to tell her she couldn’t be. She’s six feet tall and knows how to use a sword.
I am also working on book five in the “Time Tunnel” series, in which David is joined by his cousin Sarah (who also featured in book three) and his new friend, Maarten (who featured in book four) Maarten is the autistic character, and since he came into it, the books have got a lot better, in my humble opinion.
A little further into the future, I am working on a memoir of my great-grandmother and trying to turn that into a sort of Victorian novella, such as might have been written by a Bronte, or Dickens. (nothing like overarching ambition is there?) I am enlisting the help of my sister with that project, since she was an English teacher for many years, and she studied English literature to degree level.
Quick fire round
Beach or countryside – Fireside
EBook or paperback – Both
Classic or modern – Mostly classic but in books, no preference
Notebook and pen or computer – What’s a pen?
Sun or Snow – Primroses and falling leaves
"Children of the Wise Oak” is ‘Historic Fantasy’ set in a (mostly) historically accurate Celtic Britain and Republican Rome, with fantasy elements overlaid.
It tells of three young brothers who are forced to flee their village among the Durotriges tribe and travel through Gaul, guided by Gwenn; a warrior mage. They spend some time learning Druid lore, but their destiny is tied up with that of an unknown Roman.
Gwenn takes the boys to Rome where they begin to comprehend the enormous task ahead of them.
Part ‘coming of age’, part ‘quest’, the book can be read as a stand-alone story, but it is also part of an epic nine-part series. The sequel, “Women of the Wise Oak” concentrates on the adventures of Gwenn as she tracks the man who is prophesied to be a threat to her way of life.
The “Time Tunnel” series are short ‘time slip’ books for younger readers, featuring a ten-year-old boy called David who routinely stumbles across tunnels which take him back to a specific point in history. In the first two stories, he finds himself in Roman Londinium, then in later books, he visits wartime Devon, Anglo-Saxon Suffolk, and coming soon, Victorian Shropshire.
The idea of these books is to slip a bit of genuine social history into an otherwise fun story for children of junior school age.
About the author:
Oliver absolutely hated writing in school. Holding a pen or pencil became painful after a very short time, and still does. He also found it really hard to write stories to order in half an hour. Yet now, being able to write when the mood takes him, he has written and published five books with at least two more due to be published in 2017.
He has worked in a variety of jobs, including, retail, removals, driving, office installation, sales, and even a stint at a well-known burger chain. He blames his undiagnosed autism for the fact that he has rarely held on to a job for longer than a few months.
He moved to Ilfracombe, Devon in 2011 where he now lives with his wife and four children, and divides his time between writing, stopping arguments, starting arguments, and correcting people’s grammar on Facebook.