I promised that when I was finished Blackfin Sky I’d have a review for you, and guess what? Kat Ellis was kind enough to answer a few questions for me too. She’s such a sweetheart and answers all my crazy Welsh questions without calling me crazy. If you’re a writer or an eager reader, I suggest you add her to twitter @el_kat. As for the book, I didn’t hesitate to give it 5 stars. It’s an amazing read, but before we get to the review, here’s what Kat had to say about her novel, getting it published, and her thoughts on the dreaded rules of writing.
1) Tell us a bit about how you got published. How did you go from aspiring author to a publishing deal in the UK and the US?
I’ve been writing semi-seriously for about four years. A couple of trunked manuscripts down the line, I wrote one that turned out to be Blackfin Sky. When my agent, Molly Ker Hawn, first took it out to publishers to look at, I had no idea what the response would be. But one day in June last year I got the news I’d been hoping for: Firefly Press absolutely loved my novel, and had contacted Molly to talk about the possibility of publishing it.
“Oh my god, someone wants to publish my novel!” (Me, with eyes so huge and round they nearly fell out. FACT.)
Running Press Teen in the US got in touch soon after. Molly worked out the details with both publishers so Blackfin Sky would be published in the UK by Firefly, and in the US by Running Press Teen. I’ve loved working with both publishers, getting to make Blackfin Sky an American and UK novel. It showed me that Blackfin is just as weird on either side of the Atlantic!
2) What has been the most exciting moment for you on the road to publishing?
There are quite a few landmark moments, really – all the firsts. Signing with Molly was one, as well as getting those first offers from Firefly and Running Press Teen. Seeing both covers for the first time – now that was definitely something! And of course, holding my book in my hands for the first time.
3) Is there anything you would do differently next time?
Easier said than done, but try to concentrate on writing the next book when things slow down on the publishing side. There are always going to be ‘rush hour’ periods as well as lulls in getting a book published, so it makes sense to use those less frantic moments to focus on the next project.
4) In your debut novel Blackfin Sky, the town of Blackfin is so mysterious and distinctive that it almost becomes a character. The setting is perfect for Sky’s journey. What inspired you to create Blackfin? Is it based on a real place?
Thank you! I love the idea of Blackfin, though I’d never actually want to go there. A lot of the elements – the pier, the woods, the circus – have a basis in my local area, but Blackfin could really exist in any coastal area. And for Sky’s story to work, it really needed to be set somewhere super-creepy and cut off from the rest of the world, where anything and everything could happen.
5) Why did you choose the circus as the alternate setting in the novel?
It was at a travelling circus that I figured out some key parts of the story. I was sitting in the stands, watching these amazing people doing tricks and stunts that shouldn’t have been possible, and I knew then what would happen to Sky. The circus was the perfect setting for her bizarre story.
6) What was the inspiration behind the Blood House?
In a town where weird things like haunted weathervanes and wishing wells that steal the coins from your pocket are accepted as the norm, all that needed to be mirrored in the place where Sky felt safest. Her home had to embody everything that makes the town of Blackfin so special, and when I started to think about what kind of place that would be, the Blood House was it.
7) The very first chapter of Blackfin Sky had me hooked. I absolutely LOVE how you had Silas as the observer. What made you decide to start the book that way instead of just staying with Sky’s pov the whole way through?
I rewrote the beginning quite a few times before I settled on it. Having Silas’ POV really sets the tone, and I think (hope!) draws the reader straight into the heart of the place, the atmosphere, and Sky’s story.
8) What are you working on now? What can we expect from you in the future?
My writing groove tends towards sci-fi and fantasy, but I like to try new things, so at the moment I’m working on a couple of things – a sinister story set in a Welsh valley, and one about psychopaths in a boarding school. I have a wicked idea for what I want to write next, but my writer’s heart is as fickle as the wind, so we’ll see!
9) Let’s talk about some of the Rules of Writing. It’s a chant us writers hear over and over, and yet, we see the rules broken all the time. What are your thoughts on:
Adverbs – I’m not a stickler for stylistic rules, or an adverb-hater. If adverbs add to your story and don’t affect the pacing, knock yourself out.
Prologues – I don’t love-LOVE prologues, because I want to be drawn into a story good and hard before an author starts throwing me around their timeline. If there’s a prologue, I’m only not going to be very invested before I’m thrown around, so it can feel like an obstacle. That said, if it’s the best way to start a story, go for it. Seeing the word ‘Prologue’ as the chapter header isn’t going to make me roll my eyes and stop reading.
Detailed descriptions of characters – This really depends on what it adds to the story, and where it happens. If I find out at the end of a book that a character I’ve been picturing one way actually looks completely different, it kicks me out of the story. The character will feel less real to me then. But if it’s relevant – say, a character is picked on for being tiny – then of course I need to know that.
Using anything other than “Said” to carry dialog – I think it’s generally better to convey tone/emotion through what is said, so in “I can’t believe you did that!” you can tell the speaker is upset, and the tag ‘he shouted angrily’ should be redundant. But there are always exceptions, of course.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions. J
Thank you for having me!
Review ~ 5 Stars!
Atmospheric and Captivating.
Blackfin Sky is an amazing debut. Kat Ellis weaves together a spine tingling mystery set in Blackfin, a shadowy little town cut off from the world and filled with secrets just waiting to be unearthed. The story will make you shiver. The cloudy skies, dark forest, Blood House (‘cause all creepy houses should have names), a veiled circus, and the spectral observer watching the mystery unfold give this novel a very Gothic feel. But while the setting fascinates, the mystery surrounding Sky’s apparent death (and return), drive the story forward. And just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, the author adds another twist to keep you turning the page because in Blackfin, nothing is as it seems.
Kat Ellis is very talented writer and an incredible storyteller. It truly is a tale of magic, mystery and emotion.
When Sky falls from Blackfin Pier and drowns on her sixteenth birthday, the whole town goes into mourning – until she shows up three months later like nothing happened.
Unravelling the mystery of those missing months takes Sky to the burned-out circus in the woods, where whispers of murder and kidnapping begin to reveal the town’s secrets. But Sky’s not the only one digging up the past – the old mime from the circus knows what happened to her, and he has more than one reason for keeping quiet about it.
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