South African-born author Robbie Cheadle started writing books to encourage her son with reading and writing, but her journey as an author has moved from cookbooks to horror…
What inspired the Sir Chocolate and Lady Sweet books?
Chocolate Land and all the characters that live there were the brain child of my son, Michael. He was six years old when he came up with this idea as part of an initiative by me to get him to practice his reading and writing. Michael has an auditory processing learning barrier, so it was more difficult to teach him these skills than for my older son, Gregory.
Michael has a vivid imagination and thought the idea of a little man who lived in a world where you could eat everything and who had lots of fun adventures helping his friends with their problems was wonderful. Together we made up the rhyming verse stories and Michael wrote them out into books. Initially, Michael illustrated the books himself but then we had the idea of making the figurines and characters from fondant which is a hobby of mine. Both my boys were keen to join in fondant making at that time and so the Sir Chocolate picture books were born.
I always baked with my boys and with my nephews and nieces and they enjoyed the fondant making, story and baking activities so much that I decided to roll them all up together into the book series and make it a first story and cookbook.
I also have a website with a blog where I share recipes and bits and pieces of information about my children’s books called BakeandWrite as well as another blog, robbiesinspiration, where I share posts about what is happening in my life, flash fiction, poetry and book reviews.
As well as your ‘Sir Chocolate’ series, you have also co-authored a book about life in a Suffolk Town during World War 2 (While the Bombs Fell). How did that project start?
Michael and I have written about fifteen Sir Chocolate books, a couple of which are available as free books on our website. During 2017, I decided to try my hand at more advanced writing, and settled on writing about my mother’s experiences growing up as a young girl in Suffolk during WWII. History has always been a favourite subject for me and I loved the research that was involved in creating this book. To make the story work I had to create a timeline of the events of WWII and overlay my mother’s childhood onto it. I worked interesting pieces of history into the story of her childhood. My aim with this book was to write a story that was along the lines of Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, in other words, a fictionalised biography of my mom’s early years.
You recently contributed stories to a horror collection (Dark Visions, edited by Dan Alatorre). Horror is far cry from poems and recipes, so what prompted you to try something different?
I have always loved reading supernatural and horror books and read a few of Stephen King’s books when I was 10 years old. Interestingly enough, the two I read first, namely, The Shining and Salem’s Lot, are still my favourites of his books. I met Dan Alatorre on my blog and he used to host short story competitions to identify pieces for inclusion in his horror anthologies. I decided to have a go at writing a story for his competition in October 2017. I wrote The Willow Tree and Dan liked this story and gave me some excellent feedback and a critique. He held another competition in May/June 2018 and I entered again with my short story, The Haunting of William. I received more lovely feedback and another critique. I was delighted when Dan emailed me and said he would like to use both stories in his anthology Dark Visions. Being a part of this anthology was an amazing learning experience and I discovered a lot about marketing books successfully and met some wonderful authors like Jenifer Ruff and Allison Maruska among many others.
Generally, do you write to please your readers, to please yourself or with a particular audience in mind?
I wrote the Sir Chocolate books to help Michael and I thought they were a nice idea for parents and grandparents who were looking for entertainment for their young children. I wrote While the Bombs Fell because I thought the history of how people lived during WWII is fascinating and I think young people need to know about the horrors and deprivations of war. My new work in progress is a supernatural horror for young adults with a tapestry of historical events woven into it and a smattering of light romance.
In summary, I have written all my stories and books to please my writing aspirations. I could not write on demand or to appease a selling formula. I have a wonderful publisher, TSL Publications, and Anne Samson is a free thinker who is very supportive of creativity and writing free from the shackles of formulas. Obviously, I do apply the rules of writing when I work, that is a different concept all together.
What do you think about the many social media groups (such as Facebook), and do you think it’s important for writers to subscribe to them?
I have experimented with several social medias and my favourite is blogging. I have discovered wonderful friends through both of my blogs and my website. I believe I have learned the most and developed the best relationships with readers and writers through my blogs.
I also have Facebook, although it has become more difficult sharing blog posts to Facebook lately due to the changes in their policies. I have two Facebook author pages, one links to my darker reading and writing blog, robertawrites, and the other links to robbiesinspiration and my website. I also have three Facebook groups, Baked Delights, Poetry Sharing Group and Dark and Mysterious short stories.
Each of my blogs also links to a genre specific twitter account. I have a Sir Chocolate Pinterest account where I share all sorts of pictures of cakes, biscuits, blog posts and books and have recently joined MeWe. That is all I have time for by way of social media with a full-time job, family and my writing.
Have you taken any courses to help with the writing process, or to help tackle the many technical aspects of being an indie author?
I never studied creative writing at University as I have two degrees in accountancy and wrote my board exams to become a chartered accountant in 1998 and 1999. I pay for good developmental editors to help me with my books and that has been successful for me. I have had wonderful feedback on both While the Bombs Fell and Through the Nethergate and have invested a great deal of time in applying the comments I received. Dan Alatorre has also critiqued several my short stories and chapters of my books, and I learned a huge amount from him too. I try to take the advice on board and make it part of my writing going forward. I believe you must invest financially and time wise in anything you want to do successfully. I also read a huge amount and learn from blogs and articles about writing.
Have you ever used real people or real experiences to create characters/plots?
While the Bombs Fell is based on all real characters although I fictionalised parts of my mom’s story as she was only 7 years old when the war ended and doesn’t remember details about the war and her lifestyle. She remembers events and people mainly.
Through the Nethergate is based largely on real historical characters although Margaret, the heroine, and her grandfather are both fictional. Grandfather is a bit like my own dad, very innovative and a great source of interesting and useful information. He is also a survivor.
Has your work experience as a chartered accountant helped in the creation of characters or events in your books?
I think working in the corporate world has influenced my ideas of the negatives in our modern world and the risks faced by the population by greed and corruption. This concept has come into my writing of Through the Nethergate quite strongly. My work life and experiences has influenced my poetry writing quite heavily and I tend to write poetry about events and circumstances that have a big emotional impact on me.
Do you have many unpublished novels/stories?
I have the remaining 4 Sir Chocolate stories that will be published over the next few years and a draft of Silly Willy goes to London that is ¾ finished. I just lost interest in that book before I got it finished. I am currently writing a novella about the Anglo Boer War and I am also intending to meld my experiences as the mother of an OCD child with an idea for a science fiction book about a dystopian world. I have already written a lot of the material for this novel.
With work and a family to keep you busy, how do you schedule time for writing?
My children are both teenagers and they don’t require to much time from me on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I get up early and write until they wake up, sometimes as late as 10AM. I get a lot done in the four hours I have free. I work flexible hours so sometimes I work 12-hour non-stop days and weekends and other times I only work four hours in a day. On those days, I fit in some writing and research. My secret is that I work all the time, either helping my boys with homework, working, baking or writing and blogging. My hobbies and my work are as one.
What aspect of writing have you most improved in over time? And/or what resources helped you most in this area?
My ability to write in the active tense and not the passive tense has improved hugely as well as my ability to notice when I am swopping character points of view which makes the writing disrupted. I have learned about filter words and useless adverbs and I try to watch out for these in my writing. I have also learned to use dialogue and thoughts in my writing. Before I published my first book, I wrote seven non-fiction publications on African Capital Markets and the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Africa. I have had to learn to write less factually and more emotionally for fiction writing.
How do you approach creating covers for your books and is this a task you do yourself or with the help of a designer?
I designed all of the Sir Chocolate books covers myself, using my own photographs. I had a cover designed for While the Bombs Fell and am doing the same for Through the Nethergate. With both of the designed covers, I shared my own thoughts with the designer as well as any pictures and graphic ideas I could find, and he came up with the perfect cover, just like magic.
What’s next for Robbie Cheadle?
As I mentioned above, I plan to publish Through the Nethergate in late August/early September and Sir Chocolate and the Graffiti Artist in November this year. Sir Chocolate and the Fondant Five story and cookbook has recently become available on TSL Publications and Lulu.com and will soon be available on Amazon.
For next year, I hope to publish my novella on the Anglo Boer War and possibly also my Sci-Fi book about the dystopian world. I think it will be quite different from other books I have read in this genre. I haven’t planned further than this at the moment.
You can find all Robbie’s books on Amazon.