Today it’s the turn of author Darlene Foster to give us a glimpse into the unpredictable and variety-filled days that make up her life as a writer. Darlene writes enthralling children’s adventure fiction. She also writes short stories and a wonderful blog with lots of posts and photos about her travels.
Her latest book is Amanda in Holland – Missing in Action and you can read more about it and how to preorder a copy at the end of this post. In the meantime you could get any of the earlier Amanda books for the upper primary/middle graders in your life. So, over to Darlene.
Darlene Foster’s Writing Life in a Day
I will start by saying there is no such thing as a typical day in my life anymore. I worked for 48 years and my life was very structured. During the latter part of my working life, I decided to follow my dream of becoming a writer and made a vow to write for two hours a day, no matter what. And I did, usually in the evening after dinner while others watched TV. As a result, I wrote and published four books and several short stories.
Now I’m retired and live for the most part in sunny Spain. I seem to have rebelled against structure in my day, so I write whenever I find some time. I no longer write every day either, although I write most days. In the past five years since I retired, I have written four more books. So much for structure!
So here is a sort of typical day. I wake up at 7:30 and take my dog for a walk, which is a great way to start the day. While she is busy playing in the park with her doggie friends, chasing squirrels and trying to climb trees, I often think about the next chapter in my WIP or a short story, blog or travel article I’m working on. Hubby goes for coffee with his buddies and takes the dog along, while I have breakfast, throw in a load of wash and check emails and social media.
When they come home, we all go to the beach so the dog can have a run. Later we stop for a coffee at a beach café, where we meet interesting people from all over the world and where I get ideas for my stories, characters, names, sayings etc. It’s all part of my research.
I work on the computer in the afternoon which includes writing, blogging, marketing, researching, social media and answering emails, taking a break for a cold drink or an ice cream and reading on the terrace. In the hot summer months, I usually go for a dip in the pool to cool off, taking a book and a note pad along. I get good ideas at the pool, especially if there are kids there. Last summer I met the father of a child who told me he had a very real fish phobia. A what?? I had to give that to one of my characters in the Amanda in Malta book. Going to the pool is also part of my research. I sometimes sell books at the pool so it is also part of marketing.
Dinner is on our terrace overlooking an abandoned lemon and orange grove. We take the dog for her evening walk together. (Our day is planned around the dog as you can see.) I might watch TV with hubby, notepad near as I get ideas from TV shows too. Then I work on the computer for an hour or two as that is when my family and friends in Canada are awake and we connect on Skype, Facebook and Zoom. It’s also when I connect with my publisher in Canada as we discuss my next book, do editing, marketing and create covers.
This is a sort of typical day, but other days I meet with writers where we critique each other’s work and share ideas. I belong to three such groups in Spain and one in Canada, which we meet digitally. Other days we may go for a drive in the country and visit Spanish villages, castles or churches full of history and stories. And of course we travel to other countries where I collect ideas for future stories, when we are not experiencing a world-wide pandemic.
Am I happy? You bet I am! Not having to follow a strict schedule, (other than the dog’s), not having to rush to work, meetings and other obligations is wonderful. Will I retire from writing? Never. Why would I? What would I do if I stopped writing?
I shudder at the thought.
Anne: Thank you to Darlene for this fascinating insight into her writing life. I agree – I can’t imagine my life without writing. You can read more about Darlene and her latest book below.
Darlene Foster is a Canadian author who has written the popular Amanda Travels series, featuring a spunky twelve-year-old who loves to travel to unique places where she encounters mystery and adventure while learning about another culture. Readers of all ages enjoy travelling with Amanda as she unravels one mystery after another in various countries. Darlene has won prizes for her short stories and a number of them have been published in anthologies. She has also written a bi-lingual book for English/Spanish readers.
Darlene grew up on a ranch near Medicine Hat, Alberta, where her love of reading inspired her to travel the world and write stories. Over the years she held wonderful jobs such as an employment counsellor, ESL teacher, recruiter, and retail manager, and wrote whenever she had a few spare minutes. She is now retired and has a home in Spain where she writes full time. When not travelling, meeting interesting people, and collecting ideas for her books, she likes to spend time with her husband and entertaining dog, Dot.
Her books include: Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask, Amanda in Spain: The Girl in The Painting, Amanda in England: The Missing Novel, Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone, Amanda on The Danube: The Sounds of Music, Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind, and Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action. Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady will be released in the spring of 2021.
Amanda in Holland-Missing in Action is Darlene’s latest book in the Amanda Travels series
From the back cover:
Alongside her best friend Leah, Amanda is in Holland to see all the sights: tulips, canals, Anne Frank House, windmills, and even a wooden shoe factory. She is also keen to find out what happened to her great uncle, who never returned from World War II. What she doesn’t expect is to find and fall in love with an abandoned puppy named Joey. While trying to find a home for him, she meets Jan, a Dutch boy who offers to help, a suspicious gardener, a strange woman on a bicycle, and an overprotective goose named Gerald. Follow intrepid traveler Amanda around Holland as she encounters danger and intrigue while trying to solve another mystery in a foreign country.
Hello and welcome to event number eleven in the Virtual Book Festival. Today’s guest is author of children’s books, Darlene Foster, and she’s here to talk to us about her writing and to tell us about the wonderful novels she writes for eight to twelve year olds.
Welcome Darlene, it’s lovely to have you here today. Let’s start with you telling us why and how you became a writer.
No one is born a writer. But you can be born a storyteller. I come from a long line of storytellers and have been telling stories out loud or in my head for as long as I can remember. We were encouraged to tell stories as I was growing up on the farm, as we didn’t have a television until I was almost a teenager. My grade three teacher encouraged me to write my stories down and when I was twelve I had a short story published in a local paper. It was called Stretch Your Food Dollar and was about an amusing experience two young girls have while shopping in a department store. Little did I know, all these years later, I would publish books about two girls having adventures and amusing experiences in various countries.
Storytelling is easy for me, getting it down on paper is a lot harder. Even though I have had several books published, I still feel like I am a writer in training. There is always more to learn.
Anne: Indeed – the writing it down is the hard part –and I know what you mean about always learning.
What genre do you write in and why did that hold a particular appeal for you?
I write travel adventure books for tweens, ages 8 to 12. I chose this genre as I dreamt of travelling as a child and enjoyed reading about adventures children had like The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. I particularly enjoy writing for this, my favourite age group, as they are bright, inquisitive, eager to learn and fun. They are in the middle, no longer little children but not yet teenagers. There is still that sweet innocence but they are starting to question things and think for themselves. That sense of adventure kicks in at this age and they crave more independence, at the same time they like to feel safe in the familiar. This all changes when they become teenagers.
Anne: Yes, an ideal age group for all the reasons you say.
How many books have you written? Tell us a bit about them.
I have written and had published seven books in the Amanda Travels series and one bi-lingual book, Cerdito a juicio (English/Spanish)
The Amanda Travels series feature spunky Amanda Ross, a 12-year-old Canadian girl who decides that the only way out of her boring existence is to travel. In Amanda in Arabia – The Perfume Flask, she makes a wish on her birthday for travel and gets an airline ticket to the United Arab Emirates to visit her Aunt the next day. She doesn’t even know where that is and has to look it up on the internet. Once there she meets Leah, an English girl, and before she knows it they are in the middle of an adventure that involves a runaway princess, bounty hunters, camels and a sand storm. She often finds herself wishing she were back home in her boring but safe life once again.
Amanda travels to Spain to join Leah in Amanda in Spain – The Girl in The Painting, where they help a young girl, who looks like a girl in a famous painting, escape the clutches of a mean horse thief. She also visits Leah in Amanda in England – The Missing Novel, where they get lost in a maze, hide in an underground tunnel and ride the London Eye in search of a missing vintage novel. When Leah visits Amanda in Amanda in Alberta – The Writing on the Stone, they take in all the sights while trying to decipher the mysterious writing on a stone and keep it from getting into the wrong hands. No matter where Amanda travels, even in her home province, she can’t seem to stay away from danger. In Amanda on the Danube – The Sounds of Music, Amanda is given a precious violin to look after as she enjoys a cruise down the Danube with Leah. Things aren’t always what they seem and Amanda is not sure who she can trust. Even Leah is acting strange. She goes on a school trip in Amanda inNew Mexico-Ghosts in the Wind where some weird things happen that make her wonder if she believes in ghosts or not. Amanda plans to do a lot more travelling.
Anne: Go Amanda! How wonderful that she and your readers get to travel to all these different places. I’d have loved these as a child and I think my granddaughter who will be eight this year would enjoy them too.
Tell us about a typical writing day?
I no longer have a typical writing day. When I was working full-time I would write for two hours every day, in the evening after dinner. I wrote my first four books sticking to this routine. Now that I am retired, I write when I get a chance. Often late at night but sometimes in the morning or mid-afternoon. The only rule I stick to is that I have to write every day. Which I do.
Anne: Yes, I think that’s the key – keep at it – and fit it in whenever you can.
Do you plot your novels in some detail before you actually start writing?
I am a true panster and create the story as I write. I tried to plot one of my books and it slowed me down and took away the spontaneity I require. I create a mind map with locations but that is about it. The mind map gets changed a lot and becomes very messy. I find this weird, as I am a fastidious planner in other parts of my life, just not in the writing part. I tend to allow my characters to take over. Then I polish the story later.
Anne: Your answer made me smile. I’m exactly the same – I plan the rest of my life assiduously – but when it comes to writing – no way.
What comes first for you characters or plot?
What comes first for me always is setting. However, my stories are character driven so the characters would come before plot. The plot happens as the characters react to certain things, people, places and events.
Anne: Yes, I can see why that would be the case with Amanda’s adventures. It’s the setting that kickstarts the rest.
Where do you get your ideas? How/when do they come to you?
I get my initial ideas when I’m travelling. I will often say to my husband or travelling companions, “I could use that in a story.” Or “Amanda would love that.” I take a lot of notes and pictures. I also get ideas listening to tweens talk. I overheard two twelve-year-olds discussing potential boyfriends and used that idea in Amanda in Holland. I love to hang around young people as they inspire me.
Anne: Again, it’s not surprising that you’re inspired by your travels.
Have you got a favourite character – apart from your lead one Amanda who I’m guessing comes top of the list – out of the all the ones you’ve created?
When I wrote Amanda in New Mexico I created a character called Caleb who I just fell in love with. He is a typical Alberta boy from Calgary. I grew up with three brothers (no sisters), have a son and two grandsons who I adore. Caleb is a combination of all of them. He is funny, tries to be brave, cool, smart and polite. He says things you wouldn’t expect him to say. He has a soft spot for Amanda but doesn’t really let on. He was only going to be in one book, but I have given him a big part in book number 8, Amanda in Malta – The Sleeping Lady.
Anne: Caleb sounds lovely.
Can you share some of the feedback/reviews you’ve had from your readers and/or any awards your books have received?
I have had some great reviews and feedback but the ones I like best are from the young readers themselves.
Here is a review of Amanda on The Danube from an articulate ten-year-old who lives in Wales.
“I think this book every bit as good as the last – if not better! I think the sense of intrepidation in this book is amazing. I read a lot myself and this was such good quality I am astounded. This is one of my favourite books of all time and that’s saying something!! My favourite scene is on page 5 because that’s where the mystery starts where they find the foot in the storage cupboard and are just about to find out more when a young cruise director called Michael spots them and asks why they are there. My favourite character is either Klaus because his personality changes so quickly from jolly and friendly to dark and sinister. Or it could be Sebastian because his personality changes quickly too. My favourite word in the book was ‘cobblestones’ because it sounds weird when I say it. All in all, this book was a great read and one of the best things about it is that children of all ages would enjoy it, because of its twists and turns and gripping narrative. I really enjoyed this book and I wish I could read more of the series.” Catrin
Here’s one from Quill & Quire
“Foster’s writing is conversational and easy to read, and young readers will likely find the pages flying by.”
And one from Alex Lyttle, author of From Ant to Eagle
“As always, I love the way these books teach kids about new places. Darlene does a great job combining history, cuisine, architecture and in this case, botany, from new countries in a way that children will enjoy. Looking forward to the next of Amanda and Leah’s adventures!”
Anne: Wow! Great feedback and especially lovely to hear from child readers too.
Your latest book in the Amanda series came out very recently and we have an extract from it below. But first – what’s it called and please, tell us a bit about it.
It’s called Amanda in Holland-Missing in Action and here’s what it says on the back cover:
Amanda is in Holland to see the tulips with her best friend, Leah. They travel the canals of Amsterdam, visit Anne Frank House, check out windmills, tour a wooden shoe factory, and take many pictures of the amazing flowers of Keukenhof Gardens. But many things are missing in Holland – rare tulip bulbs, a gardener, a home for an abandoned puppy and Amanda’s great-uncle who never returned from World War II. Is Amanda capable of finding these missing things without putting herself in danger? For kids and grown-up kids who enjoy a mystery and adventure set in a delightful country, Amanda’s adventures will make you want to visit Holland.
EXCERPT from Amanda in Holland – Missing in Action
They all piled into the car, Leah in the front, Amanda and Jan in the back with Joey between them.
Amanda enjoyed the scenery as they drove along the highway. “It’s so flat and very green.”
Jan explained how Holland is actually below sea level in many places and dykes were built to keep the water out. “No doubt you have heard the story of the little boy and the dyke?”
“No, I haven’t.” Amanda shook her head. “Tell us.”
“Well,” Jan began, “a long time ago a small boy was on his way to school when he noticed a leak in the dyke. He saw the sea water trickle through the opening and knew that even a small hole could eventually become bigger. If too much water flowed through, the village could be flooded. So, he poked his finger in the hole to stop the water, even though it meant he would be late for school and get into trouble. He stood there with his finger in the hole for a long time until eventually someone saw him and got help. The hole was repaired and the boy became a hero for saving his village.”
“That is such a cool story. Is it true?” asked Amanda.
“It is more like a legend. The story is told to children to show them that even a small child can prevent a disaster if they use their wits. Actually an American author, Mary Mapes Dodge, first wrote about it a hundred and fifty years ago in her book, Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates.”
“That’s so interesting, don’t you think, Leah?”
“Ya, sure.” Leah turned the page of her fashion magazine. “I heard that story when I was a little girl. What do you think of this outfit?” She turned around and held up the page.
Amanda smiled. “That’s very nice. It would look good on you.”
Everyone kept quiet as they passed more farm buildings and neatly tilled fields.
“Turn left,” said the GPS woman.
Mr. Anderson turned the corner and slammed on the brakes. A large angry goose stood in the middle of the road with its wings flapping and neck stretched forward as it honked.
Amanda laughed. “What a silly goose!”
“That’s my grandfather’s goose. He likes to think he is protecting the property,” said Jan.
“You mean he’s like a guard goose.” Amanda grinned.
Jan got out of the car and spoke to the goose in Dutch. The irate bird finally left the road and waddled into the field, his eye still on them.
Leah’s dad rolled down the window. “Thanks, mate. I wasn’t sure how we would get past him. Get back in and we’ll take you to where you need to be.”
Jan climbed back into the car. “You can drop me off over there.” He pointed to a farmyard in the distance.
As they neared the farm, Amanda noticed the rustic house with a sloping roof that looked like a face with a large slouched hat pulled over its eyes. “Is this where your grandparents live?”
“Yes, they have always lived here and so has my great-grandmother. It is her family home,” answered Jan.
The place looked inviting and cozy. Someone pulled aside a lace curtain and peered out the window. Grey eyes met Amanda’s. The curtain dropped.
Darlene: Thanks so much for organizing this virtual book fair and including my Amanda Travels stories.
Anne: It was a pleasure to have you here, Darlene. Thank you so much for taking part.
About Darlene Foster:
Growing up on a ranch near Medicine Hat, Alberta, Darlene Foster dreamt of writing, travelling the world, and meeting interesting people. She also believed in making her dreams come true. It’s no surprise she’s now the award-winning author of Amanda Travels, a children’s adventure series featuring a spunky twelve-year-old who loves to travel to unique places. Readers of all ages enjoy following Amanda as she unravels one mystery after another. When not travelling herself, Darlene divides her time between the west coast of Canada and the Costa Blanca, Spain with her husband and entertaining dog, Dot.