Thursday, 14 January 2016

Inspirational Spotlight - Celebrating the new release of Patrick S Brook's first novel Deathcat Sally

Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone had an enjoyable festive break and are all bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to tackle the new year ahead. My break was quite an eye opener and I have had what can only be described as an awakening. I shall be letting you all in to my new outlook on life soon enough, I am still getting my head around it all, but I can honestly say I have never felt so uplifted and at peace with myself. I feel like I should be living in one of Patrick’s illustrations he he. His latest colour collective piece above is very fitting!

Anyway enough nutty ramblings, I have plenty of time to weird you all out over the course of 2016 ha ha.

Let’s get down to business. I can’t think of a better blog post to kick the new year off than with celebrating the new release of the super talented Patrick S Brooks first book release “Deathcat Sally” released on January the 21st 2016. 

I was lucky enough to read this on my holidays at the beginning of 2015 and I couldn’t put the book down. As soon as I came home I started reading it to my 11 year old son Dylan and he loved it too.  I have a huge soft spot for the main character, Zachary the cat. He has got a wicked sense of humour and I have well and truly fallen in love with the little fur ball. Really hoping it is not the last we see of Zachary.

If I were asked to describe this book in a simple sentence, it would be  “a Clive Barker for the younger reader, thrilling, captivating, funny and a little gruesome”… a winning combo in my eyes.

I have been following Patrick’s work for just over a year now and had a gut feeling that there was more to him than meets the eye. Not only is he a gifted artist but boy can the man write! On top of this he is one of the nicest people I have come across. So I wanted Patrick to tell us all a bit more about his work and his hopes and dreams. So without further ado I give you the genius that is Patrick S Brooks.......

Tell us a little about yourself and your background.

I’ve been drawing and illustrating since I was a child and was creatively inspired by Western and Eastern cartoons and animated films. Early favourites included ‘Kimba the White Lion’, ‘Thundercats’, ‘Battle of the Planets’, ‘The Real Ghostbusters’ and numerous Disney and Warner Bros titles. My Grandfather Brooks was a painter who specialised in oils and acrylics, so I was artistically inspired by his work also.

                             What were your favourite subjects at school?

Art and English were my favourite subjects – from an early age I would draw characters from Disney and Warner Bros shows and films. I studied Art through GCSE, A Level, Diploma and Degree. It was in High School that I began using pastels and found I particularly enjoyed using them. I started using Photoshop in college for my Diploma and have used it ever since.

How would you describe yourself as a child?

I enjoyed escaping into fantasy worlds through animation and films and particularly liked the original Star Wars trilogy and Ghostbusters. I would write and illustrate my own stories about them with my older sister. I was never really into playing sports or following football like many other children, I preferred to watch cartoons and fantasy/sci-fi films and play Sega Master System games such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Wonderboy. The style of early video games also inspired me and introduced me further to anime.

You are an author and illustrator, do you enjoy both equally as much? Did you always want to be both or did it just naturally happen?

I always liked creating characters and writing stories, but primarily focused on illustration for a while. It wasn’t until I suffered from a nerve injury in my neck in 2010 that I fully focused on writing – mainly because I could no longer illustrate as the injury affected my right hand.  

DeathCat Sally is your first book to be released in the big wide world. Can you tell the readers what the book is about and where the concept came from.

Deathcat Sally was inspired by a lucid dream I had on 7th January 2011. I’d been struggling with the nerve entrapment since the previous September and was on a cocktail of neuropathic medication and painkillers. As I could no longer illustrate, I spent more time at the local RSPCA looking after a large group of cats. This combined with the severe neuralgia down my right side likely led to the dream I had. In the dream, a female teacher who had knocked over a cat later found that half of his talking spirit was fused to her shoulder. When I woke, I immediately started scribbling notes down and then turned on my computer and started typing.

The book follows a 17 year old teaching assistant called Sally Rancher who accidentally knocks over a cat named Zachary with her car while rushing home. Trying to help, she is hit by another vehicle and is comatose. When she wakes, she finds that half of Zachary’s talking spirit is fused to her shoulder. Sally finds she can communicate with other animals and that both Zachary and her keep being pulled into a dark place called ‘No Man’s Land’ – a realm of lost animal spirits. Together they must find a way to separate and uncover the reasons why they are bound together.

How long did it take to complete the book and what has been the most challenging aspect to date?

It’s taken nearly five years to complete the book and it has altered quite a lot during the writing process. Originally, Sally was older and the novel was approx 133,000 words. Based on feedback from editors and proofreaders, I cut 44,000 words to get it to a more streamlined 89,000 words. Several characters and subplots were cut, but I feel this helped with the pacing of the story.
Originally the story was far more adult based – Zachary used excess profanity and there was more violence and gore. Due to feedback from others, I found that aiming the book at a young adult readerbase would suit the story better. Much of the dialogue had to be changed and the violence toned down to a more 12A movie certificate level.

Another challenging part was incorporating the changes from the publisher’s external proofreader and keeping track of everything through Track Changes in Word. Perhaps strangely for a writer, I have a form of visual dyslexia called Irlen’s Syndrome, which means I struggle to read large blocks of text in certain fonts due to severe migraines and visual disturbances. For me to be able to read extensive amounts of text, I require a pink coloured overlay and have to convert type into a handwritten font and increase the line spacing. Any time I get an email for example, I have to copy/paste into Word and convert the font/line spacing. There are some instances where this cannot always be done (for example scanned documents with proofreader notes).
I think overall finding how the publishing process works and having some things be very different to preconceptions was also challenging and a steep learning curve.

The options of getting a book out there is so vast these days. What route did you decide to take with Death Cat Sally and why?

I didn’t feel confident enough to self publish on Kindle for example – as Deathcat Sally is my first full novel, I knew I had to get more external feedback on the story and see how others were responding to it. Although it can’t be considered a mainstream release, I feel as though due to the external comments from editors, proofreaders, writers’ groups and associates I have become a better writer and know what things to watch out for when writing and submitting my next novel. My second book is called ‘Cyborg Critters’ – a young adult sci-fi/horror following an escaped bionic guinea pig, rabbit and ferret. I’ll be approaching agents and publishers this year when it’s ready and hope to make it into the mainstream. There’s potential for a Cyborg Critters trilogy, but the first book will also work as a self-contained novel.   

The publishing industry seems to be a bottomless pit of things to learn, I feel like I have only just scratched the surface with it all. Do you have any top tips or has there been incidents that have opened your eyes to the whole publishing industry?   

It is a minefield out there and you just have to learn from experience. I would recommend to fully research agents and publishers who specialise in the genre your novel is in. I’ve had a few horror stories with the industry - projects being cancelled, publishers going into administration etc, and unfortunately sometimes there are some things you can’t prepare for. Unless you get very lucky, getting a major bestseller with your first novel is going to be tricky, but although it is an incredibly steep learning curve, you will learn. If you persevere and believe you can accomplish something worthwhile that resonates with readers, then don’t let anyone dissuade you. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t be open to constructive criticism and comments that will help you improve your characters and story. If you want to be a writer, then dealing with and taking on board the feedback from others is essential – it’s not always easy to hear, but it might just help you improve in the long run.

How will you be marketing the book?

I designed and printed my own marketing and promotional materials. In my marketing packs are bookmarks, badges, postcards, toy cats etc. I’ve had banner stands printed and bought a cat puppet for any potential book signings/events. I’ve also hired an external marketing company to assist with contacting reviewers/bloggers to try to get the book more exposure. I need all the help I can get with the book really! I have no idea how successful the book will be, but as far as the marketing aspect goes, this is my test run to see what works and what doesn’t. Wish me luck! I hope those that read Deathcat Sally will pass the book on and recommend it to others as I think this is how the book will find its readerbase. I’m also intending to send copies to animal welfare and conservation charities/groups, libraries and schools/colleges.

What’s your views on social media for marketing and which social network worked best for you?

I’ve found Twitter incredibly helpful since I started using it just over a year ago. Primarily it’s helped me connect with other illustrators and writers and through the illustration group Colour Collective has allowed me to improve as an illustrator, gain exposure and secure representation by Advocate Art. I prefer Twitter to Facebook, which I’ve only just started using, but also see the potential to gain exposure through the Artist, Illustrator and Writers’ groups. 

One of the things I love about you is that you are a compassionate soul and like most creatives want to make the world a better place somehow. Can you tell us what your dream / purpose is with the book and future creations of yours.

Thanks! For Deathcat Sally I’d like to think it could raise awareness in young adults and older readers about animal welfare and conservation. I didn’t set out to write a lecture or have a preachy agenda, but aimed to create non human characters that the reader could empathise with. It also deals with mental health issues and is partly an allegory about Bipolar Disorder. I think it’s a very long road ahead with Deathcat Sally, but I’d love to see it as an animated or live action film one day. For my children’s illustration work I’m aiming to get picture books published and hope that my work brightens up the reader/viewer’s day. 

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t give up! No matter how bad or hopeless things get, never quit. Have faith and hold onto the hope that things will get better.

Now going into what drew me to you originally.. your illustrations. As we know, big fan here he he. You create a whole new world with your illustrations, an ethereal world which both animals and humans would forever be at peace. Can you tell us where you get your inspiration from. Have you always created these worlds or is it something that evolved over time?

I think the human/animal scenes have evolved over time. As mentioned, I watched a lot of animated shows and films when I was young (still do!) and many have anthropomorphic animals. Most animated creatures from shows and films have human personalities, so you have more empathy for them. I think most of my illustrations have a dreamlike feel to them, I suppose some could be considered idyllic – where humans and animals co-exist peacefully, but I think this is part of the ethereal nature of much of my work. As a child, I was shielded from the harsh reality and raw brutality of nature, as perhaps many children are. Maybe some of my illustration work is in a way, capturing a glimpse of that innocent state of being. Deathcat Sally presents a reality where animals communicate with one another and have unique personalities and talk as people would. Cyborg Critters is set in a world where, aside from the cybernetically enhanced mammals, animals do not have human-like personalities and do not communicate with one another beyond basic natural instincts. Growing up and in popular culture, it’s clear that the natural world is so inspiring in the creation of captivating non-human characters.

I think another reason your work stands out to me is the story telling within. Illustrators are good at telling stories with their work, that’s what we are here to do after all, but your illustrations to me seem to have something extra, like a hidden meaning. Are there any hidden meanings lurking about in the background or am I just being weird ha ha

I’m very glad you think so! I always like to try to include a narrative in my illustration work and sometimes leave it open to the viewer’s interpretation. I try to convey a sense of fun in some of my illustration, while in others I try to convey a sense of wonder and discovery. I think some of my illustrations focus on being in awe of the natural world and the concept of the spiritual. Light, and the Sun/stars are often in my scenes – I like including these as to me they represent the beauty of life and the vastness of creation. Many times I try to have a sense of warmth from the Sun in my illustrations. I think having celestial elements prominent is about searching for meaning and answers too, whether that is through faith and the belief in a higher power, meditation, or learning about the natural order of the world and why the universe is as it is.    

Can you give us a brief step by step outline of the process behind your illustrations. Do you still use traditional methods with your work now?

I primarily work in Photoshop now and use custom pastel and paint brushes. I still use scanned traditional paint and pastel textures too though. I use a Wacom tablet for all my work. For most of my children’s illustrations I create the sky/background elements first. I usually start throwing down different colours and textures into Photoshop and experiment with the layer opacity and layer properties to get the colour tones that I want to use. When I have a good idea of the environment, I start planning the composition of where the characters need to be. Sometimes where they begin is not where they end up, other times I might start with one creature, then decide another would work better in the scene. The images are built up gradually in many layers in Photoshop and I use the custom pastel, paint and canvas brushes to create texture, giving the images a more traditional media feel.

For budding illustrators out there, what methods have you found to be the best way of marketing your artwork and getting people to notice you?

I think Twitter has helped me enormously to get feedback from other illustrators and writers. It’s also helped a great deal as I’ve become inspired by so many talented illustrators on Twitter. Becoming a regular contributor to illustrator groups is also an excellent way of getting more exposure. Initially, I started with Daily Doodles and Sketch Dailies, but then focused completely on Colour Collective. I like to try to support other illustrators by Retweeting and Liking their work and it’s important to regularly upload your illustrations onto social media. It’s incredibly competitive out there and you have to persevere and maintain a strong online presence with increasing and improving your portfolio.

Where would you like to see yourself in say five years time?

I’d like to have picture books and at least one novel in mainstream publication. My dream is to have Deathcat Sally or Cyborg Critters (or both!) made into good animated or live action films one day. 

Now the most important question, where can we get our hands on a copy of DeathCat Sally?

Deathcat Sally is available to buy from 21st January – please have a look!
It’s probably going to be a very long time before I make any kind of personal profits from book royalties, but if I do I’d like to donate percentages to animal welfare and conservation charities. In the meantime, I’ve become a sponsor for Cats Protection and hope to increase awareness of their work.
Thanks very much for the questions and all the best for 2016!

Thank you so much Patrick, I really enjoyed learning more about you and your work and I absolutely cannot wait to get a copy.

If you would like to follow Patrick's work then here are all the appropriate links:

Twitter: @P_S_Brooks

I would like to end the post with one of Patrick's prints that I cherish. He included my little Pip and Squeak from Animania. One of my highlights from 2015....

1 comment:

  1. Corrina, thanks for introducing Deathcat Sally and Patrick to us. Love your description: "a Clive Barker for the younger reader, thrilling, captivating, funny and a little gruesome.” That's a kid magnet for sure!