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  • Cameron M

Book Chat: Kesta Fleming

Kesta Fleming is the author of the Marlow Brown series, which currently features two extremely fun and informative stories about Marlow, an inquisitive protagonist with a knack for getting into tricky situations. A therapist and former teacher, Kesta has written for children across a wide array of forms and genres, including poetry, plays, short stories and articles. I'm really excited to welcome Kesta to Book Chat!

Hi Kesta, and thanks for dropping by for a Book Chat! Congratulations on the publication of your second Marlow Brown book, Magician in the Making. It’s such a fun read. It definitely made me want to consider a side gig as a magician!

Excellent. That’s magic to my ears, Cameron!

So to begin with, I’d love to know about your path to publication. Had the first Marlow Brown story been brewing for a long time before you submitted it for consideration?

I actually wrote it quite quickly, so in that sense it didn’t ‘brew’, but once written, it did sit idle in my bottom draw for quite some time. Eight years in fact. Part of the reason for that is because early on, I gave up too easily after the first couple of rejections. I think I sent it out twice in its first year. I then decided, after a little adaptation, to send chapter 7 to the School Magazine as a stand-alone story. To my delight, they published it, and then reprinted it some years later as it had been popular. In my mind, the fact that I’d been paid already, even if for only part of the story, meant I’d succeeded. So I forgot all about the fact that it was bigger than chapter 7, and got on with other projects.

It wasn’t until Di Bates, author and compiler of the ezine Buzz Words, generously offered to assess a first chapter of something I’d written, that I remembered poor old Marlow Brown languishing there in the bottom draw. Her feedback was very encouraging, so I ended up sending it out all over again. The first publisher liked it and asked me to make changes, but in the end decided it wasn’t for them, and the second publisher, Celapene Press, took it on. Happy dance!

I’m keen to know more about your main character, Marlow, and how she came to be. Is there much of you in this character?

Marlow appeared when I was doing a chapter book writing course with children’s author, Sherryl Clark, some years ago. And Marlow’s personality jumped out at me in a writing task where we had to write about our character’s last birthday in first person. For some reason, I felt compelled to have her write up her birthday party as if it were a scientific experiment — I think Marlow was doing the compelling, not me! — except she was a boy back then…

She only became a girl once my publisher, Kathryn, had started reading the manuscript for the first time. Kathryn picked up the phone and asked me how I’d feel about changing Marlow’s gender. It took a bit of mental adjustment, but I think the books are all the better for it. So before you ask, yes, she first appeared in that stand alone story in the School Magazine as a boy.

And is there much of me in her? Yes, I think there is. I think there’s honestly a bit of us in every character we create. I’m similar to Marlow in that I’m interested in all kinds of things. I never knew what I wanted to be or do when I was growing up (nor even once I’d grown up!). There were just too many things to learn about and explore. Even now I quite happily do two completely different things. I’m a children’s author on one hand, but I also love my therapeutic work helping people with stress and anxiety.

Marlow’s like that too. In book one, she’s avidly interested in exploring the idea of being a scientist. In book two, she’s smitten by the thought that she could become a top-class magician. I’m still working on book three, but it has an engineering focus.

Please tell us about Marlow’s latest venture, Magician in the Making!

Well, having conducted a highly successful scientific experiment at the end of book one (in which Marlow transforms Dad’s veggie patch into a patch full of ginormous show-worthy vegetables), she finds herself with time off to explore the local show. She and her friend Felix meet at the tent of Mervin the Magical, where Marlow becomes totally smitten with the idea that she too could become a top-class magician.

The story follows her exploits as she endeavours to master the skills of magic and illusion. Except, coupled with her dog Rockstar — who serves as magician’s assistant — nothing Marlow tries goes quite to plan. The pair are dogged (pardon the pun) by chaos at every turn. And Marlow’s dad won’t stop laughing. But Marlow has an admirable tenacity. She is determined, despite the odds, to succeed, even if that means certain members of her audience end up unwittingly becoming a part of the act.

Did Magician in the Making come together in a similar way to the first Marlow Brown book, Scientist in the Making? Was writing about Marlow easier second time around?

The two books actually came together quite differently. The first book was both quicker and easier to write than the second. I think the problem initially, was that I began trying to write the second book with Marlow as a girl … but I just couldn’t get into her head that way. She’d been a boy for too long in my own mind, so part of me was afraid that I’d inadvertently alter her personality if I wrote her as a girl.

When I finally realised the problem and switched her back to a boy, everything flowed beautifully. Of course, that meant I had to do the pronoun switch again at the end of the first draft, but by that stage I was confident I’d stayed true to Marlow’s character.

I’d love to know a little about how you approach the writing of your Marlow Brown stories, given that the first two books clearly draw on a lot of background knowledge and research. Did the stories spring from your background work? Or vice versa, or a bit of both?

Various aspects of the first story sprang from my own life experiences. For example, while I’m not a scientist, I’d done a research option in Year 12 biology on the effects of a plant growth hormone — gibberellic acid — on dwarf beans. I remember as a seventeen-year-old, the idea of creating a gigantic beanstalk like Jack’s was a pretty enticing one. It turned out however, that that wasn’t quite how gibberellic acid worked. Nevertheless, the idea stuck with me so aspects of that experiment found their way into the book.

In Magician in the Making the topic came first, but the story details sprang from an interview I did with a couple of practicing magicians in their twenties. Not being a magician myself, and the secrets of magic and illusion being as they are, I needed to consult with those in the know to give my story authenticity. Alisdair Gurling and Oscar Owen not only answered all my questions, but regaled me with tales of failed magic as they reminisced about their own journeys. Like Marlow, their interest in magic began when they were in primary school, so their stories were the inspiration I needed.

I certainly felt like I’d learnt a lot about magic after reading Magician in the Making, and particularly admired the fact that much of the learning came seamlessly through the story. This made me wonder how your experience as a teacher influences your writing. Do you consciously bring educational objectives to your fiction writing?

That’s a good question. I certainly don’t do it consciously. I’m sure having a teaching background must influence my writing, but first and foremost, I simply aim to write a good story that will entertain and engage my target audience — and me! If I’m not entertained by my own story, chances are no one else will be either.

However, people say ‘once a teacher, always a teacher’ and as I reflect on your question, Cameron, I realise how true this is for me. I like everyone to be included in conversations, fully able to understand and contribute. When my own children were young and we’d have interesting conversations at the dinner table, my husband would often use words that the children couldn’t possibly know at their age. They developed a habit of glancing at me for clarity. ‘What Daddy means is…’ I’d say.

Thinking about it, that’s exactly what Marlow does with Rockstar. She includes him in everything. And that means explaining tricky words and concepts to him. You can’t have the magician’s assistant left behind after all, even if he is a dog! What would be the fun in that? The added advantage, of course, is that readers won’t be left behind either (I hope!).

Besides, learning new things is always best done alongside others who are excited by learning new things too, don’t you think? (Or is that just the teacher in me speaking?)

I couldn't agree more.

On a lighter note, you mention in your bio that you’ve developed a repertoire of magic tricks yourself, passed down through your family. Is there one in particular that you could recommend as a good starting point to a mature-age novice magician? (Asking for a friend!)

Ah, now there’s a question! If you were with me in person, I’d teach you the ‘Two Little Dicky Birds’ trick. It’s a great trick to do with really young ones but I daren’t put the secret down in writing for fear of getting into trouble. Once, when I was away, my husband decided to do the trick for our kids (who were in primary school by this stage but still hadn’t figured the trick out). Apparently, he did the trick so badly that the secret was out of the bag. On the phone that night I had two semi distraught children asking me to come home because, according to my eldest, their dad had ‘wrecked the magic’. These days they go a step further and jokingly say he wrecked their childhood. Poor man!

So instead, I’d like to point you to an excellent mind-reading trick taught to me by my uncle. It’s great to perform to a crowd of people of any age. The instructions are on the Magic page of my website under the Kids’ Stuff tab. Let me know how you get on!

Thanks a million, will do!

So, what’s next for Kesta Fleming?

I mentioned earlier that I’m in the process of writing the third Marlow book, but I also have an unfulfilled ambition to have a picture book (or several) published. So I continue to work on and send out my picture book manuscripts to publishers. If determination and persistence have anything to do with it (and I’m quite sure they do), one of these fine days I’ll get there!

I have no doubt that you will!

Finally, where are the best places for readers to find you online? And what’s the best way for readers to get hold of the Marlow Brown books?

Readers can ask for the books at their local library or bookshop, or can buy them online at all the usual online bookstores. Relevant links can be found on the book pages on my website:

As well as my website I have various social media accounts, so feel free to connect with me at whichever is your preferred platform.

Thanks again, Kesta, for such an insightful, generous and fun chat! It's a been a great pleasure. I wish you every success with Marlow Brown: Magician in the Making, and will be keeping an eye out for Marlow's next adventure.

This post is part of a blog tour for Marlow Brown: Magician in the Making, presented by Books On Tour PR & Marketing. Please keep following Kesta's journey over the next few months on the fine blogs below.

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