Lisette Auton has her debut novel coming out on the 3rd of February 2022, The Secret of Haven Point.
The Stickleback Catchers, Lisette’s second novel is released on the 9th of February 2023, with a signing at Waterstones Darlington on the 18th of February.
Lisette Auton is a northern disabled writer, activist, poet, novelist, spoken-word artist, actor, film and theatre-maker, and creative practitioner. She’s an award-winning poet who has performed at Northern Stage, ARC, the Southbank Centre and the Sage, in pubs, in a crypt, at festivals, indoors, outdoors, on a bridge and in a launderette. The Secret of Haven Point is her debut novel.
Tell us what inspired you to write your debut novel?
Place, definitely. I wanted to write about where I spent my childhood, and lighthouses are just ridiculously cool. I tried writing a book set there and it was AWFUL. I realised I was writing what I thought I should write, not what I wanted to write. When I realised that and started writing just for me, it all fell into place – very definitely set in the north east, a cast of disabled characters, a captain with a kitten in his beard, and mermaids, obviously. Once that got blended all together it became loads of fun to write.
What came first the characters or the world?
The world, always the world! Place is really important to me. That comes first and then the characters start to appear in it…
How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?
Getting published bizarrely was never the goal. Finishing a book was! So many started and never completed. It was a dream I’d had since I was tiny to have a book on a shelf with a Puffin symbol on it, but in no way shape or form did that feel remotely like an actual goal. Writing a book was a secret hobby for a long time. I applied to a programme with Writers’ Block North East in 2015, knowing I wouldn’t get on, and then when I did getting published seemed that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t a silly goal to have. I think because I’ve had so much fun, and it wasn’t the ultimate goal and I never really imagined it actually happening, it’s never felt ‘hard’. Lengthy, yes!
How long did it take to write?
It came out of an amalgamation of ideas that began in 2015. In 2017 I started to write it more, 2018 I got on to the Penguin WriteNow scheme and therefore had to really begin to up the word count. So from idea to publication – 7 years.
Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?
Nope, I need to write in silence!
How many publishers turned you down?
I was on the Penguin WriteNow scheme for underrepresented writers – I’m disabled and neurodivergent (and northern if we think about the north south divide!). The aim of this was to work with a mentor to have a finished manuscript and to acquire an agent. My mentor, Emma Jones, was just so flipping wonderful, loved the book as much as me, and taught me so much. She continued working with me after the official time had ended on the programme and by then I had my marvellous agent Molly Ker Hawn, of The Bent Agency. It got to a magical point where it went to acquisitions and then I finally realised there was an actual possibility that my book would get a Puffin on it which would be edited by Emma – a dream come true.
What kind of reactions have you had to your book?
This is an odd one, I kind of forgot that people would read it. I remember when I got notes from one of the first proof readers who said they’d loved the book and would be buying it for their grandchildren, and that absolutely made my head explode. I’d realised they would read the book to help make it better and spot all my mistakes, but I hadn’t realised they’d also read it for the story. I still don’t think I’ve got my head around that. It was a secret scribble for so long! The reactions so far have been so kind, it’s been very overwhelming. The reactions from the disabled community are the ones that have meant the most.
What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?
Valentina Toro, who did the magical internal illustrations, is disabled too. A message she wrote about the book, about this being the book she’d wished she’d read as a child, was just incredible. It was exactly what I hoped to achieve. That message is now in the book.
What can you tell us about your next book?
I don’t know! What am I allowed to say?! It will be exceedingly recognisable to anyone who lives in Darlington…
Do you take notice of online reviews?
If I’m tagged in them I say a big massive thank you. But the book doesn’t belong to me now, I wrote it for me, what I needed to read and write, but now it’s in the wild and everyone has a right to choose whether they like it or not.
I’m just not sure I want to know!
Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?
I say I ‘do stuff with words’ – I’m a freelance creative working with words in all their forms – poetry, theatre, spoken word, film, live art, performance… I just love words and write whatever needs to be written.
What did you do (or still do) before you became a writer?
I’ve had lots of random jobs – selling Take That merchandise on a market stall, bar work, Senior Community Development Worker for the Army Welfare Service, an assistant in a jewellery shop. I’ve been very fortunate that for the last 3 years I’ve been a full-time writer and creative, and part time as that for ten years before.
Which author(s) inspire you?
So many! But the biggest ‘I can do that?!’ moment came when I first read David Almond. That gave me permission to write my voice upon the page.
Which genres do you read yourself?
EVERYTHING. I usually have an easy read thriller on the go, something non-fiction, a poetry collection, a graphic novel, something experimental and hybrid and then a ton of children’s books. All at the same time. I’m a nightmare to go away with as my suitcase is filled with books rather than the essentials…
What is your biggest motivator?>
Being happy, enjoying what I do, making sure there is decent representation on bookshelves. And helping others and passing on information as others did for me.
What will always distract you?
My bloomin phone. I have to hide it in the airing cupboard.
How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?
I’ve had the opportunity for so much say in all the illustrations, it’s been a really beautiful and collaborative process. But it turns out there wasn’t much to say apart from ‘Oh my goodness, they’re amazing, are they really actually for my book?’.
Were you a big reader as a child?
Yup. Ravenous. Getting my first library ticket for Cockerton Library was the best day ever.
What were your favourite childhood books?
All of the Winnie the Pooh series of books. And choose your own adventure stories were wonderful!
Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?
Please may I have three? Awesome indies DRAKE the Bookshop in Stockton, Book Corner in Saltburn, and my lovely local Waterstones in Darlington.
What books can you not resist buying?
ALL OF THE BOOKS.
Do you have any rituals when writing?
I like making a little pile of ‘things’ when I’m starting a new big project. For this book I had a print of a lighthouse, lots of shells and pebbles, a paper boat. For the next one I have a bottle with feathers in and crinoid stars…
How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?
I’m not allowed to say or my husband will divorce me. There are two public stashes and a secret one (shhhh…). The one above my bed is dangerously teetering.
What is your current or latest read?
In MG it’s books by Maz Evans and Helenka Stachera. I’m reading Bunny by Mona Awad which is incredibly bizarre and I don’t have a clue what’s happening, and I think that’s brilliant! Also going classic with a twist with the graphic novel version of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?
SO MANY. My fellow WriteNow graduate Donna McLean’s memoir is out on the 3rd of February – I love that we’re sharing a book birthday.
Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?
So much stuff, in so many different creative worlds. An adaptation of The Secret Garden for the stage, lots of exciting things to promote The Secret of Haven Point, book 2 to edit before it comes out in a year’s time, and lots of top secret things I’m not allowed to say! You can keep up at https://lisetteauton.co.uk/
Any events in the near future?
Lots and lots! But the big one I’m really looking forward to is taking part in Puffin Virtual Visits which are available for free to all schools. Schools can find out more and sign up here: https://www.puffinschools.co.uk/meet-an-author/
and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?
They’re the books I love the most.