Lindzi J. Stewart shares with us how she came to write her debut book, 'A Flying Visit'.
The real stories in her life are the inspiration to her colourful published story.
Had you always planned to write 'A Flying Visit'?
Do you remember when you were at secondary school and you were given an essay to write as homework? I used to dread it! English was not my favourite subject with my preferred interests in maths and science. It was only when I took a career break, from my job as a Scenes of Crime Officer for Hertfordshire Police, to relocate to the Cayman Islands with my husband that my writing journey began too!
Back then, it was not as easy to make cheap or even free calls overseas. To maintain contact with friends and family in the UK, I created an email account, where I could share my new Caribbean life experiences. As much as I love talking (as my friends will know!), I soon realised that I had started to enjoy writing too. My emails were soon becoming chapters of our new life there. Whilst sitting in the shade on the beach or by the pool, I started to jot down notes about hand feeding lizards visiting our home, attending community events or assisting shipwrecked Cuban refugees and other events.
When Hurricane Ivan hit in Sept 2004, I compiled a journal throughout, as we took refuge during the catastrophic storm, and about the long recovery process. The Royal Cayman Islands Police, who I was working voluntarily for, gave me my first professional writing role. My husband and I created a new community police monthly newsletter booklet, which was so well regarded that it was published on the Cayman Islands government website.
I realised that writing had become an outlet for me to create memories and a natural ‘go to’ to reflect upon the day. The thought of actually writing an essay story now was my own idea...and it was exciting. And so, I began to plan my first book!
What’s the inspiration behind A Flying Visit?
One thing that I missed, when living in the Caribbean, was the change in seasons. It was my first winter, since we recently arrived back to live in the UK. My newborn daughter (Phoebe) was having her nap, I’d just made a cuppa and I took a moment to sit and hopefully see some visitors. We had made a feeding area for the wild birds, to help them particularly over winter. I did this often as a child and would wait watching for who would arrive first. Animal welfare has always played a dominant role in my personal life and I’ve been fortunate to be able to support this professionally through my work in education and the police.
Reflecting back, as I watched out of the window, I remembered the view from our Caribbean cottage garden.
Bordered with majestic coconut trees and two mango trees,
we had created a similar feeding station to attract local visitors, i.e. bananaquits, but sadly never saw any parrots there. We could hear them, and they certainly left evidence in the mangoes of their presence, but only at rare times were we lucky to glimpse one in a tree around Cayman Brac.
I needed a theme for my book, where I could tune into my Caribbean experiences and my knowledge of police and teaching work. Whilst watching a courageous robin arrive on the bird table roof, I imagined him being a police officer, being the first to attend a scene to make sure it was safe. After giving the all clear, sparrows and a blackbird dined. Next, a wood pigeon waddled over to happily clear up the food, which had spilled onto the ground. I imagined their conversations, based upon having professions and families.
I had an idea. Imagine if a parrot...not any parrot...a Caribbean parrot...and a rare one...arrived in this garden. How would the garden birds react? What cultural differences could be shared? How did it get there? Will it attract ‘twitchers’? How could the UK birds protect this new distant relative?
The title came to me then and there...‘A Flying Visit’.
Describe some of the main characters in your book?
The character who you will follow throughout the book, from the Salute Islands to the UK, is Miss Estelle Beulah Harrison...known as Esta to her friends. Now don’t refer to her as the ‘parrot’ word...she is a Harrison, who are a very important, highly regarded family on their Purple Land (Stern Salute). An incredibly warm, loving, caring character, who values her traditional daily routines, lives to care for her family and supports the blossoming relationships of others.
Sergeant Bob Roberts is responsible for the community policing team in his English village. A sparrow, who absolutely loves his food more than most things...until he meets a certain lady! Full of mischievous humour and corny love quotes, but when he needs to be professional he can focus completely on his role to keep his community safe.
As a well educated, caring sparrow, Jane Jones is a primary school teacher working in Hertfordshire. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to meet and support Esta: a rare and highly regarded species, using her respectful, empathetic nature. Although, usually sensible and serious, she can surprise you with her quick wit and clever sense of humour.
Are your characters based on people you know?
Esta is a celebration of my husband’s mum. I only knew Sheila a short time but she welcomed me into her family and was so full of warmth, generosity and love. Originally from Jamaica, she moved to England with her family when my husband was only a child, where she continued to embrace and share stories of her Caribbean heritage. Organising family meals was something she loved and where she introduced me to fried plantain and her rice and peas dish. With family all around the world, she held them all tightly together and kept her husband busy with his ‘honey do’ lists. My children sadly never got to meet their ‘Grandie’ who died suddenly of pancreatic cancer shortly before they were born, and so I created Esta to celebrate the love that Sheila always had to give.
Do any of the characters remind you of yourself?
I am always prepared for most emergencies, calamities or ‘just in case’ moments and so probably Paula, who features at the start, best represents me with her ‘just in case of emergency rucksack’!
Describe your style of writing?
I love to jot ideas on paper and draw pictures. I like to see the rough story mountain build and grow over time. I am very visual. I type the scene out and run with the conversation that is happening. I use very little punctuation during the first rough draft. If I stopped to structure it all correctly, I would get distracted. I often stop to look away from my computer so that I can imagine the scene unfolding in front of me and see how the characters would be acting.
What’s your writing space like?
No people, music, TV, pets etc.
I’m not fixed to a particular room at home. As long as it is quiet, has a window for natural light and I have a few essential bits around me, I can feel settled.
I love my family to bits and all the fun we have, but there is zero chance at all of typing when they are in my writing space! Equally, I adore my cats (indoor only so the birds are safe!), but they typically do their thing: jump on my knee with their tail wafting in my face; sit on the back of the sofa and wash / chew my hair; whinge at me for fuss; throw up on the floor or plonk themselves on the keyboard to help! My home is a rescue sanctuary for my cat children and I would not change any of the craziness which comes with it. So, I don’t even try to battle to find writing time. My family is and always will be my priority over anything else.
Usually, I find that I do most of my work when my family are all curled up in bed and then I can enjoy the uninterrupted evening. I’ve always been a night owl so it is completely easy and normal for me to type until 3am! As long as I have a cup of mint or green tea, (as I can sip on that as enjoyable even when cold), my lip balm and my cosy slouch clothes I’m happy.
Your daughter helped you in putting A Flying Visit together. What was her role?
By including Phoebe in this process, ‘A Flying Visit’ came alive! To support my story, my book needed illustrations, which could assist children to visualise and imagine scenes and characters. I needed an illustrator.
Throughout my experience working in education, there have been so many times when children have worried and become frustrated with art lessons. If it is not perfect or they make mistakes, they think that they are rubbish. Over the years, I have supported many with their confidence and self esteem to have a go.
I knew what the mission criteria would be for my illustrator: a child.
When Phoebe showed an interest in drawing the illustrations, it was the perfect idea. My own daughter could be involved, and may inspire other children to have a go...even if they make a mistake.
You and your daughter obviously work well together. Describe the highlights?
Have you ever watched X Factor when the judges are selecting pictures of which acts should go through to the final groups? Well, our living room floor was absolutely covered with all of the illustrations, arranged in chapter groups...we needed to make a decision...to choose 2 or 3 illustrations that would best represent each chapter as the final images. Sometimes there were straightforward choices that we both agreed easily upon, however some decisions were not as easy and we had giggles and also long discussions. Usually, Phoebe was allowed to keep special ones in, which she could not bear to part with.
What is the theme of the book?
Respecting and protecting a rare, endemic bird species.
The importance of family.
Learning about different cultures.
Who are these books aimed at?
I created these as fiction for children aged approx 7-14 years, but equally they are suited to older readers and adults, who may pick up on more humour embedded within.
What do your family and friends think of these books?
Only a few people knew that I was writing a book. I’ve always been very private and not someone to look for, or ask for, attention. I am very grateful for the wonderful support and positive praise. They were so excited to see Phoebe’s professional involvement and are so very proud of her.
Can you share a snippet from the first book A Flying Visit that isn’t in the blurb?
“Oh, Bobbykins... there you are... come, come sit with me.”
Bob, at that point, knew that his police and personal life would be changed forever. He just smiled as he hopped over to Esta and his officers greeted Bobbykins over and over again as he prepared for his attention.
Jane could not help laughing until...
“Bobbykins, I knew you would keep your word and come back. You made a decision yet about tat woman?”
“Soon come, Esta!” Bob winked back at Jane before Esta grabbed him for a hug.
Have there been any surprises in writing a Flying Visit?
I never anticipated how much my characters would become so alive in my head and how I would develop this emotional connection to them, particularly when experiencing sadness or excitement.
A Flying Visit is book one of the Salute Islands Treasury - do you already have ideas in place for the next book in this series?
Yes! I am currently writing book two and also have plenty of scribbled notes with ideas and doodles for a few more in the series too!
If your book was made into a movie which celebrities would you choose to star in it?
Thinking of an animation style movie, I have one choice for Esta. A lady, with a Caribbean heritage, who ticks all the boxes with her warmth, kindness, contagious fun personality, love for food preparation, hilarious assertiveness and her main characteristic: her laughter! Watching her enjoy her work, and organise Holly and Phil on ‘This Morning’ TV program, fills me memories of my mother in law, (who I based Esta upon) and it would be an absolute honour to have Rustie Lee as the voice of Esta and to honour Sheila.
Have you had many responses from your readers?
I have and I send my thanks to my readers, particularly my younger readers, for sharing their positive thoughts and enjoyment of ‘A Flying Visit’. Amazon features some of these lovely reviews. The ones, which are extra special, are when I have received hand written letters by children, who share with me their fun and excitement of the story and their favourite characters.
Do you have any advice to anyone starting a book?
Just have a go! If I can do it so can you! Don’t worry about writing it perfectly with punctuation etc as this can slow your pace down and interrupt ideas. Get your ideas down first and then you can edit / tidy it up.
I asked Phoebe this question too and her fabulous response was:
‘let your imagination take you where it wants to take you!’
Who is your favourite author?
Val McDermid. She is the only fiction author who can hold my interest with reading about criminal investigations with the correct processes, procedures and crime scene detail. Not one for children though!
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading my original Andy Pandy stories to my son. Andy Pandy and the badger is our favourite!
What was your favourite book as a child?
There is no competition for this answer. It has to be ‘The Enchanted Wood’ by Enid Blyton. I still have my original copy, from when I was a child, and read this now to my own children...and yes...when we explore local woods, I still listen with my children for the trees whispering secrets!
Do you have a favourite illustrator or artist that inspires you?
One word: Phoebe!
She inspires me to keep writing. I look forward to seeing what her creative mind will come up with next, to capture the emotions or actions of a character.
Lastly, is there anything else you’d really like to share with our readers about you or the work you do?
Phoebe and I love to run competitions, which we advertise on my facebook site. Usually, these involve an art and craft type children’s activity or a quiz question, that is connected to some aspect of ‘A Flying Visit’.
Follow / like / contact me:
Shropshire libraries have a copy, which is available for loan.
‘A Flying Visit’ is available to buy:
· Paperback / kindle edition on Amazon.
· Paperback via Waterstones
· Paperback in the gallery display at Wem Town Hall, Shropshire.
Phoebe and I look forward to reading your review on Amazon.