A sinister town that’s not on any map, mysterious black vans and missing people, a book that can kill you, a vengeful mother, an account of life after death, and your worst nightmares come true. This is a strange and dark collection of poems, short stories and musings on a variety of gritty subjects, such as revenge, body image, fear, death, life, motherhood, nature and writing.
This is an interesting collection of unusual tales and poems some of which will stay in my thoughts for a long time!
Many were relatable to me personally – the poem – We Write – and – The Writer Woman – A Cautionary Tale exploring the addictive side of writing obsession which is oh so understandable to us writing types!
Three of my horror favourites – the tale of so-called friends in Child’s Eye, Dylan’s Dream, and the weird, grotesque and not so simple purchase of a shed in The Shed!
The unwelcome attitude to strangers in small towns is portrayed and executed with a creepy ending in Black Hare Valley. There are some character style, reflective and human interest poems like Stan, Dark Little Girl, All These Thoughts of Dying, A Woman of a Certain Age and Crushed By A Number which I really was impressed by.
And poignant tales about death, risk, darkness, fear and confusion… 7 minutes,Moonlit Shadow,Driving The Bends, The Black Van and Slug which will creep you out especially if you are scared of slugs!
Another favourite was The Rubbish Man about people who dump their rubbish. The working world, difficulties, and challenges of life are explored in poems such as Monday Morning, Fine Wine, and Tired. And the darker thoughts of the pandemic and worst case scenario in tales such as Outside. Those who love the forest, (I do!) will be drawn into The Forest.
I loved the poem called The Universe which brings a sense of hope in difficult times.
A collection which you would benefit from reading more than once to gain more insight. Excellent tales and poetry. Highly recommended.
Chantelle Atkins was born and raised in Dorset, England and still resides there now with her husband, four children, and multiple pets. She is addicted to reading, writing, and music and writes for both the young adult and adult genres. Her fiction is described as gritty, edgy and compelling. Her debut Young Adult novel The Mess Of Me deals with eating disorders, self-harm, fractured families and first love.
Her second novel, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side follows the musical journey of a young boy attempting to escape his brutal home life and has now been developed into a 6 book series. She is also the author of This Is Nowhere and award-winning dystopian, The Tree Of Rebels, plus a collection of short stories related to her novels called Bird People and Other Stories. The award-winning Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature was released through Pict Publishing in October 2018. A Song For Bill Robinson is the first in her YA trilogy.
I’m pleased to welcome Chantelle Atkins to my blog to chat about her writing group Chasing Driftwood. Recently, I submitted a poem to her writing competition and won joint first prize, winning a 1 to 1! It’s been really helpful getting 1 to 1 feedback on a short story idea I am developing. More about that soon.
In the meantime, here is the Q and A with Chantelle.
I’m curious about the origin of the name of your writing group: Chasing Driftwood? Why did you decide to set this group up?
I decided to set it up because at the time I had been writing and self-publishing for a while and had learnt so much in the process that I wanted to be able to help other writers with their own journeys. Also, I had never been able to find a writing group locally that fit in with having a family, so I set up the adult group first to fill that need and it went from there. I used to be a childminder and really missed working with kids, so putting on creative writing workshops for children was the next natural step and this eventually grew into after-school writing clubs, adult workshops, online courses and more! I think it comes from a passion for writing. I want to help other people start writing and keep writing. I had a long period of time where I lost writing entirely because life was so busy, so I know what it’s like to not have the time or the energy to devote to it. But I want to show people that you can make time and that it is definitely worth it! The name came from two old indie songs that were in my head one day when I was trying to choose a name for it. Chasing Rainbows by Shed 7 and Driftwood by Travis. I’d been stuck for a name for ages as so many have already been taken that use the word writing or write for example, so I went with Chasing Driftwood Writing Group and thought it sounded unique.
I’d love to find out more about your writing journey. Please elaborate…How long have you been writing for? And when did you start the group?
I’ve been writing my whole life. I still have lots of the stories I wrote as a child. I was totally obsessed with reading and writing. It’s all I ever wanted to do. I always found it so incredibly exciting and magical. Through my teens it saved me and my stories grew into novels. I also wrote a diary back then religiously every day. I then had a ten-year period where I did not write at all. This coincided with finishing University and having my first child. I then had another very soon after and decided to become a childminder so that I could earn money while looking after my own children. Then I had the third one…and I was exhausted, happy, but exhausted! There just wasn’t time for writing and I thought I had left it behind me and missed the boat. When my then third child started school, I had a sudden panic that life was slipping me by and I hadn’t fulfilled my childhood dreams. So I quit childminding, started dog-walking and got back into writing. Once it started, it just refused to stop and that was ten years ago now! When the fourth child came along, I hung onto my writing with all my might and these days I am very strict about making time for it. I will never let it go again. I published my first novel The Mess Of Me in 2013 and set up Chasing Driftwood in 2015. We then became a CIC in 2017 and in 2020 I gained a business partner!
In your opinion, what demons and obstacles are there to overcome in order to progress and be successful in writing?
Oh my gosh, so many, and that’s the saddest thing, because so many people start writing and give up, or want to write but never dare to do it…Time is the biggest hurdle for most people I work with. Lots of people come and go within the adult writing group for example, and life gets in the way for them. Busy jobs, young children; there just isn’t enough time and energy for writing. I’m always offering advice and tips on making the time and sticking with the discipline needed. The next biggest one is self-doubt, I think. People have a story in their heads but don’t think they can do it justice. I think all writers suffer from self-doubt to some degree. It comes and goes and you are constantly battling with it and trying to drown out the self-criticism. The other hurdle I think is other people. Sometimes because they are the reason you are busy and tired, and don’t think you deserve to devote time to writing…and sometimes because people look down on it, tell you it’s a waste of time, not a real job and so on. I know this happens to a lot of writers and I had to put up with that myself when young. I want to encourage people to do it anyway!
Tell us a little about the Chasing Driftwood group and the writers who are part of the group and the services you offer to adults and children.
The adult writing group is quite small at the moment as several of the long- termers cannot or do not want to do it via Zoom, which I perfectly understand. We used to meet in a community hall where we had a cosy room all to ourselves every other Monday evening. The group varies in size between three to five people, or seven to ten. People do come and go, as life gets busier and they get less time to write, but there are a few who have been with us for several years now. Some have gone on to finish novels they are now trying to find publication for and some have written novels and gone on to secure publishing deals. They are a real mix of people, genders and ages, and I don’t think they will mind me saying that we are probably all classic introverts! The group is running monthly at the moment via Zoom, using more of a workshop style format to get them writing, as many of them have really suffered with the pandemic and not being able to write. As well as the adult group, we offer adult workshops. These used to be in venues such as halls and libraries, but are currently via Zoom. For children, again we had after-school clubs but cannot go into schools right now because of Covid, so these are all on Zoom. We also have three clubs for home-educated children, and online courses for children
Has it been more difficult and challenging to manage the group throughout the pandemic?
Yes, definitely. During the first lockdown a year ago, I didn’t do anything. I was so shocked and scared and so concerned with helping my children through it, I just couldn’t get my head around the writing groups carrying on. I knew there was Zoom and Skype and all sorts, but I just couldn’t do it. I stayed in contact as much as possible via email and I set challenges and prompts on the Facebook page but that was all I could manage. I felt really sad and scared that I would lose my business by not moving it online, but at the same time, I just didn’t seem to have the emotional energy needed to keep it going. That all changed once the kids started going back to school. I finally had the time to organise myself, set up Zoom and try it out and it all took off quite well. Now I am really pleased we have so much online and we will always offer online workshops, courses and clubs now, even when we can return to physical ones. When we had the latest lockdown and school closures again, I managed to work through it this time, juggling my clubs etc with home-schooling! It was tough, but we managed.
I’ve read The Mess of Me which I’ve been meaning to read for some time. I knew I would like it! From your writing style, I get a sense that you are a character driven writer. This is also apparent in the chosen name of your blog The Glorious Outsiders. What a great name for a blog! How did you decide upon the names of your books/blog? Would you agree that you are a character driven writer? And why?
Thank you! The name for the blog came from my characters. When I first set up a blog, I had not published anything and just used it to share snippets on. I then picked up a few tips from another writer about rebranding the blog, making it speak for you, letting people know who you are and what you do. I thought about my characters and realised that all of them are outsiders in some way, and none of them really care that they are. The Glorious Outsiders seemed perfectly apt for them and for me. The names of my books have come from various places. Some come to me really quickly, even before I’ve written the books, for example, The Tree Of Rebels and Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature. The Boy With The Thorn In His side came when I was half way through writing the first book and I realised that for me at least, the lyrics of that song by The Smiths really made sense for the story. This Is Nowhere comes from a Neil Young song called Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere. The story offered the title up as one of the characters played Neil Young records, so of course I had to play Neil Young while I was writing it and when I listened to the lyrics of that song, I knew I had a perfect title. And yes, I would agree that I am very much a character driven writer. It’s always characters that come to me first, and they start talking about their lives and worlds and problems and then eventually a plot comes from that! I love creating characters, it’s so much fun, and with reading too, I am much more drawn to character driven stories.
I believe you’re working on a new project, a supernatural YA series with co-author Sim Sansford. What’s the process of writing a novel together.How does this work and would you recommend it?
Yes, I never, ever thought I would write with another author! I’ve read books by others who have tried this and was in complete awe as to how they achieved it. I’m quite a control freak about my own writing, my style and choices and characters, so I didn’t think I would ever be able to co-write something. Sim became my business partner in November 2020 and brought to the company exactly what I needed: an injection of youth, enthusiasm and ideas! It’s brilliant to have someone to bounce ideas off and to share the workload. We got on really well with it, so when he suggested writing something together my instant reaction was, why not? I had no idea how it would work or where it would go. Sim had a loose idea and we decided to write it in first person from alternating character points of view. He created a character called Darcie Duffield and I created JJ Carson. We knew it would be a supernatural/super abilities style story and again, this was something I had never imagined I would write, but it has gone so well. We finished book one in about six weeks I think and rolled straight into book two, which we have just finished! We have started to edit book one and have ideas to start book three. It worked by one of us writing a chapter, sending it to the other, then they responded with theirs and so on. We message lots throughout the day with ideas and questions and somehow it has just worked out! It’s been really exciting and fun and I would definitely recommend if you can find the right author to work alongside.
What does the future hold for Chasing Driftwood?
Hopefully, we will continue to grow. At the moment, I feel like we are putting lots of things in place that will benefit the CIC later on. So there is a lot of unpaid work going on right now as we work towards future goals. We have set up copy-editing and proofreading services to compliment the writer’s groups, workshops and courses. We intend to keep adding new online courses to the site for adults and children. We are putting together our first collection and it will be the first thing we publish under Chasing Driftwood. It’s a pandemic themed collection we hope to have ready by the start of the summer. It will be testing the water really as we would love to evolve the CIC into an indie press at some point. Again, we might cut our teeth on this idea by publishing our co-written series with Chasing Driftwood, but it is early days, so we will see! We have other projects in the line for when covid finally frees us all…A nature-based project for young writers and a community writing project among others.
This is the first book I’ve read from Chantelle Atkins and I loved it. I’m amazed that this is her debut novel, it was that good.
It is an emotional, character driven tale about a sixteen-year-old girl coping with the difficulties of being a teenager and living within a broken family (her mother is separated from Lou’s father and is in a new relationship.)
Lou doesn’t want to be that overlooked, overweight girl anymore. The passages about her not wanting to eat are powerful and frightening to read.
The Mess of Me is also a tale of friendship, of love, mothers, daughters, parents and sons. There are many hard hitting topics throughout including escalating family violence, alcohol and drug use, drug trafficking, self harm, and cries for help but these subjects are handled with great sensitivity. The dialogues are sprinkled with wonderful teenage banter to add touches of humour to lighten the narrative.
My two favourite characters were Lou and her best friend Joe who she’s known forever… since she was a baby! Marianne, and Joe’s older brothers Travis and Leon were also well written as were all the adults in the book. Perhaps the only character I felt less connection to was Sara, Lou’s older sister.
Life can be confusing and awkward for teenagers but this also applies to adults too! I loved how The Mess of Me conveyed our vulnerability, our frailness, how making mistakes and bad choices can have a huge impact on our lives and the lives of those we love. Sometimes parents get it spectacularly wrong and The Mess of Me does a fantastic job of portraying that flip side too.
There are many wonderful scenes with Lou and her mum chatting, drawing closer together, beginning to understand each other. I was so touched by these, having two daughters myself, remembering those teenage angst flare ups made me cry. As a parent all you want is for your children to be happy, safe and well and when that is threatened the fear and helplessness is immense. I don’t want to go in too much detail for fear of spoiling the book for you but The Mess of Me portrayed that fear and hopelessness so well.
After finishing The Mess of Me I was left with a sense of hope rising up from this dark tale. I enjoyed it on so many levels.
I will definitely read more from this author. One of my favourite books of 2021.
Highly recommended – 5 stars.
I will be interviewing Chantelle about Chasing Driftwood – her creative writing group soon.
Thank you to Chantelle Atkins for this Q and A as part of the blog tour for the forthcoming release of This Is Lockdown, an anthology of 29 authors, writers and creatives. This Is Lockdown, is a snapshot of time and includes writing, diaries, flash fiction, poetry and contributions from the ‘isolation writers’ who featured on my blog. This Is Lockdown releases on July 20th. To preorder: mybook.to/Thisislockdown
Welcome to Chantelle Atkins, my next guest on my new feature – Isolation for Writers. How do writers, creatives, artists and bookish souls cope with isolation? Is their capacity to cope different from the rest of the population? It’s an interesting question and one that fascinates me.
How is Chantelle Atkins coping with this enforced isolation?
Here is her answer:
What’s Changed For Me? Nothing and Everything
The outbreak of Covid19 and the lockdown that followed has had a huge impact on us all, but as a writer, I feel in a unique position to observe, absorb and reflect on the changes for me personally and on the society around me.
What’s changed for me? Nothing and everything and believe me, that’s as confusing as it sounds. The confusion and anxiety tend to hit me hard in the evening, when my parenting duties are over, and I sit down to write. I’m not ashamed to admit I am often now writing through fits of tears. It’s just such a strange, sad, scary, hopeful and heroic time. You can’t help but be affected by it.
On the surface, lots has changed for me. I have four children aged between 5 and 17 and they were previously all in full-time education. I run a writing-based business called Chasing Driftwood Writing Group and my time is normally spent running after school writing clubs, writing clubs for home educated children and writing clubs for adults. 2020 started off so well for me, with the addition of three new clubs. I really felt like my little business was growing and succeeding.
When the schools closed, so did the libraries, community halls and museums and just like that, I had no work and no income. Luckily for me, my husband had just had a pay rise that almost covered this loss, so we didn’t panic. He works for Iceland and although I worry every day about the risk he is taking being there, I am also extremely grateful that we still have an income and access to food.
I’m now home-schooling my five-year-old son, which isn’t too much of a challenge as I used to be a childminder and I work with children at my clubs. In fact, I’ve been really enjoying it. My older children see to themselves and they’ve been brilliant at playing with their little brother when they take breaks between lessons. We are also lucky to live in a semi-rural location with a huge garden, ducks and chickens and other animals, plus a vegetable plot to keep us all busy. We are fortunate, and I do not take that for granted.
I feel the fear, like all of us. My 17-year-old daughter has just got a job with her dad at Iceland, and although I am proud of her I am also terrified for her. I try to avoid the news in the day and my little boy is a wonderful distraction and a shining light for me daily. His adaptability has inspired us all. But it hits me in the evening, and I can’t help sit and consider everything that has changed and wonder when normality will return.
The things is, I’m not sure how much of the ‘normal’ I want to return. I love schooling my little one and although I think school can provide a better and more rounded education than me, I am going to miss him like hell when this is over. I miss my clubs and the children and adults I work with. I keep meaning to set up online content for them or engage with them via Skype or Zoom but I’ve had to admit at the moment I just don’t have the emotional energy for it by the time my day is over. I don’t miss the stressful day-to-day running around. I spent most of my earnings on petrol I think as we only have one car, so I was pretty much running everyone everywhere all the time. I don’t miss traffic jams and it’s so peaceful now where we live. And I don’t really miss other people. I’m an introvert who loves to be alone. In fact, I need to be alone to refuel, so lockdown is not a challenge for me the way it is for more sociable people. I’m actually a little bit worried about how I will cope adjusting back to ‘normal’ again. I also think the world was heading in a worrying direction and I really hope that this ‘pause’ in proceedings will make us all think about the kind of society we want when it is all over.
As for writing? There is a bit less time as the kids are here in the day, but most of my writing took place in the evenings anyway and now that I don’t have clubs to prepare for, I’m able to get plenty done. I am tired though as I spend a lot of time attacking my garden! I’m probably blogging more than usual, as I keep thinking about lockdown related things to talk about. I find this as therapeutic and hopeful as gardening.
So, it’s weird. I’m still doing all the things I’ve always done, all the things I love. I’m with my kids and my animals. I’m writing and reading and listening to music. I’m gardening and growing things and spending as much time outdoors as I can. Normal, everyday stress and strain has been replaced with a darker, spikier edge of fear that only comes out at night. I the lockdown and love lockdown. I want normality back and I fear it returning. I’m a very confused writer, but that is probably also normal for me.
Chantelle Atkins was born and raised in Dorset, England and still resides there now with her husband, four children and multiple pets. She is addicted to reading, writing and music and writes for both the young adult and adult genres. Her fiction is described as gritty, edgy and compelling.
Her debut Young Adult novel The Mess Of Me deals with eating disorders, self-harm, fractured families and first love. Her second novel, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side follows the musical journey of a young boy attempting to escape his brutal home life and has now been developed into a 6 book series. She is also the author of This Is Nowhere and award-winning dystopian, The Tree Of Rebels, plus a collection of short stories related to her novels called Bird People and Other Stories. The award-winning Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature was released through Pict Publishing in October 2018. YA novel A Song For Bill Robinson was released in December 2019 and is the first in a trilogy. Chantelle has had multiple articles about writing published by Author’s Publish magazine.