Who is our Author?
Rachel Caldecott writes speculative fiction primarily for Young and New Adults. She hopes her books will inspire readers to strive for a better world. With ecological breakdown looming, pandemics, wars and refugee crises; it is easy to envisage the end of life as we know it and tempting to surrender to depression. But Rachel, being an optimist, still believes we can create a positive future for the planet and life on it. But time is running out. We need to get a move on.
The Panopticon Experiment is a post-apocalyptic tale with an original twist. It is neither a dystopian vision of the future nor a naively optimistic one. The issues within it are current and the story thought-provoking. The central character’s heartwarming bond with a snow leopard is reminiscent of the daemon relationships in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.
Rachel had once intended to become a teacher, but soon worked out it was not for her, so changed courses and studied Expressive Arts (Fine Art and Theatre) instead. She has also travelled a lot. A fascination with Japanese culture took her to Japan a couple of times. Over the years, she worked as a 16mm film editor, travel agent, secretary and charity worker. For about ten years she lived in Rome, where she worked as an English teacher, stencil designer, interpreter and eco-event organiser. For two nights only (and she stresses, only for a dare) she also worked as a night club hostess on the Via Veneto. Her interests include human and animal rights, the environment and politics. She now writes regularly and uses her skills to help raise awareness of the refugee crisis unfolding tragically across Europe. Collecting, sorting and delivering donations for refugees has been another major aspect of her life since July 2015.
She currently lives in Southern France with her husband, their two children, six cats and a huge dog. When not writing, she helps her husband in his glassblowing business and makes her own handmade jewellery.
She is currently working on three other major writing projects.
The sequel to The Panopticon ExperimentA memoir of their rather unusual life in France.
A historical/science fiction novel based on her ancestor’s diaries of her flight from Hungary in 1849.
Previously published: Lodeve – The Fast Guide to its History.
1. So first of all, the world is a bit crazy this go-around of Indie Spotlight, have you had time to start any new writings? Read any good books lately?
It is a crazy time, and it’s scary on so many levels.
I’d gone into lockdown intending to finish the sequel to The Panopticon Experiment.
[Note: Available on Amazon as a paperback or Kindle]
I had in fact, already finished the first draft. I sent the manuscript off to my sister-in-law, an experienced writer, but she was horrified that I’d killed off a main character three-quarters into the story. It was a character she’d particularly liked.
Of course, I grumbled a bit, because after all, he was ‘my character’ to kill off as I saw fit. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized she had a point. The entire last quarter needed a re-think and rewrite. I started work on the changes, but it wasn’t satisfying and I was struggling to wrap the book up. That particular character was now alive, but his purpose wasn’t clear to me.
Anyway, lockdown happened and my mind went blank. So, I put the story on hold, turned my back and got on with other stuff. I will get back to it soon though. I already miss the protagonists and I have the beginning of an idea on how to resolve the story using my ‘resurrected’ character.
So the other stuff I got on with, apart from hand-washing and avoiding the plague, was turning my blog into a memoir of our time in France. The working title is French Follies – Adventures of a Glassblowing Family in the Languedoc. It will be available for purchase on Amazon by September 2020 – although I hope I’ve found a catchier title by then.
My family live in the South of France and we’ve had a rather unusual time here. Including a time when my husband (who is a glassblower) was kidnapped at gunpoint by a local drug dealer. Not all our adventures are quite so dramatic, but the book does reveal the joys and challenges of living in a foreign country (and running a glassblowing business on a small budget).
Books I’ve read recently? Since going down the self-published route, I try to buy other Indie Authors’ work. I think solidarity is important and I happily review other authors’ books.
One of my favourite recent reads was a historic novel by Judy Crozier entitled, What Empty things are These. I also rediscovered a science fiction book written in the 1950s, about a pandemic (not the best book to read now). Nevertheless, although slow in parts, I enjoyed it. It is called Earth Abides by George R Stewart. Another new discovery for me has been M.L. Ryan’s books in the Coursodon Dimension Series (kind of science fiction/fantasy). I’ve read the first two and really enjoyed them.
2. What’s something that helps with your writing process? Any certain playlists or maybe a certain time of day that helps to spur you along?
I’d love to be able to say I have a special space for writing, but I’d be lying. Our house is open plan, so the living room, where my computer sits, is a main thoroughfare and place where we all gather. As I’m writing these answers, my two kids are sitting a few feet away, discussing movies. My son is a cinematography student, so is quite enthusiastic about the topic. The only thing I can do for uninterrupted writing is to get up early and write before the family is awake. If inspiration hits later in the day, then earplugs help. I love music but it doesn’t generally help me write. The exception is when I’m writing action or violence. Something loud and fast helps me generate short fast-paced sentences, which is what I need for exciting scenes.
3. Did you always want to be an indie publisher, or did you ever consider traditional publishing?
I come from a publishing/writing family. My father was Chief Editor of Penguin books for a long time, and then had his own publishing house, Wildwood House (Britain’s first alternative publishing house). My mother was a poet and an author with around 30 books traditionally published (by a variety of companies, but not Penguins or Wildwood). Sadly, both of them are long dead and therefore I have no special advantage in the traditional publishing world.
I started off expecting to be traditionally published, but it seems the publishing world has changed since my parents’ time. Traditional publishers don’t often take risks on new authors like they once did. This is fair enough. Publishers and agents have to live too. It is a competitive business and, as in everything, it has to be profitable.
All authors fantasize about their 6 figure advance. The rags to riches dream. An “advance” is money paid to the author upfront by the publisher, based on their best guess of how many books they are likely to sell. Books sales have to reimburse the publisher before the author sees another cent of royalties. Sadly, many authors never earn more than their initial advance. But don’t worry, it doesn’t mean that if your first book fails to make a huge profit, you’ll never be published again. No one is likely to black-list you for eternity for one poorly selling book. Two maybe, but not one (lol).
[Note: If an author’s books don’t sell, the traditional publisher will remainder or pulp them. No publisher wants the expense of warehousing unsellable books. Luckily, the author is given the chance to buy back his own books at a discount price before that happens.] [Ah! I did NOT know this!]
Self- publishing, however, has a number of advantages. Not least, that if you produce your own book it will exist forever! Even if it doesn’t sell well at first, it is out in the world. I’m a great believer in the phrase, “Where there is life, there’s hope,” and that applies to books too. If it exists, there will always be the possibility that it will be discovered at some point and take off. Plus (and this is a big plus) you can tweak your self-published book even after initial publication*. You remain in control. Always. I’m not a freak, but I do like control of my work. I found this particularly critical in the publishing of the Panopticon Experiment.
*I first published the story as The Coalition under my full name of Rachel Caldecott-Thornton. However, the title and my name made it sound like a political essay. It sold reasonably well and I had lots of really good feedback, but it didn’t set the world on fire. It was good, I knew that, but I also knew it wasn’t as good as it could be, and I knew from a marketing point of view, the title had to go. I changed the title, my name and the cover. I took time to rewrite it – slashed parts and added some entirely new characters. It is now significantly better – and I’m pleased with it.
Self-publishing allows the author to have digital and print versions of their work. Print on Demand (POD) is the preferred option for many self-published authors. I really like the ‘green’ advantages of self-publishing as POD. I believe all decisions in life should be made with consideration for the planet. In addition, it is cost-effective – so no big upfront costs for huge print runs (or the added costs of warehouse storage!)
Luckily, self-publishing no longer has the ‘vanity press’ stigma attached to it. It is becoming known as ‘Indie publishing’ which sounds quite cool. After a lot of reflection, the idea of going down the Indie route seemed appealing. But it isn’t easy. The learning curve is steep, and there are costs involved – sometimes quite significant costs. But if an author can reasonably address production costs, then royalty payments per book sold are better than under traditional publishing. Meanwhile, an author needs to remember that, in general, traditional publishers no longer handle marketing details, like signing/ speaking engagements or media interviews. The onus is very much on the author to self-market and promote. That being the case, the royalty split should favour the author. In other words, I felt that if I had to do my own marketing anyway, self-publishing was a better option.
4. What was the inspiration for the Panopticon Experiment?
Simple. We currently have 6 rescue cats. Each cat has a distinct personality and all have distinctly differing intelligence levels. I sat there watching them interact and observing how they interacted with us – all those sneaky manipulations they do to get what they want – and mused on the idea of communicating with them. I think the first question that popped in my head was, “what if they are smarter than we think they are?” That one question led me to think about other animals and the way we treat them . . . our arrogance in assuming we are smarter than them, and therefore more worthy. Coincidently, around the same time, I started noticing more and more articles in the papers or on social media about animal intelligence and animal rights. My daughter is vegan and that helped. I started looking at animal communication too. There is a famous animal communicator called Anna Breytenbach and I watched a couple of YouTube films of her communicating with wild animals.
All this was sort of swirling around in my head when suddenly the idea for the Panopticon came to me. The end of the world is always in the back of my mind, because of the environmental devastation we humans are causing, but I didn’t want to go down the well-trodden dystopian path of books like The Hunger Games. The future in books like these is so bleak and depressing. At heart, I’m an optimist, and I cling to the idea that mankind can learn from its mistakes. We can change. The future can be better.
5. Who is your favorite character to write? And who is the most difficult to write for?
I love Flo. She’s bolshy. She’s far from perfect. She has ‘umph’, but can be a pain in the ass. Very like my own daughter (who happens to be called Florence and is the girl on the cover!)
The most difficult character was Lonce. I have no idea how a Snow Leopard thinks. So there is a lot of artistic license being thrown around. I had to use language when in reality the communication would be part visual, part emotion/sensation.
6. If you were stuck in quarantine with your own characters, which ones would you want to be in quarantine with?
Lonce. Can you imagine how wonderful that would be, to have a companion snow leopard? Not as a pet, but as a friend.
7. What’s a writing project you haven’t gotten around to that you hope to write someday?
I really want to write the story of my grandmother’s grandmother, who fled Hungary after the revolution of 1848. She gave a series of talks in Victorian London and I have some of her notes. But I don’t want to write a straight historical fiction, I have an idea which involves virtual reality and . . . I can’t tell you. I don’t want to give the game away. But I’ve started it and I’m excited about the way it’s shaping up.
8. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Yes. Take advice. Ask people to critique your manuscript, but remember you are not writing by committee. If several people point out the same faults, then take heed. If not, and they are all pulling you in different directions (and this can be a real issue with other writers who always try to rewrite your work in their own way), then feel free to ignore them. It is your book. In your book, you are god.
Also, beware of the endless companies and individuals that will bombard you with offers to make you a better writer, or guarantee you a bestseller, blah, blah, blah. They are only after your money. The way the algorithms work, you’ll sign up for one and before you know it every Tom, Dick and Harry are touting for your business. For at least a year I wasted time reading through all the emails thinking, “Oh wow, I need this,” only to discover a massive price tag on the final page. So beware!! Truly. Watch out!
This site is really good for steering you clear of the charlatans. (Not a definitive list, unfortunately) https://selfpublishingadvice.org/best-self-publishing-services/
Another thing is, if you are going the traditional route and are sending out to agents, make sure your query letter is fantastic. Spare no effort to make it good. It has to be better than good. It needs to be awesome! Someone told me about the query shark, https://queryshark.blogspot.com/ and I learned more in one day reading though her blog than over a year of searching elsewhere.
Practice refining/trimming/summarizing your book until it reaches Tweet size. You have 280 characters (including spaces), so sell your book in that space. Try it. It is a valid exercise. The movie industry had the “elevator pitch” in which you’d only have the time of an elevator ride to pitch your idea to a movie mogul. A Tweet-Pitch is like that.
Finally, no matter how much of a bang you start your novel with, (particularly in YA fiction) make sure there is enough about your protagonist to make the reader care what happens to them.
9. And finally, what is the thing you’d like readers to know most about your books?
Personally, I hate being confined by an industry telling me what I should or shouldn’t enjoy. That particularly applies to my taste in books and movies. I don’t only appreciate one genre and in life my interests are wide-ranging. So, in some ways, my books are unusual because they bridge genres and age groups. They address issues that are relevant now and will make you think, while within the context of fun and exciting adventure stories. I have readers of all ages and all sexes so The Panopticon Experiment has very broad appeal. If you care about the planet and its future, you’ll probably like the book.
I’ve avoided too many descriptions of what people look like in my books, so the reader can fill in those details in their own imagination. In my head, after the apocalypse, the human population will be devastated. Given this, for the species to continue, nationality and colour will no longer matter. I don’t see future populations being divided by something as superficial as skin colour; we will all be a glorious mix of DNA.
Anyway, that’s all from me. I hope it has been interesting. If readers have enjoyed The Panopticon Experiment, I hope they will also review it. Good, honest reviews really help.
[**Note from your beloved caffeinated reviewer: Please remember that reviews help books out immensely, but especially INDIE books and their authors!**]
Funny Story Time!
Rachel: [This is] What happens when your illustrator misunderstands
their brief for a cover design:
THE FUTURE OF HER WORLD IS AT STAKE.
For interspecies telepaths like Flo, the world seems fair and just. Humans and animals live in harmony and the world government represents all sentient beings. When a terrorist attack nearly kills her closest friend, Lonce, the world’s last snow leopard, Flo realizes that life in New Era London is not as safe as she thought.
Generations after the apocalypse of the twenty-first century, a new society based on species-equality has emerged from the ashes of the old.
However, marginalised and resentful, those humans lacking the necessary telepathy gene form a secret society – The Human Supremacy League. Its mission: Restore man as the dominant species and break the genetic bonds between man and animal.
Flo must solve the mystery of the disappearances and stop the League. But she can’t do it alone.
The Panopticon Experiment, Rachel’s debut novel, is a tale of friendship and hope, with a starkly original twist. The central character’s heartwarming bond with a snow leopard is reminiscent of the daemon relationships in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. This edition comes with an additional section of Book Club Discussion Questions.
Does this sound Amazing? Great! Please consider getting a copy if you can and would like to, or at least add the book on your want to read on GoodReads! I’ve already bought the book this morning, it sounds RIGHT UP MY ALLEY and generally amazing!
Get this book…FOR FREE until Sunday via Smash Words
Note on Giveaways:
If you’re interested in reading this book, let me know, I’ll consider buying a copy to host a giveaway, but as my last giveaways had so little traction for Indie Spotlight, I’m halting them for now. But, if there’s enough interest, I’ll bring them back!