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I'm Heather McGarrigle and this is my blog - a colourful celebration of culture, crafting and creativity in Northern Ireland and beyond.

The PQ Q&A: AGR Moore

The PQ Q&A: AGR Moore

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AGR Moore is a Belfast author who has self-published his first two books, both in electronic and paperback formats.

The Unseen Chronicles of Amelia Black was released in August 2011 and A Boy Named Hogg followed in December 2012.

He also writes short stories and earlier this year published A Gurumapa in the Wood, which is still available for free download.

Moore has also hosted children's literary events and performed readings from his books and stories.

1. You have an Archaeology degreeand also studied journalism - what made you take the leap into writing children's books?

Well, after university, I had my degree but still wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do with my life and fell into a rut. So I scaled things back and thought about what made me happy, and it was movies - talking about them and watching them so I started writing a film blog. As I started to take it seriously, I decided to get a qualification in journalism to realise the ambition properly.

Like a lot of people, I always wanted to write a book and tried and miserably failed a couple of times, but when Gillian (illustrator of The Unseen Chronicles of Amelia Black) approached me with the idea of doing a children’s book - and said she would illustrate it if I ever finished it  - that excited me. So I came up with a simple story which spiralled out of control in my head into Amelia Black’s first adventure.

I’d like to attempt more adult stories but truthfully, writing for children and especially in fantastical realms seems to suit me, not least because I’m a big kid at heart. I think of all the literary, cartoon and movie characters from my youth I adored - I've fallen in love with the idea and the responsibility of creating new characters children can look up to.

2. Your two main protagonists so far are Amelia Black and Sebastian Hogg - are theirs similar stories or did you deliberately write two very different books? Do you have a favourite of the two?

Amelia Black has been out for a couple of years now, and been received extremely well by anyone who has taken the time to read her story. It’s a tale which is heavily influenced by the stories I grew up with, like Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and the works of Roald Dahl, as well as movies of the time such as Labyrinth, Indiana Jones and even a bit of Batman thrown in; full of magic, adventure, colourful characters, plot twists and devious, memorable villains.

Amelia’s core traits are things I believe in and feel deserve to be championed again and again. Someone who encourages children to be brave. To be curious of the wonders the world can offer. To be kind and just. To know they can be heroes and that their potential is infinite.

The Unseen Chronicles of Amelia Black - artwork by Gillian Reid

A Boy Named Hogg was almost the other side of the coin to Amelia’s tale. It’s about a boy named Sebastian Hogg, who didn’t get a life like Amelia’s and has to deal with a lot of very horrid people. When I came to write it, I knew I didn’t want to do something as heavily magical as Amelia’s story, but still wanted to allude to the mysteries of that sort of world.

At its heart, A Boy Named Hogg is a story about friendship. It’s about having one person in your life who genuinely cares which road you go down, and the immensely positive impact that can have on your life - and also a glimpse into the troubled world you may find yourself in if you don’t.

The funny thing about Hogg is that he’s not even the hero of his own story, in a strange sense! It’s the rest of the characters in the book - good, bad and somewhere in between - who are trapped in a subconscious battle for his soul. It attempts at some bigger things, like life and death and friendship and love. Some of it came off, some of it I look back upon and think maybe I rushed a bit, but you learn and move on.

A Boy Named Hogg - artwork by Anna Henderson

It would be awful to say I have a favourite, as both stories and characters mean different things to me.

Amelia Black is like the 'first child', she’s the example everyone else has to follow and because I’m now creating sequels to her first adventure, I’m enjoying watching her grow, along with the characters which populate her world.

Whilst A Boy Named Hogg is much more personal, it’s a darker tale, associated with a harder time in my life. A lot of the peripheral characters are based on people in my life and it also possibly features the one character that was the most fun to write so far.

3. You have been vocal on the merits of self publishing.How have you used self publishing and would you recommend it to an aspiring writer?

After I finished Amelia Black’s first story, I was a man who had a book but no knowledge of how the publishing industry worked – over two years on, I’m still not much wiser! So it was really a case of circumstance made me look into self publishing the first time. I was overwhelmed by the support I then received, which opened me up to new contacts and opportunities.

Marketing yourself and keeping your expectations in check - those are the biggest challenges. Very few self-published authors will emulate the phenomenal success of EL James or Amanda Hocking or even be able to make a living out of it. Everyone has their own reasons; for me it was as much to see what sort of reaction the book would get, which thankfully has been mostly positive.

For A Boy Named Hogg, I decided to go down the same route, but was maybe so scared of being forgotten too quickly, I rushed it more than I should have and (in my opinion anyway) the book suffered because of it.

This is the main drawback when self-publishing; everything falls on you so you have no excuses if it doesn’t go the way you originally imagined. It’s a very long process; the writing, the proofreading, editing, the presentation, then sourcing, working with and paying an illustrator - and once you get through all of that, there’s the marketing, which is virtually a full-time job. You have to be mentally prepared to shamelessly put your work out there.

4. Are you working towards a deal with a publishing house and if so, can you tell us about it? Are traditional 'book deals' as important as they once were, do you think? 

I think every writer should have a goal. Getting traditionally published in most cases is that goal (after writing the book of course) and if the right publishing house ever wants to take a chance on my work, I’d be forever grateful.

In terms of realising the dream of writing full time, it certainly goes a long way but for me personally it’s as much about gaining more exposure. I know my own personal limits when it comes to marketing and pushing my books on the social media platforms and I feel that has taken me as far as it has gone.

This might sound overly whimsical but if there’s one thing I’ve taken from this period of my life and the entire process of writing books for children, it’s witnessing the sheer joy of seeing a child read and love the stories you’re creating, more than you ever could have imagined.

Just recently, the mother of a girl who attended my first reading in Ryan’s Bar in October 2012, sent me a photo from the girl’s birthday. She made her daughter an Amelia Black birthday cake because it was her favourite book. I couldn’t find the words at the time to express how overwhelmed that made me feel.

Forget the financial side, all I want from a publishing house is to give me the opportunity to make that sort of impact again. Little moments like that only reaffirm to me why I want to do this with my life. All I can hope is that someone out there will also think I’m good enough to do so.

5. Writer's block and personal isolation are probably the most talked-about 'writer's problems'. Do these ever affect you and if so, how do you deal with them?

I think writer's block is something every writer goes through, but I think it’s how you deal with it is where it varies. Some people wait for it to pass and carry on, others will start a new project and come back to the one causing you problems later, others might just read, or if they’re like myself, they’ll probably do all of these things at once.

I think the isolation is a man-made concept. Certainly writing should be a private and personal thing, but it’s okay to talk things out with people whose opinion you trust or even engage with other writers.

I certainly felt that, when I got to chat to fellow children’s authors Brian Gogarty, Derek Keilty and Aine Robles, after reading alongside them at this year’s Belfast Book Festival. Each had their own unique experiences and explaining my own situation, being the only self published author on the panel, gave me a new sense of perspective on goals and future ambitions. It was a very reassuring day. I was really thankful for being part of it.

6. What are you working on at the moment and what can we expect next from AGR Moore?

Well I just finished the first draft of my second story in my Amelia Black series, The Unseen Trials of Amelia Black and started researching my untitled fourth book – it feels strange to say that out loud for the first time.

I’m pretty excited to let people read the next Amelia Black story; it’s brought up new challenges I didn’t expect when I embarked on writing it. It’s been a joy returning to characters I fell in love with from the first one, but fun opening up the Unseen Universe, introducing new characters and seeing past characters grow and develop.

I won’t give away any essential plot details, all I will say is that it deals with the fallout from the events and escalates the dangers realised in the first one. Bit darker, bit more serious but it’s going to be fun. I hope. It should hopefully see the light mid-2014, all being well.

In the immediate future, I have another book reading coming up. Ryan’s Bar have very kindly asked me back for another event at this year’s Belfast Restaurant Week on Saturday October 6th, 2013. Books and food, two of my favourite things - it should be fun.

I’ll be reading from my free short bedtime fable I released earlier in the year titled A Gurumapa in the Woodand, for the first time, be giving away free editions of it in paperback. Should be a fun day!

A Gurumapa in the Wood - artwork by Carl Rothwell

In the far future? I just hope I’m writing and still taking joy in it.

~

COMPETITION 

AGR Moore has kindly signed a paperback copy of The Unseen Chronicles of Amelia Black for a giveaway on The Patchwork Quill. If you would like to win this, just enter your details below! Competition open until 23.59 Thursday 19th September 2013. (Only open to entrants in the UK and Ireland).

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You can check out The Unseen Chronicles of Amelia Black on Amazon Kindle here, and the paperback version here.

A Boy Named Hogg is available for purchase on Kindle here and in paperback here.

You can also download A Gurumpa in the Wood free of charge here.

Happy reading!

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