Author Interview – Kirsten Mbawa

Kirsten Mbawa is a 13 year old author from Northampton in England. She published her debut novel in 2020 when she was just 12 years old. Sagas of Anya is a historical fiction novel set in the Victorian era. I reviewed her book on my blog last year. If you’d like to read it then click here.

If you’d like to purchase her book, head to the Mbawa Books website. *Please note: This is an affiliate link. I earn a small amount of commission from each sale made through this link*

As well as writing books and going to school, Kirsten, alongside her sister Aiyven, are the creators of middle grade subscription box Happier Every Chapter. I’ve also written a blog post about that, which you can read by clicking here.

Here’s my author interview with Kirsten:

What made you decide to create a story based in the Victorian era?

At the time of writing Sagas of Anya, I was reading and watching a lot of the well-known series: Hetty Feather by Jacqueline Wilson. It was about a girl who had not lost her mum but was taken away from her and she battles life in a cruel foundling hospital. Hetty faced an incredibly brutal journey and so did Anya. However, I made sure to make my book as incomparable to Hetty Feather as possible!

How much research did it take to write your book?

Gosh, I had to do SO much research for my book because, as it’s set in the Victorian era, I had to make sure every fact was correct. Also, Sagas of Anya is set in Cardiff so I had to search and add in the odd bit of Welsh!

Would you switch lives with Anya for a day and work as a maid to a mansion?

I don’t think I’d switch lives with Anya in the later part of the book when she moves to London but maybe nearing the start when she visits the beautiful Mircove Beach and meets friends like Daisy and Frank!

Was there one book / film in particular that helped to provide inspiration for Sagas of Anya?

Hetty Feather and other books like Below the Stairs helped a ton. Admittedly, I don’t really I watch historical fiction films/series apart from a few documentaries about life as maids.

Can you share any spoilers about your next book?

It’s going to be published in October, fingers crossed, and is going to be about this young boy called Malachi (or Mike) and his new next door neighbour…It’s either going to be called, as of now, “My next door neighbour”, or “Gretel” which I think are both very scary names however, I may think of something more compelling later!

How have you found balancing school, being authors and being the owners of a Happier Every Chapter, your subscription box business?

Right now in lockdown, it isn’t really that bad! Since everything’s online and we get no homework, I find I have more time to focus an hour or more a day on our business! Especially with Happier Every Chapter added, physical school and Mbawa Books was getting increasingly harder to balance.

At what point did you decide to be an author / publish books?

Soon after we’d entered the BBC 500 word competition, which we unfortunately didn’t win, we decided to use our entries and make them into books!

How do you overcome writer’s block?

Writer’s block is inevitable for all writers as much as we try to deny or ignore it but there are ways of getting over it and here are two of mine! First of all, I read. Authors will read anyway but I try to read more than usual to collect new ideas from different books and their genres. The second thing I do, if option one fails, is take a break from writing. Writer’s block will most likely come from having new interests, writing too much etc. Taking a break and focusing on some other fun activities and hobbies can relieve my brain of the stress of having to think of constant new ideas.

Was there anything you edited out of a book / short story that you later wished you kept in?

There has been many scenes as a writer that have been removed from my stories and I regret some of them. One was in one of my recent short story which was in Happier Every Chapter (our subscription box) about a young girl called Melody and her family’s dark secret. The short story already had a small amount of gore and pleasing displeasure moments but I was advised to remove an especially gory scene as our subscription box is for the ages of 8-14 and I had to write a short story that would accommodate everybody’s gore tolerance level! Watch out though, my next novel is going to be creepy and gory!

How do you find the inspiration for new novels and storylines?

The obvious answer is by reading! I try (although have failed multiple times and retreated back to my historical fiction roots) to read several genres and several authors. By doing this, I can pick and choose bits of different books I liked and add aspects of them to my book. This way, nobody can claim you are copying a certain author when writing. Also, I just look! People say an artist’s eye is sharp, but I think a writer’s eye is just as observant. As we go on walks, we don’t just go to have a good time (which is very important to do) we also go knowing to be aware of everything. Some of my best ideas have come to me while being outside and observing. The human world is full of secrets, mysteries and stories to be told so just look at it!

If you were to give one tip to someone wanting to get into writing, what would it be?

Can you guess what I’m going to say? Read! Yes, read, though I’m sure it wasn’t that obvious. Reading enriches your mind. It also enhances your vocabulary! As mentioned previously, different books will give you different ideas. Writing a fantasy novel? Look up fantasy authors or fantasy books and buy about 2,3 or even 4 of them! Trust me, the inspiration you get will be worth the money!

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