Children’s author Karen Inglis has an exceptional talent for transporting young readers into a magical world. In fact, more than 400,000 children have enjoyed her best-selling middle-grade travel adventure, The Secret Lake. Her nine picture books, chapter books and middle-grade novels have captivated children across the globe. Though she started writing when her boys were toddlers, she put her stories on the backburner for more than ten years. It wasn’t until she took a break from her day job in 2010 that she revisited them. And aren’t we glad she did. Her recent release, Return to the Secret Lake, became an instant international hit. In the last few years, Karen decided to share her secrets for success in the nonfiction book How to Self-Publish and Market a Children’s Book, which offers a masterclass on self-publishing. (Top tip: if looking to buy this, be sure to get the expanded Second Edition, which came out in May 2021.)
I chatted with Karen to ask eleven questions that will give you an inside look at the author behind the books.
1. How would you describe yourself in five words?
Driven. Determined. Dreamer. Procrastinator. Perfectionist.
2. What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
I speak Norwegian. (It’s a bit rusty now, but I can still get by on the basics!)
3. Why did you wait so long to write the sequel to The Secret Lake?
The Secret Lake took me so long to write that when I reached the final paragraph, I was so mentally exhausted that I deliberately left it so that it could live as a stand-alone story. (The reason it took so long was that I had no plan at the outset, which led to my going around in endless circles with it over many months!) At the same time, and as more children began to ask, I knew I didn’t want to write a sequel simply for the sake of it – it would need to be as special and magical as book one, and I felt that would be a very hard act to follow! On top of that, for the following 10 years I was extremely busy bringing out other books and never had the time to sit down and think about how a follow-on story might play out. However, last summer I suddenly had a gap for the first time in years and at the back of my mind a scene had been nagging me of a young girl appearing outside Stella’s window at night. I knew she had come from the past, but I wasn’t sure why. With time on my hands, I finally started to play with ideas, and one thing led to another! Unlike the first time around, I also made an outline plan, which made the drafting so much easier. Things changed along the way as I started writing, but the core story was there before I sat down to write. So, whereas The Secret Lake is 22,500 words and probably took around nine months back to back to write and another couple of months for edits, Return to the Secret Lake is 51,000 words and took only five months to plan, write and take in edits!
4. Why do you prefer self-publishing?
For the creative control it gives me. I have been offered three traditional publishing deals over the last few years, all unsolicited – two for my fiction and one for my non-fiction – and in two cases large household publishers came to me to offer deals. However, I enjoy having the freedom to create my own deadlines and get work to market at the pace I choose. I also like being able to see my sales figures at the click of a button, which helps inform marketing activity – again this comes back to control. Of course, the royalties I can earn are higher when self-publishing, however this wasn’t the driving factor in my decision each time – mostly it was the creative control aspect.
5. What is your favorite meal to cook?
Chili con carne (with apologies to any vegetarians reading!) – with plenty of cumin and coriander and garlic included, and a good dose of hot chili or chili flakes. Wonderful with plain boiled rice, mango chutney and natural yoghurt! Second favourite would be stir fry chicken marinaded in light soy sauce and sherry, with fresh ginger and garlic and plenty of al dente green and red vegetables!
6. What is one piece of advice you have for other writers?
Write from the heart – and don’t hit ‘publish’ until you have polished your story and are 100% confident that it’s the best it can possibly be. This isn’t just about editing and proofreading – it’s about the story itself. Does it work? Test it on readers you don’t know and tell them to highlight any parts where their(or their children’s) eyes start to glaze over, or something doesn’t make sense. This may make them feel less embarrassed about giving you honest feedback!
7. Which do you enjoy writing most…your picture books or chapter books?
Both. It’s apples and pears! In some ways I think picture books are harder though.
8. What’s the last TV show you binged watched?
Schitt’s Creek. Adored it — it really helped get us through lockdown; we were bereft when we reached the end!
9. What’s the best thing about living in Barnes, South-West London?
We have the best of both worlds here —village and city life! I can be in Covent Garden in 40 mins after a short walk to the north side of the river, then via the tube. Yet Barnes village has a duck pond and village green, a fishmonger’s and butchers and lovely high street full of independent shops, restaurants and cafés and is only 10 minutes’ drive or 15-minute bike ride from the 400 acres of Richmond Park. The sense of community in Barnes is wonderful – you’re always bumping into people you know. We also have a wonderful cinema, converted from what was once Olympic Studios where just about any band or artist you’ve heard of has recorded – not to mention The Barnes Children’s Literature Festival which is now the UK’s largest dedicated children’s book festival. It’s a magical place and some readers may know that Judith Kerr lived and loved it here!
10. If you could co-write a book with any author, who would it be?
J.K. Rowling. I’d love to tap into her thought processes and share story ideas!
11. What are you working on now?
I’m juggling a few things at the moment – but that’s no untypical! I’m currently project managing the translation of Return to the Secret Lake into German and have been finalising a new foreign rights deal for The Secret Lake. I’ve also recently had The Tell-Me Tree translated into German, so my next task is to get that uploaded to Amazon and Ingram Spark. I’m also having the cover and interior artwork for Eeek! The Runaway Alien revamped as it’s looking a little dated so that has meant organising specs for the new illustrator. Once these more practical tasks are complete, I shall sit down and start to research and plan a book 3 for The Secret Lake series. There is the kernel of an idea in the back of my mind, but as yet I have no idea where it might take me!
For more information about Karen and her books visit:
Journey to Zentobia
When ten-year-old Maggie and her older brother Peter discover a portal inside a rainbow, they stumble through it and end up in another world. But Zentobia is not what it seems. A sinister plot is brewing, and the amateur detectives are the only ones who can stop it. With danger on their trail and mysteries emerging, can they keep Zentobia safe before time runs out?
Perfect for fans of The Land of Stories series.
All magic is banished in Zentobia, but when an evil leader wants to bring back dark magic, Maggie and Peter risk it all to stop him. They join forces with the villain’s sneaky daughter who possesses a powerful secret. When Maggie’s instincts prompt her to investigate a hidden underground tunnel, she discovers a mysterious book carving that holds the answer to the future of magic. Before long, the siblings unravel more clues about Zentobia, including why it’s connected to their hometown by a rainbow. Can they stop the biggest threat Zentobia has ever faced and make it back to Hailsville, or will dark magic destroy the world forever?
With exciting twists and turns around every corner of this children's book, the journey for Maggie and Peter is just beginning.
Return to Zentobia
The action-packed sequel available now on Amazon!
Ten-year-old Maggie Miller discovers the Book of Magic is the key to defeating a villain and embarks on a quest to stop a sinister plot in this sequel that’s perfect for fans of The Land of Stories series.
After foiling a villain’s attempt to bring back dark magic in the mysterious world of Zentobia, Maggie and Peter learn a new threat exists. When the villain’s daughter sends Maggie a plea for help to locate the Book of Magic and save her mom, the siblings travel through the rainbow portal to rescue their friends in this action-packed sequel to Journey to Zentobia.
Securing the Book of Magic is no easy task, even for a seasoned amateur detective like Maggie. The book contains a powerful spell that will prevent dark magic from destroying Zentobia and spreading to Maggie and Peter’s home, but it’s buried deep in a maze of enchanted tunnels.
During their quest, dangerous beasts hunt them, vines transform to monstrous creatures, and rising flood water blocks their path. A wrong turn dumps the group into a secret world that’s evaporating by the minute. Casting a spell with an ingredient that’s hidden in an enchanted boneyard offers their only hope to return to Zentobia.
And when the villain’s daughter discovers she is the heir to the Book of Magic, will she deliver the spell to defeat her father? Or will someone unleash a bigger scheme with Maggie and Peter’s hometown as the target?
The Jessa Becker Files on Kindle Vella
Read the first three episodes for free!
New episodes each week.
When mysterious hit-and-runs rattle neighboring towns, investigative reporter Jessa Becker fights for a front-page story. After the bodies vanish, Homicide Detective Chase Donovan recruits Jessa to help solve the case and restore his disastrous love life. But danger emerges when they infiltrate the secret auction of a devious scientist who claims to raise the dead. Worse yet, Jessa is exposed as a target. With the biggest story of her career on the line, will she land it, or die trying?
Journey to Zentobia Five Star Reviews!
"What an enchanting, magical adventure! I had so much fun!
I absolutely loved this. I loved the sibling relationship b/n Maggie & Peter, & it made me miss my own brother. Lol I also loved the idea of the portal being in the end of a rainbow! So creative. The world building was amazing, & I felt like I was flying around w/them in Zentobia in my own flying shoes! Very atmospheric! I LOVE Zentobia-the rainbow, the waterfalls, the shoes, the talking animals, & so much more all sound so amazing! The story flowed so nicely, & there was always something happening, & high stakes as well-which make for a fast-paced read. Themes of friendship, family, never giving up, & doing what’s right. Highly recommend! Such a fun, exciting read. That ending has me needing a book 2 now! Loved it & want more. Can’t wait to see what happens-I’m assuming there will be a book 2🤞🏻Absolutely beautiful cover by Kim Dingwall as well!💜"
- Reviewed by Belle's Middle Grade
"Journey to Zentobia by Stacy D'Alessandro is an exciting, colorful sci-fi fantasy adventure that children will fall in love with. This author sifts together all the elements kids love, and some adults will find this engaging and entertaining as well. The writing is full of energy and emotion, with unexpected plot points and encounters. The pacing is just right, and young readers will instantly be locked into the story, thanks to the author's imagination and good instincts for what kids look for in a sci-fi fantasy adventure. For a pulse-pounding read, young audiences will love Journey to Zentobia by Stacy D'Alessandro.
It is a must-read."
- Reviewed by Tammy Ruggles for Readers’ Favorite
"This is such a brilliant middle grade read! I dove straight into it, after reading the blurb and think it is a brilliant story for young readers. It has a great level of detail, with fun and exciting characters. The story flowed so well and stayed exciting and fun throughout. I read portions of it to my daughter, and she loved it, thinking it was loads of fun. It is definitely one that I want her to read, as her reading level rises. Overall a great read and definitely one I recommend!"
-Natural Bri's Reviews
"Aimed at middle readers, the book has plenty of action and a lively style. Young readers will find this a reader-friendly selection, with the occasional vocabulary-building challenge to keep them on their toes."
- The BookLIfe Prize
"I bought this for my 10 year old son as he loves fantasy and adventure stories and I thought he'd like to read this. This book has got him completely absorbed it's amazing. He's not a particularly quick reader, gets bored very easily and drops things very quickly but NOT with this book! It's been days now and he is completely absorbed it so great to see he is getting so much enjoyment out of it. I've got my daughter asking if she can read it next... absolutely!! All I can say to you is, do buy it they'll love!" - Amazon review
"If your child loves fantasy fiction this is a great book to choose. My 9 year old loves the colorful characters and storyline. She's a big fan of The Land of Stories series (Chris Colfer) so Journey to Zentobia was a great find to compliment her taste."
- Amazon review
"My daughter really enjoyed reading Journey to Zentobia so much, and she didn't want to stop reading it!!! It was such a fun, intriguing, and captivating story with so much excitement and adventure! While reading this magical fantasy book, you feel like you are joining the main characters as they embark on such an enthralling and enchanting journey! Author Stacy D'Alessandro incorporates so much creativity, vivid imagination, and thrilling adventure into this lively and animated story. It is a wonderful and fantastic book for both kids and adults, and we really hope that there will be a sequel in the future!"
- Amazon review
Journey to Zentobia Book Trailer
Return to Zentobia Book Trailer
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