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Monday, August 15, 2022

Author interview Maximilian Sam / Book review ‘It’s a stray dog’s life’

 

AUTHOR INTERVIEW

I thought it was about time that I dipped my toe into children’s literature on the blog and my first book is a charming 58-page collection of interlinked stories entitled ‘It’s a stray dog’s life’. It’s a debut novel by Maximilian Sam and I asked him to introduce himself.

My 30-year career in PR has allowed to me to travel the World. I’m currently living in my 10th country in total. Originally from the UK I’ve lived across the Middle East and as far from home as Indonesia. I currently find myself spending quality time with my parents in Turkey after the pandemic caused a brief hiatus in my globetrotting. Where I end up next is anyone’s guess. It does raise the question as to whether the career in PR led me on my travels or I used it as an excuse to get paid whilst I travelled.

I’m also Saracens rugby and Watford football fan so probably need therapy. Writing books is cheaper though so it’ll have to do for now. The first part of this paragraph also gives a very big hint as to where I’m from.

It certainly does! Max’s first published book was launched in 2022 and he hopes “It’s A Stray Dog’s Life 2” won’t be too long to publication. He’s planning about ten books in the series if all goes well and readily admits that he uses a pen name. He says,

I’m often asked about my real name and, it’s true, Maximilian Sam isn’t on my passport. I have two nephews called Sam and Max. It was an easy choice using their names instead of my own. Plus the web address was available.’

How lovely for his nephews! He then tells me that although he’s written a children’s book, I have no children so I can’t understand how that happened. There will be more stray animal stories in the future but my next release, to celebrate a milestone birthday, is a compendium of more grown-up short stories.’ 

If you take a peek at his twitter page, that milestone birthday number has been mentioned by well-wishers! So, talking of ages, what age is this book aimed at? And were his nephews his practice audience?

‘It’s aimed at 7 years and up. I recently did a video Q&A with a school in Dallas. The teacher had bought each child in her class a copy of the book to mark the end of the school year. They were all 8 and 9. Wonderful kids and some pretty insightful questions.

I didn't let my nephews read the book in advance. I didn't even tell them about it, although I did ask my brother if he was OK with me using their names. When the book was published I sent them each a copy with t-shirts I'd had specially made. It was a special moment doing a video call with them and seeing them open their presents. In fact, possibly the best moment of the whole process.’

Princess
Aww, that’s so lovely! So, what inspired him to write the novel in the first place?

My stray dogs and cats is the short answer. I was focused on another novel completely, that now may or may not get written, when a neighbour knocked on my door. I was told Princess (pictured) had been run over by a car and killed.

For a few weeks I was sure I could hear her barking, but I put that down to grief. My homemade therapy made me sit and write a tribute to her. Over time this morphed into including other stray dogs and became “It’s A Stray Dog’s Life”. There is a happy ending to this story as, to this day, Princess lives in a tent in my garden with two cats. As it happened the car hadn’t stood a chance. Princess is a tough old cookie.

Buster
Gosh, what a relief! He's included photos of all of the dogs in the book which are dotted throughout this post for us (and a spoiler alert - see if you can spot an upcoming character from his new book!). He then adds,

‘The day I signed the publishing contract I went out to celebrate and was walking down the street. Out the corner of my eye I saw someone aim a kick at a stray dog. The next thing I knew my wrist hurt and I was covered in blood. The dog had bitten the nearest thing which happened to be me! It wasn’t the dog’s fault. It was the idiot that had aimed the kick. Thankfully the medical centre was only a few yards away and they patched me up before taking me to the hospital for the first in a series of 4 rabies injections as well as a tetanus jab. I was having my COVID vaccines at the time so felt like a dartboard! All I could think was “why’d he bite me? He hasn’t even read it yet!”’

I’m laughing but he does touch on some tricky subjects in the book, such as animals being run over, so was he worried about including this in a book for youngsters? 

‘Strangely, I didn't really think about it. I hadn't set out to write a children's book which is probably its greatest strength. If I'd tried to sugarcoat anything the children would see through it in seconds. The car accident was a true story and the reason the book came about, so I wrote it as it happened focussing on the main point of Princess recovering. Several people have mentioned the themes running through the book of being kind and not being a bully. I hadn't realised they were in there, but I'm glad they are. I'm starting to see it's a trait in the way I write, especially my short stories. I like to let the reader's imagination do some of the work. It's more exciting that way. It also probably says a lot about me as a person that certain themes on how we should all treat each other keep cropping up.’

I think it does too! So how does he name his characters? 

I’ve been very lucky in this book as all the dogs exist and have names so I didn’t need to make them up. 

With other books I tend to throw names around until one that feels right for the character emerges.’

So what does Max enjoy the most about writing?

Snowy

Over the past year or so my answer to this question has changed quite dramatically. I thought it would be finishing the book, or learning about the publishing business, or seeing my book in print. I was wrong on all counts. The thing that’s changed my life really has been the way I’ve reconnected with old friends, made new friends and found huge support from the wider writing community. It’s amazed me the pride people feel when they have someone they know publishing a book. It was very lonely being away from friends and parts of my family during the pandemic, as it was for all of us, but the support and friendship I’ve had since announcing the book has been the greatest gift anyone can ever receive.

That and a deserved glass of wine or two when I’ve hit my writing goals! 

And I think I’ll join him in that last bit! So what has he found the most challenging?

Finding a laptop that worked. My trusty old MacBook finally departed its electronic coils after 12 years travelling around the World with me. I couldn’t source a replacement locally with an English keyboard so have begged and borrowed whenever possible. Luckily I’m still old school enough to handwrite the first draft so it’s just late nights typing up the first edit that has been difficult. The other part was the rejections from agents and publishers. However strong we are it eventually starts to bite and create doubt. I eventually bit the bullet and went with a hybrid publisher just to make the book happen. It was a way of proving to myself I can do it. We’ve all heard the stories of how many times Harry Potter was rejected so there’s still hope for us all.

There certainly is! As Max mentioned hybrid publishing, I asked him to tell us about how he found the process and whether it worked for him, or if he’d prefer to be traditionally published in the future?

‘I'm happy I used a hybrid publisher for my first book. I can't claim it was a smooth process all the way through as it really wasn't. I know hybrid publishers have a bad name. Anything that changes the status quo has the same effect. In theory it's a great concept, especially for first time authors who have little chance of landing a big publishing contract.

Mac

Hybrid publishing scares people as there's an upfront cost, as well as the publisher taking a cut of everything else too, in the same way a traditional publisher does.  Thankfully, the upfront cost was very low and the royalties quite high. I've seen stories of other companies asking for thousands upfront, which a first-time author has no chance of recouping. It also helped the publisher allowed me to have more control than a traditional publisher would. As such I was able to work with my friend to come up with the cover. We sent it over to the publisher who added barcodes etc. It was a real team effort with a result I'm genuinely proud of. I'd also have paid more for proofreading and editing than it cost me with the hybrid publisher, so financially it made sense.

We did have our bumps in the road along the way. Some were my fault and some were theirs. It mostly came down to my expectations being slightly wrong and a lack of communication at times. Thankfully, we were able to resolve them and we ended up working well together. Due to my background I've done a lot of the marketing (I'd have had to do so with a traditional publisher too), but the team has always been there if I've needed anything. They even made sure a box of posters and other goodies were sent to the US for a book fair my friend was exhibiting at. The main reason I went down the hybrid route was I knew nothing about publishing. I've put the cost down to an investment in training. I've learned a huge amount which has given me the knowledge I need moving forward. Do I know everything? Not at all, but I know enough to self-publish the next book (with a little help from various websites to fill in the gaps in my knowledge).

I'm fortunate to have a friend who's a film producer who has the first option on film rights for all my books. As such I can't see me going down the traditional publisher route at the moment. Why would I want to give up a large chunk of income when I don't need to? I'd also be giving up all control over the book which I'd be very uncomfortable about. If a publisher was guaranteeing 1,000,000 sales I may feel differently, but there's no honest publisher who will ever make that promise.’  

Princess and Snowy the cat

So if he could go back in time and chat to himself, what writing advice would he give himself?

‘Sit down and get on with it. It’s much easier than you think and the general public will be the judge of whether it’s good or bad, nobody else including yourself.’

And talking of judging, does Max read the reviews left by his readers?

‘Only the good ones!! Even bad ones can be useful though if they’re constructive. Not everyone likes the same thing so getting hung up on people not liking it isn’t important. There’s plenty of things I haven’t liked that many others have. If someone took the time to read it but didn’t like it then I owe them a debt of gratitude for reading it anyway. I’m also pretty good with rejection which is probably why I’m still single!’

I love Max’s sense of humour! So what’s his favourite book?

‘Wuthering Heights because it’s so badly misunderstood but carries an incredible message. I’ve done a lot of research into the Bronte family and the circumstances in real life give a huge clue as to the true meaning of the book. It did take me listening to a Lily Allen song to finally fully work out my thought process though. The Bronte brother had his heart broken and turned to drink. He never went near another person emotionally until he died. The book is about surviving a broken heart and realizing we can put those we love on a pedestal and miss their flaws. Nobody is ever as perfect as we hope. Emily hoped her brother would see this message and save himself. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. When I put my theory to my English Literature A-level teacher he kicked me out the classroom for being disruptive so I accept I could be wrong. By the way the Lily Allen song? Alfie which is about her brother.’

What a response from his teacher! So in finishing up, I asked him for a tweetable synopsis of his book (tweet here):

‘Have you ever wondered what dogs are thinking? Now you can find out as Princess, Buster and Snowy share their lives.’

BOOK REVIEW

‘It’s a stray dog’s life’ is a charming book for children, featuring three stray dogs and the adventures they encounter. The first character we meet is Princess, a ten-year-old Turkish stray and she’s so adorable that I wanted to give her a cuddle! She says,

‘My best human friend is called Ollie and he gives the most amazing tummy tickles. He makes me laugh and my back leg starts running because I can’t control it.’

The first chapter is a gentle introduction into her world but be warned, the second chapter starts with Princess being hit by a car. Then we learn her dad was run over years ago but he made a game of it with Princess, so it’s not as devastating as you might imagine. Instead, her take on it is,

‘I learned a big lesson though. Don’t chase after cars and always look closely when crossing the road because it does hurt when one hits you.’

And this tender way of tackling thorny issues runs throughout the book. The dogs are growing up and experiencing life for the first time, and the stories tackle tricky subjects along the way, such as death, homelessness, different cultures, bullying and illness, as well as growing-up issues such as learning about manners, cleanliness, and friendship, but Max does it with such a skilfully light touch that they’re very accessible.

The chapters are short, you could easily read several to a child at bedtime, and there are lovely touches of humour as the dog and human embark on their adventures together, such as their car trip to the beach,

‘I can still sing “How much is that doggy in the window?” although the looks I get from Ollie when I try show he doesn’t totally agree.’

A third of the way through the book we move onto Buster’s story, who sees himself as the neighbourhood dogs’ Chief of Police. We learn the impact Princess has made on his life and how he makes his first best friend. He enjoys simple pleasures,

‘It might not sound like an amazing adventure filled with excitement like some of the other times we’ve had, but sometimes the best adventures are just playing with friends and talking. I knew what it was like not to have friends which is why I love the ones I have now even more.’

The last third of the book focuses on Snowy, a hyperactive stray with touches of naughtiness, or perhaps it’s just clumsiness,

‘There’s one downside to running around at 100 miles per hour all the time. If there’s something in the way I can’t really stop in time. Normally it means someone or something gets squashed. Sadly that someone is very often me.’

The stories are well written and I can imagine children, and adults, falling in love with the characters. If you’re after a kid’s book with real heart, then I recommend ‘It’s a stray dog’s life’. It’s just lovely!

For more information, take a look on Amazon (press here) or find out more by visiting:

Website: www.maximiliansam.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/maxsamauthor

Facebook: www.facebook.com/authormaximiliansam

Instagram: www.instagram.com/authormaximiliansam

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2 comments:

  1. Oh this sounds lovely for my 3-year old grandchild, thanks so much for sharing.

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    Replies
    1. It is charming but you might need to read ahead, just to make sure the upcoming chapter is age-appropriate as Max recommends age 7+ - just to warn you!

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