"Releasing my Jarred Dream!" YA author Camilla Chester

Jarred Dreams

Through the silent, grey streets of Stanbridge he creeps, the Dream Thief who captures the joy of children's dreams and drains the colour from their lives. Until the day that 12-year-old Sade moves into town with her bright blonde curls and love of art.... She knows something is terribly wrong, but can she find out what it is before she loses everything she loves, including her own dreams? 

"Jarred Dreams" is an original and engaging story with elements of mystery and adventure; a story of dreams, memories, darkness and light by a new voice in children's fiction, Camilla Chester. The book was shortlisted for the National Literacy Trust New Author Prize 2015 and has been described by readers as "brilliant', "intriguing," "full of suspense," and "gripping."  It was published in April 2015 and will be officially launched on  Saturday 14th May in Harpenden. Please come along and say hello if you are in the area. Camilla will be signing books from 3-6 pm at The Oddfellows Arms, Harpenden AL5 2TG. There will be a real life board game about writing a book and a chance to dress up as the characters. Please come along and say hello!

Meet Camilla Chester. Mum, dog walker and children's author. Her debut YA novel was published on 28th April 2016 and is available via Amazon (Kindle and Paperback), Harpenden Books or direct from Camilla's website (http://www.camillachester.com). I met with her to learn more about her new life as a self published author and her inspiration for her part supernatural, part adventure and part magical story about the Dream Thief and 12 year old Sade.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel! How are you finding your new life as a writer? Can you tell me a little about your "journey"to this point?
Well, it's not really a "new" life! I've always been a writer - just now I'm a published writer! I've always wanted to write for the 8-11 year old market; I've experimented with other genres and age ranges but it's always this one that I feel most comfortable with and to which I keep reverting. I think it's a magical age as readers are beginning to move on to reading more independently and really embracing their own imagination and learning where the world of books can take them.

In about 2010 when we moved to Harpenden, I decided to take my writing seriously and properly dedicate some time and a more structured approach to see what I could achieve. I enrolled with the Open University for a Diploma in Creative Writing and Literacy course and spent two years focussing on honing my skills. The real benefit of this course was the networking opportunities and the chance to have your work continuously critiqued. My fellow students and I set up a Facebook page and regularly offered each other support and feedback. I also joined a local writing circle and SCWBI (an organisation for children's writers and illustrators) which has been amazing and invaluable.

"Jarred Dreams" came about from a conversation with my children. I am fascinated by dreams - ironically I am often writing to the soporific sound of my dog snoring at my feet! So, we were talking about a world without dreams, and out of our chat grew the concept for "Jarred Dreams". The book was initially a very linear tale focussing on the complete back story of the Dream Thief himself- much more sci fi with a scientific emphasis rather than magical.

The Dream Thief himself is a very dark character. Did that present any problems when writing for this age range?
He is dark! The descriptions of him are quite scary. That was how Sade came into existence. I needed a contrast and it had to be someone who was not frightened of anything, someone completely fearless, otherwise the story would never work. If Sade isn't scared, then the reader doesn't need to be scared - or as scared. I also made sure her chapters were longer and much more action packed. Although the narrative voice of the Dream Thief is more lyrical and slower than Sade's, it is much shorter so it's not overwhelming or distressing.

How did you go about getting published?
I entered a few competitions with various short stories which was great for getting a feel for how my writing might be received and then attended as many masterclasses, conferences and support groups as I could to get as much feedback as possible. When I was finally happy, through SCWBI, I organised a session with an agent and it was just amazing when they said they loved my manuscript! They also encouraged me to enter the National Literacy Trust New Author Prize Competition 2015 for which "Jarred Dreams" was shortlisted which was just amazing!

Of course, the journey to publication wasn't then that straightforward or easy, and I've actually ended up self publishing my novel, but it's been a great experience as well as a steep learning curve! There is so much more to being an author than just writing a book! I've learnt how to build a website, design a cover, produce and publish a book, arrange school visits, design marketing materials and now I'm learning about publicity and sales!

What's been the best thing that's happened to you since the book was released?
Walking in to the school playground and overhearing two students talking animatedly about my book! About my world! My characters! My creation! It's the best buzz ever!

What are your ambitions for the next 12 months?
I have only three ambitions in life. The first is to hold my book in my hand - tick! The second is to see my book in a bookshop that I don't know or I haven't arranged the order for and the third ambition is to see a stranger reading my book!

Thanks so much Camilla for meeting with me and telling me a bit more about your writing. I'm sure the book will be a huge success! See below for my review of "Jarred Dreams".

If you want to meet Camilla or hear more about her book, she is involved with Harpenden Library, and will be giving a few talks and visits in the near future. She is giving a talk and running a workshop at the St Albans Literary Festival on the 10th July and is also a judge for the Children's Writing Competition that's part of the festival. Her daughters have created a You Tube trailer for the book which can be found just by searching for Camilla Chester "Jarred Dreams". She also has a website: www.camillachester.com 


The book opens with the chilling description of the Dream Thief. A creature with sickly yellow skin; deep set, hooded black eyes, a large hooked nose, a pointed chin, enlarged ears, gnarled feet and a melted skull. A hideous creature who prowls the streets of Stanbridge every night to "free the people from the torment of their dreams", to make them forget, to rob them of their joy and hope, to drain the world of colour. "To rid the world of dreams is his cause and there is nobody who has the power to stop him." He focusses into the tune of the dream, it will "beckon him to where a child must be having a vivid dream" and he'll catch it "before it changes to something mundane....he can enter at the tip of something and feel the energy of the child switch to one of fear." He stores the dreams in jars deep in his cellar. He fills the world with grey nothingness and mediocrity.

Twelve year old Sade arrives in Stanbridge with her father as it is near to the hospital where her mother lies in a coma, "sleeping". They visit her daily. Sade is brave, courageous, unafraid of anything. Immediately she is struck by the eeriness of the place; of the expressionless people that live here and don't engage. Something strange is going on and she refuses to become part of it. She wants to find out why the people and children are so odd, so forgetful, so subdued, so colourless and change it before both herself and her father end up succumbing to the same fate. Can she prevent the Dream Thief from his destructive agenda before he takes everything away from her?

This is a really unusual book which is a real fuse of several different genres. It is part ghost story, part thriller and mystery story, part supernatural and part magical. It has hints of dystopian novels and at times reminded me of Voldemort and his Death Eaters, Philip Pullman's "Northern Lights" trilogy, Frances Hardinge's novels, and possibly something more ancient like "Paradise Lost".

Although the opening sounds quite frightening, it is more ethereal than that and the Dream Thief's chapters are shorter so they do not become overwhelming. His chapters are alternated with those following Sade's narrative which is modern, contemporary and suitably contrasting. The Dream Thief's passages are aptly dreamlike and bewitching; a malevolent voice and ghostly predator. He is a menacing presence but only as unsettling as many other "dark forces" existing in current Young Adult fiction and Chester writes his voice in a more lyrical and surreal style which ensures it doesn't become too dark. Alternating the two voices also gives Chester a real opportunity to show her ability to create different voices and construct a more complex story structure which will pull the reader in and sweep them up in the journey alongside Sade.

Sade could be likened to other contemporary strong female protagonists like Catniss from "The Hunger Games". She shows a resilience and determination from the outset. She wants to go home to her old life, "one with colour and smiles and noises......she will make it happen." She meets Seb who is also able to see that something very strange is occurring in their town and is willing to help her solve the mystery. During an art lesson, they learn more of the town's history from Maggie Farrant, their art teacher, and with her information they begin their quest to seek out the Dream Thief.

Sade is a character full of hope and goodness. She herself is struggling to come to terms with her own grief and unhappiness but she is constantly described with colour and brightness. The Dream Thief identifies her as the "golden girl of light" who "emits such brightness and flair" when she's awake that he can't imagine the "vibrancy of her dreams". She is a girl who seeks out adventure and challenge. The Dream Thief is determined to capture her dreams. She is a real threat to him. He talks about her moving as if she is gliding and repeatedly comments on her dazzling, blonde hair which "bounces around her like a golden light...like a halo." Sade almost becomes something much more metaphorical. It feels as if there is something more saviour like and celestial about her and therefore there is a great sense of anticipation.

I enjoyed Chester's use of colour and her contrasting imagery between grey and brightness which was also echoed in more subtle references to winter and summer, death and rebirth. This book embraces lots of interesting themes like art, self expression, dreams, memories, hope and grief. On a deeper level, older readers might pick up on ideas about renewal, redemption and restoration. There are some interesting suggestions about the role of the subconscious and the way our mind reveals things to us.

It is ambitious for a debut novel to tackle such concepts but Chester does so effectively and actually the novel has a very positive and uplifting finale. Sade's energy and her strong belief in the "colour" of life ensures her spirit cannot be beaten and this is the final message of the book. Where the adults have failed, Sade triumphs and everyone can once again not only dream but also live in a world which is a kaleidoscope of colour. I would suggest this book is suitable for ages 10 upwards.

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