A Talk with Up-and-Coming Authors Chantelle Atkins and Sim Sansford
Updated: May 14, 2022
Chantelle, a confirmed outsider who adamantly professes herself as “proud to be different,” has written over fourteen novels. Chantelle has taken her ability to be original and incorporated it into her writing and her characters. Sim, a novice, who has been writing since before he could remember, was inspired to write by novelist Thomas Hardy, and the cottage and woodlands surrounding the late author’s home.
Their co-authored young adult, sci-fi novel, scheduled to debut on May 25th, 2022, is set within the town Fortune’s Well. Hangman’s Revenge follows two teenagers, JJ Carson and Darcie Duffield, who find themselves right in the heart of a dangerous storm. JJ, a little different from other kids, is consumed by a dark mist within, that is slowly changing him. Darcie, who is the only other person who can see the mist, finds herself entangled in a web of lies and deceit, as she tries to help JJ and save him from the darkness before it’s too late.
Here they talk about their writing journey and what brought them together in the collaboration of their soon-to-be-released novel Hangman’s Revenge, book 1 of the Fortune’s Well series.
How many books have you each published so far?
Chantelle: I've published 14 altogether.
Sim: I’m still a bit of a novice. Currently, I have one novel and a handful of short stories/novellas.
Chantelle: A mix of adult and young adult. Coming of age, psychological thriller and suspense, family drama and mystery and crime, plus dystopian! Oh, and short stories and poetry.
Sim: I’m a firm believer in writing what you love to read, so I predominantly write young adult paranormal mystery. Although I am currently writing a young adult mystery which I am enjoying.
What made you decide to write together for your latest publication?
Chantelle: Sim joined me as a director in my company, Chasing Driftwood Writing Group, and not long after that, he asked if I'd ever consider writing with another author. I hadn't, and I'd often wondered how such a thing was possible! But we got on so well, had similar writing styles, and a mutual love of YA and character-driven stories, so I thought, why not?
Sim: As Chantelle says, we’d worked so well on a few writing-related projects (workshops, competitions, events) before, so to me, the great next step for us was to create something together. I first had the idea for a story that would take something negative (anxiety, depression) and turn it into something positive and magical. I knew I could never do the story justice alone. It needed a dual narrative, so I asked Chantelle and hoped for the best. Having become a fan of her work, I was blown away when she said, “Yes!”
Have you known each other long?
Chantelle: I first met Sim at Blandford Literary Festival in 2019, so not too long.
Sim: No, not long at all. But strangely, it feels like I’ve known Chantelle my entire life. I’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual too. We’ve actually only met in person once, which is crazy for me to even think about. Writing is such a vulnerable thing, and I feel like I now know Chantelle better than I know myself.
How was the experience of writing together? Did you argue a lot, or was the journey pretty smooth?
Chantelle: We didn't argue once. We started with a basic idea that Sim had, and both thought of a character. It just spiraled from there, with us messaging each other via Facebook to suggest plot lines, etc. I wrote the first chapter, and Sim responded, and so on.
Sim: We just gelled together so well. We’re very similar in a lot of ways and very different in others. We see each other’s strengths, and we build each other up. It was scary for me, writing with someone who already has a large catalog of books. But it was new for Chantelle to tackle the paranormal genre, so we both taught each other things as we went. It really just flowed and took on a life of its own. I’m not sure if we are just the luckiest authors in the world or if it was pure fluke, but it’s lasted for three books now, and hopefully, many more to come.
Can you take us through the process?
Chantelle: It was all on Facebook messenger! Back and forth, suggesting ideas, messaging each other whenever we thought of a twist! It happened fast because each time one of us sent a chapter, the other would read it and get so excited they would instantly respond!
Sim: Like Chantelle says, it was very organic. Whenever we encountered a plot hole or character arc, we talked it through on messenger and found a way around it in no time.
How often did you exchange work?
Chantelle: Sometimes, every day, sometimes a few days would pass between chapters.
Sim: Let me tell you something about Chantelle Atkins…She’s not human! Chantelle was an absolute machine when it came to writing these books (bearing in mind she was writing her own four-book series at the time whilst working and being a mum). We were pretty good at doing a chapter each and sending it over within a day or two. However, there were a few delays (mostly from my side) when life would get in the way. For the most part, it was quick. We completed all three books within eleven months from the original conversation.
Did you create and develop the characters together?
Chantelle: We came up with our own, but I feel like they developed alongside each other. To start with, for instance, we were both conscious of getting the other’s character right when they were in our POV chapter, but once we had gotten to know them better, it came easily.
Sim: I agree. Writing each other’s characters seems second nature now. That includes the minor characters. Remember, these are teens, so they have their own friend groups, family, teachers, bullies, etc. I think the thing that helped us here is we both really knew who these characters were. Whether they were a parent or a student, we knew the characters inside-out.
Who came up with the idea for the book?
Sim: Me. Although Chantelle wrote the first chapter, and she completely captured the world I wanted to create. I couldn’t have done it without her.
Any advice for others who are thinking of writing jointly?
Chantelle: Definitely pick someone with a similar style and genre. Keep messaging and communicating!
Sim: As Chantelle says, communication is key. It will only work if you’re one hundred percent authentic. As we’ve proven here, writing “pedigree” doesn’t matter. Number of books is irrelevant. You need to find someone you trust that shares your visions. Someone that knows your weak points and your strengths and is willing to work with you to create something together. It’s all about teamwork and friendship.
What was the best thing about writing together and the worst thing?
Chantelle: Best thing was how addictive writing it became and how much we fell in love with the characters. I can't think of a worst thing!
Sim: I agree! It was so exciting because you got to be a reader and a writer. Eagerly awaiting the next chapter and not sure what to expect. I guess for me, the only negative was not having more time in the day to write together due to our other commitments.
What’s the next move for both of you?
Chantelle: Our company (ChasingDriftwoodWritingGroup.org) is putting together another anthology, so we will be working on that together. For me, I'm working on a four-part YA post-apocalyptic series. It's pretty much done, but the first book is with beta readers, so it'll be a while until it’s all ready. I also have a few other works in progress on the go.
Sim: Along with plans for future literary festival events (BlandfordLiteraryFestival.com) and working on various projects for our company, I am working on a YA mystery book right now. I started the story for a university assignment sometime around 2012-15 but lost the original file. So, I started again last year from scratch, and it’s been so fun to write. I am also working on the second book in the Denver Falls Saga, the sequel to my debut novel.
Any plans for writing another book together?
Chantelle: Yes! When Fortune's Well is fully released and done with, we will start writing another series together. This time it's an idea I had that I think will work well in the same way. It's a dystopian, post-apocalyptic story called The Few.
Sim: Of course! I can’t wait to get started on the next one. We have also discussed working on prequels and sequels to our Fortune’s Well series (both novels and short stories), but there’s nothing concrete right now.
And last but not least, what was your favorite part of the book?
Chantelle: I think maybe when Darcie saves JJ, and realises she has more in common with him than she thinks. There is also a really sweet scene between them when they admit their feelings for one another. Everything is perfect for just a small moment in time. But of course, it's a series so there is more trouble to come!
Sim: My favourite part is the friendship that these two teens build together. They are so different, yet they understand each other completely. Another thing I love about this story is not only does JJ save Darcie, but you get to see her save him in return. I'm very big on strong female leads and it's refreshing to have a female character save the day.
For those a little curious about Hangman’s Revenge, here’s a little teaser.
This can’t be happening… It’s like a dream and it all happened so fast that I know I will be lying awake in bed all night trying to piece it back together again. Trying to relive it… I’m shaking hard. My eyes feel too wide and my skin too hot and when I look down at my +sts, I swear I can still see the black swirls drifting around them. Darcie is resting her head on my shoulder and suddenly that helps - suddenly her doing that gives me exactly what I need to think clearly. Jared was hurting her. He was going to attack her. So, it’s not just me… She’s shaking too. She must be in shock. I lift my arm slowly and sti0y and wrap it around her shoulder. The torchlight bounces around outside for a few more moments and then starts to drift away. The groundskeeper might be heading o1, but Jared and his friends are all still out there.‘I think we need to get out of here,’ I whisper. She lifts her head and stares at me, biting her lip, trying not to cry and I nod at her. ‘Darcie, right?’ She nods again. ‘And you’re-’ ‘JJ.’ She smiles and wipes a stray hair from her face. ‘I think you just saved my life, JJ.’ ‘Nah.’ I glance away before straightening up to check the window. ‘We gotta go.’ She gets to her feet nodding and I open the door slowly and glance out before committing to movement. I start to move when she stops me, grabbing my arm. ‘What was that stuff?’ she hisses, and in the darkness, I can see the whites of her eyes, the fear in them. I stare back at her and I want to tell her I don’t know, I didn’t see any stuff, but I can tell that she is not kidding. ‘I don’t know what you mean,’ I reply softly. She nods as if this is enough for her and she follows me out of the building. For a moment, I’m lost. I don’t know what to do. I just beat Jared up. The other kids are still around. The black mist…it did something to me. It was like it was there when I needed it, but that can’t be possible, can it? Does all this mean Uncle Henry was right? I’m as crazy as my mother? I want Darcie to ask me again, to tell me what she saw so that I know I’m not losing my mind but not yet. We have to get out of here first.
If you would like to learn more about Chantelle or Sim here is a link to their author websites: