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“Books are not about reading; books are about escaping”

N. J. Simmonds signs copies of her novel at BookWorld in Puerto Banús.
N. J. Simmonds signs copies of her novel at BookWorld in Puerto Banús. / SUR
  • Writing for teenagers - and getting them hooked on reading - is the important challenge taken on by N. J. Simmonds. Last week she brought her first novel to Spain, where she has her second home

The author of a new young adult fantasy romance series was at BookWorld in Puerto Banús last week to sign copies of her first novel.

Locals were invited to join N. J. Simmonds at the bookstore as she gave a short talk and answered questions as well as signing copies of The Path Keeper.

Born in London, Simmonds was raised in Barcelona - where her father is from - until she was seven years old and then the family moved back to the British capital. In 2010 she swapped England for the Spanish coast and emigrated to Estepona with her husband.

Released earlier this year, her debut novel makes reference to her Spanish roots and is partly set in Tarifa and the Andalusian mountains.

“What affects our reality? Do soul mates exist? And if so, can love ever be stronger than fate?” These are some of the questions that the author asks in her first book. Exploring the concept of fate and the intensity of love, she hopes that her writing can break the mould of stereotypical young adult books which can be, according to teens she met on her UK book tour, “patronising, formulaic and predictable”.

This is the first of at least three books in the series and N. J. Simmonds has just finished putting the final touches to the second book, Son of Secrets, which is due for release in February 2018.

Being brought up in a creative household (her grandfather was an artist, her father is a graphic designer and her mother an English teacher) influenced Simmonds from a very young age. She describes her young self as “a reading and writing kind of child that never left her bedroom”, with a passion for writing and drawing since she was able to hold a pencil.

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Although she is now based in The Netherlands, the author still visits her house in Estepona regularly and it was there that The Path Keeper was brought to life. Simmonds loves the idea of her two daughters being brought up bilingual - as she was - and says she will “never let go of [their] little slice of Spanish paradise”.

Speaking to SUR in English, Simmonds explained that she never set out to write specifically for young adults but rather to write the type of books she enjoyed reading herself - “romance with a touch of magic and a thriller edge”. However, as her first novel evolved, she realised not just how fun it was to write for that age group, but also “how important it was to do it well”.

“Teenage years are the turning point in your life; it’s that transitional moment when you step into adulthood and decide what your place in life is going to be.” She said it was essential for her to create a strong female protagonist who wouldn’t “take any nonsense off anyone but was also vulnerable and flawed”.

In a day and age where social media continues to divide opinion, N. J. Simmonds is able to see the pros and cons linked to the world of literature. Asked how important she thinks it is that children and teenagers continue to be brought up reading proper books rather than becoming internet-dependent, the author stressed “it’s not important - it’s vital”.

“Books are not about reading, books are about escaping,” she said. “Reading allows you to escape to places you’ve never been and experience things you’ll never get to do in real life, without leaving your bed or sofa. Isn’t that one of life’s greatest thrills?!”

Having said that though, she admits she is a lover of social media and wishes she had had access to it as a teenager. Fans of the novel are able to contact her on Twitter with questions about the book and get a response from her immediately, something that Simmonds would have loved to have had the opportunity to do when growing up.

She said: “I would have loved to have finished a good book and tell the author right away that I enjoyed it. If social media is used correctly it can actually inspire and bring writers and readers together... Or you can watch kitten videos and not pick up a book for years. Your choice.”

The writer has been “blown away” by the response she has received towards The Path Keeper so far - the book received over 60 five-star reviews on Amazon within eight weeks of its release - and she admits she still finds it a “surreal” experience to hear people discuss the characters she has created. “Seeing and holding my book for the first time was one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever known,” said Simmonds.

Following her visit to southern Spain, N. J. Simmonds will be in The Hague for another signing on 1 June and at the YALC (Young Adult Literature Convention) in London from 28 to 30 July.