Ms. Clayville, CHS English Teacher, Publishes First Middle-Grade Novel


Matthew Presite

Ms. Clayville poses with her book, Delilah and the Cracked Cauldron.

Ollie Daniels, Staff Writer

Ms. Clayville, who is typically known for bringing magic to her English and Creative Writing classes at Carlisle High School, has transferred that magic to the page in her new novel, Delilah and the Cracked Cauldron. Set in magical Marigold, the book features a 12-year-old protagonist who navigates a new enchanted town, powerful friendships, and potentially destructive family secrets. A&E editor Ollie Daniels sat down with Ms. Clayville to discuss the book, her inspiration, and her advice for aspiring writers. 

Ollie Daniels: After writing mainly flash fiction and poetry so far, what has inspired you to write a full-on book?

Ms. Clayville: I’ve always been drawn to reading children’s books. I think they’re important, and I think some people stop reading after children’s and middle grade books, so it’s always been on my bucket list. I just needed to wait until I got a really good idea, or something that moved me to do it. So that’s why it came into being now


OD: How did you decide that you wanted to write more of a kid’s story?

SC: I wanted to read a lot first, so I dedicated a large chunk of time to reading in that age bracket, I’m really drawn to books that are written for middle school to late elementary because I think that’s when [kids] brains are really blossoming and they’re thinking about reading bigger stories and moving away from picture books and chapter books, but they’re not quite into Young Adult yet. I know some kids are reading ahead of their age, like my daughter (12), she has friends who are reading Colleen Hoover.

OD: Wow.

SC: It’s terrifying to me. But I like the idea of trying to create things that are both complex enough, for that age group, but also simple enough to be a good story and to be inclusive of folks at any reading level, for any age group. 


OD: And what would you say you intend the message for your story to be?

SC: There’re a couple layers to it, it’s light fantasy so not entirely world building but magic existing in everyday life. The biggest thing for me was developing a strong female friendship between the two characters. There isn’t a romantic angle in this story, I wanted to make it more age appropriate, in my mind. And I think a lot of books that have those friendships, whether it’s female or male or whatever, tend to also have a kind of competition, and tend to not just be pure friendships. That’s really what sparked it. It’s also loosely based on a friendship that my daughter has, that’s just this cool, supportive, awesome, powerful friendship.

OD: How much would you say the main character may be inspired by someone you know, like your daughter?

SC: I’d say about 30%. There’s lots of little pieces of people I know in all the characters throughout the book, but none are plucked directly from reality with a name change or anything, but I definitely looked at the character traits of my friends and wanted to represent them somehow in the characters I was writing.

OD: A bit of a different direction here, but who was your artist for the cover?

SC: Her name is Claudie Bergeron, and I met her online. I was really picky about what I wanted the cover to look like, so I worked with a number of cover artists to get their ideas and she was just awesome. She’s Canadian but she actually lives in England. Her specialty is illustrations for younger books, so I just saw her stuff and fell in love.


OD: What were you most excited about in the process of writing your book?

SC: This is going to sound cliched, but getting the book in kids’ hands. That was the driving force for me. Typically my writing process is a one and done, which is why I write so many short pieces. I really like to be able to write and edit and do things in a tiny capsule moment. So, this was definitely challenging at times because it took months and months, but I kept thinking about the idea of a kid holding my book, and I think that was the ultimate motivator.


OD: How have you handled and balanced being a teacher, and home life, taking care of cats, all on top of writing this book?

SC: It’s definitely been a challenge, but for me at least writing is the reward at the end of a hard day. I get to go home and get my cup of tea and sit down and just do what I love. I tried really hard not to put too much pressure on myself. I was lucky because I took the self publishing route which allowed me full control. On really horrible days, if I was too stressed, I didn’t have to write because I knew it wouldn’t yield good things. Or sometimes on those horrible days I did, because I got to sit and tune out the world. But it definitely took a lot of time management. I had to internally say to myself, every few weeks, where do I want to be? I also had other people involved, my illustrator, my seven beta readers gave me feedback, so having those folks as well gave me the motivation I needed.


OD: Finally, is there any advice you might give to a student or a coworker who is also trying to get their work published?

SC: I think starting small is important. I’ve been writing since I was in college, and maybe it’s just because I like short pieces, but I really started working hard to get things published. I’ve had very good luck with that. I think that built up my confidence. Publishing is competitive right now, there’s so much content out there, whether it’s from huge publishing houses or from individuals publishing themselves, and unfortunately most writers don’t get to the point where they can publish a book early on. We hear these flash success stories of someone at age 18, but it’s really a tiny, tiny portion. So I think the most important thing is to set reasonable goals and to not get discouraged.

Delilah and the Cracked Cauldron was published on June 5th and is available to purchase on Amazon.