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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, Sally Mills talks about how her experiences working in animal conservation inspired her to create the Island to Island Photograph Collection, to compliment her debut novel, Island To Island.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Sally Mills about her life and career, her experiences working in animal conservation in The Seychelles, and the creative work that went into her new book, Island To Island.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
My name is Sally Mills, and I was born in 1967 and raised in rural North Wales, where I was inspired by my bucolic surroundings leading to a fascination with the natural world. A healthy obsession with birds has dominated my life and continues to do so to this day.
I studied art at Wales University. Using the medium of sculpture to capture and portray the life of birds, I graduated with a First-Class Honours degree, followed by a distinction in a post graduate diploma in conservation management. Fulfilling my childhood passion continued throughout my working life, I spent 25 years in nature conservation working principally for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. This career also fueled my drive for sustainability, as I was seconded to the UK government to explore the development of new bioenergy systems powered by nature reserve vegetation.
I live with my partner Melvyn, who has a rare combination of skills, a builder, experienced naturalist, with green fingers. He introduced me to the property world, and with our shared work ethic into the ascent of an inspiring property renovation ladder. From building nature reserves to houses, life together has been one enriching adventure.
Towards the end of our conservation careers, we earned the chance to manage a tropical island nature reserve in the Seychelles. Swapping Somerset security for tropical tempestuousness, this experience was the inspiration for my first book Island to Island. A narrative non-fiction novel, it portrays a wildlife enthusiast’s dream, depicting a rare insight to a dynamic and difficult, yet privileged existence living by nature on Aride Island.
Now the natural world is a hobby and together Melvyn and I run our own small horticultural business in rural Somerset. This new aquaponic enterprise, was born and is driven by the ethos of health and sustainability. With life bookended by an uncomplicated rural lifestyle, I now enjoy the simple gratification gained in the supply of fresh vegetables to the local community and raising chickens. As I reap the rewards of hard work and dedication, I have more time to reflect on my eclectic and privileged, life dominated by wildlife. I feel fortunate that I am now in the perfect environment and have the opportunity to share many of my unique experiences as an inspiration for writing and illustrating.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
From when I was a child, I loved drawing and always wanted to illustrate a book, this combined with my love of nature, I have always aspired to use my artistic skills to produce a book about wildlife.
When did you take a step to start writing?
During our time in the Seychelles, my intention was to produce an illustrated nature diary, however due to the series of events that unfolded I began to write and illustrate my debut novel, which has a storyline filled with drama alongside incredible wildlife experiences.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Island To Island?
The Island to Island Photograph Collection arose following the release of my debut novel Island to Island in August 2022, when I received frequent requests from readers of the novel to see images and after several illustrated talks being well received, the publisher interested, and an abundance of unique, unpublished photos, it was too good an opportunity to miss. The book is a compilation of 180 colour, and black and white photographs of our time in Seychelles. With images of the landscape, wildlife, and day-to-day living, together with extracts of text from the novel to go with each, the photographs tell the story.
Due to its refreshing and unconventional approach, I am hopeful that it will have wide appeal, to a similar but also very different audience to the novel, and especially to those that prefer pictorial portrayals rather than the written word. It is also hoped that such a follow up publication will help boost sales of the novel, which in turn will further benefit the hospice for which the novel is fundraising.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Island To Island?
Ensuring that the publication complimented the novel Island to Island which it illustrates and didn’t undermine it or lessen the desire for the reader to want to read the novel, but rather served to whet their appetite and raise their curiosity, leaving them intrigued to know more. The book also needed to fully engage people who had already read Island to Island and to provide them with more depth and understanding of the unique experiences we had during our stay.
What was your research process for Island To Island?
Very little research was needed for my latest publication, with all the groundwork undertaken in the production of the related novel which proceeded it. Rather than research it was more a process of rediscovery, of selecting the best and most representative photographs that complimented the story of Island to Island. This then allowed me to identify the gaps in my own photograph collection and source additional photographs from other photographers who were more than willing to contribute.
How did you plan the structure of Island To Island?
I used the structure of the novel, and followed the same chapter structure, which provided continuity to readers who had already read the novel and a storyline that could be followed through the photographs for those who hadn’t.
Yes, the publishers Cranthorpe Millner worked with me on the editing, however as the excerpts of text were taken from the novel only a small amount of editing was needed when compared to the requirements of a novel.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Don’t ever think your story is not worth telling or you are not good enough to articulate it, brush aside all inhibitions and write from the heart.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I am currently writing and illustrating another novel, again inspired by our life in Seychelles – titled ‘Survival in Seychelles’ which portrays how we sustained ourselves, what we ate and how we survived. The book focuses on the history of Creole cuisine and the influences brought in from the early settlers to when it was a British colony and then later gained independence. It includes recipes and menus and follows the journey we made in trying to adapt to island life, with limited ingredients, and the challenges that imposed in trying to sustain ourselves and satisfy our dietary needs.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Yes, it has definitely been worth all the effort and hard work, it is a dream come true and working with the publishers Cranthorpe Millner, has been fantastic. The whole experience has opened up a whole new world, which I love, it offers complete escapism, and it has enriched my life – I find it both compelling and exhilarating.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Island to Island Photograph Collection
Publication Date: 22nd August 2023
Genre: Conservation of Wildlife and Habitats
Format: 210mm x 210mm
Publisher: Cranthorpe Millner
Island to island
Publication Date: 23rd August 2022
BIC 2.1: Travel Writing (WTL)
Binding: Trade Paperback
Format: 197mm x 132mm (B)
Publisher: Cranthorpe Millner
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