I am taking a couple of weeks break from blogging. Thank you for sticking with me in 2015 & see you in 2016.
It seems I may have created a marmite character in my crime series, The Art of the Imperfect (http://goo.gl/z7HFgz) and The Art of Survival (http://goo.gl/MfMBUj). Apparently, Hannah, bless her, evokes strong emotions in my readers.
I know I have not written cosy crime; my stories are challenging and my characters, at times, are difficult to be with. But isn’t this so with most modern crime writing? Does Ian Rankin get told, ‘Couldn’t you cheer Rebus up a bit?’ as I was told by an agent’s reader regarding my creation Hannah? I doubt it and I am wondering if there is some gender politics at play here. Because I am a woman, am I supposed to only deliver cuddly, comfy characters? And are women characters not supposed to be down-beat and tricky to love?
I remember similar controversy swirling around Lionel Shriver’s mother character in We Need to Talk About Kevin. (A fab book in my opinion, let’s have none of this ‘a mother’s love for her children is always overwhelming and inevitable’ nonsense.) The debacle didn’t do Shriver any harm, so maybe I shouldn’t worry about the disagreement Hannah is generating.
As 2015 slithers to its inevitable end and 2016 looms, I thought I might take a tentative look back at my writing year. As I do so, I have to admit to feeling pretty pleased.
At the end of 2014, I published The Art of the Imperfect, so during the first part of this year I was promoting it both in social and traditional media (including an interview on Radio York on the 19th of January). I have found, however, that the best way to sell books is to get out and meet potential readers. This year I have done nine events, talks or signings to groups, in cafes, in book shops and in libraries. I have had some lovely reviews on Amazon and also on blogs.
The Art of the Imperfect was long-listed for the Crime Writers Association debut dagger. I didn’t think I had any expectations for my first novel’s sales, but I obviously did because I was initially disappointed. However, I can now publicly announce I am pleased with how things have gone. I sold or gave away (to reviewers and the like) around 270 copies. When I did a promotion on Kindle, 230 people downloaded it. I also did a giveaway on Goodreads, where people throw their names into a digital hat for the chance of free copies. Over 900 people entered and, of the three names which were drawn out, two were from the US.
Earlier this year I also did a ‘blog tour’ with 24 fellow writers from around the globe. It was organised by me and a wonderful woman I met on-line, Kate M Colby from Kansas. We put a shout-out for participants, set the questions all of us were to answer and then Kate C co-ordinated a rota whereby we each posted on each other’s blogs and reblogged/promoted the posts of others.
It was fun to do and more importantly brought me in contact with some fascinating people who have also assisted me in my endeavours this year. In fact, the launch of The Art of Survival last month felt much more supported and championed because of the social media contacts I have gathered throughout this year.
And I finally have concrete proof that social media works. A tweet brought a man I didn’t know to my signing at WH Smith and a facebook post brought a woman I didn’t know to my talk at Filey. Both bought books.
Talking of the publication of my second novel, this took some work too. With the aid of my first readers, Jane, Sue and Ruth, and of a professional copy editor and proofreader, thank you Charlotte and David, I got the manuscript ready. I then had to format it differently three times, once for a print run with a local printer, once for Createspace (paperback on Amazon) and once for Kindle Direct Publishing. I am developing techie skills I never wanted to have, but I am content with the results.
I have continued to offer workshops and supervision exploring the cross-over between creative writing and therapeutic practice. I had some lovely comments from participants. ‘A rich and multi-layered experience, which opened up many possibilities for me,’ Janet. ‘I recommend highly Kate Evans’s workshops. She is an engaging and creative tutor, who brings out the best in you,’ Laura.
In September, I walked St Cuthbert’s Way from Melrose to Lindisfarne with my sister, a fantastic experience in itself. I was also accepted as guest on the Mslexia blog between October and December to investigate the intersection between walking and writing. The results are here: https://mslexia.co.uk/author/kateevans/
Then in December, a chapter I submitted a while back, finally appeared in Poetic Inquiry II – Seeing, Caring, Understanding, edited by Kathleen T Galvin & Monica Prendergast, published by Sense Publishers. Keeping the toe nail I dip into academic writing wet!
During this year I have moaned about the lack of media coverage given to emerging writers (ie me!) Recently I looked at my own reading list and realised I was falling into the same ‘if it’s not traditionally published it’s no good’ trap. So I put a shout-out on facebook and gathered a list of indie published books to read and review. I started with Kate M Colby’s The Cogsmith’s Daughter (http://goo.gl/Ig4VOb) and then went onto Jaq Hazell’s I Came to Find a Girl (http://goo.gl/Q0ylky). Both excellent reads/discoveries, so I am continuing my adventure into the Indies in the new year.
I am back to writing The Art of Breathing, the third in my crime series, which I hope to publish Autumn 2016. My first draft has already been critiqued by fellow writers, Felix, Lesley and (different) Kate. I love the writing and crafting and know I am very lucky to have this possibility of focusing on what is my passion. I never did win the CWA debut dagger, so here is a bit of my acceptance speech: Thank you to my friends and fellow writers who have kept faith with me. Thank you to the readers of this blog and to anyone who has bought my novels and written a review. I really am very, very grateful. Wishing everyone a creative and peaceful 2016.
What’s your writing achievement for 2015?
After six weeks focusing on the launch of my latest crime novel, The Art of Survival, http://goo.gl/MfMBUj I am back to the working on the third in the series, The Art of Breathing. One of the advantages of writing a series is that I already know the point-of-view characters pretty well, and reader and writer can get to know them in greater depth with each outing.
I had already written the stories of these characters several times before I embarked on this series. They had popped up in one or other of the five unpublished novels which I have written since I was in my late teens. However, the one I was most shy of pushing onto the public stage was Detective Sergeant Theo Akande. After all, what does a white, middle-class fifty year old woman know about the experience of a black, thirty-something man? I could add in the mix the difference in our stated sexuality, though I do believe that this is (perhaps?) more fluid than aspects of race, gender and age (perhaps not?).
A main character in a novel has to have a developed back-story. There were many, many narratives which would lead to Theo’s black skin, I needed to know which one authentically belonged to him. The one thing I was certain about Theo was his sense of security and stability. I was clear this had to come from his parents and background. Having family connections to South Wales, I knew about the rooted Cape Verde community in Cardiff. As I read more about it, I decided Theo’s mother would come from there.
Theo’s father would come from Nigeria, a notion born from the story of a friend I had at university and from the biography of writer, Jackie Kay. Still there was a sketchiness to this. I read the novels of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and have recently begun Nigeria, a new history of a turbulent century, by Richard Bourne. As I paint in detail for Theo’s father’s story, Theo himself takes on greater substance and exciting new possibilities open up.
I am utterly committed to creating characters with depth and complexity. Theo is as real to me as the others in my novels. Sometimes I’ll have conversations with him (as I do with the others) to test out what I know about him and to find out new information. Yet, I have less confidence presenting him to others and wait to be slammed down for attempting to do so.
I hope if/when this happens, I will be able to channel some of Theo’s assurance and hold onto my belief that what connects us as humans is greater than what divides us.
How do you, as a writer, build character? What, as a reader, do you consider good characterisation?