Category Archives: Author Interviews

Blog tour: Greater than the sum of its parts? Assembling a first short story collection

This week I am delighted to welcome fellow writer Anne Goodwin to my blog. Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, was published in 2017. Her short story collection, Becoming Someone, on the theme of identity launches on Facebook on November 23rd, 2018, where the more people participate the more she’ll donate to Book Aid International. A former clinical psychologist, Anne is also a book blogger with a particular interest in fictional therapists.

Website: annegoodwin.weebly.com
Twitter @Annecdotist.

Here Anne talks about putting her first collection of short stories together for publication.

Many years ago, when I was carving out a space to write fiction, a creative writing tutor recommended I begin putting a short story collection together. Despite knowing very little about publishing at the time, I was aware that short story anthologies are hard to sell in the UK. So I shrugged my shoulders and continued submitting my efforts to individual magazines.

By the time my debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was published in 2015, I had over sixty short stories in multi-author collections and/or print and internet magazines. I even had a couple in translation – Swedish and Hungarian if you’re wondering – which is yet to happen with either of my novels. But I didn’t consider putting together a collection until my publisher at Inspired Quill suggested it. What writer isn’t flattered to be asked to submit? I decided if Sara-Jayne Slack was prepared to invest time and money in an anthology, I ought to delve in.

It wasn’t until my second novel, Underneath, was published that I had the headspace to revisit my short fiction with an anthology in mind. By then I had around ninety stories – most already published, some still in draft and some doing the rounds – begun over a period of fifteen years. Each having emerged from a separate seed of inspiration, it was a new experience to go back and select a sample not only for their individual qualities but for how they’d fit together as a whole. Like arranging a vase with flowers from different seasons or furnishing a room with both contemporary pieces and antiques.

Or perhaps my stories weren’t so disparate. I knew I kept returning to familiar themes. Perhaps my collection would be like a colour-co-ordinated bouquet. But which colour – or theme – would incorporate the most alluring flowers?

In conjunction with my publisher, I settled on the theme of identity, being broad enough to encompass a range of interpretations around a coherent central idea. How do we become who we are and how that does that change across time and circumstance? How do we manage the gap between who we are and who we would like to be or who others feel we ought to be? How much control do we have over our identity and is it a role bestowed on us by others or something that arises from within? These kinds of questions are consistent with my background as a clinical psychologist. They’re also explored within my debut novel.

After drawing up a list of potential candidates, I set about self-editing. A major difference between this and preparing my novels for submission was that 70,000 words of short pieces contains many more characters and plots than a novel of similar length. What if I had repeated myself? Once the stories were in a single document it was relatively simple to eliminate duplicate character names, but echoes of imagery or phrasing are trickier to detect. Multiple reads and an eagle-eyed editor certainly help.

Following submission, my publisher asked for a statement of how each story fit the theme and a little more editing of some to make that fit tighter. This helped us both develop a stronger sense of what the collection is about and my personal concept of identity as a dynamic process that evolves in relationship with the self and with others. Around this point we also agreed that there was a gap in relation to religious identity (easily filled as I already had the completed stories touching on the topic) and that, although it’s inevitable that some stories would be stronger than others, one, despite perfectly encapsulating the theme, didn’t make the grade.
More detailed editing from my editor followed. The stories having gone through multiple edits already, a few courtesy of the editors of magazines, the collection required fewer alterations than my novels, and definitely fewer passages to cut. On the other hand, some elements of some stories needed a lot more back and forth until they hit the right note.

A satisfying short story depends on nuance; some of mine benefited from a few extra words to hone the resolution while still leaving sufficient space for the reader to draw her own conclusions.

One of the difficulties I encountered in writing my first novel was finding the right structure for the story I wanted to tell. When it came to the collection, while structure wasn’t a problem for the individual pieces, structuring the whole required some thought. In what order should the stories appear to make for the most satisfying read? With a novel, strategically placed crises keep the reader turning the page. But there’s no parallel for this in an anthology. To end one story, like a teasing chapter, on a cliffhanger doesn’t entice readers into the next tale with new characters and setting.

Having already agreed a title change from Being Someone to Becoming Someone to reflect identity as process, my publisher suggested arranging the stories to reflect increasing confidence of the main character in their sense of who they are. Thus the process of reading might follow the process of identity formation, such that the book itself becomes much more than the sum of its component parts. But when the stories weren’t written to illustrate this development, and when most stories contain a process within themselves, a challenge to achieve. Have we pulled it off? That’s for readers to judge.

Becoming Someone published 23rd November, 2018 by Inspired Quill
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-908600-77-6 / 9781908600776
eBook ISBN: 978-1-908600-78-3 / 9781908600783
Author page at Inspired Quill publishers http://www.inspired-quill.com/authors/anne-goodwin/

Facebook launch in support of Book Aid International https://www.facebook.com/events/285314412085573/

Drop in at your own convenience wherever you are in the world, I’ll be here to entertain you from morning coffee to pre-dinner drinks.
The more actively people participate, the more I’ll donate to Book Aid International.


Sugar and Snails promotion My debut novel is discounted to 99p or equivalent (Kindle version) throughout November viewbook at Sugar and Snails

Author Interview: Christopher Lloyd King

Good morning this rainy Easter Monday. Around this time last year, I completed the Curtis Brown Creative novel writing course. One of my colleagues on that course was Christopher Lloyd King. He has just published his first novel, Black Sun (available from Amazon: goo.gl/ApwVn9). I am delighted to have an interview with him on my blog.

Christopher Lloyd King came to writing fiction after a career in television. He directed single plays and series over a thirty-five period. Credits include BBC’s ‘Forgive our Foolish Ways’ for which Kate Nelligan received a BAFTA nomination as best actress, ITV’s ‘The Thing About Vince’ starring Timothy Spall, which won a Silver Rose at the Montreux TV festival. He directed two series of Channel 4’s ‘The Manageress’, starring Cherie Lunghi, and many popular series, including ‘The Professionals’, ‘Minder’, ‘Soldier, Soldier’, ‘The Bill’, ‘Casualty’, ‘Holby City’.

He was educated at St. Peter’s College Oxford and L’Université d’Aix/Marseille, with an M.A. in film directing at The National Film and Television School.

Please say something about your writing journey to the present day.
During my directing career, I wrote screenplays (with a view to directing them myself), so have always been interested in telling stories, placing characters in a landscape. My scripts have tended towards historical settings, ranging from post-World War 1 rural Ireland to the Welsh mountains of the interwar years. Subjects have included sexual intrigue within a ménage à trois, the social ostracism faced by a gay pacifist during the build-up to war. A common thread in these scripts is an interest in the ways political events on the global scale affect the everyday life of ordinary people.

It was this preoccupation that led me to the story of Black Sun. I read Ian Knight’s Zulu Rising, an account of the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879-83, and was struck by the similarities between those events and the Blair/Bush invasion of Iraq in 2003. There was the same slender pretext for declaring war, the same impulse from British politicians to control the natural resources of a ‘third world’ country, the same demonisation of a tyrant. and the same outcome: huge loss of life and the creation of a power vacuum leading to devastating civil war.

Zulu Rising led to my reading more widely. I became fascinated with the story of Mehlokazulu, whose impetuous action to punish his adulterous mother became the justification used by the British. I wondered how this young warrior could bring himself to garrotte his own mother. Without any ambition to start writing a book, I set out to examine his motives. It was like unravelling a mystery; one thing led to another and eventually the architecture of a novel was revealed.

How did you do the research for Black Sun, and  how you feel about writing about another country/culture?
I was, and am, sensitive about describing historical characters from another culture. In the case of Black Sun, cultural appropriation is far from my purpose. Black Sun is written objectively in third person, which I hope helps maintain a detachment and avoids any blurring between author’s attitude and the value system of the characters described.

One difficulty I had to overcome is that most histories of the period are Euro-centric, written from a European perspective by British or South African writers. Zulu history is essentially oral, word-of-mouth stories passed down from father to son, mother to daughter. Two exceptions are Bertram Milford’s Through the Zulu Country and Paulina Dlamini’s Servant of Two Kings. Milford travelled through Zululand soon after the Zulu defeat, interviewing the Zulu participants – including Mehlokazulu and his father Sihayo. He took down verbatim their testimony, thus presenting Zulu eye-witness accounts of the battles.

My most important source was Paulina Dlamini’s book. A short, eighty page, monograph, this is a direct account of the war through the eyes of a thirteen-year old Swazi princess sent to work in the Zulu King Cetshwayo’s household. Nomguqo (her pre-baptismal name) was therefore witness to conversations at the highest level in the royal court and remembered them in detail. After the fall of the kingdom and ensuing civil war, she converted to Christianity and became an evangelist. Her fellow missionary, the German Lutheran Heinrich Filter, transcribed her stories and published them in 1911 (the English edition wasn’t published until 1986). Paulina’s memories are fresh and in exquisite detail. Consequently, she became the second principal character in the book.

Available on Amazon: https://goo.gl/ApwVn9

As a boy growing up in the North-East of England, I was aware of the history of the Zulus from reading Henry Rider Haggard’s romances set in Zululand, specifically Nada the Lily. The writing was so vivid I wanted to visit Zululand and see for myself where the story was set. The opportunity came after leaving school. Before starting university, I spent nine months in newly independent Zambia, as a volunteer teacher. During the Easter break I travelled down to Durban and went inland to kwaZulu, where I spent some time in the Valley of a Thousand Hills. It was exactly as I imagined it, a vast landscape with traditional ‘kraals’ (which I know now are called iMizi in isiZulu) dotted over it.

Then in 2016, my eldest son and I made a trip to kwaZulu on a trek through the uKhahlamba mountains. We made a trip to iSandlwana and had the good fortune to meet Lindizwe Ngobese, a local historian. Lindizwe is the great great grandson of Meholokazulu, the hero of Black Sun. We have kept in touch ever since and I am waiting, with my heart in my mouth, for his reaction to my evocation of and tribute to his ancestor.

What is your ‘writing process’?
The research and writing of the book went hand in hand. I discovered the characters, and therefore the story, as I read about the history. I wrote narrative ‘sign-post’, scenes which I knew I had to describe, like the ‘battle of the first fruits’ in Book 1. These provided guides to direct the story, but at no time did I follow a prescribed plan. It’s fair to say that the novel wrote itself – serendipitously. There was a good deal of back-tracking and re-writing. In retrospect, it would have been more economical and practical to have written a story plan, but since I had no idea of what I wanted to write, I allowed myself to be guided by the characters.

Five years in the writing, the manuscript ended up at an unwieldy one hundred and fifty thousand words. I had no immediate plan to seek a publisher, content with the reaction of my wife, who cried at the ending. Job done, I thought.

However, pure chance led to the manuscript being read by Simon Clegg, MD of PiqWiq, a small independent publishing house. He showed it first to Rob Dinsdale, an agent with A.P. Watt. Rob’s notes were invaluable and produced a quantum shift in how I considered the book. He reminded me that I was writing character based fiction and not history. He made me realise that characters are not aware they’re living through ‘history’; they’re living each day as it comes. ‘History’ is how we interpret events from the perspective of time having passed, where we have the advantage of seeing patterns and knowing the ‘ending’. I wrote a whole new draft with this injunction in mind.

Simon Clegg then showed this draft to Sadie Mayne, a freelance editor, who deemed it worthy of publication. Then came the time-consuming task of turning the clumsy manuscript into a book. Sadie was very helpful in shaping the narrative, cutting sections that were overwritten and redundant and encouraging me to expand areas that were underdeveloped. There was considerable to-ing and fro-ing.

The title Black Sun suggested itself very early on. One of the most dramatic features of the battle of iSandlwana, the first encounter between the British invasion force and the Zulu army, was the partial solar eclipse. According to contemporary Zulu accounts, the ‘sun went black’. The image provides a particularly apt metaphor for the eclipse in fortunes of the Zulu nation.

PiqWiq suggested that the novel might provide material for two books. Various dividing points were offered, and eventually it was decided that the themes of Book One, dealing with the build-up of hostilities, would be neatly rounded off with the Zulu armies marching to confront the British invaders, with Book 2 starting at the battle of iSandlwana and ending with the annihilation of the Zulus as a fighting force.

Have you any writing tips?
It would be invidious of me, as a beginner, to suggest writing tips to other novelists, but I myself have been helped by my previous experience of directing for television.

I know, for instance, that characterisation is all. Story is the consequence of the interaction of characters, what they say and do to each other. I am interested in the ambiguities in behaviour, inconsistencies which lead to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. This is the essence of conflict. So, finding those ambivalences is key to plotting, determining what the key objectives are for each character and deciding how these intersect or contradict each other.

Also from editing television programmes, I’m aware of the unwritten rule to start a scene/chapter late and leave it early. Rely on the audience/reader to fill in the missing information. As readers, we all construct in our mind’s eye the rest of the narrative as we make our way through each stage in a novel. This is the key to understanding how to maintain suspense, keep the reader’s attention.

Brevity and concision are also lessons learned from TV. This applies to description and scene setting. It’s important that the reader has a sense of where and when an action is set, but this works most effectively when it is integrated into the action. It should not appear as imposed, or arbitrary

What motivates you to write?
I write as I read, to be taken into another world, the imagination of the author. I’m always surprised by what my imagination throws up. There’s a strange alchemy that transmutes half-buried ideas and half-remembered thoughts into concrete images, and from there into a coherent narrative.

Future plans?
I have another historical novel on the stocks, set in the same period of history. The 1870s threw up conflict across the world, where indigenous people fought to protect their lands against the incursion of greedy, land grabbing settlers of European origin. For some years, I’ve been reading histories of the American Wild West (childhood fascination with ‘Cowboys and Indians’, I suppose). I chanced upon Empire of the Summer Sun by S.G. Gwynne, winner of a Pulitzer prize. This tells the story of Quanah Parker, the last of the Comanche war-chiefs. Quanah’s understanding of his people’s need to adapt to new circumstances is poignant. The friendship that developed between him, leader of a nomadic nation, fighting to preserve an unsustainable way of life and R.S.Mackenzie, colonel of the 4th Cavalry, who defeated him in battle, is the basis of the new book Blue Norther.

‘Which question did I wish you’d asked?’: which book would I like to have written? Sebastian Barry’s Days without End. The first-person narrative of the seventeen-year old Irish volunteer, in love with his brother-in-arms through the horrors of the American Civil War, is a masterpiece of characterisation.

Author Interview: Lynne Blackwell

Welcome to Lynne Blackwell to my blog.

Lynne writes crime fiction/domestic noir. After a stint in the Special Constabulary, Lynne began her nurse training, working mainly in acute general and psychiatric hospitals before co-ordinating day-care for people with dementia. Lynne has a BA (Hons) in Social Policy from Sheffield Hallam University, where she studied Psychology, Sociology, Politics and Criminology. She is a winner of the 2015 Northern Crime competition, contributor to the Northern Crime One anthology and writes regular blogs about the road to publication, which aims to encourage new writers to learn from her mistakes and heed all warnings. 

What are you currently working on?
I’m writing a novel that began as a pitch to my ex agent, Lizzy Kremer, six years ago. It is about a girl who runs away from home after she’s made a serious accusation against another family member; an accusation that was based on nothing more than a series of vague memories from her childhood. 

What has inspired your most recent novel/writing?
An interest in infantile amnesia.

How much do you think fiction intertwines with real life?
All fiction intertwines with real life – minus the lengthy conversations, long drawn out pauses and anything else that can slow down the pace. Whatever the genre, fiction has to be rooted in reality. 

Could you give five tips on how to tackle either characterisation or plotting or dialogue or descriptive passages?
CHARACTERISATION: I tend to write in first person, so I spend a lot of time working on the prologue and the first three chapters until I’ve created the perfect protagonist’s voice for that particular project.

DIALOGUE: Always read dialogue out loud and in the manner of each character to authenticate the voice.

PLOTTING: Delete everything that is superfluous to denouement and slows down the pace.

DESCRIPTIONS: My novels are contemporary, brutally realistic and usually written in first person, so I have to rein in the temptation to write reams of descriptive passages. I do, however, find ways to get around this. For example: I adapted my story in ‘Northern Crime One’ from my second novel (Ghost Towns, 2013) by changing the female narrator from the mother of the victim into a psychic who is haunted by the visions of a drowned girl. This enabled me to examine the dead victim’s Point Of View in a surreal way. My first novel (Into the Snicket, 2009) is about a woman who is an alcoholic and suffers domestic abuse. She is far too stressed to describe anything in great detail, and usually too drunk to notice much at all. However, the fact that she keeps drifting off into drunken stupors gave me an opportunity to describe what she may (or may not) have witnessed in a series of flashbacks as more memories were retrieved.

PLOTTING: A crime editor once advised me to never submit a crime novel without a prologue. Before I start writing a new project, I go in search of an atmospheric ‘crime scene’ for the next prologue. 

How would you describe your writing process?
I don’t meticulously plan my crime novels/stories unless I’m writing a police procedural. Once I’ve got a crime scene in my mind, I’ll have a think about the murder, murderer, victim/s and protagonist before writing a prologue and the first three chapters. I’ll go over this work many times until I’m happy with the Point Of View. Then I’ll jot down a stem outline to use as a guide. I write the basic draft chronologically, often working into the night to keep up momentum. I don’t write fastidiously at this stage; some chapters might be nothing more than a series of notes and diagrams. Once I’ve produced a 40-60,000 word basic draft, I assess what research needs to be done: sociological, psychology, forensic etc. I’ll write several more drafts until I know the characters inside and out, then I’ll work on the dialogue. I wrote ten drafts for my first novel. 

What helps you to write/what gets in the way?
I can only write in a quiet environment – at home and preferably alone. When I’m on a roll I’ll work through the night until the dawn chorus.  

What kind of research do you do and how do you go about it?
My Google history is varied, gruesome and rather fascinating! I have made many contacts over the years, so if something is too complex to use a search engine or I can’t rely on information in a book, I’ll ask a professional for their expert advice.  

Could you say something of your publishing journey and your experience?
After my first novel was rejected by a few editors I was left without an agent. I picked myself up and submitted it to a couple of other agents before taking on board the crime publisher’s advice to increase the pace. I changed the prologue, removed two out of three narrators and kept the strongest voice. Then I put it to one side and began work on the rest of my portfolio; making all my novels similar in style to ‘Into the Snicket’ by fitting them into a domestic noir/crime genre before the likes of ‘The Girl on the Train.’ 

I continued to write blogs about the trials of being an unpublished author and entered a couple of competitions: the second being a short story competition in association with New Writing North and Moth Publishing. As a winner, my story was published in the anthology, ‘Northern Crime One’, which gave me the opportunity to work with an editor and read at book events. It was reassuring to attend these events with the support of NWN/Moth Publishing, and in the company of the other contributors.

The question you wished I’d asked you.
What keeps you motivated? – I love to give myself a challenge at the start of every project. Three out of my four crime novels are written in first person, but the protagonists are not the murderer, murder victim or investigator. For this reason, it has been a challenge coming up with different ways to maintain the pace that is required for crime without ending up with a contrived plot.

How can readers find you and learn more about your writing?
‘Northern Crime One’ is published by Moth Publishing on Paperback and Ebook https://sites.google.com/site/lynneblackwellwriter

Blog: The Trials of an Unpublished Author –  https://sites.google.com/site/lynneblackwellwriter/blogs

Twitter: @lynnemblackwell

Thank you Lynne!

(Date of interview: 21st January 2017)

 

 

Author Interview: Jared A Carnie

Welcome to Jared A. Carnie for this week’s Author Interview.

Jared A. Carnie has written ever since he was little. His writing has appeared in various zines, journals and anthologies. He won a Northern Writers Award in 2015 and his debut novel, Waves, came out in September 2016 (https://goo.gl/FBpdhS)

What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a new novel, which I think will be called Oranges. It’s about a young child who half runs away from home, half gets kidnapped. It’s very different in terms of language to Waves, so it’s taking me quite a bit of time. It’s written from a different sort of perspective which means each sentence has to be put together in a certain way. With Waves, it was more about the flow of the sentences. Oranges is a different kind of challenge.

What has inspired your most recent novel/writing?
Waves was inspired by two things. Firstly, the Outer Hebrides. I lived there for a couple of years and it was utterly, unimaginably beautiful. It’s also very odd and totally unique. I knew I wanted to write something that captured all the different elements of the islands.

Secondly, I noticed that everybody in my life was going through some sort of mid-life crisis, whether they were middle-aged or not. Kids who were having to think about going to university were freaking out about it, people who had come out of university were worried about choosing a career, people in relationships were worried about whether they were in the right relationships, people not in relationships were worried about never finding relationships. Everybody seemed to be thinking that whatever their circumstances now were, they would be that way forever, and as a result were suffering a kind of existential crisis. I wanted to write something about a relatively young person going through something similar. I hoped that people would either be able to relate, or think ‘he’s only young – why is he worrying so much?’ and then hopefully be able to recognise moments in their own life where they might be acting in similar ways and decide to do something about it.

How much do you think fiction intertwines with real life?
For me, fiction overlaps quite heavily with real life. Not necessarily in terms of plot, but in terms of locations, dialogue and the general feel of a piece of writing. I tend to prefer both reading and writing first-person novels. It gives me something to cling to right away. I immediately feel engaged with a human perspective on something.

Could you give five tips on how to tackle dialogue and descriptive passages?
I think the only tip I can give in terms of dialogue and description is to read your work out loud – to someone else if possible. There will be moments in your descriptions where you think you’ve hit upon something really profound and poetic, and it won’t be until you read it out loud that you realise that it’s a bit off the mark and perhaps actually comes across a little bit try-hard. I think this can work for dialogue too. If it sounds unnatural coming out of your mouth, it probably comes across as a bit forced on the page too. Of course, there are limits. You might not be able to perfectly deliver the words of your evil 40 foot space monster – but even trying to deliver the dialogue will probably give you a sense of whether it sounds like natural speech or not.

How would you describe your writing process?
I don’t have a set routine. I tend to listen to music. I have a desk in my house where I tend to sit with my laptop if I’m aiming to get a lot of writing done, but I also carry notebooks around with me to scribble down any ideas as they come.

What helps you to write/what gets in the way?
Reading things that inspire me is often the best way to get me writing. If I’m reading something particularly brilliant, it’ll make me think ‘I wish I could do that – I should really get to work.’

What are the pros & cons to indie publishing?
I discovered Urbane, who published Waves, after they put out one of my favourite novels of the decade – Billy and the Devil by Dean Lilleyman. I spoke to Matthew, the head honcho, and liked what he had to say. He said he didn’t believe in putting books in boxes – he wasn’t going to force me to change the ending of Waves to make it more conventional and cheesy. Characters weren’t going to have to fall in love for the book to make it out there. I think that’s the main advantage of indie publishing – the willingness to take risks and be creative. The indie publishers will take a punt on different ideas, then the big publishers wait to see which sell and then swoop in and try to normalise them.

The question you wished I’d asked you.
What’s it like now that you’re the biggest-selling author in the world?

How can readers find you and learn more about your writing?
You can find most of what I’ve got going on at www.jaredacarnie.com. I’m also on twitter at @jacarnie.

Author Interviews: Renita D’Silva

I am thrilled to be inviting Renita D’Silva to my blog. I very much enjoyed her novel A Mother’s Secret (https://goo.gl/i2ZVaQ) and I hope you will you enjoy this interview with her.

Renita D’Silva loves stories, both reading and creating them. Her short stories have been published in ‘The View from Here’, ‘Bartleby Snopes’, ‘this zine’, ‘Platinum Page’, ‘Paragraph Planet’ among others and have been nominated for the ‘Pushcart’ prize and the ‘Best of the Net’ anthology. She is the author of ‘Monsoon Memories’, ‘The Forgotten Daughter’, ‘The Stolen Girl’, ‘A Sister’s Promise’ and ‘A Mother’s Secret’.

What are you currently working on?
I am currently writing my next book, a historical fiction novel set in India and the UK.

What has inspired your most recent novel/writing?
An image of a temple, once a centre of worship, now forgotten, lying undisturbed through the years, vegetation encroaching upon it, appeared in my mind spawning a thousand questions. What was its story? Who had worshipped there? How did its existence slip from collective memory?  My current novel attempts to answer these questions, give that hidden temple a voice.

How much do you think fiction intertwines with real life?
I think all fiction is a reflection of real life to some extent. I think as authors we take what intrigues us and weave it into a story. I think we – or at least I – tell stories to make sense of life, this terrible and wonderful world we live in.

Your five writing tips
Characterisation: Five tips:

  1. Create characters who are human, with flaws as well as redeeming qualities.
  2. They should be dealing with some conflict.
  3. They need to grow in the course of the novel, learn something about themselves and come out changed in some way.
  4. The reader needs to be able to relate to the character.
  5. You need to know the character inside out – her likes and dislikes, what makes her who she is.

How would you describe your writing process?
I am a ‘pantser’, i.e, I don’t plan in great detail. I know roughly where I am going and I just delve in, start writing and see where the story takes me.

What helps you to write/what gets in the way?
I work my way through several mugs of tea while writing J I am very lucky in that I can write anywhere and once I am in the story, nothing really gets in the way.

What kind of research do you do & how do you go about it?
I scour the web, read books about the subject I am researching, and talk to the relevant people, peppering them with questions until they don’t want to talk to me anymore.

If you are traditionally published, could you say something of your journey and your experience?
The journey to publication was a huge learning curve. I committed every possible mistake there is. Once I had penned The End on my first draft, I bought a copy of ‘The Writers and Artists Handbook’ and sent the first three chapters off to the first few agents listed there. I did not check to see if the agents were representing books by authors in my genre and I did not make my book the best it could be.

I was lucky in that I got requests for a full manuscript from a couple of agents. They read my draft and were kind enough to come back with suggestions for improvement. I took their feedback on board and I also saved up for a professional edit. This time when I sent the revised book off, the responses were positive, but I was rejected nonetheless. I was told that publishers were reluctant to take on new authors because of the recession. Then I saw the ad for Bookouture in Mslexia and sent my manuscript off to them. And they said yes!

So do you have some thoughts on being a woman & writing about India? Or, perhaps, on writing about (& having experience of) two countries/cultures and how the two interweave?
I set my stories in the India I grew up in, a land of disparities, of breath-taking beauty and toxic pollution, of din and ruckus contrasting with the agonised silence of women who are not heard, of people who are as kind as they are bigoted, of spicy food and spicier gossip, of paan-chewing matrons and arranged marriages, of girls who yearn to grow into the women they want to be but are restrained by a culture that levies boundaries on them.

In my stories, I attempt to contrast the cultures and attitudes in India and the UK and explore the mindset of an immigrant, the question of displacement, the notion of belonging and the idea of home.

How can readers find you and learn more about your writing?

I can be contacted via facebook, twitter, gmail, or my website. Details here:

FB: https://www.facebook.com/RenitaDSilvaBooks Twitter: @RenitaDSilva Website: http://renitadsilva.com/ Email: Renitadsilvabooks@gmail.com

Author Interview: Maggie James

This week I am delighted to invite fellow writer, Maggie James to my blog. Living in Bristol, she writes psychological suspense novels. Her first book, His Kidnapper’s Shoes, was completed in 2011 and self-published in 2013. It has now been republished under a contract with Lake Union. Maggie’s next three books, Sister, Psychopath, Guilty Innocence and The Second Captive followed, along with a free novella, Blackwater Lake. She has also written a non-fiction book aimed at would-be authors, called Write Your Novel! From Getting Started to First Draft. She recently signed a two-book deal with Bloodhound Books for Guilty Innocence and The Second Captive. They will be republished later in 2017. 

Her latest novel is After She’s Gone, published by Lake Union on March 16, 2017 (http://smarturl.it/aftershesgone).

Before turning her hand to writing, Maggie worked mainly as an accountant, with a diversion into practising as a nutritional therapist. Diet and health remain high on her list of interests, along with travel. Accountancy does not, but then it never did. The urge to pack a bag and go off travelling is always lurking in the background. When not writing, going to the gym, practising yoga or travelling, Maggie can be found seeking new four-legged friends to pet; animals are a lifelong love.

What are you currently working on?
I have two writing projects on the go at present. One is plotting my sixth novel, title as yet unknown, which will examine the theme of betrayal. I got the idea from a TV documentary centred on con artists and the suffering they wreak on their victims. The concept is still in the early stages, but I’m keen to start writing. The other book I’m working on is a revised version of my second novel, Sister Psychopath.

What has inspired your most recent novel/writing?
My latest novel is After She’s Gone, released on March 16, 2017. I’d been drawn to the theme of arson for a while, as well as examining how a family copes with murder. Somehow the two ideas became interwoven and ended up as After She’s Gone. In the book, the dead body of a teenage girl is found in a burning building, and as her grief-stricken relatives struggle with the fallout, the fires move ever closer to their home. Who is setting them, and why are they targeting the Goldens?

How much do you think fiction intertwines with real life?
Very much so in some cases, as I’ve found out. After I finished the first draft of His Kidnapper’s Shoes, a case came to light in America of a young child who was snatched as a baby and brought up by her abductor. A similar situation, also in the USA, emerged recently. My book wasn’t inspired by such events – I got the idea after a casual conversation – but the similarity was spooky. Sister, Psychopath was also inspired by a real-life murder. As for Blackwater Lake, I suspect that somewhere buried deep in someone’s compulsive hoarding may indeed be the solution to a crime, as happens in my novella.

Many novels have intertwined fiction with real life, of course. Take Robert Bloch’s novel, Psycho, based on the killer Ed Gein. Or Lionel Shiver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, inspired by the 1999 Colombine shootings. Real life can provide fertile materials for novelists, and that won’t stop anytime soon.

Could you give five tips on how to tackle either characterisation or plotting or dialogue or descriptive passages?
I think I’ll go with dialogue on this one. Here are my five tips:

  1. This one gets mentioned a lot by authors and editors, but it’s important: don’t overuse speech tags. For the most part it should be clear who’s speaking, so you don’t need to add ‘he said/she said’ to every sentence. It’s unnecessary and clogs the flow of the discourse. Less is more.
  2. For dialogue that does require a speech tag, keep it simple. ‘Said’ is often the most effective one. You don’t need verbs like ‘averred’, ‘theorised’, ‘opined’, etc. The brain tends to skip over short, familiar words like ‘said’, whereas ‘expostulated’ will cause it to do a double take. You don’t want to write something that will jar the reader’s attention away from your story.
  3. Make it sound natural, but without all the ‘ums’, ‘ers’, ‘likes’ and ‘you-knows’ that clog most people’s speech. Contractions such as don’t, shouldn’t, won’t are good, though, because we all use them.
  4. Dialect is a difficult one to get right. Don’t attempt to convey regional speech by changing the spelling of words, as it irritates many readers. It’s best to use speech patterns and colloquialisms instead.
  5. Read your dialogue aloud. What better way to discover if your written conversations sound authentic? Or try text to speech software.

 How would you describe your writing process?
I’m a planner by nature; I couldn’t write a novel without a road map to get my story to where it needs to go. I use the Snowflake method of plotting, whereby I take an idea, and expand it until it’s a fully-fledged outline, complete with character notes, timeline, etc.  For writing software, I use Scrivener, and I love it; it’s excellent and worth every penny of the paltry purchase price. It’s customisable, flexible, and enables me to keep everything I need – research, notes, etc. – all in one place. Then it compiles my document into a formatted e-book in a couple of clicks. Magic!

After I’ve done the basic plotting, it takes me about two months to write the first draft. The next part, editing and revising, takes me much longer. I can spend forever tweaking my narrative, so when I can’t stand the sight of it any longer, I know it’s time to release it to the world.

What helps you to write/what gets in the way?
As I’ve mentioned, I couldn’t write without a structured outline. I could just about make do without Scrivener – after all, my first novel was written using Microsoft Word – but I wouldn’t want to. I need silence to write as well, although white noise such as traffic is fine. Definitely no music, though. As for what gets in the way, sometimes my motivation isn’t as high as I’d like, and I procrastinate. If I’ve had a great writing session one day, completing lots of words, I often need to take it easy the day after. It’s all about balance, I guess.

What kind of research do you do & how do you go about it?
It depends on what the novel requires. I’m not keen on doing lots of research, as I’d rather be writing, but at the same time I don’t want inaccuracies in my books. For police procedural matters, I use Michael O’Byrne’s The Crime Writer’s Guide to Police Practice and Procedure, along with picking the brains of a couple of friends who are retired police officers.

Google is my friend when it comes to research. Like many novelists, I often joke that the police would have a field day should they ever inspect my browsing history. I’ve used Google to check out topics such as identity theft, computer hacking, body decomposition rates, etc.

I also often visit the locations involved in my books. They’re all based in my home city of Bristol, so I can easily check whatever I need. For example, The Second Captive involved a very pleasant afternoon wandering round Siston, taking notes and photographs.

If you are indie published, why did you choose this route? What are your five tips for would-be indie authors? What are the pros & cons to indie publishing?
I’m a hybrid author, meaning that some of my books are with publishing houses and others are self-published. I’d recommend anyone to try self-publishing, even if they hanker after a traditional contract. More and more publishers are keeping an eye on who’s doing well in the self-published world and signing them up. It’s happened to me, as well as to other author friends.

My five tips for indie authors? Here they are:

  1. Don’t skimp on editing. Hire the best you can afford, and listen carefully to his/her suggestions. My editor, Gillian Holmes, has been invaluable in helping me polish my books. Please don’t be like some authors who think correct spelling, punctuation and grammar don’t matter. Self-publishing equates to low standards in the minds of many readers, and it’s a perception with some basis in truth, given a few of the books I’ve read.
  2. Get the best cover you can afford. I often see real howlers on Amazon that look as though I’ve created them; they’re that bad! (There are websites devoted to poking fun at these gems, but I digress.) People do judge books by their covers, and a sloppy one with amateurish fonts might well sink your novel.
  3. Build your author platform as you write your book, so that it’s ready for when you launch. I didn’t, and regretted it later. Set up a website and start cultivating readers, book bloggers and other writers on social media as soon as possible.
  4. Develop a thick skin if you intend to read your reviews. Many authors choose not to; the Internet can be a brutal place and some readers can be unnecessarily vicious.
  5. Learn as much as you can about book marketing. Check out successful authors on social media and find out how they operate. A good start is Joanna Penn’s blog The Creative Penn. It’s packed with advice for indie authors, and Joanna’s written several useful books about marketing.

Pros of self-publishing? In my view this option holds most of the cards. You can set the pace for your writing career, writing as little or as much as you want, and pocketing 70% royalties from Amazon. You’ll need to work hard on your marketing, and put in a lot of hours, but big rewards are possible. A con of self-publishing can be the lack of support and the feeling that you’re going it alone, although that can be mitigated by forming strong support networks with other writers.

If you are traditionally published, could you say something of your journey and your experience?
Until last year, I was entirely self-published, and happy to be so. Having been offered a traditional contract a while back, and rejecting it, I was clear I wanted to remain self-published. My reasons? Higher royalties along with total control over every step of the publication process. That was until I got a phone call one afternoon.

I found myself talking with an acquisitions editor from Lake Union, one of Amazon’s publishing imprints. She enthused over His Kidnapper’s Shoes, and we chatted, with her saying she’d like to explore ways to work with me. More phone calls and emails followed, the end result being the offer of a publishing contract for His Kidnapper’s Shoes and my latest novel, After She’s Gone. Lake Union, being a digital publisher, can offer a far more attractive deal than the traditional publishing firms, and after a lot of thought I accepted, thus becoming a hybrid author.

Since then, I’ve signed a two-book deal with Bloodhound Books, who will re-release my novels Guilty Innocence and The Second Captive later this year. At this stage I’m unsure what will happen with future books, but I suspect I may retain my hybrid status. It seems to offer the best of both worlds.

The question you wished I’d asked you.
I think I’ll go with, ‘Have you always wanted to be a novelist?’ I chose that question thanks to my delight at being able to write fulltime, as it’s the culmination of a lifelong ambition. As a child, I devoured books (nothing has changed!) and never doubted I’d become a novelist when I grew up. Instead, when I reached adulthood, I went into accountancy, where I stayed for the next twenty-eight years. The urge to write never left me, even though I did nothing about it. In my forties, I started penning some short pieces, which were well received online, but I found the idea of a novel daunting. Then I ran into issues at work, which I used as a wake-up call. I booked flights to Asia, Australia and South America and travelled for a year, with the aim of writing the first draft of a novel while away. And that’s what happened, with me finishing His Kidnapper’s Shoes while enjoying the splendours of Bolivia.

How can readers find you and learn more about your writing?
My website and blog can be found at http://www.maggiejamesfiction.com. You can find links to all my books, including my non-fiction offering, Write Your Novel! From Getting Started to First Draft. You can also download my free novella, Blackwater Lake. I blog weekly on all matters book-related, including reviews, discussion topics and author interviews. You can also sign up for my newsletter and receive free books.

Here are my social media links:
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/MJamesFiction/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/mjamesfiction

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/maggie-james/64/381/727

Google+ : https://plus.google.com/101511690389687930651

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/828751.Maggie_James

Pinterest:  http://www.pinterest.com/maggiejamesfict/

Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Maggie-James/e/B00BS9LVMI

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/maggie-james

 

 

Author Interview: Clare O’Dea

clare-door-jacket

Clare O’Dea

I am thrilled to welcome this week to my blog Clare O’Dea.

She is an Irish author, journalist and translator living and working in Switzerland. Her first book, The Naked Swiss: A Nation Behind 10 Myths (Bergli Books, 2016), is a non-fiction examination of the most prevalent clichés about her adopted country.

Originally from Dublin, Clare has lived in Switzerland for the past thirteen years, ten of which she spent working for the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. Clare also writes fiction, long and short. She has translated non-fiction books from French and German into English, most recently the biography of a Swiss banker.

What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a children’s novel for the upper middle grade age group (10-12). It is an adventure story featuring a brother and sister who are on the run in a country controlled by a sinister, all-powerful company. I started writing this book three years ago, but had to set it aside several times when other more pressing writing projects took precedence. I have been sharing chapters from the book with my writing critique group here in Switzerland since last summer, and getting very helpful feedback. Next, I’d like to hear from the target audience, so I am preparing to send the manuscript to several children in the right age group along with a questionnaire.  After that I will be ready to submit to agents.

Could you give five tips on how to tackle plotting?
These tips are not meant to be binding. They are just things that worked for me.

Don’t start writing until you are convinced you have an idea that is big and strong enough to carry you and the story to the finish line. The main idea, or concept, should be something that is both unique and universal, something that captures the imagination and emotions.

The plot should also be describable. If you cannot describe the story neatly, there may be something at fault. Time spent distilling the story in advance will pay off.

Subplots are good and necessary but there’s no need to go overboard. If the reader loses sight of the main storyline, it’s time for some trimming.

Always ask yourself why you are including a particular scene. It can’t just be because you like it. What does it contribute to building character or advancing the story?

After your first draft, write down a simple scene-by-scene breakdown of the novel, if you haven’t done so already. You can break it down into columns that are relevant for your story, for example character(s), action, setting. This is a useful exercise to get an overview, and to identify possible lulls or repetition.

How would you describe your writing process?
With novel writing, once I start something, I usually plunge straight into a flow phase. Because of work and family commitments, I have to squeeze writing into small pockets of time, and may have interruptions and delays. After mulling over the story in advance, I sketch out a simple one-page outline of the plot. I write in chronological order starting at the beginning. From then on, the story has a momentum of its own. In the gaps between writing, the ideas build up so that when I sit down, scenes unfold and characters appear almost of their own accord. I usually write one chapter per sitting. The second, third and subsequent drafts take longer to complete. On my first novel (unpublished), I had to discard an awful lot of material in the rewriting phase. The second novel (children’s) has been a much more economical writing experience.

If you are traditionally published, could you say something of your journey and your experience?
The submission and publication process for my first published book, The Naked Swiss, wasnakedswiss_cover surprisingly pain-free. I left my job covering news for the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation in 2015 because I felt I had come as far as I could as a part-time working mother. When I went freelance, one of the things on my to-do list was to submit a non-fiction proposal to a publishing company in Basel that specialised in English-language books about Switzerland. I had ten years of reporting to draw on, as well my personal experience of living in the country. The editor answered within days and asked to meet me to discuss the project. It took a few months of back and forth to rework the concept and write more sample chapters before he was ready to offer me a contract. I wrote the book in six months (part-time) up to May 2016 and it was published in October 2016.

Fiction took a back seat during this time but I have an event coming up this month in Geneva that could be promising – a meet-the-agent/publisher weekend organised by the Geneva Writers’ Group. I will have a one-to-one session with a publisher, and get professional feedback on my first novel.  As you can gather, I still have my sights set on the traditional publishing route, although I don’t rule out self-publishing in the future.

Do you find it difficult to switch between writing fiction and non-fiction?
I find it manageable because I am so used to it at this stage. With my job as a journalist, it has never been a case of one or the other. After many years of false-starts, I finally began writing fiction in earnest five years ago, and it has made my life more interesting, as well as helping me cope with the isolation of being an immigrant. With writing, I am never alone and never bored. I have made wonderful like-minded friends, and the joy that I experience creating my own worlds, in short and long-form fiction, has become an essential part of my life.

How can readers find you and learn more about your writing?
The about page on my writing blog is a good place to start. For a sample of my writing, check out my short story, The Favour, which was shortlisted in the Hennessy New Irish Writing competition last year.

I have an author page on Facebook, concentrating on The Naked Swiss for the moment, and you can follow me on Twitter @clareodeaz or connect on Goodreads.