The Runaway

Yesterday was the first instalment of my interview with the lovely Claire Wong. Today, the questions focus on her debut novel, The Runaway, which I reviewed here.

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How did The Runaway come to be published?

It was a combination of research and accidental good timing! I decided not to submit it to anyone until I’d learned more about how publishing worked. I didn’t want to make the kind of mistake that would annoy an editor and make them throw away my manuscript. So I spoke to people I knew in the publishing industry for advice, which led to me contacting Jess Tinker at Lion Hudson and asked if she could spare me half an hour to answer some questions I had and she kindly agreed. That was such a helpful conversation, and also how I learned about Lion’s ethos, which I really liked. It so happened that Jess was looking for new submissions for novels, so she invited me to submit The Runaway to her. I said yes very calmly and then after I put the phone down I danced around my living room! It went from there and a few months later they offered me a contract.

Could you describe a little how you came to develop the story and characters, and how engrossed you became with the story?

Rhiannon’s decision to run away was my starting point, and it all went from there. It followed quite naturally that she would run away to the woods rather than anywhere else: in European folklore and fairy tale the forest is typically a wild lawless place where strange things happen, in addition to which I loved playing in the nearby woods as a child so it’s a setting I know well.

I found during the editing stages that the particular section I worked on that day could have a big impact on my mood. I was noticeably lower when working on the first section of the book, but became much happier once things improved for the characters! But I carried on going into work and carrying on with my normal life, and most people didn’t know I was writing a book until I had a publishing deal.

The setting is a Welsh village – quite natural for you as you are originally from Wales. Were the characters based on people you know to a certain extent too?

It’s perhaps inevitable that the people we know have some influence on the characters we imagine. I have met someone very like Diana, and it seemed to me that she would fit perfectly into a village like Llandymna, where there would be all sorts for her to organise! For Adam and Grace I drew on some of the key people who have had a positive impact on my life through their words and their kindness. I think we all need to know a few people like them in the course of our lives.

The female characters in particular are very strong in the book. Was that intentional? The wise Maebh offsets the overbearing, seemingly authoritarian Diana and the patient and kind Grace offsets the headstrong Rhiannon – how did you ensure a balance in the overall set of characters you created?

Well, with Tom being the village policeman and Adam having the makings of a local hero, I was determined not to end up with a story where only the men got to save the day and fix the women’s problems for them! So it was important for me that the female characters influenced the plot and overcame obstacles just as much as their male counterparts.

I think for me a key way of creating balance was to give these women very different outlooks on life, and let their characters form around those views. I think of Maebh as someone who, had things turned out differently, would have been matriarch of a large family – the beloved grandmother to many! So she sees the village as her family, whereas to Diana the village is her career and every interaction is part of her work. Rhiannon is someone who thinks only she is insecure, frustrated and terrified of what the future holds, which leads to her independence and lack of trust, whereas Grace understands that everyone else around her is struggling in their own ways, and because she sees that she can show kindness to others.

Storytelling traditions are highlighted a lot in the book – was oral storytelling a big part of your childhood or is there another reason you wanted to feature it?

I grew up having stories read aloud to me by family members, especially my mother and grandmother, and I remember being transfixed by a professional storyteller who could really bring myths and legends to life with his words. It’s something I got to study in more detail at university too, when I read the Iliad, a poem that ancient bards would memorise, which strikes me as an amazing thing.

What really fascinates me, though, is to what extent we are the product of the stories we grow up hearing, and how we can use storytelling to shape the world.

How difficult was it to finish writing the book and how did you feel once the editorial process had finished?

I dodged it for quite a while. For a long time the book actually had a different ending: one which was much easier to write but not what the book needed. There’s a scene towards the end where some characters say goodbye and that was the last thing I wrote because I put it off for so long! I’ve never liked goodbyes.

Once I was done, it was quite hard to move on to a new book and a new set of characters. I did get very attached to the cast of The Runaway, but at least now that it’s published I can enjoy asking readers who their favourite character was. I get a wide range of answers that I find very interesting!

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You are already working on your next novel. Could you tell us a bit about that?

Gladly! A Map of the Sky is a story through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy called Kit, whose family have suddenly and without explanation moved to a remote spot overlooking the wild North Sea. In his quest to solve this mystery, he meets a strange mix of other people who’ve come to the same place to escape parts of their lives, and he makes it his mission to fix their problems. It’s a story about chronic illness, hope and how to be a hero in a world where there aren’t any dragons to slay.

 

 

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Author interview: Claire Wong

Claire Wong photo
I am delighted to share part one of an interview with Claire, author of
The Runaway. She gives us an insight into writing poetry and novels, as well as how she fits writing into her everyday life. One of her poems can be found at the end, which is a wonderful added bonus!

Have you always been a writer?

I think so. I remember writing my first poem when I was five. It was based on the Nativity story: two children woke up one night to hear shepherds out in the street. Curious about the commotion, they decided to sneak out and follow them, and ended up coming to a stable where they saw something very unexpected!

 

Which writers influenced you as a child? And who influences you now? Who do you enjoy reading purely for pleasure too…

As a child I loved books set in other worlds, so Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Brian Jacques were all favourites of mine. As a teenager I enjoyed the dark comedy of Lemony Snicket and classics like Jane Austen. These days, my biggest influences are contemporary writers like Niall Williams and Susan Fletcher, but I still think of C.S. Lewis when I want to say something meaningful in an accessible way.

I enjoy reading books that don’t quite fit the main genres. They’re a risk, because you don’t know exactly what to expect if it isn’t a romance or a thriller or a historical mystery, but you stumble across some wonderful gems along the way.

You fit writing around a day job – how do you find the time, and is there a particular spot you like to write in?

At the moment, I’m in the office Monday to Thursday, and then Friday is my writing day. I think knowing I have a limited amount of time to write helps me be disciplined about making the most of it. I set up a workstation in the dining room, because it has a good-sized table and lots of natural light.

You write poetry – what prompted you to write The Runaway, your first novel?

I’ve been writing novels and short stories for a long time, but it’s taken me a while to finish one I was happy to see published. I suspect The Runaway ended up being that one because it contained a message and a story I felt compelled to tell.

I find poems easier to craft and hone quickly, in part simply because they are shorter and you can see where work is needed. I needed to give myself a lot more time to edit The Runaway before I showed it to anyone. I learned a lot from that process, which I’ll be able to apply to future novels!

Is there a big difference in the way you approached writing the book as opposed to your usual method for writing poetry?

You know, I’m surprised by the number of similarities! It began with an idea I felt I had to articulate – in this case the effects of a person leaving or being left behind, and the amazing extent of what’s possible when you choose to see the best in someone. I started scribbling in a notebook until it was full and then typed up those words so that I could rework them. One big difference was the sheer number of different voices I needed to develop for The Runaway – a poem usually only has one voice, but there was a whole cast of characters to grow here and I didn’t want them to all sound the same as each other!

Cannon's Mouth magazine coverWhat was the first piece of work you had published and how did that happen?

Back in 2013, I had a pair of poems published in a magazine called The Cannon’s Mouth. They were about how different people process loss and hope, and the way faith fits with those things. I’d decided to risk sending some of my work off to poetry magazines that year, which was a scary thing to do, but I’m pleased to say it paid off!

Claire will be sharing more about her book The Runaway in part two of this interview. For now, let me leave you with one of her poems, ‘Adrift’.

Set adrift in the dark
when the last blaze of evening colour
turns quiet on the waters
all her safety net routines in that sky furnace

how many meetings of the board
and quantifiable philosophies
did it take to rationalise the need
for that stealthy trip to shore?

They loosed the ropes
murmuring agreements and best interests
pushed this little boat to the tides
and she awoke to no landmarks
but blue horizons all around

and soon
she knows
She’ll be dancing on the waters

waves teem with songs like you’ve never heard
to be adrift in arms that catch you each time
is to be secure in the storm
so that not knowing is its own kind of certainty

direction comes in its own time
with a breath to the sails
though we’ve lost much that seemed precious
nothing’s lost in this place

 

Reflections on writing a series

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The two Claires finally meeting!

Having connected with the author, C.F.Dunn, through the Association of Christian Writers’ Facebook page, and then interviewed her for magazine articles, it was a joy to be able to celebrate the final book – and meet Claire face to face finally (see photo)! I asked her to write a guest blog about her own reflections on coming to the end of writing a series…

mortal-fire-smallI can’t say I knew what I was doing when I started writing my debut novel – Mortal Fire – although I felt compelled to write for a reason I did not yet understand. Nor did I know where the journey would take me. For the first few years I struggled with how I could justify spending all that time writing when I could be doing something more, well, obviously Goddriven, I suppose. After all, working at school with our inspirational special needs students was both a vocation and an immense blessing. However, write I felt I must, and so I ploughed on.

For a good while after my first book was published I didn’t feel like a writer. It must be a fluke, a kindness on the part of my wonderful editor, Tony Collins. It was only when the third book – Rope of Sand – was released that I began to think, ‘Golly, this is real,’ and after book five that I said, ‘I am an author!’

Now that The Secret of the Journal series has ended, one of the questions I’m most frequently asked is: how do you set about bidding farewell to a series after hundreds of thousands of words have been lavished on building characters and story lines, setting scenes and constructing dialogue? Well, first of all, by the time you get to the final book, you know your characters – good and bad – and have come to love, respect and cherish them. They might have been a construct of the imagination at the beginning, but by the end they have taken on a life of their own.

If you have been successful in drawing multi-faceted people, they interact with other characters in the series as naturally as you would in real life. Sure, you place them in danger or put them into artificial situations – that is, after all, part of the art of drama – but their reactions should be as natural as if they lived and breathed off the page as well as on it. So, how hard is it to say goodbye?

9780745868773By the time you reach that magic final book – Fearful Symmetry in my case – the world you have created is part of the beating heart within you: you live and breathe it day in, day out over years. As a result, finishing it – wrapping it all up and concluding it – might potentially be traumatic. Yes, it has been a major part of your life and you’ve cried with them, sweated and suffered with them; but does any part of you die with them when you write The End?

Not a bit of it. You gave them life and you’ve set them free in the imaginations of your readers and there your character friends will flourish for as long as the words can be read.

And long before you finish writing that final book, new voices have slipped into your consciousness – beguiling, persistent – and you find yourself constructing a new universe and fresh situations into which you can release them to begin their own journey, and the foundations of a new series are lain.

No longer do I feel all at sea, but understand the greater truth behind that compulsion to write. That understanding has developed and grown along with the series. As I set out on the next journey with my new characters, I know where I’m going and where I want to be and – most important of all – why.

cf-dunn-picC.F. Dunn is the author of The Secret of the Journal series, published by Lion Fiction. The fifth and final book in the series – Fearful Symmetry – has been recently published. An educator at heart, she and her husband founded a school in Kent for children with dyslexia, autism, and anxiety. Returning to her roots as a historian, C.F. Dunn is currently working on the first book in a new historical series set in 15th-century England – a period of complex personalities and turmoil at the heart of the realm, where the king wore an uneasy crown.

The history in the mystery

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I am delighted to be a part of Fiona’s blog tour as The Kill Fee, her second book in the Poppy Denby Investigates series, is released. I am partway through the book currently – and am absolutely hooked (as I was with the previous title). Fiona is an incredible writer; she really sets the scene and historical background to her work and also paints her characters and storyline vividly and imaginatively. The pace is just right – as a reader you are swept along, immersed in the story, eager to find out how the mystery will be solved. Fiona explains below the way that she ensures the history of the period is as accurate as possible in her books during the writing process:

The Poppy Denby Investigates books are murder mysteries set in the early 1920s. The Jazz Files takes place in June 1920 and The Kill Fee, October of the same year. Each book has a particular historical backdrop and also a backstory, set a few years earlier. So I have to ensure I get two different sets of historical ‘facts’ correct in each book. How do I do it?

Firstly, it is impossible to ensure that every single thing is 100% right. That being said, I try my utmost to do so and would estimate that about 90% of it is as right as I can get it, 5% has been deliberately ‘tweaked’ to fit in with the story (I always point it out in the historical notes) and the final 5% will be mistakes I was not aware of – I apologise in advance for my inevitable fallibility. I try to deal in historical authenticity rather than complete accuracy – it’s a novel, not a history text book – and aim to create an authentic feel for the period rather than giving the reader a checklist of exactly what happened where and when.

As I also write for stage and screen, my writing is very visual. One reviewer said she could almost ‘see’ the story as if it were being acted out on stage. Just as I would create the mis en scene by selecting representative costumes, props, music and actions to evoke a sense of the period, I do the same in my novels. Before I even start writing – and certainly during the process– I absorb myself in the music, fashion, art, architecture, cuisine, cinema and theatre of the period. There are lots of collections online, plus books to read and museum exhibits to visit. I even made an outfit from an original 1920s pattern for my first Poppy Denby photo shoot!

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The 1920s pattern Fiona used as inspiration for her own outfit.

In terms of the historical backdrop of the suffragettes (book 1) and the Russian Revolution (book 2) I took a more ‘academic’ approach. I have a degree in history (simply a BA, but it is enough to ground me in the techniques of historical research). Before I start writing the story I spend around four months reading the key texts of the period. I prepare for writing in the same way I used to prepare for my university exams – sketching timelines and flow charts and trying to reach an understanding of the broad historical, political, social and economic backdrop, rather than memorising ‘details’. The details can, and are, easily added later. But I do not start writing until I have a feel of what it might have been like to live in that period – I try to read diaries, biographies and novels written at the time – as well as how the period ‘fits’ into history.

But then I stop, switch brains, and start to focus on the story, the characters and the mystery. That for me is the most important part. The history is certainly the skeleton of my books, but the muscles, the flesh and the beating heart are Poppy, her friends and their adventures. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have writing – and researching – them.

For more on the social, historical and cultural background of the books – as well as flapulous fashion and music – visit www.poppydenby.com

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Fiona in her own ‘flapulous’ creation!

 

 

End of the Roadie

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This is the third D.I. Costello book that I have read, and yet again Elizabeth has created a fun, well-paced mystery, detective book. This time the murder happens backstage at a concert, so we enter the world of musicians, roadies and ticket touters.

The characters are likeable and interact so well with one another that you can really begin to imagine their lives. I love the banter between the main characters, and the fact that Elizabeth shows them at home as well as at work. I saved this book to read on holiday, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t quite see the ending coming this time, which was very refreshing.

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I’m always fascinated to hear how other authors work, and so am thrilled Elizabeth has agreed to answer a few questions about her writing methods for this, the first day of her official blog tour:

 

This book is part of a series – did you have the ideas for all of the titles before you embarked on writing the first one, or has the series developed over time? 

I only had the first one at the beginning. That was the one set in Wimbledon: Game, Set and Murder. I’d had some help from Ali Hull of Lion Hudson, publishers, on the editing and writing style. It was from Ali that I heard of Lion Hudson’s plans to ‘go mainstream’ with a new imprint: Lion Fiction, and I asked her whether I should present my novel. In fact she sent it to Tony Collins, the commissioning editor of the new imprint, on my behalf. He looked at the synopsis and first chapter and got back to me within the hour asking two questions: 1, did I plan to use the protagonist again? And, 2: Could he read the whole manuscript? This was the furthest I’d ever got with an agent or publisher before and I was just so excited. Of course I told him that I planned to use the protagonist again. I was very struck by his long-term view, even at that early stage. I whizzed off the entire manuscript to him and the rest is history. Dead Gorgeous, the second novel in the series was originally called Not Just a Pretty Face but Tony Collins didn’t really think it worked. I plucked Dead Gorgeous out of the air and sent the idea to him thinking I was about to begin a very lengthy back-and-forth of suggested titles and rejections but he emailed me back almost immediately saying he liked it and we stayed with it. I’m really pleased. I think it’s a lovely title. End of the Roadie was Tony’s suggestion. We’d had a lot of back and forth on the title and couldn’t come up with anything. I think End Of The Roadie is pretty neat.

It has been great to see how the main characters have developed and interact with one another over the three titles you’ve written so far. I find myself really connecting with them, wanting to know what happens to them and how they deal with everyday home life as well as their work. How have you felt that connection with your characters – do they seem to take on a character of their own (ie have they gone in directions you didn’t first envisage) or did you have a clear idea of what you wanted them to be like and what situations you would put them in before you started each new book?

I do feel a connection with my characters but I only have a loose idea of how they’re going to develop. I didn’t really know, before I found myself writing it, that Patrick’s daughter was going to move back home. (SPOILER ALERT!) This is mooted in the first novel in which she doesn’t appear but she moved in at the beginning of the second book and now she’s become one of the regular characters. I don’t really have much of an idea of how Patrick and Angela are going to develop. I do remember once, in a piece on the Association of Christian Writers website that someone, in giving advice to crime writers said: avoid clichés, not all detectives are alcoholic divorcées. So I’m very pleased to make Angela a happily married woman. Patrick is an ex-DI and he’s useful as a kind of back-up to Angela as well as her husband.

Do you have a particular place you like to write in? And do you have a particular writing schedule – are you quite disciplined about setting aside a certain amount of hours each day, or when you are in the midst of writing a new book does it simply take over and envelop your days until you are done?

I write wherever I am, so long as I’ve got a pad and pen or a PC to hand.  I’ve written while working on switchboards (when I was a telephonist), I’ve written on the beach and, of course, at the kitchen table. I tend to write more in the afternoon but it’s not a rigid timetable and I’ll write in the morning if I feel so moved. I only do about 1,00o words a day, give or take, and generally know when I’ve reached the end of that day’s session, at which point I stop until the next day.

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The paperback and Kindle version of End of the Roadie are available here. Lion Fiction are also running a special offer promotion on the Kindle version of Dead Gorgeous, which you can purchase here.

If you like light-hearted, well-written murder mysteries, I would thoroughly recommend this series.

Author interview: Beth Moran

TheNameICallMyself blog tour posterI am delighted to be a part of the blog tour for Beth Moran’s third novel, The Name I Call Myself. It is a great summer read – a romance novel that also tackles some pretty huge subject matter including identity, grief, abuse, murder. It might sound heavy, but Beth writes in such a way that grips you right from the start and there are also some wonderful moments of female friendship and laughter. I asked Beth to give us some insight into her writing process for this novel:

What was the inspiration behind this new book?

The Name I Call Myself started with three different ideas that had been floating around inside my head for a while. Like all my books, this led to asking lots of questions, that I hoped The Name I Call Myself might begin to answer!

The first idea was a brother. I have two brothers and no sisters and my daughter also has two brothers and no sisters, so I knew I would enjoy writing about a sister-brother relationship (my husband has seven brothers and no sisters, but that will be a whole other story!) I wanted to include a big brother who had once been his sister`s hero, and explore what happens when that dynamic shifts, and he is the one needing help. Is there a limit to the sacrifices we should make for a sibling?

The second idea I wanted to write about was a secret past, and a main character who has changed her name. I wondered how trying to keep that covered up would affect how she felt about herself. Does keeping old secrets mean you can never really leave them behind, or are some things better kept in the past?

But all that sounds a bit serious and heavy… I knew this woman was going to need some help, and also something to smile about, and that fit really well with the third idea, which was a choir. I sang in choirs in my younger days and really enjoyed them. They are also great equalisers, where age, size, status or labels are irrelevant, and stresses, problems and to-do lists are cast aside for a while. And let’s be honest, most of us women can do with places like that! There is also something incredible that happens when we work together to create something beautiful. And as well as being a safe place where anyone could unashamedly be their messed up, crazy selves, this choir needed to be a whole lot of fun!

Why did you decide to tackle such big issues as grief, abuse, murder and addiction?

Goodness! I certainly didn’t set out with that in mind… It was really the two threads of the brother in trouble and the secret past. Once I’d established the reasons for Faith and her brother Sam changing their identities, which had to be fairly horrific, I worked with the fact that an early trauma, if not dealt with well, can often lead to making bad choices later on. I wanted the contrast of one sibling who ended up very needy, and another who dealt with the past by trying to become independent and tough. I like including both big, serious issues and more fun elements in my stories because I think that`s the way life is for most of us.

What are your working methods when writing a novel?

I start mulling over ideas for the next novel about halfway through writing the one before it. This includes a lot of daydreaming, often while driving or walking or cleaning my house. I play around with plot elements, start getting to know the main characters and keep a notebook full of scrappy thoughts, random conversations, half-written sentences and loads of questions.

Before I start writing I spend a couple of weeks getting the main plot together, ending up with three or four sides of notes, following a rough order. I then create a document where I keep any more random thoughts that pop up, a timeline, areas needing research and themes I want to develop.

Once I’m ready to begin, I tend to make detailed plans for each section of the book as I go, so every day I know what I’m writing about. I also aim for a rough word count each week. This will range from 5000 -12,000 words depending on how busy I am with other things. I find it really difficult to write unless I have a clear two or three hours, but if I have an odd hour I will edit, plot details or do some research, so I’m always adding to the notes as well as the main book. I find that if I start to feel a bit lost, or progress becomes heavy going, getting back to the notes always helps me refocus, and the more planning I do in advance, the quicker I write. Having said that, I often experience that weird phenomenon where my characters just seem to take over and lead me off into a completely unexpected direction, so there are always surprises for me too!

moran_bethBeth’s new novel is available now, in both paperback and Kindle formats.

As a special promotional offer during the blog tour, Beth’s second novel, I Hope You Dance, is available on Kindle for £1.19. I absolutely loved that book, and asked Beth to write a guest post for me when it first came out, which you can read here. It was on the theme of friendship, which is a common thread in her books.

The Jazz Files

 

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I was delighted to be asked to be a part of  Fiona Veitch Smith’s blog tour for her latest book, The Jazz Files, and agreed to post up my interview with her again. Here it is in its entirety – long but fascinating 😉

Congratulations on an intriguing, fast-moving novel. This is the first book in a series – could you explain how your publishing deal came about?

I hope you’ve got a cup of tea in hand, this is a bit of a long story … I was hired by Monarch (Lion Hudson) around four years ago to ghostwrite a biography. They took me on because a few years before that I submitted a non-fiction idea to them which they turned down. Although they didn’t want the book, they liked my writing style and kept me in mind for the ghostwriting project. However, after nine months working on it I came to the conclusion that the man who the book was about had made up much of his story. I told Monarch and they cancelled the contract.

Lion Hudson – and, in particular, Tony Collins, one of the commissioning editors there – felt awful that the contract was cancelled and asked if I had anything else they could look at because they really wanted to work with me. The only other thing I had in the pipeline at the time was a historical novel set in the 1st century against the background of the early church. At the time the Lion Fiction imprint was being launched and they asked to look at it.

It took them eighteen months – and two rewrites from me – to decide that although they liked the book, they felt it was too ‘Christian’ for their market. Again they asked me if I had anything else. Well I didn’t; nothing written anyway. But I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth so I started mulling over some new ideas.

My research of what Lion Fiction was already publishing told me that crime mystery series were something they were interested in. So I came up with the idea of a reporter sleuth set in the 1920s and submitted the idea to them. They liked the idea and the outline but weren’t prepared to go to contract without seeing the whole book.

So I had to write it. It took me six months. I submitted it – plus some ideas for the rest of the series – and they finally offered me a contract. Phew! So the moral of the story is … don’t give up. These things can take a looooooong time to come to fruition. I’m so grateful they stuck with me and I thank Tony Collins for believing in me as a writer for so many years.

Do you have all the ideas for the whole series already set out, or is it an evolving process?

It’s an evolving process. I deliberately started the series in 1920 so I had ten years for my heroine to have adventures before it became a series set in the 1930s – whether she, the publisher or I are game for another decade, is a decision for the future. However, I had it in mind from the beginning to set the book against real historical events as they unfold through the decade. Which events still have to be decided, but I do have a basic structure in mind.

About halfway through writing the first book I knew that I wanted to set the next one – which has now been written – against the diaspora of White Russian refugees in the wake of the Russian Revolution. I know too where the third book will be set and am starting my background reading on that now. I have an inkling of Book 4, but have not made any firm decisions yet. The story and background of Book 2 were decided because one of the characters of Book 1 was a Russian and it gave me scope to delve a bit more into his back story. Also, I found a faux Fabergé Egg in a charity shop, which gave me the idea for the main plotline.

The same with Book 3 – it’s linked to the back story of another character. So a tip for writers considering writing series: have a broad dramatis personae of colourful characters. They may only play a bit part in the first book but could be developed down the line.

The Suffragette movement is still at the forefront of your characters’ minds. Your main character, Poppy, is one of the young women who were forging their own careers in traditionally male-dominated worlds. Why did you choose to set the series in that era?

After my first self-published novel, The Peace Garden, I discovered I was attracted to the mystery genre. The book started as a literary novel but soon drifted towards mystery. And as I have a degree in history and I love reading historical mysteries, it seemed to be a natural fit. But why the 1920s? Well I originally conceived of it set in 1912. The day before I received the rejection for my 1st century historical and the request for another proposal, I had been to visit the grave of the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison in Morpeth. It was the centenary of her death and I had just used her as an example of women acting out their faith (she was a Christian) in a talk I gave to my church’s women’s ministry. The pastor’s wife suggested we visit Emily’s grave and lay flowers. There is a picture of me at her grave on www.poppydenby.com under the ‘Suffragette’ link.

The next day I received news that Lion had rejected my 1st century novel. I was naturally very upset after all the work I’d put into it, but heartened that they wanted more. As I was praying and asking God to guide me as to what to write next, my eye was drawn to a book on my bookshelf called Unshackled by Christabel Pankhurst. It’s a first-hand account of the women’s suffrage movement.

It suddenly dawned on me that I should write about a suffragette reporter sleuth. (Why a reporter? Well I was formerly a journalist … but that’s another story). So I started planning the novel. However, the period just didn’t seem to fit. The clothes were boring, the music was boring and frankly, my character might have been feisty but she was downright dowdy. I felt the same writing her as I did playing Sheila Birling in an am-dram production of An Inspector Calls. But what I wanted to feel was like I felt when I played the delightful Maisie in Ken Russell’s The Boyfriend (a high school production – pic again on www.poppydenby.com). I had also just started learning to play jazz clarinet and was listening to music from the 1920s. I began to conceive of shifting my story to the 1920s and having my main character an inheritor of the legacy of the Suffragettes.

Just like Poppy I worked as a journalist in the 1990s and inherited the freedoms won by the brave women of the 1960s and 70s. Once I made this shift I immediately felt an emotional connection with the character and the period. And the rest, as they say, is history.

How did you research the historical content of your novel? 

I read a number of non-fiction books about the period, which are listed at the back of The Jazz Files and also on the www.poppydenby.com website. In addition to this I went down to London for a few days and walked up and down Fleet Street and King’s Road – key locations in the novel – to get a feel for the place and travelled the same routes that Poppy would travel on bus and train. I spent two days in the British Library reading newspapers from 1920 – particularly the Daily Mail and The Times. Some of the news stories that appear in the book were genuine articles from the time. I also went to the Suffragette exhibition and fashion exhibition at the London Museum. Some of the outfits that Poppy and Delilah wear in The Jazz Files were exact replicas of outfits I saw there. In addition I researched what was playing on the theatre scene in 1920 as well as cinema and music. The songs played in chapter 3 of the book were all actually played in 1920. These are small details that most people won’t notice but it gives me great pleasure to get these things right. I also like to think it adds a touch of authenticity that readers will feel if not know.

Fiona in her 1920s guise 🙂

You write in various genres, including children’s books, stage plays and screenplays. Where do you get your inspiration for each genre, and do you find writing for one of them easier than the others?

I didn’t set out to write for all genre and media. I set out to be a full-time writer and simply pursued whatever opportunities came my way. I would push at a door to see how far it would open and if it stopped, try another. The net result is that I am published and produced across the media but with varying success in each. I am first and foremost a storyteller. I come up with story ideas and then see which media would be the best vehicle to tell that story. So I rarely look at a genre then come up with an idea; it works the other way. Occasionally though I will be commissioned to write something for a specific medium and then I delve into my ideas bank and see which story would best suit the technicalities of the medium. Some stories are more visual (film) others require immediacy and audience interaction (stage) still others are simple stories with deeper truths (children) then others more epic with extensive back story (novel). Short stories and poems are better suited to a single image or concept. I wrote a poem this morning about an ageing apple tree. The concept would have been overstretched if I’d tried to write it into a film or novel. It could have been a children’s story, however, but I wanted to get across a deep spiritual truth which required the reader to have a bit of life experience to relate to – so a poem for adults it became. Each medium has its strengths and weakness. It’s like trying to choose your favourite child. At the moment though I am focusing on writing picture books for children with SPCK and novels with Lion Fiction.

For all those aspiring writers out there: how do you manage your time between being a lecturer in writing and writing itself? Are you working towards writing full-time or do you feel you have the balance as you want it?

I started lecturing by accident. A friend’s husband died suddenly and she asked me to take over her adult ed writing class. I’d never taught before, but I felt unable to say no. It turned out to be a very fulfilling experience. It also provided income to buy me time to write. Since then, now 11 years ago, I have continued to teach and lecture part time. I now lecture at two universities but I wouldn’t say it’s my day job – I only lecture a day or two a week between September and April. My day job is still writing. I think I’m beginning to find the balance. A couple of years ago I said yes to taking on more lecturing work because I needed the money but then my writing suffered. In the last two years I have tried to keep April to August completely free to write. It’s tough, because I only get paid for what’s called ‘contact time’ and I end up living off my credit card for a couple of months every year. Should other writers do it? That’s up to you. I gave up a full-time, well-paid job as a journalist to pursue creative writing, but my family’s income took a massive hit as a result. It’s not for everyone. I make sure I take on enough paid work to keep the wolf from the door. And that’s the reality for most writers. Very few people manage to do it full time without an additional income stream.

You also speak at conferences and offer creative writing workshops for both children and adults alike. Would you say that writers need to learn to diversify, or have those other avenues simply developed naturally for you?

I do that because a) I enjoy it; b) I have a natural gift for public speaking and teaching; and c) it helps to pay the bills (although some of the appearances barely pay enough to cover expenses – if anything at all!). This is something that suits me and my skill-set, but will not necessarily suit everyone. Yes it has increased my profile and hence gives me and my books a bit of a ‘platform’ but that’s not the primary reason I do it. I would advise writers to connect with their audiences in whatever way suits their personality and skill-set. But readers do like to meet authors ‘in the flesh’.

In 2011 you started your own ‘indie’ publishing company. How did that come about, and what was behind the decision to fold it in 2015? 

Crafty Publishing was started when my husband was made redundant (and then got a bit of spare cash when he got a new job fairly quickly). I had written a series of children’s books called the Young David Books, which I had unsuccessfully tried to get published. After they went down so well at my church my husband and I decided to use some of his redundancy money to self-publish. It was hard work but ultimately a successful little enterprise. Within four years of self-publishing we were approached by three different publishers to buy us out – two in the UK and one in America. By this time we felt we had plateaued with the books and couldn’t take them to the next level. We decided to sell the books to SPCK who are doing a brilliant job with them now and are getting them the international distribution that we were unable to do.

As things were going so well with my own books I thought I would try to give some other writers a chance – as I know how hard it is to get published – and also to try a different genre. I brought out my own adult novel and then signed another writer. We had four other writers in the pipeline (one children and three adult) when we decided to stop publishing earlier this year. The reasons were financial. My children’s books were the only things that made any money (not much, but we were approaching break-even point) yet we struggled to find sufficient distribution for the adult books to make it a viable commercial concern. We were at the point where we would have to have started siphoning off our family’s savings to fund it and we weren’t prepared to do that. So sadly, particularly for the authors involved, we had to call it a day.

You have quite a presence online: an old website, your new author website, a Poppy Denby website plus your Crafty Writers website. How do you have time to keep all the content refreshed? What advice would you give to writers wanting to make more of a presence online?

The truth is I don’t. My many websites reflect different aspects of my career over a 12-year period. One of the sites was more active when I was making my living primarily as a freelance feature writer, journalist and blogger. Another when I was earning more from giving writing advice and freelance editing and copywriting. As my career has developed so my web presence has changed. The problem is the sites are linked in to other sites and it is not that easy to take them down. As my writing career is becoming more streamlined into me being a novelist with Lion Fiction and a children’s writer with SPCK I am trying to streamline my online presence – but this takes time. So my advice: don’t take on more than you can chew!

It’s the same with social media: I am on Linked In, Goodreads, Twitter and FB but really only focus on Twitter and FB. They suit me and my relational personality more. I might give Goodreads another go but there are only a few hours in the day that I can (or should!) devote to social media. I would advise writers trying to build their online presence to choose one or two outlets and do them well. That being said, these days, having an online presence and being active in social media is one of the things publishers take into consideration when deciding whether or not to take your book. So do it, but do it wisely (ain’t hindsight a wonderful thing?).

What now for Poppy Denby and future writing projects?

I’m very excited that Poppy 2 has now been sent off to my publisher. I will be focusing mainly on lecturing over the Autumn plus promoting The Jazz Files. In between I will start research for Poppy 3. In the New Year I am looking forward to working on a new children’s series with SPCK. Beyond that, I’m very tempted to start pitching Poppy Denby Investigates as a television series. I would like to do the adaptation myself. A girl can dream, can’t she? And sometimes, just sometimes, those dreams come true.

You can buy a copy of The Jazz Files here.

COV_Front_JazzFiles

 

Author interview with Fiona Veitch Smith: part 2

In the second instalment of my interview with Fiona Veitch Smith, she provides more detail about what a writer’s life is like for her…

Fiona in her 1920s guise :)

Fiona in her 1920s guise 🙂

You write in various genres, including children’s books, stage plays and screenplays. Where do you get your inspiration for each genre, and do you find writing for one of them easier than the others?

I didn’t set out to write for all genre and media. I set out to be a full-time writer and simply pursued whatever opportunities came my way. I would push at a door to see how far it would open and if it stopped, try another. The net result is that I am published and produced across the media but with varying success in each. I am first and foremost a storyteller. I come up with story ideas and then see which media would be the best vehicle to tell that story. So I rarely look at a genre then come up with an idea; it works the other way. Occasionally though I will be commissioned to write something for a specific medium and then I delve into my ideas bank and see which story would best suit the technicalities of the medium. Some stories are more visual (film) others require immediacy and audience interaction (stage) still others are simple stories with deeper truths (children) then others more epic with extensive back story (novel). Short stories and poems are better suited to a single image or concept. I wrote a poem this morning about an ageing apple tree. The concept would have been overstretched if I’d tried to write it into a film or novel. It could have been a children’s story, however, but I wanted to get across a deep spiritual truth which required the reader to have a bit of life experience to relate to – so a poem for adults it became. Each medium has its strengths and weakness. It’s like trying to choose your favourite child. At the moment though I am focusing on writing picture books for children with SPCK and novels with Lion Fiction.

For all those aspiring writers out there: how do you manage your time between being a lecturer in writing and writing itself? Are you working towards writing full-time or do you feel you have the balance as you want it?

I started lecturing by accident. A friend’s husband died suddenly and she asked me to take over her adult ed writing class. I’d never taught before, but I felt unable to say no. It turned out to be a very fulfilling experience. It also provided income to buy me time to write. Since then, now 11 years ago, I have continued to teach and lecture part time. I now lecture at two universities but I wouldn’t say it’s my day job – I only lecture a day or two a week between September and April. My day job is still writing. I think I’m beginning to find the balance. A couple of years ago I said yes to taking on more lecturing work because I needed the money but then my writing suffered. In the last two years I have tried to keep April to August completely free to write. It’s tough, because I only get paid for what’s called ‘contact time’ and I end up living off my credit card for a couple of months every year. Should other writers do it? That’s up to you. I gave up a full-time, well-paid job as a journalist to pursue creative writing, but my family’s income took a massive hit as a result. It’s not for everyone. I make sure I take on enough paid work to keep the wolf from the door. And that’s the reality for most writers. Very few people manage to do it full time without an additional income stream.

You also speak at conferences and offer creative writing workshops for both children and adults alike. Would you say that writers need to learn to diversify, or have those other avenues simply developed naturally for you?

I do that because a) I enjoy it; b) I have a natural gift for public speaking and teaching; and c) it helps to pay the bills (although some of the appearances barely pay enough to cover expenses – if anything at all!). This is something that suits me and my skill-set, but will not necessarily suit everyone. Yes it has increased my profile and hence gives me and my books a bit of a ‘platform’ but that’s not the primary reason I do it. I would advise writers to connect with their audiences in whatever way suits their personality and skill-set. But readers do like to meet authors ‘in the flesh’.

In 2011 you started your own ‘indie’ publishing company. How did that come about, and what was behind the decision to fold it in 2015?

Crafty Publishing was started when my husband was made redundant (and then got a bit of spare cash when he got a new job fairly quickly). I had written a series of children’s books called the Young David Books, which I had unsuccessfully tried to get published. After they went down so well at my church my husband and I decided to use some of his redundancy money to self-publish. It was hard work but ultimately a successful little enterprise. Within four years of self-publishing we were approached by three different publishers to buy us out – two in the UK and one in America. By this time we felt we had plateaued with the books and couldn’t take them to the next level. We decided to sell the books to SPCK who are doing a brilliant job with them now and are getting them the international distribution that we were unable to do.

As things were going so well with my own books I thought I would try to give some other writers a chance – as I know how hard it is to get published – and also to try a different genre. I brought out my own adult novel and then signed another writer. We had four other writers in the pipeline (one children and three adult) when we decided to stop publishing earlier this year. The reasons were financial. My children’s books were the only things that made any money (not much, but we were approaching break-even point) yet we struggled to find sufficient distribution for the adult books to make it a viable commercial concern. We were at the point where we would have to have started siphoning off our family’s savings to fund it and we weren’t prepared to do that. So sadly, particularly for the authors involved, we had to call it a day.

You have quite a presence online: an old website, your new author website, a Poppy Denby website plus your Crafty Writers website. How do you have time to keep all the content refreshed? What advice would you give to writers wanting to make more of a presence online?

The truth is I don’t. My many websites reflect different aspects of my career over a 12-year period. One of the sites was more active when I was making my living primarily as a freelance feature writer, journalist and blogger. Another when I was earning more from giving writing advice and freelance editing and copywriting. As my career has developed so my web presence has changed. The problem is the sites are linked in to other sites and it is not that easy to take them down. As my writing career is becoming more streamlined into me being a novelist with Lion Fiction and a children’s writer with SPCK I am trying to streamline my online presence – but this takes time. So my advice: don’t take on more than you can chew!

It’s the same with social media: I am on Linked In, Goodreads, Twitter and FB but really only focus on Twitter and FB. They suit me and my relational personality more. I might give Goodreads another go but there are only a few hours in the day that I can (or should!) devote to social media. I would advise writers trying to build their online presence to choose one or two outlets and do them well. That being said, these days, having an online presence and being active in social media is one of the things publishers take into consideration when deciding whether or not to take your book. So do it, but do it wisely (ain’t hindsight a wonderful thing?).

What now for Poppy Denby and future writing projects?

I’m very excited that Poppy 2 has now been sent off to my publisher. I will be focusing mainly on lecturing over the Autumn plus promoting The Jazz Files. In between I will start research for Poppy 3. In the New Year I am looking forward to working on a new children’s series with SPCK. Beyond that, I’m very tempted to start pitching Poppy Denby Investigates as a television series. I would like to do the adaptation myself. A girl can dream, can’t she? And sometimes, just sometimes, those dreams come true.

To purchase The Jazz Files, please click here.

Author interview with Fiona Veitch Smith: part 1

Having been captivated by Fiona’s latest novel, The Jazz Files, I was delighted when she agreed to an interview. I’ll warn you up front that it is long, but so fascinating and full of honesty and advice for writers and aspiring writers alike that I simply couldn’t cut it. So please do read this and tomorrow’s instalment for a behind-the-scenes look at how Fiona’s new crime series has been birthed and crafted – and what life as a writer is like for her.

COV_Front_JazzFiles

Congratulations on an intriguing, fast-moving novel. This is the first book in a series – could you explain how your publishing deal came about?

I hope you’ve got a cup of tea in hand, this is a bit of a long story … I was hired by Monarch (Lion Hudson) around four years ago to ghostwrite a biography. They took me on because a few years before that I submitted a non-fiction idea to them which they turned down. Although they didn’t want the book, they liked my writing style and kept me in mind for the ghostwriting project. However, after nine months working on it I came to the conclusion that the man who the book was about had made up much of his story. I told Monarch and they cancelled the contract.

Lion Hudson – and, in particular, Tony Collins, one of the commissioning editors there – felt awful that the contract was cancelled and asked if I had anything else they could look at because they really wanted to work with me. The only other thing I had in the pipeline at the time was a historical novel set in the 1st century against the background of the early church. At the time the Lion Fiction imprint was being launched and they asked to look at it.

It took them eighteen months – and two rewrites from me – to decide that although they liked the book, they felt it was too ‘Christian’ for their market. Again they asked me if I had anything else. Well I didn’t; nothing written anyway. But I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth so I started mulling over some new ideas.

My research of what Lion Fiction was already publishing told me that crime mystery series were something they were interested in. So I came up with the idea of a reporter sleuth set in the 1920s and submitted the idea to them. They liked the idea and the outline but weren’t prepared to go to contract without seeing the whole book.

So I had to write it. It took me six months. I submitted it – plus some ideas for the rest of the series – and they finally offered me a contract. Phew! So the moral of the story is … don’t give up. These things can take a looooooong time to come to fruition. I’m so grateful they stuck with me and I thank Tony Collins for believing in me as a writer for so many years.

Do you have all the ideas for the whole series already set out, or is it an evolving process?

It’s an evolving process. I deliberately started the series in 1920 so I had ten years for my heroine to have adventures before it became a series set in the 1930s – whether she, the publisher or I are game for another decade, is a decision for the future. However, I had it in mind from the beginning to set the book against real historical events as they unfold through the decade. Which events still have to be decided, but I do have a basic structure in mind.

About halfway through writing the first book I knew that I wanted to set the next one – which has now been written – against the diaspora of White Russian refugees in the wake of the Russian Revolution. I know too where the third book will be set and am starting my background reading on that now. I have an inkling of Book 4, but have not made any firm decisions yet. The story and background of Book 2 were decided because one of the characters of Book 1 was a Russian and it gave me scope to delve a bit more into his back story. Also, I found a faux Fabergé Egg in a charity shop, which gave me the idea for the main plotline.

The same with Book 3 – it’s linked to the back story of another character. So a tip for writers considering writing series: have a broad dramatis personae of colourful characters. They may only play a bit part in the first book but could be developed down the line.

The Suffragette movement is still at the forefront of your characters’ minds. Your main character, Poppy, is one of the young women who were forging their own careers in traditionally male-dominated worlds. Why did you choose to set the series in that era?

After my first self-published novel, The Peace Garden, I discovered I was attracted to the mystery genre. The book started as a literary novel but soon drifted towards mystery. And as I have a degree in history and I love reading historical mysteries, it seemed to be a natural fit. But why the 1920s? Well I originally conceived of it set in 1912. The day before I received the rejection for my 1st century historical and the request for another proposal, I had been to visit the grave of the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison in Morpeth. It was the centenary of her death and I had just used her as an example of women acting out their faith (she was a Christian) in a talk I gave to my church’s women’s ministry. The pastor’s wife suggested we visit Emily’s grave and lay flowers. There is a picture of me at her grave on www.poppydenby.com under the ‘Suffragette’ link.

The next day I received news that Lion had rejected my 1st century novel. I was naturally very upset after all the work I’d put into it, but heartened that they wanted more. As I was praying and asking God to guide me as to what to write next, my eye was drawn to a book on my bookshelf called Unshackled by Christabel Pankhurst. It’s a first-hand account of the women’s suffrage movement.

It suddenly dawned on me that I should write about a suffragette reporter sleuth. (Why a reporter? Well I was formerly a journalist … but that’s another story). So I started planning the novel. However, the period just didn’t seem to fit. The clothes were boring, the music was boring and frankly, my character might have been feisty but she was downright dowdy. I felt the same writing her as I did playing Sheila Birling in an am-dram production of An Inspector Calls. But what I wanted to feel was like I felt when I played the delightful Maisie in Ken Russell’s The Boyfriend (a high school production – pic again on www.poppydenby.com). I had also just started learning to play jazz clarinet and was listening to music from the 1920s. I began to conceive of shifting my story to the 1920s and having my main character an inheritor of the legacy of the Suffragettes.

Just like Poppy I worked as a journalist in the 1990s and inherited the freedoms won by the brave women of the 1960s and 70s. Once I made this shift I immediately felt an emotional connection with the character and the period. And the rest, as they say, is history.

How did you research the historical content of your novel? 

I read a number of non-fiction books about the period, which are listed at the back of The Jazz Files and also on the www.poppydenby.com website. In addition to this I went down to London for a few days and walked up and down Fleet Street and King’s Road – key locations in the novel – to get a feel for the place and travelled the same routes that Poppy would travel on bus and train. I spent two days in the British Library reading newspapers from 1920 – particularly the Daily Mail and The Times. Some of the news stories that appear in the book were genuine articles from the time. I also went to the Suffragette exhibition and fashion exhibition at the London Museum. Some of the outfits that Poppy and Delilah wear in The Jazz Files were exact replicas of outfits I saw there. In addition I researched what was playing on the theatre scene in 1920 as well as cinema and music. The songs played in chapter 3 of the book were all actually played in 1920. These are small details that most people won’t notice but it gives me great pleasure to get these things right. I also like to think it adds a touch of authenticity that readers will feel if not know.

To purchase The Jazz Files, please click here.