The defendant in the trial, Elizabeth Cellier, captivated me enough to drop all other writing I was involved in and research everything I could about her. I found this exciting and inspirational story set during the Popish Plot demanded to be told and my debut novel, The Popish Midwife, closely based on the story, won Bronze Award in the the Readers' Favorite International Book Awards 2017.
Captured by the seventeenth century world I'm now bringing to life other wonderful midwife stories of the time in my Seventeenth Century Midwives series:
The Ghost Midwife (novella about a murder at Rotten Row)
The Midnight Midwife (a tale of secrets and sexuality)
The French Midwife (a tale of love, cruelty and revenge).
Before being caught up in historical fiction, I was mid-magical realism series, as yet unpublished, which I plan to get back to. And I'm currently also working on a long-term science fiction collaboration with another author friend. Occasionally, I like to write rhyming poems too.
What inspires you to write?
My inspiration comes from many sources. Even while I'm writing historical fiction closely based on hard-nosed facts, I still have moments of inspiration which help me see how all those facts link together, and what might be important in the story.
Most often, I'm driving along, running or falling asleep and suddenly I realise something that must have happened for the person I'm writing about to get from one point in the story to another, or have an insight of how they must be feeling. I'll whip out my phone and write or dictate my thoughts and ideas in 'Notes'.
Other times I'll be exploring a particular aspect of the person's life, for instance what they might have eaten during the winter, and will follow my research down a rabbit hole and end up discovering about a hobbled horse and how to clear a stone from its hoof, or what folk in those times made their fires on (fire-dogs and andirons). That sort of discovery can inspire me to weave such information into my characters' lives.
For my non-historical fiction – the magical realism (which I believe is actually closer to 'Visionary') the ideas come from everyday life and experiences, and for the science fiction series, much inspiration comes from chatting about the world with my co-author as well as watching lots of science videos on YouTube.
Another thing that inspires me is to listen to writer podcasts such as Writing Excuses. The episodes are only 15 minutes long, but the presenters cover such a wide range of topics, invariably it'll set me thinking on something that wouldn't otherwise have occurred to me.
Tell us about your writing process.
For my non-historical fiction, I've tried planning and plotting at the beginning of a novel, but I'm just not very good at it. I'm more of a 'discovery writer'. I like a story to open up as I move through it and explore ideas as they come along.
However, for the first ever novel I ever finished for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I did write down each scene I wanted to happen on yellow cards, arranged them on the floor in the order I thought would work best, then wrote them in the order I found my mood dictated. If I had an image of a scene strongly in my head, I would go with that rather than try and write the story in order. Having an overall outline helped a lot.
With the historical fiction, because I try to closely follow the events of the past, I spend a lot of time ordering events, describing in notes what should go into each scene, and adding in extra chapters to help the reader understand what might have happened in between to make sense of it. Again, I write the scenes that I can imagine best at the time, in whatever order that might be. I don't read it through from beginning to end until all the scenes are there. Then I add anything I think is needed to make it flow better. With The Popish Midwife and The French Midwife (due late 2018), I had either actual dates to go on, or could estimate when the scene might've taken place, resulting in a diary-like format.
Don't think I add all the detail in as I write the story though. No, to start with I only write the story. I try to get the feel and flow of it down. Anything I don't know, all the things that set the story firmly in the past (and that was a heck of a lot when I wrote my first seventeenth century novel, not being any kind of expert in the era back then!) I simply make a note to myself in brackets where it will go in the narrative and research it during first read-through. That's the bit that takes so much time. For The Popish Midwife, I took a mere couple of months to write the base story but another four years to research it and get it published.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I don't talk to my characters, but I do hear them talking and thinking. I become so immersed in their world, I often have to stop something else I'm doing when a snatch of conversation or something they think/feel deeply comes to mind. If I'm not near my laptop, I'll record it on my phone or any notebook or scrap of paper, else it'll go round and round my head until I do.
When I write a character, I am them. I'm totally in their boots or shoes. I feel what they feel, see what they see, hear what they hear. It's the other characters that are less predictable because, like other people in everyday life, they are the ones you don't know so well. My characters react to others how I (as their character) must react.
What advice would you give other writers?
Get the story down – that's your first priority. Padding it out with details to make it read well or to become more 'real' in setting, character or anything else, that's second draft stuff. It's the story that glues everything else together. And it's the story, I believe, readers want to read. It's easier to get the story to flow better if you write it quickly first. Also, you don't spend so much time going off in tangents or trying to correct yourself. Also, just sit down every day and do something, anything. Nobody else is going to do it. And a little at the time is better than nothing at all. Some days, I edit a sentence and can't get past it. but at least that's one sentence less the next day!
Write. Rewrite. Edit. Edit. Edit.
Second priority is to read the story several times in different formats. Not just in re-write (2nd draft) or editing (3rd/4th/5th drafts), but put the whole thing aside and read it after a break. I spot different things whether I read it in the software it was created in (Word/Scrivener/Google Docs), printed on paper, on my Kindle Reader and when I read it out loud. Each different reading brings different issues to light. I've also found more recently I can spot different errors, repetitions etc better simply by changing the font. The more times you read it, the better you'll make it.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
The first book I ever sent off to the publishers was my book of monster poems 'Monsters (not) for Bed'. I had quite a few responses from publishers, many of them very positive and encouraging, but none could think of how to market it, what niche it belonged in. At the time, I was going through a lot of life stuff so simply shelved it for the time being.
With The Popish Midwife, the first book I finished to publishing, I didn't try the big publishers. Having had several writing years to read up on the different options, I had already decided to go the self-publishing route. I liked the idea of having control of the whole process from beginning to end, and what happened to the book. Out of interest what would happen, I entered a pitch contest on Twitter and got a bite from a Curtis Brown literary agent but, though interested, they had several similar projects on the go at that time so didn't take it any further.
In the end, I went with small publisher, Canterbury Literary Agency. I believed the book would be not only published online, but it would also be made available in bookshops, and I would do book events etc in the real world. Apart from one event, nothing really happened at all unless it was through me. There was no publicity, no advertising, no events. The book sat quietly, unnoticed for over a year before I decided I could do better and purchased back all the copies the company had.
Since I've been an independent publisher, The Popish Midwife has spent a lot of time in Amazon's Biographical Fiction top 100, and has been #1 in Seventeenth Century History for several weeks.
With the independence and control I now have, and the increase of royalties for each book, I prefer self-publishing and plan to publish all my books this way. I have no plans to try for the 'big publishers' at this time.
(Btw, in case you're interested, my Monsters (not) for Bed story rhyme collection? It's enough like Roald Dahl's 'Rhyme Stew' to put it into the same categories as that book, so that's what I've done!)
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
The most wonderful thing about publishing these days is that we can all do it. If we have a story inside of us, we can write and self-publish that story. Nobody is anybody's rival, because there are many, many readers who want lots and lots of books to read, and each author can only write a limited number a year, so we can encourage them to read every other similar-genre book out there and they'd still want more. It's a book-friendly community. And more readers are turning their hand at being authors every day.
Through many dedicated book promotional sites, Authors can more easily find readers who like their work and readers can find authors who excite them. Authors and readers can connect in a way they never could before. And both independent and traditional publishers use them. I see in the future book sites possibly becoming more genre-based, making this process even easier and more focused to both authors' and readers' needs.
And, not only that, but traditional publishers, where they used to turn most authors away and cherry-pick only a few they thought a 'sure thing', seem to be beginning to realise that they can much more quickly identify if that author is able to gather a following and become popular using shorter initial print runs and testing the ground first. Long after they would've previously stopped publishing their paperback format, they are now able to continue to do so, but now on the same print-on-demand basis independent publishers use. The ebooks can also be available forever without any extra cost to them. So, a traditionally published author might at least now have a longer shelf-life.
It seems the publishing playing field is balancing out. Whether a book is independently-, small- or traditionally-published will then depend on how well the book is written (trad and small publishers still act as a gateway, although I hear on the grapevine that companies such as Amazon are beginning to play more of this role now than they used to) but also on the role the author and publisher are each willing to take. With many authors realising they really do need to edit, provide a decent cover and blurb and present their book as if it had been published by a mainstream publisher, many independent books are not so easy to differentiate from the traditional books now. Whatever the chosen route, it has become clear that the author must be prepared to participate in promotion and connecting to their potential readers.
I believe we are only at the beginning of this amazing revolution. In the future, I imagine there will be way, way more books. Perhaps the only way anyone will know which ones they want to read, be it traditionally or independently published, will be by chance, trial and error until a reader finds something that clicks. But what is certain is there will never be a shortage of books to choose from!
What do you use?: Professional Editor, Professional Cover Designer, Beta Readers
What genres do you write?: So far, I write historical biographical fiction, magical realism, science fiction and story-rhymes
What formats are your books in?: Both eBook and Print
All information in this post is presented “as is” supplied by the author. We don’t edit to allow you the reader to hear the author in their own voice.