What inspires you to write?
Growing up in the UK as an only child in the 60’s, books and my imagination were very important. Television at that time was limited to 3 channels and they were only on for certain hours daily. So I had to make my own amusement.
I started writing when I was about 5 but tailed off during my teenage years, when I was more interested in dog training. I resumed writing after my children were born. My daughter in particular LOVES reading and we had a hard time finding suitable books. She likes animal stories but not sad ones – not cheesy ones either. She wanted realistic stories that didn’t have a lot of trauma and death.
I found stories helped me in the classroom as well (I’m a teacher). They are a great way of conveying a message, engaging children’s imagination and getting them involved.
Tell us about your writing process
I’m one of those annoying people who need peace to write. Not silence, exactly – you can never have that with dogs and children in the house – but no interruptions. I have an 18 year old and a 20 year old, as well as dogs and hens, so there are lots of interruptions. The hens knock on the back door with their beaks for food; the dogs nudge my arm from the computer to stroke them or take them for a walk; my son needs almost constant feeding and likes to run ideas by me, he also loses things and asks where they are – they are always in places he has looked, he never looks properly!; my daughter likes to chat and take me shopping. LOTS of interruptions!
When my children were small I wrote when they were asleep but teenagers don’t need as much sleep and they fill the house with friends and ‘stuff’. I’m not complaining, I like a full house, but it isn’t the best thing for the writing process.
Then my wonderful other half, Andrew, came along. He’s an archer and goes to lots of archery tournaments. I go along with him, towing our little caravan. I stay in the caravan while he shoots and I get lots of writing done. It’s wonderful. There’s often an ocean view and invigorating, clean, fresh air. I take our littlest dog, Ted, a little German Spitz, who is no trouble and gives me a reason to get up once in a while to walk him (otherwise I think I’d lose the ability to walk, I get so caught up in my writing).
Having a dog means that you meet people – people want to stop and meet your dog and ask you about him. I get a lot of my ideas for stories from people I have met and their tales about their dogs.
I use a laptop computer and write using either Word or Scrivener (writing software), saving EVERYTHING to Dropbox (Cloud storage). That’s hugely important to me as I lost a nearly-complete novel a few years back when our computer crashed and died. It was maddening because it was based on my grandmother’s life and her family’s emigration to the UK from Ireland. I have tried to write it again but have lost the voice because it is now 26 years since Nana died and I have forgotten a lot of what she told me. They came over during the potato famine, a terrible time. I can find out the facts about that easily enough but not the feelings of the people involved. Maybe I’ll try to revive it again one day. I think a trip to Ireland to where my family came from might help. Good excuse for a trip anyway!
I have learnt from that and now back up very frequently and make sure there are multiple copies of everything I write. I keep our little caravan (it really is small!) at home, so I can write in it as I know from experience that I’m not good at writing at home where there’s lots going on. The family know not to interrupt me except with food or drinks! When I go into the caravan I get into writing mode almost immediately. The caravan only cost $300, so it was a very worthwhile investment!
I always outline. Or rather, I start writing an outline, then get ideas for things under each draft chapter heading and end up writing rather than outlining. I find, though, that if I don’t have some sort of outline I write off at different tangents and stray too far from the storyline.
My biggest fault is that I edit as I go along. I have tried and tried to stop doing it, because it isn’t the best thing for productivity, but I just can’t stop! I would love to be the sort of writer who just sits down and pours it all out, stream-of-consciousness-style. But I have a habit of glancing back at the previous sentence and spotting a spelling mistake, going back to correct it and then correcting an earlier grammar problem.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
Woo, I don’t admit this to many people but yes, I do. I think it is a throw-back to being an only child – I had imaginary friends! I also had a dog, a magnificent Rough Collie (Lassie dog) called Jason, who I spoke to a lot. He spoke back, with body language, and I learned to do the same.
He had something stuck on the roof of his mouth once and it was driving him crazy. He was pawing frantically at his mouth and crying. I tried to help but he gave me a gentle warning growl, so I backed off (literally, took a few steps back and sat down, watching quietly). Eventually he realised he couldn’t reach the roof of his mouth with his paw. He came over, sat in front of me, looked me in the eye with a meaningful expression and gave me his paw. As I held it he pulled me hand towards him – he wanted me to help. He opened his mouth while I flicked it off (compacted meat) easily with a finger. Then he gave me a hug of thanks.
Moments like that stay with you. He trusted me. He knew I would help. I felt immensely privileged and ‘connected’.
I knew that, even if he had been able to talk, he wouldn’t have been able to convey his request for help or his thanks afterwards in a better way.
So I think of my characters as being like Jason. They don’t have a voice until I give it to them. When I do, they have a lot to say!
What advice would you give other writers?
1. Read. Read lots. Read genres you love and genres you don’t. Read good books, classics and awful books. You learn more from the awful ones. Some of the modern Indie books are written by good writers but they haven’t been edited well. You can learn such a lot from those!
2. Schedule your writing time. Otherwise life gets in the way and you never get round to it. I was in a church meeting once where the lady speaker said, “The biggest source of untapped potential is in the local graveyard”. So many people go to their deaths without having written the novel that was on their heart, the song that only they could have brought into life. I don’t want to have untapped potential when it’s my turn to go. You are a unique and wondrously talented person and there is something in you that only you can do. Find it and do it.
3. Don’t bother with traditional publishers unless you’re a celebrity or have starred in a sex video. Seriously. Traditional publishers are hard-pressed and are only buying books that they know will sell well and sell straightaway without too much publicity. You get better royalties from Indie publishing.
4. If you are going the Indie route give up or sell whatever you have to so you can afford to hire a professional editor and get a great cover designed by a professional illustrator/book cover designer. It really matters.
5. Learn how to market your own books. It isn’t rocket science but it does take time.
6. Launch your books, do what you need to to promote them but get straight back to writing the next book. Get a good balance between promotional activities and writing. I aim for my week being 70% writing and 30% promotion (writing press releases, guest blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, etc.). Enjoy being immersed in the writing process – it is very personal and special – then enjoy publishing and promoting your books because it brings you into contact with your readers and that is so rewarding. You realise you’re not on your own!
After trial and error and learning from other writers, I have a publishing cycle that works for me:
* Launch on Kindle and join KDP Select, which allows people to borrow your book and lets you offer it free for 5 days in the 90-day contract.
* Schedule the first two or three free days a couple of weeks after you launch. Promote the freebie everywhere – search for sites that tell people about free Kindle books (there are lots). Aim for at least a few hundred free downloads. This will help you rise in the bestseller lists, which puts your book in front of more people, who are likely to buy it once the free days are over.
* Publish the book with a print-on-demand publisher. You can do this while enrolled in KDP Select. CreateSpace or Lightning Source are the best. * Lightning Source is more expensive but gives a better quality book; CreateSpace is less expensive and easier to navigate, probably best for your first few books.
* When the 90 day KDP Select contract is up, publish your book on Smashwords or another distributor, which allows people to download it to Kobo, Nook, etc.
* Promote yourself and your book(s) in some small way every single day. Use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads and other specialist platforms such as Jacketflap. Spend time interacting with people, not just selling. Take just a few minutes, then get back to the writing!
* Enjoy it. We are in exciting times and, as authors, have a lot of freedom and power to promote our books. Authors used to be at the mercy of their publishers and how much money their marketing departments were prepared to spend on them. If their books didn’t sell well within a short time, they would end up in bargain stores and never be seen again. That isn’t the case now. Once you book is on Amazon, it is there forever. We don’t get remaindered anymore! You can promote your book everywhere you go – physically and virtually – and keep the money coming in.
* Aim to produce another book within a few months to a year. The more books you have for sale, the more exponentially you sell because people who like one book are very likely to buy others from your list.
* Don’t expect J.K.Rowling or E.J.James riches overnight – those authors are very rare. The majority of us make a decent living from our writing but not a rock star living!
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I was very fortunate to be awarded a bursary by the thriller writer P.D.James to a writing conference. I learned so much there and made great contacts – including agents and publishers. One publisher in particular was interested in a book I was working on at the time and asked me to go to London to meet them.
However, when I got home, I found that my then husband had spent the whole time – several days – on my parents’ floor, crying. He had had a nervous breakdown. He couldn’t cope without me and I couldn’t take up the publisher’s offer. In fact, I was unable to write for several years. Some people are stimulated to write by stress, they need to pour it out, but I find my creativity dries up when I am under severe stress. I can barely think.
It was several years later, after my husband recovered, relapsed and eventually left me, that I started to write a little again. Then I met Andrew, a fellow writer. That was the thing I needed to start writing prolifically again.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
My daughter worked in a local bookstore over the busy Christmas period. She is a huge fan of ‘real’ books, even though she owns Kindle. She finds the thought of bookstores dying out absolutely horrifying.
She was glad to see that people are still supporting bookstores. Stores are diversifying – they sell RPs (related products – bookmarks, toys, trading cards, etc., related to books); vouchers; games; and KINDLES. She was shocked at the number of Kindles they sold. In fact, they sold out of the Paperwhite every time they got some in. Many of the purchasers were older people who love the ability to change the size of the font on the Kindle. These people often needed help setting up their Kindles, opening an Amazon account, buying eBooks, etc.
She believes that bookstores have a future if they continue to embrace the digital revolution and give people what they want. What they want is:
* A good choice
* eBook versions of their favorite books
* Free eBooks so they can try out new authors and genres
* The ability to still buy paperbacks and hardbacks when they want them – I think print-on-demand is the future here. I think we’re going to see more print-on-demand machines in stores (like the Espresso).
I get this service from my local store – they don’t have an Espresso-type machine but they will order print-on-demand books for me and they are there within a couple of days. I don’t see they disappearing anytime soon and I’m very glad for that.
I love the fact that authors are in charge of their own destinies now but I feel sad for people who aren’t technologically competent. There must be lots of people – and especially older people – who have an amazing book in them but who are put off because they aren’t good with computers. My partner and I have started a digital press for people like that. People who would perhaps have been accepted by a traditional publisher until the recession but who can’t manage the technical side of publishing and promoting their own books. We’re expecting to discover some amazing books and find it a joy to help people who were previously baffled by the Internet!
What do you use?
Professional Editor, Professional Cover Designer, Beta Readers
What genres do you write?
Children’s fiction; Health; Gardening/Self-sufficiency
What formats are your books in?
Both eBook and Print