I grew up in Yorkshire (in the north of England), studied in Birmingham, and have lived in Oxford and Worcestershire most of my adult life. It’s been a life fuelled largely by my passion for the countryside, for history and music, and for the arts and crafts in all their wonderful manifestations.
An early passion for art and literature set me on the road to book collecting, to reading, and to writing.
I write the occasional article for journals, and I’ve recently published my first novel “Stone Ties”, a historical mystery set in and around the beautiful city of Worcester in the 18th century. With the lion’s share of the research completed, I’m around a third of the way into my second novel.
What inspires you to write?
I started writing the odd article for journals as an outlet for my art history research, and simply because I had tales I wanted to tell that hadn’t been told before. With fiction it’s a little different. I find ideas for a story plant themselves in my head with little warning; and my natural curiosity compels me to follow them up. I say a little about this on my website blog, but the bathroom can be a highly inspirational place!
And to play with language every day – that’s a real joy for me.
Tell us about your writing process.
Once the broad idea for a story appeals to me (and for “Stone Ties” it was just six words) I then start to write notes around potential plot lines, character traits, locations etc. These hit my notebook in completely random order; I don’t worry about structuring them in any way. I tend to use the same strategy as that for brainstorming, namely that any idea is a good idea, no matter how odd it may seem at the time. These scraps then get transferred to my computer.
Once I have sufficient notes material (up to twenty pages is typical) I then write a very loose story structure, roughly assigning key events to particular chapters. The end result of this process is a story plan, typically with about three sentences for each chapter. This stage also highlights areas requiring further research, a part I really love.
Once I’m happy with the broad plan, and my research is mostly completed, I start to write my first draft, and I find the words start to flow. I much prefer to allow my imagination to lead me forward; I would find too much detailed planning a constraint. As I write, some chapters may hit the cutting room floor, and new ones may suggest themselves to me. In a strangely disconnected way the story starts to find its own way. But there’s no right or wrong way; each to their own; it’s whatever works for you.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I try to get as close as possible to my characters. In “Stone Ties” I found myself recognising certain personal characteristics in one character that I hadn’t intended to write. With another character I developed a personal relationship that surprised me, and lead to an involuntary emotional response as the story progressed (no spoilers here!). I try to know as much about them as I can, without necessarily using that information in the book itself. This way they have an emotional and spiritual depth for me; I can start to relate to them as real people.
I also like to visualize my characters in a cinematic sense, so I play scenes through in my mind, looking at their movements, and listening to their dialogue. I don’t strictly become them, but I do look closely over their shoulders every step of the way. And yes, I do have conversations with them, sometimes aloud. It’s a good job I write alone!
What advice would you give other writers?
I’m a novice at this game, so I’m barely in a position to offer advice. But what worked for me was to have a real belief in my own imaginative powers, and to express that imagination in as honest a way possible. It’s an old cliché I know, but avoid trying to write like somebody else; try to be yourself, try to find your own distinctive voice. And write in a genre that is both comfortable for you, and inspires you; resist the impulse to write in a particular genre because you hope it will sell better.
At the end of the day, if you love writing then that’s all the reward you really need.
And when I start to feel insecure about my abilities, or anticipate reviews with trepidation, I like to keep the wonderful words of Eleanor Roosevelt in the back of my mind, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
How did you decide how to publish your books?
Like many new authors I started down the traditional road of print publishing, initially by seeking interest from agents; a process not for the faint hearted. After a number of rejections I decided to “try my hand” and self publishing. I found the process simple and straightforward, but rather time consuming (especially the formatting for Kindle process). But once you’ve done it you’ve reached a watershed moment, and you know it will be so much easier the next time.
Self publishing allowed me to retain a belief in my book, which could otherwise have been diminished if I had given up in the light of agents’ lack of interest.
And finally I like the idea of maintaining full control over the publishing process myself; for example when to offer the book at a reduced rate or for free, what the cover should look like, what the blurb should say. The potential downside is the amount of effort required in promotion and marketing, but if a thing is worth doing…..
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I’m pretty excited. For a traditionalist “a book has to be a physical object you can touch and smell” type of person, I’m surprised at my own acceptance of the recent re-defining of the book. A book has moved beyond the physical, to become an entity to be enjoyed through an exciting range of media; print, e-book, audio.
I think the emergence of the e-book, and in particular the associated rise of the indie author, is forcing all of us (inside and outside the publishing business) to re-assess our understanding of people’s reading habits and preferences. It has given us an opportunity to acknowledge the wealth of talent there is within writing today, and more importantly to be able to identify and support it without the constraints of the traditional publishing filter. Primarily it is about increasing our individual opportunities to make informed choices, to really choose what and who we wish to read, rather than being driven towards books that have been subjected to someone else’s value judgements.
It’s an exciting and liberating time for readers and authors alike.
What genres do you write?
Historical Fiction, General Fiction
What formats are your books in?
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