Author Interview: E.J. Kay

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Although Liz has been my next door neighbour for quite a number of years, I only discovered that she was a published author when she offered me a copy of her first novel, Watermark, for my Book Group to read in 2012. If you like a good murder mystery then go buy this book now, I couldn’t put it down.

As well as her day job (Professor of Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of the West of England) Liz is currently working on her second novel, provisionally titled ‘The Salt Man’. As a novice writer I am always intrigued to learn more about those who have succeeded in the craft and was therefore delighted when Liz agreed to this interview.

Please welcome to neverimitate, E.J. Kay.

Where do you typically write?

For me, writing fiction is a two-part process. First there is getting down the ideas, keeping the flow going and not worrying too much about structure. In particular I write dialogue this way. I find I get ideas for characters and dialogue easily, so I use my laptop a lot when I’m writing the first pass at a chapter, or the first ideas for dialogue. I take it with me on holidays, or jot down ideas as they come to me. I find it easiest and most effective to be in a busy atmosphere to do this; if I’m sitting in a coffee shop, or whiling away an afternoon on holiday, particularly if I’m sailing or cruising, the ideas seem to pour out.

The second part is the reworking and editing – the polishing I guess you could call it. I tend to do that at my desktop as I find I need a quiet place. It’s strange, but if I sit down in a quiet atmosphere with a blank computer page in front of me I get writer’s block, but it’s the only kind of environment in which I can edit and rework something I’ve already written.

Tell us about your writing process.

Oops, I guess I’ve already started to answer this! Probably the best description of my writing process is patchy. It’s almost as though it has a life of its own and I ride the rising and falling tide, making the most of the creative periods and using the times when ideas dry up a bit to work on structure and editing.

I generally start from an idea, or set of ideas, that have been sparked by something I’ve experienced, read about or seen. I like to mix ideas too; to see how synthesising them can create a new or different way of looking at things. I also research a lot. Researching is a reflex I have developed over the past 25 years of academic writing, and it’s one I can’t shake off. Also, I like to write scientifically-based crime fiction, so research is vital.

Tell us about your publishing experience.

In my life as an academic I’ve been published in academic presses for over 20 years now, including a book, several book chapters and peer-reviewed conference proceedings and journal papers. I’ve also had several specialist magazine articles published and am on a number of editorial boards for academic journals. I do a lot of reviewing for journals too.

Writing fiction is a complete departure from all this, and gives me the freedom to create characters and stories; a freedom that I love. But, getting fiction published has proved very hard; I have tried finding an agent to represent me, but with no luck. I’ve tried sending copies of the manuscript of Watermark, my first fiction book, to publishers, but again with no luck.

So, I have gone down the self-publishing route on Kindle and Create Space (both Amazon) and found it both rewarding and frustrating! Rewarding because I do actually have a book published, but frustrating because the advertising and marketing channels available for self-published work don’t seem to be very effective. My book is lost as one of around a million on Amazon.

In what ways do you promote your work?

I have a blog as E.J.Kay (my fiction author name) which I get very little time to post to, unfortunately. I’ve tried Google AdWords and Facebook advertising, but the click-through rates are very low and these haven’t resulted in many sales at all. I have Facebook and Twitter accounts as E.J.Kay too, but again I have let these slide recently due to time pressures in my day job. Promoting the work is turning into more work than writing it! I need to sit down and draw up a promotion plan this summer, when I get a bit of time.

What are some of your current projects?

I am currently working on my next book – The Salt Man. Like Watermark, there will be two stories in the book; one in the ancient past and one in the present. I’m fascinated by how patterns repeat over time, and how stories might run in parallel over thousands or millions of years. As the old adage goes, there are no new stories!

I got the idea for The Salt Man whilst visiting the Castell Henllys Iron Age reconstruction site in Pembrokeshire a few years ago. Whilst we were chatting to the helpers there, they described how salt was very important to Iron Age cultures and how it is likely that it was delivered by salt traders. When the Romans came they commandeered the salt mines and brine evaporation sites, and would have been likely to use the salt traders to keep the supply going to both the native people and the Roman settlers. Salt was a very important commodity to the Romans too.

It struck me as we were chatting that the salt traders would visit many places and would be likely to hear gossip and tales. They would be an ancient information vector. And then I thought about how quickly and effectively information travels today, and wondered if a puzzle that couldn’t be solved in ancient times might be solvable now. This idea is explored through a murder mystery in The Salt Man.

I’m also interested in the idea of transmedia storytelling, where readers can take the ideas in a story and develop them through online media, such as video, blogging and 3D virtual worlds. I like the notion of a story developing further after an author has finished with it; the author ‘gives birth’ to the story and it can continue to have a life of its own after it has left home! So I’m beginning to develop a site in a virtual world (Second Life) where the stories in Watermark might be developed further by readers who can take various roles and play them out. It’s early days for this project though; it won’t be ready any time soon!

Where can my readers find you?

My blog is the best place  E.J.Kay’s blog | WordPress.com.

‘Watermark’ is available from Amazon in Kindle or paperback: Watermark: Amazon.co.uk: E J Kay: Books.

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I’m a Lancastrian by birth, born in Bolton in the 1950’s. My family moved to Pembrokeshire when I was 14 and I went to college in Cardiff in the 1970’s. E.J.Kay is my maiden name; I use it for fiction writing to differentiate from my academic writing, for which I use my married name, Liz Falconer. I’m currently Professor of Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of the West of England. Before working at UWE I was at the University of Bath, and before that at the University of Salford.

My Twitter handle is E.J.Kay (@EJKay1).

My Facebook page is E.j. Kay.

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