Author Interview: Venetia Welby

Venetia Welby first came to my attention in the year I was on the judging panel for the Republic of Consciousness Prize. Her debut novel, Mother of Darkness, is very much the sort of book this prize was set up to promote. It is an intense and sometimes startling journey into the mind of a memorable protagonist (you may read my review here). I am delighted to welcome the author to my blog today and hope you enjoy the answers she has provided to my questions as much as I did.

Can you tell my readers a little about yourself and your background?

I grew up in Lincolnshire before going to Oxford to do a Classics degree. I always wanted to write and so moved to London afterwards to work in magazines at Condé Nast. As an editorial assistant at International Vogue, I worked on Russian, Japanese and Chinese editions, which was fun but didn’t involve too much writing so I decided to go freelance, work on my first novel and start tutoring to help fund this risky venture.  Tutoring turned out to be of much greater benefit than purely financial as it took me around the world to places such as Beijing, Arizona and the Kenyan island of Lamu, and introduced me to some fascinating people. This work continues to provide great inspiration for my writing, and I’m now based in Bow, east London with my husband, son and one-eyed Bengal cat.

Can you tell us about your book, Mother of Darkness?

It’s a story of lost love and fractured identity, about a young man, Matty, on a path of self-destructive Soho debauchery that leads him further and further from reality. Matty is the kind of guy we would all perhaps recognise – charming, good-looking but slightly wild and dangerous. He’s attractive but bad news: you wouldn’t want to get too close. At first, he’s a libertine enjoying all that Soho has to offer to those who have youth, energy and a bit of spare cash… What we learn quite quickly, though, is how damaged he is, having experienced the recent heartbreak of bereavement and the enduring trauma of growing up without a mother or any stable home. The story that unfolds is the inevitable crisis that hits those who, unable to resolve the issues of their past, seek comfort in ill-advised friendships and increasingly crazed fantasies.

In a previous interview you said the puer aeternus archetype (the child-man who struggles to meet the challenges of life) formed the psychological backbone of Mother of Darkness, and that you enjoy reading books that flip your perspective on life. Did you set out to create a protagonist (Matty) who embodied these interests or did he develop organically?

Matty was very much an unplanned accident. He wasn’t even the protagonist originally. I spotted him lurking in the far corner of an almost entirely different version of the novel and started wondering about him. Who was he; why did he act the way he did; and what was he doing in my novel? Pretty swiftly he took over the whole thing.

The idea of the ‘eternal child’ complex or Peter Pan syndrome was absolutely fundamental to my understanding of Matty, and to making scenes with his psychiatrist credible. His mother’s death – giving birth to him – leaves Matty vulnerable, with lifelong guilt and a terrible distrust of women, whom he elevates into goddesses with such intense and high expectations that they can’t fail to disappoint him. He is stuck in life: the only tools he possesses for dealing with its vicissitudes are those of a child: needy, egoistic, wilful. The essence of this condition is the conviction that one is unusually special and set apart from the rest – an accusation often hurled at millennials – and it is this that is Matty’s undoing and which ultimately gives way to his zealous delusions of saviourhood. Matty in his chaos may be a reckless character to some but I came to feel profound sympathy for him, so the experience of writing him did, I suppose, flip my perspective on life.

Matty comes from a background of wealth and privilege, albeit shadowed by personal loss. Did you consider his hedonism the result of nature or nurture?

It’s a mixture, I think. Matty’s innate character predisposes him to cope very differently with life’s problems from his brother, Ben. Matty is by nature a sensitive, obsessive boy who becomes an anxious, compulsive and depressed man. His hedonistic ways provide an escape from himself and his intolerable feelings, and also perpetuate the cycle of being subject to them.

But, had he been shown love, protection and boundaries as a child he might have learnt ways to curb these tendencies. Instead he lives a motherless, unsettled existence at the mercy of his tyrannical and uninterested diplomat father, continually uprooted from country to country and condemned to leave behind figures that represent security and care. When Matty loses the two people closest to him, his brother and girlfriend, his partying and recreational drug use starts to drift into addiction with all its attendant risky behaviour and solipsism. It takes the perfect storm of trauma, guilt, substance abuse and denial for these traits to evolve into mental breakdown and messianic mania.

What is your favourite part of being a writer?

Writing! Thinking, dreaming, imagining. I love it when nebulous ideas and characters make the transformation into solid mental entities and they’re all I can think about. When I start dreaming about the story, I’m there.

Seeing my book in a bookshop is also pretty thrilling.

The novel I’m currently working on, Dreamtime, required a lot of research as it’s set around the US military bases of Okinawa, Japan. I loved travelling to these remote Ryukyu islands, talking to locals and marines about their experiences of the last 75 years and researching the magical folklore.

And your least favourite?

I found the public side of it all really hard at the beginning, as if I had to grow a new branch of my personality to thrust ahead of my real self for interviews and talks. But I found that there’s a part of me already developed that quite enjoys it when the time comes, even if I’m incredibly nervous, so I’ve learnt to trust that.

Ridiculously enough, answering ‘What is your book about?’ seems to be the most immensely difficult question for me, and I still find myself frozen at the prospect. I have no idea why.

As a published author, what is the best advice you have been given?

At my launch: ‘Get your friends to buy two books.’

More seriously, I can’t remember who said this but I think it’s true: every novel is a completely different experience, just as every child is. In many ways, on to book 2 is back to square 1, which is dismaying but also kind of liberating.

Do you seek out reviews of your books?

I wouldn’t say I seek them out exactly, but they tend to happen upon me. And I mostly like that, as I can learn from them. I have yet to deal with a real stinker, but I’d like to think I’ll be able to handle it. It’s part of the deal, like inuring yourself to rejection. In any case, I’d rather write the kind of books that elicit strong responses, positive or negative, than a bland, catch-all type. As in writing, so in life.

That said, I found the infighting of Goodreads a bit of a menace, so I leave that well alone.

What do you do when you wish to treat yourself?

I go somewhere new. I love exploring, whether it’s an unfamiliar London postcode or the other side of the world. Sitting by the sea in the sun with a glass of wine is just about my idea of heaven. Live music, dancing and imaginative, inventive cooking come a close second, and a bone shaking Chinese massage is always a livener.

What books have you read and enjoyed recently?

I’ve been very much enjoying Emma Jane Unsworth recently. I thought Animals was brilliant – the story of a fantastically dysfunctional female friendship threatened by one side’s imminent marriage. It’s witty, funny, philosophical and dark. I immediately sought out her first novel, Hungry, the Stars and Everything – just as good – and greedily await Adults, out this week.

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter was beautiful – the tale of a new mother fleeing London, flooded by an environmental catastrophe. I’m looking forward to her new novel, The Harpy.

I think Ottessa Moshfegh is a genius and loved My Year of Rest and Relaxation, and Lanny by Max Porter is extraordinary.

Who would you like to sit down to dinner with, real or from fiction, and why?

David Bowie, for the sheer glory of his chameleonic glamour, and his wit and poetry. I loved his Rolling Stone interview with William Burroughs – they can both come, then Paul Bowles will have a friend. I’d like him to be there as The Sheltering Sky is a big influence on my novel-in-progress, and I’m sure he’d love to discuss the ins and outs of my logistical problems.

Edward St Aubyn as well please, or Patrick Melrose if he’s not available. I like their heroic irreverence and iconoclasm. Finally, maybe Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes – together. I imagine they’d have more to say to each other than to me but I’d like to be there to witness it all.

What question has no interviewer asked that you wish they would?

Is Matty’s bad behaviour based on your own? I can see in their eyes that they want to ask but Matty’s such a mess they don’t feel they can. The answer is no. Everyone says the first novel is semi-autobiographical and there may be some truth in that. This is not my first novel, however – that was written during a failed emigration attempt to China and was about young people escaping the confines of society and building their own. It was a little self-indulgent, and yes, maybe drawn to some extent from real life, and though it found an agent, it was not published. Getting that one out of my system left me free to explore truer leaps of empathy in my second novel, and to fully inhabit someone other – a great relief in many ways. What Virginia Woolf wrote in ‘A Letter to a Young Poet’ resonates: that a person can learn to write most, ‘drastically and effectively by imagining that one is not oneself but somebody different. How can you learn to write if you write only about one single person?’ Matty does have some basis in reality, however. I have known hard-partying converts to religious fanaticism, and always wondered how and why that happens. I wanted to explore the internal experience.

These are by far the most interesting questions I’ve been asked so far. Thank you so much, Jackie, for such a thoughtful interview.

Mother of Darkness is published by Quartet Books

Venetia will be talking about her book at a Literary Lunch to be held at Bowood Hotel in Wiltshire on 5 March – you may find out more about this event here.

The lunch is one of a monthly series held throughout the year at Bowood to raise funds for the Wiltshire Bobby Van Trust.

Interview with Adrian Magson, author of Rocco and the Nightingale

Today I am delighted to welcome Adrian Magson, author of Rocco and the Nightingale, to my blog (you may read my review of the book by clicking here). This book is the fifth in the Inspector Lucas Rocco series but the first that I have read. Adrian has provided some excellent answers to the questions I sent him. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.

1. Can you tell my readers a little about yourself and your background?

I’m a full-time writer of crime and spy thrillers, the ‘Beginners’ columnist in Writing Magazine, an occasional reviewer for SHOTS Magazine, have written hundreds of short stories and features for women’s magazines, invented a knock-down post for use on motorways, am a black belt and former taekwondo instructor – and most importantly, I’m married to Ann and live in Gloucestershire.

2. Can you tell us about Rocco and the Nightingale?

Lucas Rocco is a French detective posted from Paris (Clichy) to the tiny village of Poissons-les-Marais in rural Picardie in northern France (‘Death on the Marais’) as part of a government initiative to spread investigative resources to the provinces. His previous work means he’s accumulated some enemies, and in particular has been blamed (wrongly) for the death of an Algerian gang leader, Samir Farek (‘Death on the Rive Nord’). Now Farek’s brother, Lakhdar, has vowed to get even, and has hired an international assassin called the Nightingale to bring Rocco down.

Rocco’s big problem is that nobody knows the faceless assassin’s real identity. When it becomes apparent that there have already been two unexplained murders nearby, one of another policeman disliked by Farek, and one a minor Paris street criminal turned informer, Rocco realises he’s running out of time.

In the meantime, Rocco has to carry on his job, as it’s business as usual and crimes in Picardie, as elsewhere, wait for no-one. And there’s his elderly neighbour, Mme Denis, and the fruit rats in his attic to keep happy…

3. What inspired the book? 

Quite simply I wanted to try something else.** After writing five London-based crime novels (the Riley Gavin/Frank Palmer series) and the first of the Harry Tate spy thrillers (‘Red Station’), I wondered whether I could use my childhood experience of living in France and write a detective story set in the area where I lived (Picardie). It was a punt, pure and simple, just to see if it would work. It did and turned into four books and a novella. I’d been wanting to write a fifth for a couple of years, but wasn’t able to, and had got involved with other projects. But now it’s happened, and ‘Rocco and the Nightingale’ , thanks to David Headley and Rebecca Lloyd of The Dome Press, finally got to see the light of day, and I’m delighted with what they’d done with it.

** All writing is like that, to me, anyway; a try-out to see if I can do it. Sometimes it doesn’t work, other times it does. I like the does times best.

4. When writing, are you an architect who researches and plans everything in advance or a gardener who plants an idea and allows it to develop organically?

Well, ‘Rocco and the Nightingale’ is my 22nd published book and I’ve tried the planning route before, but always seem to go off-piste shortly after the opening chapter. I therefore wouldn’t meet the title of architect; but I’m not really a gardener, which requires a fair modicum of planning and forethought. What I tend to do is find a small nugget of something which seems worth looking at, then write a scene which occurs to me to see where it goes. (Yes, it’s that unstructured). That scene can be anywhere in the potential story-line, front middle or end, and will be in a long line of other scenes which I’ll set about stitching together to make sense. I suppose if I am a gardener, I’m the kind who tosses a seed in the air and wanders back later to see if anything has happened.

5. What is your favourite part of being a writer?

Publication is always top of the tree, but finding the story coming together and gathering pace is part of the ongoing buzz. I like the editing process, too, because that’s when you add polish and correct all those niggling typos, as well as spotting (hopefully) any bloopers.

Hearing from readers is a huge plus (especially the ones who like the books), because that’s when you find out which characters they enjoy – an important point when writing a series.

6. And your least favourite?

The gap between projects. If I’ve just finished one book, I often find I’m not ready to slough off all the research, writing and editing and launch immediately into another. That’s when I get restless and start kicking the furniture and wondering if that’s my lot. It doesn’t usually last longer than a couple of weeks, but during that time I write shorter pieces, reviews or catch up on my reading (and polishing the furniture).

7. Do you enjoy using social media?

Not so much. It’s a distraction when I’m writing and I’ve simply got a short attention span. I also dislike the negative side of it from those people who seem to enjoy insulting others just because they can. I do enjoy the humour, though, which can be shocking, subversive and occasionally give you a coffee-through- the-nose moment. I came off SM last year for several months for a break, and it was a great relief.

8. How actively do you seek out reviews of your books?

If you mean Amazon, I don’t. It’s lovely to see the ones which pop up elsewhere, especially from readers who write in (and with whom you can communicate), but being given a 1-star on Amazon because of the price of the book, for example, is less welcome. I also don’t ask people to review my books, because it feels pushy.

9. What do you choose to do when you wish to treat yourself?

It might sound boring, but I’m not much of a self-treater. (That doesn’t mean I mind anyone else treating me instead!) I do enjoy going to the afternoon pictures with Ann, though, because that means I’m beyond reach or distraction for a couple of hours, I can pig out on sweets if I feel like it and it reminds me of when I used to go to the flicks when I was younger.

10. What books have you read and enjoyed recently?

I most recently enjoyed ‘Bloody Reckoning’ by Rafe McGregor, ‘The Accidental Detective’ by Michael RN Jones, ‘The Liar’ by Steve Cavanagh (audio) and am currently listening to ‘Smoke and Whispers’ by Mick Herron.

11. Who would you like to sit down to dinner with, real or from fiction?

My parents. They’re long gone, but there are lots of things I wish I’d asked them when they were here. They were also great company and enjoyed a laugh.

12. What question has no interviewer asked that you wish they would?

‘So, Adrian, how excited are you at the impending release date of the new Quentin Tarantino blockbuster film based on your novel (insert title here)?’

AM

This post is the final stop on the Rocco and the Nightingale Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

Rocco and the Nightingale is published by The Dome Press and is available to buy now.

Random Musings: On judging a book by its author

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October started with the alleged unmasking of the author Elena Ferrante, who has publicly stated on several occasions that she wishes her identity to remain unknown. Predictably the literary media went into overdrive. Fans were concerned, readers were incensed, everyone it seemed had opinions that they felt compelled to share. Newspapers commissioned comment pieces that were avidly re-posted on Twitter and Facebook. And some voiced wonder at what the fuss was about, and how much privacy those who choose to publicly promote their work can expect.

As this was happening I noticed an aggressive comment awaiting moderation below one of the older book reviews on my blog. The vitriol wasn’t aimed at me but rather at the author of the book. There was something about it that prevented me from simply discarding it as I do any comment that I believe could be deemed offensive – this is not what I wish to host on my blog. Instead I took the unprecedented step of tentatively contacting the commentator explaining why I would not be approving her words.

A few days later she replied. She knows the author. They have a history and it is not pretty.

“I am his ex partner who has just managed to escape an abusive relationship with this man with the help of the police. I am myself an artist, established. I am speaking out for all his ex lovers who have experienced extreme emotional and physical abuse […] to have the traumatic experience of reading about ourselves in his books, with a name change and a tweak here and there. I am trying to expose a con artist who through his charismatic and charming approach, has been given a platform to write about us and call it fiction, to be praised for his amazing transformation of character when myself, and his past lovers know full well that [he] is a misogynist, a self-confessed chronic liar […] a deeply cunning and manipulative man.”

There was more, and I have edited out what I hope is sufficient to mask his identity because, disturbing as all of this is, and allowing for the huge sympathy I have for any victim of domestic abuse, I do not feel qualified to enter such a personal battle. It did however get me thinking about what it means to support the creators of my beloved books. Does the character of the writer matter or simply the quality of their words?

With the current need for authors to take on some of the burden of marketing their books, more readers are meeting them face to face. I enjoy attending literary events and am delighted when I am granted the opportunity to chat to the authors, the vast majority of whom appear to be lovely individuals. Even so, I can think of a couple who did not present themselves in such a positive light. And then, shoot me now, it affected the way I think about their work.

Yet I don’t think it should. I cannot know these people based on a brief, public interaction. Whatever of themselves they choose to share, or keep private, it should not alter my judgement of their writing.

When I read articles about Woody Allen and the way he treated his daughter I vowed I would never watch another of his films. If I were to apply this thinking to classical writers I would be denying myself so many beautiful stories. Perhaps my discomfort only applies to the living, a wish to prevent the wicked from basking in esteem. And this is the point that I believe my commentator was making.

I do not consider that authors owe their readers anything. There will be threads within their stories whose foundations are personal experience, perhaps episodes they should and may regret. However much sympathy felt for any acquaintance wronged, it remains the author’s prerogative to keep private specifics of their own life. It does not change the quality, or otherwise, of their written words.

What do others think about this issue. In buying a book, in supporting the author’s work, is the reader in any small way complicit in the perpetuation of a writer’s behaviour? Should this affect a reader’s willingness to offer that support?

 

Author Interview: Dinah Jefferies

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When I approach an author I am unfamiliar with for an interview, it is usually because there has been something about the way they write that has intrigued me. Dinah Jefferies’ life has presented her with some significant challenges, which is perhaps why she can imbue her female protagonists with such depth of feeling and strength whilst avoiding clichéd or cloying descriptions. Her prose is deft, her characters real.

From the people she has created in her first book, The Separation, I got the feeling that this author is an adroit judge of character as well as an intelligent and talented writer. The steamy setting, with its 1950’s housewives and pompous husbands, could easily have placed her book in that much maligned genre of romantic ‘chick lit’. This is sidestepped cannily, although I suspect that fans of the genre will enjoy her writing. Alongside the passion and intrigue she offers nuance and insight whilst avoiding any suggestion of earnestness.

I was eager to find out more about the creator of this book so was delighted when she consented to be interviewed.

Please welcome to neverimitate, Dinah Jefferies.

Where do you typically write?

I always write in my little work room at the back of our terraced Victorian house. I have a desk for the computer, and a desk for writing notes and for plotting my novels, although by the time a book is complete the layers of notebooks are usually a foot deep. When I have a tidy up at the end it shocks me how much stuff I’ve accumulated. There’s probably enough material for half a dozen books.

Tell us about your writing process.

I start with a location; so far all my books are set in the East. Once I’ve picked a country I’ll read about the history and hope to find a time period that fascinates me. Usually I’ll choose a period of upheaval, where social change is happening or is about to take place, and often that process of reading will suggest an idea for the story. Of course a lot of time and heartache will have to go into developing the idea, and that tends to happen at the same time as I develop the characters. I’m known for strong female characters who undergo an emotional journey during troubled times, so I look for challenging situations for my main characters. My favourite stage is when I’m thinking about how I’ll weave the characters into the time and place I’ve chosen. I don’t plan everything in advance, although I know what my themes are and I know what drives the central story. I usually write a first draft and while reworking it the deeper story unfolds. Sometimes it is a little different from the original idea. It’s a complex process of discovery and it can keep me awake at night.

Tell us about your publishing experience.

Well all I can say is that my publishers at Viking/Penguin have been fantastic and I’ve enjoyed every part of the experience. Their offices are on the Strand in London overlooking the river, so I love going up there for meetings. They’re also extremely friendly people and that helps.

In what ways do you promote your work?

I do all the usual things: blog tours, interviews, signings. Also I give talks at bookshops, libraries and Literature Festivals. I shall be appearing at three festivals this October: Beverley, Cheltenham and Ilkley. I’m also to be found on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. I love Pinterest because I tend to think visually. I’ve been interviewed on the radio several times but have yet to do television. Hopefully I will at some point.

What are some of your current projects?

I’ve just finished the edits for The Tea Planter’s Wife set in Ceylon between 1925 and 1934 which will be published by Penguin and in translation next year. I really loved writing it and I’m very pleased with the end result. Now I’m working on my third book a complex story set in Vietnam – and therefore terrifically hard to write. I’m at the fingers crossed stage. It always happens somewhere along the line and, so far, I’ve found my way through. Writing ‘on the edge’ you could call it!

Where can my readers find you?

On Twitter: Dinah Jefferies (@DinahJefferies)

My  blog: Dinah Jefferies – Author  (www.dinahjefferies.com)

On Facebook: Dinah Jefferies – Author, Penguin UK

On Pinterest: Dinah Jefferies – Author

The Separation is available for purchase now, from the publisher, Amazon and all good bookshops.

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Dinah Jefferies was born in Malaya and moved to England at the age of nine. She still loves South East Asia and the Far East and jumps at the chance to travel there whenever she can. She once lived in a commune with a rock band, and has worked as an exhibiting artist. After also living in Italy and Spain, she now lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and very naughty Norfolk Terrier where she writes full time. The Separation is her first novel.

The Separation Cover Final - Front - Medium

 

Author Interview: Shelan Rodger

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How much does a book tell the reader about its author? I am told that a work of fiction will reflect a plethora of the author’s experiences: people they have met, films they have watched, books they have read, the life they have lived. When I read a story that makes me think particularly cogently or in a new way, I want to know more about the creator of the words. Sometimes I conclude that they are simply good inventors, that my interpretation of their book is as much down to the experiences and prejudices that I bring to the story as to the author’s inspirations. Other times, the more I uncover about the writer the more I consider how enjoyable it would be to sit down and get lost in a discussion with a person capable of expressing such thoughts as they do.

Shelan Rodger has said of her first book, ‘Twin Truths grew out of two things: a fascination with the meaning of personal identity and the conviction that there is never only one reality.’ In a world where we are encouraged to follow where others lead, to think in terms of black and white, it was inspiring to find a story that explores more deeply the meaning of identity and perception. I was delighted to find that the author of this fabulous tale weaves her thoughts on life as perceptively as those she includes in her book.

To quote Shelan again, this time on how we allow ourselves to be distracted by our own busyness: ‘Food for thought…what gives you food for thought, if you stop juggling for a moment, if you let it in?’ She talks of connecting with nature, of the beauty of stillness. Given how busy she is and how she values her time, I feel honoured that she agreed to take part in this interview.

Please welcome to neverimitate, Shelan Rodger.

Where do you typically write?

My favourite place is in front of a window. There is something about looking through a window that opens me, inspires me. The actual view from the windows I’ve written through over the last few years has changed quite dramatically – from a garden in Sussex to flower farms in Kenya to the volcanic coastline of Cabo de Gata where I currently live in the south of Spain!

Tell us about your writing process.

I don’t have a disciplined approach and I’m a bit of an all or nothing person. So I like to write when I know I’ve got a big chunk of time to myself and can get completely lost in it. I find that the writing process when it really flows is like a form of meditation. A combination of letting go and being alert, a state of mental relaxation that is almost passive, so that the words flow through you…I think it is this freeing of the subconscious that is probably behind the idea so often quoted by writers of ‘characters taking over’.

Writing a novel is a bit like having a relationship. As you get to know someone, you kind of live with that person in your head. It is also very much a journey in itself. I set out with a notion of the destination I want to get to but no real idea of how I’m going to get there

Tell us about your publishing experience.

It took ages to make it happen! I have a whopping great file of rejections, including a few rave ones. I was lucky enough to find an agent who never gave up. Last year, I was passing through London on a work trip to the States and had arranged to meet my agent, Broo Doherty, for lunch. I was expecting it to be a bit of a ‘so where do we go now’ kind of thing but at the last minute she sent me an email saying change of venue, we’re going to meet a publisher who is interested in making an offer for Twin Truths. The catch? They want to meet you first. Oh my God, I thought, so if they don’t make an offer it’s because of me, not even because of the book! It was nerve-racking – but I had no time to panic or prepare so off we went. They were called Cutting Edge Press, a small new Indie publisher, whose motto is ‘fiercely independent.’ I loved them! And the moment they said yes was a moment of pure euphoria. Writing is, after all, only one arm of a body; the other is being read.

In what ways do you promote your work?

Well, the first thing to say is that I’m a complete novice at this and the idea of ‘self-promotion’ makes me feel very uncomfortable. So it is very much a learning curve. I started engaging in social media and a friend designed a website for me. I had a launch party at Goldsboro Books in London, which was a lot of fun and drew friends from all sorts of corners of my life, for which I am deeply grateful. I would love to do a few readings or talk to book clubs or more things like this and I am sure there is much more I could be doing to make this happen. I’m a little challenged by where I live (south of Spain) and by the need to juggle all this beside a full time job. But I am keen to do more and I know that Cutting Edge Press are always on the look out for opportunities so it’s very much a team approach. In the end, though, I also see it as Twin Truths’ own journey – word of mouth, the power of individual personal response to the book itself, if people like it they will talk…

What are some of your current projects?

I assume you mean writing projects! Well, my second novel, which is also due to be published by Cutting Edge Press, is in its final stages. Set in England and Kenya during the post-election crisis of 2008, Yellow Room is a drama about the power of secrets to run our lives.

My third novel is still growing in my head. Working title: A Paper Trail. It’s inspired by something that happened two weeks before my father died: he found a novel he’d forgotten he’d written in his twenties, read it, changed the last line and handed it over to me. This was the last time I saw him. In my book, an unpublished manuscript by her father falls in to the hands of Elisa and takes her to Kenya, where a twist presents the one person from her past she never wanted to meet again. This is another psychological twisty tale with dark undertones.

Where can my readers find you?

On my website/blog: www.shelanrodger.com

Or my Facebook author page: www.facebook.com/ShelanRodgerAuthor

Or on Twitter: Shelan Rodger (@ShelanRodger).

Twin Truths‘ is available to buy from the publisher, Amazon and all good bookshops.

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Shelan’s life is a patchwork of different cultures and landscapes. Born in northern Nigeria, she grew up among the Tiwi, an aboriginal community on an island north of Darwin, and moved to England at the age of eleven. After graduating in Modern Languages from Oxford, she travelled to Argentina and stayed for nine years. Then another period in England followed by six years in Kenya on flower farms by Lake Naivasha and the lower slopes of Mount Kenya. She now lives in Andalucía, Spain. Her professional career has revolved around international education and learning and development, with an emphasis on anti-discrimination.

The worth of a writer

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There have been a number of newspaper articles published recently about how difficult it is for authors to make a living purely from the sale of their books. I hear the same story from established journalist friends, that the mainstream media pieces they are commissioned to write pay a pittance when balanced against the work required to produce them. Money to live on is earned elsewhere, with appearances in newspapers, radio and television a means of self promotion rather than significant income. High earners in these fields are the exception rather than the rule.

I do not subscribe to broadcast television, rarely listen to the radio, and read whatever news is allowed to be reported on line, for free. I still buy works of fiction, but this is mainly because I prefer the physical product to an electronic version. I find walls filled with books comforting, inspiring. I furnish my home with books, buying them to read, to share, to admire.

If I, as an ardent consumer of words in many forms, pay little for my consumption, then how can I expect to be paid for the drop in the ocean that my own output represents? Yet still I feel it has a value. It would seem that this view is not always shared by those close to me, which I see as an indictment on how our society measures worth.

When I tell people that I am a writer their first question is often about where I am published. ‘On line’, I reply. I watch the next question form before it is asked, ‘Do you get paid for that?’ When I admit that I do not they lose interest. In their eyes I am not a writer because I do not earn money from this occupation.

My on line bio explains that I am a wife, mother, hen keeper and writer, yet none of these pays me in cold, hard cash. My husband is kind enough to ensure that I am warm, clothed and fed, although in turn I am expected to cook, clean, support and organise our little household. I sell a few boxes of eggs to friends each week which helps to cover the cost of keeping my hens. They still make a monetary loss, as do most pets. Publishers send me books to review so this side of my writing habit costs little more than my time. Do you see what I did there? I consider it a bonus that such writing can be done for free, I do not expect payment.

Just as I chose to marry, have children and keep hens, so I choose to write. What interests me about recent discussions is how society values a person’s worth based on cash they earn rather than on what they are giving back. It is my view that books provide value beyond measure.

It has always been the case that some may be unable to pursue their creative talents due to their struggle to eat and pay for shelter. The recent discussions suggest that this situation is getting worse. Just as a quality education and timely healthcare are now being priced so that only the wealthy can afford them, so a career in the arts has become more difficult for those who do not have separate, financial backup. This does not make it merely a hobby though. A writer may need a day job in order to survive, but that does not make them any less of a writer.

I am sometimes asked how many people read my work, as if this will somehow make it more worthwhile. My answer to that question is, ‘Enough’. If my output went entirely unnoticed then perhaps I would give up. Whilst I dwell less now on my reader statistics than when I first started publishing my work, I do still value the feedback that I receive. Do I consider myself a writer because I produce words or because they are read? I do not know.

When I read about author incomes falling I feel sympathy for those who could once live comfortably from such earnings and now cannot. My sympathy wanes when they talk of a drop in quality if established writers are not paid more, of a dilution due to the ability of anyone to publish anything for minimal cost. I have read some fabulous works from new writers. In my experience it is not necessary to be established and known to be good, although I would guess that this helps with sales. There have always been badly written tomes, some of which sell surprisingly well. Who is to judge what makes a book good other than the reader?

I am sometimes perplexed that a little person like me claiming to be a writer can irritate those who have been successfully earning money with this pursuit for some time. I am no threat to them. I seek readers just as they do, but am content to remain in my own small corner of the internet, promoting other’s work. Of course I feel good when I receive any sort of appreciation, just as I do when my husband or children take notice of my efforts to improve our home, but I do not seek any sort of fame.

Success requires talent, hard work and luck. There are excellent writers who have produced great work yet still struggle to get noticed by the mainstream. If I can do just a little to help them with my reviews and promotions then I will feel that I have added value. I know that I am not a great writer, by definition we cannot all lay claim to such an accolade. Still though, I produce words and they are read. I will enjoy my small successes when they come, when I am shared more widely or offered some reward for my efforts. I would appreciate not being put down by those who count value only in cash.

The world is in constant flux and I see no benefit in fighting inevitable change. It is my belief that there will always be those who wish to write books, and some of these will be good. Of course I understand the frustration of those who need to earn their own living and cannot now do so from writing alone. This will not kill the written word though, writers write because they are driven to do so.

If you do not like the current situation and wish to offer support, then buy more books. Read widely, read diversely, explore new genres and authors. There are worlds out there to discover, contained within covers and pages. Why limit yourself when there is so much to learn? Support a writer in the best way possible, read their words.

Author Interview: Michael Nolan

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Michael Nolan writes because he has to, because he feels when he gets up in the morning that he has to put sentences together and strive for some sort of coherence. He has had a number of short stories published and is currently working on a full length novel. His debut novella, The Blame, was published by Salt earlier this month.

Michael studied Creative Writing at Liverpool and went on to achieve his MA at Queen’s University, Belfast. We were both raised in Belfast although decades apart and on different sides of the tracks. He may have grown up in a less troubled time, but cities retain their shadows; the disillusioned, disaffected and dispossessed. The Blame is set in Belfast and explores its raw underside along with the lingering influence of paramilitary organisations.

I first came across Michael when Salt began promoting their series Modern Dreams, of which The Blame is a part. I had noticed the call for submissions to this interesting initiative in January so decided to have a look at the writers they had accepted.

Michael’s name came to the fore because of our shared background. Our first communication occurred because I commented with some surprise that Belfast now has its own Book Festival, at which his novella will be introduced and launched by TS Eliot winning poet and Booker Prize Long-listed novelist, Ciaran Carson. He responded that the city has changed, yet his book explores so many aspects that remain the same. He has said that ‘The stagnancy of Belfast interests me. Or at least the people do. Belfast itself frustrates me.’ For me this captures the essence of the place and I wanted to know more about the young man who could express himself so succinctly.

Please welcome to neverimitate, Michael Nolan.

Where do you typically write?

At the moment it’s the breakfast bar in my mother’s kitchen. I’m back living with her in her one and half bedroom house. I say one and a half because the spare room, my current bedroom, is about an arms width wide and a single beds length long. There’s just about room for a set of drawers, a lamp and a floor-full of books. No window. No writing space, sadly. So my mother and I share the kitchen/ living-room area. Me with earphones on, strumming away at words on my laptop, her at her easel painting. Writer and artist, we’ve our own wee creative retreat going on in the centre of Dunmurry village. It’s nice and cramped and hopefully temporary. Now and then I hit a coffee shop or Linen Hall Library if I have the cash for a coffee and a bus, a rare occurrence these days.

Tell us about your writing process.

It differs depending on what I’m working on. Short stories usually come with some sort of image or situation. Then follows an elaboration, a voice and character I have to prod into existence. I don’t linger too long on the first draft. I bang out a few thousand words and see what happens. Then I’ll rewrite and rework until there’s some sort of coherence. Sometimes I set it aside for a few weeks or months and go back to it. Letting it go for a while helps.

The Blame was written in an intense three week burst in January. It’s probably the closest to home I’ve wrote and will write again. It had to be, because I was writing about issues and characters of a certain type I have encountered and knew in Belfast. But it wasn’t intentional. I didn’t set out writing them with the view that this was this person etc. They sort of leaked into the story. It’s only now, looking back, that I realise just how close to home I came. In some cases it was very close. Too close maybe. But the characters are as much me as anyone else. Someone I could’ve been maybe, or have been.

Writing the novel I’m working on now has been a more prolonged process. Again, the first draft came quickly over a couple of months last year. The rest of the time has been spent rewriting and doing the real stuff. The craft. I never used to like this. I never had the patience. I was hungry and eager and far too naïve for my own good. I wrote two novels in a year while doing the MA at Queen’s. It got me an agent, which was incredible, but not published. It took me to get to writing this third novel before I realised that getting the words down was only the beginning of the process.

It was an important moment and lesson for me. Being able to take a step back and be patient. Less of a hungry bastard. And I love it now. I love the cutting and the pulling and discovering what it is I’m trying to say. That’s what it’s all about really.

Tell us about your publishing experience.

My dear friend and wonderful woman Alicia Stubbersfield, knowing well the kind of things I tend to write, sent me a link to Salt’s website with the submission guidelines for Modern Dreams. Contemporary issues, inner-city life, young people. The next day I started writing and it all went from there really.

I got the news while in the cinema. My girlfriend and I had just sat down to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel. I love Wes Anderson films, so I was beyond excited. My packet of Minstrels were fresh open, popcorn perched on my knee and ready to be scoffed when I got the email from Jen Hamilton-Emery on my phone. It was the first time I had walked out of a cinema mid-film, and I felt terribly embarrassed about squeezing past people with my coat in hand. But we had to, and we had to go for a beer, ring my mother and laugh like two kids. It was fantastic. Still haven’t seen The Grand Budapest Hotel, but I’ll always associate it and the Odeon in Victoria Square Belfast with that night.

Being an eBook, the road to publication was quick. Three months between that night and publication. People are buying it and reading it and telling me they like it. It’s wonderful and frightening and a whole lot of other expletives I could go on listing and won’t. I will say Salt are an incredible bunch though. Such a small team (I think it’s just down to Chris and Jen Hamilton-Emery now) yet they are doing some extraordinary work. You only have to look at their authors – Alison Moore, Kirsty Logan, Lesley Glaisterto see that they are at the forefront of independent publishing. It’s wonderful to be part of it.

In what ways do you promote your work?

Well, that’s difficult because there’s a fine line between promoting your work and promoting yourself. I’m a bit uncomfortable with the whole thing. I think writers need to be careful, or at least be aware of what it is they’re doing and what intentions they have, especially on Twitter. Otherwise they become a drone, an endless plug of themselves, all links and amazon reviews and 5 stars.

Having said that, I do like Twitter. I like seeing what other like-minded and not so like-minded people are talking about, and getting my two cents in those rare occasions I have something clever or witty to contribute. That’s what it’s about. The whole interacting thing. Having banter and sharing articles and hearing what other people have to say. It can be good for writers and readers like that. Online publications are much more dynamic now and publishing real strong work. I’m thinking Honest Ulsterman and Colony, both of which use Twitter as an outlet. It’s a platform for them and provides readers with another way to access good writing. You can’t fault that at all.

It’s important for me to see Twitter in that way and not as a tool to create some sort of profile of myself. I hate that ‘author profile’ phrase that gets thrown about. It makes me cringe. But yes, to actually answer the question, I use Twitter, and I admit that I occasionally post a tweet about something Ive published or a link to my book, but I feel dirty after and have to shower at least five times.

What are some of your current projects?

The novel I’ve previously mentioned is taking up most of my time. Now and then I’ll rewrite a bit of a short story, or dabble in some blog writing, but the novel is my main focus. It needs to be. I don’t want to say much about it though.

Where can my readers find you?

@micknolan90 is my Twitter name and The Deaf Hollow is my blog.

You can buy The Blame at the Amazon.co.uk Kindle Store and at Amazon.com.

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Michael Nolan grew up in West Belfast where he spent much of his youth being up to no good. He was 13 years old when he wrote his first novel, a 100,000 word unfinished rip-off of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings that he was sure would be a bestselling, Booker Prize winner.

He grew up, matured and became less delusional, a bit, and completed a BA in Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moore’s University, then the MA at Queen’s University, Belfast, in 2012. While in Liverpool, he was selected by the Literature Officer at The Bluecoat to read at their ‘Next Up’ writer’s series, and was editor of In the Red Magazine’s 9th issue. He has published several short stories, and won the LJMU Avalon Prize for poetry in 2012.

Since then he has spent much of his time working in bars and nightclubs to keep himself afloat. He divides his time between hopelessly sending out CV’s for better paid jobs, writing books and scrawling through Twitter.

Michael’s debut novella, The Blame, was published by Salt in June 2014. There will be an official launch type celebration featuring an introduction by Ciaran Carson as part of the Belfast Book Festival on the 10th June.

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Author Interview: Sarah Benwell

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Sarah Benwell writes fiction for young adults. She has a particular fondness for travel and foreign places, both in real life and in her stories. Alongside her writing, Sarah delivers literacy workshops for teenagers and works on various social media and online websites.

She is an advocate of diversity, in life and on bookshelves. Her involvement with Diversity League has recently gained prominence through the amazingly successful #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign.

I first became aware of Sarah’s work when her name started to crop up amongst the outer circle of my daughter’s writer friends; there is nothing like a personal contact, even if a few times removed, to generate interest. Having investigated the work that she and others are doing to raise awareness of the current lack of diversity in popular fiction for young people, I knew that I wanted to know more.

Please welcome to neverimitate, Sarah Benwell.

Where do you typically write?

The short answer is, ‘anywhere I can’. The long answer: I’d prefer to write on trains and planes, deep in the jungle or lakeside in The Serengeti. And I sort of do – I always have a notebook with me – but I also find it really hard to write for any length by hand, so the majority of it gets done at my desk, surrounded by my wall of post-it notes.

Tell us about your writing process.

Hm. I think this is always an evolving thing. I recently realized that, despite always maintaining that I only have the brainspace to work on one project at once, I currently have seven on the go (what? I don’t even know how that happened!). And before the latest WIP I would have sworn that the hardest part was always the first 8k, but this time the hard part kept on going.

I can tell you that for me, situation and character appear almost simultaneously. It’s like ‘how would I/ someone deal with this weird/ awful/wonderful thing?’ and invariably a character who would find themselves in that situation– usually someone from an entirely different kind of life to my own – walks into my head.

And I can tell you that diversity is always at the heart of what I do. I’m fascinated by the perpetual difference:sameness of us all, and all the facets of that. My world isn’t populated by white, middle class, straight. cisgendered, able-bodied, neuro-typical protestants who all live in the west, in nuclear families, with identical problems. But it doesn’t mean we can’t relate. Life isn’t just one story, and I don’t want my books to be, either.

And because I’m usually writing (at least in part) as an outsider, I try to be careful and respectful; to do everything I can to ensure fair, accurate representation. Research is important. Experience or firsthand accounts, insider knowledge and opinions are essential. Seeking out art (in all its forms) and observing the way language works and always, always asking questions (and listening to the answers). We’re lucky. The internet opens all those doors; we just have to seek them out.

Tell us about your publishing experience.

If you want the full and lengthy story, you can read more about the journey to my first book deal here. Since that deal, I’ve been very, very lucky to work with the wonderful Becky Stradwick at RHCP UK, and with the brilliant David Gale at S&S US. They have very different approaches, and I’ve benefited hugely from that. Plus, it’s kind of nice to know that the ‘no one way’ rule applies everywhere, not just to writers. Diversity FTW.

In what ways do you promote your work?

I don’t, as such. I mean, it would be lovely if people seek out my writing (it’s not out yet, or I might slip a shameless plug in here) but I’m not entirely comfortable yet with the idea of self promotion as an active, deliberate thing.

What I do, though, is interact. Not for sales and gaining interest, but because I love this world that we live in. I love being part of the writing community (IRL and online), whether that means running workshops that enable teens to engage with their creative selves, beta-ing for Twitter friends or just being there.

I’m also, er, not good at keeping quiet about the things which are important to me. If there’s a book I love, you’re going to hear about it (and so will the author, probably). I talk about articles I’ve read, and am always on the lookout for discussions, especially where YA/ publishing/diversity are concerned. I want to be well informed. I want the tools to make a difference. And I want my friends to be too, because no one can do that alone.

It’s not about my work. It’s about ours, and the collective difference we can make to the world.

What are some of your current projects?

I can’t talk about everything. You’d be bored in 5 minutes. But my current WIP moves away from the stillness of Last Leaves, and into the land of Bollywood. It’s mad. Mumbai is a pretty crazy place, and the film industry is even more so. I’m playing with form, and colour and busy rhythms, and blurring the lines between reality and fiction just a little; it’s basically a Bollywood movie, except on the page!

On top of that, I’m collaborating with some wonderful people on things I hope I can share soon, and I have a couple of secret things lined up.

And there’s always my non-writing projects; things like the Young Writers Squad, where I get to work with enthusiastic teens and initiate them into this wonderful, crazy book-world that we live in. Best. Thing. Ever.

Where can my readers find you?

There will be a website, coming soon, but it’s not finished yet.

In the meantime, I’m pretty much always lurking on Twitter, either as Sarah Benwell (@SWritesBooks) or DiversifYA (@DiversifYA).

The Last Leaves Falling is now on Goodreads.

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Sarah Benwell is a YA author, teacher, traveller, mad.

Will always rise to a challenge, even when it involves giant hairy spiders. For lunch.

Lives in Bath, England but prefers living in books or on planes or trains or remote unmapped places.

Advocate of diversity in life and bookcases.

Rep’d by Gill McLay. The Last Leaves Falling is her debut novel, coming spring 2015 from Random House UK.

Author Interview: Beth Webb

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Beth Webb writes fantasy fiction for children and young adults. She is the author of The Fleabag Trilogy and The Star Dancer Quartet as well as a number of beautifully illustrated books featuring dragons, witches and cats.

I first met Beth at Kilve Court when my daughter attended one of the amazing Creative Writing courses that she runs there for gifted and talented youngsters. All three of my children have attended many courses at this fabulous residential centre, but Beth stood out amongst the leaders as truly inspirational. My daughter still keeps in touch with Beth and some of the other young writers she met while on these courses. This eclectic group provide creative encouragement and friendship in equal measure.

As well as her writing courses, Beth runs workshops at schools and libraries throughout the south west of England. She is a busy lady so I was delighted when she agreed to this interview.

Please welcome to neverimitate, Beth Webb.

Thanks for inviting me.

Where do you typically write?

Ideas can pop up any place, any time, but when I sit down to do my work properly, I am at home in my study, on my faithful Mac.

Tell us about your writing process.

The courses I run at Kilve are terribly important to me. I love the kids I work with – they inspire me, and keep my mind fresh and alive. The students help me as much as I help them. They challenge and criticise me. They keep my writing fresh and relevant. I value what my students think of my work more than any highly paid editor in London!

As to how a book actually gets born: I very rarely have an ‘Athena’ moment when an idea pops out of my head fully grown and ready for action, but it has been known. Mostly I have ‘thunks’. These are friendly ideas that come to play and muck around in my head for a year or two – I make notes and talk to them, decide whether they have potential either as full novels – or just as short stories. I extend the idea in a large notebook, then one day I just start writing – often when I least expect it.

From a twinkle in my eye to beginning to write properly can take years, then although I can physically write a 50,000 word book in 2-3 months, the editing process to publication can take up to another two years.

A good story is like a vintage wine or an excellent cheese – it takes time to mature.

Tell us about your publishing experience.

Long, varied, and rather boring. I prefer small publishers to the bigger multinationals, but I’m afraid it’s all very political and a bit nasty out there.

In what ways do you promote your work?

In theory, my publishers set up talks, festivals and speaking engagements for me. In practice I have to organise most of that sort of stuff for myself, although I do have a friendly freelance publicist who helps too.

Luckily I love going to literary events, and I can talk for England, so that’s all great fun. Now I’ve learned to do Powerpoint, I can show my illustrations and photos of places and things that have inspired me. This means I can involve my audience a lot more, which I think is really important.

I do Facebook and Twitter, but I don’t have time to blog, although I’m always happy to write for someone else’s (Thanks Jackie!)

Best of all I like talking to and running workshops for the people I write for, introducing them to my worlds and my characters – all of whom I love dearly.

These days authors have to be performers to get our work noticed, but there are quite a few of us out there, all jostling to be noticed. We are a nice bunch of people, and it’s not easy to use your elbows when you’re with people you like!

What are some of your current projects?

I’m currently re-vamping my Fleabag trilogy and adding in illustrations, but that is a slow process. I have a couple of novels and some collections of short stories I’m cooking slowly.

I also illustrate and write books for adults with learning disabilities (Books Beyond Words). I have two of those on the go at the moment, so not much time to breath or do the housework or cut the lawn… (Any excuse!)

Where can my readers find you?

I’m on Facebook: Beth Webb

Twitter: Beth Webb (@bethwebbauthor)

Amazon: Beth Webb

Goodreads: Beth Webb

and have a personal website: About Beth | Beth Webb.

 

Beth wanted to write since she was about 3, scribbling on paper and folding the ‘pages’ between bits of cardboard. She studied Sociology and Psychology at university then became a hippy in a houseboat in Amsterdam, with a spell in a Bavarian castle. Since then she’s been a journalist (which she wasn’t good at), a radio broadcaster (which she loved), a cook, a cleaner and a mum to four amazing kids.

Beth wrote her first children’s book, ‘The Magic in the Pool of Making‘, to encourage her eldest son to want to read. The next thirteen titles followed slowly but surely, bringing dragons, talking cats and fire-wielding druid girls to the page.

She studied for her MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa, and subsequently has taught writing for the Open College of the Arts and the University of Lancaster ‘Crossing Borders’ project in Africa.

Beth lives near Taunton in Somerset (UK) with two disreputable moggies who rule her life. She teaches writing to children and young adults at Kilve Court Residential Education Centre in Somerset.

As well as writing, Beth is also a performance storyteller, working from Orkney to Cameroon, and has even braved Glastonbury to tell stories in the mud! Beth also illustrates for Books Beyond Words – innovative publishing for adults with learning disabilities.

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‘Firemaiden’ by Beth Webb

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.