Interview with Jane Davis; Author of A Funeral For An Owl

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Welcome to another author interview, where this time I am joined by award-winning author Jane Davis, whose fantastic book A Funeral For An Owl was my Indie Book Of The Month for February. Read on for a fascinating insight into Jane’s publishing and writing journey so far.

1) For those who are new to your work, how would you best describe your genre?

I write about big subjects and give my characters almost impossible moral dilemmas. I don’t allow them a shred of privacy. I know what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, the lies they tell, their secret fears. But I only meet them at a particular point on their journeys, usually in a highly volatile or unstable situation, and then I throw them to the lions. How people behave under pressure reveals so much about them.

2) When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Why do you write?

I recently filled in an author survey. There was an entire section asking about early writing experiences. What was the first story you wrote? Did you win any writing competitions while at school? I began to think, ‘I’m not a writer. I’m a failed artist.’ It wasn’t that I didn’t make up stories as a child, but instead of words, I used pictures. Right up to my O-Level year, I spent most of my spare time drawing and painting. I’d always assumed that I would make a career in art. It was the one thing I was good at. And then came a hard blow. The examiners didn’t like my work. This knocked my confidence so the extent that I changed plans, left school and entered a career where judgement of good and bad results was far more objective. I didn’t turn to writing until my mid-thirties.

Fiction provides the unique opportunity to explore one or two points of view. It’s never going to provide the whole answer, but it forces writer and reader to walk in another person’s shoes. And, in many ways, it is the exploration and not the answer that’s important. I think the idea of a single truth is flawed. I have a sister who is less than a year older than me but our memories of the same events differ substantially.

As my collection of books grows, I’m beginning to see them as my legacy. As someone who doesn’t have children, they are the mark I will leave on the world. So another reason for writing – one that I didn’t think about in my mid-thirties when I started to write – is to create a legacy that I can be proud of.

3) Can you tell us about your publishing experiences so far?

There’s a graphic that regularly does the rounds. It’s made up of two graphs. The first goes under the caption, ‘what you think your career will look like’ and it’s upwards all the way. The caption for the second is ‘what it will actually look like.’ A roller-coaster. That’s my experience of publishing.

My first attempt at writing a novel didn’t make it as far as being a book, but it did earn me the services of a literary agent and the words, ‘Jane, you are a writer’, which sounded far more glamorous than ‘Jane, you are an insurance broker’. There was a draft contract from a small publisher, but before the ink could dry, the small publisher was eaten up by a big publisher.

My second novel won the Daily Mail First Novel Award. I was going to be the next Joanne Harris. But a couple of months after publication of Half-truths and White Lies, Transworld rejected my follow-up – and it’s the book you’ve asked me to talk about today. It was beautifully written, but it wasn’t ‘women’s fiction’. There was no point arguing that I hadn’t set out to write women’s fiction. No meant no.

I carried on submitting manuscripts. One had already won an award for its opening chapter. Surely two awards would open doors? By 2012, I felt like the writer in Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys who attends the same conference year after year with a different edit of the same novel. A novel which continues to be rejected, albeit for slightly different reasons.

There was another path, but I’d been resisting it. I didn’t explore self-publishing until I attended a conference at the tail-end of 2012. I’d believed the line I had been sold that self-publishing wasn’t something a self-respecting author who wanted a long-term career should consider. But I was fired up by what I saw. Established authors who’d been dropped by publishers were rubbing shoulders with novices who’d priced their e-Books at 99p, and sold 100,000 copies within a year. This was a revolution! Was I out or was I in?

I decided I was in. Though I made rookie mistakes, reviews were positive. The next time, I did better. I grew my team of professionals. I now have self-published six titles under my own imprint. My fifth, An Unknown Woman, won Writing Magazine’s Self-published Book of the Year Award 2016 and was shortlisted for two more awards. I’m learning all of the time.

4) Tell us about A Funeral for an Owl – what inspired this book?

You’re asking me to go back a long way now! A Funeral for the Owl was the fourth novel I published, but it was the second novel I wrote.

It started life as the story of thirty-year-old Jim recounting the story of his nine-year-old self’s friendship with Aimee, a girl from the other side of the tracks. Most of the action took place over a six-week period, the summer holidays. The reader was left in no doubt that Aimee killed herself. One of my colleagues had committed suicide leaving behind two teenage children, and this event and its aftermath were very much on my mind.

Then I asked myself, who Jim is telling his story to? Is he in therapy? Is it one of the doctors who saved his life? The twist was that it was St Peter and that Jim was an atheist. He got a second chance and woke up on the operating table. My agent loved it! She said that we should put it out there immediately.

But Transworld, my then publisher, exercised their right of first refusal. My book lacked a strong female character and I’d been published under their women’s fiction imprint, something that had completely passed me by. And so I set the manuscript aside and got on with writing I Stopped Time and These Fragile Things. But I held onto a soft spot for Jim and his owl story. The material was too good to shelve. And so, when I came to the end of my next project, I began to re-write it.

Unless you want to be pigeon-holed as an author of Christian fiction, you can’t play the religion card twice. Having exhausted this with These Fragile Things, St Peter had to be shown the door. In the meantime, knife crime had risen dramatically in London. My story already had knife crime in it, so I explored where I could take that.

I added two new characters, Ayisha, another teacher and a pupil, Shamayal. By layering his story with Jim’s, I was able to reflect on cause and effect. It was an opportunity to acknowledge the enormous changes I have witnessed over the past twenty or so years. The cultural mix – in my South London middle school there was only one black family. My friends’ children simply cannot understand how we survived without mobile phones in the ‘olden days’ and why there are so few photographs of us. Children and adults were members of different species. Gangs were very different things then. Children didn’t kill children. Today, hearing about gang fights is unavoidable. I read a lot of personal accounts during my research, including one teenage victim who was dumped in a garbage bin and left for dead. Sadly, there are lots of truths in my book.

5) Tell us about your writing process – how does it all come together?

As you can probably tell, I am a layer-er. With the exception of Half-truths and White Lies, which virtually wrote itself, none of my published novels bear any resemblance to their early drafts.

All of my books go through numerous rounds of self-editing before I show them to anyone. Then I use a team of about thirty-five beta readers to road test them. They give me all sorts of valuable insights.

After that comes the structural edit. With A Funeral for an Owl, it was my structural editor – the mother of teenage children – who pointed out that there were some flaws in my initial ‘research’ (or lack of). It was while I was ironing out those issues that I unearthed another major flaw: I had failed to take account of the fact that it’s thirty years since I left school. The behaviour of my teachers would have been illegal under current Child Protection laws. All of the information I needed was available on the local government website, had I realised I needed it. Then it struck me that this provided a huge opportunity. I could change the focus of the novel: what kind of boy would it take to make two teachers put their jobs on the line? And it gave the plot a new momentum.

My angle was the suggestion that some of the rules that have been put in place with the best of intentions – to protect – actually deprive the most vulnerable children of confidential counsel from someone they trust. Not everyone will agree with that view but, when I was growing up, we had a wonderful teacher who operated an open-house and provided a safe place for those who were struggling at home, no questions asked. It was surprising who would turn up at her door. Today, in an environment when any relationship between teachers and pupils outside the classroom is taboo, she would be sacked. I think that’s terribly sad. Fiction provides a unique opportunity to tell one side of a story through the eyes of one or two characters. It’s not the whole picture by any means, but it is one aspect of it.

Every time you introduce a new angle, each What if? question has to be pushed to its limits. Writing in such an organic manner is hardly ideal, and I would certainly never recommend it, but setting material aside and revisiting it is an excellent practice. It allows far greater objectivity. You have to analyse what isn’t working any why.

Writing is very much a learning process. I’d like to think that my writing had improved by the time I returned to Owl. I went back and polished every page, really concentrating on the short-lived relationship between Jim and Aimee. Young as Jim was, even though there was an age difference, even though their relationship didn’t develop, there would have been sexual attraction. Ignore something as critical as that, even if you think it might be taboo, and the writing you produce is dishonest. When someone has spent years dwelling on a very short period of time, on events that gained greater significance afterwards, you aren’t simply reporting facts. Jim would have embellished the story in his mind. The Aimee the reader meets is the memory of the memory of the memory. She had to shine, everything she said had to carry a message, and the summer had to feel endless. My job was to convince the reader that these few events shaped a man’s life.

6) What comes first for you? The characters or the plot?

The characters, always. Get them right and they do the hard work for you.

Nailing the voice of Shamayal, my disenfranchised contemporary teenager was crucial. Can I get this out of the way? I’m white, middle(ish) class and born in the 1960s, writing the voice of an under-privileged mixed race boy, born in the 1990s. The first property I bought was a two-bedroom flat on the High Path Estate in Wimbledon. This was my blueprint for my fictional estate. Although I haven’t walked in his shoes, living where Shamayal grew up, I have walked in his footsteps. Then, I borrowed a few mannerisms from someone I used to work with – the repetition of Right, right, right. The deep laugh. I watched a few episodes of Toy Boy and (tell me if you can get arrested for this) I jotted down conversations overheard on trains and in my local park. Of course, you could never actually transcribe teenagers’ speech patterns. They would be completely unreadable. After you delete all of the ‘likes’ and the majority of expletives, what you aim to arrive at is a sanitised version which still sounds authentic. Think Ronnie Barker’s approach when he wrote the script for Porridge.

It’s a joy to write characters like Shamayal and Bins (an elderly man who is assumed to have learning difficulties) because they have such unique voices. You can hear them speaking to you. It’s far more difficult to write dialogue for an ‘everyman’, like my main character, Jim. To do that, you have to find your character’s quirks and vulnerabilities and exploit the hell out of them.

7) Do you write with a particular theme or message in mind, and if so what might it be?

A Funeral for an Owl shares its central theme with Half-truths and White Lies, I Stopped Time, and to a lesser extent These Fragile Things, that is, the influence missing persons have on our lives. Whether an absent parent, the child who never was, a friend who died an untimely death, the object of our unrequited love who finds a love of his own, or friends we lose touch with, we all collect them, particularly as we get older.

I found myself studying the Missing Persons ads in The Metro, the fourteen and fifteen-year-olds whose stories aren’t sufficiently high-profile to land them on the pages of newspapers. They’re simply slipping between the cracks. And so I looked into the facts. At that time, one in ten children ‘ran away’ from home before they reach the age of sixteen, an estimated 100,000 every year. Shockingly, a quarter of those young people are actually forced out of their homes by parents or carers. Two-thirds aren’t even reported as missing. That’s 75,000 children for whom a Missing Persons ad will never be placed. All of these children are highly vulnerable, at risk of substance abuse, sexual exploitation and homelessness. Mobile phones and social networking sites have made it even easier to target them. I include a particularly poignant quote from Lady Catherine Meye at the beginning of my novel. “We can’t establish for certain how many children are missing. You’d have more chance of finding a stray dog.”

7) Do you find it hard to say goodbye to your characters? And if so, which character from A Funeral for an Owl would you like to revisit the most?

The truth is that I’ve never actually said goodbye to the characters in Owl. I’ve blurred the lines between my lives and theirs by including some of my personal history and setting their stories in my local neighbourhood. There’s something transportative about living in the same area all of your life; walking around familiar geography, knee-deep in the history of the place. And superimposed over a street map carried both inside and outside your head (the housing estate that now stands on the site of your old high school), are important milestones. When you learned to ride a bike. Your first kiss. The first flat you owned. But when I started setting fiction within my personal geography, I added an additional strata. Now when I walk in my local park, I see Jim pausing to stretch on his daily run. I see Aimee showing him the heron. We live with our characters so long that they’re kin to us. In a way, we know them better than friends and family, because we’ve seen through their eyes and know their every thought.

But you asked about my favourite character in Owl and that has to be Bins. Some readers assumed he was autistic, but that wasn’t my intention. I suffered from depression for many years and, in an age when suicide statistics speak for themselves, I enjoy celebrating people who’ve found their own ways of living. In my local town we have a wizard who walks the length of the high street in his full regalia, complete with a black cat on his shoulder; we have a very masculine-looking Scotsman who wears a very badly-fitting cotton floral dress; we have a man who goes about with a tank strapped to his back spraying the air, and a young chap who stands on street corners conducting the traffic, and singing hymns at the top of his voice. These are all logical responses to an insane world. Small communities – and children in particular – accommodate people who don’t fall into our narrow definition of what’s ‘normal’. It was only when watching a programme about the artist Chuck Close that I became aware of the condition Prosopagnosia, or ‘face blindness’, and appreciated how someone who didn’t appear to recognise people he’d met dozens of times before might be treated as if he was stupid, and if he was treated as if he was stupid, how he might eventually come to believe that.

8) Do you have a day job, and if so, does it help your writing in any way?

I left school at the age of sixteen, so I had time to fit in a twenty-five-year career in insurance before I left full-time employment to write. I was promoted to management at the age of twenty-one and appointed to the board of directors at the age of twenty-six. I’m not sure I would have found the confidence to write unless I’d had those opportunities – and unless I knew that my opinions were taken seriously. As a writer with a part-time job, I live on a very tight budget, so the days that I go up to the city feel like outings. In fact, my walk across London Bridge, through the city and along the riverside path provided plenty of inspiration for my new novel, Smash all the Windows.

8) Tell us about your next release

As you can probably sense from the title, the novel began with outrage. I was infuriated by the press’s reaction to the outcome of the second Hillsborough inquest. Microphones were thrust at family members as they emerged from the courtroom. It was put them that, now that it was all over, they could get on with their lives. ‘What lives?’ I yelled at the television.

For those who don’t know about Hillsborough, a crush occurred during the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, killing 96 fans. A single lie was told about the cause of the disaster: In that moment, Liverpool fans became scapegoats. It would be twenty-seven years before the record was set straight.

I didn’t want to be the one to add to the pain I saw on their faces, so I created a fictional disaster. And because writing should always take you outside your comfort-zone, I combined two of my fears – travelling in rush hour by Tube, and escalators. The book is about the emotional fallout. It’s very much a story of human resilience.

9) What will you be working on next?

Do you know, I have absolutely no idea. I never start work on the next book until the current one is published, so I haven’t even starting thinking about it yet.

12) What is your approach to marketing and self-promotion?

One of the joys of self-publishing is deciding how to present your work and I’m very involved in the cover design process, coming up with the concepts and sourcing the photographs. My brief to my designer is that I wanted my books to look like a set and that there are elements that are instantly recognisable.

I’m very active on social media and I try to extend my reach by interviewing other authors in the hope that their audiences will also enjoy my fiction. I’ve also had enormous support from the book blogging community, especially for my forthcoming release. Most book bloggers have full-time jobs and they’re not paid, but the ones who reply to me say they receive upwards of 500 requests a month. I think we really have to treasure them.

The truth is that what worked a few years ago in terms of promotion no longer works. BookBub is seen as the Holy Grail, but since traditional publishers have jumped on board, it’s increasingly hard to secure a spot. The economics of Facebook advertising didn’t work for me. The problem is that eBook prices are artificially low, and we pay the same as someone who is selling an item that costs hundreds of pounds. For me, the game-changer at the moment is Amazon Marketing Services. It’s only available on Amazon.com, but we’re told will be coming to the UK. That’s where my marketing budget goes at the moment.

Bio

Hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch’, Jane Davis is the author of eight novels.

Jane spent her twenties and the first part of her thirties chasing promotions at work, but when she achieved what she’d set out to do, she discovered that it wasn’t what she wanted after all. It was then that she turned to writing.

Her debut, Half-truths & White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award 2008. Of her subsequent three novels, Compulsion Reads wrote, ‘Davis is a phenomenal writer, whose ability to create well-rounded characters that are easy to relate to feels effortless’. Her 2015 novel, An Unknown Woman, was Writing Magazine’s Self-published Book of the Year 2016 and has been shortlisted for two further awards.

Jane lives in Carshalton, Surrey with her Formula 1 obsessed, star-gazing, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. When she isn’t writing, you may spot her disappearing up a mountain with a camera in hand. Her favourite description of fiction is ‘made-up truth’.

Blurb

Twenty years of change. One person who cares

A photograph of a barn owl in flight.

“The wings, all spread out and that? They’re kind of like an angel’s.” He’s right.It’s Aimee’s owl, Aimee’s angel.

Times have changed. Jim Stevens teaches history. Haunted by his own, he still believes everyone can learn from the past.

14-year-old Shamayal Thomas trusts no one. Not the family, not the gang. And at school, trusting people is forbidden.

“If you decide you gotta pick up that phone, you tell me first so that I can disappear myself. Because I ain’t havin’ none of that.”

The best way to avoid trouble, thinks Ayisha Emmanuelle, is to avoid confrontation. As an inner-city schoolteacher, she does a whole lot of avoidance.

One shocking event – a playground stabbing – leaves a life hanging in the balance. Two teachers risk their careers to help a boy who has nothing. Three worlds intersect and connect, regardless of the rules. History doesn’t always repeat itself.

A powerful exploration of the ache of loss set in a landscape where broken people can heal each other.

‘All the heartbreak of A Kestrel for a Knave (Kes) and then some. Imagine Billy Casper living in South London in the 1990s.’

Universal buy link for A Funeral for an Owl is https://books2read.com/u/4DoGRk

Amazon UK paperback https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1493504088

Also by the Author

Half-truths & White Lies

I Stopped Time

These Fragile Things

An Unchoreographed Life

An Unknown Woman

My Counterfeit Self

Smash all the Windows

Contact

Website: https://jane-davis.co.uk

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JaneDavisAuthorPage

Twitter: https://twitter.com/janedavisauthor

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/janeeleanordavi/boards/

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Interview With Author Miriam Hastings

As you know, I’ve started a new feature on this blog where I pick the best Indie book I read that month, share it with you and then interview the author. The best book I read in January 2018 was The Minotaur Hunt by the award-winning Miriam Hastings as highlighed in this post. Miriam kindly agreed to an interview and here it is! You can find Miriam’s bio and links at the end of this post.

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1. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Why do you write?

I never made a conscious decision to be a writer, I need to write and always have. I have been making up stories ever since I can remember and writing them down from the moment I learned to write.

I have always had a vivid imagination and when I was a child I spent a lot of time in fantasy worlds that I created. I think I write fiction as an adult to meet the same needs I had then. This is partly a need to escape from reality when it’s too unbearable, but also a need to address the problems life poses by approaching them from a more creative angle. Writing is a way of taking control of reality because you can shape it and reshape it through words, expressing your own experience and vision of the world and, through doing that, you can transform reality into something greater.

2. Can you tell us about The Minotaur Hunt – what inspired you to write this particular book?

I wrote The Minotaur Hunt in my late 20s (it was first published when I was 31). I suffered from an extreme anxiety disorder as an adolescent, caused by childhood trauma, and was admitted to an adult acute ward when I was 14 and kept there for three and a half months. I was admitted to hospital again when I was 23.

Later, after I was 26, while I was writing the novel, I worked with people who had been moved out of the big asylums like Bradley. First I was working in a MIND day centre and then in a group home.

I was also studying for a part-time BA degree and designing and hand painting ceramic tiles, so it was an extremely busy period in my life! I used to write for half an hour every evening – I doubt The Minotaur Hunt would have been written if I hadn’t done that! But it was as if I had no choice – I felt driven to write the novel no matter what else I was doing at the time.

Throughout my 30s and 40s, I continued working part-time in the field of mental health, both doing therapeutic work with service users and also teaching on courses for mental health professionals, e.g. training courses for psychiatric nurses, social workers, psychologists, etc.

I wrote The Minotaur Hunt because I wanted to help people understand what it feels like to suffer from mental distress and to be labelled as “mad” or “mentally ill”, and the way it renders you totally illegitimate within society, so that your feelings and experiences are dismissed and pathologised, your experience of past trauma is disbelieved, and the social and family problems causing your distress are ignored and never addressed.

I also wanted to help bring about change within the psychiatric system because I had both experienced and witnessed so much abuse.

Looking back on it, I’m amazed at my own naiveté and arrogance – that I imagined my novel could change such a vast and impervious system! Sadly, I don’t think the closing of the big Victorian asylums has changed attitudes or brought about improvements in the way service users are treated, as I once hoped.

3. What is your writing process? How does it all come together?

In the years when I was studying and teaching it was often hard to find the time to write regularly. Now I like to write for at least an hour or two every day, but I am disabled with a progressive degenerative illness and these days my major problem is living in chronic pain and suffering from stiffness and weakness in my hands and wrists which make the physical act of writing difficult. I have to rely largely on voice recognition. I have a dictaphone that I use for making notes and for capturing ideas. I can download my notes to the computer from my dictaphone, although this involves a lot of correction and editing so it isn’t always useful.

When I first begin a novel, sometimes I have to be disciplined and make myself work on it every day but once I’ve become really involved in the story and the characters, I can’t wait to start writing each morning.

When I begin a novel I rarely start at the beginning – I don’t usually know where the beginning will be! I think writing a novel is like doing a large complicated jigsaw puzzle. I know what I’m aiming for but I don’t tackle the whole picture at once, just a small area at a time, as I might concentrate on the sky when doing a jigsaw. I recognize and build up connections gradually. Once I am about halfway through, it becomes much easier – sections begin to fit together and I see the whole work taking shape. I find the important thing is to keep writing; I don’t let myself get stuck over Chapter 2 if I could easily write Chapter 6. I know Chapter 2 will become clearer later, a novel is a long piece of work, I think if you don’t keep writing, it will never come into existence at all so it’s important to be disciplined. Occasionally I know how I want to begin but often the beginning and the end don’t become clear in my mind until I’ve written the rest of the book.

This sometimes applies to short stories as well, but I tend to write short stories in a more straightforward chronological manner from beginning to end; however the first and last paragraphs are the last things I work on because it’s vitally important to get them right in a short story – even more than in a novel.

Writing a novel is very different to writing a short story and to some extent it takes different skills. When I am writing a novel I need to know as much as possible about the characters and their lives, whether I’m going to use that information in the novel or not. However, when I’m writing a short story I don’t necessarily know everything about the character or their life.

4. What is more important to you, the characters or the plot?

I think my writing is more character-driven than plot-driven. The characters, their psychological make-up, their relationships, the life experiences that have made them who they are, interest me most. The plot is vitally important, of course, but mainly in relation to the characters and the way it affects them.

6. Do you have a day job, and if so, does it help your writing in any way?

For several years, as well as running therapeutic groups, I was a part-time lecturer at Birkbeck College, University of London, teaching post-colonial and cross-cultural women’s literature, and creative writing for personal development.

I think working with people has always fed into my writing because people fascinate me. I can’t imagine how I would create my characters if I didn’t know how people think and feel, and something of the richness of their lives.

After I became too disabled to work for a college or other institutions, I began teaching from home and running writing groups; also leading guided creative writing for personal development both in groups and for individuals.

Sadly, I’m able to do very little work now – less and less each year as my health problems increase – but I still run some writing workshops at home.

7. Do you write with a theme or a message in mind, and if so, what might it be?

I have always seen writing as a political act, however, I don’t necessarily set out to express a particular message. I don’t consciously write stories to give a message so much as to express a vision. On the other hand, the outsider is a constant theme in my work, and in all my writing the main protagonist is in some way an outsider.

8. What are you working on at the moment?

I have just finished a novel, The Dowager’s Dream, set on the north coast of Scotland during the brutal clearances in the region. The story was partly inspired by the lives of my great, great-grandmothers, Margaret MacKenzie and Christine Patterson, also by an extraordinary account written in 1809 by the Minister’s daughter of Reay, describing a mermaid she saw in Sandside Bay, Caithness – but the mermaid in The Dowager’s Dream is not pretty, being a dark symbol of both sexual and cultural repression. For several years I was researching the Highland clearances and themes of dispossession and ethnic cleansing are central to the novel.

Now I have several ideas for novels which I’m working on until it becomes clear which one I want to concentrate upon! There is a thriller (my first!) set in Cornwall; a novel about a group of young people living in short-life housing; and finally, a novel about three young sisters, which is exploring the secrets and taboos that all families hide.

I’m also working on a short story about Emily Bronte which I’ve been struggling with for quite some time.

9.Can you tell us about your publishing experiences so far? 

I was very fortunate with The Minotaur Hunt because the first publisher I approached, the Harvester Press, accepted it straightaway, and then it won the Mind Book of the Year Award which helped promote it. The Harvester press were a small independent publishers who mostly published literary criticism for universities but also some literary fiction. Unfortunately, they were taken over by a big multinational corporation, Simon & Schuster, soon after The Minotaur Hunt was published who closed down Harvester’s fiction list leaving me without a publisher. It was about the time that publishing changed a lot, following the ending of the net book agreement, most independent publishing houses were gradually taken over by a few huge multinationals that were totally profit centred. Mostly because of winning the award, The Minotaur Hunt sold out in hardback, although small numbers have usually been available through eBay, but I couldn’t find any other publisher to take it on. A few years ago I decided to write a new epilogue as it was 20 years since it was first published. I was inspired by Angela Carter’s “afterword” to her early novel, Love, written years after it was published. In my Afterword I revisit all the characters to see what has happened to them in the years since the novel finished. First of all I published this revised edition of the novel on Kindle and Kobo, and then in September I published it as a paperback.

I have written five novels since The Minotaur Hunt but sadly none of them have been published. I have published several short stories and poems in anthologies and literary magazines. I had a collection of short stories, Demon Lovers, shortlisted for the Scott Award in 2010 and I’m planning to self publish that as it so difficult to get short stories published. I have already published three short stories on Kindle and Kobo, The Doll and Other Stories: Strange Tales. I think it’s really sad that so few publishers, including small independent presses, publish short stories. I love reading short stories myself and I know lots of other people do too.

10.Do you find it hard to say goodbye to your characters? If so, which character from The Minotaur Hunt would you revisit if you could?

I love all my characters, even the minor ones and the unattractive ones, and I never forget them. As I said above, I have already revisited the characters from The Minotaur Hunt in the new epilogue I’ve written.

11. Tell us what inspires your writing

Anything that stimulates my imagination! Inspiration comes from all manner of things; I am always getting ideas for short stories and novels – some of which I will discard later but many I keep and return to; sometimes after several years.

I always begin with an idea, sometimes with a story I have heard or read, often this might be taken from history or from myth or legend. I’m a highly political person (with a small p!) and I’m always gripped by stories of injustice, abuse, alienation or persecution – these are the kind of stories I always want to tell (as with the Highland Clearances).

12.What is your approach to marketing and self-promotion?

This is the part of writing that have always found most difficult. I hate it! And I am really bad at it. When I first wrote The Minotaur Hunt I went about practically apologising for having had the temerity to write a novel!

I am getting better at it, partly because I’ve realised I must, given the extreme commercialisation of the publishing world today. I do have a website and a Facebook author page.

At the moment I’m approaching literary agents with my latest novel, The Dowager’s Dream, but so far I’ve had no luck. One of them was very enthusiastic at first but decided in the end that it wasn’t for him.

If none of them are interested, I will try some small presses before publishing it independently.

Miriam’s Bio;

For several years I worked in the field of mental health in a variety of roles. I ran therapeutic workshops for survivors of childhood trauma. I taught on community links courses and ran consultancy and personal development courses for mental health service clients, and training courses and workshops for mental health professionals.

I also worked part-time for the Faculty of Continuing Education at Birkbeck College, University of London, teaching a course for women in creative writing for personal development, and also teaching modern literature, cross-cultural and postcolonial literature.

I’m disabled by a progressive degenerative disease so now I work from home as a freelance tutor in literature and creative writing. I still run therapeutic creative writing workshops and offer individual sessions in writing for personal development and self-exploration.

I have had work published, including fiction, literary reviews and mental health articles. My first novel, The Minotaur Hunt, was published by the Harvester Press and won the MIND Book of the Year Award, a revised edition is now available as a paperback and on Kindle and Kobo. In 2010, I had a collection of short stories, Demon Lovers, shortlisted for the Scott Award (Salt publishing), three of these stories are published on Kindle and Kobo as The Doll and other stories: Strange Tales.

Connect with Miriam;

Facebook

Twitter

Website

Author Interview; Gail Aldwin

Hello and welcome to another author interview! This time I have the pleasure of hosting Gail Aldwin, a prize-winning writer of short fiction and poetry. She has lived in Australia, Spain and Papua New Guinea and is now based in Dorset. Her new collection of short fiction Paisley Shirt is published by Chapeltown Books. You can purchase a Kindle edition on Amazon (the paperback will follow soon).

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Can you tell us what inspired this collection of stories?

I looked for commonalities in the range of short fiction I had written over time. I noticed a thread of resilience woven through the stories and selected the best. Paisley Shirt is a collection of short fiction that tells of the obstacles encountered in life and how it is possible to overcome them.

I understand you are also working on a novel. What do you find harder? Short stories or novel writing?

All writing is a pleasure and a challenge. I like being able to work on short fiction alongside novel writing. The timescale for finishing a longer piece of work means that it’s good to have other projects on the go where there is satisfaction in knowing the story is complete.

Can you tell us about your novel? What is it about and when will it be released?

I wrote a novel called The String Games as part of studies in creative writing with the University of South Wales. It is the story of the abduction and murder of a sibling told from the older sister’s viewpoint. Rather than a crime novel, the story focuses on the legacy of loss for the protagonist, as she moves from childhood to the teenage years and into adulthood. Last year, I entered the novel into a competition and although I didn’t win and wasn’t placed, one of the judges was a literary agent and offered me representation. This was a lovely experience but it didn’t last long! My agent took maternity leave and decided not to return to work, so I continue to seek a home for this novel.

Did you always want to be a writer?

I’ve been interested in writing for over twenty years but as I child I didn’t like books. I experienced intermittent hearing loss, which meant it was difficult to learn to read, as I couldn’t distinguish the phonic sounds. Reading was hard work and it took until my teenage years to see books as a source of pleasure and enjoyment. My interest in writing started when I lived overseas and enjoyed writing letters. This grew into a love of writing short fiction and then novels, scripts and poetry.

Do you have a day job and if so what is it?

I currently work as a visiting tutor to creative writing students at Arts University Bournemouth. I love my job! It is a joy to watch students develop new skills and confidence. I am also Chair of the Dorset Writers Network. With the steering group, I work to inspire writers across the county by connecting creative communities.

Can you describe your writing process? 

When I get an idea, I muse on it for a while, then I decide which style of writing the content is suited to. Fragments or moments lend themselves to poetry, short fiction needs a story arc, I usually work collaboratively to develop scripts and novels are a home-alone process. The first draft of anything is about getting the words on the page, then the fun begins: shaping, deepening, layering through drafting and redrafting. For the first time ever, the novel I’m currently working on has been fully plotted. This Much I Know gives a child’s eye view of the interaction between adults in a suburban community where a paedophile is housed. The trick in writing from a child’s viewpoint is to exploit the gap in understanding between the child and the actions of adults around them. It’s a lot of fun playing around with strategies and techniques to capture the voice of a young child.

Tell us about your marketing and self-promotion approach

I am new to marketing and promotion so I refer to books with practical advice on how to move forward. I’ve learnt how to write a press release, have made contacts with local press and cultivated friendships on social media. I am hoping there are others like you, Chantelle, who are willing to interview me and review Paisley Shirt.

Where to find Gail:

Email:             gailaldwin@btinternet.com

Twitter:           @gailaldwin

Facebook:      https://www.facebook.com/gailaldwinwriter/

Blog:              The Writer is a Lonely Hunter

Chair DWN:    http://www.dorsetwritersnetwork.co.uk

Author Interview: Emily Williams

Emily Williams has written an endearing and emotional debut novel about the enduring and powerful love between mother and unborn child. Letters To Eloise is a book that had me smiling in recognition, and wiping away the tears. The narrator, Flora, is a student who falls pregnant and begins to write heartfelt letters to her unborn baby daughter, who she names Eloise. The story weaves the past with the present, as Flora deals with an unexpected pregnancy, unsuitable men, and heartbreak. The ending was one I did not see coming and I would highly recommend this charming tearjerker. Emily kindly agreed to an interview, and here she talks about the inspiration for her debut novel, her experience of publishing so far and her plans for the future…

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1) Can you tell us about your writing and publishing journey so far?

Letters to Eloise has become a very special novel to me. The journey has been a long one and started quite a few years ago. I started the novel when I had the initial idea five years ago, which I jotted down into a notebook and then onto post-it notes. These post-it notes then formed the timeline of the letters for the whole novel.

I choose the epistolary element for Letters to Eloise as I have always enjoyed reading books that contain diary entries or letters so felt this would fit Flora’s situation perfectly. I liked that she had someone real to write to, someone to pour out her emotions. I loved writing every single letter and making sure that the plot linked up through Flora’s narrative.

I was at a time in my life where I desperately wanted a family but wasn’t in a situation where this was possible, so I wrote Letters to Eloise as an outlet to that. The novel took so long to write as, unexpectedly, I also fell pregnant like protagonist Flora. I had just finished the first draft, and when dealing with all things pregnancy related, I found that I couldn’t read or even look at the book so it was put aside!

Luckily, I did return to the novel after my second child, a daughter, last July. I finally completed my long journey to publication; however, my journey isn’t over and now continues with my new projects.

I am very excited about my next two novels.

2) How would you describe your debut novel Letters To Eloise?

I find it hard to describe my own novel! I will combine some of the lovely words from reviews to make a sentence – a heart-breaking yet warm, witty and touching love story.

I like writing things a bit different and enjoyed writing Letters to Eloise in letter format.

3) What has been the hardest part of your publishing journey?

The hardest part has been learning all the formatting and other details that go with publishing an eBook and paperback. I have had to learn everything from scratch, which although hard, I have really enjoyed! The other hard bits have been the marketing side and embracing social media.

Everything is still such a learning curve at the moment.

4) What do you feel has been the best part of your publishing journey?

Each time I read a review, it has all been worth it. I’ve been so lucky to receive such lovely reviews and reading them makes me smile. I am so pleased that others enjoy my writing and have loved Letters to Eloise.

5) Do you have any advice or tips for new writers about to hit publish?

Don’t rush! Before you hit publish, make sure you have been through the novel with a fine toothcomb. Ensure you have rested your book for a while to look at it again with fresh eyes. Hitting publish doesn’t just end the process though, there’s plenty more work to do! I wish I had organised beta readers and blog tours etc earlier, so be prepared well in advance.

6) Tell us about your writing process. How does a typical day go?

During the day, if any ideas come to me, I use the notes app on my phone to jot down any ideas or post-it notes. Then in the evening (when the kids are safely tucked in bed out the way!), I look back through my notes. I have a chapter’s grid, which keeps track of the order of the novel and any chapters I need to add in. With both Letters to Eloise and now with my current novel, I don’t write the chapters in order. I like to pick and choose what to write which helps with writers block!

I then write for a couple hours in the evening or until at least one chapter is finished. I re-read before saving! The next day I will re-read and edit the work and carry on with another chapter!

7) What are you working on right now? What else can we expect from you?

I am working on a charity novel entitled ‘The Subtle Art of Keeping a Racehorse.’ The proceeds from the novel will go to two horse charities, one of which is the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre. The story is a YA book about teenagers, a missing racehorse, secrets, lies and chaos!

I am also working on another adult novel, more of a psychological thriller than a romance, but will be just as emotional as Letters to Eloise.

8) Who are your favourite authors?

Favourite authors would include Cecelia Ahern, who creates amazingly imaginative worlds for her characters that I can picture myself in. Her stories have strong characters with a magical element of fantasy to them. She too has inspired me to think outside the box! Sheila O’Flanagan writes very clearly about the families in her stories and her characters emotions. There are many, many authors who inspire me and all the books I have read as a child have made me the writer and reader I am today.

I was, and still am sometimes, a massive pony book fan and still have all my childhood pony stories, especially Patricia Leitch novels. I am hoping my son and daughter will love reading them too!

9) Tell us about your long-term goals and dreams

I would love to be a full-time writer and live in the countryside with all our animals. We are hoping to move to the country or even to France soon, to run a small business. I hope that my writing can pay the bills!

10) Tell us 3 interesting things about either yourself or your novel

1. I have no funny bones! After a riding accident I had surgery on both my arms which moved the nerve that causes the funny bone sensation! I find writing difficult now so hand-write or use a Dictaphone if they are particularly painful.

2. The protagonist in Letters to Eloise is called Flora, short for Florence. I called my daughter Florence too. I wasn’t allowed to call her Eloise, so Eloise is a pet cockatiel I have in my aviary!

3. I have never ever been to the hairdresser! My hair does need a good chop but I’m still scared to go!

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Bio; Emily Williams lives by the seaside in West Sussex with her family and a menagerie of small pets. After graduating from Sussex University with a BA in Psychology, Emily trained as a primary school teacher and teaches in a local school. Letters to Eloise is her debut novel.

Links; You can follow Emily on FacebookTwitter