NK Chats To….
Our Author Interviews and Guest Posts.
Our Author Interviews and Guest Posts.
The whole series was inspired by my father who was a military policeman in Singapore during the 1950s.
What prompted you to start writing the Singapore Series?
I read a Lee Child novel and thought: I can do that. I have a character and an exotic setting – plus the seeds for a plot. However I subsequently found it harder than I expected.
How much research did you do before starting?
I took my dad to Singapore for his 75th birthday. He thought it was a holiday but I never stopped asking questions. I’ve been again since. I’ve and also been to Kuala Lumpur and Penang, both of which feature in the series.
So no further research as you work?
Lots of research! I have a number of good reference books for the period including a fabulous one full of photographs. Of course I use the internet, but I also have a few readers who can also be called upon to help.
Singapore Killer is book 5. Can it be read as a stand-alone?
I hope so. It’ll help to read them in order, but it really shouldn’t matter.
Will there be a sixth book?
Yes, it’s called Singapore Fire, and it will be the last of the series. However Ash Carter may well appear in Hong Kong if he does resurface.
Map of the Dead which had flashbacks to ancient Egypt, was an Amazon best seller. Your dad didn’t inspire that one?by
It is the life story of Charles Dickens using his own words to tell his story. On a number of occasions Dickens expressed the wish to write his own life story, but he died prematurely in 1870 at the age of 58 without doing it.
Now 150 years later and for the first time I have collected up all the various pieces of that jigsaw of things that he said about his life and put them into the narrative. It produces the nearest thing to an autobiography that is now possible.
Details of me, what I have done, and the written comments of people who have read my proofs can be seen on my official website at www.dickensmylife.com.
What challenges did you face when writing this novel?
The overwhelming challenge of hunting out things he actually said and did, as distinct from what other people have said about him in the last 150 years.
I began my research about 25 years ago, became more focussed about collecting up the relevant pieces after I became a Judge in Portsmouth (his birthplace) in 2004 and visited the bedroom of his birth, and once I had retired in 2014 spent nearly 4 years putting all the pieces I had found together into a continuous narrative.
What do you think Charles Dickens would feel about the current state of the world?
I suspect he would be highly critical about it, as he was in his own day. He never trusted most politicians, having seen them at work in Parliament in his early career as a Parliamentary reporter. He later referred to Parliament as “The Dustheap of Westminster”. He was equally damming on the politicians he saw in America, as well as the way the press reported things over there.
He said many of the newspapers were only fit to be used as a water closet doormat. He was a Radical by nature and had a huge social conscience and whenever he saw anything that he felt was socially wrong he spoke out strongly against it. He became the people’s champion and that is why he was so loved in his time, apart from the brilliant fictional novels he also wrote. I think he would have taken the same approach to the social issues of today if he was alive now.
Which Charles Dickens character would you like to meet and why?by
About The Man in Room 423…
In a heady cocktail of passion and poison, who can you really trust?
When Lizzie Aspinall and her sister meet for cocktails in a high-rise bar, the last thing she’s expecting is to spend the night in the arms of the nameless man in room 423. As a one-night stand with a stranger turns into a steamy affair with a dedicated detective, Lizzie finds herself in the sights of a stalker.
Ben Finneran has spent ten years pursuing a ruthless serial killer who poisons victims at random before disappearing into the shadows. He wants to believe that the attraction he and Lizzie share is just physical, but when they find themselves falling for each other, is Ben unwittingly leading a murderer straight to her door?
Pursued by the past and threatened by the present, who can Lizzie and Ben really trust?
Catherine and Eleanor have joined me to talk about what it’s like to co-write a book, the highs, challenges and how the work is divided. Over to you, ladies.
Catherine and I first crossed each others’ paths about three years ago when we were writing historical non-fiction for the same publisher, Pen and Sword. We got into a conversation one day about joint fiction writing, and after some hilarious conversations about Georgian gentlemen, we started to write a sandbox.
It started off with a plot but as we wrote it, it became huge and sprawling, written with the sort of freedom that isn’t possible with something that’s aimed for publication, and to be honest, written entirely to entertain ourselves. We’d written a huge amount in only a few weeks, by which point Catherine said maybe we should aim for publication.
Catherine had had a couple of titles out with Pride, who publish LGBT+ fiction, and we realised that the sandbox had some wonderful moments that could be developed into fully-fledged novels. The first novel to emerge was The Captain and the Cavalry Trooper, a romance about First World War soldiers, which was published in April 2018. Since then, Pride have published five more Captivating Captains novels, and five short stories. Our first title for their Totally Bound imprint was The Ghost Garden. It was published early in 2019, and we were very excited when it was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Romantic Novel Awards 2020. This year, we have two romantic suspense novels out from Totally Bound – The Colour of Mermaids and The Man in Room 423.
As to the how of our writing… we talk about ideas for stories in Messenger, then before we get writing, we’ll often have a Skype first. Then we write in Google Docs, which gives us a great deal of freedom because you can access the same document on a computer or a mobile device. I end up writing on my phone in all sorts of places – on the bus, in the tearoom at work, in the waiting room at the doctor’s, in the chair at the hairdresser’s waiting for my dye to finish!by
When I was a teenager I lived and breathed variety theatre – in fact, any kind of live entertainment. Before and during the war was a golden age of variety and there was so much to draw on – all the wonderful theatre, and the end of the pier shows. When I was sixteen I got a job working backstage at the local theatre on Cleethorpes pier and from that time I was hooked. It was an absolute joy to revisit variety when it meant so much to morale during WW2.
What were the challenges when writing The Variety Girls?
A deadline, although that was really a God send as it turned out. It kept me at my desk, so I had to learn to overcome the distractions and self-doubt that normally plague me. Sometimes what you fear most is the driving force to success.
What’s your writing day like? Do you have any writing rituals?
I write for about three or four hours a day, but I’ll be thinking about the book all the time and I’ll have thought a lot about it before I start writing at all. There’s always research to do, but it has to be balanced with spending time with family and friends. It would be no joy to spend all day writing, not to me.
I don’t have any rituals other than playing music in the background and sometimes lighting a scented candle. Anything that helps me relax and settle to work.
I started with articles and then short stories. I wanted to write a novel but our life was very unsettled and so I never had the mental headspace to invest in a longer work. I went to classes and conferences and kept myself connected with other writers – and the short stories were excellent for learning to write tightly. A couple of years ago I decided that it was now or never and got stuck into a novel. It was the right time for me.
What’s your favourite word and why?by
Nia Rose and Octavia J. Riley are co-authors of Spellbound and Hellhounds and Secrets of the Sanctuary, the first two novels in the Coven Chronicles.
About Spellbound and Hellhounds, book one in the Coven Chronicles.
Enter the world of Raen, turn left at the land of dragons, and you’ll find yourself in the country of Aeristria. A place overflowing with magic and creatures that were once only heard of in fairy-tales. In the heart of Aeristria is the capital city, Tolvade. Here you will find shops and taverns, laughter and fun, runesmiths looking for their next job and sneaky pickpocketing imps. Steer clear of the galloping gang of centaurs and you will see the headquarters of the prestigious Coven.
Within the Coven’s lower ranks, you’ll find Vanessa, a third-year Hunter itching to become a Spellweaver. Her and her trusted demon partner, Botobolbilian, must investigate an explosion at the academy and bring the culprit responsible in. Easy job, right?
Vanessa and her partner find that this investigation runs deep in black magic and sprinkled with feral demon summonings. With countless lives on the line, Vanessa struggles with self-doubt and following her heart (and laws) as she tries to right the wrongs of these heinous criminals and bring them to justice before they do any more harm.
But, with an oncoming yearly blizzard just days away, is it too late? Even with all the magic, spells, and power on Raen, this job might be the last that this duo ever faces…
About Secrets of the Sanctuary, book two in the Coven Chronicles.
Thea Bauer has earned her way to being a highly skilled member of the Coven. Ranked as a Spellweaver, she’s assigned the more dangerous missions. Corralling a herd of wild unicorns? No problem. Taking down a witch riding the high of black magic? Piece of cake. Finding out why magic-based creatures are suddenly flooding the local sanctuary, protected by a powerful sorceress with a hatred for the Coven? Thea might need more than her tethered demonic partner to see this mission through.
She calls upon Summoner Rafe MacBain, a trusted colleague she’s known for years whose dreamy eyes might keep her up at night—but she’s not admitting that to anyone. He’s got his own demonic companion, and altogether they’re a force to be reckoned with. But, even with their combined strength, it might not be enough against feral demons escaping some of the farthest reaches of Hell.
As if that weren’t bad enough, Thea must conquer her own demons residing within herself that conjure up a painful past. Will she be able to overcome herself, or will the memories she’s tried to stray from keep her from fighting enemies in the physical realm? Thea is starting to wonder if the sorceress may be one of those enemies too. What secret is she hiding at the bottom of the sanctuary, and how will it affect everything Thea has come to know?
Octavia has joined me today to talk about duel writing and the challenges both she and Nia face. Thank you for joining me. Over to you.
Nia and I get asked quite frequently how we go about writing a dual-trilogy of the same world in the same timeline. We always look at each other and agree: challenging. Not in the “Oh, this is so hard“ or “You can’t do that, it doesn’t work with MY story” sort of way (not to say we haven’t said that once or twice…). It’s challenging in a way that forces us to think, adapt, grow, and roll with what we’re given. It challenges us as authors and puts our imaginations to the test, which is invaluable when delving into fantasy.
There’s definitely flaws and loopholes when writing in a world shared by another author, but the beauty of that is that there’s two set of eyes to catch these loopholes. I remember we were so engrossed in our stories that we kind of got carried away, and Nia came up to me and was like, “Uh…hold on, was I at the Grim Bean the same time you were talking to the imp?” We realized that our characters did, in deed, come into close contact with each other, and this gave birth to our first cameo appearance in Spellbound & Hellhounds. We were able to sneak one more cameo appearance in when both of our characters were in Tasgall’s at the same time (something that we both realized later when we read over the story, because we clearly didn’t learn about paying attention to the timeline the first time). We’re those authors who don’t know exactly where the story’s going when we write it. We just write it however it comes to us. Neil Gaiman once said “Write down everything that happens in the story, and then in your second draft make it look like you knew what you were doing all along.”by
Hi Laura. Thank you for inviting me to this Q&A session and giving me this great opportunity. This is my first Q&A and I will never forget it.
Tedeskimma is a character driven narrative that is painted across a really wide canvas. It is primarily a story of 11 characters, and the 1 thing that connects them. It can, in many ways, be considered a collection of self-contained short stories, each of which deals with 1 of the book’s 11 characters. Each short story is different in terms of the kind of content it contains, as well as the kind of genres and themes it deals with. The short stories are, however, connected to each other, even if the characters in some of them may not be aware of this connection.
Some of these stories are action adventures, while others describe the desperate, dangerous and harrowing journeys their characters undertake for deeply painful and personal reasons. One of the parts is a coming of age story, while another puts the reader in the shoes of a married couple who are in the middle of a difficult situation.
The book does have some common themes throughout. However, each part of the book has its own themes as well. As far as genres go, this book is a mashup of a number of them. However, if I was asked to choose just one genre, then I would put this work under literary fiction.
The inspiration for this story arrived in multiple ways. The simple idea – multiple characters connected by a single object – that forms the basic premise of this book was what occurred to me first. Once I had that idea, I began thinking of what the stories of these multiple characters will be. A few ideas formed in my head, and they created the first few parts of the book. These first few parts were rather rough. They were fine plot wise, but they had no particular emotional core or message. But then, there were a few developments in our world which shocked me, and shook the very fiber of my being. I will not describe these in detail, but what I’m referring to will be readily apparent to all readers who pick up this work. What I witnessed made me feel hopeless. I felt like there was nothing I could do about the atrocities I was witnessing, except write about them, hoping that what I wrote would move others enough to rise up and do what I could not on my own. These parts formed the core of this book. In fact, it would not be a stretch to say that they completely redefined it. They helped me nail down the emotional component of this work. I completed my first draft, and then went back and reworked what I had written in the first few parts of the book since I now knew exactly what I was trying to achieve through this work.
In short, a great deal of pain and suffering birthed this book. It wasn’t personal circumstance, or a crisis I suffered. It was what I saw happening around me. I didn’t understand such cruelty and apathy back when I wrote this work, and I still don’t understand it. However, writing this book has made me feel like I at least stood up to the injustice I witnessed in some small way. I am not sure if it is a good thing or a bad thing. I guess it is what it is. I am hoping that this book does well, so that I can donate some part of my earnings from it towards the organizations that are fighting everything this work tries to put a light on.
What’s the challenge of writing a book as connecting short stories?
One of the biggest challenges I personally had while writing such a book was making sure that each short story got as much attention as it required. Initially, I had the tendency to try and make each short story equal in terms of page count. But, fortunately, I quickly realized that what I was doing was rather futile. Trying to make every part equal would’ve resulted in a lot of filler in some of the parts, and that would’ve done nothing but create disinterest on the reader’s part. So I refocused my efforts into giving each part exactly as much room as it needed to convey its core message.
I don’t really have any particular thing I need to begin my writing day, or to write. My biggest challenge when it comes to writing is just getting myself to start. It takes me a great deal of effort to just sit down and start writing. But once I do, within fifteen minutes or so, everything around me disappears, and whatever I’m writing about is the only thing in focus. At that point, nothing can pull me out of the zone easily. As for how I get myself to start, that is something that is entirely dependent on my mood at that time, along with how much willpower I can conjure up and use to push myself to just sit down and start writing.
What’s your favourite word and why?
I thought about this a lot, but I really cannot think of one. And I actually like the fact that I cannot come up with a favorite word. As a writer, words are one of the main tools at my disposal, and not having a favorite word might just be a nice advantage, since I won’t end up overusing a favorite word unintentionally, or intentionally.
What’s your writing process like, from idea, to first draft to final edit?
I have actually gone back and forth on this. When I started writing, my process was to try and plan the entire story meticulously and then follow that plan to completion. But I soon realized that once I started writing, I would get into this flow where the words just came out of me. Having to constantly look at and stay in sync with the plan interrupted this flow, and affected what was being written adversely. Over time, I have evolved my method, and what I do now is slightly different. I do create a detailed plan for any book whose plot is rather complicated and has a lot of moving parts. I keep this plan in my head and just focus on writing, without really looking at it. Once I’m done writing for the day, I make a note of everything from the plan that I forgot to include in whatever I wrote, and I keep adding things to this backlog list until I complete my first draft. I then tackle the backlog in my second draft while creating a similar list for draft three. I keep doing this until I’m moderately happy with the end result, after which I go through it two to three times to do my own editing. This is the point at which I send it out to others for feedback or editing purposes. I would love to keep my process going until I think the final result is perfect, but I force myself to avoid doing that because I really don’t think I would stop tinkering with it.
If you could go on an adventure with any fictional character, which one would you pick and why?
I would choose Dracula. My assumption is that an adventure with Dracula would require me to be a vampire as well. Being almost immortal would mean that I would get to see the world evolve and change. It would also mean that I get to meet enough people over time to truly understand human psychology. As someone who loves to write, the prospect of gaining a deep understanding of humanity is very tempting. This is all assuming Dracula is fictional of course – wink, wink.
Which three books have influenced you the most through your life?
To be honest, I don’t read as much as I write. Videogames, and to some extent, TV shows and movies, have influenced me a lot more than books themselves. However, out of everything I have read, I would pick The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake. The books had imagery unlike anything I had read before, and the stories itself were rather unique. These were some of the first books that actually transported me to the locations their pages described.
Which songs would be on a playlist for Tedeskimna?by
It’s been quite interesting, starting with the birth of the idea, which got me excited about the whole thing because of my worldview and experience on love from my teenage years, and then editing process, and then getting the appropriate cover. I had a tough time with the designer because I felt he didn’t dig deep in creativity to get the best, but in the end I had to calm down. In the end, looking back, I would say that it was an exciting process.
What’s your typical writing day like?
I usually start with getting my family settled. I make sure I take my daughter to school and drive my wife to work. Then I get something to eat. I would sit on the table and work on my laptop with some music playing in the background. That happens earlier in the day. I hardly write after 3PM, so the next writing session is usually at night when my lovelies must have slept.
Your book is called The Stuff of Love Songs. Can you tell me a bit about it and what inspired the story?
It was inspired by the youthful search for true love. It is the story of a young man who was looking for something lasting, something beyond great sex, and a young woman who has tasted a fairytale-like relationship in the past and tries to give true love another chance. As usual, they face the challenges every good thing faces. It was inspired by the love songs I loved as a teen, and the promises of lovers in the stories in those songs, so as a teen I was always looking for the stuff of love songs.
What would be on a playlist for this book?
“Brighter Than The Sun” by Colbie Caillat
“Without You” by Mariah Carey
“Lucky” by Colbie Caillat featuring Jason Mraz
“Two is Better Than One” by Boys Like Girls featuring Taylor Swift
“Wait For Me” by KSA featuring Onyeka Onwenu
“Slow Jam” by Usher featuring Monica
What’s your favourite word and why?by
The Pineys is based on the legend of the Jersey Devil. Instead of just one Jersey Devil, Mother Leeds was a witch that summoned hundreds of them into the Pine Barrens. The nearby villagers of Abe’s Hat, NJ formed a secret society to hunt down the devils and send them back to Hell. In the present day, the Galloways (and their many, many cousins) continue the hunt. It’s kind of like Ghostbusters meets Men in Black meets Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. It’s a lot of fun and is steeped in South Jersey lore and color.
Previously, I created the Jersey Devil comic book and a lot of my stories take place in South Jersey. What interested me was exploring the culture of South Jersey in more detail and doing a story with a group of characters from a large extended family like mine.
Wokeistan: A Novel is a political satire in the vein of a Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. book. I co-wrote it with Christian Beranek. It takes place on an East Coast college campus in upstate New York and it’s about a student body that has a complete mental meltdown after Trump is re-elected. It’s sort of the best (worst) of Social Justice Warriors from the last two years and mixing that with taking post-modernist ideology to its logical conclusion. It’s funny, absurd and savage, but not that all unrealistic if you’ve followed the stories.
Christian and I were looking for a project to write. We were considering doing it as a webcomic, but decided to write it as a novel. She came by and stayed a couple of months. We basically wrote it in two weeks. It just really poured out of us. It was an amazing experience. The end result was a story that was equally funny and Orwellian.
With Wokeistan, the story was already there. Colleges have become so inbred intellectually, they no longer seem to function for the purpose for which they were intended. Instead, we’ve developed a system that drains money from kids that are expecting an education and a career and instead they’re getting brainwashed and fleeced financially. The challenge is, most people don’t realize how far the college system has degraded, so some read it and go, “What? This is insane. Nothing like this is happening.” But many of the events of the book were based on things that actually happened on college campuses over the last few years. I’m proud to say my nephew, who is in college, seemed to like it. He helped proofread it.
For the Pineys, horror and comedy are closely linked. They rely on surprise. This is the kind of stuff I’ve been writing for decades, but in the world of the Pineys I have no limits like I did with comics or trying to write a screenplay— I guess the hardest part is keeping track of all the Galloway family members mentioned in the books. It’s getting pretty tough at book six, which is what I’m currently writing.
How would you describe your writing style?by
Thanks, Laura. It’s great to be interviewed here.
Before I focused on a character, I knew there were themes I wanted to address in Hopscotch Life. One theme was that some of us judge ourselves harder than we would ever judge others. We’re simply not accepting of ourselves, and we don’t see all the wonderful character traits we might possess.
Another issue I wanted to deal with is the way our lives are sometimes on either a strong upswing, or a determined downhill slide. And that often we can’t bring that downward slide to a stop until we reach a pretty low point.
Those themes became my inspiration. With those in place, protagonist Plum Tardy then simply walked onto the page for me. Quirky, out-of-synch, hopscotch-playing, but still sweet, funny, and appealing Plum. She pulled it all together. Here’s how I describe it: Feeling like she’s living in a country song, having just lost her job, her house, and her man, quirky Plum Tardy sets out in her usual hopscotch fashion to find a completely new town and a new man. But even knowing how out-of-synch she is, and how oddly she moves through life, Plum could never have predicted the unexpected way that trouble would find her, or the way her past would collide with her future.
Do you think strong characters or plot is more important to a reader?
While both are important, I believe it’s the characters we relate to, especially the protagonist. Once a writer creates a really well-developed character, that character points the way. She shows us how the plot should evolve because her actions drive it, and her choices reflect her. Besides, don’t we all love to find a protagonist we can cheer for, cry over, and champion when no one close to her does? We love to find a character who remains with us almost like a real friend after we finish a book. I’m not sure that most of us can care about a plot that much.
What’s your writing day like? Do you have any rituals?
I like to sneak up on my writing. I mull scenes over in my mind for quite some time before I write them. But then I write them fast. Sometimes that mulling takes place during sensible activities like hiking. More often it’s during sleepless hours in the middle of the night, when I stare at the bedroom ceiling in the dark, trying out different alternatives. I do have a few actual rituals. As I said, I walk or hike, I meditate, answer emails, and spend too much time scrolling through Facebook—but those are just stall tactics while I’m mulling, waiting to pounce on my scene the instant it’s ready to be written.
It varies from novel to novel. My last book, REVENGE ON ROUTE 66, which is a road trip mystery that takes place along Route 66 from California to Texas (in the US), required me to actually drive much of the route and take loads of notes. That was great fun, of course, but I also noted everything. I worried that I’d lack some critical information when I went to write it.
One of my novels, NEVER SAY DIE, a thriller, takes place in the San Diego, California area, and it involves the world of professional female triathletes. I filled boxes with all my setting material and the interviews I did with professional female triathletes.
In HOPSCOTCH LIFE, it was more a matter of creation. The town of Applewood, Arizona, where much of the novel takes place, does not exist. But I needed it to be such a rich place that the town would become like another character. I drew on some other towns I’d visited for aspects of it, but most of Applewood comes straight out of my own fertile imagination.
Do you tend to edit as you go or wait for a completed first draft? What do you feel are the benefits of doing it this way?by
Time of My Life is a gender-flipped Dirty Dancing. Pole fitness instructor Janey needs a new partner for the end of cruise Talent Show after her friend Penny drops out due to illness.
When Frank steps up, she’s beyond skeptical, but she really doesn’t have anyone else who can help. As he learns the routine, Janey starts to fall for Frank. Unfortunately, if she acts on her feelings, she could lose her job.
What have been the challenges of writing within the Oceanic book series? Do you need to have read the other books to read yours?
The primary challenge was just figuring out how to balance several very busy authors with different schedules, especially since we’re living in 4 different countries (and multiple time zones). Once we talked through all the logistics and things really started getting moving, for me it was largely smooth sailing.
You don’t have to read the other books in the series to enjoy mine, but I recommend it. You might see someone you recognise.
Is character or plot more important?
To me, the character drives the plot. If Harry Potter had just kept his head down and gone to classes, Voldemort would have killed him in the first book. If Katniss Everdeen hadn’t stepped up to take her sister’s place, the Hunger Games series wouldn’t exist. Plot is important, but it’s the character’s choices that make things happen.
What’s your favourite word and why?
My favorite word has always been “defenestrate,” because it’s fun to say. But sadly, it’s not one I manage to work into conversation very often.
What advice do you have for someone suffering from writers’ block?by
Beyond the Yew Tree was inspired in part by a spell of jury service. It wasn’t the trial itself but location: an old courthouse with a semi-circular courtroom which has scaffolding propping up one wall, wooden panelling and a painted ceiling. If anywhere needed haunting, this place did. The next challenge was the nature of the spirit, who and how does it attract the attention of a juror who is focused on the trial? From there, the idea spiralled out and I picked Lincoln Castle for the location as it has everything I needed for the story: prison, graveyard and an old courthouse.
What drew you to this particular genre and what are the challenges when writing?
I seem to write cross-genre – mystery, magical realism and women’s fiction. Appealing to all those readers in one book is the biggest challenge. Some like the magical supernatural aspects, others don’t, which is fine. I also inject a little romance into the story as ultimately the themes are about people and love is the best theme of all.
Do you think character or plot is more important?
It’s the chicken and egg scenario. An interesting character will create a good plot, and likewise the other way around. Which comes first? My first book it was the plot, the second the characters. This time, it’s a bit of both.
What’s your favourite word and why?
I don’t think I have one! Most writers spend a lot of time avoiding repetitions, weak words, poor adverbs etc. It leaves you focused on the negative when you’re editing, especially when your editor points out you’ve used the same word multiple times on the same page. Then that word shouts at you to be changed. If I had to pick a favourite, it would be ‘love’. Writers tend to use the word sparingly so that it has the biggest impact when put to use.
What’s your writing process like – from idea, to first draft, to final edit? How long does the process take overall?
My first book took four years from draft to published. Most of that was spent editing then putting it to one side for a duration. The process becomes cyclic and hard to break. At some point, you have to be brave and finish the book. Beyond the Yew Tree was two years in the making. I can write quite quickly, but I edit slowly as I find it harder to stick at it. I don’t think I’m alone with finding editing challenging.
How has the process changed since you first started writing?by
Hi Laura! Thank you so much for having me! I am so excited to “chat” with you. Mom Genes, which is my fifth novel, is currently available on all eBook platforms and has been published today (March 24th.)
It is the second book in my Forest River PTA series, but it’s a completely standalone story. Mom Genes is a heartwarming and hilarious book about a PTA mom, Claire Conroy, who is searching for a fresh start while struggling to survive suburban backstabbing and parental politics
What songs would be on a playlist for this novel?
Oh my, this is a hard question, but a few songs come to mind.
The first would be Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” because Claire is faced with quite a few problematic situations in the book. First, she returns home from a trip to Italy gearing up to separate from her husband of thirteen years. Then the meddling mothers spread rumors about the “real reason” for her divorce.
The second would be “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge because Claire’s family plays such an essential role in this story, especially her hysterical grandmother, Gigi.
The last would be “Take Me Back To The Night We Met” by Lord Huron because thanks to a chance encounter, Claire reconnects with someone from her past.
What’s your writing process like, from idea, to first draft and then to final edit?
I’m pretty impulsive, so as soon as an idea pops into my head, I start writing. I don’t plot out my books. I let the story take its twists and turns. I often to run to my laptop fresh out of the shower, dripping wet, because one of my characters “told me something funny.
After I finish the first draft, which is always pretty rough, I read it over and polish it, and add a lot to the story. Then I send it to my editor. She has a keen eye and incredible insights, and I pretty much end up writing the book over again.
What has your route to publication like and, in your opinion, what’s the most common mistake new writers make when looking to be published?
My route to publication has been like a roller coaster. I self-published my first book, Dangled Carat. Then a few months later, I secured a publisher who then published my second novel, Plan Bea. Right before they were about to publish my third book, Plan Cee, they went out of business. As soon as I received my rights back, I self-published all of my books, and have been self-publishing ever since.
I think the most common mistakes new writers make when looking to be published, they don’t have a complete understanding of the industry and the process. There is so much to know. It is overwhelming. However, I have found the author community is the most generous group of people. Everyone is always so eager to help each other out and share their experiences and knowledge.
Which author has impacted you the most as a writer?by
Hi! Thanks for having me. A lot of my ideas begin with an image and in the case of The Silence it was the image of a woman jumping into the sea with her toes pointed downward. I’d been reading a lot about gaslighting – a covert form of emotional manipulation – and how easily it could be used to isolate someone from their friends and family.
The two ideas came together almost at the same time. Stella (the central character) is a former child star and I liked the idea of her trying to untangle herself from her former fame.
What were the challenges of writing this novel?
Ha. All of them. All the challenges! Time, for one. I squeezed writing The Silence into every moment my daughter was asleep and then again when I forced myself to wake up early. It’s the commitment, I think. Financial, emotional, mental.
Sometimes the story was so suffocating I would happily have drop kicked my computer into the sun. Other than that, you know, it was a breeze!
What’s your writing day like? Do you have any writing rituals?
A cup of tea. We live in a cold, cold house and so in the winter I started writing in bed with a hot water bottle so now that is where I write 99 percent of the time. I’m told it’s terrible for my sleep hygiene but I’m stuck in it now.
I work in a library, so I write in between the end of my work day and school pick-up and then again in the evenings. There’s a lot of opportunity for procrastination so I try to be really disciplined.
Which fictional character would you like to meet and why?
This is a great question and I’ve got two terrible answers for it. One, is Nanny Ogg’s cat Greebo from the Discworld novels but only – only – when he turns into a piratical man. The other is all the kids from the Losers club from the novel IT, the people I most identified with as an adolescent.
NK: My husband is a huge fan of The Discworld and I also think he would like to meet Greebo.
In your opinion, what’s the most important thing to remember when developing characters?
Personally, I like to see flaws in a character. Jealousy, anger, bitterness. I need to see them as human and I need to care if they live or die. That’s what carries me through a book. I don’t neccessarily need to relate to them but I do need to know they’re not entirely whole. That helps, for me.
Which author has made the most impact on you as a writer?by
Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.
But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…
Tiffy and Leon share a flat and a bed. But they have never met.
When Tiffy finds herself in need of a flat, Leon’s ad seems too good to be true. When she moves in, she still hasn’t met Leon.
They begin a relationship through notes left in the flat but with ex boyfriends and demanding jobs, the rule book for flat sharing may not fully apply.
I found it fascinating that the two main characters don’t immediately meet. My husband and I went through a stage when we were on opposite shifts so didn’t see each other for a few days at a time but there was evidence of the other’s existence in the house. We would also leave notes too, mostly saying that the cats are lying and they have been fed but I related to Tiffy and Leon’s relationship because of this. The idea you can forge a relationship using post it notes is one of the things I found the most interesting about this book.
Tiffy is my hero. She’s not perfect. She doesn’t always do the right thing or make the right decisions but throughout, I loved her and hoped that, in the end, she would trust the people who loved her and most importantly, herself in making the best decisions for her and realising that she deserves more.
The supporting characters are terrific. Everyone needs friends like Gertie, Mo and Rachel. The one exception is Justin. He is up there in my hall of fame of villains and could give Uriah Heep a run for his money.
I personally loved the style of writing. There was a casualness to how it was set up that suited the characters. I would say that Tiffy is the extrovert but Leon is quieter and more cautious. This comes across well in the dialogue and style of writing.by
I have always been fascinated by the fact that the main readers of novels and short stories are women. Currently we buy (and also borrow) about 80% of all fiction. Women are the vast majority of members of book clubs, attendees at literary festivals, visitors to libraries and bookshops, and organisers of days out to literary heritage sites like the Brontës’ Haworth Parsonage. Many years ago, I wrote a book about Gone With the Wind, and more recently a Daphne du Maurier Companion, and while researching both these, I was struck by how many women told me of their passion for both writers and their books, and how profoundly they had wrapped words, scenes, characters and settings into their hearts and their own life stories.
They had even called their daughters, dogs and cats after the protagonists (Scarlett, Rhett, Rebecca). So I set out to ask what it is about reading fiction that appeals to women – and I found it offers escape, a special space just for us (‘me-time’), and the opportunity to spread our wings intellectually and emotionally. It helps us through the night, and gives us insights into our relationships and families, as well as the world beyond. Jackie Kay suggests ‘our lives are mapped by books’.
Fiction is important to so many people (including me.) Which fictional novel has made the most impact on you and why?
At different stages of my life, particular books have resonated. As a girl, I wanted to be like awkward, unconventional and ambitious Jo March in Little Women. As a young student, George Eliot’s Middlemarch taught me about social and intellectual pretentiousness, and warned me never to marry an emotionally stunted man.
As a middle-aged and older woman, I’ve learned about worlds very different from my own through writers such as Ralph Ellison, Eudora Welty and Hilary Mantel. Toni Morrison’s Beloved about American slavery is the most devastating novel I’ve ever read, and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening is very dear to my heart because set in a special place of mine, Louisiana.
What were the challenges you faced when writing When Women Read Fiction?
I decided to send out questionnaires to women about their reading, and to interview women writers too. The enthusiasm with which over 400 women responded to my questions and the wonderful material they provided me with, were very humbling, and I had to try to do justice to it all. Women love to tell you about what reading fiction means to them – ‘a lifeline,’ ‘my best friend,’ ‘the love of my life’ – and all the ways they have found it helped them in sorrow, joy, sickness and health.
Women writers are very aware of their responsibility to, and friendly relationship with women readers, though they gave me angry accounts of being ‘Little Womaned’, as Hilary Mantel put it – reviewed, paid and valued less than male fiction writers.
What’s your writing day like and what do you need around you? For example, coffee, tea, music, silence?
Alas, I’m not an early riser, but when I get going (after many cups of good English Breakfast tea) I like to write to music – Joni Mitchell, Kate Rusby, Mozart, Leonard Cohen)- but when I REALLY get going and the writing is flowing, I work in silence. Those are the most productive and precious times.
I am a slow burn writer. I was commissioned to write a BFI book about the film of Gone With the Wind and I finished it in three months, but usually it takes me years to shape an idea and produce a book.
I had the germ of an idea for Why Women Read Fiction thirty years ago, but I worked on it seriously for about five years. I think it’s a better book for taking so much time.
How do you approach the editing process?
Editing is my favourite process of all. I find research and first drafts time-consuming and difficult, but I love to edit.
Years of teaching students have given me considerable experience here, and I love to spot my own repetitions, clichés, weak phrases and poor arguments – then brutally cut and reshape. It’s the most creative process.
What’s your favourite word and why?by