● What is the first book that made you cry?
As a very small child I remember a particular book about a donkey and a kite, he lost the kite and for some reason I found that utterly devastating.
As a young adult, I was inconsolable after my first read of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Even now I find it utterly heartbreaking. I’m over the donkey and the kite though. Just.
● Does writing energise or exhaust you?
Both. When it is going well, I am full of energy and it flows beautifully. I can often write several thousand words in one session.
If I hit a snag or something isn’t working then it’s as if all my energy is drained out of me in an instant.
I usually have to remind myself to just stop, walk away for a while, and give my brain a chance to reboot.
● Have you ever got reader’s block?
Absolutely. All the time. I can hit a wall and struggle to keep going through the chapters. I’m in a bit of a reader’s block at the moment. I have a lot of reading to catch up on but I am struggling to keep my mind focussed on the book in hand. I usually find that listening to a radio play gets me back in the mood for reading a good book. I keep meaning to look into audio books – I already have a growing list of books I’d like to get, but I haven’t got around to it yet!
● Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I have two novels, a short novella, and an anthology. They are all very different. My two novels, Escape to Pirate Island and Mask of the Highwaywoman, are set at very similar times in the past and I did consider having some Easter eggs present in the second book that would link into the first. But in the end, that didn’t fit the story and so I decided against it.
However, I would like to write a trilogy, and also a series of books set in the same world but for now, each of my books stand alone.
● If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to be different and don’t try to please everyone.
● What are the most important magazines (or blogs) for writers to subscribe to?
Definitely the Creative Penn, Joanna Penn is excellent and the website acts as a great resource for writers at all levels of their career and stages of their projects.
● How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
More than I dare think about!
The last count was seventy-two but I have expanded since then and some of those stories are the first parts of a series. If I never have another idea, then I still have enough to keep me going for a whole career!
I really want to focus on my productivity over the next twelve months and try to put more hours into writing so that I can start to finish some of these stories that I am so eager to get my teeth into!
● What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
It varies. For Escape to Pirate Island I did a lot of research into women pirates and stories of women serving aboard ships. A lot of people think the idea is nonsense but the evidence of historical accounts of women serving and court documents of women whose gender was revealed, show that there were many women who disguised themselves as men and were eventually discovered or revealed themselves (sometimes after many years). I often wonder how many women remained hidden.
I also looked into daily life aboard ship, rules around privateering and how pirates self-governed, and the geography of the Spanish Main, making sure I researched the deserted islands and understood some basic survival.
But I always made sure that the story led the research and not the other way around. I have often read novels where historical facts have been awkwardly shoehorned into the story and this always bothers me. My story is a fun romp through a piratical adventure, so, I wanted just enough history to help the reader suspend their disbelief but no more.
● How many hours a day do you write?
When I am in ‘writing mode’ I like to write between three and six hours a day. Right now, I am between books and so I am giving myself a break from writing completely, and close to a deadline I might have to work eight to twelve hours to get finished on time.
● Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
I like to have a few in-jokes now and then, references to things I think some people might notice. For example, in Escape to Pirate Island I have quoted a few characters from Pirates of the Caribbean so any fan of that movie franchise should be able to spot those little hidden Easter eggs!
● What is your favourite childhood book?
I think it will have to be the Narnia series.
I love the fantasy, the magic, the portal to another dimension, and I always loved the white witch and the many forms she appeared in over the series. I used to love the sense that even the smallest children can make a difference and at the heart of the stories is often the idea of redemption.
I love the whole series but there was always something a little darker about The Silver Chair which greatly appealed to me and is something I’m going to explore in greater depth in a series I’m currently ruminating on.
● Where did your love of books, storytelling, reading, writing, etc. come from?
My Dad would read a chapter of a book to me every night before bedtime, without fail. He gave me my love of the fantasy genre and read all the Narnia books to me, as well as The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, even though I was a little too young for them at the time. He even gave me my first copy of Harry Potter long before it became the phenomenon it is today.
● Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Plotter or pantser? Summarise your writing process.
Intuition leads me to the heart of the story, but logic and pragmatism help me to create a structure.
So, I will usually start out with the flickering of an idea I am passionate about, then take that and work out a solid three act structure, planning every plot point along the whole arc of the story. Once I have this skeleton in place I can then start fleshing out the story which I will try to do quickly and based on gut instinct.
Then I go back into ‘logic mode’ for the edit.
● What projects are you working on at the present?
I am between projects. I published Escape to Pirate Island on May 26th and was all set to go onto a new project about mermaids. But now I am not so sure: a completely different project is calling out to me and I think I’m going to have to follow the call.
Which means my next project is going to be another Historical Romantic Adventure, this time involving knights and tournaments, castles and pitched battles, evil kings and beautiful princesses!
● What do your plans for future projects include?
I have more ideas that I can write, but I would like to do a series revolving around knights and Queens, I also have plans to work on a fantasy series about a young rogue mage. I have a mermaid story on the back burner, as well as a burning desire to write a murder mystery.
● If you could go to the past or future, where would you stay and why?
I am a historian and archaeologist, I have studied the classics and the history of Rome and Egypt but. . . If I could time travel I would like to have a glimpse at the future.
Where is humanity going? Where will we end up? Will we ever reach the stars? Will we ever come to terms with our differences and learn to live in peace?
I might not be happy with what I would find but I would like to think that we are capable of great things.
● If you could eliminate one thing from your daily schedule, what would it be and why?
I struggled with ME for several years and still have problems on occasion with the chronic fatigue that accompanies the syndrome. I feel that I have slept long enough and I would really love an extra eight hours a day to work on my writing!
● Tea or coffee?
Coffee. Black. Warm. Sweet.
● Tell us something you hate doing. Why?
Housework. It just seems to be so relentless! Where did all this laundry come from? Why do I have so many cups and how did they ALL get dirty?! And dust? I made the effort of dusting once, I shouldn’t have to do it again!
● If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
As long as I could pick and choose whose mind to read and when, I think it would be an incredibly useful tool. Not only could I make sure I was never fooled or deceived, it would enable me to always understand other people’s point of view. But the snag would be that no one could ever know: who wants to hang around with someone that can read their most personal of thoughts at any moment?
● What music are you listening to?
I tend to listen to Ludovico Einaudi on spotify. His piano pieces are just breathtakingly beautiful and help me to focus rather than distracting me from my writing.
● How important are the names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?
Names are an incredibly useful tool. So much can be conveyed about a person’s social rank and the world they inhabit by the name they have been given by their parents and also the name they choose for themselves (usually a nickname or the manner in which they choose to shorten their name).
I could write a whole blog post on names! But briefly, ‘Cat’ in Escape to Pirate Island was chosen because she is very Cat-like: she is fierce, independent, and always ready for a scrap. The name Lily was chosen because the flower symbolises both purity and passion, two seemingly contradictory meanings which Lily encapsulates perfectly.
The internet is a fabulous resource for names and I don’t have a particular favourite place to plunder for names but I will warn writers to double check meanings in more than one place because a name in one culture may have a different symbolic meaning in another, arm yourself with knowledge.
● Do you have a favourite conference to attend?
I have never been to a conference! This will be my very first year attending L-Fest. I have an author spot and I will be doing a ten-minute reading from one of my books.
I am petrified!
● Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Love? Action? Racy?
Tender or emotional scenes are the ones I tend to struggle with, I’m not very good at expressing my own emotions and so those scenes where my characters have to reveal their feelings are tough.
Getting the balance right between being cold and being twee can be a real challenge and I always find that getting feedback on those scenes is especially important.
● Do you write naked?
During a particularly hot part of the summer last year I had to write my dissertation. I had only a few days left but was given some major rewrites by my supervisor.
It was simply too hot to even think during the day.
I had to wait until it was dark, and then I sat at my desk in basically nothing but my underpants and panic wrote my literary essay!
But this is not a usual occurrence: mainly because I get cold easily! However, I do think through plots and scenes in the bath. It is a very important thinking place.
● Do you dream? Do you have any recurring dreams or nightmares?
I dream all the time. I find dreams are incredibly useful, I often think through plots without realising, and many of my stories have been inspired by half-remembered dreams.
I have never suffered too much with nightmares, although when I was very little I remember there was a particularly nasty dream in which I was in the land of the care bears when suddenly the care bears all shed their skin and revealed that they were secretly Ewoks, complete with razor sharp teeth and the little laser guns that they must have stolen from the rebellion! I remember being terrified as they came after me and tried to kill my mother and I.
I’ve not been too fond of Ewoks since then.
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