Thursday, February 14, 2013

Interview _ Ellie Stevenson

Ellie Stevenson was born in Oxford and brought up in Australia. She is a member of the Careers Writers' Association and the Alliance of Independent Authors.

She writes feature articles and short stories.

Her first novel, Ship of Haunts: the other Titanic story (Rosegate Publications, 2012), which is available as an e-book and as a paperback, has been described as "engaging and lively ... a real page-turner" and as "thoroughly enjoyable".

In this interview, Ellie Stevenson talks about her concerns as a writer:

When did you start writing?

When I was 10.

I spent part of my childhood in Australia, and I would lie in bed and listen to the sounds of the Australian bush, and think about what I could do with my life. My first published work was a poem published in an Australian state newspaper. Then came a hiatus, quite a long one, but fortunately, that’s over now.

How would you describe your writing?

Fairly eclectic.

Primarily I’m focused on writing more novels but I also write stories, articles and poetry. The poetry's more of a leisure thing, but I like to think it informs my work!

I always wanted to write books, but life and a need for cold, hard cash got in the way. When I finally took my ambition seriously, I started with articles, as a way getting some hands-on experience. But I always planned to be a novelist – I just wasn’t sure if I had the stamina.

Who is your target audience?

Anyone who wants to read my work!

No, seriously, I write for people who love mysteries and a sense of something other-worldly. I love to read ghost stories and books that take us across time and space. Maybe some time travel, or something that haunts or has a bit of a twist.

I write the stories I want to read.

I like novels which speak to the reader, are emotionally strong. And those that challenge the reader’s concepts, while still maintaining a page-turning story. Lyrical language is also important. I love to read books by Maggie O’Farrell and Douglas Kennedy.

Have your own personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?

My novel is a ghost story about Titanic, child migration and living a life under the sea. I’m an historian by nature and I love the past. Three of my family were child migrants and I’ve been heavily influenced by the time I spent living in Australia, an amazing country. I’ve always been passionate about Titanic. As for the ghosts, I can’t really say...

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Making my work the best it can be and improving its rhythm and the way it flows. Having integrity in my stories. Making people wonder if what we know isn’t all there is. Reaching readers.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

Marketing my work. In order to be read, readers need to know you exist. I enjoy promoting my novel and articles but it takes a lot of time, which means less time to write. It’s a constant trade off, especially if you’re an independent author. Every day I do a little bit more.

Do you write every day?

At the moment I’m focused on promoting the novel. But when I’m writing, yes, every day, in allocated time slots until I have to do something else. I stop at that point, or when I come to a natural break. The initial writing isn’t that hard, the real work comes with the plot corrections, improvements to language, and the many revisions. I’m naturally self-critical and my work is never good enough. It’s not a happy trait for a writer to have!

How many books have you written so far?

One so far, Ship of Haunts, although a collection of short stories will be coming out in late September.

How long did it take you to write the novel?

Far too long. The next one will be quicker.

Where and when was it published?

Initially, as an ebook on Amazon (Rosegate Publications). It was published in April 2012, to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of Titanic’s sinking. Print copies are also available, via Amazon.com, or via me if you live in the UK.

How did you choose a publisher for the book?

Because it took so long to write, and I had to meet the April deadline, an ebook was the obvious choice, with printed copies following later. That’s the beauty of independent publishing: the author has control of the book. It’s also the downside – you have to do all the work yourself. Commissioning a cover, getting it proofed, getting it out there. I’d do it again, but it’s a steep learning curve.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work that went into Ship of Haunts?


The book was organic, it developed as I wrote it. And then of course, it needed reworking. I spent much of my time rewriting the novel. Again and again. Next time round, I’m planning the book before I write it!

What did you enjoy most?

Creation of the story, thinking of the plotlines, doing the research. The creative side is why I write. Editing and rewrites are hard work, especially when you’re several drafts in.

What sets Ship of Haunts apart from other things you've written?

It’s my first novel, so in that sense it’s totally different. And Titanic, of course, is quite unique. And the novel encompasses reincarnation, which is a little bit out there (in the West, anyway).

In what way is it similar to the others?

The broader themes are fairly similar to the stories I’ve written: mysteries and loss and a sense of something unexpected, perhaps paranormal. The odd twist or a bit of a chill...

What will your next book be about?

A lost place and a man who... (well that would be telling)

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Having the book in my hands, and seeing it as something outside myself. I wasn’t sure I could ever do this. And now, of course, I’m going to do more...

Related books:

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Friday, January 25, 2013

[Interview] Harry Whitehead

by Nick Edgeworth, The Grassroutes Project*

Harry Whitehead is a novelist, a short story writer and a creative writing lecturer at the University of Leicester. Before that, he worked in the film and TV production industry.

His novel, The Cannibal Spirit (Hamish Hamilton, 2012) is set among the First Peoples of Canada at the turn of the twentieth century, and has been described as "“Unflinching and rigorously unsentimental ... a thought-provoking and impressive read.”

His short stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies that include London Lies (Arachne Press, 2012), The Storyteller Magazine and Whimperbang.

In this interview, Harry Whitehead talks about the concerns that inform his work as a novelist and a creative writing lecturer:

To start off, thanks very much for agreeing to be interviewed.

Pleasure.

My first question is: where did the creative writing process begin for you? When and why did you start?

Well, I used to win the prizes at primary school at creative writing exercises and competitions, and I think that started it for me. And I always wrote. I never took it seriously I don't think – but I guess everyone who writes stories sort of does take it seriously, don't they?

I did an undergraduate degree in Anthropology when I was 24 – I had been in the Far East for many years – and I read a story whilst I was there: an anthropological story that stuck with me. I won't explain it immediately because it might go back to a question you ask me later, but that story just played in my mind and I ended up doing a Masters degree in Anthropology to follow the story, and then it wouldn't go away, and I did a Creative Writing MA as well, and got sidetracked and wrote a load of other stuff before I eventually came back and wrote that. So I've always written, and enjoyed storytelling from the earliest days, and I got serious about it in my thirties.

Anthropology is a big part of your début novel The Cannibal Spirit. Do you think you're the sort of writer who looks very widely for ideas in interdisciplinary fields?

Yeah, for sure.

Before I joined this department [UoL's School of English] I had an O Level in English Literature so I haven't come from a focused reading past, in the way that English Literature trains you, at all. I come from a much broader space and have read much more multifariously, shall we say. But living abroad for so many years and then studying Anthropology has made me look all over the place for stories.

My book has been reviewed well and badly, and when it's been reviewed badly it's often in terms of its cultural authenticity and arguments about that. I was treading on some pretty delicate ground writing about First Nations people in Canada and people either loved me or hated me for it. Which is all right – that's fine by me.

What was it that attracted you to that setting at that point in time?

Well, I was 25 and I'd just broken my back, and I read this story, actually in a piece by Claude Lévi-Strauss, one of the founders of structuralism – so a pretty unlikely spot to originate. I read this story about a nineteenth-century north-west coast shaman who wanted to become a shaman in order to expose the lies and trickery of shamanism. And he learns all these acts of prestidigitation and fraudulence as he saw them, and then a local chieftain has a dream that only he can save his sick grandson. So very reluctantly the guy performs the ritual, and lo and behold the child is cured.

So, this guy, whose name is Quesalid in the story – Quesalid's dilemma fascinated me. It was about belief; it was about the placebo effect; it was about what healing means; it was about rationality – all these kind of things. And it was that story that just wouldn't go away. So I decided when I did my Masters in Anthropology that I wanted to find out who this shaman actually was. And what I learnt about who he actually was was that he was half white, half Native Canadian; he was an anthropologist's assistant as well as a shaman and a chieftain; he was tried for cannibalism in 1900 – and there I had a great story of a man who exists between worlds, as we all do to one extent or another. How do we fight those conflicts that we have inside ourselves?

So it was that that really kind of stuck for me. And it was 18 years, really, from when I first read that story to when I was published.

Was it quite research-intensive?

Yeah, it was. I wrote a draft of the novel in nine months, so in a flash really. My wife, who you just heard texting me, I had just met and I was doing this Ph.D. and I was trying to write this novel, and I'd been researching for 10 years. Just about everything: into the life and the history of the region, the history of the Canadian First People. And I was sat in the British Library surrounded by books piled high. I'd just met her and I was sitting there going, [mock-sobbing] “I can't write my novel! I can't do it – I don't know what to do!”

And she said, “All these books: send them all back,” like that.

And as soon as I threw them all away and started to make it up, it flowed and came out in a burst. But without all those years of them filling me up and then stepping away and being free to just create, one would not have allowed the other, if that makes sense.

Did you find it difficult to arrive at what you felt was an authentic voice for George Hunt [the shaman], or was it more of a difficult labour to get something that sounded right?

This question has been debated since by people. There have been some critical responses to his voice, and some people loved it, others have hated it. There's about 40 years of his letters – of this anthropologist's – that still exist, but they're very tentative and very polite and rather obsequious, and actually not as interesting as the character I was reading about. They always used to put me off.

And then I read this story by Edward Curtis, this famous American photographer who worked with George Hunt, who said that Hunt was prone to murderous rages: he would lose his mind and come stomping down the beach to kill you sometimes, and he was this terrifying huge man. And as soon as that happened he came alive as a person to me - someone I could use and construct. And then I made up his voice.

There are bits of his speech from his letters; there are bits and pieces from the slang of the time; from other people's writings; and it kind of evolved as I wrote. The first draft I wrote in the third person actually, and it was only the second draft that I turned it into the first person. His voice started to come into being. But it was born of all those bits and pieces, and also the flora and fauna of the place and how I imagined the experience of being a hard old bastard of a man, like he was, who lived in these worlds; it would've made him gruff but articulate, if you like.

You mentioned a minute ago writing in the British Library. How do you think living and working in Leicester has altered your approach to writing, if it has at all?

Well, it means I don't have access to the British Library. [Laughs.] That's a pain, because I loved the silence amid the chaos of the city. My own office up here is not quite the same. But the book I'm writing at the moment is thematically a book about psychogeography, and it's set now, in the present. And it's set in the kind of edgelands: there are many different marchlands, edgelands; the urban countryside; the margins of the town, if you like, of the city; those bits inbetween. Everywhere that's inbetween; the forgotten bits around the back of new retail parks and the nowhere scrublands between one building and another. It's all about that.

Of course, Leicester is packed full of that sort of decaying, half-forgotten, inbetween places, so I've been sniffing out the underbelly a bit, walking along the canals and things like that. So it's been quite useful to me actually here. I mean, I'm a Londoner: I was born in Dean Street, above the Pizza Express, in 1967, so it's been tough moving away from what I know in the city, but actually as well it's been quite liberating because the subject of my novel fits the surroundings at the moment.

Would you like to say anything more about your new work?

Yeah, sure.

Well, it's called Nowhere. It's premise is, it's the story of a location scout in the film business who's set the brief to find Nowhere by a film director. And in the middle of nowhere he meets this lady anthropologist who has been diagnosed as having had a nervous breakdown, but actually hasn't at all – she's just seen through how everything is. And they have this furious love affair whilst searching for Nowhere along the edgelands of society, if you like.

It's all set in a very short period of time: a few days of their affair and this guy's location scout. So there you go: I've told you all about it now.

You recently organised this year's Annual Creative Writing Lecture with Laura Esquivel, the hugely popular Mexican writer. As an author yourself, what do you feel you gain with this dialogue, if you like, with authors from completely different cultures?

My remit in having this lecture take place each year is that Creative Writing as a taught subject here in the academy, the enormously popular subject that it is, grew up in the 1880s in Harvard and other American academic institutions and was born from English Studies, and has as its craft tools critical ways in which we approach literature in English Studies. So, it's somewhat blind to itself, given what its supposed universality is.

So, what I am hoping to gain from these kind of dialogues – we had Ben Okri last year, who is based in the U.K., but has a very broad kind of take on what literature is, and then Laura Esquivel, who I thought was fascinating actually in how revolutionary she saw creativity – I mean, real Latin American stuff – what a revolutionary take she had on it. She said we have to get away from telling the same stories, and when we are looking at archetypes, look in a quantum-mechanical way at the mirror of an archetype, the opposite, the negative charge, the opposite character to the character you're writing and see if that's more interesting. That was really something important and new that she had to say. It was all about what I'm trying to do in making a Creative Writing lecture bring people in from outside the Anglophone tradition. So I felt, even though she went off in all kinds of directions, and I think a few people went, “What is she on about?”, I thought it was great, you know. I thought she was really doing something different to what any British writer would've done if they'd been invited to give this lecture.

What do you think? Do you agree?

I would agree: it was not what I was expecting at all, but I found it a really interesting, a really original take on it.

Yeah it was. She was as mad as fish, bless her, but also fantastic! I got to spend a couple of days with her and talking to her, she was so wonderful and engaged, and she really does absolutely believe in what she was talking about. And flipping things upside-down; inverting them, turning them round; you know, not repeating ourselves and how that's actually an answer to the social condition of supermodernity, of the modern condition, a passive consumerism. And how the creative process of writing stories can actively become part of that.

It's not something we talk about in Creative Writing classes in the Anglophone tradition. We just talk about point of view and doing this and doing that. We don't – I don't as a teacher – I've not been taught to say to you guys, “Let's use this to tell some story that really is about something else.” To really plunder the depths. I'm hesitant to do that: classes I'm teaching tend to be introductory classes and I don't want to scare people off, but then after watching Laura Esquivel a bit of me thinks that actually, yeah, maybe I should be scaring people off and engaging the people who want to be engaged.

You know what I mean? What do you think about that? Interesting to throw that at you, since you're one of my students.

I think the classes so far have been valuable and I think I would've felt a bit out of my depth. But then it's interesting to think – I was about to call them the “basic tools” of creative writing, but is that an objective thing, or is that something ingrained in how we think about it in the Anglophone tradition?

I started on about it a little bit in the class on Monday. With Jamaica Kincaid, everything is kind of like what I've been explaining – until it ain't. But when it still works, it still works.

And Alain Robbe-Grillet's take on the nouveau roman – I don't know if you guys have come across him or not - but he says, “I'm not interested in character or plot, point of view, structure, any of this kind of thing. I'm interested in tone, colour, suggestion,” - all those completely different things.

For someone who comes along to these events, or the Grassroutes exhibition and thinks, “That looks fun – I want to do that”... what advice would you give to an absolute beginner who wants to write?

Be wary of your own ambitions. Be absolutely honest that you're not fooling yourself by your ambitions.

Isak Dinesen said something that I have pasted up in my office. She said, “I write a little every day, without hope, without despair.” And that's it.

I mean, Laura Esquivel says, “What should a writer do? Write.”

If you're an absolute beginner you think, “Oh I'd like to be doing that.”

“Why aren't you?” is an important question. What is it that you want? Because there is a degree – not so much in universities, and I haven't found it so much in reality in my students as I thought I might – but there's a degree of a culture of narcissism at writing schools.

In a secular age, how do we answer our extinction after 4,000 weeks of life? By showing the world how authentic, deep and meaningful we are by writing a Great Novel.

Like Nick Cave says, “We call upon the author to explain.”

My advice for a starting writer is have a good look at what it is you want to do. Don't fantasise it too much too soon.

Don't become a writer before you write.

Yeah, that's exactly right. Don't seek to become a writer: seek to write. And then ask yourself what it is you write: what is your purpose? Why? Do it without hope or despair. [Laughs.] Because God knows it's a long process!

I got lucky. I did an MA from 2004 to 2005 and I got my first novel published in 2011: six years, I mean, that's remarkable. I'm not bigging myself up, I'm just saying it's remarkably fortunate how quick that happened. Also, I'd been writing since I was eight and I've always written stories, hundreds of short stories that are rubbish.

So, it's a long old grind and you've got to enjoy the process.

I met this guy when I was on this book tour in Canada who did a survey of 1,500 novelists, and he asked them how old they were when their first novel was published, and the mean age was 42, which is a real surprise I think.

Thanks very much.

A pleasure.

*Nick Edgeworth is a volunteer at Grassroutes: Contemporary Leicestershire Writing, a project that aims to promote Leicestershire's diverse literary culture.

Related books:

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

[Interview_3] Gail McFarland

Gail McFarland writes contemporary romance.

Her novels include Doing Big Things (Lulu, 2012); Wayward Dreams (Genesis Press, 2008); and, Dream Keeper (Genesis Press, 2009). In addition to that, her romantic confessions and short stories have been featured in a number of magazines as well as in the anthologies, Bouquet (Pinnacle Books, 1998) and Can a Sistah Get Some Love? (Lady Leo Publishing, 2010).

Her work is available in both print and e-format.

In this interview, Gail McFarland talks about her experience of e-books, the future of the book and about her short stories:

How much of your work is available in print form and in e-format?

My novel-length work is currently available in print form and available for order and purchase in both online and brick-and-mortar-bookstores. In e-format, readers can find a dozen different stories everywhere from Amazon.com and B&N.com, to the ibookstore, Kobo, Diesel, Sony, and Smashwords.

Of the two formats, as a reader and then as a writer, which do you prefer?

This is a great question! As a reader who grew up pre-ebook, I absolutely love the feel of a book in my hands. I love experiencing the turning of the pages and the whole holding-my-breath as I wait to see what awaits me on the next page thing. But I am at heart a reader. Truth be told, I will read just about anything, so I am reading ebooks.

In my everyday real life, I work in Wellness and Fitness and for me, that is where e-books take the full advantage. They are easy to carry in my gym bag and I can read on the treadmill or while cranking out miles on a stationary bike. E-books are unmatched for downloading manuals and having ready reference available for my classes and clients.

I still love a real paper book, but I guess I’m just a woman of my times and a good e-book works for me.

In your view, what is the future of the book going to be like?

The ease of reading and the portability of e-readers is impressive. Additionally, the opening of the market to indie authors is allowing an unprecedented rise to free and open thought that was often lost among traditional publishers. This leads me to think that more people are reading – a good thing. It also leads me to think that more ideas are being more easily exchanged and that our society, as a whole, is expanding and reshaping itself accordingly – another good thing.

So ultimately, I think that both traditional and indie authors are going to have to step up our game to keep pace with this future, and that we owe this effort to our readers, ourselves, and the ongoing integrity of books.

You have an impressive number of your stories that have been published in a variety of anthologies. How did this happen?

One of the nicest things about writing for publication is that you are able to make contact with people whose hearts sing the same songs as your own. When that happens, how can you say, ‘no’?

I have been fortunate to find myself in the company of a number of lovely ladies for the Arabesque Bouquet Mother’s Day anthology, and the Lady Leo Can a Sistah Get Some Love anthology. Additionally, a number of my short confessions (27 of them!) appeared in collections for the Sterling/MacFadden Jive, Bronze Thrills, and Black Romance magazines.

In each case, I was invited to submit an idea and a subsequent story for the collection.

I was very happy and enjoyed doing it.

And here’s a little bit of a 'scoop' for you and your readers: I will be included in a new anthology featuring the GA Peach Authors in 2013. The anthology will include work from Jean Holloway, Marissa Monteilh (Pynk), Electa Rome-Parks, and me. As authors, we write across a wide variety of genres that include everything from erotica, murder, romance, and mainstream fiction, so this one promises to be big fun.

How have the stories been received?

Anthologies are nice little “samplers” of style and content. A reader may choose the book because they are partial to a particular writer or style, but in the reading, there are always little unexpected and surprising “jewels” to be found, giving the reader something fun and unexpected – a lot of bang for your reading buck!

I have been fortunate to be included in well-planned, well-thought out collections where the writers shared a similar vision and direction. This, combined with skilled editing results in entertaining, often dream-worthy collections of well-developed prose.

Each of the anthologies I have been involved with has generated a series of really nice reviews, lots of email, and even a few new fans of the individual writers.

All of the stories and their associated collections have been well-received, and readers often want to see fully-developed novels that will follow the characters forward.

Related books:

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Related articles:
  • Gail McFarland [Interview], by LaShaunda Hoffman, Odinhouse Fantasy, July 14, 2012
  • Gail McFarland [Interview_2], Conversations with Writers, April 5, 2010
  • Gail McFarland [Interview_1], Conversations with Writers, June 2, 2008

Monday, January 14, 2013

[Book Review] Killing Honour... a beautifully written, heartfelt book

Reviewed by Sarah O’Rourke, The Grassroutes Project*

Bali Rai is considered the writer of British Asian teen fiction, and it’s not hard to see why. Life bursts off the pages of his 2011 novel, Killing Honour. Rai tackles taboo subjects with incredible clarity and passion.

Killing Honour tells the story of Sat, a Leicester-born Asian teenager, whose sister is forced into a marriage with an abusive husband who then goes onto murder her – a so-called “honour killing.” Bai makes his stance clear on these killings in the title of the book and through the voice of his narrator, who never once gives up on his sister, no matter what izzat she has offended. Sat understands that family must come before honour, saying: “[A]ll you’re doing is killing it – killing honour – not defending it,” (KH p.180) but in order to unravel the mystery of his missing sister, Sat comes up against a “wall of silence” in the Sikh community. At the same time, of course, Sat represents those Sikh men who openly condemn such murders.

Killing Honour condemns domestic violence in any form, whether that be against Asian women or white women. By removing the “honour” from the phrase honour killings, Rai exposes these violent acts for what they are: murder without justification. Rai makes it clear how intolerable it can be for women who have to live up to unachievable standards to protect their family’s izzat. Sat notes that he is a male and so the “izzat thing” (KH p91) is easier for him, making his sympathy for women apparent, wishing that his sister had run away, because he could never have lived her life. Rai further instils a sense of sympathy for women by switching the point of view of his narration – sometimes it’s Sat, sometimes it’s third person from Laura’s perspective, and sometimes it’s the abused woman. Here we see the horror of domestic violence and murder from every perspective, from the family to the Asian wife to the abused white girlfriend. Rai considers all these people as victims of the same crime. Rather than privileging one over the other, he states emphatically that it is wrong. That it must be stopped.

Rai paints Leicestershire as a diaspora space – that is a community in which the consciousness of not only the first generation immigrants is transformed, but the indigenous peoples too, each changing and shaping one another together as one cohesive whole. Location figures heavily in Killing Honour, set in and around Leicester, with local landmarks such as De Montfort Hall, Victoria Park, Queens Road, and even Babella’s bar. Sat says that his sister “lived on the other side of Leicester, but it wasn’t far. Nothing in Leicester is.” (KH p.9) And this image of Leicester as a tightknit community can be felt not only in the novel, but in the city itself, with art reflecting reality and vice versa.

In Rai’s novel, Britishness figures as intrinsically culturally diverse. As Rai himself says, “we should celebrate what we have in common” rather than putting our differences first. And so we see Sat drinking from a Bart Simpson mug, the family visiting Disney World and hot dogs being eaten. When Sat gets a girlfriend who is white (a union frowned upon by people from both sides of the cultural divide), he is presented as very much the modern multiculturalist, showing the transformations that have taken place between first and second generations in the diaspora space of Leicester life. Sat says of his girlfriend: “Although we were both British, Charlotte came from one culture and I was from another. We were like the same, and then different too.” (KH, p38)

But this is no glib celebration of multi-racial Britain. We see several examples of racism, far right activism and inter-communal strife. Most notably, we see hatred between Muslims and Sikhs, which Sat puts down to “prejudice” more than “any sense of tradition.” (KH p74) Non-white communities clash on their own terms, while Sat’s own Sikh community clashes with white bigotry, too. We hear an anecdote of his father being mistaken for a terrorist whilst going through customs, racist slurs of “paki wanker” (KH p40) and several declarations of “you don’t understand our community” (KH p115). Perhaps this is what all the tension in Killing Honour comes down to: understanding. Rai counterbalances this sense of violence and distrust between factions with genuine friendships, interracial love and the day to day entanglements that are a staple of multicultural life in Britain.

Bali Rai’s previous works have been celebrated as “verbal brilliance ... on every page” (TES) and Killing Honour is no exception. Each character has her/his distinctive voice, but more than this: their voices ring true. Rai’s ability to capture teenage speech is astonishing and at times, extremely funny, as you hear the voices of Leicestershire locals echoing through the pages, with their “innits” and their “bruvs.”

Killing Honour is a beautifully written, heartfelt book with a genuine and sincere message. Rai is a true inspiration for Leicestershire writers and readers alike, and takes the tradition of Young Adult Leicestershire writing from [Sue] Townsend and into the 21st century.

*Sarah O’Rourke is a volunteer at Grassroutes: Contemporary Leicestershire Writing, a project that aims to promote Leicestershire's diverse literary culture. 

Related books:

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

[Interview] R. J. Heald

R. J. Heald is author of 27: Six Friends, One Year (Dancing Parrot Press, 2012); founder of Five Stop Story and editor of Five Stop Story: Short Stories to Read in 5 Stops on Your Commute (Five Stop Story Press, 2011).

In this interview, Heald talks about her concerns as a writer: 

When did you start writing?

Like a lot of writers, I always loved creative writing when I was a child and I remember writing stories as one of the highlights of my primary school education. I continued to write into my teens, but stopped completely during university.

I started writing seriously when I woke up from a dream with the idea for a book about five years ago. The idea just wouldn’t go away, and when I got home from work it was still at the front of my mind, so I just started writing. That was the first novel I wrote, but it’s still in draft form and remains in a drawer at present!

I’m not sure if I ever consciously thought “I want to be a published writer.” The overriding motivation was to write, to tell the stories that occupied my thoughts and to let loose the ideas. But when I finished the first draft of my second novel, publication seemed like a sensible goal. I got feedback from beta readers and produced five re-drafts of the novel over eighteen months. I entered the novel into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition and reached the Quarter Finals.

I’d always been interested in publishing as a business, and I run my own digital publisher, Five Stop Story, which publishes short stories. Therefore, I didn’t approach any agents or publishers, but took the decision to set up my own publishing company and self-publish the novel.

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

My writing is very contemporary and tells the stories of ordinary people and their everyday triumphs and disasters. My debut novel, 27: Six Friends, One Year tells the story of a year in the lives of six friends aged 27. On the surface they lead enviable lives, but underneath the facades, they are falling apart. They each face their adversities in different ways as they try and maintain their appearance to the outside world. The novel focuses on the events both big and small that shape their lives during their 27th year.

I write about the drama of ordinary lives, and I try to capture the complexity of relationships, telling each character’s story.

Some readers have compared my writing to One Day by David Nicholls and I think that’s a good comparison.

Who is your target audience?

My target audience is predominantly women in their 20s, 30s and 40s. However, I’ve had feedback from men and women outside of this age bracket, who also enjoy my writing.

One piece of advice I heard when I was writing was “write the book you’d want to read.” That’s what I’ve done with 27: Six Friends: One Year. So I suppose the target audience is people like me.

In the writing you are doing, which authors influenced you most?

My debut novel, 27: Six Friends, One Year is all about everyday life, so my experiences and those of my friends have influenced it a lot. However, I think the experiences in the novel are universal. So, although my experiences have guided me to a certain extent, the novel is really an amalgamation of everyone’s life stories.

Jodi Picoult has been a big influence. I love the way she focuses on the importance of the relationships between characters in her stories. I think Nick Hornby and David Nicolls have influenced writing style with their use of different viewpoints.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

I actually think that the present day is a better time than ever to be a writer. There’s an amazing support network of other authors online; that just didn’t exist 10 years ago. Through this network you can get support from writing the first draft, to editing, to publishing and finally marketing. Authors like myself also have the opportunity to take things into our own hands and independently publish if we choose to do so.

That said, I suppose my concerns are the same as any creative person; essentially that people won’t like my work! However, the reviews so far have been very positive, which has been a real relief.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

Finding time to write. Sometimes I feel like everything else should come first and writing is a treat that I reward myself with if I manage to get everything else done. I work full time and also run a small digital publisher, Five Stop Story so I’m always pretty busy.

I’d love to have more time to write.

Do you write everyday?

Sadly, no. I never have done. I tend to write when I’m inspired which is why I have so many beginnings of novels and short stories, but comparatively few endings. However, when I’ve been writing first drafts of my two completed novels, I’ve been more disciplined and I’ve written most days. I had to fit it around everything else, so it might have meant writing in a lunchtime, or on a train, or first thing in the morning before work. But I made sure I did it.

I’m going to start the sequel to 27: Six Friends, One Year soon and I intend to go back to a more disciplined approach. But at the moment, marketing my debut novel is taking a lot of my limited spare time.

How many books have you written so far?

My debut novel 27: Six Friends, One Year was released in July 2012 by Dancing Parrot Press. It’s contemporary fiction and it was a Quarter finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.

I also have a short story featured in Five Stop Story: Short Stories to Read in Five Stops on Your Commute, a book which I also edited.

In addition to that I have a novel, Obsession which I am currently redrafting. This novel was one of the winners of the Next Big Author Competition in September 2011 and was shortlisted for the Brit Writers Awards.

How long did it take you to write 27: Six Friends, One Year?


It took me two years to write the novel, from the first draft to the published form. It was published in July 2012 in the UK. I set up Dancing Parrot Press in order to publish the novel. I didn’t approach traditional publishers or agents, because I was concerned about the timescales involved. Usually it takes at least a year to get an agent ,another year to find a publisher and then a further year to bring a book out. My novel is set in the here and now and I didn’t feel like waiting around.

Of course self-publishing has advantages and disadvantages. I get complete control, over the edit, the cover design and the sales channels, but I have to pay for editors and cover designers. And I have to do all the marketing myself. I’m relishing the challenge, but it’s not for everyone.

Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?

I think I found asking for feedback the most difficult. After working on your own on a project for so long it can be hard to put it out into the world for critique. I was lucky to have 10 really generous beta readers who provided constructive feedback, 90% of which I’ve taken on board in the multiple rewrites.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

Writing the first draft. Everything was up for grabs, I was in complete control and I could take the story wherever I wanted to. It was liberating.

What will your next book be about?

It will be the sequel to 27 – re-meeting the characters in 27 in three year’s time and seeing how they’ve changed. Of course they’ve been living in my head for the last two years, so I already have a good idea what they’ve been doing. I just need to get it down on paper!

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I’ve had some success in writing competitions that I’m very proud of. I was a winner of the Next Big Author Competition in September 2011 and I was a Quarter-Finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition earlier this year. However the best feeling I’ve had so far has been when I’ve received 5* reviews from people I’ve never heard of. That’s a real buzz.

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