Category Archives: Getting to Know…

Getting to Know You: Lilja Sigurðardóttir

I’m delighted to welcome Lilja Sigurðardóttir. I first met Lilja at Newcastle Noir 2016. Having heard her talk about her books, I – like many others – were desperate to read them and I’m thrilled that Orenda Books have published Lilja’s novel ‘Snare‘ in English. Yet another novel on my ever-expanding TBR pile! 

Thanks to Lilja for taking the time to talk to us today.

Vic x

Tell us about your books.
I am the author of five novels that have been published in my home country of Iceland. The latest are the Reykjavík Noir Trilogy that is enjoying international success and being translated into many languages. The first in the series, Snare, is just out in English, translated by Quentin Bates. 

What inspired them?
It is hard to tell what inspires a book, as there are so many things that influence a story. I would say that I have a passion for writing, for telling stories and entertaining people with them. That passion is the driving force behind what I do.

How do you feel about your novel being translated into English?
It is an absolute dream come true! Both because I have many English-speaking friends and they have been waiting impatiently to get to read my books, but also because the English language is such a gateway to the world. I have been a bit stressed about how the stories would be received in English as the English-speaking world has such a rich and strong tradition of crime fiction, but the reception so far has been very positive. But the best part of the whole process was working with Quentin Bates, whom I now consider a close friend.

Where do you get your ideas from?
From all over, I have to say. I dream a lot and some of the ideas come from my dreams as strangely as that sounds. It usually starts with a character that begins to grow in my mind and then I try to find a place and time for them, a purpose and a drive and from there on dreams and research come in handy. Dreams for mad ideas and research for deciding the limits of the possibilities.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
Oh, so many! I do love my characters like family. Even the nasty ones. Usually my last book is the favourite one, as it is fresh in my mind and I still feel like I´m in love with the story but now with the publication of Snare in English I have been reading it again and talking about it and promoting it, so now I’m totally in love with it again! I will have to say that the complete Reykjavík Noir Trilogy is my favourite work.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
The best advice I have been given was from a wonderful friend and renowned Icelandic poet and writer Þorsteinn frá Hamri. He told me that since I had a compulsion to write I would just have to make a go of it and give it my best, otherwise I wouldn’t be happy. He was right. I have never been happier than when I made writing my main job.

What can readers expect from your books?
Entertainment! I hope. My main goal with writing is to make people happy. Everyone likes a story and in order to make people happy, the story has to be good and fun to read. ‘Snare‘ is fast-paced and the point of view changes between four very different characters that then connect to each other. Everyone seems to have a favourite character in that group and I love asking people who their favourite character is.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Yes. Only one. Write a story that you love. Never mind trying to be clever or funny, just write a story you fall in love with. Then it has the best chance of being a good story.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I love, love, love writing! I love creating the story, connecting to the characters, finding the pace, pumping up the action. Editing is another thing altogether. Rewriting and fixing sentences and proofreading are things I wish I could get out of. It takes way too much time and bores me. I would rather write a whole other book than edit one I’ve finished.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Yes. I am starting a new series. It is very exciting although I miss my old characters from the Reykjavík Noir Trilogy and am very tempted to make some of them appear in the new story, just so that the readers and I can see where they are now. But we’ll see.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
Every morning that I have time to write and sit down at the computer with coffee in the mug that Quentin gave me and Malinche, the 16th century Mexican skull my dad gave me, by my side. I enjoy living in my head and portraying that inner life to a page. Of course, like all writers I love the moment when I write: “Endir” at the bottom of the last page. That’s Icelandic for: The End.

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Getting to Know You: Claire MacLeary

Today on the blog, we have the lovely Claire MacLeary. Claire is the author of ‘Cross Purpose’ which was longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize – Bloody Scotland’s annual prize – this year. The award was renamed in memory of William McIlvanney who was often described as the Godfather of Tartan Noir so to be nominated is an exceptional achievement. 

I have met Claire on several occasions and she has always been incredibly kind to me. When I heard Claire read from ‘Cross Purpose’, I was utterly blown away. Her character, Big Wilma, has really captured readers’ imaginations. I can’t wait to host her at Noir at the Bar one day. 

Thanks to Claire for sharing her thoughts with us. 

Vic x

Congrats on the nomination! How did that feel?
Surreal. I was on a boat in Bratislava relaxing after submitting my second book, when instinct told me to switch on my phone. My publisher, Sara Hunt, had been trying to contact me and ultimately sent a text. With no signal or Wi-fi access – and wild imaginings as to what crisis could have precipitated the message –  I rushed ashore, found a bar with good reception and … well, luckily I was sitting down when I read her email. Needless to say, I was so giddy the rest of that day is a blur.

 

How did you feel at the awards ceremony?
Happy and humble in turn. The late Willie McIlvanney was a towering figure in Scottish literature, the founding father of Tartan Noir and the most charming and unassuming of men. To be longlisted for a prestigious award that bears his name – and that in the company of such stellar fellow nominees – validates the hard work I have put in over the past few years and is at the same time deeply humbling.

Had you read the other shortlisted books?
Almost all. I made a start when Bloody Scotland announced the longlisters – tagged The Dirty Dozen – and I am still working through the eleven other novels (I’m currently reading Jay Stringer’s How to Kill Friends and Implicate People). Familiar with the writing of the big name nominees, I started with Helen Fields and Owen Mullen, debut authors like myself. I was blown away by Perfect Remains (I thought my mind was dark till I read the gruesome torture scenes) and loved Owen’s Glasgow PI, Charlie Cameron. But my money for the McIlvanney Prize  was on Denise Mina’s The Long Drop, in part because I spent half my childhood living in Burnside at the time the Watt murders were committed there.

Tell us about your book, ‘Cross Purpose‘.
I’d developed a literary novel from my MLitt thesis, but had an early rebuff, being told domestic fiction didn’t sell. Having already written the first scene of Cross Purpose for a writing exercise, I consigned the literary novel to a drawer and decided to try my hand at crime fiction.
Set in Aberdeen, where I lived for some years, my debut novel is a departure from the norm in that its protagonists are neither experienced police professionals nor highly qualified forensic scientists, but two women ‘of a certain age’. They’re an unlikely pair: Maggie petite, conservative, conventional. Her neighbour, Wilma, is a big girl: coarse, in your face and a bit dodgy. But before your readers decide Cross Purpose is ‘cosy crime’ be warned, it’s dark. Humorous too. Think Tartan Noir meets Happy Valley.

What inspired ‘Cross Purpose‘?
I moved from Edinburgh to Aberdeen when my first child was born. Having given up a high-intensity job as a training consultant and far from friends and family, I looked for something I could do with a baby under one arm and became an antiques dealer. Then, when my son started primary school, I opened a sandwich bar. Cross Purpose was inspired by the colleagues who worked with me there, and in the spin-off catering business: women whose aspirations and self-confidence were constrained by the lack of affordable childcare. Most hadn’t had the benefit of further education, yet they rose magnificently to every challenge – and there were loads! My book is a tribute to those unsung women.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Life. As an older woman, I have plenty to write about. Aside from consultancy work, I’ve done a range of jobs: market trader, advertising copywriter, laundry maid. I’ve travelled widely: India, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bhutan as well as Europe and USA. I’ve also had some challenging experiences: detained by soldiers in the Egyptian desert, escorted at gunpoint off an aeroplane in Beirut, given a talk to Business School students at Harvard, drunk cocktails in a private suite at The Pierre.
I’m curious. I keep my eyes and ears open, a notebook always to hand. It’s amazing what a writer can pick up.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
George Laird’s funeral scene always makes me cry. Then I feel heaps better. If it can still move me, there’s a chance it will move my readers.
That apart, I love writing the scenes where Wilma is pushing the boundaries. It was my publisher who coined the ‘Big Wilma’ moniker. I was resistant at first, because I didn’t want Maggie’s business partner to morph into a figure of fun. I needn’t have worried. Readers have taken both protagonists to their hearts: Maggie because she’s straight as a die, Wilma for her frailties as well as her couthy humour.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
‘Make every word count.’ The advice came from the acclaimed New Zealand novelist Kirsty Gunn, my MLitt professor at the University of Dundee. Kirsty was a hard taskmaster, and some of her strictures didn’t make sense until long after I’d gained my degree. But the rigour she instilled, together with the reading list she tailored to my needs, combined to make me a better writer.

What can readers expect from your novel?
Strong characterisation. I try to draw characters my readers can readily identify with: think Maggie’s money worries, Wilma’s yo-yoing weight, their respective marital woes, their hopes and fears for their offspring.
Pared-down style. I’ve been told my writing ‘says a lot in a few words’ and ‘leaves a lot unsaid’. I set out to engage the reader, but leave room for interpretation.
Social commentary: affordable childcare, housing problems, alcohol/drug dependency to name a few.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Keep chipping away. I’m impatient by nature, but have learned the big projects take their own time.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I love that feeling of satisfaction when you write a good sentence, or even find the right word. Problem is, you can waste time trying to fine-tune when what’s needed is to get on and write the first draft. Good advice is to circle or highlight the words that aren’t quite right and sort later.
I have a low boredom threshold, and get weary halfway through the edit, even though I know it will improve the end result.
That said, after several years and endless rewrites, it was a thrill to finally see Cross Purpose in print, even more satisfying to see it earn plaudits from book bloggers and readers.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Burnout
, second in the Harcus & Laird series, has gone to proof and will launch in Spring 2018.
A short story will appear in the next issue of Gutter Magazine.
My literary novel has been turned on its head and may yet find a home.
My head is bursting with ideas for a police procedural into which I’m trying to insert Maggie and Wilma.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
It should be when I got offers for Cross Purpose from two separate publishers, but I must admit that scenario was eclipsed by those few minutes when, with my fellow McIlvanney Prize longlisters, I was piped across the courtyard of Stirling Castle into the Great Hall to thunderous applause.

Getting to Know You: Mac Logan

Earlier this year, when reading at Noir at the Bar in Edinburgh, I was introduced to a certain Mr Mac Logan who was also there to read from his novel ‘Angels Cut‘. He’s on the blog today to talk writing with us.

My thanks to Mac for taking the time to chat to us – I look forward to welcoming him at Noir at the Bar Newcastle sometime!

Vic x


Tell us about your books.
In addition to my poetry, I’m writing two fiction series and business non-fiction:

  • The Angels Share series: Angels’ CutDark ArtDevils Due and more to come, see my website for more info on upcoming releases. 

My inspiration comes from personal experience of corruption and greed in both the public and private sectors. Sad to say, this has impacted on my life. However, vengeance in the real world is not acceptable and I wouldn’t wish to harm anyone for real.

In spite of past experience, crime fiction provides a means of pursuing nasty people with satisfying and inventive robustness. My thrillers offer a sense of recourse against the corrupt people and cadres who screw us, steal our money and, what’s more, they provide an insight into what might well be going on.

  •  The Reborn Tree series: I’m currently writing Protector and there are more in the series to come.

My inspiration comes from the time of the five good emperors of Rome. This work is a history-based fantasy.

In the north of Britain the tribes of what is now Scotland (and Irish their cousins) stood against Roman expansionism. The Pictish/Celts faced a massive challenge to their survival as a culture protecting a way of life and their spiritual values and beliefs. Imagine lethal confrontations with the materialistic greed of Rome as well as unexpected friends… and enemies. 

  • Business Non-fiction: I am working on a series of simple explanatory books on topics around the human aspects of work. There are two titles so far on Time and Mentoring (co-written a specialist from St Andrews University). 

Where do you get your ideas from?
Experience, reading and emotional connections. When I watch grown people weep in anguish over cruel circumstances, or hear dishonesty splatter from the mouths of politicians, I am affected. Similarly, when I play with my grandchildren and we laugh, do exciting things and make a noise, I am affected. Such feelings energise me. 

I believe powerful emotions – good and bad – generate ideas. These in turn stimulate my muse and, via the predispositions of my personality, create a tangible output. 

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
The adventure in Dark Art, where Eilidh, is coming to terms with the harsh, deadly world in which she finds herself springs to mind. She starts off dependent yet, like a child, she develops skills and insights essential to her survival. She builds relationships and earns respect on her journey. There is humour and the inevitable mistakes and risks she must navigate to survive. 

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
Write every day. It’s pretty common advice, but practise is key. To that I’d add get it read. My editor is a solid, constructive and fearless critic. She tells me good things and bad with clarity.

What can readers expect from your books?
Pace. Action. Violence. Realism. Humanity. Love. Flaws. Hatred. Greed. People worth caring for. Evil villains that’ll make skin your crawl.


Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Write. Be yourself. Take criticism on the chin and, soon as you can, learn from it. However: remember that not all criticism is correct.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I can’t think of much I dislike except my own procrastination. I love writing and sharing my work. I enjoy readings.
I’ve done a couple of “shows” where I’ve had an audience there to meet me alone, and talk, read from my books and poetry and generally have fun. It’s nourishing.
A biggie is when my granddaughter climbs on my knee and says “Grandpa, tell me a story with your heart.” Making stories up, on request, for young children is an unique compliment.


Are you writing anything at the moment?
Devils Due (Angels’ Share series) is underway and the pressure is mounting for me to finish it. My editor is booked for Protector (Reborn Tree series). She’s expecting it for the end of this month, OMG.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
A business man I know bought 25 copies of Angels’ Cut as Christmas presents. He loves my writing. When he asked me to sign them it felt fantastic.

*Yellow Room Blog Tour* Getting to Know Shelan Rodger.

I’m delighted to be the final stop in Shelan Rodger’s book tour for her wonderful book Yellow Room‘.

Today, we get the opportunity to get to know the author of this extraordinary novel. I’d like to thank her for taking the time to share her thoughts with us – and for writing this thought-provoking story. 

Tell us about ‘Yellow Room‘, Shelan. What inspired the novel?
The notion of personal identity intrigues me – the extent to which our sense of who we are is bound up with the culture and place we grow up in, the way we use a job or a cause or a relationship to create meaning and definition, the extent to which a single event can shape the person we turn into.

In Yellow Room, Chala’s sense of self is moulded by something that happened when she was only four – and the drama takes place when the goalposts of her reality begin to change. Although we think of twists so readily as the realm of fiction, we all face twists at times in our lives. We meet someone out of the blue and fall in love, we lose a loved one suddenly, we have a life-changing accident or illness, a buried secret breaks out into the open… These ‘twists’ can be exciting or they can be appalling, but they always cause some kind of evolution in our being – and this is the kind of thing I wanted to explore in the novel.

And secrets! Sometimes I think of life as a bank of sedimentary rock: layer upon layer of new experience compressed into a formation that looks solid from the outside yet crumbles quite easily; and secrets are like layers of sand within this rock, covering and compressing what lies below. I believe we all live with secrets of one kind or another, even if these are about truths we have repressed from ourselves… and perhaps that is why secrets hold such a peculiar fascination. In Yellow Room, the secret sands of different lives interact in ways that not even the characters involved can always see.

Where do you get your ideas from?
I don’t know how the light-bulb ever actually comes on – for me it tends to manifest in the form of an idea, which then turns into a character – but I am certainly aware of the earth it has grown in: the rather nomadic, multi-cultural mish-mash of my own life!

I was born in Nigeria, grew up in aboriginal Australia, then England, and have spent most of my adult life between Argentina, Kenya and Spain. I’m sure this has created a kind of questioning within my make-up that explains the fascination I talked about just now with personal identity and what this really means.

I think there is also a strong sense of place in my novels and that is certainly grounded in personal experience. Twin Truths, my first novel, is set in Argentina in the nineties, where I lived for nine years. Yellow Room is set in Kenya, where I was living on a flower farm in Naivasha, one of the hot spots that was hit by the post-election violence ten years ago which killed over a thousand people and turned half a million overnight into refugees within their own country. Chala’s personal drama takes place against the backdrop of these real events, and Kenya plays an active role in the story of who she becomes.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
Mmm… a difficult question to answer. Writing a novel is a bit like having a relationship; you get to know and live with the main characters inside your head.

My relationship with Chala was conflicting at times; sometimes I just wanted to shake her, but mostly I love her honesty with herself. The twin sisters of my first novel, Twin Truths, are still close to my heart. As for scenes, I love writing scenes that I know are pivotal – those intensely emotional and significant moments that can make or break a novel.

I also love endings – both as a reader and a writer. I think endings are hugely challenging for a writer: how to create a sense of emotional closure that is satisfying but not trite, how to keep the door open for the novel and the future of its characters to linger in the mind of the reader, in a way that is somehow thought-provoking without being manipulative. Yellow Room has two endings in a way: the last page for Chala, and the epilogue, which is told from the viewpoint of another character, and I really felt the last lines when I was writing these.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
My father’s words: ‘Just get it out and suspend judgement until later.’ My father was a poet and a non-fiction writer and these were his words of advice when I was writing my first novel. I’ve never forgotten them. Let it out, get it out. And then, only then, let the jury in and edit and rewrite as much as you need to, but first just pour it all onto the page.

What can readers expect from ‘Yellow Room’?
If I have achieved what I aspired to, the book is compelling and thought-provoking. A drama that explores the power of secrets, the shifting sands of our sense of personal identity, the grey areas that flow between the boundaries of relationships. A poignant insight into the reality of poverty in Kenya and the events that took over a thousand lives ten years ago. Kenya has its own secrets, which are still unfolding today.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
I think I would simply share my father’s words again. They had a profoundly liberating effect on me and I believe creativity is an act of liberation. The attempt to connect with the reader is at its heart, I believe, something deeply intuitive not learnt. Trust your intuition first, question it later.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
It doesn’t happen all the time of course, but what I love most are those special moments when you lose track of time and it becomes almost a form of meditation, with words seeming to flow through you rather than from you. There is something earthy and connected and grounding in that feeling. To be honest there is nothing I really dislike about writing because the different phases, for example editing, are all part of the process of creation. The thing I am most wary of, as you can see from some of my answers, is the monkey that sits in judgement on your shoulder if you let it, sneering and undermining your confidence!

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Yes, I am working on my third novel, which is another psychological twisty tale, also set in Kenya (but this time on a flying safari). It’s inspired by something that happened two weeks before my father died: he found a novel he’d forgotten he’d written, read it, changed the last line and gave it to me. I never saw him again. In the book, a box of writing by the father she never knew falls into the hands of a drama therapist called Elisa and takes her to Kenya, where a twist presents the one person from her past she never wanted to meet again.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I was driving along a pot-holed road in Kenya to my parents’ house for lunch. The lake filled my view to the horizon as it always did; pelicans and flamingos dipped below me to the water’s edge. But that day the lake looked different. The news I’d just received made everything feel different. Someone – a person who was to become very important and dear to me – wanted to be my agent. Suddenly, the possibility of being what I wanted to be was real, stretching like the lake below me to the horizon. That is the moment I think I would single out, a moment full of hope and beauty, a moment – ironically – intimately connected with my own personal sense of identity.

Review: ‘Yellow Room’
by Shelan Rodger.

What I’m about to say may come as a surprise. ‘Yellow Room‘ is currently a hot contender for my book of 2017. 

Having lived the majority of her life in the shadow of a tragic childhood accident, Chala is shaken by the death of her stepfather who steadfastly supported her throughout. In the midst of this emotional turmoil, Chala decides to volunteer at an orphanage in Kenya. Despite providing Chala with the opportunity to re-evaluate her life, the country remains on the brink of violence and horror. 

Shelan Rodger has deftly created a truly compelling novel featuring complex yet empathetic characters. The author really understands the nuances and complexities of human behaviour and her insights are weaved skillfully into her characters, bringing them to life. 

Yellow Room’ contains everything I could possibly want from a novel: evocative descriptions, well-written characters and an exploration of how power shifts in both personal and political relationships.

Despite being a story that delves deeper than most, ‘Yellow Room‘ is incredibly readable. I honestly did not want to put this book down. Part of me wanted to stay with the characters in this book forever. 

From the opening page, I was hooked by ‘Yellow Room‘ and I suspect that the story will stay with me for a very long time. 

Vic x 

Getting to Know You: Sara Sheridan

When I read at Noir at the Bar Edinburgh earlier this year, Sara Sheridan was also on the bill. Reading from her first ‘Mirabelle Bevan Mystery’, ‘Brighton Belle‘, Sara had the audience in the palm of her hand.

It’s no surprise that the ‘Mirabelle Bevan Mysteries’ have been optioned for TV and Sara has been named as one of Scotland’s 365 most influential women, past and present, by the Saltire Society.

My thanks to Sara for taking the time out of her very busy schedule to chat with us today. 

Vic x

Hi Sara, tell us about your books.
Oh God. Where to start? I write the ‘Mirabelle Bevan Mysteries’ – there are six of them now and they are set in the 1950s on the south coast (except for number four when Mirabelle ends up in Paris.) I also write historical epics – my latest On Starlit Seas was shortlisted for the Wilbur Smith Award.

What inspired them? 
My dad was hugely influential. He was brought up in London and Brighton in the 1950s and the series started when I wrote a short story for his birthday, which then turned into the beginning of Brighton Belle, the first in the series. I love the 1950s – I’m drawn to everything about it. The music. The artefacts. The end of the British empire. It’s fascinating politically and culturally and the stories in the series reflect real-life issues of the day. I’m as interested in social history as I am in crime.

Where do you get your ideas from? 
I am a magpie and ideas could come from anywhere. I mean anywhere. A charity shop find. Something I have seen. A conversation I have overheard. An article on a particular subject. A real-life crime case. There is a fascination in how things come together – I’ll come up with a particular issue out of the blue, write it in and before I know it, suddenly everything coalesces around that. It’s extraordinary.

 

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
I like Delia who is chapter nine of Brighton Belle – an upmarket hooker on a mission. I’ll say no more. I also enjoyed writing the scene where Mirabelle, my main character, gets assaulted by a psychotic Masonic Scotsman in England Expects (Mirabelle number 3). There is, I realise, as I write this answer, something very wrong with me.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
Dinnae Fash. Which is Scots for don’t fuss. It’s so easy to get caught up in a drama over writing but it doesn’t help. Roll up your sleeves and get on with it.

What can readers expect from your books?
Miss Marple with an edge. That’s not me – that was an early review. But it was RIGHT.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Get it down on the page. That’s it. Once you have a draft, then you can work on it, but at the start, just get it down. Also read. Always. Loads. Especially anything in the genre you want to write in.

What do you like and dislike about writing? 
I like doing it. I like editing it. I like reading it. I like talking about it. But there is some pressure involved – and I’m not so keen on that. I’m shy, I suppose.

Are you writing anything at the moment? 
Lord. Always. Currently writing the 8th Mirabelle Bevan mystery. But I am about to leave that aside for another project that’s coming up. I also write historical epics. My schedule is pretty full for the next year or so.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
Seeing a woman reading my book on a train once. That was a thrill. I spent ages figuring out which bit she was at. If you’re the woman who got freaked out cos of the weird girl staring at you, I apologise. At least now you know why.

Don’t Quit the Day Job – Neil Broadfoot on Working with Words.

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we’ll talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today as part of ‘Don’t Quit the Day Job’, Neil Broadfoot is here to talk to us about how his work life has inspired his fiction.

Earlier this year, it was confirmed in ‘The Bookseller‘ that Neil had signed a three-book deal with Constable for a new crime series set in Stirling. The first in the series, ‘No Man’s Land‘ is due out in hardback in July 2018. 

Vic x

I always wanted to be a writer. Since the day my primary school teacher passed me an empty jotter with a scalded-pink cardboard cover (which I’m sure my mum still has) it’s all I ever wanted to do. My mum was convinced I would be a doctor or a lawyer. My teachers in high school advised a career in history or IT. But, no, I knew. Writing. That was where my future lay.

It was that certainty that led me into journalism. I wanted to write, I wanted to work with words until the day came when I could do a Stephen King (my childhood literary hero), get a deal and write full-time. It hasn’t quite worked out like that – I’ve still got a day job and I write mostly at night – but you know what, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Why? Because journalism taught me how to write. And, more importantly, it kicked the ego out of me early on.

Let me explain. I get asked a lot about how I write a book. How do you start? Where do you get your ideas? How do you find time? The truth is there’s no magic formula, no muse waiting to sprinkle fairy dust on you and set you on the way. Writing is a job. OK, for me it’s a job that never feels like work, but it is a job. You have to sit down, and hammer out the words. Sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, day by day. In newspapers, there’s no time to sit and stare blankly out of the window seeking inspiration. A page lead (the main story on the page) might run to 500 words. And you need to write three of them. To a tight deadline. A splash (front page)? That’s 800-1000 words (more if it spreads over multiple pages in the paper). And you have to write it. The single best thing I got out of being a journalist (other than my wife, but that’s a different story) was the ability to see writing as a job. You have a word count and a deadline and you hit it.

But there’s more. Working in newspapers is also a masterclass in the mechanics of story telling. All stories should address six key points – who, what, when, where, how and, most importantly, why. In my first novel, Falling Fast, I had nothing more than the what and the where when I started. I was walking through Princes Street, saw the Scott Monument and had the idea that someone should fall from there into the crowds below (what can I say, I was having a bad day at work).

That was it. I wrote the opening chapter, sat back and thought “What next?” I didn’t have a clue, so I approached the story like a journalist: asking questions, following leads, filling in the what, when, how and who. I didn’t get to the why until about 65,000 words, and I can still remember writing the sentence that unlocked the whole story. Writing Falling Fast was a voyage of discovery, and I loved every minute. It’s why I write the way I do and hate plotting; if I’m trying to work the story out as I go then it keeps it alive and fresh for me. And hopefully that comes through in the work.

I don’t work in newspapers any more, the cuts imposed by accountants and directors who don’t understand newspapers reduced the job I loved to a simple act of reheating other people’s work and slapping it into a pre-made template on a page. But I still work with words every day in communications. And at night, when it’s just me and the keyboard and the story, I’m still there, reporting back what I’ve found for myself and the readers.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Getting to Know You: Caroline Roberts

Next month, I will be interviewing Stephanie Butland and Caroline Roberts at Berwick Literary Festival. Today, I’m warming up by getting to know Caroline.

Thanks to Caroline for taking the time to speak with us today. 

Vic x

Tell us about your novels.
I have 4 published novels all set in Northumberland:

The Torn Up Marriage is about love, loss, betrayal and family – a story about ‘messy’ love, and how hard relationships can be when we tear our own worlds apart.

The Cosy Teashop in the Castle and The Cosy Christmas Teashop, its sequel, are romantic comedy novels set in a quirky Northumberland Castle inspired by the wonderful Chillingham Castle near to where I live. My friend ran the tea rooms there for seven years. It’s a story about striving for your dreams, finding your identity, with a host of delightful characters and of course  lots of tea, cake and romance.

My Summer of Magic Moments is a love story about rediscovering those special moments in life, especially after a gruelling time. Claire has recently finished breast cancer treatment and escapes to a cottage on the Northumberland coast. I particularly love the setting at Bamburgh which is one of my all-time favourite places. It’s a story about love, healing, and finding your way through life.

I think through all my books I’m trying to explore love in words, not just romantic, sexual love, but the love between family and friendships too.

What inspired them?
My interest in relationships sparks it all off – things I see in real life, read about in magazines or newspapers. And the settings are very much inspired by my wonderful home county of Northumberland where I have lived for fifteen years, its rolling hills, castles and stunning coastline.

Where do you get your ideas from?
My ideas come from things I have seen, read, overheard, experienced, then I let my imagination take over. A real place can start me thinking about what might happen there. I knew I wanted to set a book at the cottages I used to jog past, nestled right beside the beach between Bamburgh and Seahouses – that became My Summer of Magic Moments.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
My favourite novel is my latest, My Summer of Magic Moments. It is particularly special to me as it was informed by a wonderful lady who herself had gone through breast cancer. It also has lots of real moments included from my family and friends. This book carries a little piece of my heart, and I feel so thankful to have had it published.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was
from?
“Don’t get it right, get it written”, a friend from the Romantic Novelists’ Association told me that (I think originally it may have been from Dorothea Brande’s book). It’s so true and stops you procrastinating about getting it perfect first time, which I think can cripple many a writer. Just let the creative juices flow and get the story out. Later is the time for editing.

What can readers expect from your books?
A really good love story, with fun, family, friends and food, set against something sad such as loss, grief and betrayal – the hard stuff that affects us all at times in life, all in a beautiful Northumberland setting.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?

  • Write what you are passionate about. If you love what you write this will make the writing process so much easier, and it will come through to readers (and hopefully publishers/agents if you are looking to be published) and spark their imagination and interest too.
  • Finish the book! Don’t pressure yourself that it has to be perfect. Just keep going forward and get the story out. Make time to write regularly, and you will get there. Editing is for later.
  • Submitting – If publication is your aim, finish the book, polish up your first 3 chapters, spend time on your synopsis and cover letter, and only then start sending it out. Try and be as professional as possible. Do your research on who you are submitting to – and send exactly what they ask for. Do try and personalise your cover letter to show you have spent time finding out about them/their company.
  • Persevere – the submission process can be long and hard, and rejection is never easy. Try not to take it too personally – easier said than done, I know – but keep going and try and learn from any critical feedback you might get.
  • Link up with other writers. Look for local groups, or link with groups in your genre. The support and friendship within organisations such as the Romantic Novelists’ Association is invaluable. It was only by taking a deep breath and pitching at the RNA Conference that I got my book deal offers.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I love the creative process – getting lost in my imaginary worlds where the scenes unroll and the characters seem so real. I also really like meeting and chatting with readers.
Dislikes: Deadlines, writing a novel to a short deadline set by the publisher can feel somewhat stifling. Marketing and publicity can also be challenging and time-consuming too, I really didn’t have a clue how much the author is expected to do of this themselves before I got published, though I’m much more comfortable with this side of things now.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’m on the final edit stage of my next book, The Cosy Christmas Chocolate Shop,  a romantic comedy set in a fictional Northumberland harbour village that’s a mash-up of Craster with Warkworth plus a few tweaks of my own. I had great fun researching all things chocolate for this book, and was inspired and helped by two fabulous local chocolatiers.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
Holding the first paperback copy of my debut novel, The Torn Up Marriage, in my hands. That was such a special feeling. I had spent over ten years trying to get my novels published and it was a real ‘I Did It!’ moment. A dream come true.