Category Archives: Getting to Know…

Getting to Know You: Tana Collins

tana-flyer

It’s my pleasure today to welcome Tana Collins on the penultimate stop of her blog tour. I met Tana at the first Edinburgh Noir at the Bar and I’m thrilled that she’s appearing at the Newcastle NatB tonight. 

Tana’s novel ‘Robbing the Dead‘ was released by Bloodhound Books earlier this month and is available to buy now. 

Thanks to Tana for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’re near the Town Wall tonight, pop in – it’s free entry – and promises to be a criminally good night. 

Vic x

Tana

Welcome to the blog, Tana. Tell us about your debut novel.
Robbing the Dead‘ is the first novel in the Inspector Jim Carruthers series set in the picturesque East Neuk of Fife.

robbing-the-dead

What inspired it?
Although it’s a work of fiction the inspiration for the novel comes from a true event that occurred in the early 1970s. I don’t want to say too much and give away any spoilers but it’s a tragic event that impacted on many people’s lives and still to this day continues to do so. I felt that whilst most of us have heard about the event very few know some of the details that make this story so human. I felt there was still a story to be told. 

Where do you get your ideas from?
Like most writers I have an inquisitive nature and am fascinated by people. I observe, listen and ask lots of questions. I decided my main cop, Inspector Jim Carruthers, should live in Anstruther in Fife. Early on into writing ‘Robbing the Dead‘ my partner and I went there for a long weekend so I could do some research. We walked in to the Dreel Tavern which I had reckoned might be Carruthers’ watering hole. I decided I needed to engage with the locals so I went up to the bar on my own with my drink and slapped a notebook and pen down. Within minutes a local had sidled up and asked me in a suspicious voice what I was doing. He had decided I was a tax inspector! That could end up a story in itself! I told him I was a writer and that the Dreel was going to be my main character’s favourite pub. I then asked him rather cheekily what he had to hide thinking I was a tax inspector! Within minutes half a dozen folk had come over telling me their stories of Anstruther, including the story of the resident pub ghost!

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
My main character is a male police inspector, DCI Jim Carruthers. One of my female friends indignantly asked me why my inspector wasn’t a woman. I replied that I wanted Carruthers to be a man. He was always going to be a man and he’s still my favourite character, although DS Andrea Fletcher, as his assistant, is definitely starting to come in to her own. Interestingly, now I’ve written three books, I’ve noticed that more of my personality has gone in to Jim Carruthers but more of my life experiences in to Andrea Fletcher.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?The best piece of advice came from crime writer Peter Robinson. He was talking about writer’s block. He said that often writer’s block occurs because you are in the head of the wrong character in that particular scene. This piece of advice has served me well.

What can readers expect from your books?
Fast paced action and plenty of it! ‘Robbing the Dead‘ has been described as an ‘edge of your seat’ crime thriller. All three books start with a murder, if not in the first scene, definitely very early on and the death count just continues to rise. I like to write interesting stories often based on historical or contemporary events with political overtones. But I also like to have strong and believable characters that my readers will be able to engage with!

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Don’t give up! I can’t tell you how close ‘Robbing the Dead‘ came to ending up in the knicker drawer. And the truth of it is that early on it just wasn’t good enough to be published. It had two massive rewrites and I’m delighted I persevered. Ten years later with three books under my belt I started to approach publishing companies and landed a three book deal with Bloodhound Books. It was officially published on 14th February and I have been thrilled by the reviews! Read everything you can get your hands on in your genre. Hang out with other writers. Critique each other’s work. Go to book festivals. Last bit of advice would be get yourself a good editor before approaching publishers.

How do you feel about appearing at Noir at the Bar?
This will be my second Noir at the Bar event and I’m very excited. Like most writers I love to talk about my book and I love to meet readers and other writers. I feel honoured to be invited to speak and share a excerpt from my debut novel. I’m also looking forward to hearing other writers, new and well established, speak.

 img_1837

What do you like and dislike about writing?
There is nothing that makes me happier than being given a blank piece of paper at the start of writing a novel. I love crafting a story and developing the characters. I also enjoy the research. I don’t do much drafting as I like to watch the novel evolve organically which can be dangerous. The worst? The crippling bouts of self- doubt during the writing process! 

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’m just about to start an edit on the second novel, ‘Care to Die’, which is being published on 25th April 2017. The third novel, ‘Mark of the Devil’, is currently with my first reader. I’m contemplating a fourth book in the series so there’s a few ideas swirling around in my head.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I think it has to be meeting my all time hero, Peter Robinson, on a writing course given by him in Tallinn. It was thrilling receiving tuition from someone who was also writing his latest Inspector Banks story which needed to be set in a European city! When ‘Watching the Dark‘ was finally published we found out that, as his students, we were all named in the acknowledgements! A wonderful moment.

Getting to Know You: Douglas Skelton

Getting to Know You: BA Morton

Today, I’m joined on the blog by writer BA Morton.

Published by Caffeine Nights, Babs left the rat race and headed to deepest Northumberland where she now lives in a haunted house.

I thought it showed great commitment that Babs came all the way to Newcastle for the first Noir at the Bar Newcastle – just to be in the audience. I was honoured to have Babs appear at the second NatB NE and I’m thrilled to have her on the blog.  

Vic x

b-a-morton

Hi Vic, thank you for inviting me along to talk about my favourite subject – books!

My pleasure! Tell us about your books, Babs. 

I currently have nine published novels and novellas across a number of genres ranging from historical romance to psychological crime. My debut crime novel ‘Mrs Jones’ and the follow-up ‘Molly Brown‘ are set in New York, while my medieval series ‘The Wildewood Chronicles‘ follows the many misadventures of Templar Knight Miles as he returns to Northumberland after crusading in The Holy Land. More recently I’ve concentrated closer to home with North East based psychological thrillers ‘Bedlam‘ & ‘Twisted‘ (published by Caffeine Nights).

Bedlam

What inspired them? 

Wildewood‘ was inspired initially from research carried out on my own home which was built on the remains of a medieval chapel. By contrast ‘Mrs Jones‘ was simply inspired by lyrics from the song of the same name.

Mrs Jones

Where do you get your ideas from?

Everywhere! Sometimes it can be an image or the lyrics from a song, or simply a snatch of conversation or a news headline. Today, for example, I’ve been mulling over the word ‘knowledge’ too much is as dangerous as too little … hmmm… I have a plot forming already.

wildewood revenge

Do you have a favourite book / character that you’ve written? 

That’s difficult because my favourite book is usually my most recent. That said, my kookiest and most weirdly lovable character has to be Spook from my Newcastle crime novel ‘Twisted’ Spook likes to play dangerous games. She hears voices in her head and slips into rhyme when she’s pushed too close to the edge (which happens quite often). Favourite tortured hero has to be DS Joe McNeil from my psychological crime thriller ‘Bedlam’. Jeez, that poor bloke has it stacked against him… and you really want things to turn out right for him, but you’re scared they won’t.

Twisted

What can readers expect from your books?

Generally, fast paced action, a character driven twisted plot, and a measure of black humour. There’s often a ‘will they or won’t they’ element and that could either be romance, as in ‘Mrs Jones‘, with the witness and the cop, or simply about whether the character will do the right thing against impossible odds.

Most useful piece of writing advice: who was it from?

I’ve had lots of advice since I started writing, and I guess the one I find most useful is that ‘less is more’ I’m a ruthless self editor and will go over a piece repeatedly to prune out anything that strangles the prose. I read aloud to check the authenticity of dialogue and will labour over the choice of one word against another.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers? 

If you have an idea, get it down on paper (or computer) while it’s fresh in your mind, even if it’s just one word or a name or a scene. I have a file with hundreds of one-liners and scenes and images that are just waiting to be brought to life.

What do you like and dislike about writing? 

I like research, particularly when it entails a trip to Barter Books in Alnwick… ah, heaven. I like creating good characters with a vein of badness and bad characters with the capacity to shock and surprise. I don’t like the isolation of creating a world that can’t be shared until it’s fully hatched, or those moments of self doubt when you think it’s probably rubbish anyway. I love to read/perform my work. I hate the whole self promotion thing … arghhhh.

Are you writing anything at the moment? 

I have a few WIPs on the go. Nearest completion is a new North East crime series. I’ve also just completed a short crime story for a charity anthology to be published by Bloodhound Books in time for Christmas.

What’s been your happiest writing moment? 

It has to be when ‘Mrs Jones‘ took second place in The Yeovil Prize literary competition. It was the first competition I’d entered and I was overwhelmed by the response. I was invited to stay, expenses paid, at Brympton for the Yeovil Literary Festival and for 5 days I was wined and dined with some marvellous writers who were all so kind and supportive. ‘Mrs Jones‘ was subsequently published and was a surprising success.

What did you think of Noir at the Bar? 

Living where I do in rural Northumberland, I don’t often make it into the city, but it was well worth the trip. It was the first time I’d attended anything solely crime related and it was marvellous to hear such an eclectic mix within the genre and to meet up with so many like-minded folk, many of whom I’d met only on social media. Perfect venue and organisation too!

Noir at the Bar NE #2

Favourite book of all-time? 

Again, a difficult question, so I’m going to give you three. Favourite historical – ‘Pillars of the Earth‘, Ken Follett. Favourite crime – ‘Every Dead Thing‘, John Connolly (in fact anything by John Connolly) Favourite kids book – ‘Noggin the Nog‘ (that book is just so wonderful to read aloud.)..

For more information, you can visit Babs’s Amazon Author page.

Guest Post: Harry Gallagher on his home town.

Harry Gallagher first attended one of my writing groups in January 2013 and since then, I’ve seen his success grow exponentially. That, however, has little to do with me: the range of Harry’s poetry is astounding and he can write on pretty much any subject. Whether you’re looking for political rants or romantic poems, Harry’s your man. That said, the poems I have enjoyed the most have been inspired by Harry’s home town and the people he knew there.

Harry’s spending time with us on the blog today to chat about his home town.

Vic x

Harry performs his work

My Home Town
By Harry Gallagher

There’s no easy way of putting this. I’m from Middlesbrough. There, I said it. Home of steel making since Victorian times, when Prime Minister Gladstone labelled the town “the infant Hercules”. When this writer left school in 1979 (the year of the first election of St Margaret Of Hades) there were, from memory, some 45,000 people directly employed by British Steel on Teesside. This is not to mention all the supporting industries, chemical giants ICI (remember them?) and the shipyards. Like it or not, this stuff is in our bones and in our lungs – check my asthma, baby!

Fast forward to 2016 and we now no longer make steel, the blast furnace having been sacrificed just last year in a disgraceful sop to the Chinese government, in return for their help building a nuclear power plant elsewhere. And all under the baleful gaze of the Minister for the laughable Northern Poorhouse project, unbelievably a local MP. The Middlesbrough FC chairman, Steve Gibson – a local council estate lad made good and a left leaning champion of the town to boot – furiously labelled him “an absolute clown” and who am I to argue? But first let me take you back, back, back…

Our heavy industrial roots – which is now referred to, apparently without irony, as ‘heritage’ – and unique cultural mix are what made our people who they are. Everyone’s ancestors in Middlesbrough came from somewhere else, having followed work to a smoke blackened, nigh on lawless Wild West. Both sides of my family came from Ireland.

I grew up in the 1970s and consider myself fortunate to have spent the 80s working alongside pretty much the last generation of men in this country who, in their own words, spent their lives “fighting iron”. These people lifted and bent heavy steel to their will, or had once dug ironstone from the earth, or processed massive amounts of deadly chemicals, or built and then sent ships to all corners of the world. Their lives were hard and so they had to be hard too, in order to survive. The men I knew smoked pin-thin woodbines, held between thumb and forefinger, lit end pointing into their palms. Their humour was often coarse – by God, they were funny – and cruel, but they were bound by a common purpose and by communities as close as the back to backs they often lived in. They were as tough as… well, ironstone, but they were also often surprisingly warm and kind.

These people inhabited a world now almost gone – and in many ways maybe we should be glad it is. Their wives seemed to mostly stay at home, raising the family; sometimes working part-time to supplement the income of the 7 days a week man. Their children could expect to follow a similar path. The sons of the Tyne and Wear rivers had shipyards, coal mines and heavy engineering. On the Tees, coal mining was exchanged for iron and steel or chemical works. They knew the river would provide, as it had done for the previous hundred years or more. They would marry a local girl and expect to bring up a family in a similar vein, perhaps hoping to provide their own family with a little better than they themselves had known.

So where did they all go, the children and grandchildren of these people? Well, the lucky or more adaptable ones followed the example of their forefathers and became migrants themselves. I challenge you to step onto an oil or gas platform anywhere in the North Sea or Middle East and just listen. Within minutes your ears will be assaulted by that gruff twang – a “Now then chor!” or perhaps “Yer jokin’ arn yer!” It’s how we roll – all around the globe. I have encountered my townsfolk in most countries in Europe, in Kazakhstan, in Qatar, in fact everywhere I have worked.

But what of the others, those without a recognised trade? Or those unable to work? Or the helpless or hopeless? You know – the people who helped build the country. To spell it out, the unemployed. Well, they found themselves at the top of our lovely government’s priority list, just above asylum seekers and rabid dogs; and thus became the chief target of Ian Duncan Smith’s austerity drive.

These people are the Have Nots. Many of their children are either on low paid, zero hour contracts or if they are lucky, work in call centres. Others are themselves on Benefit Street. They will never be able to afford what many of their parents’ generation aspired to – getting a step on the property ladder – instead paying rent to the Haves.

And then along came Nigel, with his tabloid-owning friends and his hatred and his simple answer to a complicated question. To cut a long and depressing story short, we took the bait. Not everyone did – I have friends and family in Teesside as horrified as I am – but enough people blamed the other people doing exactly what our own ancestors had done. And so here we are, on our way out of the EU. The one and only institution propping up an area which our own government has abandoned and we have just marched proudly away from it, right arms in the air. But, hey we got our country back.

At the time of writing, our future looks as bleak as the clouds that once hung over our town. But we must have hope. Teesside people are unique. Though rooted in history, we have always been a largely forward-looking bunch and we are nothing if not pragmatic. We have adapted to enormous change and are still evolving. Thatcher’s filthy brood continue to throw sharp objects at us, but resilience came hard-earned and we are a tough bunch. Here’s to the future, wherever it may lead…

Getting to Know You: Mark L Fowler

Today, Mark L Fowler joins us on the blog to talk writing. Thanks to Mark for taking the time to get involved.

Vic x

Mark Fowler

How and when did you start writing?

I started writing towards the end of my school days, mainly poetry and the occasional attempt at a story. I became more public with my writing when I formed a band and wrote songs. Later on I began writing short stories, screenplays, including sitcoms, and eventually I found my home in the novel.

Coffin Maker

What was the first novel that you actually wrote?
The first novel I wrote was Coffin Maker, a gothic horror fantasy, with Death as the main character. One day Death is sent two apprentices. He doesn’t know why, but it may be related to rumours that the devil is entering the world. I began writing it on October 1st, 1994. I sent it out to agents and publishers, gathered the rejection slips, rewrote, send it again, and so on. Then I began my next novel, repeating the process, now with two books to send out, then three, and so on. I built up quite a body of work, while endlessly revising and editing my previous books. I could have decorated my house and next door’s too with all the rejection slips! Then, a couple of years ago, I realised that it was 20 years since I started writing Coffin Maker, and I decided to mark the anniversary by self-publishing it. A year later, I self-published The Man Upstairs, the first of a series of Frank Miller mystery novels featuring a private detective who discovers that he is a character in a series of mystery books. Very meta-fictional and, like Coffin Maker, philosophical too, though hopefully in an entertaining way. There’s certainly a lot of humour in both books, despite the dark themes.

The Man Upstairs

Tell me about your most recently published novel.
A few weeks ago, Bloodhound Books published the first of my psychological thrillers, Silver. Best-selling novelist, Joy Haversham, is killed, leaving behind an unfinished, uncharacteristic and disturbing manuscript: Silver. The book has become the Holy Grail of the publishing world, yet Joy’s family refuse to publish. Her killer is due out of prison on what would have been Joy’s silver wedding anniversary. The main protagonist in Silver is Nick Slater, the journalist who reported on the case. Nick has since published a novel bearing uncanny resemblances to Joy’s unpublished manuscript, which he could not possibly have read. Joy’s daughter, Grace, wants him to read Silver, and to visit her mother’s killer before he is released, believing that Nick can uncover the dark secret that lies behind her mother’s death.

Silver

What inspired you to write Silver?
I’ve always loved the idea of books within books, and the creative process for me is often generated by a title and a strong opening. The idea of Silver as an unfinished, mysterious manuscript that bears dark secrets, really grabbed me. And the idea of writers being killed in a fashion that resembles the plots of their own books, felt strong and compelling, offering a lot of room for development. And I went from there.

What can readers expect from Silver?
I hope that readers will be intrigued by the mystery surrounding Joy Haversham’s unfinished manuscript, and by Nick Slater’s attempts to unravel the secrets buried within it. Nick is a complex character, a journalist and writer who has suffered grief in his own life, and who became deeply affected by the Haversham case. He has his own agenda, yet at the same time he develops genuine feelings for the grieving family, and particularly Grace.

Most useful piece of writing advice? Who was it from?
Show don’t tell. I’ve heard this advice from so many writers, and I don’t think that the importance of it can be over-stated. It operates on so many levels.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Write your own book. Write what interests you, and intrigues you. Write from the heart, developing your own unique voice, and keep faith with your writing despite the inevitable rejections and hard knocks along the way.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I enjoy making up stories, thinking up ‘what if’ scenarios. I particularly like creating characters, placing them in interesting, challenging situations and seeing what they do, and how things develop. I am fascinated by the psychology of human behaviour, the conflicts between people, which can often generate interesting story ideas. It can be fascinating discovering what motivates people to act in certain ways. I find it very difficult to plot a book cold. The fear of the blank page, of trying to come up with a great plot before I begin writing, stifles the creative process. If I try to over-think an idea too early on, it kills it for me. I prefer to find a strong opening situation, something intriguing and that can generate conflict and tension, and let it develop organically.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’ve recently completed another psychological thriller, and I’m currently working on a follow up to Silver, again featuring Nick Slater.

 

Getting to Know You: Shelley Day

I’ve been lucky enough to meet Shelley Day many times over the years at book events. I’m really chufffed to have her on the blog today to talk about her debut novel, ‘The Confession of Stella Moon‘. I’m also tremendously excited to be attending her book launch in Newcastle next week. Your time has come, Shelley! 

Vic x

 

Shelley Day
I’m so excited to read another crime book set in Newcastle. Tell me about your debut novel. What inspired it?
Thanks for inviting me onto the blog Vic!

My debut novel ‘The Confession of Stella Moon‘ is Domestic Noir and is indeed set in Newcastle! Well, it’s partly set in the city – in a semi-derelict boarding house in Heaton – and partly up on the Northumberland coast, in a run-down beach hut on the dunes between Beadnell and Embleton. I grew up in the North East, and although I’ve lived in a lot of different places, and I currently spend a lot of time in Scotland and Norway, the North East is my Home with a capital H. I belong here and it always pulls me back! I guess it’s these long-standing connections to this place that kind of inspired the book.

The Confession of Stella Moon‘ is being published as a crime novel, but it’s not a police procedural, or a whodunit. It’s more of a whydunnit, an exploration into the psychology behind the crime.

My publisher came up with this amazingly macabre-sounding strap-line which does actually capture the theme of the book: “Because dark secrets don’t decompose.”

It’s a novel essentially about a family secret. A black, brooding tale of matricide set in 1960s and 70s Newcastle in a family so dysfunctional it’s sinister. After serving a prison sentence for killing her mother, young Stella Moon is discharged to restart her life. But her plans are soon ruined when she falls prey to a dark family secret that pulls her back into the past. Strange rituals, shame and paranoia haunt her, like the persisting smell of her mother’s taxidermy in the abandoned boarding house. Stella is caught in a tangled web of guilt and manipulation.

I have a background in both law and psychology, so I’ve drawn on what I know about those things to write this novel.

Stella Moon

Tell us about Stella, your main character.
The entire novel was built around the Stella character. She came to me first and essentially the novel is her story.

Stella was born at Moniack Mhor, a remote Writing Centre up beyond Inverness. I’d gone there on a week-long Arvon residential writing course after I took redundancy from work. The tutor was Patrick Gale. It was in one of the writing exercises that Stella appeared, fully formed. As soon as she was there, I felt I knew her, and I just knew she and I were going to spend a lot of time together. It was Patrick who said I should put Stella into a novel. I thought about it, but I couldn’t do it straight away ‘cause after my redundancy, money ran out, I was flat out freelancing. So it wasn’t until years later that I sat down and wrote Stella’s story.

I wrote the very scrappy first draft during NaNoWriMo 2010. Stella has been described as a ‘disturbed and disturbing’ character. People say she gets under your skin. One agent – who I didn’t go with in the end – found Stella ‘haunting, difficult to put out of her mind…’ But Stella is also haunted, by the past, by the house, by the family secret she discovers. I hope readers will be rooting for her from the start because, as a character, she’s the kind of person who deserves support. I hope people will want to find out whether she makes it! Although she’s served a prison sentence for killing her mother, there’s a whole story behind her terrible crime, and basically the whole book is trying to ferret out what’s actually going on and asking questions about where criminal responsibility lies.

What can readers expect from your book?
My novel, on the face of it, is a story about a matricide, about a young women who’s released from jail only to find herself further imprisoned, but this time by the past, by conspiracies of silence, by a grim family secret she knew nothing about.

But it also tackles bigger themes –  mothers and daughters, for example. And I’ve already mentioned criminal responsibility. Readers can also expect a strong psychological dimension – about memory, and about the effects trauma can have on what you remember and how you see things. It’s about the longer-term effects of ‘abuse’, about how family secrets can blight a life.  At another level, it’s a story about how difficult it is to put together a coherent life story … I can’t really tell you any more without introducing spoilers, so I will shut up now!

When is it out?
The novel will be officially available on 7th July. On that day it will be launched at Waterstone’s in Edinburgh, and then on the 13th at Waterstone’s in Newcastle.

Most useful piece of writing advice? Who was it from? Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
I’ve gathered lots of useful pieces of writing advice along the way! I’ll see if I can remember some!

AL Kennedy once told a writing group I was in: Fear is the main thing that stands in your way. It’s only fear you have to be afraid of. Now I think that’s a very basic lesson all new writers need to learn as soon as they can. If you can learn to put that fear to one side and let yourself get on with your writing, regardless, you are more than half way there. It’s easier said than done though! But it is possible to do it, and to do it again, and again … Really, starting to write is all about giving yourself permission; permission to take time out of your life to sit down and write, permission to write something far less than perfect for the first draft, permission to soldier on despite the fear of the page, of the pen, of everything. You just have to give yourself permission, and off you go. And keep going. And just keep going.

You have to develop a thick skin, coping with rejections is not the easiest thing, but you have to get used to them, and to try and learn from them. Another friend said: the successful people are the ones who haven’t given up. I keep remembering that.

Finally, a warning. Writing is difficult. It’s difficult because it can mean you are drawing on deep-down bits of yourself that, frankly, would prefer to be left undisturbed. So writing can churn you up. There’s no way this can be avoided in creative work. But if you know in advance that you’re setting off on a bumpy road with potholes and cliff edges and the prospect of stormy weather, you can at least pack a decent raincoat.

I love that analogy! What do you like and dislike about writing?
I don’t like writing. I can’t say I like sitting down and writing. There are a million things I would rather do and I will try all ways and means to avoid it. But equally, writing is a compulsion; I can’t not do it. If ever there is a time when, for whatever reason, I really am not writing, I don’t feel good at all.

What I like is having written. It’s a very good feeling when you have written something that’s not half bad and you know you’re going to be able to turn it into something worthwhile. That is what’s enjoyable. I’m compelled to write, I think, because writing is the only thing that makes me feel good about myself. That’s what keeps me doing it again and again.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I am working on a short story collection. ‘A Policy of Constant Improvement‘ will be out in 2017. In 2015 I won a Northern Writer’s Award for it and am extremely fortunate to have been mentored by Carys Davies! And I’m working on a second novel. The protagonist is called Clara. As with Stella, I’m deeply attached to Clara even though she is leading me something of a merry dance at the moment. The working title is ‘Clara Says’ but I have a much more interesting one up my sleeve! I can’t tell you any more because I’m scared of putting a jinx on it!

Thanks sooo much for having me on your blog. And I really hope you enjoy ‘The Confession of Stella Moon!

Getting to know you: Amanda Jennings

Today on the blog, we get to know more about Amanda Jennings. I met Amanda briefly at Newcastle Noir earlier this year and I’m really pleased to have her on the blog.

Her book ‘In Her Wake‘ has been selected for WHSmith’s Fresh Talent Summer 2016 list. How cool is that?!

I hope you enjoy Amanda’s interview as much as I did.

Vic x

Amanda Jennings

Congratulations on being included in the WHSmith Fresh Talent Summer 2016 list. How do you feel?
I’m over the moon. It’s a little surreal – seeing my picture on a stand in WHSmiths! – but it’s a good surreal. ‘In Her Wake‘ has been selected alongside some truly brilliant books from around the world, and I’m chuffed to bits to have that kind of nod of approval. What’s been really lovely is the number of friends and readers, both in real life and on social media, who have been openly happy for me and have sent pictures of the book taken in airports and stations around the country, as well as gorgeous messages. It has been very moving to feel the love and support.

I enjoyed your panel at Newcastle Noir, did you enjoy taking part?
I did! It was a great panel, and lovely to be part of an all-woman line-up, with the lovely, and very knowledgeable, Barry Forshaw moderating. I love talking at events. It makes a great change from sitting alone at home, staring at my computer screen (or more often than not out of the window!). I adore the social side of festivals. Readers and writers are almost without exception a warm and welcoming crowd with a mutual love of reading and books. I find it a very affirming and positive experience.

In Her Wake

What can readers expect from your books?
I am fascinated by the relationships that exist within a family unit. My books always tend to centre around a crime of some sort that has happened some time in the past which has been reignited in the present causing shock-waves. My books concentrate on the lasting effects of these past traumas, and tend to follow the protagonists as they work their way through to some sort of resolution. My writing focuses on the emotions of those involved, of cause and effect of the crime and their subsequent acting and reaction, of the concept that nothing we do can ever be separated from events that have occurred in our pasts. Every human being is a complex tapestry of their past experiences. I love analysing why people do ‘bad’ things and how those ‘bad’ things are justified, not only their minds, but also in the mind of the reader. I enjoy making the reader confront the grey areas surrounding what is right and wrong. If I can get a reader to feel sympathy or understanding for a person who has committed a crime – even if they (and I) still condemn that crime – I am very happy!

Most useful piece of writing advice and who was it from?
I am a big fan of Stephen King’s ‘On Writing‘ and in it he talks about writing for your Ideal Reader, the one person who you want to make laugh or cry. If you tried to write for a wide readership, or for an unknown editor or agent, I think you’d lose your way. If a writer wants to have a unique and memorable ‘voice’ then they need to be totally true to themselves, to show their inner self. The easiest way to be true to yourself is to talk to someone who knows you so well they would question something that didn’t ring true. King writes for his wife Tabitha. I write for my husband, who not only encourages me but also challenges me. He’s my biggest fan and my harshest critic and I will always listen to his advice.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Finish your first draft! It’s only when you have a complete first draft that you can step back and look at the whole. When you have your story down you can then focus on what themes you want to concentrate on, which characters need more page-time, which need knocking into the background. I will edit a book a good number of times, sometimes as much as eleven or twelve full rewrites. Your first draft is your lump of clay and, though it needs shaping and reworking, it has all the ingredients needed for you to complete a book you are proud of. So don’t edit too much as you go along. Write notes in the margin or in capitals within the text when you have ideas as you write, and plough on. And don’t be tempted to submit the book too early. Yes you have that completed draft, but more likely than not there’ll be work to do. Most seasoned writers will tell you their first drafts are always dreadful!

I really needed that advice – thank you! What do you like and dislike about writing?
I love those days when the words flow out of you almost beyond my control. I sometimes find myself in a special place where time seems to move without me being aware and I am totally immersed in the story and the words. But there are also those days – sadly more numerous than the good ones – where each word comes like blood from a stone. On these days I am plagued by self-doubt and The Fear, and genuinely believe I can’t do it and wonder why I am idiotic enough to even try. These days just need to be endured.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I have just started book four. It’s not coming very easily (I am in the enduring phase!) but I’m getting there. The story has been hidden in the mist a little, but it’s emerging slowly. I need to listen to my own advice and get the first draft down!

What’s been your happiest writing moment?
I think the moment my agent told me we had an offer of a publishing contract for my first book. My writing career, like those of so many writers, had been full of rejection up until that point. I had almost given up hope of every finding an editor. The phone call I took from my agent that began: ‘Are you sitting down?’ was without doubt one of the high points of my writing.

Thank you so much for your lovely questions. I thoroughly enjoyed answering them!