I started writing fiction properly when I was in my twenties. I have to say I don’t think I was very good – when I come across stuff now that I wrote back then I cringe a little. But it’s all part of the learning process. For me, writing was a way of working things out. It was only later that I progressed into someone who doesn’t write so self-indulgently.
Are you a structured writer or a see-what happens?
I have a process now that seems to work for me, although it wasn’t conscious and I don’t follow it too rigidly. Once I have an idea that takes hold I write lots of notes about it, figuring out various strands of the story, but in an unstructured way. I use pictures, sketches, snippets of conversations, that kind of thing. Then I’ll start writing from the beginning and write around three or four chapters to see where it goes and to get into the characters. At this point I can usually tell if the viewpoint I’m planning is going to work or not, and if not I might write these first few chapters again from a different perspective, or perhaps in a different tense, to check it’s flowing right. Then, I stop. It’s at this point I turn into an obsessive planner, and I map out the whole novel in full. From my plan, I write about a page per scene, and work out anything that is going to go wrong or obviously not work at this stage.
Of course, things change even when you’ve planned it out to this extent, but I find I write better – more creatively and with more freedom – if I have a good idea of what is meant to happen, in a dramatic sense, in each scene. If things take an unplanned direction I stop, redo my plan, and keep going. This produces first drafts that don’t need much structural editing – if any – but of course they still need a lot of line-by-line editing.
Tell us about your first novel, ‘Can’t Live Without’
Can’t Live Without is a romantic comedy about a woman who loses all her belongings in a house fire. Okay, that doesn’t sound very funny, but Stella’s personality shines through her traumas, and readers have described the book as “laugh out loud funny”. Stella has a lot on her plate – a teenage daughter going off the rails, a mum who keeps spending money she doesn’t have, an ex she thought she’d got out of her system years ago, and her boss, who she’s had a crush on since they were at school. Stella writes a list of all the things she can’t live without, and to begin with this list is very superficial – full of “stuff”. The book is essentially about discovering what’s really important, with lots of laughs and romance along the way.
What inspired you to write it?
I was out walking one day and I heard a fire engine in the distance. I had this horrible thought of what it would be like to arrive home and find it was my house on fire! Stella sprung into my head fully-formed, and she kind of took over the story from there.
When you released Can’t Live Without it reached the Top 100, that must have been an amazing feeling. Did you expect it to be so successful?
Not in the least! I’d published chapters of the book on my blog, and the response had been great, so I knew readers who enjoyed this kind of book would love it. What I didn’t have any expectations of was actually getting in front of these readers – from the outset I knew this was going to be the biggest challenge of all. How would anyone find out about my book? But this was back in 2012, when Amazon’s free ebook chart still held a little power to occasionally change the fortunes of good books. Can’t Live Without went free for 5 days in July, and proved so popular that it went back into the paid charts in the top 100. It actually peaked in the top 20 Amazon charts overall, which was incredible. I stood and watched my download figures on the Amazon KDP platform, and at one point it was being downloaded at a rate of 10 books a minute. It was like, I made a cup of tea, came back, and I’d sold another 30 books! I have to say, this is very hard to repeat now because not only is the ebook market more crowded, Amazon have since changed the algorithms that allowed free to have this impact. It was nice, though, while it lasted.
What motivated/inspired you to become an Indie Author?
I had been following the emergence of Kindle books for a while, and one day I read an article in Writing Magazine about an author called Linda Gillard. She had been dropped by her publisher and had decided to self-publish. Her book, House of Silence, went on to be one of Amazon’s most successful books that year, and Linda’s new career as an indie author took off. She was my inspiration really, and is now a good friend. When I look back, it’s clear that this was an obvious route for me to take. I’m not the kind of person who appreciates having to wait for someone else to give me permission to follow my dreams. I like to take control, and the indie way is great for that.
How do you marketing your books? Do you have a process?
Oh, I wish I did! On my list of things to do is to finally try and formalise some kind of process for marketing. I had a lot of success with ‘free’, when Amazon still supported it as a marketing tool, and I have used the Kindle Countdown promotional tool with a fairly good degree of success. Mainly I just try and engage with readers, via my mailing list and on my blog/Facebook page/Twitter feed, and hope that they like what they see and decide to read one of my books. Most of my marketing happens around the launch of a new book – the next big push will be at the end of June when Cupid’s Way is released.
What advice would you give to any writer wanting to do it the ‘Indie Way’.
Do it, but do it professionally. The time for poorly formatted, un-edited, badly proofed indie books has passed (thankfully) – readers deserve books that are quality products, no matter how they were published. My other advice would be to read as much as you can about the subject and become well informed. This is easy now – blogs, like mine for instance, are packed with advice and how-to posts. When I started out it was a little harder to find information, but I’ve shared my journey every step of the way on my writersjourney.co.uk blog. The indie community – like the wider writer community in general – is a warm and welcoming place, and there will always be someone out there who will help with any queries.
Tell us what you are reading at the moment.
Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell. I had to write an essay on cover design for my Masters last month, and this book came up in my research. I’m really enjoying it 🙂
Anything else you would like to add to your readers or to other writers.
Only that my new romantic comedy, Cupid’s Way, will be released on 27th June! I’m planning lots of fun stuff on Facebook and my blog, with competitions and prizes and a very special prize for any aspiring authors out there. If anyone’s interested in keeping up to date with what I’ve got planned they can join my mailing list here: http://eepurl.com/mXguz