Interview with me

You can see this on Smashwords, but thought I’d reproduce it here as well….

What are your five favorite books, and why?
Such a hard question to answer! I have a wide range of tastes, depending on the mood I am in. I return to ‘The Great Gatsby’ by Scott Fitzgerald frequently, because I love the atmosphere it creates and the style of his writing. Two trilogies that I couldn’t stop reading (I would read them while eating or even walking down the road) were Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ and Sartre’s ‘The Roads to Freedom’. I suppose that counts as seven books so far, but I would like to add two people who I also love to read: Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker. Their wit is enthralling.

What is your e-reading device of choice?
I have two Kindles. I had a black and white one, but that has been relegated since I was bought a Kindle Fire. The screen on that is tremendous and I must say I find it much easier to read books on it rather than the old black and white version. I lose it to my husband often as he will watch films or television on that, rather than his iPad.

Describe your desk
It’s messy. It’s in a fairly big room in our house that has both living and dining areas in it. It’s quite a large built-in effort, with drawers on either side and shelves and cupboards all over the place. They are all stuffed full of things I never look at (including some old manuscripts that I must dig out again). Because people walk past it, they sometimes put things on it (such as empty coffee mugs), which makes it even messier. There is one box for important things like theatre or airplane tickets – those that it would be a disaster to misplace.

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in three different places. I don’t count the place I was born (Dudley) as we moved away from there when I was two.

We lived in Harpenden in Hertfordshire until I was six, then my father got a promotion that meant we moved up to Scotland, to a place called Bearsden, which is near Glasgow. The house was right at the end of the town, the road going up and up, and then ending abruptly with a large area of woodland going down the hill on the other side to Kilmardinny Loch. The loch used to freeze over in the winter and my brother and sister and I used to ice skate on it along with all of our friends. We played a lot in the woods, no doubt why I have such a strong affinity with them which you can see coming through in the Phoon books.

My father died when I was eight and we moved to Galashiels in the Scottish Borders to live with my grandmother and great-aunt. (It occurs to me that we had three generations of women in the house, perhaps underlying my invention of Domina.) The house was out of town on the River Tweed and again there were a lot of forests and woods around. I love how woods can be calm and serene one minute and then wild and threatening only hours later when there is a storm. The power of nature is awe-inspiring.

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Escaping to a world that I have created and being with the characters. I spend quite a lot time there, even when I’m not writing. The challenge is that you become so familiar with it, it’s so clear to you, that it’s never certain whether you have managed to convey it to readers in the words you choose.

What are you working on next?
I am working on a prequel to ‘Secret of the Phoon’. Even when I was writing ‘Secret’, I was aware that there were areas that I wanted to explore further, but it would have slowed the story down too much to include them. The story of how the characters came to be as they are, and how the Phoon came into being, how relationships were formed are things that I am really enjoying capturing. I think it adds to the depth of the characters and your understanding of them. I have finished an early draft but I know there are many re-writes to come.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
I still work on occasions, although I hope one day to be able to dedicate myself to writing. Having said that, writing is a very solitary occupation and at least when you’re working you are interacting with real people! I love to sing, and am in a band with a few friends and children of friends so we have a wide range of ages, which means we also play a wide range of music. I like to walk through woods, usually with our two dogs but they are quite old now and can’t go far. So sometimes I walk on my own or with my husband, or with a bunch of friends and we go for a meal afterwards. I love the theatre – we go into London sometimes but support our local theatres by going there too. I also like to watch sport – my sons play American football at university so it’s great to go and watch them.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I do. It was a children’s mystery – a bit Enid Blyton-ish – with two boys and two girls who were on holiday on an island in Scotland. I started writing it while I was on holiday on Skye, an island in Scotland, so no prizes for guessing the inspiration there! My brother and sister are a few years older than me, so in the long school summer holidays I spent a lot of time on my own – the house in Galashiels was in the countryside so I rarely saw friends during the holidays unless I got the bus into town. Writing was a way of creating people to spend time with.

How do you approach cover design?
I use a professional cover designer, of course, as it’s such an important part of the e-book world. I have some ideas of the elements that I would like to include, and I will convey that with some idea of the mood for the cover, to Laura, the designer. I love the cover of ‘Secret of the Phoon’. With that I knew I wanted Avira on the cover. Laura asked me some questions on the detail of her appearance which I found quite hard to answer, so I sent her some photos that reflected the style I wanted. Laura then sent over four rough sketches, which I showed to my husband for his views. We both liked the same one, so Laura then developed that. We had a bit of toing and froing over some the details but it was very close to her first colour rough.

What is your writing process?
I race through the first draft, and I use some software called SuperNotecard for Scriptwriting to take notes of the names of people and places. I usually do an outline using the same software, though I have to say that the end result doesn’t always reflect the outline that much! The characters sometime go off and do things I hadn’t expected but I trust that process rather than force them to follow what was in the outline. As an example, in the outline for ‘Secret of the Phoon’ the character Carn was a ‘baddy’, but as I wrote it he started to be more noble than I had thought he was. He has his faults, of course. All of my characters have faults because I think that makes them more real (which I think you need even in a fantasy novel).

The first draft seems to be about two-thirds of the final version. I make notes as I go through of places where I need to add more description, or flesh out some of the action. Then I go back and re-write and re-write. I enjoy the re-writing process, strangely. The greatest difficulty is knowing when to stop, otherwise you would never publish anything.

I use a professional editor after about the fourth draft to help guide me where I haven’t conveyed plot or character properly – it’s so easy when it’s only in your head! Then to accommodate her comments I will re-write another couple of times at least. It’s always with some reluctance that I let it go and decide it’s ready to publish.

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