Five authors from the Snowbooks stable are on tour, answering questions from various blogs – and Strictly Writing is proud to announce that today their stop-off is here!
So, please give a warm welcome to…
So, please give a warm welcome to…
Andrew Sanger, author of The J-Word.
Alastair Sim, author of The Unbelievers.
Thomas Emson, author of Skarlet.
Paula Brackston, author of The Book of Shadows.
Fiona Robyn, author of The Blue Handbag.
- Tell us about how you first got published?
Andrew: My very first published book was the first edition of the Rough Guide to France, which I was commissioned to co-author. The first solo title was my own idea, The Vegetarian Traveller. Then came my first non-travel book, a memoir of the hippy years, called Love. I published it myself on the website, Lulu.com. Then last year I completed my first piece of real fiction writing, The J-Word. I was all set to self-publish again, but decided to send it to just one publisher. After a bit of research, I chose Snowbooks. I struck lucky – they really liked The J-Word.
Alastair: A short story 'Aurora Borealis' in 'Chapman', Scotland's main literary magazine in 1989 when I was still a student. Bizarrely, it was about a middle aged person facing up to Love, God and Death, so I suppose I've matured into that literary voice.
Thomas: I'd written a rough first draft of "Maneater" in 1999. Then I left it for years. I gave up full-time work in 2006 to concentrate on my writing. I went back to the novel, re-wrote the first few thousand words. I didn't know who published horror, but then saw one of David Wellington's zombie novels at WH Smith - the publisher was Snowbooks. I sent them the first 10,000 words of "Maneater". Emma Barnes emailed back within hours to say they loved it and wanted to see the rest. A few months later, after I'd re-written the rest, they came back to say they were going to publish - a fantastic day, a dream come true.
Paula: I spent several years having my non-fiction published, including a travel book, and selling my short stories to magazines, but it was Snowbooks who published my first piece of full-length fiction, Book of Shadows. Bless them for their open submissions policy! It is really hard for new authors to get their work looked at by publishers. And agents are not always the answer – I had one for two years. She was lovely, and we had some delicious lunches, but she never placed a novel for me.
Fiona: I submitted my first novel 'Thaw' directly to Snowbooks, and then a couple of months later thought I might as well send in my other two. Anna got back to me and said 'Thaw' had been sitting in her 'to be read more carefully' folder, and that the further submissions had prompted her to look at it more closely.
- What drives you - plot, theme or character?
Andrew: I don’t think about it in quite that way. I am simply preoccupied by a story I want to tell. So I suppose maybe that is the theme? But the characters are all-important. And without the plot, of course, there’s no story to tell! The characters become very real to me, and I spend long hours imagining them dealing with the situations into which I have put them.
Alastair: All of the above! Theme's important to me because I don't think characters are just dealing with personal issues - I think the personal life is driven by social/ historical/ spiritual/ intellectual environment within which a person lives, so that links personal stories to some meaty themes. But you need a good plot to set the personal challenges which will test your characters' mettle.
Thomas: Story, I think, as opposed to plot. Everything is story. And what drives story is character.
Paula: Almost always character, though setting is hugely important for me too. It is what gives the story its tone and atmosphere, I think. I might have an idea for a character, but until I have located them in the time and place that is right for them I can’t really ‘see’ their story. Theme, I believe, is inextricably linked to the character and the way they live.
Fiona: Character, character, character. I find out what the plot and themes are through my characters.
- What do those closest to you think about your writing?
Andrew: My family and friends have long thought of me as a journalist and travel writer. The unannounced appearance of The J-Word came as a surprise to some of them, maybe even a shock. When my mother started reading it, she assumed it must be in some way autobiographical. Then she phoned and said, “Hey, you’ve written a real story here!” It pleased me as much as the best review.
Alastair: Parents - perplexed then belatedly pleased. Wife - supportive since she's a writer too. Children - can't read yet so not that bothered.
Thomas: My wife, Marnie, is not such a fan of horror. She read and loved "Maneater", but there were some disturbing scenes in "Skarlet", and she knew she couldn't read the book. But she is incredibly supportive and I would never have been able to do what I do if it weren't for her support and 100% backing. She is an incredible woman.
Paula: Can one ever truly know? They have been so supportive, so tolerant, so patient, I can’t imagine them belittling my efforts or criticising them. My children have always been particularly good at reassuring me after rejections – they hate to see me weeping over my laptop. I like to think this is because they care deeply about me, but fear it may have more to do with saving the only computer in the house from short-circuiting and therefore putting an end to Spongebob online games. Importantly, all my friends and family members have grasped the inevitability of my writing. They wouldn’t waste time trying to stop me.
Fiona: So far my friends and family have really enjoyed my books (phew). Except Thaw which was a bit too dark for my mum's tastes.
- Has the experience of being a published author met your expectations?
Andrew: I have been absolutely amazed by the impact publication of The J-Word has had on my life. I was used to being on my own, I like travelling alone, I usually work alone. Yet when the book came out, I found that I also ‘came out’, giving talks, discussing the issues, being interviewed. Curiously, I feel perfectly happy with the change.
Alastair: Yes - having never sought celebrity I'm glad it's eluded me. But any decent writer writes because they have to, not for the money or recognition, though getting the recognition of publication and sales is a welcome affirmation that you're writing stuff which is worth reading.
Thomas: It's a great feeling - and better still when you have a supportive publisher who loves your work. I love Snowbooks. They're so great to work with. I admire the company, and I admire them individually. Emma Barnes is a star.
Paula: Met and surpassed. Fame and fortune were never part of my expectations (though I would happily embrace a little bit of either), what always drove me was the desire to create stories and have them find an audience. It is wonderful to be able to discuss my characters and ideas with people who have read and enjoyed my work.
Fiona: I wasn't expecting to live happily ever after once my books were in the shops - an agent advised me a long time ago to make the most of my time pre-publication when things were less complicated! On the whole I'm having a brilliant time, and have thoroughly enjoyed working with Snowbooks and having their support behind me.
- Finally, a trivial one! What is your favourite writing snack?
Andrew: When the work’s going slowly, I’ll eat anything at any time… tea and toast, a bowl of cereal, a glass of wine and some crisps, even a plate of spaghetti. When things are going well, though, I don’t snack. I might even skip meals.
Thomas: Peanut butter (Whole Earth, of course!) and tea - lots and lots of tea.
Paula: Nothing and everything. If the work is going well I drink water or Redbush tea and don’t snack. I’ll write for hours at a stretch and it feels like minutes. If I’m a bit stuck and the word count is going up at a crawl I’ll browse through the kitchen, raiding the children’s chocolate stash, finishing up cold roast potatoes, eating, eating, eating. Never mind being apple or pear shaped, the stalled writer is more your blackberry – bulging out lumpily in all directions.
Fiona: Currently Marks and Spencer's raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake, although not on a very regular basis.
Great answers, everyone, thanks!
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