The Worried Writer Ep#64: Hayley Chewins ‘I work very intuitively’


Hayley Chewins is an author of magical, feminist middle grade fiction. Her debut, The Turnaway Girls, was a Kirkus Best Book of 2018, and her second book, The Sisters of Straygarden Place, is forthcoming from Candlewick Press this September and has already been called ‘superb, spooky and unforgettable’ in a Kirkus starred review.

Hayley lives in South Africa and also works as a writing coach.

For more about Hayley and her books head to HayleyChewins.com or find her on Twitter.

 

IN THE INTRO

Announcement: The Worried Writer Podcast is pausing.

I love creating the podcast but have decided to take a break. After more than five years of creating the show, I feel in need of a short holiday and a bit of time to look inward and focus on my fiction. I will probably miss the podcast terribly and be back in a couple of months, but I also need a wee bit of time and distance in order to think about how I want the podcast to evolve. I am also keen to explore other ways of supporting authors and am considering an online course or mastermind group.

This podcast has helped to transform my writing life and I want to say a massive thank for your time and support.

The Worried Writer site will remain in place so you can still enjoy the backlist episodes of the show. I will also be adding new content as I work out my new focus/direction.

Finally, if you keep your podcast subscription in your app then, if I restart the show, you will automatically receive the new episodes.

Stop Worrying; Start Selling book coverBOOK NEWS

I finished the rewrite of The Pearl King (Crow Investigations Book Four) and it’s up for pre-order (out June 25th).

If you like urban fantasy or paranormal mystery, please consider checking it out!

Also, my new Worried Writer book – Stop Worrying; Start Selling: The Introvert Author’s Guide To Marketing – is out next week.

It’s available for pre-order: www.books2read.com/StartSelling

It will be out on the 9th June in paperback and ebook, with the audiobook following later this year. Apologies for the delay in the audio – the pandemic sapped my energy and closed my sound engineer’s studio!

If you pick it up, I would love to know what you think!

 

 

 

IN THE INTERVIEW

The full transcript is copied below.

 

 

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INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

Sarah: Hayley Chewins is an author of magical, feminist, middle grade fiction. Her debut, The Turnaway Girls was a Kirkus best book of 2018 and her second book, The Sisters Of Straygarden Place is forthcoming from Candlewick Press this September, and it has already been called superb, spooky and unforgettable in a Kirkus starred review.

Hayley lives in South Africa and also works as a writing coach. Welcome to the show, Hayley, and thank you so much for joining me.

Hayley: Thank you for having me, I’m so excited to be here.

Sarah: I was wondering if you could just kick things off by telling us a wee bit more about your forthcoming book, The Sisters of Straygarden Place.

Hayley: Yeah, sure. Okay. So The Sisters of Straygarden Place is a middle grade fantasy book and it’s set in a magical mansion that’s surrounded by really tall silver grass. The grass is so tall that it covers the entire house. And it’s about three sisters who have been abandoned there and left in the care of this magical house.

Their parents have left and they’ve left them a note saying, don’t leave the house, wait until we come back. What happens is the eldest sister leaves the house. She does go walking into the grass one day and she returns and starts to get really, really sick and starts to turn silver and it’s up to the middle sister, whose name is Mayhap, to figure out what’s going on with the grass, why her sister is so sick, and when she starts doing that, she kind of starts to unravel all this other… all these other mysteries around her family, why her parents actually left, why the house is magical and everything kind of starts to unravel.

Sarah: Oh, that sounds absolutely wonderful. And that’s exactly my kind of book, so I’m very excited to read that. And that’s out in September this year? September, 2020?

Hayley: Yes. In America, it’ll be out in September, 2020. In the UK, it’s coming out, I think, in March next year.

Sarah: Wonderful. Well that’s very exciting. And I was going to say as well, I haven’t seen the cover for this one, but I saw the cover for your debut and it’s absolutely gorgeous. So is that a similar sort of genre, your first book?

Hayley: Yes. So they’re both kind of upper middle grade. They kind of fall into that 10 to 14 range and yeah, they’re middle grade fantasies, but they are kind of on the darker side and The Sisters of Straygarden Place even more so – it kind of walks the line between fantasy and horror. It is quite a bit on the spooky side of things.

Sarah: Wonderful. And what sort of led you into writing for that age group and in that genre? Did it… Was it just something that came naturally or something that you found difficult to choose?

Hayley: Uh, no I didn’t. When I, when I first started writing, I actually was writing kind of adult literary fiction. I was, uh, I dunno, I guess that was kind of mainly the kind of thing that I was reading at the time. I was in my early twenties. And I’ll just kind of tell you briefly what happened and how I came to realize that I wanted to write novels. I was studying, I did a bachelor of arts in Italian and English literature, and so I was always reading and writing, and I’ve always loved, I just always, always loved books and loved stories.

Um, and then after I did that, I did a law degree and it, so it was kind of the first time in my life that I didn’t have time to read fiction anymore or poetry. I didn’t have time to write. I was just reading so many cases and kind of legal articles and having to write legal essays. And like, lots of  tests and things like that.

So it was, it was kind of the absence of literature from my life that made me realize how much it meant to me. And at the same time, I was kind of also uncovering the truth that I, I didn’t really want to be a lawyer. And so, yeah. So that’s kind of when I started, I just became really, driven to, to write.

So I was about 22. I loved writers like Ian McEwan and Arundhati Roy, um, and Angela Carter. And, um, yeah. So when I first started writing, I didn’t really have any ideas for books and I, and I certainly wasn’t thinking about writing children’s books. I was just kind of trying, trying to write like these writers that, that I really admired and I didn’t have a sense of what I wanted to say or kind of my own voice or anything like that.

I just felt like I just, I was kind of just very stubborn about it. Like I wanted to know, I really had no ideas and nothing to write about. But as I, as I just kind of kept writing, I kept noticing that children would just kind of appear in my stories all the time. So I would just, I just kept writing about children, even though technically I was writing books for adults or stories for adults.

And then I also at the same time, kind of started to read lots about publishing and sort of discovered children’s, the children’s world and started reading more widely and reading middle grade books, reading young adult books, and it was really writers like David Almond and Kate DiCamillo and Sarah Crossan who opened my eyes to how incredible middle grade books could be.

Um, I remember having this moment when I read Skellig by David Almond, and I have this feeling of, Oh, I want to write something like this. So, something that makes someone feel like this. Um, and so that’s when I started trying to write, middle grade books. But I was also kind of writing more books more on the literary side and more contemporary realistic books.

Um, and so yeah, it just took really lots and lots of writing the wrong thing for me to find what I was actually meant to write and what actually ended up feeling really alive and, and exciting for me to write. But it took a lot, a lot of persistence to find it.

Sarah: Oh, that’s fantastic. And that’s such an encouraging, account because I think, I mean, I can certainly empathize with that, that feeling of wanting to write, but not really being sure what.

And yeah, I think, I think that will resonate with a lot of people. That’s brilliant. And in terms of when you did write, you know, your first book that you thought, okay, this is middle grade, I often get questions about getting started in children’s fiction, which I know nothing about, so I’d love to hear about your path to publication.

Hayley: Ok, yeah. so I, like I said, I was just writing lots and lots of manuscripts and kind of having the feeling of… You know, I was writing things and finishing things cause I, I’d realized that in order to learn how to write a book, I actually had to write a book.

Sarah: So annoying, I know!

Hayley: Yeah. So I, I was kind of just on this drive to finish things, but at the same time, even though I was finishing manuscripts and revising them, I also kind of knew that they weren’t very good. And that I hadn’t really found like just something really interesting and really good and something that I really wanted to, that that really felt like me.

So it took, I mean, I actually kind of lost count of how many manuscripts I wrote, but it was many. And I think the middle grade ones, there were, there were at least four. And then eventually I got to a point where I wrote a novel in verse. It was a middle grade novel in verse that was kind of like, um, not really fantasy, it kind of blended the real with the unreal, sort of like contemporary, with a bit of magic. I finally felt like, okay, this is the kind of book that I want to write and, you know, and I felt like it was quite good and I could kind of write a pitch for it and send it out. So I did lots of research on how to write a pitch, how to write a query letter, and I Googled, um, lots of agents and kind of tried to find agents who represented the kind of thing that I’d written.

And I started querying. And yeah, I was lucky enough to get quite a few requests from that. And then I ended up getting, um, one agent asked me to revise the manuscript. He basically wanted to, he read the whole thing, really loved it, but also it felt like it needed a lot of work, which was very true.

And so he sent me lots of notes. And the, the notes resonated with me, so I agreed to do the revision for him. And what ended up happening was I took a couple of months to do that and sent it back to him and it, it didn’t end up kind of resulting in an offer of representation, but it was a really good experience for me because I learned how to revise and how to take notes, and I learned to… It just made me think about stories in, in a way that I hadn’t really thought about. It was really fantastic to get that feedback. Um, but I also didn’t really know, um, kind of how to make that manuscript any better than I had already made it. I didn’t know how to fix it. So I decided to set it aside and I started a new project, which actually ended up being The Turnaway Girls.

And what happened with The Turnaway Girls was that I entered one of these kinds of Twitter pitch competitions. And so it ended up being that… It wasn’t like a, like when you tweet a pitch and then agents like, or favorite your tweet, it was like someone, a writer who had arranged it and it was on her blog.

So they chose writers or stories that were interesting and then put the stories, the pitches, and I think it was like the first, I don’t know, five pages or something like that on the blog. And then. agents who went to the blog could request more material in the comments. And that’s how I ended up meeting my agent, because she kind of requested materials through that. And she also, it was a very similar experience because she read it very quickly. She loved it, but she also had lots of notes for how it could be made better. And she didn’t feel like she could make an offer of representation based on the state that the manuscript was in.

It had lots of plot problems. It had pacing problems. Um, and she gave me lots of notes and she gave me a list of books to read and she kind of asked me if I would be willing to revise it. And again, I was like, yes, I’m really persistent. All I want to do, like this is the only thing I want to do. I just want to make this book better.

And I was so, so grateful to have that feedback was really such a gift. So. I did the revisions and then, yeah, long story short, she ended up offering me representation based on the revisions, and that’s how I ended up getting an agent and yeah. And then. Uh, with my first book deal, it was like deja vu because we went out on sub with the manuscript and my editor loved the book and thought it needed, you know… And she sent me the most wonderful, she sent my agent rather, the most wonderful edit letter.

Um, and I did, I did the revisions and then we ended up getting an offer on the book. So, even though it has been a little bit of a circuitous path or not circuitous but I have had to, I did feel like I had to revise that book so many times before it actually became a book. Um, and then of course edits after, you know, Candlewick bought the book.

But I have learned so much as a writer through getting, you know, that kind of feedback. So I always say like if you get an offer to revise and resubmit, it’s such a compliment, from the agent or the editor because they, they’re taking time to read your work and to give you feedback on it. Um, even if they’re not offering you a book deal, or offering you representation, there’s a high chance that if you do the revisions that you know, it will end up going your way.

And even if it doesn’t, you just learn so much about your own writing. Yeah.

Sarah: No I think, I think that’s, I think that’s excellent advice. And it’s also, thank you for sharing this story. I think it was, uh, a very, um, very usual and very sort of typical story in the sense of, you know, we have to write a lot and like you say, finish books and then they’re not, they’re not really publishable, but then, you know, going through editorial feedback teaches us how to revise and how to write.

And I think. Again, hearing it again and again, it’s so important for people to know that it is a craft and it is perseverance. And I think you know, hats off to you for your attitude of being grateful for that learning experience. I think that’s, you know, I think that’s really encouraging and really good.

So in terms of giving people advice, I mean going through submission, it is really tough. It is really hard, and it can be heartbreaking. What do you think helped you to keep going?

Hayley: I think I just had… I always kind of… Basically from the moment I decided I wanted to write novels, I just knew that I was going to do it. I just knew that no matter what it took, I was going to kind of stay the course. And um, it’s also, I think it’s just having like a passion for the actual craft of writing.

Like I always, when I talk to writers, who have, um, kind of who worry that they don’t have what it takes, I always say. You know, if you, if you have a desire to do something, that’s an indication that you do have what it takes. You only have the dream to do something if you already have everything within you to, to have that thing and to do it.

So firstly that, and then also just if you’re very connected to why you are writing and why it’s important to you and your love for it, and your passion for it, then that’s kind of what keeps you going. So, um, yeah, because the thing is like even after you get published and even after you get a book deal, there’s still so much rejection. You can publish a book and then not sell your second book. You know? You can get really bad reviews. You can just, you know, someone can say something really horrible to you on goodreads, or horrible about your book on goodreads, and you just have to, you have to keep writing anyway, you know?

So I think that that’s kind of part and parcel of what it, what it means to be a professional writer. And share your writing with the world is to face the possibility that someone might not like it or that someone might say, we can’t sell this or this isn’t working, or anything like that. So I mean, it’s very, very difficult, but at the same time, it’s kind of just part of the package.

And so in order to continue, the stuff that I do is I just constantly remind myself, why am I doing this? It’s because I love language. I love stories, and I really feel like I was born to do this. Uh, so yeah, I’m going to keep doing it. You do need to have that persistence and that perseverance.

Sarah: That’s very true. And to go back to the sort of children’s fiction thing for a moment, having learnt to write for that age group, do you have any particular advice, for writing for that age group or for getting published in that, in that field, for listeners?

Hayley: Well, um, I guess the first thing, which kind of seems very basic, um, but is, but I think it’s very important and really helped me,  was just reading, really widely in, in the genre that you want to write, and then also in the category. Um, so if you want to write fantasy and, you know, middle grade fantasy, then read lots and lots and lots of middle grade fantasy books. And also recently published one, so that you can see kind of what’s getting published, you know, in the past, I don’t know, three, four or five years.

So that’s the start. Um, the other thing is I think just remembering what it felt like to be a child and being really connected to how you felt when you were 12 or 13 or 10. Um, and really respecting the experience of childhood, which I think all great children’s writers do. They just have such a deep respect for children and how their, their experiences and how they feel, and they don’t kind of talk down to them or belittle them or, um, or kind of see their experiences as small and unimportant.

In fact, they kind of see it in the opposite way. Things have happened to you when you’re a child are so… They kind of get imprinted on you, and they’re these deep really important experiences. So yeah, I think, I think that if you can connect with how you felt as a child, that really goes a long way when you’re writing your child characters.

Sarah: That’s great advice. And, um, I’d love to now delve into the nitty gritty of your writing process, if that’s okay, because I’m still completely obsessed with how other writers do it. So, um, things like, do you write every day or do you keep business hours or, you know, do you aim for a particular word count and do you outline? All of that.

What’s your process?

Hayley: Ooh, ok. Yeah I also love reading about how other writers write, because I think we all kind of think that someone else has a secret that we don’t have.

Sarah: Yeah, definitely. I’m waiting for it. How to make it easy, please.

Hayley: I do find myself Googling how to write a book. Yeah. I don’t, I’m actually quite disorganized in my process and not in a bad way, but I don’t have… I’m not very strict with myself in terms of like writing every single day and like say writing… I know there are writers who write 2000 words every day of the year. I’m not really like that. Um, I have to kind of spend a lot of time dreaming about an idea before I start writing it. Um, so I have to kind of let it sit in the back of my mind and like kind of stew there and let it, I don’t know, like I, I need to…. It’s like a process of discovery, but it’s passive, not active. It’s kind of just like watching and waiting, um, for the way that this thing sits in your mind and how it grows and images that come up and things like that.

And then I’ll start to take notes and I’ll sometimes brainstorm. Brainstorming is really like fun for me, I love like putting on music and brainstorming. But I find, so I might get a few of the pieces of the story from that. Usually I do have like kind of a character maybe. The situation in the beginning of the story, a little bit of the world and what kind of world they live in. But in order to discover the story, I have to write many, many, many drafts.

So, because I work very intuitively, so I find that when I’m brainstorming or thinking about the story, um, before I write it, it’s a very valuable process to me and I enjoy it and it’s really fun, but it’s, it’s like a different part of my brain that’s working. Where when I’m actually in the story and I’m like in the voice of the character, in the language of the story, things just kind of happen serendipitously that are really magical and interesting and it changes everything.

So I might think that someone is in kind of a particular situation, I think I have an idea of what’s going on and why they’re in that situation. And then suddenly they’re having a conversation in a scene with another character and they say something and I’m like, Oh, that’s why you have this problem. Well, you know, that’s why you made this decision.

So I just write lots and lots and lots of drafts in order to kind of discover, you know, what the actual story is. And then between those drafts I might go back and forth between writing and outlining. And when I say outlining, it’s not, um, it’s very kind of broad strokes outlining. It’s kind of thinking about the broader mechanics of the story, not thinking really on like a nitty gritty or a scene level.

And yeah, and I often like sort of, write, and then get halfway through the scene and then feel really stuck. Like I don’t actually know what’s going to happen next or, or as I’m writing, I’m feeling like, Oh, this is wrong. Like this is, this is the right thing that’s supposed to happen, but it’s not supposed to happen this way or something isn’t clicking.

And then what I’ll do is I’ll take a break and I’ll step away and I’ll brainstorm a little bit about how I actually want the scene to be and then go back to writing. So it’s very intuitive and very organic, and it takes, it just takes lots of disorganized messiness.

Sarah: I’m just nodding away in understanding since I’m also an intuitive, write  loads and loads and loads of drafts before I work out what the story is, kind of a writer. So it’s always a relief to me when I meet another one.

Hayley: Yeah. I have tried outlining in detail before, but then. So firstly, I don’t get really, I don’t get the same kinds of interesting ideas that I get when I’m actually in the scene.

And then the other thing is that I get kind of tired of the story before I’ve even written it. Yeah. I just find like the most interesting things happen when I’m just in the language and I’m playing and it is, it’s more akin to dreaming than it is to like figuring out, figuring something out or problem solving or like coming up with something.

It’s not a logical process. It’s you kind of have to, well, I have to kind of just swim in this language and free associate and just have images come up and have things not make any sense so that I can kind of go back and go, okay, yeah, that’s really interesting. I’m going to keep that, maybe toss that out cause that that doesn’t work.

Um, yeah.

Sarah: And this obviously is the worried writer, so I’m going to press you for more creative difficulties, I’m afraid. You, you just mentioned, you know, stepping away, if you get stuck in a scene or maybe doing some free writing or something, um, is there a particular part of the process when you’re most likely to get blocked or does fear strike at any point in the process?

Hayley: That’s  areally interesting question. You know, I always find I get stuck… So I really love writing like the beginning of a book, the opening and then kind of catalyst moment when something happens and everything changes for the main character. And then once I’m kind of getting into the second act, I start to get really scared.

I always kind of start to feel like, you know, does this, um, does this idea have enough of an engine to actually carry through over the length of an entire story or an entire novel. And you know, what’s going to happen next? I always kind of get a little bit stuck on that point. And, and yeah, that’s when I kind of returned to stepping away and free writing or brainstorming or even just not thinking about it and doing something else, like going and exercising, and going for a walk, um, cooking a meal, um, even cleaning – actually doing the cleaning that I’ve been putting off for 3 days.

Yeah. That, that really helps to kind of just let my brain figure out the problem on its own. And then usually a solution will kind of pop up, you know, not, not always immediately. And you, you can’t, that’s the annoying thing is you can’t control it.

But that, you know, within probably a day or two, some kind of solution will pop up and I’ll have an idea of how to move ahead. Because often I have a plan, like a vague plan for how I think it should go, but when I get to the scene, and so I’ve got it written down, I’ve got like, Oh yeah, they need to go to a party in the scene, lets say, and then when I’m actually in the scene, I’m feeling like, no, that’s, that’s not gonna work. It’s just not the right thing to happen now. So yeah. It’s a very, um, I get stuck a lot. I get stuck like multiple times a day. I just, I think I just don’t let it bother me anymore. Like I just kind of feel like it’s part of my process.

It’s part of how I write a book. So if I get stuck, I know that I’ll always get unstuck. Like it’s not a permanent state. And I think that’s what you used to really scare me was, I kind of felt like, Oh, I’m stuck and I’ll always be stuck and I’ll never get out of this when actually stuck is just, it’s just like, Oh, I need to solve a problem, like what’s going to happen next, but I can, I can solve it.

I’ve solved a million of these problems before so I can do it again.

Sarah: That’s a really good way of putting it. And like you said, that experience really does help, doesn’t it? You think, well, I felt like this before and it’s been fine. Yeah. That’s really good. And I know you, um, you mentioned that you, you work as a writing coach, and I wondered whether that helps you with your own creative process.

Hayley: It really does because I think, um, I think when you write kind of full time or you’re writing kind of writing a lot, there’s, you, you become very inward focused, um, which is, you know, a good thing that’s a necessary thing when you’re writing a story. Um, but you can kind of become very stuck in your own head.

And the really lovely thing, I mean, I just love talking, and I think I have a feeling you have the same thing, but I love talking to writers about writing. I love talking to writers about how they write, and it’s always so much easier also to have perspective on someone else’s kind of a feeling of, of doubt or feeling of fear, than it is to have perspective of your own feeling. And so when you talk to other writers, you realize we’re actually all in this together. We all have very similar problems and very similar blocks. Um, and it just, it really gives me, it really feeds me and it gives me so much energy to have a bit more of an outward focus.

Like sometimes to not be so focused on my own, um, my own psyche and my own writing and my own stuff. Yeah, and you kind of notice when you start to talk to writers that everyone, if it’s like the same kind of issues, they might manifest kind of differently, but the same kind of issues come up. And then also it’s across the spectrum of, you know, people who are just really beginners and they’re trying to write for the first time, and they haven’t even maybe finished a manuscript all the way through to writers who have published multiple books and won awards and you know, got amazing reviews and things like that.

Everyone has the same kind of fears, and those fears don’t really ever go away. Um, in fact, sometimes they can get worse when you get published because you have more of a sense of an audience or more of a sense of, you know, there are people who are definitely going to read your work and you know, and they’re going to judge it or say about it.

So, I don’t know. I don’t, I don’t think it ever really goes away. I think you just, you find ways of dealing with it and coping with it, and you find ways of working in spite of those fears and in spite of those doubts.

Sarah: Absolutely. And I think that’s, that’s certainly something that I found through doing this podcast.

As you say, regardless of the stage of the writer’s career, the same kind of fears come up and, and that’s weirdly comforting. But also, I mean, I also wanted to ask you, how did you find going, you know, getting published obviously it’s something you wanted for a long time. You worked very hard, and then like you just alluded to the fears growing or changing and not just disappearing when you got, when you get published, how, how did you find that experience, your debut and so on?

Hayley: I mean, I was very anxious about it, I was very excited, but also very anxious about publishing my first. Um, and I really had this feeling that I wanted it to be perfect. Um, and I drove my editor a little bit crazy because I would just, like I wanted to make changes very close to the, you know, to the end of the process, I was still making little tweaks and little changes to the language.

And, um, I’ve learned, I learned with my second book to be a lot more gentle with myself. And I think that was something that I needed to learn was to not be so… I was very hard on myself with my first book. I was very, like I said, I had this idea that I wanted it to be perfect, which firstly doesn’t exist, like a perfect book it just doesn’t exist, because books are so subjective and something that’s perfect to one person is going to be imperfect to another person. Um. But I had these, I just had, I had a sense of wanting to control it and not really wanting to let go and I had to. Yeah. I think that’s the thing with your first book maybe, is that it’s the first time that you really have to let go.

You have to kind of hand it over. It’s going, it’s going to become a book in this state. You can’t make it any better. It is, you know, it’s, it is what it is. You’ve done everything. You’ve done everything you can and, and you have to just let it go and see how people react. And I think rationally I knew that of course some people would would like it and some people wouldn’t.

And I was like, kind of trying to prepare myself for that, but on an emotional level, um, it was different. It was, it was, it was harder to kind of wrap my head around, like, you’re putting this thing out into the world and what if people don’t like it and it’s, you know…

Sarah: Yeah, it’s scary. It’s properly scary.

Hayley: Yeah.

Sarah: Yeah, definitely. So have you found that you’ve kind of got used to it a wee bit now that the book’s been out for a while? How are you feeling about your second book coming out?

Hayley: Yeah, I feel, I feel very different and much better about it. It is the experience and time and realizing that yes, you can, people can not like your book and also you don’t stop writing because of that and you don’t implode as a person, and then you don’t stop being yourself. I don’t know. It’s just, it’s not actually as damaging as, as you kind of think that it’s going to be. Um, but yeah, I did have a moment with Straygarden, um, when we were getting close to the end, it was kind of like second pass pages. It was the last time I could read it over.

Um, or even first pass pages and I did have this instinct to suddenly make all these changes, like it felt like every sentence was wrong, every comma had to be moved and things like that. Um, but I, I. I was able to kind of recognize that that was happening again. And I think that’s only something that really happens with perspective and with experience, is that you can kind of recognize, Oh, okay, yeah, this is how I feel around this stage. It’s very normal. It’s okay.

And yeah, and I. I kind of went, um, I’m really lucky that I have an agent who’s very supportive and very kind. And um, I told her that I was really worried about it and I kind of sent her the list of changes I wanted to make. She actually helped me narrow them down. She actually helped me make the list shorter because I, at the end of the day, I didn’t want to just be moving things around just for the sake of moving things around. I’ll get to that stage where you’re not actually making the book better with things that don’t need to be changed.

Sarah: Yeah, definitely. There’s always a stage in the edits, isn’t there when you realize that you’ve spent all day changing things and then the next day you change them back or you’ve changed some, a lot, a lot of them back and you think, yeah, no, I’m done now.

Hayley: And, and I think that is, and I’m sure as, as I publish, I don’t know if I get the opportunity to do some more books that I will probably feel more and more comfortable with that… Um, because I do think it’s just like an experience thing. But yeah, so it was Straygarden, I did, I, I made a conscious choice to be more gentle with myself.

I made this choice to go, okay, I’m actually, this book is, is good. I’m proud of it. I’ve done all that I can. I’ve worked really, really hard on it and now I’m going to let it go and let it be what it is.

Sarah: Good. Oh, that’s brilliant. And speaking of, um, sort of moving on and things, what are you working on at the moment, or what’s next for you?

Hayley: So I’m working on another middle grade fantasy book. I always joke that I write books about magical girls with secrets. So yeah, it’s another kind of magical book about a girl with a secret. Um, and yeah, I don’t, uh, like I said about my writing process, it’s really messy and discombobulated and it takes a long time for me to figure out what a book is actually about.

So I can’t say what it’s about because I don’t really know, and it would probably change like three times before it actually has finished. So, um, but it is, it’s middle grade fantasy and I’m really excited about it. I really love it. It’s a bit of a bigger world than I normally write. And my first two books have both been quite, quite sort of claustrophobic in a cool way. Like, like smaller, like kind of, yeah, just smaller worlds. Um, and this world feels a bit more expansive, so it does feel a bit scarier cause it feels like something that I haven’t done before and I’m kind of pushing myself as a writer, but at the same time, I like that feeling of pushing myself.

I feel like I’m challenging myself and doing something that I haven’t done before.

Sarah: No, that sounds really, really positive and like you say we need to keep challenging. I think we need to keep challenging ourselves. I think that’s really exciting. So where can people find out more about you and your books online?

Hayley: Okay. So my website is HayleyChewins.com. And it’s Hayley, H A Y L E Y Chewins C H E W I N S .com. I have a newsletter that I send out every month, which is usually very personal, and it’s like things that I don’t share anywhere, anywhere else. So if people are interested in my kind of behind the scenes writing lives, um, they can go sign up for that.

And the only social media I’m doing at the moment is Twitter. So I’m @hayley_chewins. Um, and that’s about it.

Sarah: That’s wonderful. Well, I’ll put all the links in the show notes. But that was wonderful. Thank you so much for that.

Hayley: Cool. Thank you so much for having me. It’s been lovely talking to you.

 

The Worried Writer Ep#63: Wendy Heard ‘Be A Little More Punk Rock’

Wendy Heard is a thriller author with two novels out from Mira in the US. Hunting Anabelle, a serial killer thriller, and The Kill Club.

She co-hosts the Unlikeable Female Characters Podcast in which feminist thriller authors discuss female characters who don’t care whether you like them or not.

For more on Wendy Heard and her work, head to wendyheard.com or find her on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

For the Unlikeable Female Characters Podcast head here or search on your preferred podcast app.

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IN THE INTRO

I offer words of empathy and encouragement to everyone at this scary time, and remind you to be kind to yourself. It’s quite possible that your brain won’t be able to be creative at the moment, and that’s okay.

I also give a writing update. I wrote ‘The End’ on the fourth book in my Crow Investigations series, The Pearl King, and worked on my forthcoming non-fiction book Stop Worrying; Start Selling.

LISTENER QUESTION

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IN THE INTERVIEW

The full transcript is copied below.

 

 

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INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

Sarah: Wendy Heard is a thriller author with two novels out from MIRA in the U S Hunting Annabelle, a serial killer thriller, and The Kill Club. She co-hosts the Unlikable Female Characters podcast in which feminist thriller authors discuss female characters who don’t care whether you like them or not.

Which sounds amazing! Welcome to the show, Wendy.

Wendy: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited.

Sarah: Well, I’d love first, if you don’t mind, to hear a wee bit more about your podcast, unlikable female characters. What can listeners expect from that?

Wendy: Yeah, so we’ve been at it for just over a year. It’s three authors, it’s Layne Fargo, Kristen Lepionka, and me, and we talk about just how feminism or a lack thereof shows up in fiction and in popular media, we talk a lot about different characters that are in the mainstream and some that aren’t. Right now we’re exploring different tropes. Like the archetypes of different types of women. Like for example, one that everyone knows is the femme fatale.

Um, and we’re exploring… We just… Actually our one that went live today, it’s called the hysterical woman. And we did a little dive into like, hysteria in antiquity and the archetype of the hysterical woman. So we tend to just kind of dive into that in fiction,

Sarah: That’s fantastic. And how did the show come about?

Wendy: Well, we, we were mad about something!

Sarah: All the best ideas!

Wendy: We were mad about something. Um, it was like when we started emailing each other and then one thing led to another and we thought it would be fun and it’s something that women authors get asked about a lot is the likability of their female characters.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been asked about that.

Sarah: Um, it’s certainly something that author acquaintances have been asked about. And also I have had an editorial comment occasionally along the lines of ‘she doesn’t seem very likable here’. And that makes my hackles rise.

Wendy: Yeah. And it’s, it’s such an interesting thing, likability, like what is that?

And so we kind of wanted to explore that. Like, what is it to be likable and unlikable? Um, and also, you know, it’s that thing where you want to reclaim a word a little bit. Like, is it so bad to be unlikable? Like what is unlikable anyway? Does it just mean. Autonomous. Does it just mean with agency? Does it just mean like a person who has a consistent personality that doesn’t change their personality to adapt to those around them, which is something that women have been taught to do.

So is it someone who’s unhelpful to the men around her. She doesn’t help them feel better about themselves all the time, you know, what is it? So we’ve been ex… we thought we’d be exploring it for a little while and we’re still exploring it about a year later. So there’s a lot to unpack there.

Sarah: And as you said, as you alluded to at the beginning, an awful lot of material as well.

Wendy: Well, and it’s this thing where, you know, we have, I mean, there’s so much, but it’s, do male characters, do male authors get asked about the likability of their characters? Like is Jack Bauer likable? Right? Like, did he have to worry about that?

Like he has a mission to accomplish, but like is he likable? Is he nice? Like, is that something that male authors get asked about their male lead characters, right?

Gosh. Yeah.

And is there some like thing with men where they’re like, ‘she’s not likable. She’s a bad ass assassin!’ you know, ‘she kills men’.

Like, okay, well settle down. You know, what else is there?

Sarah: Absolutely. It’s a wee bit like the strong female character thing. That can be a bit of a trap in that. You know what again, what does strength mean? And if you’re kicking ass, that’s fine. You’re a strong female character, but it seems quite a narrow.

It’s a narrow definition, isn’t it?

Wendy: It’s coded. Right? It’s like when men say like, ‘I love strong women, but I just don’t think blah, blah, blah’. You know? It’s like, it becomes a sort of like first part of a nasty sentence, right?

Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. Oh, fascinating. Well, I am definitely going to be listening and I will obviously put a link in the show notes.

Wendy: Oh, well, thank you.

Sarah: So let’s go back to the beginning. I’m going to ask the usual question, I’m afraid. You’ll be glad to hear it’s not about likable female characters. Did you always want to write?

Wendy: Yeah, I have. Um, I have always gone back and forth between writing, visual art and music. I have a degree in painting.

I thought I was going to be like a a fine artist and I had also started out writing books like right out of college. I took a gap year and I was like, I’m going to write my first book. So awful, but I was like, I was hoping to be like a female Kerouac is what I was hoping. Like I went on like these awful road trips and like wrote these terrible, painful, novellas. That shockingly, nobody wanted to publish. I can’t imagine why. and then, yeah, and then I was in college. I got a, I got an art degree, so I kind of stopped writing and I’ve been playing the guitar since I was seven. I started playing classical guitar as a kid. So I never really was sure which of those three art forms I would sort of land on as my permanent this is what I will hope to do professionally, but it just kind of worked out to writing. And I do miss painting a lot. I haven’t had as much time for it. I definitely don’t mean to like set that aside completely.

Sarah: Well, I’m sure. I’m sure you haven’t. That’s the great thing about writing and I imagine painting is that it is something that you can do… It’s not an Olympic sport. You can do it, which is great. And what led you into writing serial killer thrillers and am I, am I sort of characterizing them correctly?

Wendy: No worries. Yeah. I definitely did not intend to write these kinds of books. I thought I would write literary fiction when I first started writing.

And, you know, it’s actually kinda, it was actually kind of a hard decision because I have a lot of English teachers and professors in my family who are quite… I did not feel necessarily very supported, writing genre fiction, and I don’t have that situation where I have like a super proud family.

You know, some authors have that, like family. I have a friend whose family comments on all of her author posts on Facebook and they’re like, you know, ‘go get ’em honey!’ you know? I think they, they think it’s cool that I’ve published, but I definitely feel self conscious about the type of books that I’ve ended up writing.

It’s just. I don’t know. It’s like sometimes, no matter what you try and sit down to write, a certain type of book comes out. And I have a real love for like commercial pacing and I love mystery and danger and like all those dark things. And so. It’s just the type of story that I enjoy figuring out.

It’s almost like, writing mystery, it’s like you’re playing chess against yourself, you know? Cause you have to set up what’s gonna trap your hero and then you have to try to get them out of it. And I have this thing I love to do, where I’ll write my main character into a corner, but I won’t plot out act three so that I’ve truly lost as the main character and I really have to figure out how to get out.

And I honestly don’t know how they will. That’s really fun, you know? And I kind of fell in love with it. But yeah, I definitely didn’t intend to. And I find things about the genre a bit limiting and frustrating sometimes. So it’s definitely not the only genre I ever want to write in.

Sarah: Mm. Well, that’s fascinating. And I’m nodding away, because I very much had the same sort of, um, I hope you won’t mind me saying hangups about I wanted to write, you know, I thought I was going to write literary fiction. I kept trying to, and I did a masters and I realized that I was really trying to please everybody else. And it was when I sat down and wrote something just for me that I wrote a readable book.

And so, yeah, sorry, just nodding away, total agreement. But I, I also think. Have you, you know, you said you have always enjoyed sort of mysteries and so on, and I did wonder about you picking the sort of darker side of fiction. And I think that reading dark or scary fiction can give us a sort of catharsis and also lets us explore maybe our fears, but in a safe way.

And I just wondered whether you think that’s true of writing it as well, or if that’s true for you.

Wendy: Wow. So I’m, so this is one thing I really wanted to talk about with you because this is something I’ve really enjoyed about your podcast, is being able to unpack these types of emotional components to writing and like, why we do this.

So I wanted to tell you this. So when I was researching Hunting Annabelle, which is a very psychological, like the main character has a neurologist for a mom, a neurosurgeon, and sees a psychiatrist. And the book is, it was a lot of psychological, and psychiatric research because he has some very specific mental illnesses that I had to research to get right.

Anyway, so I was interviewing a clinical psychologist, and she started talking about anxiety and dark fiction and she said one treatment she recommends for anxiety is to either go on a roller coaster or watch something really scary or read something really scary because she said, what happens is your body gets stuck in the first part of a stress cycle, like of a running away from the enemy stress cycle, and you have, it really helps your body if you help it finish the stress cycle.

So watch something where there’s a resolution. Let your body go through the whole cycle of anxiety, and then at the end you’re done. And so she said, here’s some things I suggest. And then she said, for writers of it, she always thinks, and she said this, and I’ll never forget it, she said it’s the familiar darkness, but this time I’m in control.

And so she said it’s.. For writers it’s going into a place, an emotional place that feels like a familiar, scary place for whatever reason, but taking control back and now you get to write the story, which I found really kind of like, I was like, can’t wait to tell you this!

Sarah: Oh, that’s amazing. And that really, really resonates as well.

Thank you for sharing that. That’s really interesting. And I also, I’ve never heard, I haven’t heard the completing the kind of fight or flight reaction in that way, which again, that makes so much sense. Yeah, that’s really interesting.

Wendy: Yeah. Shae said it’s like you start spinning and you’re that person, you have a brain that doesn’t know how to stop on its own.

Whereas most people can feel anxious about something, and then their brain knows how to, once that threat has passed, that anxious moment has passed, they know how to just move on. They don’t need help finishing that cycle.

Sarah: Oh gosh. And so is, did it resonate with you when you were, when you heard that, is that something that you’ve kind of experienced with exploring the darker side?

Wendy: Actually, yes, because I realized… I have a real problem, like I don’t like to sit down and write a scene unless I can finish the scene. It makes me really unhappy to like leave a scene halfway. I know people who can do that. They can just drop pieces in and then like I’ll come back to it. But I really can’t. I have to finish the scene.

And when she said that, I was like, that makes sense. That’s probably why I really hate, I find it really uncomfortable. Like, I don’t know about you, but if I start a book, I’ll just read it straight through. I will binge the book until it’s done. I don’t like to feel like it makes me feel uncomfortable to leave partway through and I have anxiety, you know?

And so that really made a lot of sense to me cause I’m like, yeah, that’s probably why I will obsessively watch a whole season or read a whole book or listen to the whole audio book while I’m doing everything, right. Cause I need to finish that cycle. I don’t know how to finish it on my own.

Sarah: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, absolutely. Another thing that I was thinking about in terms of of writing darker things is something that a lot of us struggle with is a kind of fear of judgment when we’re writing. And you know, you can have that feeling of, Oh, is this a bit too far, or is this a bit too emotional? Or, you know, is this too soppy or whatever?

And I, I, it occurred to me that maybe writing in this sort of darker genre, did you ever have a fear of judgment of, that’s too much, that’s too horrid, that’s too, uh, too revealing. You know, that kind of, Oh, everyone’s going to think I’m a sick puppy. Is that something that you’ve ever struggled with?

Wendy: I still struggle with it. I mean, I still wish that I had a different name at work than I do in writing. I didn’t, you know, I didn’t really think about this like, I did not think this through. But yeah. You know, it’s not, it’s not my favorite thing when people find out that I write books that I know in person, because then the next thing is, Oh, what is it called? And I’m like, it’s called The Kill Club. You know? I don’t love, I don’t love that. It’s embarrassing, a little bit, like I do feel a bit ashamed sometimes, but I mean, at the same time, anyone who knows me, it makes perfect sense. So it’s really just that like out and about. I don’t know about you, but like, it’s already hard trying to reconcile your various identities.

You know, you’re a mom, you’re a, you know, a worker, you’re a writer. And it’s like those are all parts of you and it’s hard to sometimes reconcile them with each other. So yeah, it is. It is difficult. I do feel embarrassed about it, and I do feel. I didn’t feel with Hunting Annabelle totally free to like unpack the full darkness of that story until I got it agented and my agent was like, we’re going into act three and you’re going to go all in.

You’ve got to stop worrying and just go in. And so I actually did like rewrite the last third of that book. Because she did feel like I was censoring it a little bit. Yeah. So I’ve had to be told like, you’ve got to go. And then after that I learned how to just like stop worrying as I’m writing and be like little more punk rock.

With The Kill Club, I kept having to tell myself, you’re going to have to be a little more punk rock if you’re going to write this book well. Like you’re going to have to just stop caring what people think and just write the story. But it’s not easy. I don’t know if it’s easy for you. It’s not easy for me.

Sarah: No, not at all. Not at all. I was going to say I think, I imagine whatever the genre is cause we write in different genres, I think there is that fear of judgment. There’s that fear of embarrassment. And the first couple of years or the first year after being published and meeting really lovely, supportive, kind folk at the playground gates picking up my children from primary school or whatever, and then chatting, and then they would say something about, Oh, you’ve written a book, or I’ve heard you’ve published a book. And, and the full body cringe of just embarrassment and shame and, there’s no real logical reason for that, you know.

Wendy: I try to like, it’s like emotional nudes. It’s like if you have naked photos out in the world that were taken of you when you were like 20 and those photos are just everywhere, and you know the second someone Googles you, they’re going to see you naked. That’s kind of what it feels like.

Sarah: So right! They are a snapshot of a, of a moment in time as well. You know, the book that I wrote in 2012 I wouldn’t necessarily, well I wouldn’t write it the same way because I’m a different person and it’s a different time. So it is also like say a sort of snapshot.

That’s a really, really good way of putting it. So your debut came out in 2018 I believe? So all of this kind of exposure, if you’ll forgive the term, it’s still quite new. It’s still early days really. I’d love to hear about your path to publication and kind of how that, how that all went for you.

Wendy: Yes. Well, you already know about my terrible early writing. Writing these awful, very self-congratulatory, novellas. Like I used to write them on trains. I just can’t, uh, but that was like 20 years ago. Right? So

Sarah: You were allowed!

Wendy: Yeah, it took a long time. I mean, I did set it aside a few times. I’d write something, set it aside.

I really picked it up back again in earnest in 2010 after having put it aside for like a good five years. And then I really was like, we’re doing this. Like, we’re doing this, we’re doing this. And I wrote, I just started writing. And I think I wrote, from 2010 to 2016, wrote four books. They didn’t get published and then Hunting Annabelle was the fifth that I had written since I had been back. So I’ve written a total, I think Hunting Annabelle is like my seventh book that I’ve ever written. I submitted it to agents for a while and it didn’t get picked up, and then I broke, this is kind of interesting, I broke a lot of bones. This sounds weird. I took a fall and then I took another fall, so I ended up with a broken wrist and a broken hip on the same side of my body, so I could not use the left side of my body for three months. So like, if you could imagine I couldn’t wheel a wheelchair because of my broken wrist, but I couldn’t use crutches because of my broken hip. And I was like stuck in the house alone for like three months.

And I rewrote Hunting Annabelle. And I put it back out to agents and then it got picked up. So that was the version when I was like… So that’s what you said, it’s like a snapshot, like there’s a reason it was a dark story. I was in a really dark place when I was re-writing that book. Like that was a very hard time.

I was stuck alone inside for months, and I could only use one hand. So I actually like rebroke my wrist writing Hunting Annabelle. I had it in a cast and I, they gave me like a soft cast and I told them, you’re going to want to put a hard cast on this cause I can still type with this thing on. They said, just be careful, you’re fine.

But I have this weird pain thing where I don’t feel things. I have like a very strange pain tolerance thing. And I did a rebroke my wrist writing Hunting Annabelle and had to have it reset and now there’s a plate in it.

Sarah: Oh my goodness. Well, that’s full on. I was going to say, you are very rock and roll. You definitely win the Worried Writer punk rock writer award, but ouch! My goodness.

Wendy: After all that, when Hunting Annabelle finally got a book deal, I got the largest tattoo I can’t explain to you, my whole back is like covered with this tattoo that I got. Cause I was just like, we’re going to get a, we’re going to do a very punk rock celebration of this extremely punk rock thing that happened.

Sarah: Oh well when you, when you were sharing that you’d written a few books before you got your, got your agent and got your deal, I was thinking wonderful, again, thank you for sharing that cause I always want people to know it’s completely normal to have to write a few books and seven is like the average number.

So I was thinking, Oh, look at that, Wendy’s bang on average in her number of books, and then you went all punk rock and broke your wrist and your hip and rebroke your wrist and not average at all. So

Wendy: I should tell people that every time they send me a bad review of Hunting Annabelle, it’d be like, do you know what I did for this book?

Every time someone tags me in a bad review.

Sarah: Oh, absolutely. Oh my goodness.  So you got your agent, you worked on it editorially with her and rewrote it, and then you got the deal with MIRA. So that must have felt amazing.

Wendy: Yeah, that was really great. It was very surreal and you know, it was, it was awesome. It was a very, like, I don’t know if you’ve ever had those moments where it’s such a big thing that you can’t react. And my agent was like, this is a really good thing. This is a big five book deal. This is exciting. And I was like, yes, it is. I know. But it was just at the end of such a long road that I think the most overarching emotion was just relief.

Like, because for so long it was like, Oh, she’s trying to be a writer. I wonder when she’ll give up, you know, kind of a feeling. So I was like, thank God, at least this happened, you know?

Sarah: Absolutely. No, I totally relate to that. So it was a two book deal or..?

Wendy: Yeah, it was a two book deal. I’m off it now, so I’m going back back out on submissions.

So it’s like starting over, right? I mean, I think people think that once you publish once, it’s just like a dominoes, right? No. Like you finish your book deal and, you’re back out on submission like the first time, right? I have a third book coming out. It’s a young adult, so I’m starting a new young adult brand, and that’s with a different publisher, so like, I’m not, you know, I’m not saying like it’s, nothing’s going well, but I’m just, I think people should know that like, just because you’ve published one or two, I mean, each time it’s like being freelance, who knows if you’ll sell another one.

Sarah: Oh, absolutely. And I coped with that reality very poorly. How are you coping with that?

Wendy: Not too good. Actually. Yeah. Cause we see these like success stories of people who just seem like: it is dominoes, right? It just, it looks like that from the outside.

Sarah: Absolutely it does. And there’s no sort of set career path. There’s nothing, there’s an awful lot of smoke and mirrors. And so all you can do is compare the outside of other people’s success and generally only a handful of successes because those are the ones that we hear about. So it really skews it. But I, I definitely found the uncertainty and the knowledge that my, my writing career was in other people’s hands, and that I was going to have to go through the whole submission, rejection, and I could write a book, I could spend a year writing a book, and then…

Wendy: Nothing.

Sarah: Nothing. So yeah, I, I coped poorly, so much empathy.

Wendy: How are you doing now? How do you handle it now?

Sarah: Well, what I did, which I know isn’t for everybody, but I put my business brain on and I went hybrid. So I do independent publishing, alongside it, alongside traditional, and it changed my life. I am now a very happy, very happy writer, and I can also support my family.

So for me it was absolutely the right decision.

Wendy: I think that’s a really interesting, yes, I love that because I think you’re right. Like I was talking about this with my, actually my friend Layne who, we do our podcast together. We both talk about this like. We’re both career women. You know, we, we’re, we’re type a, like, we like to get stuff done and it is really frustrating to think about writing a book for a whole year.

It doesn’t go because that’s not what publishing is looking for. Is there something else we can do with these lost books? Like, or is that just too much time spent marketing to be worth the return? I mean, that’s because I have a lot of friends who self publish and it is like many, many hours. That’s like, I have a friend who it’s like she has a full on degree in marketing, I mean, right?

Sarah: I, yeah, I’m, I’m definitely still figuring marketing out, but I don’t spend any, I don’t spend a great deal more time marketing for my independent books than I do for my trad books. Cause there’s still a certain amount of marketing you have to do. You know, unless you, again, unless you’re one of the real headline success stories, lead titles for a publisher. So, but yeah, I mean, I’m fully aware that it might be skewed for me now because I’ve got used to doing it. So what I really like is that you can do the marketing that works. When you’re doing marketing for your trad published  books, there’s lots of sort of raising awareness, there’s lots of things that you can do, but you’re not really sure how effective they are and so on. Whereas with the books that I control myself, that I published through my own imprint, I can put an advert on those and I can see that that advert is converting and that I’m making sales from it.

And so, funnily enough, I don’t really mind spending the time to set that up because I know it works.

Wendy: Yeah.

Sarah: And I see the results. So that’s how I kind of see it really is that now I’m in control.

Wendy: I think we’re all really interested in… I think it’s important to talk to people who want to be authors about the different models, you know? You don’t have to choose between self-published and traditionally published. You can, you can, like, I have always thought that I have a thing where I want to write speculative stuff and I want to write like weird, speculative stuff. You know what I mean? Like I have just like the desire to write about like historical vampires sometimes.

Stuff that it’s not going to get picked up by anybody. Right? Like, so I have always thought, eventually I’d love to do a second brand. Either under a different name or same name, different brand, like you know, maybe it’s find a little tiny imprint who would be willing to let me do my, my weird ones.

Sarah: Or start your own imprint as we were just saying, because that’s, I mean, that is the other thing about it that’s really helped me is that freedom that I don’t have to wait for permission from anybody to write whatever I want. Yes, I know, I know that if I write something really off brand and maybe more niche, I’m not going to make much money doing it, but no one gets to tell me that it doesn’t get out in the world? That I’m not allowed, that it doesn’t go out in the world.

And that has been very, I mean, just hugely empowering. So yeah, I love it. Anyway, I won’t derail this. You got me started, and I’ll go on like this!

Wendy: No I think that’s good, and I think it is like, I think, I don’t know about you, but there’s a reality check moment in publishing traditional books where, so like behind the scenes if it’s okay for me to like quickly… but like, let’s say I want to go on submission for a book and I have to send my agent a number of ideas and she’ll pick the one that’s the most, that’s the most viable, you know, for example, I just as an example, a podcast thriller has kind of hit really hard: Sadie, and there were a couple of big ones. Yeah, so anyway, there’s like a, there were like three big ones that came out in the space of a year and a half. So if I had been wanting to write a podcast thriller, unfortunately that space is a bit crowded, right? So not that there’s any, not that your agent is sitting here, uh, censoring you and policing you, but your agent’s job is to try to sell your books.

And so he or she is going to take a look at the ideas you have. You’re going to run ideas by them. What should I write next? You know, and they’re going to say, okay, how about, why don’t you write up a pitch for like these three? I’d like to see a little bit more info on these three. So you put going to put a pitch together and they’re going to say, okay, I think this one’s your best bet and you know you’re going to send it out and like she’s going to find, try to find an editor that is interested in books like that, and then that editor might be like, yeah, I am interested in books like that, but I’d actually really need it to be like this. The idea that you’re just writing a book and selling it is not the reality of being a working writer.

You’re really, or if you’re writing a book on like a two book deal, and you already have a book deal, but they have to hear your proposal. I have a friend who went through seven, seven proposals before they picked one for her book two.

Sarah: Oh boy.

Wendy: You know, I mean, it’s just like you don’t, you got to tailor it to your editor’s taste, to what your imprint is looking for.

If they have another book similar coming out that same season, you’re going to have to pick another project. It’s not just I write the book I want and I put it out there. So as you’re saying, I think having an outlet for that freedom of creativity, it sounds really appealing.

Sarah: And you can also move more quickly as well, because as you say, with the traditional route, like say you’ve got your agent, and then it goes into submission, and then if it gets picked up, the lead time, as you know, in traditional publishing is very, very… it’s quite long, you know.

Wendy: Forever! My young adult book comes out in about a year and I got that book deal like over a year ago. It’s like a two and a half year lead time on that book. It’s fine. It’s just how it is.

Sarah: And that’s why it’s not generally viable to, you know, to make a full time living with trad only. Even if you make it, you know, even if you have a really good advance because of all that time lag. So, yeah, so I definitely, well I highly recommend it!

And in terms of writing the second book, again, sort of, we’ve talked a wee bit about that kind of pressure, realizing that there’s still more rejection and submission to go and so on. How did you find writing the dreaded second book?

Wendy: The second book is really tough, so you’re writing it and you’re marketing your first book, and you do not know what the hell you are doing. Marketing your first book. I mean, you’re doing everything and nothing at the same time. Like you’re doing all the stupid things you shouldn’t be doing, wasting your time, and you’re not doing the things you should have been doing in retrospect. You know, it’s not, there isn’t a blueprint for how to market a book. Yeah. Everyone has, you have to try on a couple of different books and publishing as very little like leeway for failure. If your first book doesn’t hit, it’s very difficult to get people on board with similar books coming out after.

So there’s a lot of pressure on that first book to hit and to do pretty well. So that pressure you’re feeling on your first book, while that panic you’re feeling of not knowing what you’re doing, especially for somebody who likes to know what you’re doing, and then trying to be creative and write the second book, that’s the right followup, that’s in a similar world, but something really fresh and exciting and to do it in like six months, right, is a whole hell of a thing. I thought writing The Kill Club was going to actually kill me, but I had my aforementioned tattoo artist tell me something that I never forgot, which was, he said, sometimes I do my best work when I’m under pressure though, because I can’t overthink it.

And I was like, all right. All right. And that did help me get through it. Actually, just remembering that line, I was like, all right. All right. All right. Because I kept thinking, I’m not going to do good work right now. I’m too stressed.

Sarah: And also sometimes, I mean, people work on their book that gets them a deal, a lot, and usually for at least a year. And then if you’ve got a short, a shorter time to write your second book, there is also that anxiety that you just don’t have enough time to properly percolate and do a good job, but it’s not true. You know? Writing under pressure, writing quickly does not equate to writing poorly.

Wendy: In some ways it does. Like there’s a lot of stuff, like at the line level in The Kill Club, there’s a lot of things at the line level I wish I had more, had more time to change. It was my first time writing under deadline and I think, I think it’s, it’s like I wrote a total of eight books at that point. Only one of them got published, so I kept thinking. What if the one I’m working on right now is like one of the former eight do you know what I’m saying? Like maybe I could only do it once. Maybe I don’t have another good book in me. Maybe that was like a fluke. I think I hear people think that a lot.

Sarah: Oh yeah, no, definitely. That’s very familiar. For some reason we don’t equate writing those books beforehand with practice, as we would perhaps when you were learning to paint or learning the guitar as a, as a child. You know, it would be like playing a guitar piece really well for the first time and saying, well, that’s it then. I will never be able to play like that again. That was the one time.

But somehow with writing, that’s what we do. It’s, it’s very odd. But yes, you’re definitely, you’re definitely not alone!

Next off, I really wanted to delve into the kind of nitty gritty of your writing process and your kind of how you fit writing in around work and all of that.

But, we chatted about this a wee bit before we came on air, but I am aware that we are currently, we’re chatting during a global pandemic.

Nervous laughter…

Wendy: Everything’s fine, everything’s normal!

Sarah: Everything’s fine. So. I don’t mind at all if you want to share your usual process for writing and getting writing done, or if you want to chat about how it’s affecting you now I don’t mind.

But I just wanted to acknowledge for the listeners that this is when we’re recording it. So if we sound slightly manic…

Wendy: Unhinged …

Sarah: Unhinged! That’s why!

Wendy: Yes. Well, okay. So. I have, I feel like we need to hear more authors say this, but I have a full time job. Most people, it’s like, it’s almost a matter of, admitting failure to say I have a full time job because it makes you seem like you’re not a real writer or you’re not one of the chosen few or something like that.

But I have a mortgage and I live in Los Angeles. So unless I’m about to start selling four books a year and someone’s going to bestow free healthcare upon me, I’m going to continue having to have a full time job. So I have this full time job and I have a kid. And so writing is something that has been fit into the crevices of that.

So anytime my daughter is in, she does competitive gymnastics, which is kind of a new thing, but she does that, and I’ll write in the parking lot while she’s doing that, or on the weekends, I usually wake up at five or six and write for a couple hours before she’s up and she needs me. If she’s on a play date or if she has like a friend over or a sleepover, I’ll take advantage of those hours to write. So writing has become sort of the thing I do instead of hobbies and instead of social life, that’s just the reality of it. You know, you can’t do everything and you have to choose what’s most important to you. So I try to have chosen writing as the thing that’s most important to me right now.

Although I can sometimes go too hard. I forget that it’s also work and that my brain needs breaks and that I, I do tend to work really hard and burn myself out. So my new goal is to like allow myself to not burn out. And if that means I have to sleep in until 6.30 on the weekends! That sounds crazy, but like for a long time, I’m waking up at five o’clock on the weekends cause I’m like, that’s valuable work time I could be doing. And eventually you kind of run, you kind of wring yourself out and you start losing some of the love for it.

So I’m trying to, I just released a book a few months ago, so I’m trying to now, I dunno, reclaim a little bit or let this be a season where I’m just writing and being creative and I’m not as hard going so hard with promo. So it’s like cyclical, I guess seasonal few months before your book comes out, all you’re doing is promo. I mean, you’re just, there’s no creativity. There’s just all promo, right?

Sarah: Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Were MIRA very good and supportive with that?

Wendy: Yes. They’ve been great. I have a publicist that I absolutely love working with. My editor has been amazing. I’ve had two editors and they’ve both been wonderful, so I’ve had nothing but good experiences and I’ve met a lot of really awesome writer colleagues through that imprint, and I’ll be really sad if we don’t get to keep working together as colleagues, you know, just because I think I might end up on submission elsewhere. We’ll see. But I still feel like there’s so much that you have to do as the writer.

I mean, if you’re that mid-list author who’s… Unless you’re, like you said, in the top 1% 5% right, where they give a, they give a huge, a huge advance, they’ve got a lot of money invested in this, and they’re going to make sure it hits list. Unless you’re that person, you’re doing a lot of your own promo.

You know you’ve got to hustle. You’re getting out there talking to book bloggers, you’re on Bookstagram. You’re trying to maintain your social media presence in three different places. You’re having an author newsletter. You’re, I mean, you’re doing interviews, you’re doing like little think pieces. I mean, everything, right?

Sarah: Yeah, it is. It’s a lot. It’s very overwhelming. And I don’t know if you found this, but I find it quite hard to write when I’m very outward facing.

Wendy: Absolutely.

Sarah: Kind of, I need to feel like everything’s safe and private when I’m writing because I’m pretending no one will ever read it.

Wendy: That’s right.

Sarah: So that’s tricky too.

Wendy: And then release season, I think there was one month where I had like seven essays, that I wrote in one month. Right. So it’s just like, when am I going to write? Like I’m writing, you know? Right.

Sarah: Yeah. No, that’s really tricky. But I’m, I’m glad that you had a positive  experience with MIRA. That’s really great to hear. Again, not everybody does have a positive experience, regardless of the publisher for various reasons. So, that does sound positive overall, but there’s still something about… it’s something you want for so long, and then you step through that doorway to the magical land of the published, and it’s another set of steps. It’s another…

Wendy: That’s right. That’s a great way to describe it. That’s perfect.

Sarah: But it’s very hard to come to terms… I found that emotionally difficult to come to terms with a wee bit. I still didn’t feel like a real writer and that was a struggle.

Wendy: Yeah, what’s up with that? I still don’t feel like a real writer.

Sarah: Imposter syndrome. It’s so hard – just kicks us.

Wendy: You think if I just can do this, and I think that’s what keeps… What keeps killing us because once you’ve published and then you’re like, well, I didn’t get a starred review. I didn’t get into, I didn’t get a review on the New York Times, or I didn’t get, I didn’t hit the list, or I didn’t hit this list, or I didn’t get the Amazon orange banner or whatever.

I’ve heard all the things that people hold themselves to, right? Like, I didn’t get invited to this conference or I haven’t been invited to this thing, like a goodreads choice, like whatever. I didn’t get this award. Like there’s such…

Sarah: It’s endless isn’t it?

Wendy: Yes. I can’t imagine a world in which I could ever accomplish the things I would need in order to feel like a quote real writer.

Sarah: Yep.

Wendy: Again, unless you’re that unicorn. Who, that  one person who like for example, Casey McQuiston who wrote Red White and Royal Blue. Did you read that one?

Sarah: I heard of ii, but I haven’t read it.

Wendy: Okay. It’s like, that’s like a perfect example. Like she hit every list. She did everything. I mean, you know.

Sarah: Mmm, but I mean, I think one thing about doing this podcast that’s been very healthy for me is that I’ve spoken to people who I consider unicorns and they still are filled with self doubt and imposter syndrome.

Yeah. That has really helped, but that’s it. Nothing else.

Wendy: That’s true. I have friends who have had all those things. I have a good friend. She’s like the, so successful, I mean. She’s just like huge. And if you talk to her, she’s like, well, I’ve never gotten a starred review. I’ve never, you know what I’m saying?

Like, I haven’t hit the New York Times, but you’re selling crazy. Like your books are everywhere, like you have a book deal every time you want it. You know? It was like, you think you think that it would be, but no, you’re right, still.

Sarah: So from imposter syndrome to just our old, our old friend self doubt.

So obviously title of the podcast is Worried Writer. Do you ever have sort of struggles or creative block when you’re actually writing? And if so, what do you do to keep going?

Wendy: Very much so. Extreme so. I like. This last one, this debate of like, what am I going to write next for my adult book to go on submission?

You know, it really has to be perfect. Do I want to pivot at all and change my brand up a little? It’s a good time to do that if I’m going to, cause I had a two book deal with Mira and now I can change it up if I want to a little bit. And so, um, then at the same time, that self doubt that comes with not already having something promised.

I have found that it’s been very difficult to write, and it’s not the first time I’ve dealt with that. I’ve dealt with writer’s block a lot. I don’t know anyone who’s struggled with it more actually. Um, it’s a real problem for me. I think sometimes it takes me a long time to be able to just sit down and to get up enough confidence to even just sit down and start writing is very difficult.

Unless, unless someone has me on a deadline, in which case I’m just like, it’s like homework. I’ll force myself to do it. But if I’m not, if I don’t have a deadline, if I don’t have a book deal with a deadline, I can get inside my own head and I’ll really struggle to write at all. Everything seems wrong. I keep hearing all the criticisms that people might have or that might cut like, I don’t know, just get in my own head so bad with it.

How do I get out of it? What is my solution? You know what? I think sometimes I just have to be patient with myself and just like give myself space and time to feel excited about the project again because once I start feeling excited about writing something, then I’ll do it whether I’m upset or not, you know?

If I’m excited about it and I can picture it in my head and then I start getting sucked in, then self doubt won’t get me, you know? So I try to like use playlists a lot. I’ll try to listen to songs and be like, okay. What’s the perfect song for the scene? What’s the perfect song for this character? And I’ll listen to it and that will help me get excited about it again and be like, okay, I can really picture this.

Okay, I can write this and I’ll start feeling a little more confident again.

Sarah: Oh, that’s fantastic advice and thank you for sharing that as well. I don’t wish it on you, but it’s always very reassuring to hear that we’re not alone in our self doubt.

Wendy: That’s very true. It sucks. I feel bad for all of us that are struggling.

I can’t…, and it’s funny, I hear my friend Layne’s voice in my head being like. How many mediocre men are out there just writing because they’re like, this is amazing. I’m going to do this. You know? Be like that guy. Just believe in it. Believe in yourself.

Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, absolutely, and another thing that I’ve been, that I’ve been working on is I, I’m not going to say what I actually say because I tend not to swear on this podcast, but I say it’s just a … book.

It’s just a swear word book. And I, I mean obviously that, you know, I enjoy a bit of swearing for stress relief, so apologies if that offends you. But, for me, I just… Just that, that thing of it, it just, that really helps. So it’s not a very evolved mantra, but it kind of helps me to remember that it is just, it is just a book and it’s not life or death.

It’s just a story. That’s it. You know? And if I wrote a really bad story, if I wrote a bad book, the sky isn’t going to fall in, you know, it’s fine. I’m not hurting anybody. It’s fine. And so that’s been my recent thing of just trying to you know, leaven the weight of it a wee bit because as you say, when we get in our own heads, it can really feel like the most important thing, because it’s important to us. But nobody else cares!

Wendy: I used to write really bad poetry and like little stories when I was a teenager and I never worried about if they were bad because I wasn’t ever going to show them to anybody. So it was just like, and that energy is the energy that you really have to take into a first draft and just write the thing that makes you happy or that makes you feel something and then clean it up later, fix it later, and make it, make it friendly for public consumption later.

But I think, I don’t know if you’ve experienced this being on deadline, but when you’re writing on proposal, there really isn’t a first draft. There’s no time for that raw first draft, and then to totally rewrite it, I mean, you’re in four months deadline for a whole book, you know? So you’re like. There is no like write for a few months, take a step aside, consider it, then rewrite it.

There’s none of that. There’s like your, your editor’s going to see your first draft and that is a totally different reality that can really get to people.

Sarah: Oh, absolutely. And that reminds me, I meant to ask you earlier about your writing process.

Wendy: Oh yeah.

Sarah: So you mentioned the third act there, which made me think that maybe you do some outlining or some, some structural work. How do you, how do you write?

Wendy: Okay. I’ll try not to geek out on this too hard, but I write in four acts. I’m really fascinated by acts and by chunks in a book and like their function. I started out writing with Save The Cat, which I still use quite heavily. It’s a screenwriting outlining tool in case, I’m not sure how widely in use Save The Cat is in the UK.

Sarah: Yeah, it’s, yeah, it’s, it’s pretty well known. Well, certainly the people I’ve spoken to, it’s pretty well known and the Save The Cat Writes a Novel came out not so long ago, which is great. Yeah.

Wendy: Jessica Brody, she has classes you can take on a platform called udemy udemy.com. She has a save the cat outlining class you can take for like 20 bucks or less. It’s like a self paced course. Really recommend it if you, if, if you’re a writer interested and just curious to like kind of see what this, how this works.

So I do that. I like to use those story beats and I started using some other tools where, so like the mid point of the story, there’s act 2a, and there’s act 2b, and in traditional outlining, you outline all of act two, but you kind of consider that those two have slightly different functions, but in a four act structure, you really consider them like two really different pieces. And so breaking the book up into four equal parts, like ish, I’m not, I’m not super, you know… give or take, but just like considering that the book has four parts, there’s the setup in act one where you’re kind of laying all your tracks for your train. I think of it as like a rollercoaster, and then an act 2a the first half of act two to the mid point. You’re kind of climbing up the hill to that midpoint.

And then the second half of act two, you’re going down the hill and it’s like a crazy rollercoaster. Everything’s falling apart. And then act three it’s of course like the big climax where all the stuff that you’ve, all the little clues and character flaws and all these things you’ve laid in kind of all come together to have a new and surprising conclusion.

So I really like that. It helps me when I feel stuck because I know what kind of thing needs to happen now. I can go back to my outline and be like, this is the time like I know what the next plot point I’m working toward. And this is the time when we should see these types of things happening. So it’s, it’s almost like writing a haiku where if you’re saying, I only have five syllables to work with, instead of I can do anything I want, it kind of helps me focus and that helps me a lot.

Sarah: That makes a lot of sense. Yeah, and I’ll, I’ll put the link in the show notes to the book and to the course as well. That’s a great tip. Thank you. I cannot believe how quick the time has gone. So before we finish, I’d love to hear what are you working on at the moment, or what’s next for you?

Wendy: Oh, this is exciting. So I just turned in my final copy edits, everything, for my young adult book She’s Too Pretty To Burn. That comes out at the end of March, 2021, I think it’s March 30th. And I am now working on… I have an option with that contract. So I’m working on an option book for my young adult. Right now I’ve got a project where it’s a teenage girl who’s faking her own death and going on the run.

It’s really fun. And then I have an adult book in the works that I’m playing with that’s like a airbnb locked in the woods, bad things happening, type of thriller. So I’ve got two projects. Who knows if those will ever become books, but those are my two current works in progress.

Sarah: So you’re staying right there in the darkness is what you’re saying.

Wendy: I know! I’ve always wanted to write about faking your own death. I just think that’s so fun. Imagining like how you would do it with passports. Like how would you do with bank accounts? But it’s a teenage girl. I’m so excited. I hope I get to write that book.

Sarah: That does sound fantastic. And where can people find more about you and your books online?

Wendy: Yeah, so all the social medias, all the socials. I’m @WendyDHeard. That’s like D as in David. Wendy D Heard, and then my website is wendyheard.com.

Sarah: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for your time, Wendy. That was great.

Wendy: Thank you so much for having me. This was really, really fun. This is maybe my favorite interview I’ve ever done. It was really enjoyable.

Sarah: Oh, thank you so much!

 

 

The Worried Writer Ep#60: Meg Cowley ‘I Love My Readers!’

My guest today is USA Today bestselling fantasy author Meg Cowley. Meg has two epic fantasy series The Books of Caledan and The Chronicles of Pelenor, as well as an urban fantasy series Relic Guardians.

We have a great conversation about independent publishing, reader support, writing in series, and consistency, as well as self-doubt, mental health, and the importance of self-care.

For more on Meg head to megcowley.com or find her on TwitterFacebook or Instagram.

THANK YOU!

This is episode 60 of the podcast, which means it has been running for five years – huzzah! I’m really proud of myself for keeping it going every month without a break – through good times and bad.

Thank you so much for listening, and for all your messages, questions, reviews and support over the last five years. I really appreciate it.

Become a PatreonAs ever, huge thanks to everyone supporting the show on Patreon. Thank you so much!

Join our growing Patreon community at The Worried Writer on Patreon.

I love creating the podcast but it takes a significant amount of time (and money) to produce. If you want to help to keep the show going, please consider becoming a patron. You can support the show for just $1 a month! If you pledge $2 or more, you also receive an exclusive mini-episode that I put out in the middle of every month, plus instant access to the back list of twenty-three audio extras.

WRITING UPDATE

This month I’ve been working on the fourth Crow Investigations book and rewriting the messy draft of my non-fiction branding, marketing and selling book for authors.

I’ve been suffering with imposter syndrome over the last week or so, wondering ‘who am I?’ to write a book on branding and marketing, but I also know that sharing my personal experience (and lessons learned) and viewpoint is perfectly valid. The self-doubt struggle continues and I know that it will never go away.

SAVVY WRITERS EVENT

Past guest of the show, Tracy Buchanan, is running a one-day event in London on 9th May 2020, aimed at published authors (both indie and traditional).

Participants will get the chance to attend an advanced writing workshop with one of two writers, crime writer Sophie Hannah or women’s fiction author Amanda Prowse. There will also be a panel offering advice on marketing and mindset with industry guru Sam Missingham, HarperCollins editor (and previous guest of The Worried Writer!) Phoebe Morgan, and the Bookseller editor Phillip Jones. Plus a networking lunch and agent one-to-ones.

Head to www.savvywriters.co.uk/savvywritersfest for more information.

LISTENER QUESTION

If you have any questions about writing, process, procrastination or the business side of things such as marketing or publishing options, email me, leave a comment on this post, or find me on Twitter.

 

IN THE INTERVIEW

The full transcript is copied below.

 

 

THANKS FOR LISTENING!

If you can spare a few minutes to leave the show a review on Apple Podcasts (or whichever podcast app you use) that would be really helpful. Ratings raise the visibility of the podcast and make it more likely to be discovered by new listeners and included in the charts.

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Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

 

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

Sarah: My guest today is USA Today best selling fantasy author Meg Cowley. Meg has two Epic Fantasy series of The Books of Caledan and The Chronicles of Pelenor, as well as an urban fantasy series Relic Guardians. Welcome to the show Meg and thank you so much for joining me.

Meg: Hello, thank you for having me, at last – it’s taken us a long time to schedule this!

Sarah: It has, I’m so excited. Thank you so much. So just to get us started, I was hoping you could tell us all a wee bit about your latest series or release.

Meg: Sure. So I am penning the final book in the Chronicles of Pelenor series, which is an epic fantasy filled with magic, dragons, intrigue, betrayal and deliciously morally grey characters and a smattering of romance.

So yeah, I like writing complex multi viewpoint epic fantasies. And I write stories set in the same world at the moment. I’m just continuing that. I’m due to finish it next week and I can’t wait because it feels like I’ve been writing it forever!

Sarah: That must be exciting but is it a wee bit nervy finishing as well?

Meg: Yeah, it is. It’s scary because you have a lot of expectations from yourself and your readers. You don’t want to disappoint anyone. So I have absolutely had massive stresses thinking ‘oh my God, this is… Is it going to be good enough? Can I manage this?’ But in the end, I’ve just had to push through it and think well, even if the first draft is terrible getting it written is the hardest thing and then I can edit it to make it pretty! But it’s going alright so far.

Sarah: Fantastic. I’d like to rewind a wee bit. I know that you are a proud and successful independent author and I don’t know if you know that I went hybrid a couple of years ago and I just love it.

I love it so much and I want everyone to know what a fantastic option it is, but I also was wondering: was it an easy decision for you? Did you start out as independent?

Meg: Yes, it was a really easy choice. I wrote my first book – I won’t bore you with the details of how that came about just same as any writer.

Love to write, decided to write a book and actually did it! Looking into the publishing options because once I wrote it I wanted to get it published of course, and it was quite black and white really. I looked at the options trad versus indie and indie just… It was the thing that suited me the most so I’ve gone the indie route. I have no regrets about that and I’m a really really happy indie author.

I think it’s allowed me to have the control and the financial freedom to make a career out of this which I had always dismissed because I never thought it would be possible and it’s just blown me away that life has changed so much in the past few years and I would not have been able to do that had it not been for independent authoring.

Sarah: That’s fantastic and you mentioned the sort of control there and obviously the finances. I’ve also discovered it’s a way to actually have a viable business which is fantastic. Are there any other things that you particularly like about being independent or if you were chatting to a listener perhaps who was maybe thinking oh traditional is the only way?

Is there anything that you would say to them to encourage them or do you think it’s something that some people just aren’t suited to?

Meg: I would say to ask yourself ‘what do you want from this?’ I think traditional and independent and hybrid and anything in the spectrum really – it’s all valid. There is no right answer there is no wrong answer but you have to know what you want from it and understand how to get that.

So for me, I wanted creative control and I wanted financial success. Indie was the natural choice for me. However, if you want literary acclaim, you want your book on shelves in shops where your rabid fans can go, and have release parties and pick your book off the shelf, trads probably best for you.

And that’s fine. It’s just that wasn’t for me. So I would say just ask yourself what you really want and how you can achieve that and see where on the spectrum you might be.

Sarah: I absolutely don’t want to sound as if I’m trying to push everybody to go indie, but I always want to say…

Meg: Just do it! Do it!

Sarah: Yeah! Having started in trad…

Meg: I’d say don’t dismiss it. I think people have a notion of what indie is: its sub-quality, people just popping stuff up on Amazon and that’s not the case, you know, the true indie author is an incredibly discerning avid reader who wants to tell fantastic stories that are worthy of being published and being read and being loved by readers.

We’re all the same at the end of the day. We all start off as readers who love stories and some of us want to tell those stories too, and it doesn’t really matter how you get to that reader. The reader doesn’t really care as long as they get a story that is satisfying.

Sarah: Honesty listeners, I am just nodding and nodding at Meg because I just agree so much! it’s about getting… As you say the readers are what matter, but in terms of of trad…  I think a lot of people expect certain things from traditional publishing that you just don’t get unless you are a lead title or a ‘lightning stikes’ success or a celebrity author already. So things like ‘on the bookshelf’ you might not get those things. You might not get distribution and bookshops. So I think it’s really important, whatever you decide, to educate yourself and go in with your eyes open, whatever you’re doing. But I mean, I’ve followed your career, since I heard you on Joanna Penns podcast back when you were doing coloring books!

Meg: Gosh, yeah, that was a long time ago!

Sarah: I know! And I loved listening to my interview, so thank you for doing it. And I was… I felt like I was listening to a kindred spirit in terms of – or certainly what I was aspiring to – in terms of your work ethic, your production, your business sense. It was very inspiring to me.

So thank you and I’ve been really impressed ever since really, with your rate of production, and you’ve become a mum in the meantime!

Meg: It’s been a rocky few years, so I’m suppose. I’m quite pleased with what I’ve managed to do despite everything that’s happened.

Sarah: Oh, honestly Meg from the outside it just looks like you’ve done this ridiculous amount of amazing work. So absolutely hats off to you!

Meg: It looks like I’ve got it together. Excellent, I’ll take that!

Sarah: So, now I want your secrets you see, so could you talk me through a sort of typical writing day if you have such a thing? And things like productivity – do you keep business hours? All of that good stuff!

Meg: I think life has changed a lot in the last few years, like I’ve said, so I’ve had to change everything and keep changing everything and the only constant has been change – finding out what’s working and constantly evolving. So it used to be that I would just work 60-hour weeks and I loved that because I’m a workaholic, you know, writing was a hobby before it was a job, so if I wanted to do anything it was write stories, great. Having a child? Can’t do that anymore. And well it’s been a rough few years. So for the past probably three years now, I’ve had various health problems and then had my son and then struggled with post natal depression quite a lot. So it’s been a struggle to have any kind of steady routine.

Right now, my son goes to daycare. It was three days a week, last week he started going four days a week. So this is kind of a magical, almost normal place that I feel like I’m getting back to now. I have four consecutive days a week where I can write which is incredible and already I’ve noticed that my productivity shot up just from having that constant block of time where every day is the same, you know, I put my bum in the chair and I work. So Monday to Thursday I’m working. I write in the mornings, I do other things in the afternoon – marketing… I’m an illustrator as well, I illustrate fantasy book covers. So I do that in the afternoons and evenings. So morning is really writing words, creative time, and the afternoon is everything else and then Friday through Sunday I’m in mum mode which… Nothing gets done. That’s fine because I devote that time to my son.

Sarah: He’s very young at the moment isn’t he so it’s that phase. You know, it won’t last!

Meg: Yeah, in years to come I will wish he was as needing and…

Sarah: Speaking as someone at the other end of it you absolutely will. I’m sorry it’s annoying but there you go.

Meg: You can’t live without them and you can’t live with them can you?

Sarah: I know. Everyone says enjoy every second and then you think yes, but that last minute went on for about a week!

Meg: Yeah that does not apply to the sleepless nights, but most of the rest of it is fine!

Sarah: No it’s hard. So I was going to ask you about being a full-time author and also juggling parenthood with writing. Obviously you’ve touched on that there in terms of the importance really of getting those days that are the same and getting that chunk of time that you can then dedicate…

Meg: But even that has to be sensitive – last night I got no sleep. We have a sick toddler, and I just couldn’t sleep. So this morning, to be honest today my brain is just running on about 10% capacity and I did my writing in bed. And do you know what? Got my 3000 words written which is a miracle. But today I had to take that step back and say it’s okay. Today’s not going to be one of those ‘you get everything done’  kind of day. So it’s like I have my routine but it’s also flexible and accommodates self-care as well, which I find is really important right now because it is so easy to use up energy you’ve got and burn out.

Sarah: I’m so glad you said that because again, you know, I’m big on the productivity and I always want to learn how to do more, but I’m so aware that… Again speaking to people, or people listening who maybe are in the same situation, the last thing I want anybody to think is that they are failing if they are not on it a hundred percent all the time. Like you say, that being kinder to yourself and saying, okay well today I’m going to write in bed and it’s fine if it’s complete and utter rubbish because I’m brain-dead.

Meg: Yeah!

Sarah: That sort of thing is so important to say so thank you for sharing that.

Meg: We have a culture of busyness don’t we so if you’re not busy, then you’re not doing it right! Why are you not busy? We should all be so busy all the time doing all the things. And it’s taken a lot of time to unpick that and go ‘hang on. No, that is complete BS’.

Sarah:  Absolutely.

Meg: I am at my best when I am happy, I’m healthy, you know. My energy is full when my creative well is refilled, when I’m fulfilled. I’m going to get more done rather than completely whipping myself all the time going more, more, more and just being so brain dead and sick of it all that it’s not even worth doing it because it’s not fun. And what I’m producing is not good.

Sarah: No, and burnout is a real thing in our industry, isn’t it? So it’s very wise to to pay attention to that and as well as it’s just good for you.

Meg: Yeah and learning about what kind of person you are because some people, they can pump out all those words day in day out and do that and that’s absolutely fine. That’s their natural rhythm, and for a long time I’ve tried to be one of those people and… There must just be no upper ceiling to this, if I just work harder I’ll be able to just write all the words everyday.

It’s taken a while and it’s been a bit of a bitter pill to realise, in the first instance. Now I’m fine with that. That I am not one of those writers and my pace is my pace and that’s fine.

Sarah: Absolutely. I mean, I’m far slower than you and I’ve also been trying to come to terms with what is my pace while also making sure that I am pushing myself a wee bit and not just falling into a kind of ‘och, that’s all I can do’. Like a self-fulfilling limiting belief if you like. But it’s so hard to work out where that should be!

Meg: 100% Yeah! It is just trying to work with yourself rather than against yourself at times.

Sarah: Absolutely. And in terms of the… I love what you said about the cult of busyness as well because one area again that I still struggle with a wee bit is: I love running a business. I love I love I love it. I love all of it and but I do get really overwhelmed because I could fill every minute of a 16-hour day with doing all the things and so yeah, I love the fact that today you said you felt rubbish, but you wrote in bed. So, you know your most important thing – writing the words – you prioritised that and you got that done. And I think that’s a really good tip. That’s so important to sort of emphasise that you cleared out, you know, the less important things. So is that something that you’ve come to when trying to balance the marketing, the business, the writing?

Meg: Yeah, absolutely. So I’ve realised that it comes down to several core things for me as a business. So I take off my creative hat that loves creating these worlds and crafting stories and I put on my business hat and I think ‘what’s achievable? What do I actually need to be doing?’ So basically unless I am writing great stories, marketing my books and reaching readers. I don’t need to do it.

Like I don’t *need* to do it, you know, the core tasks are writing great stories and marketing and reaching readers. Like that’s it. There is nothing more to my business that needs to be done. I might have a million things on my to-do list like, I need to update this reader magnet and then oh my website needs that tweak and don’t forget to do your author page. Actually, do you know what? It’s just it’s just clutter and it clutters your mind just like it clutters your to-do list and I found that minimizing is one of the most helpful things that I’ve done over the past few years and it’s taken me about 3 years to get there from having the full page to-do list that just never gets done and then carrying over and carrying over from one week to another and just drowning under the weight of my own inadequacy because you know, I’m a failure. I can’t even do my own to-do list! What? And then realize that most of it doesn’t need to be done. So okay cross it off. And I work on that basis.

If it’s not… Obviously, I’ve got my client work as well at the moment so that you know, that is not something that gets crossed off! But ultimately, you know writing is the first thing, it’s the most important thing for me. If I get up and do that with a clear head in the morning and it’s done, I don’t need to worry about it and then the rest of the day I am concentrating on my client work and the other things that need to be done. And I’m ruthless about crossing off anything that can wait, or anything that’s not essential.

I’ve started to work with a virtual assistant and I occasionally subcontract things to her that I *could* do, but she could also do just as well. And that helps offload some of the things from my plate, and my time, and my stress to someone who is equally as capable of doing them.

So I’m really just learning to manage a realistic workload and work with the energy that I have and the type of worker that I am just to try and maximise what I can do but also in a way that promotes self care and you know avoids overwhelm and burn out basically so minimising has been key.

Sarah: And in terms of celebrating successes or celebrating what you are getting done, is that something else that you’ve been incorporating?

Meg: Trying to? Yeah, I am a workaholic. I am very goal-oriented. I’m conscientious I push myself. I’m incredibly self-critical that is just who I am as a person.

It’s how I’ve always been. If I wasn’t getting an A* it was not good enough and I used to beat myself up for it which I realise now was incredibly damaging but it’s very hard to stop doing that. So it’s a gradual work of unpicking that and actually stopping, when I’ve done something cool, to think  ‘well done! That’s really cool’.

Like a sales Milestone or finishing a project or looking at my figures, my financial figures for the month, and just actually taking them in and going ‘wow you did that. That’s really cool’. So I am trying to be better about congratulating myself and treating myself when I do achieve something good, as opposed to just breezing on through and setting the next goal and going to meet that!

Sarah: Well I wanted to touch on that since we were saying just before recording that I’m exactly the same. And again I know that we won’t be alone and I hope that it might be hopefully comforting. Or maybe a wake-up call if you are listening and you find that you end each day with a list of things you didn’t achieve or you breeze past things… Take it from us, it’s not good for you. And you need to start rewarding yourself and recognising things.

Now, onto the writing side of things. Now the title of this podcast is the worried writer! So I’d like to delve into your struggles with creative writing if I may. Do you ever suffer from creative block?

Meg: I wouldn’t say that I suffer from creative block, but I am definitely guilty of imposter syndrome insofar as there are definitely points on the process where I think ‘who are you kidding?’

Any moment someone is going to find out and they’re gonna haul you off to a day job and make you work for the man because this is obviously a sham. I’ve got very good with just telling that voice to shut up and I carry-on. I don’t really get writer’s block per se. I outline and plot a lot, so I find that really helps me overcome… Any time I don’t know what I’m writing next, I go back to the plot and it you know, it informs me and I can move forward. The thing that I’ve really struggled with is my mental health to be honest. I didn’t really write much in the Autumn, having trouble with post natal depression again, so that was a rough and frustrating period.

But I just had to step back and sort of work on my self-care and not beat myself up too much for having to delay my book launch – the book that I am due to finish next week, I should have had published in November. So it’s obviously frustrating that that didn’t happen but it is what it is, ok move forward, and what’s the next best thing that you can do? So that’s that’s been the biggest struggle that I’ve had over the past few years is just struggling with mental health through illness and antenatal depression, post-natal depression that sort of thing really. Yeah. It’s just a constant every day, just trying to see on the bright side and do the best that I can.

Sarah: I think that’s… Again, it’s so important to say that or to recognise that what we do… You know, we can’t always just push through with a work ethic because what we do goes on in our heads.

Meg: Yeah, we can’t work in isolation.

Sarah: Yeah, and if our head isn’t quite right for whatever reason then no amount of willpower is going to sort that out and that can be a hard…. That’s really really tough. So I’m so sorry…

Meg: Ah, thank you. I feel like a year ago. I wouldn’t have been able to talk about this. It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact there’s nothing to be ashamed of in this and that actually, to open up a dialogue and to accept that we all face times where we struggle is a really really valid and necessary thing, because we all need to support each other through tough times when necessarily we don’t want to talk and open up about it because we feel like there’s a stigma. I feel like it’s really important especially in the industry that we’re in we often work alone, we often work long hours in isolation, socially cut off, and that is quite a challenge in itself. And then you have adult life, and all the things that that has, and I just find that I can’t work in isolation. I have to have emotional wellness to be able to write.

Sarah:  Absolutely

Meg: As much as writing is a solace, I can’t be a crying mess and get my words done because I can’t do it.

Sarah: No, I’m the same – if my anxiety is bad then I can’t write

Meg: Yeah. So again working with yourself. And being forgiving.

Sarah: Exactly. And then there’s also… Again, it’s you just don’t know, I don’t know about you, with mental health and how I react to it in terms of creativity. It can vary again, you know, there can be… I can’t write with anxiety, but with grief I found that writing was – I mean not initially but after a little while it was – an escape, is still an escape and really good for me.

Meg: That was the same for me.

Sarah: I felt guilty going into it as if I was… You know, I shouldn’t be able to write as if that meant that I wasn’t grieving properly or something. So if you can bear to talk about it and you can bear to examine it and kind of air out those worries, it can help.

Meg: No, absolutely. I’ve done some of my best writing when I’ve been upset or angry but at other times I could feel like I was just not…

Sarah: Total shutdown!

Meg: Yeah, absolutely. You’ve got to work with yourself and not beat yourself up about it.

Sarah: Absolutely and I know also you mentioned there that you do lots of planning and plotting. Now, I don’t at all – I can’t. I’ve tried and I’ve never… This is my first series that I’m writing. Now I know you have been writing series and I’m used to the terror of when I’m writing a book, I’ve got no idea what happens…

Meg: I could not do that!

Sarah: And now I’m writing a series, and I’ve got no idea what happens. So my question for you is what tips do you have for me for writing a series? Or how would you reform me?

Meg: Plot it! Plot it all! Plot everything! I have only got worse and worse as the years have gone on. My three-point plot has evolved to a five-point, to a seven-point. Now, I use a 23-point plot for each viewpoint that I have. Its chronologically ordered and everything’s in beats, and I cannot survive without that structure. Depending on what I’m writing, it might be as little as a sentence for a chapter, or it might be as much as I have to write five thousand words of planning for that chapter before I can then write that chapter.

For me knowing what I’m going to write gives me the faith to trust myself, and delve into the creative process and lose myself in the flow because I know I’ve already figured it out. I can’t write myself into a corner because I know where I’m going. But it’s not flawless and it’s not perfect. Sometimes I have to tweak the plot, sometimes I have to go back waste a bit and go off in a slightly different tangent, but plotting for me works. So for me, I would say plot everything but if that doesn’t work for you, then that’s equally fine. I have huge respect – I don’t know how you do it, but wow! I wish I could just sit down and write, that would be amazing, but that’s just not for me.

Sarah: No, it’s very inefficient, I don’t recommend it! I’m always getting stuck and going down wrong ways.

Meg: I think the thing that I do if I get stuck is I go back to the last point that it worked at, and I go from there. That’s always been my go-to and whether it’s plotting or whether it’s writing if I get to a bit where I’m stuck, I’m like ‘right, where did it last work? Where do I need to get to? Am I going down the right path? Oh no, so this character wouldn’t do that because…’ Then it usually goes forward again. Sometimes have to go sideways or backwards!

Sarah: That was something I was going to ask about- when you’re plotting or outlining, brainstorming, do you get stuck then? Because that’s when you’re obviously working out all the stuff that’s going to happen. Do you get stuck then at all or is that just skipping through meadows?

Meg: Oh, I wish! I wish!

Sarah: Sorry!

Meg: I had a sudden mental image of running through fields of wheat! Possibly only UK listeners might get the slight political reference there! No I do get stuck on the plotting phase. But again I start with a very vague idea and it might be as simple as ‘main character makes a deal with such and such to kill the king’ and that’s the entire thing for the whole book. And then it’s filling in the pieces. Ok, well what if this happened here and what if this comes out and it’s gradually just building that jigsaw and making sure everything fits. Is it all in order? Yes. Okay. I’ll put it on my beat structure. Are there any beats that are missing. Oh, yeah. Okay, what could happen here? This beats in the wrong place. Let’s switch that about.

It’s just like a giant puzzle. It’s my favourite part of the whole process and it’s actually very annoying to then sit down and write a hundred thousand word book when you’re like ‘I’ve already figured this out’. The plotting is genuinely my favourite point  – it’s like chemistry. It’s a formula of putting it all together and making this beautiful construct.

But yeah I absolutely get stuck and I have to go away and think, I go back to the last point that works. I put myself into the character’s shoes. What would they actually do? Am I doing something that’s true to them, that’s true to the plot.

It’s about approaching it from different angles for me and just checking – it’s almost like testing I guess that it’s bulletproof. Does this definitely work? Is this logical or am I just writing what I want to write but actually it’s a bad story because it’s not what the characters will actually do.

So I guess kind of stress test it in various angles and eventually fill in all the gaps and it works 90% And then I tweak it as I draft as I need.

Sarah: That’s fantastic. And you mentioned beats there and – do you have any particular resources where you learned about beats and story structure and things or is it something you’ve just picked up? Anything you’d recommend I guess?

Meg: Kind of Frankensteined as I’ve gone. So my 23-point beat structure is probably the combination of four or five different structures with my own bits thrown in that I’ve picked up over the last four or five years and I don’t even really know where I’ve got them from. I chat with friends and we talk about things and they you know, we send each other spreadsheets, because we’re cool, with beat structures on them. I guess I’ve just found something that works for me and adapted it.

There’s plenty of material out there on beats and I would just say go and read through them and some will resonate better than others or some parts will resonate better than others and take what works for you because as much as there might be a formula for writing a story, the way that you do it is entirely up to you, and again working with yourself and to bring the best of your own writing out, I found that this is the one that works for me.

Sarah: I think that’s a great tip –  that idea that if you read a structure book and some of it makes sense or some of it resonates, that it is completely okay for you to kind of cobble together, as you said, your sort of Frankenstein’s, your own version. So I think that’s really really worth saying.

Meg: I think when you get into it you feel like you… If you read a book, you must do all the things that the book says because the book is right. And then the further you get along the further you think well actually it just doesn’t work for me. So I’m just gonna make it up on the fly.

Sarah: Yeah, when I’ve attempted plotting when I was trying to learn how to do it. I definitely read a lot of things and I tried to apply them but because it didn’t really work with my own process, but as you say I would try and slavishly follow that particular formula or method because I was looking for that…

Meg: The Magic Bullet!

Sarah: Yes, I was!

Meg: The Magic Bullet, yes. And the secret is there is no magic bullet, unfortunately, but the closest you get is finding what works for you and being able to apply that as much as you can in the lifestyle that you have.

Sarah: Yeah, definitely and I think you’ve sort of answered this probably in terms of your elaborate and detailed plotting and outlining. But again, I want to pick your brains a wee bit more on writing series. Does that help you in terms of keeping all your details? Do you keep a story bible or anything like that or is the fact that you’ve got all these outlines does it for you?

Meg: I should keep a story bible – I’m on book four now, and I keep looking back through 300,000 words of the past three books going ‘oh, I did I do this? Have I forgotten anything?’ I need to get better at series for sure. I do make sure I wrap up all my plot holes, but I definitely need to improve how I plot series and how I record because it’s just – especially in the current sleep-deprived state of my life – there is too much information to hold in my head like I used to be able to do. So. Yeah, I definitely need to get more more down onto paper. But the series for me is I guess it’s like a nested three or four act structure – the series is the three or four act structure and then each book has a three or four act structure and then the structures inside that have… And so on and so forth.

So it’s about just making sure that the books within the series are complete story arcs. That’s really important – nothing annoys me more than reading a book that is not a complete story. Cliffhanger is fine, but it still has to be a complete story and then the series as a whole wraps everything up, and all the foreshadowing through the past few books sort of come together. That’s really satisfying to do and I like to make sure that I tick all those off.

Sarah: Yeah, definitely and I’m I’m sort of keeping a series bible, but I need to get better at it. So it’s kind of comforting to me to know that you haven’t got it completely sorted, yet!

Meg: Well, I’m writing in the same universe and, well the same world, and I’ve only done almost two Series in it so far, but I’ve got like 5,000 years of history there – Tolkien sort of scope.

I really need to start writing it down, but it’s such a big job. I just don’t have the time to do it. So I need to figure that out probably sooner rather than later because it’s only going to get more and more and more that I need to write down, the more and more that I write.

Sarah: Well, maybe you’ll just have to get your VA to do that. Get your VA to create a story bible.

Meg: That’s not a bad idea actually. I might beg some of my fans – does anyone want create a world bible? That would actually be pretty cool.

Sarah: It would! It would be amazing. So another thing with writing a series, I always panic, I always put a lot of pressure on myself and I fret a lot about letting readers down. And I’m finding that even harder with a series because… It’s a series! Is that something that you struggle with at all?

Meg: Yeah. Absolutely. I’ve really struggled with that, this book 4 because this series has just been incredible to write and the reader feedback I’ve received has been amazing. People love these books and and it is humbling.

It is also terrifying to think that I have all these people invested in the mad delusions of my brain. Yeah, that’s scary. But I really really take heart from my readers, every word of encouragement from them really really heartens me. I actually printed out… I know your listeners won’t be able to hear, but you can probably see over my shoulders there’s a photo frame and a few weeks ago, I did a reader survey on branding. I really really value my readers feedback in everything from from stories to my branding, everything, and there was an empty comments box at the end and I just you know, the usual anything else to add, and they wrote the most lovely things. You know, you have the most amazing mind, thank you for sharing yourself with us, don’t ever stop writing, your series are you know one-click buys for me, I love everything you write… And I printed them out and put them next to my writing chair because it was just like, every time I feel like I’m not good enough or that I’m going to let someone down, I read those, and I think, I can do this. These people are counting on me. They believe in me and I can do this, and that’s just been really really heartening to think that I’ve got all these people cheering me along. I love my readers. Genuinely. They’re amazing.

Sarah: That’s wonderful. That’s such a good tip as well. I’m stealing that tip!

Meg: Every nice review you have, every really lovely one that fills you with warm fuzzies, if you’re feeling down, go look at them. Print them out, stick them in a book and go read them when you’re feeling like you’re struggling to do this and you’re not sure how you’re going to manage it because it’s just it’s just lovely.

Sarah: So obviously you’ve got your next, your last in series, is coming out, or you’re finishing up on that. What are your other plans for this year or or the next few months? Or would you rather not say?

Meg: In 2020… Can I swear on this podcast?

Sarah: Yeah, go ahead. Yeah, I’ll put a tag on it.

Meg: 2020 is the year of getting my – together. So this is the first year that I will have vaguely full-time, so four days a week. I know what I’m doing as far as people I guess can know what they’re doing in that I can write good books. I’m confident of that. I can sell good books and hopefully support my family doing that.

That’s that’s my ultimate goal. That’s why I do this. I love stories, but I also want to provide for my family doing this. I don’t want to have to go back to day job and this is the first year where I really have the chance to do that.  I won’t be having any more babies. I am hoping I won’t have any more life-threatening illnesses or situations to deal with hopefully, hopefully I’m praying that 2020 will be a straightforward smooth year where I can actually show The Very Best of myself and what I’m capable of and I feel really motivated to just go out there and try and have no limits and say yes and just be the very best that I can be.

So I want to get this series finished. This closes a really important but sort of dark chapter of my life and go on to my next series which will be set in the same world. I’m already working with my readers to sort of brainstorm what they would like to see as well as my own ideas. So yeah, I’m excited to have fun writing great stories meeting more great readers and just hopefully having a fulfilling healthy year full of self-care.

Sarah: Well, I love your goals for this year. I particularly love again as we’ve said in this in this interview that how self-care is up there. So just to finish up – where can listeners find out more about you and your books online?

Meg: So I’m on Amazon Meg Cowley, my website megcowley.com. I’m on Instagram @meg_cowley and that’s pretty much it. Again I try to minimise, so I do the bare minimum of what what is fun and what is achievable.

Fantastic. I’m definitely

Sarah: making notes as we speak. So thank you so much for your time. I’ll put all the links in the show notes.

Meg: It’s been lovely to chat. Thank you so much.

 

The Worried Writer Ep#56: Vanessa Lillie ‘Enjoy The Good Moments’

My guest today is Vanessa Lillie whose debut thriller Little Voices is out this week from Thomas and Mercer.

We talk about dealing with reviews and being read, and how Vanessa transformed from a free-writer to an outliner.

Vanessa has fifteen years of marketing and communications experience and enjoys organising bookish events in Rhode Island, where she lives. She worked as an editor for a publisher, before leaving to concentrate on her own writing.

For more on Vanessa head to vanessalillie.com or find her on TwitterFacebook or Instagram.

THANK YOU!

Become a PatreonHuge thanks to everyone supporting the show on Patreon. Thank you so much!

Join our growing Patreon community at The Worried Writer on Patreon.

I love creating the podcast but it takes a significant amount of time (and money) to produce. If you want to help to keep the show going, please consider becoming a patron. You can support the show for just $1 a month! If you pledge $2 or more, you also receive an exclusive mini-episode that I put out in the middle of every month, plus instant access to the back list of nineteen audio extras.

WRITING UPDATE

This month I’ve been battling with the third Crow book. I said I was almost done and I thought I was, but the ending keeps moving away from me. This is partly because there are scenes which are in the wrong place (or I’ve realised there is a better, more exciting way to order them) and that takes lots of thought and weaving together and rewriting, and partly because the ending itself got a wee bit more complicated and I needed a few more chapters than I expected. It’s nearly done, though, which is very good news as it’s due out in November!

SPEAKING

Also, I did a talk for the lovely folk at the Borders Writers Forum. If you’re a member of the group and have tuned in today, hello and thank you, again, for having me. It was so much fun and I have great writerly chats with people after the official Q and A had finished.

One thing I wanted to talk about was somebody said that a person in their life had said something about ‘why write?’ because there were enough books in the world and every story had already been done, or something similar.

I realised this was a doubt I dealt with a long time ago and had actually forgotten that I’d once had…

So.

There is nothing new. No new ideas. No new stories. And that doesn’t matter. The execution is what matters and, crucially YOUR VOICE. Nobody else has your POV and so your book most definitely hasn’t been done yet.

Also, who cares? Who gets to say ‘enough books’? Who has that authority? It’s not like writing books hurts anybody. This is not life or death, this is just telling stories. Who on earth has the right to tell you that you’re not allowed to tell your stories?

Also, yes, there are loads of books which have been written in the past and they are valuable and wonderful, but they are products of their time. Books written now are products of this time, this moment in history. That’s important, too.

Finally, and most importantly, think of a book that was just the right book for you at just the right time. Something you loved with a passion, something you fell into at a time you needed to escape. Think about that book and how you felt the first time you read it. It might be one you’ve gone back to many times in your life as a comfort read or one that you only read once, but it transformed your world during the time you spent in it and you are eternally grateful.

Now imagine that the author who wrote that book let self-doubt stop them. They will have felt the same fears, have heard the same arguments, they might have let that stop them and you would never have had the magical experience of reading it.

Now go a step further. There is somebody out there who needs the book that is currently inside you. You don’t know them and they don’t know you, but you are connected by this need. The book inside you is the one story, the one voice, the one moment that will give them that same perfect experience. If you don’t write your book, that reader won’t get to read it when they need it.

It’s a thought which I found massively inspiring and helpful and I hope you do, too.

PUBLISHING

In more practical news, I’m not sure I mentioned it before but I have hired my husband out of his job one day a week and he’s doing lots of stuff to free up my time such as editing the podcast and the transcription of the interview.

This links to my overall business plans, but also to my mission to write as many of the books I have inside me as possible before I shuffle off this mortal coil. Remembering that this is my purpose, my ‘why’, is very motivating, and I highly recommend delegating stuff to other people as soon as you can afford to do so. This could be paying someone to do your cleaning to free up writing time or, if you’re indie and running the publishing business side, delegating operational tasks such as book-keeping.

LISTENER QUESTION

I had a great listener question on Twitter from Joanne Mallory about branding. Thank you!

It has inspired me to dedicate a whole episode to marketing and branding for authors next month.

If you have any questions about writing, process, procrastination or the business side of things such as marketing or publishing options, email me, leave a comment on this post, or find me on Twitter.

 

IN THE INTERVIEW

I’m still trialling the full transcript of the interviews (see below). I want to make the podcast more accessible for those who prefer (or need) to read, rather than listen. I would love to hear what you think! Do you like the full transcript or do you miss the ‘selected highlights’ of the old format?

RECOMMENDED

Vanessa is a reformed free-writer, and she recommends the following books to learn how to outline and structure a novel.

Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maas

Save The Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody

 

THANKS FOR LISTENING!

If you can spare a few minutes to leave the show a review on iTunes (or whichever podcast app you use) that would be really helpful. Ratings raise the visibility of the podcast and make it more likely to be discovered by new listeners and included in the charts.

The Worried Writer on iTunes

[Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to rate a podcast on your device]

Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

 

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

 

The Worried Writer Ep#55: Emily Royal ‘Keep At It!’

I have a great interview for you today with a dear friend of mine, historical romance author Emily Royal. Emily has written several novels and is impressively prolific, but 2019 is her first year as a published author. She has gone from submission hell to having several books out in one year, so there is lots to dig into, and I’m sure you will enjoy her story.

Emily’s books include medieval romance – The Sins of the Sire – and a Regency series, the London Libertines, which starts with Henry’s Bride. Book two, Hawthorne’s Wife, is out on 3rd September.

For more about Emily and her work, head to emroyal.com or find her on Twitter or Facebook.

 

THANK YOU!

Become a PatreonMassive thanks to everyone supporting the show on Patreon. Thank you so much!

Join our growing Patreon community at The Worried Writer on Patreon.

I love creating the podcast but it takes a significant amount of time (and money) to produce. If you want to help to keep the show going, please consider becoming a patron. You can support the show for just $1 a month! If you pledge $2 or more, you also receive an exclusive mini-episode that I put out in the middle of every month. You also get instant access to the backlist of extra episodes (there are eighteen now!).

 

WRITING UPDATE

It’s been a busy month with more summer holiday fun, a family trip down south and lots of drafting on my third Crow Investigations book.

I have also been sorting through all of the notes I took at the publishing conference in Edinburgh. One of the many things it’s made me think about is my branding as an author. I have been trying to work out what my ‘promise to the reader is’ as although my books tend to have a wee bit of magic in them, they do span different genres such as supernatural thriller, women’s fiction historical, and urban fantasy.

There was a brilliant session from Derek Murphy (CreativeIndie) and he spoke about the importance of working out how you want your readers to feel when think of you/your books, and how that is linked (or should be linked!) to the way you present yourself (your branding)

MINDSET

As I mentioned last month, one of the most important things I got from the Edinburgh conference was a mindset shift. It could perhaps more properly be described as a mindset confirmation. Doing this author thing is a wee bit odd, and stepping outside the traditional route and running it as a business is another step away from the usual… Much as I love it, I hadn’t realised how and uncertain I still felt.

Physically being in the same space with hundreds of talented, successful, businesslike authors and small publishers, was transformational. It confirmed that I’m not alone in doing this (or delusional!). It was amazing to hear from people who are extremely successful, who I would like to emulate, but it also helped me to recognise the success that I have enjoyed and the things that I have achieved. Since I’m pretty rubbish at doing that, it was really helpful!

Another great tip I got from the conference was a reminder on the importance of working out your core ‘why’ for writing. People spoke unselfconsciously about their ambition for their writing and publishing, about financial and other goals, and about their core values and reasons for writing. It was another reminder that I’m on track for my core goals, and confirmed that my heart and head are in alignment.

It also reaffirmed my commitment to being a hybrid author, with some projects done through my own publishing company and some with other publishers.

I know that many of you are aiming for the traditional route, and may prefer not to deal with the business side at all, and that’s completely fine. For me, though, it’s an exciting and creative part of being an author, and I’m so grateful that I have the opportunity and control.

If you have any questions about writing, process, procrastination or the business side of things such as marketing or publishing options, email me, leave a comment on this post, or find me on Twitter.

 

RECOMMENDED

I give a shout out to some lovely folk on Twitter, including humorous suspense author Bill Cokas. I throughly enjoyed his interview on Paul Teague’s podcast, Self Publishing Journeys. I’ve recommended Paul’s podcast before (especially if you are interested in the nuts and bolts of running an author business), and this interview with Bill was great.

Also, long-time supporter of the show, Clare Sager, has started a podcast called Confessions of a First Time Author.

 

IN THE INTERVIEW

I’m still trialling the full transcript of the interviews (see below). I want to make the podcast more accessible for those who prefer (or need) to read, rather than listen. I would love to hear what you think! Do you like the full transcript or do you miss the ‘selected highlights’ of the old format?

 

THANKS FOR LISTENING!

If you can spare a few minutes to leave the show a review on iTunes (or whichever podcast app you use) that would be really helpful. Ratings raise the visibility of the podcast and make it more likely to be discovered by new listeners and included in the charts.

The Worried Writer on iTunes

[Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to rate a podcast on your device]

Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

 

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

 

Sarah [00:00:09] Emily Royal writes historical romance in both the medieval and Regency periods. Her debut novel The Sins of the sire came out in March this year and was swiftly followed by Henry’s Bride, Book One in the London Libertines series. Now, full disclosure, Emily is a close friend of mine. and I am thrilled that she is finally being rewarded for all her hard work and tenacity. Welcome to the show. Emily and thank you so much for joining us.

 

Emily [00:00:40] Oh hello Sarah. It’s so good to be here at last. After so many years of rejections and rejections and rejections it’s great to be here and I’ve been a bit of a fan girl of your show for ages, so it’s lovely to be on the other side of the microphone.

 

Sarah [00:00:55] We got here! I’m so glad, too. Before we get into your twisty path to publication which I’m very excited about,  I was hoping that you could just kick things off by telling us all a wee bit about the London Libertines series, because I believe Book 2 is actually going to be out quite soon.

 

Emily [00:01:18] Yeah. Book 2 should be out in a couple of weeks time. Just doing final tinkering on the format. So yeah the London Libertines series, I suppose you could describe it as Jane Austen with sex and dark stuff. There is a set of romances which currently is set in the Regency period but I suspect as the years progress it will move into Victorian. Set mainly in London but also in the country and country states and everything. And the heroes are unashamedly alpha males, so you could say it’s a bit bodice-rippy. But the heroines are all misfits in one way. So the heroine in the first book she’s quite plain, she’s awkward, she’s gawky, she’s intelligent and she speaks her mind, and she’s a bit of a social outcast. In the book that’s coming out in a couple of weeks time, Hawthorne’s Wife, the heroine is a complete outcast who’s afflicted by a childhood trauma and lots of horrible things happen to her and she has to overcome it. And actually in the third book the heroine is recovering from a mental breakdown. So it’s actually quite dark stuff. It’s interesting to put it in a regency setting, so it’s not your typical frothy sparkling romance with glittering gowns, it tackles some quite horrific issues sometimes.

 

Sarah [00:02:42] Excellent. And as I mentioned in the intro, we’re pals, so I do already know your path to publication story, having lived it alongside you a tiny wee bit, but it’s so inspiring. Especially since your debut year is such a busy one. Would you mind talking us through your path to publication?

 

Emily [00:03:12] Yeah. So how long have you got? I’ve been tinkering with writing for a couple of years. If we go back to kind of 2013, 2014, which is, yeah, five-six years ago, I’ve been writing for a couple of years and I think I ended up having three books that were really really rough and overly long. I remember telling you ‘I’ve written a book, Sarah, and it’s a hundred and eighty thousand words long’ and you kind of burst out laughing and said ‘yeah, you’re going to need to cut it down’.

 

So I had these books and I stumbled across the website for the Romantic Novelists Association, and on their website they talked about this new writing thing which they have. Where there’s a limited set of unpublished authors who can join the association so they get all the benefits of the magazine and access to seminars and conferences etc.. But with that comes a full critique of a novel. And I thought, yeah yeah I’m gonna have some of that. It’s massively oversubscribed so the slots are like T in the park tickets they get oversubscribed within about two minutes of the beginning of the year beginning. So it was March 2014 so I already missed the boat, but 2015, I stayed up at 2 minutes past midnight on the 1st of January and got in. And I got this critique in June of that year and it was really really positive and it was quite scary because that was the first time anyone had ever read anything I’d written because I just had you under the bed and didn’t even show it to my husband and kids, I was terrified of it. But it was really positive, so I though ‘brilliant brilliant’ and I started submitting to agents. And I got agent interest in September of that year which, for me, those three months submitting and getting rejections was just forever, but actually looking back I think that was pretty quick.

 

I got signed at the end of the year and I thought ‘Oh this is it. This is it. I’ve made it, I’m going to get a three book deal, I’m gonna get books in Waterstones.’ And now I look back and think you naive little fool! I just knew nothing about the publishing industry. So fast forward three years, nothing happens. I went through two books with my agent. I had periods of submissions to publishers, waiting to hear, lots of rejections, lots of radio silence. I can remember being stressed waiting for emails back from my agent and publishers, and every time my phone pinged it was like ‘yes, yes, check it!’ and it was an email from the Carphone Warehouse with an offer for a new phone and I just turned into a complete obsessive with this thing and it just stressed me out so much. And then I got to the end of it, and the second book failed to get a deal. So this was at the end of 2018, beginning of 2019, so a long time, and my agent and I decided to part company. So yeah, that was long and tortuous.

 

But during that, what I did was I just carried on writing more books. And what I did was the first book that my agent couldn’t get a deal for, I started submitting that to smaller publishers, and I finally managed to get a contract for that. That took about six months, and that book’s actually not out yet. But I got a deal for that middle of 2018. And then the second contract I got actually came out as a result of a Twitter pitch, which was a book that my agent looked at it and just went ‘No I’m not touching that, that’s way too dark, way too violent’. And that was that the Sins of the Sire. And I chucked it up as a Twitter pitch, May 2018, just really to see whether I could write a half decent tweet, whether I could do an elevator pitch. I didn’t think anything would come of it, but I got a ‘like’ from an editor at a publisher called Tirgearr which is based in Ireland and I’d heard good things about them, they’ve got quite nice covers and some of my friends published with them. I sent in the book and I gave full disclosure, I said ‘look, this book is way too violent and I’m sure it breaches all of your guidelines, but just out of courtesy here it is’. So I was quite blunt about it. Didn’t think anything of it. And I heard back from them a few weeks later and I didn’t even open the email because I just thought it was gonna be a rejection. And about two to three hours after I got the email, I came back into my hotel bedroom because I was actually away with work, had a couple of beers, thought ‘let’s see why they’ve rejected me’ and this email actually says we’re actually quite interested, what else are you writing? And they offered me a contract, which was a bit of a shock!

 

[00:08:03] And then the third contract was absolute lightning fast. It was just after I’d parted company with my agent beginning of 2019. My agent was based in the States and I wanted to have closure on publishers in the States, but there was one more publisher I was really interested in because they had great authors on their list who are topping some of the some of the charts, authors who I admire, who I fangirl over, so I thought I would kick myself if I didn’t at least chuck it at them and see what they thought. So I chucked it at them and then two days later I got an e-mail saying can we talk? I got back home that night and she phoned me up and then three or four days after they offered me a three book deal!

 

[00:08:44] So actually that one took a week to get a three book deal on that book and yet everything else has been years and years and years. Sorry, that was a long ramble!

 

Sarah [00:08:53] Not at all, thank you for sharing that. It’s an absolute head spinner how much things have changed and turned around for you. And there was that long torturous waiting period while you were agented, and I know so many folk listening will be able to empathise with that hugely. That glacial pace of traditional publishing and how it can go like that… Slow, slow, slow, wait, wait, wait and then fast!  It is so normal, unfortunately. The rejection and the submission process and getting an agent doesn’t mean it’s a done deal, but when we’re going through it we feel as if we’re failing or that it is a bad sign. So I’m so grateful for you being willing share it, because I think it’s really helpful for other people who are either going through it or looking to start submitting or whatever. So, in terms of speed, you went from effectively nothing, to, I believe several out this year?

 

Emily [00:10:28] Yes. So this year, I’m probably gonna have five books out, which is completely insane. It’s like I was sat with my engine idling for three years, getting really stressed, and then wallop I’m up to 100 in half a second. I still haven’t quite recovered from it.

 

[00:10:50] And there were so many lows during those three years. I can remember just being absolutely gutted and heartbroken with some of the rejections and the close ones were the worst. I mean, I had one where a publisher from a pretty half decent imprint was showing lots and lots of interest in my book. It was the first book that my agent tried to submit and actually then my agent really came into her own. She was really interactive and there was loads of communication and they were talking about careers, and three book deals, other projects, where is my career going, blah blah blah… And she was like ‘No, no, this is really positive’ and then it fell at the last hurdle. The editor really wanted it, but they just said no it’s the wrong timing, we’re not we’re not taking it. And that went from being just on the brink of this massive high, and I just plummeted off a cliff. I look back and say what was the worst day of my life. It probably wasn’t, it sounds quite melodramatic, but that was a low. And then for this to happen, particularly with the DragonBlade contract, as I kind of blinked and it happened. It was like, you look away and that’s when the unicorn just trots in front of you…

 

[00:12:07] Yeah it’s insane. It’s not this process of, it takes you six months to get an agent and it takes you a year to get a contract and a year to get another contract. It’s not a straight line, it’s up and down and all over the place it’s backwards and forwards and, yeah, it’s completely mental this industry.

 

Sarah [00:12:24] Having just been through that, is there anything that you wish that you could go back and tell yourself or what advice would you want somebody listening to hear if they are going through the same submission hell?

 

Emily [00:12:39] Actually the advice that you gave me, Sarah, was along the lines of just keep at it, you’re getting closer. And the only way to make sure it never happens is to give up… Just carry on, just chalk it up to experience and write another book, the market goes up and the market goes down, tastes change, it’s all a matter of timing, just keep at it and you will get there. And I remember looking at you thinking ‘Yeah well it’s all right for you because you’re on the other end of it’ but it is true. Just keep at it. Be true to yourself sounds like a cliché but just carry on writing what you love.

 

[00:13:19] The only way to get a deal is to just keep it keep writing books. You’re not going to build a career on one book. So even if you get a deal you’re going to have to write another book at some point, so you might as well crack on with it while things are out on submission. So long as you’re getting decent feedback so that you can see where the issues are, but you can see what’s good about it, what needs to be done,  then you’re always going to be learning and you’re always going to be getting that bit closer.

 

Sarah [00:13:47] I think that’s excellent advice, and I do think your advice to keep on writing – if you can – while you’re going through the submission hell is really a super-good tip.

 

Emily [00:13:59] I think the reason, or the main reason I got the DragonBlade contract is because when we were chatting she did say well we would like to have books in series and relatively rapid release, and because I’d been writing and writing and writing during this desert period, I already had three books which were drafted, and I think that was one of the things that swung the deal. So, yeah, keep at it.

 

Sarah [00:14:24] If it’s okay with you I’d like to go back to the beginning a wee bit and ask that very common question, did you always want to write?

 

Emily [00:14:32] Yeah I did. I never really liked English at school, so I didn’t like English language. I didn’t like having to read a book that you never would have read in the first place and having to analyse the characters. So I was never really good at that, but I was a hopeless romantic at heart and I always loved little romantic stories and occasionally we would do creative writing in English and I’d do little medieval romances with little drawings of girls in pretty dresses and everything. I’ve obviously got a lot darker since then… But I do remember saying to an adult when I was about 10/15 years old saying I’d love to be a writer and I’ve got some ideas for romantic stories’ and they just turned around and said to me ‘Oh yeah I’ve got a friend and she’s actually good and she’s not never got published so you got no chance don’t do it.’.

 

[00:15:17] [Laughter] The look of horror on your face! Slight digression. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the TV show Lost, when they crash on this kind of weird magical bizarre island? And there’s a character in there who is my favourite character called John Locke, and he’s a bit of a misfit in society. He’s disabled, he’s kind of the typical mark for con men, so he’s not valued in society but actually in the island he really comes into his own. All throughout his life in the real world people say to him you can’t do this you can’t do that. And he stands up and says ‘Don’t tell me what I can’t do’. And actually that really struck me when this adult said to me you got no chance. I thought don’t tell me what I can’t do.

 

[00:16:07] But that kind of festered and lay dormant in my mind until thirty odd years later. So I always wanted to do it. Actually that’s one thing I think that drove me forward during this kind of three years of horror of submissions, I though someone told me I can’t do this,  I’m gonna prove them wrong! So it’s almost like a 40 year grudge that drove me through it.

 

[00:16:31] I have always wanted to be a writer. But then when kind of adult life and you think the responsible thing to do is to get a job that pays a regular salary. I did that and actually I love my job. I love my maths and everything that I do, but this thing lay dormant and it’s kind of the creative side I think which is my release from all the mathematical stuff I do during the day. So yeah.

 

Sarah [00:16:54] And I was going to ask what led you to choosing a historical romance and whether it is easy to pick a genre. But you’ve just said that your very early stories were quite romantic. Was it very simple to choose that genre?

 

Emily [00:17:07] It was yeah I had what I read when I was beginning to write the romance stuff I was reading a lot of crime not quite dark crime stuff. And there always seems to be this stigma with romance. If people ask me what genre I write and I say romance, you sometimes see their eye twitches a little bit as if to say ‘Oh well that’s kind of rubbish, cookie-cutter type stuff’. And they don’t realise that romance is a fantastic genre and it’s everywhere, it’s all about emotions and everything. So, I think I kind of held back a little bit earlier on, just because I thought people don’t value romance, but actually people do. There’s just a little bit of snobbery associated with it. But it was really easy to do romance and the historical romance, just the whole thing about knights in shining armour although now my knights are always a little bit tarnished.

 

[00:17:59] Yeah it was easy and it was it was natural. I am by no means a historian, so it’s not like I do hours and hours of research, but I do enough so I’ve give a flavour of the period. It’s authentic in terms of the period, and the flavour and the ambience.

 

Sarah [00:18:26] So people can really get into the story and not be thrown out of it – enough detail to anchor them in the story.

 

Emily [00:18:34] Yeah. You don’t want a Regency heroine picking up her mobile phone.

 

Sarah [00:18:40]  [Laughs] Not unless it’s a time travel one.

 

Emily [00:18:41] Wibbly wobbly timey-wimey time travel stuff.

 

Sarah [00:18:47] We’ve mentioned the fact that you have a really crazy year of publishing. I know I’ve said this to you personally many a time that you are having quite the introduction to being a published author. But it’s also true that you’ve always been incredibly productive in terms of your writing. And I admire it and I really want to learn from you. So while I’ve got you on the show I’d love to hear more about your writing process. So things like you know do you write every day and keep business hours Monday to Friday. What’s your routine?

 

Emily [00:19:28] I have to fit it around the day job which pays the bills. When I am actually drafting I do try to get myself in the zone, as it were, and I do try and be disciplined to write something every day. So if I’m in the throes of a draft and it’s all plotted out, it’s all good to go, I will aim for about two thousand words a day. Often I don’t reach that I then say to myself if I can make a thousand, which if I’m really concentrated I can probably churn out in about an hour of real concentrated writing. And if I’m really at full pelt, I can do five thousand a day but that’s normally if it’s a day off or if it’s a weekend. But I do try and make sure I’ve just put something in everyday, so at least every day I’ve moved forward even if it’s only by a little amount. I always feel that I might lose my touch if I don’t write, so I force myself to write a bit every day.

 

[00:20:27] In terms of how I do it. I plot like mad to the point of obsessive compulsive disorder. I have to have it all plotted out. And then I will blitz it through from start to finish. So in terms of plotting, I see it like a painting. I’ll kind of start fleshing out the story with big blocks of colour, with the themes and the character profiles, just to get some ideas. And then I’ll start fleshing out some of the detail by, say if I’ve got fight scene in Chapter 22, I might talk about who’s fighting who, what weapons they’ve got, whether there are any other characters witnessing the fight getting involved, what they say, ideas for dialogue. Eventually, once I’ve done that, I’ll have a whole mass of bullet points which just cover the scenes. Probably about 10 or 20 bullet points describing each scene. I’ll then colour code it, I mean I’m so obsessive, I will colour code it red for the heroine’s point of view, blue for heroes point of view, green for anybody else. Just to check whether the switches are happening at the right time, so that you haven’t got twelve chapters in one point of view in two lines in another. And that normally ends up being about 20 pages of A4. Then I lay it all out in front of me. Then I’ll do my character profiles with little spider maps. So the heroine on one side, hero on the other, with lines interconnecting all the other characters in between them. Once I’ve got that it’s good to go. And then I basically sit down and blitz through the first draft and just hide under a rock and write and write and write until at the other end a first draft is spat out.

 

[00:22:09]  I love things like the National Novel Writing Month that happens in November where you aim to write fifty thousand words in a month. Because that’s like one thousand six hundred and sixty six words a day, which is quite doable if you sit down for an hour a cup of coffee. So I tend to use that as my month for really focused drafting a book. It works really well for me because I just I love plotting but I know there’s some people who just the thought of plotting in advance just freaks them out.

 

Sarah [00:22:42] But it works for you. Do you have any other tips for writing regularly or for producing lots of books? Do you have any other tips for productivity?

 

Emily [00:23:10] Things like writer’s block. Some scenes I find really easy to write and others I find really difficult and I’m sure a lot of a lot of people find that. And a lot of people say to me ‘just leave that and go into an easy scene’ but actually I can’t do that. So one of the reasons why I do go from start to finish is I know that if I have got a difficult scene I just have to push through it. It’s like climbing a mountain, you might get a real difficult part and you think well you’ve got to do that halfway up or otherwise you’re never get to the top of the mountain. So I’ll just push through it, even if I think it’s gonna be rubbish, because at least then I will get to the other end.

I overwrite a lot, and I do know that if I’ve got scene which is difficult I’ll overwrite even more, so I just think just chuck words at it and eventually you will end up with something that can be edited down. And I always find, and I’m sure a lot of people find this as well, is that when I’m writing something I think it’s gonna be rubbish, it’s going to rubbish, but I keep saying to myself you think it is but actually when you look back at it with a clear head it’s never going to be as bad as you as you think it is. So I try to switch off the little devil inside me which says ‘you’re rubbish, this sucks, you suck, everything sucks, the world sucks’ and just push through that. And what I was saying before about forgetting submissions and cracking on with the next book, because you’ve almost always got something out on submission, so I try and switch off from that and just plough through the book. Arguing that whatever happens with the book that’s out on submission, I’ve still got to finish this book and I’m writing now so I force myself to do to do that.

 

[00:24:44] Oh another thing I do that stops, in terms of research and things you might if I’m writing something I’m not sure whether it’s absolutely historically accurate or I feel I need a bit more to make it authentic. I won’t stop and research and look up I will add in square brackets and capitals and ‘check the bit of history/add in a little bit of history here’ and then go back to it later on. That helps to keep the flow going of writing. So if you’re unsure about your facts I will always just stick a little note or comments. I always find that if I get interrupted when I’m writing that really causes problems. I stop and have to get back into it.

 

[00:25:27] Word races a great. I am I am super, super competitive, so as soon as someone says to me ‘right we’re going do a world race’ and we kind of connect on Facebook or something,  think ‘right, I want to get more words out than the next person’. And I set the timer on my iPad and I blitz it for half an hour and that really helps out an awful lot words because then I’m just determined to get the words down and not worry about how perfect they are. And that really helps. Short bursts. If I try and set races for myself, I might think ‘right, I managed a thousand words yesterday, let’s see if I can do fifteen hundred in the same space of time.’ So I compete with myself as well.

 

Sarah [00:26:12] That’s a good tip. I meant to ask you this before when you were talking about outlining. Have you got any resources or books that you’ve read about outlining and so on that helped you to learn how to do it? Or is it just something that you’ve developed and naturally?

 

Emily [00:26:31] Yeah it kind of just happens. But in terms of ideas, I carry around a notebook in my handbag. And if I do get an idea and sometimes it might be in the middle of a in the middle of the meeting or in the middle of the office, I’ll pick up my notebook and excuse myself and nip into the loo and just scratch out a few little notes. So if ideas pop in, I make sure I write them down. I dream a lot as well, so I wake up in the morning and write down lots of dreams. Actually loads of the scenes in the book Hawthorne’s Wife, a lot of that came from a dream.

 

[00:27:16] So yeah, I’m constantly writing out lots and lots of notes of ideas that might be good for novel. I’ll often use ideas from stuff I’ve written in the past, I mean there’s one thing I wrote a kind of young adult thing which is the first thing I ever wrote, which is just awful, it’s never going to see the light of day, but some of the ideas from that I’ve been able to poach for future novels. So I tend to have a whole mass of random ideas and then I’ll start ordering them into plots. But it’s just a system that’s really kind of come naturally, although I am aware of things like you have to have a change of pace. You can’t have it all at a fast pace or slow pace, you need to have ups and downs and dark things and you’ve got to think about obstacles for the characters to overcome, so I’m kind of aware of that in the back of my mind, but I don’t set out to follow any specific structure which is outlined in a book about writing I just kind of get on with it and tinker it and massage it into shape. And I do find critique buddies and another pair of eyes, sympathetic understanding eyes, is good as well. Because if all my critique buddies come back and say ‘look that really doesn’t work, please change it’ then I will change it.

 

Sarah [00:28:26] Oh that’s fantastic advice. And you handwrite your outlines and you type your drafts. Is that correct?

 

Emily [00:28:35] The notes are all handwritten. When I actually start plotting things out with the bullet points, I will then type that so I can cut and paste scenes.

 

Sarah [00:28:58] Excellent. Now as you said earlier, you’ve really had quite a launch into being a published author – so many deals and so many deadlines! How are you feeling having finally achieved this dream? How is the difference between writing for fun and for external publishing deadlines?

 

Emily [00:29:18] Yeah. When I got the publishing contract that’s when reality struck. Before I got published, it was like ‘oh that’s the dream, isn’t it wonderful isn’t it happy and like I’d have unicorns and rainbows stars flying out of my ears when it happens’. But then when it happened, I actually felt quite low two days afterwards because it was like ‘okay this is no longer a dream’. I’ve actually got to got to stand up and do something and step up to it and treat it as a business and take a professional approach to it, as opposed to an airy fairy this is my dream. That actually was a bit of a shock.

 

[00:29:50] In terms of marketing, that just seems to be some form of dark art which hopefully I will learn when I enter the non-Muggle world later on. But, yeah, writing to deadlines I’ve never actually had to draft to a deadline, yet, because I already had these three books done, which was which was quite good. That will be something I’m gonna have to do next year, I suspect, certainly if DragonBlade are interested in more books in the series. So it might be you have to ask me that in a year’s time.

 

Sarah [00:30:36] How have you found being out there as an author, having your work read widely and that side of things because I found that incredibly terrifying. How have you found it?

 

Emily [00:30:48] I think having Emily as a pen name, I can detach a little bit from it. So if you do see a bit of a stinky review, even if it gets personal about the author, you think ‘oh they’re talking about somebody else, I’m not her today, I’m me.’ And when I step into Emily’s shoes, hopefully she’ll be able to cope with it. I actually find it more scary having my books read by people I know, because then they look me in the eye. And it’s people who know me and think yeah I can see which aspects of you are in that book. Whereas if it’s a complete stranger, it’s just like a book they’ve liked or not liked. So in that way it’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be, but yeah when you start seeing reviews coming up on Amazon or GoodReads it is a bit of a daunting thought. I think because they’re strangers and we’re all detached and it’s all online, you’re not standing in a group of baying readers who are chucking things like you physically it’s not quite so horrific.

 

Sarah [00:31:55] And has anything about the experience surprised you – either in a good way or a bad way?

 

Emily [00:32:04] I think it was a surprise how quickly I came down from the high when I got the deal, because then I did realise that I’ve got to take a professional approach to it. I did burst into tears the other day. I got an email from someone – I just had a really bad review on Amazon – and I got an email from someone that came through from my newsletter. A complete stranger. Just to say lovely things about the book, saying they absolutely love it. They talk about the characters and said I’ve fallen in love with the character and I was like ‘blimey, that’s a complete stranger’ has actually opened up their email and sent me a note to say they love a character which has come out of my head and I didn’t realise what a rush that would give me and what a warm glow inside. So that that actually is amazing when a total stranger gets in touch.

 

Sarah [00:32:51] Brilliant. I’m just going to spoil your wonderful, positive answer, now, as I do want to ask you whether you ever suffer from creative block. You were saying you’re good at writing down ideas and you’re extremely prolific, but do you either suffer with creative block or self-doubt, or are there any parts of the process that stop you or freak you out?

 

Emily [00:33:22] Yeah, I’m always terrified that my work is rubbish, terrified that it sucks. Even if someone says something nice, a little voice in my head says to me they’re only saying it just to be nice, just to shut you up, because they don’t want to tell you that it sucks and tell you why. Because it’s less effort to say I like it than it is to say ‘I absolutely hate it and this is why’. So whenever I get an e-mail back from my editor I’m always thinking she’s going to tell me this sucks she’s going gonna say ‘why on earth to be offered you a contract you’ve written a load of absolute rubbish woman’. So I’m constantly feeling like that. I got an email from her about the second book. She got halfway through and actually she stopped with her edits and said I would like you to change a few things. And she was really complimentary, she said ‘your writing is lovely, but there’s just a couple of structural issues, don’t worry it it’s quite common with a new author’. But I interpreted that as ‘this book sucked so much, I got one hundred and sixty pages in and just gave up, what on earth are you doing, let’s check it back at you and hopefully you’ll go away we never have to publish this pile of absolute rubbish’. So that’s the biggest problem I have is a massive lack of self-confidence. I have imposter syndrome. I go into groups where there’s other authors and I think they’re probably looking at me thinking ‘what’s she doing here? She started writing later tonight, she’s only just started, she writes bodice rippers’. So, yeah, massive lack of confidence.

 

[00:35:00] It’s something I’m always having to struggle with. What I do is occasionally, I kept the initial e-mails that I got from my agent, even though we parted company I’ve still kept her initial email, from editors who’ve come back, the critiques from the New Writers Scheme. I kept those and I read those and say ‘yes, at that point somebody did say that they liked my writing enough to actually come out and tell me and go to the effort to tell me and offer me a contract or representation or something’, so I keep going back to that, and go ‘no, there was a point where people did actually think this was okay so just carry on’. So, yeah, it’s just dealing with that lack of self-confidence is a really difficult thing to do.

 

[00:35:47] I will often click open a good review and have a look at that, but it’ trying to focus on the good reviews not the bad ones. But even the bad ones I’ve had a really bad review which said this was one of the top five worst books, I absolutely hated it and I was crushed when I read it. And then part of me thought was a pity it wasn’t the top worst book I’d like to know what their worst book was because actually I would probably quite like it!

 

[00:36:13] But again the fact that it’s brought out such an emotional reaction in someone, that they feel compelled to log into their Amazon account and write about six paragraphs of why they hated it, that actually make me think it’s kind of done what I wanted, because it’s elicited an emotional reaction. And I did say to myself way back when I started I didn’t want to write books that were kinds of middle of the road I know because I like emotion and dark stuff is going to be Marmite, it is going to be love it or hate it. And I would rather have a mixture of five star and one star reviews from people where it’s really pulled out an emotional reaction than a whole mass of three stars of people saying ‘oh, it was all right’.

 

Sarah [00:36:52] And I remember that!

 

Emily [00:36:58] [Laughs] I know, when my first ever one star review came through, I said ‘this is what you said you wanted, you wanted ones and fives’.

 

Sarah [00:37:07] It’s so tough. And, again, thank you so much for sharing, because I do think most of us, if not all of us, feel the same way. So thank you again for sharing that. I think it’s a good strategy, definitely, trying to focus on the positive, on the positive reviews or positive feedback you’ve had. But, as you said it’s really difficult to force ourselves to believe it. Believe the positive. Listeners can’t see, but I was nodding away when you said that because that’s the crux of it, is that it’s very difficult to believe that positive feedback.

 

Emily [00:37:57] You do think are they just being nice to placate. Actually sometimes I’ll look at some of my favourite books and look at their reviews and think ‘yeah, it obviously wasn’t for them, but actually that’s an amazing book’. It does make me think at least I’m in good company. Yeah. We’re not gonna like the same thing. It’s just hard when you put your heart and soul into something and someone really hates it to the point where they have to tell the world just how much they hate it. It’s always gonna be tough. I’m hoping I will be more immune to it as the years go by.

 

Sarah [00:38:37] Well I can’t believe it, the time has raced by, so I will just finish up by asking what are you working on at the moment or what’s next for you?

 

Emily [00:38:48] Right. Well yes, book two in the London Libertines Hawthorne’s Wife should be out beginning of September. Book 3 which is called Roderick’s Widow, I think that’s scheduled to come out in December and that’s with my editor at the moment. I’ve plotted out book four in that series as well and I’ve got some embryonic ideas for books five and six, at least who the characters are going to be and what the main themes are. So I’m hoping to have book four written by the end of the year maybe and full drafts for five and six, and then hopefully I’ll have a chat with my publisher to see if I want to take this on. I’ve got two more medieval romances which I drafted ages ago which I had submitted a couple of times and got good feedback. So I might actually maybe self publish those because that’s something I’d like to branch into. I think once I’ve got just got a bit more experience of being an author, built up a few more newsletter subscribers, and just got a bit more of an idea about what the marketing thing is that I might actually give that a go myself.

 

Sarah [00:39:55] Fantastic. And where can people find out more about you and your books?

 

Emily [00:40:00] Oh right. I’ve got a Web site which is www.emroyal.com. I can be found on Twitter @eroyalauthor and on my website there is a link for my newsletter, as well.

 

Sarah [00:40:19] Fantastic. I’ll put all the links in the show notes but thank you so much for that, it was lovely to speak to you.

 

Emily [00:40:26] Thank you, Sarah, it has been so wonderful this chat to you.

 

The Worried Writer Ep#54: Paul Tudor Owen ‘This Is Something I’ve Wanted For So Long’

My guest today is debut novelist Paul Tudor Owen. Paul is a Guardian journalist and his literary crime novel, The Weighing of the Heart is out now from Obliterati Press.

We discuss Paul’s path to publication, how to fit writing around a day job, and the benefits of joining a writing group.

You can find out more about Paul and his book at Paul Tudor Owen.

Or find him on Obliterati Press or Instagram.

 

 

THANK YOU

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WRITING UPDATE

At 50BooksEdinburgh, finally meeting fellow podcaster and Worried Writer guest Paul Teague in person!

I’m still working on the third Crow Investigations book, but July was mostly taken up with family holiday stuff and conferences!

I went to the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) annual conference in Lancaster University and the 50BooksEdinburgh publishing conference.

I did a talk at the RNA conference (all about overcoming fear, self-doubt and procrastination) and I was appropriately ‘on brand’ ie. TERRIFIED. It was a wonderful experience, though, and I met so many kindred spirits and lovely writers.

The 50BooksEdinburgh conference was a life-changing, mindset-altering, incredible, overwhelming, inspiring event. I’m going to take a few weeks to sort through my thoughts and impressions, and will give a proper overview in the next episode.

At both events, I got to meet listeners of this podcast, which felt amazing. If you said ‘hi’, please let me take this opportunity to say ‘thank you’ (again!). It was lovely to meet you!

IN THE INTERVIEW

I’m still trialling the full transcript of the interviews (see below). I want to make the podcast more accessible for those who prefer (or need) to read, rather than listen. I would love to hear what you think! Do you like the full transcript or do you miss the ‘selected highlights’ of the old format?

 

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Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

 

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH PAUL TUDOR OWEN

 

Sarah [00:00:01] My guest today is Guardian journalist and debut author Paul Tudor Owen. Paul’s first novel The Weighing Of The Heart is literary crime fiction and was released in March 2019 by Obliteratti Press. Welcome to the show Paul and thank you so much for joining us.

 

Paul [00:00:18] Thanks very much for having me on. I really appreciate it.

 

Sarah [00:00:22] Well just to get started I was hoping that you could tell us a wee bit about your debut novel. Did you always intend to write literary crime fiction and am I describing it correctly?

 

Paul [00:00:33] Yes. The novel is set in New York. It’s about a young British guy living in New York and he splits up with his girlfriend and moves in as a lodger with two elderly ladies in an opulent apartment on the Upper East Side. And there are all these priceless works of art on the walls all over the apartment. And he and the young woman who lives next door steal one of the works of art. It’s an ancient Egyptian scene and after the theft, the stress of it begins to work on him and the imagery of ancient Egypt, the imagery from the picture starts to come to life around him and it’s not clear to the reader whether that’s really happening or whether that’s that’s just in his head. So it’s literary fiction and there’s a crime at the heart of it. I think that, you know, I don’t know whether the author is always the right person to say what genre a book is. And I’m quite happy for the reader to make that come to that conclusion. And I’m also really aware that people like Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan always really annoy everybody when they write a book that’s blatantly science fiction and then they claim in every interview that it’s not science fiction at all. So what I’d say is that any readers of crime fiction please read it. I think you’ll enjoy it. Readers of literary fiction. Go for it. People who like books about New York ancient Egypt arts basically the more the merrier.

 

Sarah [00:02:22] Absolutely. As you say, genres are kind of labels so that people know where to put things on the bookshelf and in the store. They are a marketing construct and convenience.

But congratulations on becoming a published author. That’s great.

 

Paul [00:02:51] Thank you. Thanks very much.

 

Sarah [00:02:53] And it’s it’s a long and twisty path for most of us so I would love to hear your path to publication story.

 

Paul [00:03:01] Yeah no absolutely, it’s definitely taken a while for me. I think I first started trying to write fiction when I was in my early 20s and I managed to get an agent at that time and I finished a book. He sent it out and no publishers were interested. And then I was sort of going back and forth and I was working on other ideas and eventually around about sort of 2011 I started writing this current book and I think once I’d written the first couple of chapters I just really felt like, you know, very confident really that what I was writing now was much better than anything that I’d written before. And so I went back to the agent with what I’d written but sort of by this time he’d taken the other book to publishers and they hadn’t been interested and I think he’d sort of lost interest really. So I kind of was faced with a choice you know. You’re usually told as a as an author especially when you’re starting out you really needs an agent and if you have one to do everything you can to keep them. You know I think there’s a lot of truth to that. However I just felt like this was not going to result in this book getting published. So I sort of cut ties with him very amicably and I set about sort of starting to try to find another agent. And it was such a different process by that time because I think when I when I was in my early 20s trying to find an agent I’d been posting things out you know I would have been printing out page after page, stapling these bundles together taking them to the post office just so time consuming. And I remember the night when I just tried to find another agent I just basically after work I went to a secluded spot and I got The Writers And Artists Yearbook and I just started going through from A and emailing it to everybody, and I think that evening I got about halfway through the alphabet and there was a lot of interest. there was a lot of interest quite quickly. So that was that was really great. That felt very heartening. And then so I guess for the next couple of years I was kind of working with a really great agent,  Maggie Hanbury, who I’m still working with now. But when she came to to send it out, again we didn’t have much luck with publishers. And one of the reasons was that at the time another book about art theft in New York had just come out. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and it was a massive hit. It was everywhere and a lot of these publishers were saying well we really like your book but it’s just too similar to The Goldfinch. And so once again, the kind of momentum really slowed at that point, and we were talking to one small publisher at this time but around this time I got a job in New York. I worked for The Guardian newspaper and I got a job in their office in New York. And so at the time I was moving now which was March 2015 I was talking to this small publisher and she really didn’t like the ending. And you know not to give anything away but she felt that the ending should conclude in a sort of what I felt was quite a heavy handed manner. And so we went back and forth over this and I don’t know if if you’ve found this but sometimes when somebody points out a problem and you set about… Well first of all you try to figure out whether you agree that it’s a problem. Often it turns up something that even if you didn’t agree with the original problem it turns up some issue that you agree that does need to be solved. So while I was in discussion with this publisher I kind of came up with an alternative ending and I actually really preferred the alternative ending and I thought it was it was it was much better. But by this time the publisher had lost interest. So I’d just moved to New York and started a new job and I think really then for the next year I didn’t do anything on it. Life was just too busy and too complicated and it was only really about a year after moving to New York that I sort of came back to it and I spoke to my agent and they said that they didn’t feel that they could continue to send out because they’d sent it out to a few publishers already. And I just said them ‘Okay I’m just going to send it out to small publishers.’ And so again I went through the writers and artists yearbook and also the one and in the US which is it’s called something like the writers market. And I just started at the beginning and started sending out chapters to all of them, really. All the small publishers and the response was really good. And I think that the writers who are sitting at home waiting for agents to get back to them and thinking that they need to have an agent in order to go that further steps towards publication. I think it’s true if you were if you want to get published by HarperCollins or if you want to get published by Penguin or Faber like it probably is true but to be published by a small publisher I don’t think it is necessarily true. And two or three were interested and we talked to them and in the end I went with Obliterati who are a brilliant small publisher. They set up a couple of years ago. The whole purpose is to get books that they think are brilliant that have not had a chance elsewhere out to the public. It’s two guys running it. I really respect what they’re doing. And yeah. And that’s been a really great process. So that was about, I guess that was about a year and a half ago or a year ago when I signed with them and around the same time my wife and I were talking about whether to stay in New York or come back here and we decided to come back. So that was really exciting time actually because we were coming back and I knew the book was going to come out when we got back to Britain and you know it felt like I was finally going to achieve this ambition and do something that I wanted to do for so long.

 

Sarah [00:10:05] Well thank you so much for sharing that. As I said at the beginning, most of us have got this twisty path filled with close but no cigar and rejection and things but I’m always so grateful when and other authors are willing to share it because it’s so important that everyone knows that that’s just normal. That is absolutely the usual experience, because when you’re going through it… I mean you had that tenacity, you know, you kept on going you might have a wee break at times because of life will you get a bit too ground down with it. but you come back and you try again. Is there anything that you wish that you could go back and tell yourself? Is there any advice you would give to other people in the same situation or anything you wish you could have known?

 

Paul [00:10:57] This is a sort of impossible one but it wouldn’t be really it would have really helped me a lot to know that in the end I was going to get there because I think you know there’s definitely periods where you feel like, God I’m putting so much into this I’m putting so much time so much of my sort of creativity into this and maybe it’s just going nowhere and maybe I should really be using that time and effort for something else. So you know if there had been a way to let myself know that you will make it, that would have would have meant a lot. Obviously that’s impossible. I mean advice for other people you know it’s so it’s so different for each person and each person’s set of responsibilities; their job, their family life. So you know I suppose anything I can say, anyone with kids for example would just probably say what you’re saying is impossible. But what I found was that if you want to do it, you have to cut something else out. You have to not do something else in order to do this. Otherwise he’s just not going to get it done. So I think when I when I started off in my 20s like what that meant I guess was not going out at my friends or not watching TV in the evening or whatever. Just making time to do this. And I suppose now it’s more that sometimes I’ll stay behind after work and work on my book for a couple of hours. Quite a lot, I’ll try and spend Saturday and Sunday in the day working and I think that’s it really you just have to carve out that time. And it’s not it’s not easy you know.

 

Sarah [00:12:51] I’m very impressed that you sometimes work on your writing at the end of a working day, because when I was in journalism I wanted to write fiction desperately but I know that I felt as if I had used up the word part of my brain by the end of the day. So I’m very impressed that you managed to do that.

 

Paul [00:13:57] I didn’t really feel like that, I felt more like I was in a very productive state of mind at work… And also, the kinds of deadlines that we’re working to, there’s a lot of pressure to work very quickly and it was better if I just carried that on.

 

 Sarah [00:13:57] Yeah that makes a lot of sense. And I’m going to be fair to myself and also say that I was bringing up two small children at the same time, so that’ll be it as well!

 

Paul [00:14:04] That’s so impressive.

 

Sarah [00:14:07] Oh well, it took me a wee while,  but I wanted to say about the journalism as well… So was non-fiction your first love, or did you always want to write fiction?

 

Paul [00:14:18] No I always wanted to write fiction and I think I remember actually having a chat with one of my lecturers at university when I was just about to graduate and talking about this, and it was really clear to me, you know, that it would be very very difficult to make a living from writing fiction. And so I was thinking about what what I could do instead that would satisfy some of the same sort of creative impulses. And in the end, they’re not that similar in some ways. I mean for me, anyway. I work in news. Our main task is really to get information across to people as quickly and as clearly as possible. And I think writing fiction you’re doing numerous things at once, you’re building the characters, you’re working on the architecture of the plot, maybe you’re doing something interesting with the structure, you’ve got to think about the dialogue. You’ve got to do all those things simultaneously and you know, sometimes, you don’t want to get information across clearly and quickly to a to a reader. Sometimes you want to do the exact opposite you want to withhold information from a reader and have them gradually realize it or only realize it at the end. And I think in some forms of journalism like a creative non-fiction as they call it in the US or longform magazine journalism I think in those forms of journalism people are using some of those similar techniques but for me, news reporting and news editing which is what I’ve done as a career it’s quite different in those ways to writing fiction.

 

Sarah [00:15:55] Yeah absolutely. And so were there any resources or books or courses or anything that you used to help you study writing fiction and help you transition from non-fiction?

 

Paul [00:16:08] I haven’t done any formal creative writing courses. I mean I do remember even sort of as far back as do my A Level English, that I was always thinking about how these authors were doing were creating the effects that they were creating, why they were choosing to do it that way. And I feel like looking back I was trying to teach myself essentially and it was the same at university where I was studying American literature and American history. And so you can see the influence of some of the books that I studied at a level on this book like The Remains Of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro one of my favourite books has an amazing unreliable narrator.

And I’m definitely doing some of the same things in the Weighing of the Heart, and then the Great Gatsby we also studied, and I think I’m sort of looking at the same idea of the corroded American dream as Fitzgerald did in The Great Gatsby and I deliberately put in some nods to The Great Gatsby in the text because I thought it was pretty obvious how influenced I was, and I just wanted to make sure that the reader knew I wasn’t trying to like pull the wool over their eyes.

 

Sarah [00:17:23] It’s like ‘I know, I know I’m influenced by it. Look!’

 

Paul [00:17:30] But I have been in writing groups where you read to each other and give feedback and I’ve found that very useful, and the most recent one actually was when I was in New York and I hadn’t written anything for about a year and I really wanted to get back into it and I wanted to start a new book. And I joined this group run by an organization called Gotham Writers. The class was was fairly simple. It was basically there were about 15 of you and the facilitator comes up with a word or a phrase and you have 10 or 15 minutes to write basically whatever you like on that subject or based around that subject. And it was just exactly what I needed really because it just forced me to write and it kind of sparked off creative ideas. I really enjoyed it, there was such a variety of work from all the other people. One really stuck in my mind where I think yeah the subject was lemon or lemons. and at these classes a lot of stuff that people read is sort of blatantly autobiographical, and so this one just really came out of the blue. So the guy said that his story was that his narrator was on a date and he kissed this girl and her lips tasted of lemons and it was really disturbing because it reminded him of when he was a baby and his grandma leaned over him when it was in his crib and she was sucking on a lemon cough sweet and it fell off her mouth and it fell into his mouth as a baby. And this is disturbing. So he left the date and as he walked home a truck hit him and killed him. And the truck was full of lemons. Brilliant! A jaw dropping story. So it was really great, hearing everybody else’s stories as well and talking to them, and they gave you a glass of wine and a bite to eat. The whole thing was a total bargain actually that was really good.

 

Sarah [00:19:49] That sounds good. And so now that you’re not in a writing group which feeds you wine, what’s your routine or process now? Do you aim for a particular word count per day or writing session? And do you plot books in advance? Or is it too soon to say…

 

Paul [00:20:08] I work shift work so I often have to work at weekends and what that means is that then I have a day off in lieu in the week and that’s actually pretty good for me really. So for example today I had a day off and I used it for quite a bit of writing. So what I tried to do is get as many of other chores responsibilities and tasks and things out of the way, so that I have as long a block of of time to write as possible because I just find that the more you can immerse yourself in that world the more new ideas will will spark off. And I usually work in the kitchen and try to have as much natural light as possible. The one thing that has really changed my life recently as a writer is you know on your phone you can get it to and to read out anything that’s on the screen. So what I do is when I’ve been working on a chapter and I feel like it’s in quite good shape and then I’m going somewhere else and going to do something then I put on my headphones and have the phone read it back to me. And it’s really brilliant because it really puts that kind of distance between you and the writing so that you are able to appreciate it as I as a reader rather than as the writer. So today for example I was doing some work and then I had to paint the bathroom floor so I loaded up the chapter so that I’d just been working on onto my phone and I just listened to it as I was painting and you really come to view as the reader. But I just oh it’s going to and I was going to play you a bit if if if that’s all right so you can hear what it sounds like because people do think it’s kind of ridiculous when they hear what it sounds like. But anyway it works for me. Oh I’ll play you a bit.

 

Phone [00:22:26] ‘Sooner or later everybody comes to New York and I was no exception.’

 

Paul [00:22:45] You can see that they haven’t quite mastered human voice yet but I think that that they’re getting there, and perhaps part of the the way it’s kind of stilted and everything is actually quite good because it’s so clearly not my voice in my mind that I can almost see them as a reader.

 

Sarah [00:23:06] And of course it’s going to read exactly what is there as well. So I think from a self-editing point of view it’s going to be useful even if it’s just picking up and repeated words so that kind of thing.

 

Paul [00:23:16] Oh yeah totally.

 

Sarah [00:23:17] Because you know you’re in when you’re reading your own stuff you read what you expect to see don’t you. Yeah yeah. And that’s a really interesting tip I’ve not heard that one before. So well done, that’s a first. So this is the Worried Writer, so I’m afraid I will delve into any struggles that you’ve ever had. So do you ever suffer from creative block?

 

Paul [00:23:39] I think one one thing that I do find that’s good from journalism is that if I can usually get from A to B in writing even if I’m so stuck on how to do it or you know not doing it in a particularly beautiful or elegant way. But I can just get from A to B and then move on and come back and improve it later. And I think that probably comes from the sort of pressures of journalism and just having to do it. So that’s really good. But I am very easily distracted and it’s not always great trying to work at home, you know, I’ll go and water the plants to tidy something up or sort my books out or or whatever. There’s that cliche isn’t there about writer’s homes, that they are very tidy because the writer who claimed that they were spending the day writing has actually been sort of pottering about tidying everything up.

 

Sarah [00:24:39] (Laughs)I can’t possibly comment on that.

 

Paul [00:24:43] So when I was when in New York we only had a very small flat and so, you know, it would have been pretty antisocial of me to try and take up all the space writing and our office was in this, I dunno if you know this corporation called WeWork, which is this coworking office space company. So basically you you sign up and you can then go to any of the WeWork offices around that city or around the country, whatever you’ve signed up for, and the Guardian’s office was in a We Work office. And what it meant was that if I had booked rooms I could book rooms and in other We Work offices around the city. So what I would do was go to a different one each time, like on a Sunday say book a room in a We Work and and then go in and it was great actually because I really got to explore the city and work in lots of different places and you know the book’s set in New York and the new book I’m working on now is also set in New York. So it was great to feel immersed in New York and to be seeing the sights of New York out of the window as I was working.

 

Sarah [00:25:57] That sounds perfect. And in terms of the experience of being a debut novelist because as we were saying in the path to publication, it takes an awful lot of grit, and you have to really want it and you work and you get rejected and it’s the dream and then it finally happens and has it been all you hoped for or have there been any sort of unexpected stresses or has it just been joy?

 

Paul [00:26:24] I mean it’s been brilliant in the sense that this is something that I’ve wanted for so long and I felt so great to have achieved this ambition. The book launch for example I just felt really fantastic to be finally presenting myself as an author and you know people’s responses have been so good both in terms of people who have read it who hadn’t read it before and really really positive and also just you know my friends have been really really supportive and really happy for me and that’s all been absolutely brilliant.

 

Sarah [00:26:59] That’s great.

 

Paul [00:27:00] I mean you know Obliterati my publishers are a small publisher. And I think that it’s probably a different experience for me than it is if you are signed to one of the the big publishing houses. You know I think when it comes to marketing and promotion you know, Obliterati are working very hard but they are a small company and I think that one thing that I’ve found and we’ve found is that it’s much more effective for me to do everything personally than for them to do it. They the results are much better and it feels like the personal touch is is what’s needed you know whether that’s contacting podcasts like yours or literary festivals, newspapers, bloggers, bookstagrammers. It all seems to work better if it comes directly from me. And you know what one example is is bookshops getting it in bookshops. So I’ve been you know going around up into almost every bookshop in central London and persuaded them to stock it. And you know it works. It works to turn up, to show them the book, to tell them a bit about yourself. It does work. There’s only one bookshop that hasn’t taken it which is Hatchards in St Pancras. So Hatchards if you’re a regular listener to this podcast please please reconsider.

 

Sarah [00:28:29] That’s great that that worked so well.

 

Paul [00:28:31] Well yes. You feel a sense of achievement, but it’s very time consuming. You know it’s hand-to-hand combat to get it stocked everywhere. And I’m doing it. But it’s takes me a while.

 

Sarah [00:28:48] I was going to ask you about the kind of balancing of and because you’re definitely not alone, regardless of the size of your publisher, in having to do the lion share option. And that was something that I was happy to do and I am still happy to do, but it does have a time attached to it.

 

 [00:29:10] Again I don’t know how you feel but I also had to kind of adjust… As happy as I was to be finally like ‘out there’, as an author, I also kind of had to deal with a wee bit of imposter syndrome and sort of self-doubt, with regards to the marketing and promotion side. Have you struggled with anything like that or are you just very confident and happy to go into bookshops, as this sounds?

 

Paul [00:29:31] Having spent three years in New York. I sort of channelled my inner American and I just thought how would an American handle this? Just go in and say look here’s my book, it’s brilliant, you won’t regret it.

 

Sarah [00:29:45] It’s great, put it on the shelf.

 

Paul [00:29:55] It is sort of going against your nature as a British person. And I think for example I’m like tweeting and putting posts on Instagram like every day. And I think that my friends are probably getting a bit sick of seing it, you know, but I’ve just got to do it because if I don’t do it nobody is going to do it. You know so it’s my only choice really.

 

Sarah [00:30:21] It’s definitely part of the gig, yeah. in terms of kind of going forward, do you have any strategies in mind for making sure that, I mean you want to do everything you can to make your debut a success which makes perfect sense, but going forward do you have any strategies for kind of making sure that promotion and marketing and kind of the business side don’t totally take over your writing time?

 

Paul [00:30:48] Yeah I mean that’s that’s totally totally it. Really I think the time that I was using for writing I am now using a lot of it for, like 90 percent of it really, for marketing. I think that I have just kind of resigned myself to maybe for this whole year that’s going to be the case, because when a book comes out you’ve only got a short window to really make it, to make it count really. So I feel like I’ve just got to this year throw myself into that 100 percent. And I’m still you know I’m still making some time for writing the new one and I’m still trying to keep up with sort of making notes and I’m just keeping the idea going in my head. But if at the end of the day I’ve spent this year promoting The Weighing of the Heart and trying my best to to make it as successful as it possibly can be. I think now is the only time that I could do that and I can come back to the new book in the future and the more successful The Weighing of the Heart has been, the stronger the position the new book will be and once it finally gets to that stage.

 

Sarah [00:32:13] Was it a one book deal with a Obliterati Press or will you be submitting your new book when the time comes?

 

Paul [00:32:23] It’s a one book deal and they get first refusal on the next one.

 

Sarah [00:32:28] Yes, okay. So I was going to say what’s next for you but I’m assuming it’s this second, also New York set, book.

 

Paul [00:32:36] Yeah. That’s right. So that the next one. It’s. It is still set in New York but it’s gonna be set in the 1970s when New York was a sort of crime plagued hell. And I think that that was the kind of New York that I first fell in love with through films like Taxi Driver and Mean Streets. New York felt so exciting but also so gritty and I really wanted to sort of you know I really wanted to sort of conjure up that New York in my writing. So it’s set in the mid 70s and it’s about a sort of failing newspaper journalist in New York who it starts looking into conspiracy theories about the moon landings and he starts meeting these conspiracy theorists who believe the moon landings were faked and as he gets drawn into deeper into the world he sort of finds himself against his better judgment starting to believe some of their paranoia. So that’s the that’s the basic premise.

 

Sarah [00:33:51] Excellent. Just to finish up, where can listeners find out more about you and your books online?

 

Paul [00:33:58] Sure. Well if you if you go to the Obliterrati web site then you’ll see all about the book and the other books they publish. Or you can find it on Amazon. My own website is Paul dash Tudor dash Owen dot Tumblr dot com.

 

Sarah [00:34:38] Well I will put all the links in the show notes. Thank you. Thank you so much for your time. It has been lovely to speak to you.

 

Paul [00:34:48] It’s been fantastic. Thank you very much for having me on.