We are delighted that you could join us to talk about your new release. Could you tell us a little more about it? My debut is called Love Lindisfarne. It’s a romantic comedy, fiction, yet set in a real location. If there’s a way to do things that aren’t recommended, then I’m your woman! I did the Curtis Brown Marian Keyes (love her) Course, and she was so against using real settings which did make me stop and think long and hard as Marian is writer royalty, but LL was in my heart, and I wasn’t going to give up on my dream – sorry Marian! The book is set at Christmas and again, I was advised against a Christmas debut, but it was integral to the story so once again I blithely carried on (you can see a pattern emerging here!) However, all that said, I’m pleased I stuck to my dream and Love Lindisfarne turned out to be exactly the book I wanted it to be – an easy-to-read feelgood story, pure escapism, which lets you take time out and relax into a world where most things are nice!
What was the inspiration behind this book? What prompted you to tell this story? The inspiration for the setting was the fact that no matter how good my imagination may or may not be, there was no way I would come up with a location as beautiful as the real thing, without basing it there and giving the island a fictitious name. I know this is common practice however people reading the book always know if it’s based on a real place! From the beginning, I knew I wanted to celebrate my northern roots, fly the flag for Northumberland and create something warm and inviting that would maybe make people want to come and experience my wonderful county for themselves, and I am pleased to report, that seems to be happening. There’s romance and comedy in the book, but there’s also a little bit of history and a bit of a travelogue going on!
How long did the book take to write? How much writing do you normally do? I’m going to combine this question with the journey to publication as the two are intrinsically linked. The book took upwards of two and a half years. It started off life as a 3k entry called A Northumbrian Castle Christmas to a Penguin Michael Joseph Christmas Novel competition. I was shortlisted and I think we had to submit another 5k, so I ended up with at least 8k and whilst I didn’t win it was enough of a confidence boost to think the story might have legs. I then ended up with an agent mentor, it was supposed to be for one session, but it lasted a year. I learned a lot through her, ended up doing the second draft with her guidance but it was clear that we had different views on the way the book should go and we parted company. That process made me re-evaluate the way forward as I wasn’t prepared to wait yet more time to go down the traditional route, and it was clear to me that to hold on to what I wanted I would have to do it myself, so I did! I found a great editor in Helen Hawkins, another RNA member and fellow Penguin shortlistee. Helen edited draft two, then subsequently draft three, my first draft as an independent and that is the draft that became the published book. As to how much I write, I wrote every day writing the book and prepping the manuscript, but I haven’t wrote a thing since publication as it has all been so hectic and I’ve become everything in the literary world except a writer!
If you could give your younger writing self any advice, what would it be? I had my first short story printed in a teen magazine as a teenager myself. I then had stories published in women’s magazines then a huge, long gap when I didn’t write as life got in the way. If I could go back to my younger self I would say don’t stop, do the media career you were advised to do at the time rather than the career I ended up with, and carry on writing, make it as important as the other things in your life. I would also remind myself to keep hold of the spirit of never thinking you can’t do things as this has got your this far, even if it is years later than it should have been! My writing mantra, and name of my publishing imprint, is Shy Bairns as in Shy Bairns Get Nowt, a Geordie saying which means that unless you push yourself to achieve it won’t happen.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors? Firstly, if I can do this you can. Honestly, I’m just like every other fledgling writer out there, there isn’t any secret formula that makes one of us better than the other. If you enjoy writing and want to put it out there you can. BUT and there is a but, make sure you join a writing class or group, or find your tribe and with them build up the confidence to let your work out into the public domain. I have been with the same writing group for years, and I without them I really don’t think I would have got this far. Unless you want to write for yourself and keep it to yourself, then at some stage you will have to brave it and better doing this in a safe space with people you trust initially. Start to enter writing competitions, this is a great way of practicing writing to order, and often brings you into contact with other writers who may end up as writing buddies (this is what happened with my Penguin experience). Also, if you lack confidence then think carefully about the realities of laying yourself open, it is a tough world getting published, and you need a skin thicker than a three week old rice pudding as there is no way to avoid the possibility of rejection – harsh but true – but this is where that writing support that I mentioned earlier comes in – we have all been in the same place and most writers are kind, generous people who will help us newbies find our feet!
Can you tell us what you are working on now? Dilemma time for me coming up. Love Lindisfarne, even though it has only been out a couple of months, has built up quite a following many of whom are already asking for a sequel. I hadn’t envisaged this happening so there wasn’t one drafted out and I’m now wondering whether I should concentrate on a follow up. I have only this week come up with an outline and it quite excites me so that has to be a good sign! However, I was a finalist in this year’s Comedy Women in Print Prize and my entry is going to be traditionally published in a new book out next April, The Book of Witty Women by Farrago Press. I had already started to extend that story into a full novel. It’s a comedy caper about a Nana and Granddaughter from Newcastle so another Geordie tale. Should reviews etc be positive about it then I will find it hard not to concentrate on that story as I absolutely adore the characters. My other major decision is how publication of any future work should happen. Should I stay indie? Should I try for an agent and go trad? Should I look for an option somewhere in between? I love the independence of going it alone, however the workload with Love Lindisfarne has been way more than I expected so I would need to address that somehow, otherwise this will all be irrelevant as I will never find the time to write anything anyway!
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