A Look Behind The Book With Julie Stock.

Julie-StockWhile many writers chase often elusive publishing deals, going “indie” has its own rewards – as author, Julie Stock, proves.

The race to write and publish her first book, From Here To Nashville, before she hit the big 5 0 might have been what initially inspired her to go that route but with two successful contemporary romances under her belt – and another on the way – Julie’s hard work is paying off.

In my latest Behind The Book interview, she explains more about her journey into print – with some wonderful advice for all writers at the end.

When did you start writing?  Has it always been a passion?

Until about four years ago, I’d never written anything longer than a poem or lyrics for songs, and most of my writing as an adult has been for day jobs. I started writing my first novel in April 2013 because I had an idea that I thought could work for that length. That had never happened to me before! I knew it would be a romance because that’s the genre I read the most. Both my novels are contemporary romances and I’ve also written a novella and a number of short stories in the genre.

Do you plan your stories?

When I started writing, I was a ‘pantser,’ although at that point, I had no idea what that was. I wrote that first book with only the loosest idea of what was going to happen. It was an incredible experience for me but I had to do so many rewrites to even finish the first draft that I knew I would prefer to plot more next time round.

With my second book, The Vineyard In Alsace, which I started, again with no plan during NaNoWriMo one year, I got to 80,000 words and decided that the story wasn’t working. I then got rid of 40,000 words before going on to finish the first draft. It was really hard but I knew that the story just wasn’t the one I wanted to tell. Again, lots of rewriting followed but I knew I had the right story by then.

So before I started my third book, which I’m writing now, I really did try and do much more of an outline before starting. It has still evolved a lot as I’ve gone on but I feel this will be a much better first draft than I’ve written before.

How long did it take to write each book, including drafts? Were you writing full time? If not, how did you make time to write against all the other life stuff we have to do?

It takes me about six – nine months to write the first draft, and with rewrites and editing, it takes about another six – nine months to be ready for publication. I could possibly write faster if it was my full-time job but I do procrastinate a lot! When I wrote my first book, I was working full-time as a teacher but I so wanted to do it that I found the time, even if I was only writing 300 words a day.

Nowadays, I work for a charity in the mornings and I do occasional supply teaching as well as some freelance web design work so I can commit to writing 1,000 or more words a day if I’m working to a deadline, and if I write that many, I feel really pleased with myself! If I know what I want to write, that only takes me about an hour so I don’t really have any excuses not to get that done.

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Your first book is partly set in Nashville and your second in Alsace. How important is location to your work? Are they places you have enjoyed? Are you tempted to go to places purely for research?

The setting of my books is really what starts the story idea off for me. I have always been a singer myself and together with my love of country music, I had an idea for a story set both in the UK and in Nashville. My premise for From Here To Nashville, my first novel, was what if you had a singer/songwriter based in the UK who dreamed of becoming a country music star and going to Nashville. That’s the only place you would want to go as a country music singer so it fit the storyline. I only went to Nashville myself after writing the story but I had to go once the story was written.

Similarly, my love of France, especially Alsace and my knowledge of the winemaking industry from a former job, gave me the idea for my second book set on a vineyard in Alsace. I’ve been several times and so I was able to draw on my knowledge quite readily for my book.

I love to travel and when I do, I think about whether those places would make a good setting for the story I want to tell. So the place tends to inspire the story and I’ll often take lots of photos and make lots of notes for future reference, if I go somewhere on holiday and think it would work for a book.

You decided to go indie very early on and, as a result, didn’t submit to any publishers. Can you please talk about why you picked that route and the pros and cons?

I started writing my first book when I was 48 and it was reading how someone else had self-published that made me wonder about doing that myself when previously that just wouldn’t have been possible. My motivation with the first book was to publish it before my 50th birthday and so I didn’t have time to wait around for agents and publishers at that point.

It is hard to self-publish because you have to pay upfront for editing, proofreading and cover design before you’ve even sold any books. On top of that, the marketing is almost a full-time job in itself. However, what I enjoy is having control over every aspect of the process and when the results come in, they’re all down to me and that’s a good feeling. I did try to get an agent and publisher with my second book and came very close but not close enough. At that point, I realised that I could just do it myself again and my second book is doing so well that I don’t regret that decision at all.

Do you think the rise of social media has helped when it comes to self-publishing? How important is it to you? Is Twitter your favourite?

I suppose social media has helped indie authors to make themselves a bit more visible amongst the millions of authors out there, and I am active on Twitter and also on my Facebook page, as well as a couple of other sites to a lesser extent. However, I don’t know how much they influence sales as such – it’s very hard to tell but I enjoy being on it to the level that I am involved so I’ll continue with it as long as that remains the case.

It seems like when you self publish you have to be a jack of all trades – from cover design, type-setting, promotion etc. Which part was the easiest and which part was the hardest? Is there anything you know now that wish you had known for your first book?

The_Vineyard_in_Alsa_Cover_for_KindleFor me, the easiest part of self-publishing is uploading my book to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing because I can compile my manuscript straight from Scrivener which is the writing software package I use. It really couldn’t be any easier.

The hardest job is finding the time to try out all the new ways of promoting yourself as an author. Sometimes, it’s very easy to spend all your time on marketing and promotion, and then you find you have no time to write! You have to be quite disciplined to make time for your writing and if you’re a bit of a procastinator…

I’m not sure there’s anything I wish I’d known for my first book, apart from learning more about plotting! Still, I may have given up before I’d even got started if I’d spent all my time learning how to plot. Sometimes the best way of learning is to throw yourself in the deep end and give it a go!

Many of the authors I enjoy reading are members of the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA). Can you tell me why you joined and what you get from it?

Joining the RNA was quite simply the best decision I’ve ever made. I went to a Festival of Romance in November 2013 and there was a panel of RNA authors there that day who told me about the New Writers’ Scheme. I joined in January 2014 and I have made many good friends since then, at parties, events and conferences. The RNA is full of such generous writers all ready to give advice when asked, and the friendship is second to none. I’m about to graduate from the NWS now to be an independent author member of the RNA and I feel very proud to have reached that milestone. I couldn’t have done it without the support of so many lovely writing friends.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m trying to finish the first draft of my third book, set in a restaurant in Devon. This will be the last book I submit to the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme and the deadline is August 31st so I am up against it a bit. I will then be editing a novella I wrote some time ago, which is a sequel to my first novel, From Here to Nashville. I hope to publish it later this year, and the new novel next year.

Finally, do you have any tips for writers perhaps thinking of going the indie route?

If you’re a new writer of romance, join the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme to get early support with your writing. Make sure that when you’ve finished your draft and first round of edits that you seek the help of a professional editor. This should be followed up with a professional proofread. If you can afford to pay for a professional cover designer as well, so much the better but there are cheaper options that will still produce a good cover for you. For advice on all the practical aspects of self-publishing, join the Alliance of Independent Authors too.

The other piece of advice I would give is something I heard from another writer recently, which is that if you write, you’re a writer. So try not to let your fears get in your way. You can do it – you just need to make a start.

~

Thank you very much to Julie for answering my questions, despite not only being on deadline but also preparing for a literary festival. I found so much of what she said useful in a practical sense but I was also really inspired by her journey – especially trying to write and be published in your 40s. That last piece of shared advice is a keeper too.

You can find out more about Julie via her website follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook. You can also buy both her books via Amazon here.

I’ll have another Behind The Book for you on August 21st.

 

A Look Behind The Book With A Bogie.

_RD90748You would be hard-pressed to come up with a better name for an author of children’s books than A Bogie but is it a nom de plume?

In my latest Behind The Book interview, I quiz Anna about her surname and discover more about her popular series of Happy Hooves picture books – the most recent of which, Yuk!, was published last year.

The busy mum of three is fascinated by how children learn to read and is convinced that rhyming and poetry are a huge help in aiding language and reading skills. I love rhymes – although, having attempted to write a rhyming poem once, I know it is not as easy as it might seem.

Anna also offers a couple of great tips at the end, which I am sure are important for all authors.

Here we go.

First things first, A Bogie is surely the most perfect name for the writer of children’s books?

A Bogie is a brilliant name for a children’s author – unbelievably it is my actual (married) name and not just a nom de plume. It isn’t the easiest name in the world to have but at least this career makes the most of it.

Where are you from originally and where do you live now?

I was born and grew up in Norwich and I now live in Gibraltar.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? What made you decide to write for children? 

I have always wanted to write but my career post university was actually in marketing. Having decided that I wanted a change from corporate life, I tried my hand at writing for children. It’s my favourite kind of writing because it’s so much fun and a real break from everyday life.

Your debut picture book series, Happy Hooves, was inspired by your life in Spain. How much impact does your location (and other aspects of your life) have on the subject matter of your books?

Location does have an impact because the area you are in sits on your conscience. I used to live in natural parkland outside of a beautiful place called Tarifa, in the south of Spain. It is very rustic and the animals roam freely, I couldn’t help but be inspired by the area and so location played a big part in Happy Hooves. Another big aspect of my life is that I am a mum to three gorgeous kiddiwinks – Reuben, Amabel and Lachie, and they provide constant inspiration with their general chatter.

 

How did you find out it had been accepted for publication? What was that like?

I had two very small children when I found out Happy Hooves, Ta Dah! was going to be published, it was very exciting but also slightly overwhelming as I hadn’t expected it to happen at that time. A picture book takes a long time to come together and it all felt quite unreal until I actually held the book in my hands. Fat Fox Books is a brilliant publishers and they’re very supportive – I call Holly, the managing director of Fat Fox Books, my Fairy Godmother because she made my wish come true.

How much say do you have over the illustrations? Is it a team effort? What was it like seeing your characters as someone else sees them? Were they as you imagined?

The publishers had full control over the illustrations for Happy Hooves and I was absolutely thrilled that they chose Rebecca Elliott. She is incredibly talented and made Happy Hooves more beautiful than I could ever have hoped. If you ever visit Tarifa, you’ll see how well she has caught the essence of the place, even though she hasn’t been there.

During a creative writing course, years ago, we had an exercise to come up with a children’s tale (or the start of one). I remember people muttering about how “easy” it would be but the majority of the class really struggled. Have you come across this attitude before? If so, is it frustrating?

Writing a children’s book is very intense, every word has to be perfect because you are working with so few, there is absolutely no room for unnecessary details. Children are very harsh critics and won’t read a book unless it keeps them captivated and so there is a huge amount of work to make sure the story will not lose the child, even for a second. People may think writing a children’s story is easy but the writing is actually only one part of being an children’s author – it is hugely competitive and most writers have to go through a lot of rejections before anything is published so it’s all about the long haul struggle to be honest and whether you can stay in it for the long run.

How does it feel to know you’re engaging a younger audience? That your books could be among the first they have ever read? Do you feel any pressure? 

Now I do…! I love writing for a younger audience, but I don’t feel a pressure, just a privilege if mine is one of the books they read. All I can hope for is that they ask to read it again, and enjoy it. I especially love visiting schools where you get to engage with children directly, it is really rewarding and the questions can be brilliant.

What are you working on at the moment? And do you write better at set times or can you sit down whenever and get straight to it? 

At the moment I’m working on a book for a Scottish charity, which should be published as an ebook this year. I’m also working on a new series of books that unfortunately I can’t divulge upon yet.

Is there any advice you could give to would-be authors? Something you would have found useful when you started?

Firstly, it’s all about the editing and making sure that every word deserves its place on that page.

Secondly, an author has to do a lot of their own self-promotion and create their audience. I’ve found this very hard and I am working a lot on my social media so that I can get myself out there.

abogiequote

A massive thank you to Anna for answering my questions. I had no idea just how much authors, even ones with big publishers, have to peddle their own wares. It seems like a great idea to start building up your social media presence in advance.

Speaking of which, you can find out more about Anna via her website, which also has some great free colouring activities to download and print, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

For more Behind The Book posts please click here. I’ve got two more fabulous authors lined up for next month. I can’t wait to post them.

Book Review: Greatest Hits.

cover102011-mediumHave you ever read a book featuring a fictional musician and thought ‘I wish I could hear their work in real life?’

Cass Wheeler, the lead character in Laura Barnett’s new book, Greatest Hits, had such an interesting, attractive and authentic voice on the page. I felt sure she had to be real and was so disappointed when I discovered that wasn’t the case. Then I read about an innovative project between the author and singer songwriter Kathryn Williams, which will bring the songs from the book to life.

An album of 16 tracks, entitled Songs From The Novel Greatest Hits, with music by Mercury-nominated Kathryn and lyrics by them both, is being released alongside the book.

How cool is that? I’ve listened to the first song, Common Ground, from the collaboration and it’s perfect. There’s no other way to describe it.

Before we get into more detail, here’s the blurb for the book:

One day. 16 songs. The soundtrack of a lifetime…

Alone in her studio, Cass Wheeler is taking a journey back into her past. After a silence of ten years, the singer-songwriter is picking the 16 tracks that have defined her – 16 key moments in her life – for a uniquely personal Greatest Hits album.

In the course of this one day, both ordinary and extraordinary, the story of Cass’s life emerges – a story of highs and lows, of music, friendship and ambition, of great love and great loss. But what prompted her to retreat all those years ago, and is there a way for her to make peace with her past?

Daughter. Mother. Singer. Lover. What are the memories that mean the most?

This is Laura’s follow up to the hugely successful The Versions Of Us and I think she has another hit on her hands.

It was one of those books where I was frustrated and, at times, a little bit cross to have to put it down and do real life things.

It’s complex, intense and bittersweet. Although it covers several decades, it doesn’t feel like there are massive jumps and it flows beautifully. The book is well-researched and steeped in nostalgia (for some reason it made me think about my first clunky old Walkman, which I adored, for the first time in years). It’s an altogether unique experience – and that’s before you even get to the music.

As I got further engrossed, I longed to hear Cass sing, which is why I went looking to see if she was a real artist. Instead I discovered the fantastic project between Laura and Kathryn, which surely has to be the next best thing.

When announcing the album, Laura, who is also a freelance journalist, feature writer and theatre critic, said: “From the earliest moment of coming up with the idea for Greatest Hits, it was clear to me that I wanted my character’s musical output to have a life beyond the page. I’ve been a fan of Kathryn’s music for years and I’m so thrilled to be working with her – she’s an absolute magician, and I’m so excited about the creative possibilities posed by drawing literature and music together in this way.”

I’m intrigued to see how the album, which is realeased under the One Little Indian label, does, but one thing is for sure – it’s safe to say Laura, like Cass, is no one hit wonder.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £6.99.

My rating: Four and a half stars.

With thanks to Orion Publishing Group for the ARC in return for an honest review.