A Look Behind The Book With Kirsten Hesketh.

meWriter Kirsten Hesketh recently took a huge step towards making her dream to publish a book (or two) a reality after securing an agent.

Her debut novel is finished and she has another well underway – both of which sound like my cup of tea. Hopefully it’s just a matter of time before they are snapped up.

I first ‘met’ Kirsten via Twitter and we joined together as part of a lovely group of writers supporting each other through last year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I wouldn’t have even signed up with out their support let alone finished so I’m very grateful to them.

I was delighted when Kirsten agreed to take part in my Behind The Book series and I can relate to SO much of what she says.

Have a read and see what you think.

What’s your writing dream and how long have you been dreaming it?

Good question.  I had to think long and hard about this one and there are several different answers. My first dream, which I’ve held ever since I was a child, was to write a book that somehow captures my world and that people enjoy. At the end of the day, novels are all about entertainment, aren’t they? (Are they? Discuss!) Once I’d started my book, my second dream was to finish the damn thing, because writing a novel is hard. Bloody hard. And very long! Don’t let anyone tell you differently! I’m not always a great completer/ finisher in life – I can get bored and flit onto the next thing – so it became very important to me to actually type THE END … and then to edit it … and then to start polishing. And, then my dream changed to becoming published. To be honest, that feels a bit of a pipe dream at the moment, but I am discovering in myself a depth of tenacity and perseverance I never knew I had, so who knows. You have to keep the faith, don’t you?

Can you tell us about your writing?

I write commercial (hopefully!) women’s fiction and my novel is about a husband and wife whose marriage is tested to the limit after one of their sons is diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. My twitter pitch is as follows:

One son recently diagnosed with autism. One teenager going off the rails. One marriage under pressure. One waistline out of control. And one woman desperately trying to hold it all together.

Writing

When did you know book one was finished?

I didn’t! First time around, I submitted far too early and I still cringe to think of what I send out. I don’t think it had a plot! But I got some requests for the full and some lovely rejections from agents with invitations to re-submit. I’ve now edited the book so we’ll see if it’s ready now. I’m not sure any creative endeavor is ever really finished, but I think I’ve got it as far as I can on my own.

How many people you know have read it? What was that like?

No one in ‘real’ – i.e. non-writing life – has read the whole thing although my family has dipped in and out. Three writing friends asked to read it – Chris Manby, Jane Ayres and Julie Cordiner. They were all enormously supportive and helpful and I’m very grateful to them all. It’s always a bit scary when people you know read something you’ve written but I love sharing my stuff. After all, I think most of us write to be read, don’t we?

How do you make time to write?

I treat it like a job. It’s not my main job yet – although I would love it to be – but I try to be vaguely professional about it. I am a freelance marketing consultant and the work tends to come in peaks and troughs …. Every time there’s a peak, I write in the evening and at weekends. When there’s a trough, I am at my desk from 9 to 5. If the muse comes calling, that’s a bonus!

How important has social media been for you as a writer connecting with other writers? What do you gain from it?

Twitter has been hugely important. Twitter is for writing, Facebook is for friends, LinkedIn for work and WhatsApp for family! Of course, there’s overlap – particularly as writers have become friends – but that’s basically how it works for me. I joined Twitter specifically to connect with the writing community after my friend, Susanna Scott at BritMums suggested it. At first it just seemed like a lot of noise and I was about to leave. Then I found ‘my’ people. More specifically, I found Maddie Please who was then also an aspiring author and she made me laugh. A lot.  Since then it’s been great. I’ve made very genuine friends, found out about retreats and conferences and agents and had a whole lot of fun along the way. And, of course, there are the LLs – Literary Lovelies – a message group where we support each other through the highs and lows. I don’t think I would have finished this book without them.

You regularly write for Susanna Bavin’s blog about how things are going. I’ve found your posts really inspiring as someone on a similar journey but do they help you take stock too?

Thank you, Tara. I’m so thrilled you find my posts inspiring.

I love contributing to Sue’s wonderful blog. I’m so grateful to her for giving me a regular slot. It’s hugely generous of her. I love writing the posts too. Writing and submitting can be such a glacial process that sometimes I wonder if I am making any progress at all but when I sit down to write the post, I realise that, each month, things arehappening albeit very, very slowly. It’s quite cathartic sharing the frustrations and disappointments and wonderful sharing the highs. And I love, love, love all the comments. It helps me feel plugged in to the wider world in what can be a pretty lonely business.

Is there something you have learnt during the process of submitting either to agents or publishers that you wish you had known at the start?

Not really except to make sure that you are actually ready to submit and have a plot rather than blindly pressing the button after Draft One! Also, it may sound contradictory, but make sure that you do submit.

Kirsten Quote

I actually really enjoy the submissions process – I love the thrill of the chase. It’s rather like chasing boys as a teenager. (Who? Me?)  Of course, the rejections aren’t very nice, but once the sting has subsided, I’ve found that every agent’s comment has actually turned out to be gold-dust in helping me move forward.

Are you able to share a little about what are you working on at the moment?

Of course. My second book is a love story set on an archaeological dig and affectionately nick-named Muddy Milly. I wrote about 25k words last summer and then added another 50k during NaNoWriMo last November. Wasn’t Nano fun? I very much enjoyed sharing it with you and the rest of the Ab Fab writers! I’ve just returned to Muddy Milly and – although there is loads of work to do, I’m quite pleased with it. Lots of clunky writing though –  you can really tell when it’s the end of each day and I was just battling to get those words down!

Do you have a top tip to share? Something that has helped you on your writing journey?

Something that Susanna Bavin advised me to do has really helped. Make sure when you stop writing each day, you know how you are going to carry on the next day. Mornings are never my best time, and it’s so dispiriting staring at the screen with a mushy brain and not knowing how or where to start. If you leave something flagged up from the day before, you’re flying!

~

Thank you very much to Kirsten for answering my questions so thoughtfully. I know I suffer from the same issue of sending things out long before they are ready. I think it’s because of the media industry we work in – normally we write something and it’s done. I need to remember that a novel is a VERY different beast and to take my time.

If you’d like to follow Kirsten’s path to publication you can find her on Twitter and you can read her latest blog post for Susanna Bavin here.

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A Look Behind The Book With Jane Davis.

IMG_2953Award winning novelist Jane Davis is about to publish her eighth book, entitled Smash All The Windows, which has already been described as an “all-round triumph”.

In 2008, Jane’s debut, Half-truths And White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award and she was hailed as “one to watch” by The Bookseller.

While she has continued to write compelling fiction it has been on her own terms, which is why I’m delighted to invite her to take centre stage in my latest Behind The Book post so she can tell us about it.

But first, here’s the blurb for her latest book, which is released on Thursday:

For the families of the victims of the St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice should be a cause for rejoicing. For more than 13 years, the search for truth has eaten up everything. Marriages, families, health, careers and finances.

Finally, the coroner has ruled that the crowd did not contribute to their own deaths. Finally, now that lies have been unravelled and hypocrisies exposed, they can all get back to their lives.

If only it were that simple.

rsz_smash_all_the_windows_final_final_ebook_cover 325 x 521 for websiteIf someone asked me to describe your new book in three words I would say it was emotional, hard-hitting and gripping, what would your three words be?

The same three words I always aim for. Honest, authentic and true.

Can you talk about how the story came together? What was your initial inspiration?

You can probably sense from the title that the novel began with outrage. I was infuriated by the press reaction to the outcome of the second Hillsborough inquest. Microphones were thrust at family members as they emerged from the courtroom. It was put to them that, now that it was all over, they could get on with their lives. That had me yelling ‘what lives?’ at the television.

I know it’s a work of fiction but it feels very real, not just the way you present the facts but emotionally too. As someone who suffers from claustrophobia parts of it made me feel breathless. Obviously that’s a sign of amazing writing but how much research was also involved?

The answer is ‘a lot’. My favourite description of fiction is made up truth. I didn’t want to be the one to add to the pain I saw on the faces of the Hillsborough families, so I unpicked elements from Hillsborough and other large-scale disasters such as Aberfan and Bethnal Green and then created a fictional disaster, making sure they were all present.

Because writing should always take you outside your comfort-zone, I combined two of my fears – travelling in rush hour by Tube, and escalators. It helped that I also suffer from claustrophobia, anxiety and vertigo. And it ‘helped’ that I suffered a fall down an escalator at Bank station in 2016. But having chosen an Underground station for my setting, I needed to research how an accident might happen and the particular difficulties that the emergency services would encounter, which meant looking at accident investigations from Kings Cross and London terrorist attacks. In order to demonstrate an element of foreseeability, I documented everything I could about the vulnerabilities of the system and weak spots, and that meant tracking down reports on transport policy, overcrowding, the impact on health, recommendations that haven’t been implemented… the list goes on.

The rule in fiction is that research shouldn’t show up on the page, but I made an exception for Eric, the law student who pieces together the sequence that led to the disaster and, in doing so, overturned a miscarriage of justice. I wanted the reader to really feel that the late nights in front of a screen drove him to the brink of madness.

The story is told from the viewpoint of various characters, male and female, young and older, but they all have distinctive voices. How much prep work do you do in creating such different 3D characters?

I write in what is called ‘close third person’, which means that, instead of writing as a narrator, I’m inside the characters’ heads. I’m not a plotter or a planner. I get to know my characters through writing them. Over the two years that it takes to write a novel, I get to know them pretty well. Of course, it’s helpful to have a character like Jules Roche, my French sculptor, who speaks in broken English and is angry and unguarded, but can also be charismatic and surprisingly vulnerable. It’s far more difficult to create an everyman (or woman) character, like Donovan or Gina or Maggie. These are ordinary people who have found themselves in extraordinary circumstances. I focused on specific characteristics. For Donovan, it was his hidden sorrows. The disaster killed not only his only daughter but his unborn grandchild. It meant the end of his family line. Gina’s son was somewhere he shouldn’t have been at the time of the accident, doing something he shouldn’t have been doing. The disaster not only robbed her of her son and her idea of who her son was, but it also destroyed her idea of who she was. She was not, as she’d thought, a good mother. Maggie’s situation was different. Her daughter was blamed for the disaster, and whilst the verdict overturns this previous ruling, it isn’t popular. She’s someone who’ll always be the outsider.

You won the Daily Mail First Novel Award for Half-truths And White Lies. What was that like? How did you find out?

This was back in 2008. I had only found out about the competition by chance. I attended the Winchester Writer’s Conference for the first time in June of that year. There were many different lectures I could have attended, but I chose to go to a lecture given by Jack Sheffield of Teacher, Teacher! fame and a very nice lady from the publishers, Transworld, whose name I forget. She urged everyone with a finished manuscript to submit it, promising that they would all be read. For me, that was the incentive to enter. At that time I had an agent who had come very close to placing my previous novel (the novel that won the award was actually my second), but the manuscript that became Half-truths And White Lies had been sitting in her ‘in’ tray for six months and she hadn’t found time to read it. The closing date for competition entries was only two days later, so it was a case of getting to the Post Office as soon as it opened and praying it would reach them in time.

The timing of the announcement was absolutely perfect. I knew I had made the longlist when I left my job of 23 years in September. Three weeks later, the honeymoon period was well and truly over. Every time I turned on the television there was talk of financial doom and gloom. I began to worry that leaving a secure job at the start of a recession had been a terrible mistake.

I got the call from Transworld when I was at home on my own and, because I was alone, there was no one to ask, ‘Did that just happen?’ I can completely understand the sentiments expressed by Myrrha Stanford-Smith who, at the age of 82, signed a three-book deal with Honno. She says she insisted on putting down the phone, pulling herself together and ringing them back to make sure it was true. I tried ringing my partner but he was in a meeting. I tried my best friend. Another meeting. Eventually I got through to my mother, so she was the first person to know.

Many people (me included) would assume that winning the award meant your writing career was made but I know from reading your incredibly honest (and helpful) “journey as a writer” page on your website that wasn’t the case. Are you able to tell us what happened next?

JDV-AFFAO2015-CS-02AWThe book sold well and I was told that my job was getting on with writing the next one, which was already well underway. But when I presented my publisher with A Funeral For An Owl, they told me that they loved it but they were going to turn it down because it wasn’t a good fit for their women’s fiction imprint. I admit that I was very naïve and I hadn’t thought to discuss what subject-matter I should have been writing about. I’m a woman and a reader, and I’m still not sure what women’s fiction is. This was the year when the shortlist for what was then called the Orange Prize was incredibly diverse: Room dealt with confinement; Grace Williams Says It Loud, disability; The Tiger’s Wife dealt with living in a time of conflict; Annabel dealt with being a hermaphrodite. None of these issues are women’s issues, they’re human issues. Joanne Harris – one the judges for the Daily Mail First Novel Award – has always argued that there’s no such thing as women’s fiction. But somehow I’d been pigeon-holed.

I love that you managed to keep your passion for writing and your confidence in yourself, which led you down the indie route. What are some of the good things about self-publishing?

With Half-truths And White Lies, my publisher was very prescriptive. They asked me to write a different ending, they changed the title (I’d called it Venn Diagrams) and they gave the book a strong cover which was bang on trend, but it wasn’t right for the book. Self-publishing, on the other hand, allows creative freedom and artistic control. I write about subjects I’m passionate about, without worrying about ticking the right boxes or following the latest trend for psychological thrillers, and I get to collaborate with professionals (structural editors, copy editor, typesetters and cover designer) of my choice, people who share my vision. If something isn’t working, I can react to the market and change it. I changed the cover of my first self-published release, I Stopped Time, because I felt the original design wasn’t working hard enough for me.

Who are your favourite authors and why?

That’s a constantly evolving list but I greatly admire Ali Bacon and Sarah Hall both of whom write so beautifully about life and art and landscape. I also love writers who deviate from linear structures. Here I’m thinking of Jennifer Egan and A Visit From The Goon Squad, Emily St John Mandel and Station Eleven and John Ironmonger and The Coincidence Authority or Not Forgetting The Whale. What I love about these books is that, when you reach the end, you can head straight back to the beginning and start again without feeling that you’ve left the story. Because there’s no beginning, middle and end in the traditional sense, the stories are both cyclical and enduring, like one of Escher’s optical illusions. And you might think that the running order is random, but it takes enormous skill to pull off a work like Goon Squad whose chapters can be read in any order you damn well please, because each has to be perfect and complete. In Station Eleven, the reader remains in the present while the book travels between the near past and a near future in which all technology has been wiped away. And then there’s The Coincidence Authority, where you have the feeling that this is the precise order in which the story must be told, because in fiction the big reveal must come near the end but in life it may show up early.

Jane Davis T

Do you write full-time now? If so what’s your day like? Do you have set office hours?

I work two days a week and write the rest of the time. As with anyone running their own business from home, there are no office hours. My ‘writing time’ includes everything relating to books. I finished writing Smash All The Windows last autumn, but it’s only just coming up for publication some six months later. I receive about 350 emails a day, all of which have to be answered. Much of my time is spent on marketing – not all advertising but writing guest posts and interviews. I do a small amount of self-publishing mentoring, usually by Skype but occasionally in person. This summer I’m giving a series of creative writing ‘masterclasses’ to students preparing for their GCSEs. At the moment there’s preparation to do for pre-launch events. On November 6th I’m compering at Novel London, so I’ve just written the introductions for the speakers and questions to put to them. Next, I’ll be reading entries for a competition that I’m judging. There is no set pattern. I simply do whatever is the most urgent and hope that I don’t drop too many balls.

Can you please share any writing tips for those who might be struggling? 

The only time I ever suffered from writers’ block is when I started a creative writing MA, so my main advice is ignore all of the advice. Every book I read that I love breaks all of the ‘rules’.

quote jane davis

There are many ways to write a novel and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. You learn how to write a novel by writing a novel. My first took me four years and is unpublished. I consider that time well spent.

I love the phrase ‘made up truth’. Jane kindly let me have an advance copy of Smash All The Windows and I actually had to stop reading at one point and Google ‘St Botolph and Old Billingsgate Tube Station’ to see if it was real and if the disaster really did happen (the book is that good). Thank you very much to Jane for sharing her writing journey with us, I was inspired by her answers (I hope you were too).

For more information about Jane you can visit her website, follow her on Twitter or like her Facebook page. Smash All The Windows is released on April 12th but you can pre-order now for the special price of £1.99/$1.99 (price on publication will be £3.99) by clicking here.

If you’ve missed any Behind The Books posts, please check out the archive here.

Book Review: The Endless Beach.

endlessbeachI couldn’t have picked a better book than Jenny Colgan’s The Endless Beach to kick off my New Year reading.

Romantic, emotional, poignant, I could go on and on with a long list of all the things that make it amazing but I won’t.

What I will say is that while I was already a fan of Jenny’s work, this one is now my absolute favourite.

Here’s the blurb:

On the quayside next to the Endless Beach sits the Summer Seaside Kitchen. It’s a haven for tourists and locals alike, who all come to eat the freshest local produce on the island and catch up with the gossip. Flora, who runs the cafe, feels safe and content – unless she thinks too hard about her relationship with Joel, her gorgeous but emotionally (and physically) distant boyfriend. 

While Flora is in turmoil about her relationship. her best friend Lorna is pining after the local doctor. Saif came to the island as a refugee, having lost all of his family. But he’s about to get some shocking news which will change everything for him. 

As cold winter nights shift to long summer days, can Flora find her happy-ever-after with Joel?

I like books set in shops (anything to do with food/chocolate, really) and I thought I had a good idea of what to expect but it completely blew that out of the water.

With a cast of characters who quickly got under my skin, I read well into the night, got up early to continue – and even read in the car and made myself feel a bit ill (that’s Mark’s driving for you) but it was all worth it.

The quality of the writing meant I felt Flora’s frustration and loneliness at Joel’s distance and Saif’s story actually had me in tears but I was heavily invested in all of them, including Flora’s brothers.

As Jenny explains at the start, she first wrote about the tiny island of Mure (where I now want to live) and its residents in A Distant Shore, part of the Quick Reads series, but I hadn’t read it and didn’t have any trouble keeping up.

I’m hoping there might be another book or three in this series, there is so much potential. If there isn’t one already being written I’m going to start a petition to set Jenny to work. As soon as you’ve read this one, I think you’ll join me.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £4.99 (via Amazon).

My rating: Five stars.