A Look Behind The Book With Ian Wilfred.

FullSizeRender 2.jpgIan Wilfred describes his perfect day as going for a walk on the beach with his dog, coming back and enjoying a lovely hot coffee and then writing.

Swap the dog for Freya and coffee for a hot chocolate and Ian and I are on the same page but we also have something else in common – having both adopted Norfolk as our home county.

Ian is the author of three books (so far), after publishing his debut in 2013 and then two more last year. I was so pleased when he agreed to be my first Behind The Book interviewee of 2018.

I hope you enjoy his answers as much as I did.

Can we begin by talking about when you first started writing? Have you written since you were a child or is it a more recent discovery?

My first serious writing started in 2012 and led to me publishing Putting Right The Past in 2013. It all came about as I gave up work to become my dad’s full time carer and, with a lot of time on my hands, I thought this is the perfect time to get started. I had always written little bits but no one had ever seen any of it.

You mention you’re a fan of Mills and Boon. I also love them and think they are totally underrated (as a lot of romantic fiction is). What do you like about them?

Oh yes, I’ve always loved Mills and Boon, their books seem to have been in my life as long as I can remember. Back in November I was very lucky to have lunch with the Norfolk chapter of The Romantic Novelist Association (RNA) and at the lunch were two Mills and Boon authors who between them have written 200 books – I was a little star struck. Also, I’m really looking forward to seeing the new look Mills and Boon as 2018 is the year they are having a big makeover. Exciting times ahead, I think.

Was it Mills and Boon that inspired you to write romance/women’s fiction?

I don’t know if it was Mills and Boon that influenced me but what I write is sort of all I know. I don’t think I could write in any other genre.

ian wilfred quote

I’ve been trying to hunt down statistics for what proportion of women’s fiction writers are men these days but they seem to vary – although they are all on the small side. Were you ever put off by the fact that so few men seem to write that genre – at least under their own names?

In the beginning people thought it a bit strange but there are more and more of us out there now. I know of quite a few that write under female names or just their initials but I’ve stuck to Ian.

 

As you’ve said, you published your debut, Putting Right The Past, in 2013. What was that like? It seems to have been very well received, as all your books have, what did it mean to have people connect with your writing?

I have learnt so much since Putting Right The Past and some things I would change knowing what I know now but not the actual story.  The feed back was lovely, I enjoyed the contact on Twitter and the emails with the readers, bloggers and other authors.

Last year you published two more books, The Little Terrace of Friendships and A Secret Visitor To Saltmarsh Quay. Was it an easier process?

After my dad died we moved from the Midlands to Norfolk. For the first few years, our lives were taken up with getting jobs, decorating, gardening and not forgetting a lot of time on the beach with a new puppy but a few things happened in the family and I felt I needed to return to my little world of writing. I first re-read loads of little projects I had started and that’s when The Little Terrace Of Friendships was born. Everything about that book coming together was so lovely from writing it to meeting Rebecca Emin at Gingersnap Books who organised and formatted it, Nancy Callegari who edited it, Maureen Vincent-Northam, proofreader, and working with the very talented Cathy Helms at Avalon Graphics on the cover. The icing on the cake was having it in the top 30 Amazon holiday chart for several months. It was such a happy time. I feel really blessed and I was so lucky to be able to work with these fabulous ladies again on my last book, A Secret Visitor To Saltmarsh Quay

Do you ever miss any of your characters? They take up such a big chunk of brain space and then suddenly they are gone, it must be like losing a friend in a way.

This is such a great question, Tara, I’ve never been asked this before and I’ve given it a lot of thought. One of the characters in Putting Right The Past was a women whose husband got his comeuppance for lying cheating and being a horrible individual but, as she wasn’t one of the main people in the book, we really didn’t know where her life could go. Perhaps one day I should return to her story and give her a happy ending but I find once I start writing something new I get involved with the new characters and they take over your life in a big way.

Can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment?

My next project (which at this point has three titles, not sure which one I like the most) is off to the lovely Nancy very soon. It is set in Norfolk and again with another fabulous female over 40 called Caroline whose husband has a secret and this leads to her starting a new and exciting life without him.

Do you have any writing tips to share please?

Me give writing tips? I’m the one always asking authors for their tips and they are so helpful and generous with their advice. The best bit of advice I have been given over and over again is keep writing everyday – even if it’s just a couple hundred words. I work full time so it’s not easy. I manage to write something about five days a week; anything from two hundred to three thousand words. I never go back I just plough through until I write THE END and that’s when the hard work for me starts – back at page one rewriting, cutting, adding, getting rid of characters that don’t need to be there and adding new ones doing this over and over again until I’m happy with it.

~

Thank you very much to Ian for kicking off the 2018 series of Behind The Book, I love how modest he is – even with three very well received books under his belt. If you’d like to know more about him you can chat via Twitter or check out his page on Amazon here.

I’ve got some more fabulous authors lined up for this year so please pop back.

Advertisements

A Look Behind The Book With Lynsey James.

me in jumperA school careers adviser once told Lynsey James that writing wasn’t a “good option”.

Six books later, I suspect she has something to say about that – and she’s still only in her 20s.

Her latest novel, A Winter’s Wish Come True, is a follow up to A Season Of Hopes And Dreams, which I was delighted about, as it marks a return of one of my favourite heroines of the year.

I was excited when Lynsey agreed to talk to me for my final Behind The Book post of 2017 as it was a chance to find out more about Cleo Jones and the inspiration behind her.

What a cracker to end on, as I hope you’ll agree.

Despite what the careers adviser told you, here you are a full time writer (yay!). Where did the confidence to follow your dreams come from? Has it been as you imagined?

Wow, what a brilliant first question to kick things off with. I think support from my family has definitely contributed to my confidence to follow my dreams. They’ve always believed I could do it, even when I didn’t. Apart from that, I genuinely couldn’t imagine loving anything as much as I love writing. It’s like oxygen to me. It’s been different to how I imagined, but in a good way. I’ve learned so much and made lots of amazing friends along the way.

What does your day look like? Do you treat it as a 9-5pm job? You’re still in your 20s, can you imagine doing anything else?

I get up, have breakfast, watch a bit of telly and then crack on with my writing. I don’t treat it as a 9-5 job as such, but I do structure my writing time and do some writing every day. If I don’t, things don’t feel right! I can’t imagine doing anything else, if I’m honest. Writing has always felt like the most natural thing in the world to me; I love it and I’ll do it forever if I can.

Can you talk about your path to publication? Did you submit your first book to agents or publishers? Was it an immediate hit?

I submitted my first book to agents first of all, and was lucky enough to get some amazing constructive feedback. Although they said no, I used the feedback to improve my draft and sent it off to Carina UK (now HQ Digital). A couple of weeks later, I got that wonderful email saying they’d like to publish me! It really was a dream come true. I signed with my awesome agent Sarah a year or so later. She’s a dynamo and truly the best in the business.

 

You now have an amazing SIX books under your belt, is there anything you know now that you wish you had known with your first novel? Are you ever tempted to go back and change something?

Wow, I know! Six books feels absolutely insane to think about. That’s a difficult question to answer because on the one hand, there are things I’d change if I was writing my first book now but on the other hand, I’m proud of how it turned out. And it’s kind of fun to see how my writing’s changed from book one to six.

I became a fan of your work after reading A Season Of Hopes And Dreams. I loved that your heroine had real struggles that she was still in the thick of. How much research did you do on the sensitive issues you tackle? What made you write her as still in the midst of them rather than having had them in the past?

A lot of the research actually came from my own experiences with body dysmorphia. It’s been in my life since I was teenager, but it got really bad a couple of years ago when I was trying to lose a significant amount of weight. I felt like I couldn’t trust my own self-perception and it really affected my confidence. It’s less severe now, but it really informed my decision to write Cleo as being in the midst of her struggles with it. I thought the journey would be an interesting one to write, and hoped it might help people going through similar things in their own lives. Body dysmorphia isn’t something I’ve seen a lot of in books, so to me it felt important to tell the story and to show how things can and do get better.

Your most recent book follows Cleo again. Can you talk about why you chose to continue her story (I’m thrilled you did).

In all honesty, I absolutely love Cleo. She’s one of my favourite characters I’ve ever written and I didn’t feel ready to say goodbye to her. I was talking to A L Michael, one of my best friends, and she told me to go for it and write a second part to Cleo’s story. I’m really glad I did!

I’m interested in the books you read – from your blog reviews you seem to have eclectic taste. Will there be a switch in writing genre for you in the future?

Never say never! I love to read a whole mix of books, so I’m really open to trying new things. As long as I’m creating stories for people to hopefully enjoy, I’m happy.

Did you ever consider using a pen name?

I haven’t so far, but if I decide to switch genres then I would.

Are you able to share what you working on at the moment?

I wish I could! All I’ll say is it’s top-secret and will be out next year. Watch this space for more announcements…

Do you have any writing tips you can pass on?

Read as many different books as you can. Have fun and don’t be afraid to experiment.

lynseyquote

 

~

Thank you very much to Lynsey for answering my questions so honestly, I really appreciate her opening up about her own struggles – and I have no doubt that Cleo Jones is an inspiration to many people, myself included.

You can find out more about Lynsey via her website, on Twitter or buy her books via her Amazon page here. Her latest, A Winter’s Wish Come True, is currently £1.99.

I’m looking forward to posting some more Behind The Book interviews in the New Year but, just in case you have missed any, you can find the archive here.

A Look Behind The Book With Jen Mouat.

JenMJust a few years after visiting the Wigtown Book Festival for the first time, Jen Mouat found herself speaking in front of an audience about her own novel, Summer At Bluebell Bank.

It was especially significant because Scotland’s National Book Town also inspired part of her debut, which follows the story of two childhood friends, Kate Vincent and Emily Cotton, who reunite to make the rundown bookshop Emily has bought a success.

I loved it (you can find my review here) and couldn’t wait to go Behind The Book to find out more.

Currently writing her second novel (as well as working full time), Jen very kindly took some time out to answer my questions.

Where did the idea for your debut come from and how did you develop it?

In 2010 my then boyfriend took me to a beautiful holiday cottage in Dumfries and Galloway and proposed, overlooking Rigg Bay – the location which really inspired Summer at Bluebell Bank. Rigg Bay becomes a special place for Kate and Emily in the book. It was on this trip that I first discovered Wigtown. Dumfries and Galloway was an important place for me, thanks to very special childhood holidays there, but I fell in love with Scotland’s National Book Town, and with the location of one bookshop in particular. I started writing some scenes featuring an unlikely book proprietor, seeking refuge in her new bookshop from everything life has thrown at her, but with no clue how to actually run a business, and also playing with the idea of a girl returning to a childhood haven to find the place and people are not as she left them. This is an important theme running through the book. There was always tension within Emily and Kate’s friendship – I loved exploring their secrets and the idea of good friends being the family you choose, but not being perfect.

Quite a few secrets come out during the story, did that require a lot of planning? How long did it take to write? 

I probably should have been more thorough and organised as I ended up planning retrospectively a lot, rewriting and tying myself in knots with the plot far more than I would have liked. In total the book took me about four years to complete, but I kept taking breaks to write bits and pieces on other projects too because I had several ideas and just couldn’t decide which idea to run with. In future, I’ll definitely take the time to do more thorough planning from the outset.

How did you know it was ready to submit to publishers and what was that like? Was it an immediate hit? How did you find out it was going to be published? 

I definitely knew I wanted to take the route of finding an agent – I think I needed the support of a professional on my side and wasn’t confident enough to approach publishers unsolicited; I also felt that whilst I might be able to write a bit, I knew nothing about how to turn my scribblings into a fully fledged novel and needed lots of help. I don’t know that I ever consider my work ‘ready’ and that is still a bit of a problem for me. I’d previously never shown my writing to anyone at all and I was terrified of it being read – I still am to be honest. However, I am lucky to have an incredibly supportive best friend and I let her read a few chapters of the book in 2014; she kept demanding more so I finished it, but looking back it was still extremely rough around the edges at that stage. About the same time, my friend spotted an opportunity to pitch to the agent I’d been desperate to represent me, Jenny Brown. Jenny’s list was closed at that time, but she was offering short pitch sessions at Wigtown Book Festival. I knew right away this was an amazing opportunity and I jumped at it. Although Jenny loved the premise of the book, it still took several rewrites – including cutting 50 000 words – before she signed me up and considered it ready for publishers. I had several publishers reject the manuscript before it was accepted by HQ Digital – one very lovely rejection, a few polite disappointments and one that was rather brutal! It was just a week or so before Christmas 2016 when I got the offer from HQ. Jenny had left me a message which I managed to completely miss and I received a email from her asking me to call. She told me an editor at HQ was really enthusiastic about the book and wanted to publish. She thought I was just being really cool about it by not responding, but in truth I had missed her message and was then was running about the school screaming (I’m a teacher, but thankfully the children had left for the day!)

cover115657-medium-2It’s had a very positive response from readers, how did you feel when that first review came in? Were you worried beforehand? 

Like I said, I was always extremely nervous about people reading my writing – my husband didn’t even get to read a word until after I’d been accepted by my agent and sent it off to publishers. It felt very personal and scary to open myself up that way, but it definitely helped having the positivity and support of a great agent and editor. When the first reviews came in I had to have various family members read them first before I could bring myself to look. It is so incredibly thrilling to get great responses from readers, I’ll ever get complacent about that, no matter how many books I write and I am so appreciative for each and every review. I knew very little about the book blogging world before I got published, but book bloggers have been so instrumental in creating a buzz around the book and giving me confidence about putting my baby out there. Several of them even reduced me to tears – in a good way! I don’t think I’ll ever top the excitement of publication day for Summer at Bluebell Bank, and seeing those five star reviews popping up on Amazon.

I know you studied illustration and printmaking and now work as a primary school teacher, where does writing fit in? Was it always a dream to publish a book?

My background is in art and I’ve always enjoyed a variety of creative pursuits. Although I still love to draw as a hobby, writing has been my dream from a very young age. The earliest I can remember imagining being an author I think I was eight. I’d discovered Anne of Green Gables and everything I wrote was essentially Anne fan fiction back then. I learned my craft by reading avidly and writing loads – inspired by whatever I was reading at the time. My agent describes it as working my apprenticeship in my bedroom, which is totally true. There came a point when I realised if I didn’t do something different nothing would change. I got serious about writing about seven years ago and started dreaming with more determination. Being a teacher is a massive privilege, but it obviously keeps me extremely busy so I have to fit writing around a full time job. I’m a deputy head teacher at the moment, so I fill my weekends and holidays with writing. I also do a lot of plotting on the commute to work and whilst walking the dog. I think having different facets to my life is important for balance as it helps me to be a better writer.

Would you like to own a bookshop like Emily? 

I suspect I would be a terrible bookshop owner – like Emily I would just create my own personal library and customers would get in the way! I do like the idea of books and tea tasting, like in Summer at Bluebell Bank, although I also think beer and books would be a great combination.

What about your own reading habits? Are there any particular genres you really enjoy? 

I’ve always described myself as a bookworm and that’s become quite an important part of my identity I think. However, with all the editing and writing and publicity recently, on top of a full time, full-on job I’ve found in the last year I’ve definitely had to carve out reading time for myself. I read every day, even if it’s just a few pages and my colleagues know to ignore me if I turn up in the staffroom with a book. I go through stages, but my current favourite genres are probably Crime Fiction – I grew up reading every Agatha Christie I could find in my Dad’s collection – YA – a recent obsession I can’t seem to get enough of right now, and anything about books and bookshops. As a teenager I read a lot of historical and women’s fiction – often picking up books that were a bit too grown up for me – and I’ve always loved stories that explore friendship and family.

Have you got any writing rituals? I’m assuming you write on a computer but do you need a new notebook to plan a new story? Or have you got a special pen you use? 

I do the hard graft on computer because it’s fast and I can really get into a rhythm, but to get inspired I love a notebook. All my books start out with ideas and scenes in longhand. I’m utterly obsessed with stationery, so there are always several new notebooks waiting to be used. I’m quite particular about design, feel and paper quality and I consider myself something of a connoisseur. My family buy me a lot of notebooks and pens. I like the idea of a special pen – again I’m fussy about how they feel to write with – but my bag is invariably filled with about twenty different ones in every colour you can imagine, so it’s usually whatever comes to hand. I find I write best in the morning, and if I exceed a four hour stretch my husband reckons I go a bit loopy. After a stint at the computer I find a walk with the dog or a spot of yoga helps me switch off and unwind.

Wigtown is obviously a very important place for you and this year you got to speak at its festival about your book, was that a dream come true? 

Speaking at the Wigtown Book Festival was an amazing experience. It was something I set out to achieve from the first time I visited the festival in 2014. My best friend and I sat in the audience listening to an author talk about her book, then she turned to me and said ‘that will be you next year.’ Of course, it wasn’t the next year, but it did happen three years later. That was definitely a turning point for me, because we stopped talking about ‘if’ I got published and spoke instead about ‘when.’ It helped me to really believe that it would happen and get serious about my writing and my intention to be an author. Wigtown has been massively important to me, not only because my book is set there, but also in terms of shaping me as a writer. Speaking there, about my debut novel, with my friends and family in the audience felt quite miraculous!

Can you talk about what you’re working on now? Is a second novel as difficult as they say? 

Yes! I think for me it’s always been difficult to focus in on one thing. I always have lots of ideas for books, but one thing I’ve learned is that it’s a long road from an idea to an actual book. Since my time is so limited it’s really important that I focus on the right thing. I met with my agent recently to suggest two possible ideas for my next novel – one a sequel to Summer at Bluebell Bank – and the other a bit of a departure in that it has a younger protagonist and is inspired by my love of mysteries. My agent’s advice to me was to write what I was most excited about, and I’ve settled on the latter. I think the sequel will be written at some point, but for now I’m enjoying the change of pace and liking dipping my toe into a slightly different genre. I’m loving writing the second book and it definitely gives me confident to already have been published.

Any top tips for getting a book published? 

You have to be prepared to put in the hours. Books don’t write themselves and much as you might love writing, the editing process is proper hard work for little immediate reward so you have to have that drive to write, the conviction to keep going.

For me, it’s been really crucial to develop self belief and having a friend to read my work and encourage me was really integral to that. It’s scary to tell people you’re writing a book – there’s always that scepticism, so it’s important to have someone in your corner. I’d definitely recommend finding an agent too – they really know what makes a book come together and what publishers are looking for. Find out about the agent you want, get to know the other authors on their list and what they like.

Jen Mouat quote real

 

Finally, I think it’s about the small goals – I now set myself simple targets, even if I write for fifteen minutes on a work day I count that as a achievement. I don’t think in terms of the finished book, or sometimes even a chapter; a decent paragraph can be enough to make me give myself a pat on the back.

~

Always lovely to meet a fellow stationery addict and what fantastic answers. I love that Jen got other people to read her reviews first. If I ever get that far I would be exactly the same. Sending best wishes to Jen for her second novel – although I also can’t wait for the follow up to Summer At Bluebell Bank (let’s hope she writes fast).

You can keep up to date with Jen’s progress by following her on Twitter and liking her Facebook page. You can also buy her debut from Amazon here.

I’ll be back with another Behind The Book post for you later this month.