A Look Behind The Book With Carla Burgess.

IMG_1996 2There are some characters I continue to think about long after I’ve turned the final page of a book – and ex-soldier, Sam, the hero in Carla Burgess’ first novel, Marry Me Tomorrow, is one of them.

Luckily, Carla seems just as unwilling to let them go and one of the joys of reading her second and third novels was coming across little updates about Sam and her other creations (must try and remember they are not real people).

She released Stuck With You (which I adored, even though it starts with people trapped in a lift and I’m claustrophobic) in April this year and has just published her most recent, Meet Me Under The Mistletoe (review to follow).

I’ve been wanting to chat to her for ages and I was thrilled when she agreed to feature in my Behind The Book series. Thank you to Carla for not only answering my questions but also giving us peek at her very first (as yet unpublished) book she wrote and illustrated, which I think you’re going to love.

Marry Me Tomorrow was published after you responded to a Tweet from HQ Digital asking for submissions of stories that start with a proposal. Had you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes, I’d wanted to be a writer ever since I was little. It’s weird but I remember being amazed when I discovered that someone had actually physically wrote the books that I read and loved. I don’t know how I thought they’d been made, but I was only little at the time. I suppose I just thought they were written hundreds of years ago and passed down through the generations, and no new books were ever made! But when I found out, I thought what an amazing job that would be. So when I got a bit older, I decided to write my own. I was so in love with Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers books that I wrote my own book about a boarding school. I also adored horses so it had a lot of horses in it too. My daughter was looking through it the other day and laughing at my home-made illustrations!

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I absolutely love this!

What happened after you submitted Marry Me Tomorrow? Did you already have the story written? If not how long did it take to write? Had you written any stories before?

I had only written one chapter and a synopsis for Marry Me Tomorrow, and that was completely in response to the tweet. Prior to that, I’d been writing a short story for an online writing course I was doing, and that had been about a homeless teenager who was in love with a girl he’d seen in a café. There had been lots of media coverage about the increasing rate of homelessness and how each homeless person has a different story to tell. Once you start hearing the stories, it becomes clear that it could happen to any one of us if our circumstances were to change. Basically, I really wanted to write a story about a homeless man, so I decided to adapt my initial idea and start from there. HQ (or Carina, as they were called then) phoned me back shortly after receiving it, and said they would like me to write it. I think I was given four months to write the first draft, which was daunting as I’d spent the previous ten or so years writing and rewriting just one book. But, at the same time, I knew I could do it because the previous November I’d participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and managed to write 50,000 words in a month.

You’ve just published your third book, Meet Me Under The Mistletoe, and, as I’ve already revealed, characters from your previous books make little cameos, which makes me so happy. Did you always plan for that? 

Ah, I’m so glad you liked that aspect of it. I love books where characters from previous stories pop up and readers can check how they’re getting on with their lives (Yes, they have real lives!). For instance, many years ago I read Rivals by Jilly Cooper and fell so in love with Rupert and Taggie’s story that I look for updates about them whenever she brings a new book out. I feel so excited and happy when they actually do pop up that it’s made me want to do that in my own books.

How do you know when your books are finished? Is there ever a temptation to write just one more chapter?

Definitely. I think that’s why I’m writing a sequel to Meet Me Under The Mistletoe! Rachel and Anthony have so much more to give and I don’t want to say goodbye to them yet.

Writing is often said to be a lonely profession. Do you find that? Does it bother you and if so how do you combat it?

It can be, but I have my lovely dog to keep me company, and I share my writing room with a bearded dragon who is very friendly too. I listen to music while I work so it doesn’t get too quiet, and I drop into Twitter and Facebook fairly regularly. Too regularly, to be honest. Also, the children are back from school before I know it.

How hard is it to come up with titles? Do they usually come as you’re writing?

Titles are so, so hard! Anything I come up with is usually changed by my editor anyway, but I trust her to know the market and what works so I’m quite happy to go with whatever she suggests.

How long have you been writing for? Do you do it full time now? If you don’t, how do you make time to write?

As I said before, I used to write a lot when I was a child. It tailed off as I got older and homework and studying took over, but I always had stories in my head and would often daydream about them instead of getting on with what I was supposed to be doing. After doing a degree in English literature and Psychology, I took a job as an editor on a trade journal called Medical Device Technology and really that took care of my urge to write for a long time. Also, I got married, bought a house and started having children, so I felt like I didn’t have the time. But then, in 2004, I lost my sister to cancer and I felt like I needed an outlet for my feelings so writing became a sort of therapy for me. So, for the past thirteen years I’ve been writing properly. In the beginning, when I was still working, I’d write in the evening after the kids had gone to bed, but after having my third child and being made redundant, I decided to stay home with the children and now I am able to write full time. It’s funny because I used to feel guilty about the time I spent writing. I would constantly be thinking ‘I shouldn’t be doing this, I should be doing some housework instead’. So now, as well as being a dream come true, being published has also been quite liberating because now I think ‘Yes! I am doing what I should be doing!’

How do you write your heroes? They all seem so different. Do you have to fall for them a bit too or are you matching them to your heroine? Speaking of which, are any of them based on you?

 I think I’m a little bit in love with all of my heroes and I find it helps if I pick an actor or some kind of famous person to gaze at while I’m creating them! This, I find, is a major perk of my job! I suppose they have to match up to the heroines as well as the plot, and I think for the reader to love them they have to be kind and funny, and treat the heroine right. Sam from Marry Me Tomorrow had to be quite rugged because he was a homeless ex-soldier. Daniel was a tree surgeon and also a guitarist in a band, so I wanted him to be quite outdoorsy and confident. And Anthony is basically Tom Hiddleston. There, I said it. Obviously, the reader will create their own impression of what the hero looks like, so I shouldn’t really influence them in anyway, but that is who I based him on. Oooh, imagine if Tom Hiddleston walked into your flower shop?! Swoon! As for my heroines, I suppose all of them will have some aspect of me in them because I wrote them, but at the same time, I’m quite conscious of the fact that I don’t want them to be too much like me either.

I know you’ve just published your latest book but are you already working on something new? If so can you tell us anything about it?

I am frantically writing the sequel to Meet Me Under The Mistletoe, which should be out sometime in the spring.

Any writing tips you can pass on?

My one big tip is to try and join a writing group. It was easier for me because Authonomy was still in existence, so you could put up your manuscript and people would read and critique it. I wrote for years without showing anybody what I wrote, so it was a big boost to my confidence when people read my work and said it was actually okay. Authonomy has shut down now, but I know there are various online writing groups out there. On top of critiquing each other’s work, you get to share tips and information about the industry, and that can be invaluable. And as for the actual writing:

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Reading Carla’s answers really put a smile on my face, I hope you enjoyed them too. I know just what she means when she talked about feeling guilty for writing before she was published. I am exactly the same. In fact, I’m taking part in NaNoWriMo at the moment and have been lucky enough to buddy up with an amazing group of women, many of whom have also spoken about similar issues. Does anyone else feel guilty about time they spend writing?

You can discover more about Carla and her wonderful books by following her on Twitter, checking out her website or heading straight for Amazon where you can buy her books, including her latest, which is only 99p at present.

I’ll have another Behind The Book post for you next month.

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A Look Behind The Book With Jessica Redland.

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I fell in love with the story behind Jessica Redland’s debut, Searching For Steven, before I even opened the book – although that more than lived up to my (very high) expectations.

Since then she’s written four more wonderfully romantic, funny, feel good stories with the latest, Bear With Me, released earlier this year (and, at the time of writing, having ALL five star reviews on Amazon).

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing and in my latest Behind The Book interview, Jessica not only offers some fantastic insight into the writing process and indie publishing but she also has some very helpful and encouraging advice for anyone perhaps having the odd doubt about their own work (ME!).

I am really thrilled to share her answers with you.

I LOVE the backstory to your first book, Searching For Steven, can you please share it again?

Aw, thank you. In the early noughties, I was working in Reading as a graduate recruitment and development manager. My manager often said that my reports read like a story and I should write a book. He’d planted the seed but I had no idea what I’d write about so I pushed it aside.

In 2002, I’d split up with my boyfriend and our house was on the market. The original plan had been to stay in Reading and buy a house on my own, but I had this gnawing idea of moving back home to the north-east and setting up a teddy bear shop. Slightly different! A friend gave me a gift voucher for a telephone clairvoyant. It wasn’t really my thing but I decided that it was worth giving her a call. Perhaps talking through the situation with a stranger might help me get some clarity in my own mind.

The clairvoyant told me that I would move back home and open my own business and she was very accurate about when this would be and how long I’d live with my parents before moving into my own home. She also told me that I’d meet the man of my dreams when I moved back home and he’d be called Steven. How exciting! And what was equally exciting – perhaps moreso – was that I suddenly had the illusive idea for my story.

So, you had a fabulous story idea but had you always wanted to be a writer? How did you get started on your first book? How long did it take to write and how many versions did you do before you started to send it off to publishers? 

I’d love to say that it was six months, or even a year, but I’d be telling a porky pie. It actually took me well over a decade to write Searching For Steven. The clairvoyant conversation which prompted the premise for the novel happened in September 2002 and it brewed for a few months. I moved back home in April the following year and opened my bear shop the month after. It was then that I started putting fingers to keyboard.

I have no idea how many versions I wrote of Steven but it was a huge number. HUGE! I started in first person, then changed it all to third, then changed it back again. I started in past tense, then changed it to present, but thankfully changed my mind on that one before I’d changed the whole manuscript. The beginning caused me an absolute nightmare. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said I had about 40 different versions of that.

Over the next decade, I wrote and re-wrote Steven many, many times. I had significant periods of time where I didn’t write at all, though, and had several life events during the years like closing my business, getting married, having a baby, moving three times, and changing job several times.

In 2012, I joined the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) through their New Writers’ Scheme (NWS). I knew that Steven was overly-long but was ready to seek his critique by early August that year. I edited him (including the start again) based on that feedback and put him through again the next year, then massively edited him again after that second critique (and yes, you’ve guessed it, the start changed yet again!)

It was late 2014 when I felt he was ready to seek a home with a publisher or agent. Yes, it was scary, but it’s one of those things you just have to crack on with. Several of the publishers insisted on postal submissions so I had many nervous waiting for the post to arrive days. The thing that surprised me about the process was that I didn’t get upset at any passes. Getting a no meant that I at least knew the outcome and could move on with a new submission. The hardest challenge was publishers who promised a 12-week turnaround … then took a whopping 9 months to say no! This actually happened to me twice. That’s a very, very long-time to be kept nervously waiting.

You secured a three-book deal but parted company with your publisher in 2016 to go it alone. Can you talk a little about your decision?

In summer 2014, I’d been submitting to publishers and agents for about nine months. I’d had a couple of “near misses” from agents (really positive feedback to say that they loved it but only took one or two new writers a year and didn’t love it quite enough to make me one of them) but I hadn’t found a home for Steven. I had him with three more publishers and had decided that I was going to wait for the outcome of those submissions but not try any others. If none of them wanted Steven, I was going to go indie. I was really into the idea and fully expected that to be the way I got my work out there so I was a little stunned when two of the final three offered me a publishing deal. It was a tough decision because, deep down, I thought indie was right for me, but I knew I’d regret turning down the opportunity of a publishing deal and that, if it didn’t work out, I could still go indie later.

Everything was fine at first. My publisher was new and they were really enthusiastic and committed to making it work but this seemed to wane over time and, when the owner secured another job, I wondered if the writing was on the wall for the company. After the trilogy was released, I had an open and honest conversation with the owner and she agreed to release me from my contract and revert my rights back to me.

It wasn’t an easy decision to part company. Steven was doing reasonably well. He certainly wasn’t setting the Amazon charts alight but I was selling a reasonable number of copies each day. I worried about losing that momentum, but I knew that I would feel happier being indie and that there was nothing I was getting from my publisher that I couldn’t do myself. I liked the idea of being in control of my covers, deadlines, pricing, promotions and so on.

What I hadn’t expected was how much momentum I’d actually lose. Although I was able to get all reviews transferred, it was like completely starting from scratch and I had several months where I sold no copies at all which was pretty heart-breaking. It took a free promotion on Steven over May Bank Holiday weekend in celebration of the launch of my fourth novel to finally get sales moving again.

The ideas just kept coming and you’ve written four more since Steven. Are they all taken from things that have happened to you? How much of you is in the books?

 

When I started writing Steven, I quickly realised I had a trilogy on my hands because, as I developed the characters of her two best friends, Elise (the focus of Getting Over Gary) and Clare (the focus of Dreaming About Daran), I knew they both had stories to tell that were way bigger than a sub-plot in Steven would allow. Their stories are 100% fictional, as are they as characters. Raving About Rhys is a novella set before Steven and, again, it’s purely from the depths of my imagination.

Steven, however, has a lot of me in it and the protagonist, Sarah, is predominantly modeled on me. When I set up my teddy bear shop, I arrived at work one day to find a business card through the door for a sign-maker … called Steve. I got a call from a company to say a rep was in the area … called Stephen. Eek! Stevens/Steves/Stephens seemed to be everywhere so I used these types of scenarios in the story, although how they played out is very different. I certainly didn’t humiliate myself like Sarah did when Stephen the plasterer arrived. Sarah’s personality and her phrases are very me too. Friends and family members who’ve read the book tell me how much of me they can spot.

As for Bear With Me, I am indeed an arctophile (collector of teddy bears). I ran my teddy bear shop and I can also make jointed bears so I drew on that experience and passion. My shop was called Bear’s Pad and I’ve given that name to my protagonist’s mum’s cottage. The bears I make are called Ju-Sea Bears so I used that brand in the book too. Other than those nods to my past, the knowledge about bears and the experience of having a bear shop and being a bear-maker, everything in Bear With Me is absolute fiction.

How do you deal with it if the odd person doesn’t who like your books as much as you’d like? Do you take it personally?

I’ve mainly had amazing reviews for Steven but there have been a couple of reviews where the readers haven’t loved Sarah quite so much, saying she’s naïve or silly and wouldn’t do those things. I don’t take this personally and, because I know that I’ve been in some of those situations myself, I know how I reacted and if that was naïve or silly, so be it.

How soon into book one did you have the idea for book two? And how do you develop it, are you a planner or do you write and see where the words take you?

Although I set out to write a standalone novel, I discovered I had a trilogy on my hands pretty quickly. I needed Sarah to have two best friends so that one would believe the clairvoyant reading (Elise) and one would be completely dismissive of it (Clare) and their perspectives would pull Sarah in two different directions. As the two characters developed, Clare in particular held my interest. Elise is a very placid individual and Clare’s quite spiky and I felt that there had to be something in her past which had made her that way. Her story is the final one in the trilogy but it’s my favourite as it’s full of twists and turns.

When it comes to my writing approach, I’m part-plotter and part-pantser. With Steven, I knew what the ending would be and kept writing and experimenting until I got there. With so many re-writes, I decided that I would plan Gary to avoid being in that situation again. But I didn’t end up sticking to the plan because my characters kept pulling me in different directions so I decided there was something in the “just go with it” approach. With Daran, I had a loose plan but massively developed him as I wrote, then tweaked a few plot holes in the editing process. Bear was the same; a rough idea and he pretty much wrote himself.

Can you talk a little about the technical side of self-publishing. How difficult is it?

I’m lucky because my husband’s day job is as a typesetter so he lays out the pages for me and converts them into the file that’s needed for KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). He has also designed all of my covers so I leave the technical bits to him. It’s pretty straightforward, though.

After release, there’s a KDP dashboard on which all your books sit. You can make changes through that e.g. to categories and pricing. You can also keep track of sales by the hour which is helpful.

Is writing your full-time job? If not when do you find the time to write. How soon after one book is finished to you start another?

I wish! It would be amazing to write every day and earn enough from that to pay the mortgage but that is a distant dream. Other than my career break with Bear’s Pad, I’ve always worked in Human Resources. Now I’m an HR Tutor. I work from home, marking assignments for students studying their CIPD (the HR professional qualification). I also tutor on weekend workshops and I’m a Brown Owl, running a Brownie Pack for 24 seven to 10 year olds.

Time to write is therefore rare and precious. I don’t watch much TV which helps, I’m used to working very long days (often still working until 10 or 11pm), and I grab my moments were I can although I wish I had a lot more time.

When I worked on the trilogy, I had a stage where all three of them were a work in progress in that I was still editing Steven for publication, still editing Gary ready for submitting to my publisher, and still writing Daran. I would have moved onto Bear straight after Daran but my day job was so demanding that I had to take a few months off before I could work on that. As soon as I’d published Bear, I started on my Christmas novella and I’m hoping to have that finished in a couple of months so I can start working on another full-length novel.

Any words of encouragement for those who are perhaps struggling with either writing their stories or getting them published?

Think about why you write. I’d imagine that, for most pre-published writers, it’s because they couldn’t imagine not writing. Creating characters and worlds gives them joy. Hang onto that joy. It can be really easy to lose this when you’re getting rejections, or when you get your work out there but it doesn’t sell loads, or when you get your first low-star review.

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Don’t give up when you get rejections because it doesn’t mean your writing is poor; it just means it’s not right for that publisher or agent at that particular time. But it may be for someone. Or it may be that you were meant to go indie instead.

And, it’s got to be asked, did you find your Steven?

Ha ha ha. No! I came across several Stevens in my search but the closest I came to romance was a few dates with a Simon who then dumped me by text, confessing that he’d only started seeing me to make his ex jealous and it had worked. Nice! A couple of months after opening Bear’s Pad, I met Mark and we’ll have been married for 13 years this September. His middle name and his surname have no connection to the name Steven.

Thank you so much to Jessica for taking the time to answer my questions in such detail. I found them really entertaining but also inspiring; I was buzzing with enthusiasm for my own story after I read them. I hope, if you are in need of a little encouragement, they do the same for you. Thanks also to Susanna Bavin (her debut, The Deserter’s Daughter, is out now) for introducing us.

If you enjoy contemporary romance I can highly recommend Jessica’s books (I’m a HUGE fan, can you tell?). You can also find out more about her work via her website , you can buy her books via Amazon and also follow her on Twitter.

I’ll have another Behind The Book post for you later in the month but for now you can catch up if you’ve missed any here.

 

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.

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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.