Are your books based on real people/true stories?
No, all the main characters in my books are fictitious, but the historical events depicted there are accurate, and sometimes I’ll include as a minor character an actual person.
What do you see as the major themes in your books?
I think the prevailing theme in all of my writing is the effect State or Government decisions have on the ordinary person. But I’m also interested in different perceptions of reality – how do we see each other? How ‘real’ is that perception? Whose interpretation is correct? And is there even such a thing as a true interpretation?
Where do you get your story ideas from?
Pretty much everywhere! A conversation I overhear, a documentary I see, a person in the street that catches my attention… For example, the idea for my short story ‘I’m not here‘ came about when I was in town one day, and this elderly Asian woman – a street person – passed me, mumbling ‘I’m not here, I’m not here, I’m not here’. I wondered what could have happened in her life to make her wish she wasn’t here, and the story developed from there.
When you get an idea for a story, is it an event, a scene, or a character that comes first?
Usually it’s a character, like in the example above, or two contrasting characters. I then build a story around them.
How do you write your first draft? Do you use an outline? Edit the previous day’s work as you go? Seeing how your stories cover a long period of time, how do you keep tract of it all?
When I have the germ of an idea for a story, I usually know where my character is from, and approximately when the story will take place. So I start researching the place – it’s history, it’s culture, it’s fashions, it’s foods, it’s people and so on. And as I do so, more ideas for my story develop. So I start an Excel sheet. Across the horizontal access I have a column for each character [I don’t have to have names for them yet – eg: ‘Chinese boy’, ‘Australian guy’ and so on]. I also add extra columns for each place/town/country my story will be set in, and one last column always called ‘World events’ – in that column I add any world event that can’t be ignored and has to influence my story – for example, a world war. Across the vertical access I have one row for every year my story will spread across [and add more rows as I research specific events I want to remember]. As I research, I add short notes in each relevant cell.
I usually have a very rough idea of how my story will start, and how it will finish [and sometimes a couple of things I’d like to happen to my characters in between]. So the problem then is how do I get my characters from point A to point Z? The Excel sheet helps there, because it lets me know, for example, whether my character is old enough to be called up for military service when a war is declared, and so on. I don’t do a very detailed outline – just little ideas building up as they arrive. Slowly slowly…. Of course, when I start writing, everything can change!
I semi-edit as I go. By that, I mean I start my writing day by reading what I wrote the previous day, and fix any obvious errors in continuity and so on. And sometimes, if my story has taken a different turn, then I have to go back to make earlier sections fit. Just little tweaks here and there.
Do you write every day?
It depends what you mean by ‘write’. If you mean do I tap keyboard keys every day, then the answer’s ‘no’. But I do writing related things every day, such as more research, more reading, more trying to work out further plot development and so on. To me, that’s also ‘writing’.
Do you write the way you want to write, or do you think about what readers would like, and write to that?
I think writing to what you think readers would like is a dangerous practice. I mean, which reader? And how can you possibly know what they’d really like? One reviewer of That Devil’s Madness mentioned that this was not a book she’d have chosen to read, except that it was a gift – ended up she really liked it! So I think you’re setting yourself up for failure if you try that. And let’s face it – you can’t please everyone all of the time! So I write to tell the story I want to tell, in the best way I can, and hope that the reader will like it…
What sort of books do you read?
All sorts! Popular fiction, literary fiction, fantasy, historical, dystopian, and the classics. Books by English speaking authors, and books by writers from the rest of the world [or the translations of]. Children’s books and fairy tales. Graphic novels and short story anthologies. Bit of a bookworm, really….
Do you have an agent? And if not, was it hard to find a publisher?
I did have an agent when I first started, but when I found out she had taken two years to show my work to a grand total of three publishers, I decided I could probably do a bit more than that myself. No, it wasn’t hard for me to find a publisher. But having said that, I did do a lot of research before hand, checking out what sort of work they published etc. But I also think I was very lucky – a case of the right manuscript sent to the right person at the right time.
Was it very exciting, when your first book was published?
Frightening, to be honest! How will it be reviewed? What if all reviewers say it’s terrible? What if no one wants to buy it? [I still think like that!] But exciting too – seeing your book as a proper book for the very first time is a wonderful feeling.
What do you do to promote your books? Do you have a blog/a twitter account?
I chair panels at writers’ festivals, give workshops at writers’ centres, talk to book clubs when invited and so on. As far as social media is concerned, I took things slowly. When my first book was published, I didn’t have a blog, or a twitter account – I really didn’t think I’d have that much to say that would interest many people. But I did have a Facebook author’s page, and a Pinterest page where I put photos that have inspired me for each of my novels. I kept things like that well until after my second book came out. Then Covid19 hit, and at the time I was researching the Spanish Flu for Orphan Rock [my third novel due out March 2022], and I noticed a lot of similarities between Covid and the Spanish Flu, which prompted me to write a blog piece about it. And then of course, I had to write more pieces to be able to call it a blog. This past week, I’ve started a Twitter account on the advise of a writer friend – we’ll have to see if it’s worth keeping up, or if it’s too much work for too little results. I do believe, though, that the best promotion for your books is another book.
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