As I write historical novels, the research always comes first. I do a lot of general background reading to try to immerse myself in the period. This is followed by detailed research on particular events which are important to my story. Once I sit down to write, I have a very general plan for the story, chapter by chapter and I know who my main characters are. This tends to change a lot as I go along. I write chronologically for the most part, but if I have an idea for a particular scene later on I will sometimes just write it, otherwise it gets in the way. Sometimes I’ll use it, sometimes not, as the story has changed by the time I reach that point.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
Not really, it would have been a children’s book, I was reading from a very young age. I remember loving the Chalet School books and the Enid Blyton books. I also loved the Katy books, especially the school one, and the Little Women books. The first adult books I can clearly remember reading were by Stuart Cloete, historical novels set in South Africa.
How do you approach cover design?
With a lot of difficulty. I’m independently published and don’t have a lot of money to spend. I use a designer although not a very expensive one, and she’s done a great job, but I’ve never been completely happy with the designs for the Peninsular books. They look very much like a historical romance, and they’re a lot more than that, so for the first time I’m experimenting with a different cover design. I’m waiting to see how that goes.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Can I lump together a series as one book? I love the Lymond chronicles and the Niccolo series by Dorothy Dunnett and the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters. Everything by PF Chisholm / Patricia Finney. Legacy by Susan Kay. Brief Gaudy Hour by Margaret Campbell Barnes. That’s more than five. They’re all historicals with strong characters and they’re all very well written.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I use kindle on my iPad or my phone. It’s convenient because I can read on whichever device I happen to have to hand.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
It’s early days to answer this. I use Facebook and Twitter a lot. I like to engage the readers rather than bombard them with pleas to buy my book. I hate spam and I tend to avoid schemes that flood the internet with repeat messages about the books as I’ve a feeling they irritate people. I’m still learning, it’s a slow process.
Describe your desk
Messy. I write on a laptop and I always have a scented candle burning, I find it relaxing. Other than that it’s littered with notes and books and there are usually a few books piled on the floor next to me because I’ve run out of space. Also a labrador either side of me snoring.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up on a council estate in the East End of London. I’m not sure how much that has influenced my writing. I went to an old fashioned grammar school which has certainly affected my compulsion for good grammar and spelling. My first book was set in the Victorian East End based around a charity school which was the forerunner of the school I attended. I’m about to revisit that with a sequel based around the Bryant and May match girls strike.
When did you first start writing?
When I was a teenager. Fortunately my efforts back then no longer exist. I used to write by hand in old exercise books, but even back then they were historical stories and I used to give them to my friend Julie to read. Surprisingly, however, a few of my main characters grew out of those early efforts although they’ve changed a lot over the years.
What's the story behind your latest book?
The most recent one, A Regrettable Reputation, came about because I wanted to write another Regency. My most successful book so far has been The Reluctant Debutante, a regency romance. This latest one picks up on a minor character from the Peninsular War Saga and follows him into civilian life after Waterloo. I also wanted to experiment with different characters. Nicholas and Camilla are both very civilised in comparison to some of my other people although they’re very strong in their own way. I enjoyed a more gentle heroine more than I had expected and I’m proud of how this book turned out. I also learned a lot about the Luddites because this was a time of unrest in the new industrial towns.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I got bored with the endless round of sending enquiries to agents and publishers. I’d been doing it on and off for twenty years or so. In between I worked and had a family and carried on writing. I struggled with the stigma of ‘vanity publishing’ which held me back for a while. Last year I made a new effort, sent off several of my books to agents. Not one of them got back to me without a reminder, and when I did remind them, they responded so quickly I was absolutely sure not one of them had read a single word I’d written. They’d looked at the premise and decided it wasn’t easy to sell traditional historicals and they just didn’t bother. And I suddenly realised that I’d no idea if people outside of my family would enjoy my writing because nobody had ever read it. I had seven full length novels written and I just thought I’d give it a try.
Which is your favourite book out of those you’ve written so far?
It has to be An Unconventional Officer which is the first in the Peninsular War Saga. It introduces my two favourite characters and a host of others that I love. It’s a long book, a bit of an epic, and it follows the story of a young infantry officer who joins the army in 1802 and fights in India and then in Europe, eventually under Wellington in Portugal. Along the way he falls in love and eventually marries a very unusual young woman but it’s not just a love story, it’s the story of a regiment and the men who serve. I love Paul and Anne, they speak to me very easily.
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