I found the school book in which I wrote my illustrated waffle about fairies, mostly I told stories rather than wrote them. I was obsessed with them due to exposure to Ida Rentoul Outhwaite's superbly illustrated but actually rather dull stories. She was an Australian illustrator (1888 to 1960), and I was very late to read (7) but spent hours poring over the pictures. I managed to persuade a tomboyish friend, rejoicing in the name of Lally Lee Didham, and claiming to have been born up a tree in Kenya, to admit she was a fairy too. Years later I overheard my daughter Maud, aged 3, persuading a little boy called Jack to do the same. That is the power of story.
What is your writing process?
Sadly I do not have one. I just write when I can, sometimes in great rushes of words that overcome me, sometimes more slowly and deliberately. I need space in my mind and life to get the ideas down first, and then I can fill in the gaps.
How do you approach cover design?
I was for many years a magazine editor and writer, so worked closely with the art department on the look and feel of the pages. I also commissioned illustrations and photography, and ran portrait shoots myself. When it came to book cover design, I went back to one of my magazine illustrators, Lawrence Mynott, who had worked for the big publishers, and asked him. I was a little worried that he might not want to do my books, but he did, and a very good job he did too. I also commissioned an excellent designer to make the most of the illustration, and lay out the type. We are beginning to create a 'brand' look, and I already have ideas for the next one.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I use a basic Kindle, as it is light and easy to hold up on the crowded trains on which I commute. The book will neatly shut out all the shoving, heat, pushing, smells and misery of a crowded tube train on a hot London evening. Much more practical than a paper book although I read those in bed.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
When I was first traditionally published in 2009, I had already been on social media for two years, and I found Twitter to be a wonderful arena for raising awareness. I also made lots of friends, including with writers whom I had admired for years and been inspired by. It was very pleasing when they bought and read my first novel One Apple Tasted, and liked it enough to review it. It all snowballed from there. I did a lot of blog visits too which helped. Everything I learned that time, I have rolled into my marketing programme for Sail Upon the Land, but I have been staggering my blog visits so there is always something new for people to read. They have included an lovely review on The History Girls, and numerous other prestigious blog posts. I also found BookBub email marketing was incredibly successful for me, I gained far above their average number of downloads, and have reaped an enormous number of positive reviews as a result (only two negative ones).
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Kent, England, in a large house, with brothers, whose clothes I wore to race about the countryside completely unsupervised. It took a long time for me to notice that they were treated differently from me - but when I did I was furious. This has influenced my whole life and I write about the subtle influence of gender on our lives as a result, particularly in relation to both world wars - how women found freedom and agency, and then had it restricted again. I love to try and describe how things changed over time, and also the expectations laid on men, which they often couldn't, or didn't want to fulfil. I was born into a family that was still operating as if social change had never happened - which also took a long time to process and get over. Attempting to live up to class expectations, while distorting yourself out of shape, is never a good thing. I love to explore these themes in my writing.
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