I’m almost at the end of my Harrogate Crime Festival trip. Click for parts one, two and three if you missed them.
Last week, I left you with thoughts of another encounter with Harlan Coben. Well, it really hadn’t been enough that he’d spoken to me on the Friday and asked me how I was – I simply had to meet him properly. And meet him properly I did, as this photo shows (please excuse the smug smile on my face).
Even though there were many other fans who wanted him to sign their books, he took time to chat and answer my questions about his characters. He really was the perfect gentleman and signed his latest book, Run Away, for me. And he thinks I rock! (well, that’s what he wrote inside the book, under my name. And no, of course, he didn’t write that in everyone else’s book…)
My lovely friend, Jill, also had her photo taken with Harlan and her book signed (I must check with her to see if he thinks she rocks too…) just before I did and as I left Harlan, ever so slightly starstruck, I saw she was talking to someone. As I approached them, Jill introduced me to her friend, Diane Jeffrey, author of Those Who Lie, He Will Find You and The Guilty Mother. Diane was a pleasure to talk to and agreed to be interviewed for a new slot on my blog. If you missed her interview, click here.
It was approaching 10.30pm and the hotel and its grounds were buzzing. The place was alive with chatter and excitement and neither my partner nor I felt like leaving yet. The Festival had one more day to go. We had only planned to stay for the Friday and Saturday, and we didn’t have anything else booked, but we didn’t feel ready to leave just yet…
This week’s author interview is with romance author, Julia Bell. I met Julia at the UK Indie Lit Fest a few week’s ago. If you enjoy romance with a twist, then read on…
Q. You’ve written ten books so far. Can you tell us a little bit about your latest book?
A. My eleventh book is a historical romance set in Yorkshire. Well, I am from Yorkshire. I’ve made the working title Harriet Grace and although I could change it, often I stick with the title I first come up with. I’m only ten chapters in, so the characters are slowly forming and no doubt will tell me where they want to go with the story. At the moment, Harriet is struggling with manning a railway signal box that should be her grandfather’s responsibility, but he’s now blind. In order to keep his employment, Harriet is doing the job for him, but keeping it secret as women in the late nineteenth century did not man signal boxes. And then her secret is discovered.
Q. Your books are romantic fiction. What do you most enjoy about writing in this genre?
A. A romance is character based and I love writing about people; their hopes, dreams, despairs and troubles. I think it’s one thing we have in common, no matter our culture or religion. Our emotions are what make us human. And a bit of passion doesn’t go amiss in a story.
Q. Where do you get your ideas from?
A. Goodness, from everywhere. The life stories my friends tell me; eavesdropping on the bus and train. Incidents from my life and strange occurrences that happen in daily life. For example when my supervisor found a creepy set of stone steps and followed them to nowhere, I thought that a good starting point for my time travel story. Only my stone steps did lead somewhere as you can imagine.
Q. Your books all have a twist at the end. How hard is it to keep coming up with a surprise the reader doesn’t expect?
A. I do try and have a twist in my stories, although the ending is usually hopeful if not happy. I can’t abide reading stories or watching films that don’t tie up loose ends and give a satisfying ending. I like to feel content at the end of a story, so I try and make my stories that way. The twist will come two thirds of the way through normally, when a secret is revealed, a lie discovered or a mystery uncovered. This secret, lie or mystery will be the thread through the story; keeping the reader interested. My stories are never just boy meets girl.
Q. Can you tell us about your journey to publication?
A. I started writing after my twenty-three year marriage ended and I was devastated. Writing proved therapeutic and my characters felt the same sorrow and distress that I felt and by giving them also hope, I too felt hope for the future.
My first three novels were rubbish and I ended up dismantling them. I then wrote a story set in two eras (not time travel; more time split). I sent it off to a publisher and although they said it was well written they didn’t think it suited the market at that time. I carried on regardless. And when Amazon brought out Kindle Direct Publishing I jumped on board and now all my stories are eBooks. I have four in paperback and I hope all ten will be paperback in due course.
Q. Which is your favourite book you’ve written and why?
A. Without doubt my favourite book is Songbird (eventually becoming Songbird: (The Songbird Story – Book One) since I wrote a sequel, A Tangle of Echoes which carried the story into the next generations.
I couldn’t stop writing as the story seemed to flow
out of my fingertips. I knew where I wanted the story to go, although the
characters guided my way. Since it’s based on a woman who wants to train as an
opera singer at the Royal Academy of Music in London, I played a lot of
Katherine Jenkins songs. However, my heroine, Isabelle, will do anything to
follow her dream. Readers have told me that the opening line of the story
intrigued them and kept them reading.
I felt quite sad when I reached the end which is probably why I wrote a sequel. I’m not really into sequels and it’s my only one. I like to write stand alone novels with a beginning, a middle and an end.
Q. What’s the hardest thing you find about being a writer?
A. Finding the time! And it’s getting worse as I’m getting older. I often find I’m easily distracted. My only solution is to get up very early and going straight into my writing, avoiding social media as long as possible. I still have a day job, albeit two days a week (I’m 68 and I really should be retired), but my work colleagues inspire me. However, that does take two days out of my week. And I have two children and five grandchildren. But no excuses. I promise to do better.
Q. Do you get time to read yourself and if you do, what books do you read?
A. I read every night before I sleep, with my kindle perched on my bosom. I tend to read historical fiction although at the moment I’ve slipped into supernatural and paranormal themes. I enjoyed a story by Jason Ayres who wrote a story about a man who was living his life backwards. That is, his life started from his death. I found it very cleverly written and intriguing and I couldn’t put it down. I ended up reading into the small hours, which is not like me at all.
I read traditionally published authors as well as Indies. I often find the quality of writing equally as good in both.
Q. When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
A. Ooh, spare time! What’s that, then? Do any of us have spare time these days; it makes me wonder since the pace of life is frenetic. I blame Sunday opening hours.
I think that when I relax I like to watch TV. I like
to watch true crimes (where the criminal is safely behind bars) and especially
historical crimes. I also enjoy historical dramas, such as Poldark and also
historical documentaries. I love the documentaries presented by Dr Lucy
Worsley. I find her fascinating and entertaining.
Q. Finally, what piece of advice can you give to writers who are struggling to get that first book written and published?
A. With the advent of Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, most authors can get their story out into the public domain. However, it’s a tough world and putting your ‘baby’ out there means you’ll be subjecting yourself to some harsh criticism. If readers give you a bad review for all your hard work it will be demoralising. But it’s all part of the apprenticeship. If you can’t take the criticism then perhaps writing is not for you. But if you can tolerate the occasional one or two star review and learn from it then you can improve your writing. No matter how clever your story, you must be able to put it down on paper in good English. This often has to be learned. Sometimes it will take three or four books before you get it right.
Competition is tight for being accepted with a
traditional publisher and sometimes it might not be your writing that rejects
you, but the storyline. Fashions come and go and what is popular today might
not be so next year.
Keep writing and publishing with either Ingram Spark
or Amazon. Use them as your starting point while you learn your trade.
Don’t give up. You could be the next Barbara Taylor Bradford or Stephen King. Even they had to start somewhere.
If you’re writing an article or story for a magazine, think about your paragraph lengths. When you send your work out, your pages are A4 size. The lengths of your paragraphs may look short on a page that size but imagine them in a newspaper or magazine. You can fit about 16 words or so into a single sentence of A4, but in a newspaper/magazine, this is more than halved, meaning your paragraphs will be much longer in the publication.
Some newspapers use very short paragraphs, often only one sentence in length, so check the publication you’re writing for carefully and bear it in mind when working on your full piece.
If you missed parts and one and two of my Harrogate Crime Writing Festival journey, please click here and here.
As we seemed to have settled into the habit of missing all or part of the events we’d booked, we were determined to be right at the front (well, nearish) of day two’s first event. It was a panel session, called The Underworld, featuring authors Jesse Keane, Joseph Knox, Robert Crais and A. A. Dhand. Chairing the session was Henry Sutton. The authors all took us to their sinister worlds, giving fascinating insights into their latest books, why they’d chosen their settings, what makes their main protagonists tick and much more. We left feeling thoroughly inspired and eager to work on our own ‘worlds’ (though as mine is a world for 5-7 year olds, it’s not quite as macabre as the ones we’d been introduced to that morning).
My partner read a number of Robert Crais books years ago and was keen to meet him and get a signed copy of one of his books. So, once the session was over, he joined the author signing queue. He wasn’t disappointed; he found Robert or ‘Bob’, as he likes to be called, great fun to talk to and is now eager to reunite himself with Bob’s private eye lead, Elvis Cole, in his book, The Wanted.
What was next on the agenda? I hear you cry. Well, we were attending an author murder mystery dinner that evening so for the time being, we decided it was time to mingle. It wasn’t long before we bumped into one of my partner’s friends, Louise Jensen, best-selling author of The Sister and The Gift. I hadn’t met Louise before, so it was great to be introduced to her and to hear all about her books and the projects she’s planning for the future. It was the first time she’d attended the festival and she was there to sign proof copies of her latest thriller, The Family. The signing was a special event organised by her publisher, Harper Collins. Wanting to support Louise, we thought we’d go along. Well, talk about a fight to get to the front. It reminded me a little of a jumble sale, with a mad surge to bag the best bargains. Louise’s proof copies were swiftly grabbed and had gone within minutes. Though, it shows how popular an author she is with everyone keen to get hold of her latest book.
by being part of the rush, we decided to go back to the hotel for some rest and
relaxation before getting ready for the special evening ahead.
I don’t know about you, but I’d never been to a murder mystery evening before. My partner had and he had high expectations of what constitutes a good murder mystery. As we all filed into the room where it was taking place, we took a look at the table plan. There were about twenty tables, with eight of us on each table, plus a crime writing author. Our author was Caz Frear, author of Sweet Little Lies and Stone Cold Heart.
Before we had a chance to chat to her, the murder unfolded and all the suspects told their side of the story. Dinner was served and we tucked in while discussing ‘who dunnit’. Though, we soon found we were chatting to the others around the table, finding out who they were, where they’d come from and about their interest in crime writing. It wasn’t until we were told that we had five minutes to decide who the murderer was and why they’d done it that we focused on the murder mystery again.
There was a prize for those who solved the mystery. Alas, it wasn’t us – by a long way, but we didn’t care; we’d had a fun time. And we also took away a bundle of books as part of the ticket price.
crowds soon dispersed, off to see the interview with Harlan Coben. We’d tried
to get tickets to see him, but they’d sold out almost instantly, meaning we
weren’t in a rush to leave. Neither was
Caz Frear so it was then that we were able to chat with her about her writing.
She’s a lovely lady to talk to so we were more than happy that we hadn’t
managed to get ticket to see Harlan. Though, I would be seeing him again…
• Are you struggling with your short story?
• Has your synopsis sizzled out half-way?
• Not sure which markets to target?
Perhaps you'd just like someone to check your script through. If any of this applies to you, then take a look at my ‘Editing And Advice For Writers’ page to see how I can help.