Many of you will know the very talented author, Robbie Cheadle. I’m thrilled she agreed to be my author interviewee this week. In the interview, she tells us about her latest book, how she goes about her detailed research for each of her books, how she gets her ideas and much more.
Q. Your book Through the Nethergate, for young adults,was published in the summer. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
A. Through the Nethergate is essentially a story of the on-going battle between good and evil in the world. What differentiates this book from other books with a similar theme, is that there are a lot of historical characters woven into the storyline who tell their stories as part of the overarching storyline. In addition, technology and modern politics are tools used by the devil to manipulate people, on mass, into negative and potentially evil thinking.
Margaret is a young girl, recently orphaned and sent to live with her grandfather in an ancient inn in the English town of Bungay. Margaret has a gift whereby she can see ghosts and when she is in close proximity to them, they reincarnate. The inn is haunted by a number of ghosts who are all slaves to their evil master, Hugh Bigod, the most powerful of the phantoms. The ghosts hope to use Margaret’s gift to escape their eternal servitude, but things don’t go as planned when Hugh comes up with his own plan for Margaret. Margaret and the ghosts soon realise that Hugh’s evil is nothing in comparison to Lucifer, the guardian of hell.
Q. You clearly enjoy writing books with a supernatural theme. What do you most enjoy about writing in this genre?
A. From a very young age I enjoyed ghost stories and I started reading books by Stephen King and Peter Straub at ten years old. They scared me to death, but I loved them. My favourite stories were the ones about ghosts and other mythical creatures. I also enjoyed books based on “real-life” supernatural events like the story of the Mary Celeste and the ships and aeroplanes that have disappeared in the Bermuda triangle. I have a few books about South African ghosts which I have read many times over the years and which are treasured possessions.
I enjoy writing in this genre because ghosts interest me. I like to find out the basic details of a ghostly presence and then make up a story about their lives and how they died weaving in the true facts. I find this type of writing comes easily to me and I have lots of ideas for stories which makes it appealing to me.
Q. You also enjoy writing horror stories. Which do you prefer and why?
A. Many of my horror stories are also paranormal or supernatural in nature. It is easy for me to imagine the rage and anguish of a ghost who did badly and wants revenge on a person or group of people.
The first two horror stories I wrote for one of Dan Alatorre’s short story competitions were The Willow Tree and The Haunting of William, both of which appear in Dark Visions, a horror anthology, edited by Dan Alatorre. The Willow Tree is about a serial killer and is based on a real murder that occurred when I was a child and the bodies of the victims were found under a willow tree outside a shopping centre. I don’t recall any of the details, so this a fictionalised account, but the idea of bodies under willow trees haunted me for years afterwards. The Haunting of William was developed from a two-sentence account I read of a ghost who committed suicide after discovering she was pregnant and that her lover had left her.
The three short stories I wrote for inclusion in Nightmareland, the sequel to Dark Visions, are all paranormal horror stories. The Siren Witch is about a flesh eating witch who enchants her victims through her lovely singing and them murders them. A Death without Honour is about an escaped convict who murders a couple in the mountains near Paarl in South Africa. The Path to Atonement features a young girl who commits suicide and blames her employer and certain colleagues for her death. She sets out to destroy them all.
One of the two short stories published in Whispers of the Past paranormal anthology, edited by Kaye Lynne Booth is about a controlling grandmother who comes back to haunt her granddaughter after her death. This is my favourite of all the short stories I have written as I love the idea of this grandmother who was like Sinbad the Sailor’s “old man of the sea” during her life time. The other short story, Missed Signs, is about a boy who contracts rabies.
I don’t really have a preference, but I do seem to gravitate towards the paranormal in my historical and horror writing.
Q. Where do you get your ideas from?
A. Most of my ideas to date have come from real life deaths that I have read brief details of either in the media or while doing research. The ghosts in Through the Nethergate are all “real” ghosts which are reputed to haunt various inns and other buildings in Bungay.
My WIP, A Ghost and His Gold, also evolved from a real ghost sighting although it has progressed so much from my original short story idea that its origin is barely recognisable.
The Path to Atonement is also about a real suicide that occurred in my place of work at the time. The circumstances are very different, but that was the source of the idea.
I have a folder where I keep ideas and there are currently over thirty which I haven’t had time to develop yet.
Q. Your books are full of well-researched history. You’re clearly passionate about the times you write about. How do you go about your research?
A. The research usually takes place on a timeline. I develop an outline of my story idea and plot it onto the timeline of the real-life events of the place it is set in.
For example, Hugh Bigod, a real person, is one of the evil characters in Through the Nethergate. I identified him as a potential character and researched his background. I used the details throughout the story. Information about Hugh Bigod is included in the first few pages of the book because the inn where the story is set, shares a wall of its cellar with the cellar of Bungay Castle which was built by Hugh Bigod’s father, Roger Bigod. Hugh was the second son and would not have inherited except that his older brother, William, was one of the victims when the White Ship sank. William Adelin, the only legitimate son and heir of the ruling king at the time, Henry I, also died when the White Ship sank and this resulted in the period of English history known as The Anarchy. The sinking of the White Ship comes up later in the book and is relevant to the overall story development and gaining an understanding of Margaret’s, the main character, unusual abilities and how they have influenced her life.
Hugh Bigod takes the form of the Black Dog of Bungay, another myth with an interesting history and which also comes into the book as part of the plot development. Lastly, from a Bigod family’s point of view, there are Hugh’s four horrible relatives who are said to haunt Bungay in a ghostly coach. These men are his evil sidekicks in the story.
The research for the other ghostly characters took place in much the same manner. I try to check the facts to as many historical sources as possible, up to ten, and then I write my own fictionalised account, filling in the blanks and fleshing out the details.
Q. Can you tell us about your journey to publication?
A. My journey has revolved more around learning to market my books than actual publication. After Michael and I created our initial little Sir Chocolate books, I took them to the Sunday School where I was teaching and read them to the children. One of the other volunteers, a good friend of mine, heard me reading them and recommended Anne Samson from TSL Publications as a publisher, if I wanted to go that route. I sent them along to Anne, with my ideas for the artwork, and she liked them. I signed a contract and in August 2016, Sir Chocolate and the strawberry cream berries was published. I now have six Sir Chocolate books with another due for publication in April 2020, one other middle school children’s book, While the Bombs Fell, a memoir for teenagers and adults about my mom’s life growing up in Bungay, Suffolk during WWII, short stories in four anthologies and Through the Nethergate. A Ghost and His Gold is in progress and I am now 60,000 words in and hoping to finish the book by March for publication in October 2020.
Q. Which is easier and which do you prefer – writing for children or adults?
A. The stories for children are easier to write once I have the idea. Michael and I wrote 10 of these little stories and I don’t find rhyming verse difficult once the story line idea is in place. The whole idea of a story about a little man who is made of chocolate and who lives in a world where you can eat everything came from my son, Michael. He was six years old at the time and learning to read and write.
The art work for the Sir Chocolate books is time consuming and detailed. Michael used to help but is now fourteen years old and a bit old for fondant art in his opinion.
Writing for young adults and adults is much more time consuming than for children. The Sir Chocolate stories average at 600 words which is recommended for a children’s picture book. Through the Nethergate was about 72,000 words. That is a big difference. The research is time consuming too and I average about 1000 words in a three-hour writing session which involves research i.e. is historical in nature. I can write up to 1000 words an hour if no research is required, but I often have to stop and research funny details, like directions and how long it takes to travel to places. Even if it is a place I have visited frequently, I don’t usually know that sort of detail with accuracy.
I can’t say I prefer one type of writing to another. They are both different and challenging. I wouldn’t write the Sir Chocolate books if I didn’t combine it with the recipes and fondant art. I love writing historical fiction so maybe that is your answer.
Q. What’s the hardest thing you find about being a writer?
A. I don’t find anything particularly hard. I have chosen to write. My day job [and sometimes weekend and night job too] is corporate finance. I love the stimulation of deal-making in the business world and wouldn’t want to give that up. I hate the administration, but it is part of the job and has to be done.
I don’t have to write, it is a hobby and a choice. I enjoy it all, the writing, the editing, especially developmental editing which I find exciting and thrilling because I can visibly see the changes improving and enhancing my writing, and even the marketing. It is all fun and I love writers and readers and this interesting world of literature we are all a part of.
Q. Do you get time to read yourself and if you do, what books do you read?
A. I read every day for about one hour and sometimes 90 minutes, if I am lucky. I read everything: classics [I have just signed up for a classic book challenge for 2020], poetry, short stories, children’s books, dystopian novels, romance, horror, sci-fi, memoirs, cosy mysteries, historical novels and paranormal. Did you notice I left out thrillers? I don’t really read thrillers unless they have a historical, sci-fi or paranormal element. I can’t tell you why I don’t like thrillers, but I know I have never really read this genre.
Q. Finally, what piece of advice can you give to writers who are struggling to get that first book written and published?
Writing, editing and publishing are all about three things: persistence, determination and dedication. If you don’t have these qualities, you will not succeed as it is a hard road to build a reputation and bit of a name for yourself as a writer. I think you really need to love reading and writing to do it. Lots of first-time published authors don’t realise that the writing and publishing is the easy part. Getting readers and reviews is the tough part as you are competing with so many others. That takes me back to my opening sentence.
Robbie Cheadle on Amazon.