As you will know from my post last week I am running a weekly feature on my blog, every Saturday, where i interview authors and find out a little bit more about the person behind the book.
So, Helen Treharne, welcome to my red chair!
You are the first author to sit in it so just relax and enjoy this special moment in your literary career – sigh!
Ok, if you are sitting comfortably I will begin.
1. Tell me about yourself and the book / books you have written?
First of all, I was raised to be polite, so thank you for having me over today. I love following your blog so being asked to pop over for an interview is a real treat!
For the benefit of those who don’t know me, I’m the creator of the “Sophie Morgan Vampire Series”, an urban fantasy series set primarily in Cardiff and the fictional town of Bethel.
There are two books in the series, Relative Strangers being the first, and the sequel, Death in the Family. I’ve also self published a collection of short stories and flash fiction, as well as a collection of urban poetry intended as spoken word. I live in South Wales with my husband, new baby and two cats.
2. When did you write your first book?
I started writing Relative Strangers four years ago, having had a couple of false starts with other books. I initially self published it to see if anyone would actually buy it, although it wasn’t in the best of shape, but it got me noticed by US publisher Booktrope who signed the series in 2015. It has since been republished alongside the second book in February.
3. How long did it take to write your first book?
It took around two years which is shameful really! I dipped in and out and had long periods when I didn’t write at all and others when I took a break to freshen my perspective and to work on other projects. The end product looks very different to how it first started and that’s a good thing. Taking some time apart from your manuscript is important.
4. What was your motivation to write your first book?
Honestly? I just wanted to see if I could get 80,000 words down on paper. That sounds terribly self indulgent doesn’t it? I always wanted to be a writer as a child but like many adults, the grown up world of responsibilities soon came knocking and it never felt like it could be more than a folly.
The idea came at a time when I was beginning to reevaluate my career and what I wanted to do with my life. I was reading a book that said that you should try and do what you enjoyed doing as a child before the world “got at you.” I started writing a few bits here and there – a short story, a blog post, a few false starts or ideas for novels. Nothing really happened and then the concept for Relative Strangers hit me. Once I’d written a few pages, it just snowballed and I wouldn’t be defeated. I had to finish it. I can be a little obsessive in that respect. It certainly awakened something in me.
5. What writing issues did you encounter along the way and how did you overcome them?
Time. Time. Time. Like many emerging authors, juggling a “day job” and knuckling down to write can also be tough. With Relative Strangers I found that planning to write every day just wasn’t feasible so I would often spend a couple of days at a time on a writing binge, then nothing for days. Travelling with work was surprisingly helpful – I spent many evenings in a hotel room over my laptop because the TV didn’t work.
Another issue as an independent author was getting balanced critique. I self published Relative Strangers after several author friends looked at it and substantively it was in good shape but lots of errors and things I wasn’t happy with (in retrospect) slipped through. As a result, early reviews were mixed but it was a useful testing ground. Sites like Wattpad or your own blog can be a good way of getting feedback, plus beta-readers of course but that won’t deal with the detail.
When I wrote the sequel I employed a freelance editor and she was worth every single penny. I’m positive that if it wasn’t for her work on the second book, the series wouldn’t have been picked up by a publisher. I have been lucky enough to work with a fabulous editor with Booktrope who has made my work even better.
6. Did you go through any bad writing patches during writing your book – what kept you going?
I definitely did on Relative Strangers. Writing a novel was a whole new discipline and it’s unlike writing for competitions, blogs or short stories. Learning any new skill is tough and sometimes you want to quit. The biggest hurdle for me came after a bereavement in my close family and another major personal loss. I barely functioned most days so being creative in such a disciplined way was something I couldn’t commit to. I took some time out from my manuscript and starting penning flash fiction and short stories whenever I felt the mood. The result, Off the Bench: Fiction to Feed the Soul, is now available exclusively at Amazon for Kindle. It’s deeply personal but it helped me work through my emotions as well as continue to write.
7. Are you a plotter or do you just write / see what happens?
I’m not much of a plotter at the beginning. I generally have an idea of how a story will unfold and then I’ll write a detailed outlined – it’s a bit of a stream of consciousness but it works for me. I’ll then take some time out and go back, carve it up and drill down into it. That can be anything from adding more copious notes or writing the individual scenes on post it notes, sticking them on a wall and looking for anomalies, gaps and improvements. I’m currently working on the third book in the Sophie Morgan Series which has elements of a traditional mystery so I’m trying to be more disciplined with that.
8. What is the best thing about being a writer?
Sharing my characters. I’m very lucky that they already come quite well developed when they pop into my head but it can get very busy in there, so getting them down on paper and working to make them fully formed is wonderful. Seeing them brought to life on paper is so rewarding. It’s lovely when readers come back and tell you which is their favourite or how they’ve imagined them and they reflect your own thinking. Occasionally, I’m surprised though and that’s fun too. I always imagine Charles Ferrers, one of Sophie’s main adversaries, played by actor Mark Gatiss, although a close friend imagines Vigo Mortensen. It just goes to show you powerful the imagination is!
9. What is the worst thing about being a writer?
Return on your investment. Writers work phenomenally hard, but the market is flooded by books and it’s incredibly competitive. The majority of writers will only ever make a modest income from their writing and many will have to juggle writing with other jobs to make ends meet. It’s also very difficult to get noticed. Producing a wonderful piece of prose doesn’t guarantee anything and lots of talent remains unnoticed. Yes, success is down in most cases to good writing but timing, luck and what the market is interested in at any one time plays a huge part.
10. Have you ever considered quitting writing and if so how have you worked through this?
Only momentarily when I’ve fallen out of love with a project or life seems to get in the way. Then, I just take time out to work on a different project or allow myself a holiday. I did very little writing when I was pregnant as the logistics of sitting at a desk for prolonged periods and generally feeling “ick” didn’t make for a conducive environment. You just have to find other relevant things to keep you interested though – read lots, scribble ideas for future projects down, note down interesting dialogue you overhear or interesting places – it’s all fodder for writing down the line.
11. What does a typical writing day look like for you?
With a new baby, there is no typical day at the moment. Writing time is snatched here and there. I usually find some time in the morning or late at night when the baby is sleeping. Then there’s some furious typing for half and hour or so. In between that, I tend to be on my tablet or phone, noting ideas as they happen or fitting in some marketing activities or social media stuff.
12. Do you suffer from procrastination and if so how do you handle it?
Not really. Once I’ve got an idea or notion to do something I like to get it “out there.”
13. Which is more important – plot or characters and why?
Characters. Plot is just what happens to people or how people respond to things. Without characters you have nothing. No actin. No story. You need well crafted characters for the story to be believable.
14. What have been your 3 biggest learnings during your writing career?
For me, I can’t just sit down and write on demand. This surprised me as all “the books” will tell you to sit down and write something – anything – at a particular time every day or some such. For me, that doesn’t work. If I haven’t got something relevant to say, I’ll just end up on my Facebook author page or Twitter feed.
Writers aren’t that competitive with each other. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve come across some fairly unpleasant people on social media – one writer for example who hurled abuse at me for not following them – but that’s true in all walks of life. On the whole though, authors are incredibly supportive of each other. I’ve made some wonderful friends over the last few years. We’ve recommended each other to readers, worked together on marketing initiatives, checked in with each other to see how we are doing, provided advice, feedback…. you name it. Its’ a wonderful community. I suspect it’s because on the whole we all appreciate how much work it takes to be successful. If you can extend a hand to help someone up the ladder, why wouldn’t you?
Finally, the amount of marketing you have to do as an author. My professional background is primarily sales, business, marketing, communications but nothing can prepared me for the effort and nuance of marketing a book. Even when you have a publishing deal you must be prepared to do a large amount of the leg work yourself – from organizing PR events to running multiple social media platforms.
15. How do you manage social media as a writer?
I primarily use Facebook, Twitter and my website blog, although I’m also on most other platforms. I use Hootsuite for scheduling posts in advance where appropriate and for managing who I follow – I tend to have diverse interests so it’s useful to be able to go to one list or stream easily and see what’s going on with a particular group of people. I generally pop on for half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening to check messages, tweet and generally see what’s going on in the world. One piece of advice I would give if I may is that authors shouldn’t just follow other authors. While they are very often readers too, you need to engage with your target audience so make sure you’re in conversations or groups with your potential readers. You also need to be authentic – don’t just bang on about “buy my book” all the time – use social media as an actual person with genuine interests.
16. Do you have any tips or advice for budding aspiring authors?
Write for you. Stick at it. Listen to advice but write to a schedule a that suits you. Read a lot.
17. Do you suffer from writer’s block and if so how do you overcome?
Don’t hate me but no. I’ve been stuck on a project from time to time, and even bored (this can happen once you’re on the third round of editing), but I’m rarely stuck for an idea. If you’re stuck on a project, put it in a drawer and start something else – if after a break you’re still not “feeling it” then it may be a bad idea, an idea that needs a lot more work, or just not the right time. It sounds harsh but I honestly think it’s true.
18. Do you ever think of the next book whilst writing?
I’m always about two books ahead. I’m currently writing the third in the Sophie Morgan Vampire Series and I’ve an idea for a fourth, plus a paranormal mystery.
19. What do you wear to write?
Currently, pajamas covered in baby spit.
Thanks Helen – a great interview.
I have got some useful stuff from this interview:
- Engaging with your book target audience on social media. Great tip.
- You come across as a ‘can do’ person and I admire your ‘get it out there’ approach with new ideas. I need to adopt this.
- I love how you are already two books ahead.
- I am loving the writer look – pjs covered in baby spit.
Many thanks Helen x
Helen’s blog can be found here.
Helen is on Twitter here
Helen’s books are available here:
Next week Kelsey Horton will be sitting in my red chair.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/79577679@N00/5448848999″>the chair in the attic</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>