Welcome to my weekly slot – Author Interviews.
Every Saturday on my blog I interview an author, find out a little bit more about the person behind the novel and glean some insight about being a writer.
This week I am delighted to have author Helen Jones and blogger sat in my red chair.
Welcome Helen, please have a seat.
Tell me about yourself and the book / books you have written?
I’ve been a freelance writer for about a decade, but only sat down to write my own stories about three years ago. Before that they were just ideas scribbled into notebooks, occasional scenes I would write here and there.
I’ve lived around the world but started off life in Coventry, England, on which I based the fictional starting point for my Ambeth books. So far I’ve published two books in the series, Oak and Mist and No Quarter, with book three, Hills and Valleys, due out in the next month or so.
When did you write your first book?
I sat down in January 2013 and started writing about Ambeth – I’m still going. I’ve also written another stand-alone book (yet to be published), and am working on a couple of other ideas.
How long did it take to write your first book?
It took about six months to write the first draft and, seriously, it felt as though I was possessed by the story! Looking back, I would liken it to a dam breaking, in that once I started writing the flow was very difficult to stop. I wrote pretty much whenever I could – my family got used to me running off at odd moments because a scene had just appeared to me and I had to write it down.
What was your motivation to write your first book?
I’d had the idea of Ambeth for a long time. It was an homage to my childhood home and my love of fantasy, as well as my Welsh heritage. My grandmother used to take me to the woods when I was a child to look for fairies at Midsummer, and the magic of those moments stayed with me, the idea you could find another world hidden among the trees.
Also, more prosaically, I wanted to see whether I could do it. I’d written a lot of shorter pieces for other people, plus some short stories and prose for myself, but had never attempted a full-length novel.
What writing issues did you encounter along the way and how did you overcome them?
Oak and Mist was originally about twice as long when it was completed, plus my style needed a lot of work at first. Luckily I had a fantastic beta reader friend who was happy to read bits as I wrote them, and gave me lots of helpful feedback.
I also had one of my main characters change to someone far more sympathetic during the course of the story. This wasn’t great, as I needed him to do a very bad thing that was pivotal to the plot, so I had to find a different motivation for him. A wise friend once told me to ‘go to sleep on a question and wake with an answer,’ so that’s what I did. Miraculously, it worked and I woke with the understanding I needed.
Did you go through any bad writing patches during writing your book – what kept you going?
I think the hardest part for me wasn’t during writing but after, when I sent it out to agents and received my first lot of rejections. Upon reflection, the book wasn’t at all ready to be sent out and I really had no idea what I was doing, so I look on it now as a learning experience.
At the time though it was quite tough, as rejection tends to be, but the thing that kept me going was the story, as I believed in it and could see it unfolding into subsequent books.
I’m glad I persevered. My books are now well-reviewed and a million miles from that first awkward draft I sent out.
Are you a plotter or do you just write / see what happens?
A Pantser, 100%. My characters won’t let me be anything else!
What is the best thing about being a writer?
Telling stories. I absolutely love love love the feeling when an idea comes to me and I have to write it down, teasing out all the tangled plot threads and weaving the story.
What is the worst thing about being a writer?
To be honest, I think being a writer is awesome. If pressed I would say the long hours without (much) pay but really, I know how fortunate I am to be able to do this. > > 10. Have you ever considered quitting writing and if so how have you worked through this?
No. I’d be heartbroken if I couldn’t write any more. I always say that I’ll write as long as the stories come to me.
However, I do have days where I wonder why I’m doing this to myself! 😀
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
It depends on what’s going on. My daughter is still young enough to need me around, so school runs during term time tend to bookend my writing day. If it’s school holidays, I tend to write either early before she’s up, or late in the evening. However, if I have a deadline I just have to sit down and get on with it, though I try not to let it interfere too much with family time.
Now that I’m published I do find more of my writing time taken up with the promotional side of things, but I think that’s part of the job for most writers these days, whether traditional or self published.
Do you suffer from procrastination and if so how do you handle it?
Ha ha! Well, I did blog about this recently. I tend to do just about anything else I can think of doing, including and not limited to watching tutorials on how to make mayonnaise, then making it! However, this really only seems to happen during the editing phase – when I’m writing I just want to get on with it.
Which is more important – plot or characters and why?
Gah. Tough questions, Lucy! Um, I’m going to say plot. I know I’m a Pantser but I do usually begin a story with an idea of what’s going to happen – otherwise those characters of mine would just be milling about aimlessly. They do drive the story once it gets going, but nothing would begin without the idea of a plot.
What have been your 3 biggest learnings during your writing career?
I’ve learned sooooo much during the past few years that it’s tough to narrow it down to just three items. However, I’ll give it a try:
1. When sending work to agents always always always follow the submission guidelines.
2. Share your work with other readers before even thinking about publishing.
3. Investing in a professional editor is worth the money. Even when you’ve edited it 7384 times and shown it to everyone you know, an editor will pick up mistakes. Budget for it and plan ahead – it’s worth every penny.
How do you manage social media as a writer?
In all seriousness, I’m still working my way around the social media side of things. I personally don’t believe that bombarding people day and night with my book is going to result in anything other than people getting annoyed, so I try not to be that person. I do enjoy blogging and have been on Facebook for years, plus I’m getting more into the social side of Twitter – I have made some really nice connections with fans and fellow writers that way.
Do you have any tips or advice for budding aspiring authors?
Start writing. Once you start writing, you are no longer aspiring.
Do you suffer from writer’s block and if so how do you overcome?
Shhh! *puts fingers to lips, looking around*
Okay. I think that writer’s block occurs when an idea grinds to a halt, and there’s a reason for that. Either your idea isn’t going to go any further, or you haven’t got all the pieces you need to finish. So, if that happens, leave it and write about something else. Set a timer and write about anything at all. The key is to keep writing.
18. Do you ever think of the next book whilst writing?
All the time! I flit between manuscripts regularly. Ambeth is a series so I have to keep future and past books in my head in order to cover all the details and pull the story threads together, as things that happen in one book are linked to events in other books, and become more significant. I also have to keep all the character threads straight, making sure I continue each one correctly.
19. What do you wear to write?
I’d love to be able to say something cool or glamorous, but honestly? The most comfortable clothing I can find.
Thank you so much Helen, I really enjoyed listening to your answers to my questions.
I loved the dam breaking analogy you used to describe how you wrote your first book. I can relate to that.
Those childhood memories of you and your grandmother searching for fairies are sweet and magical.
I think the editing tip is really valuable.
I like your thoughts on Writer’s Block and I think you might have a point there.
Thanks for sitting in my chair 🙂
Helen’s Ambeth books are on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited:
Next week Geoff Le Pard takes to 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>