Welcome to my weekly blog series – Author Interviews.
These interviews give me the chance to interview some inspirational authors and glean some useful writing tips.
I am super excited as author Jackie Baldwin, Scottish crime writer and former criminal lawyer is sat on my red interview chair!
This interview is going to be special – I can feel it!
Hey Jackie, tell my readers about yourself and the book / books you have written…
Well, for most of my working life I have been a solicitor, specialising in criminal and family law which was enormously stressful at times. I later retrained as a hypnotherapist.
My debut novel, ‘Dead Man’s Prayer,’ is a police procedural set in my home town of Dumfries and featuring DI Frank Farrell, a former practising RC priest. A local priest, who was responsible for forcing Farrell out of the priesthood, is murdered. Separately, twin boys are abducted from a local nursery. The pressure is on as Farrell must delve into his own past to catch the murderer and solve the mystery behind the abductions before anyone else winds up dead.
When did you write your first book?
I started it with a blurb back in 2005.
How long did it take to write your first book?
A good few years as I have completed various drafts.
What was your motivation to write your first book?
I wanted to be a published author from the age of 7 but hadn’t done any writing at all until around 20 years ago when I started writing monologues and plays because those were the opportunities that presented locally. As for the book, I reached the stage where I felt it was now or never and made a start.
What writing issues did you encounter along the way and how did you overcome them?
I would say I have struggled with self- belief. Being published and having an editor that gets my work has helped me considerably with that.
Did you go through any bad writing patches during writing your book – what kept you going?
Yes, as indicated below, I stopped writing for 3 years. The reason I persisted with the book was because I had become attached to my characters and felt like it would be a kind of death for them never to exist outside my own head and be introduced to other people.
Are you a plotter or do you just write / see what happens?
I would say I’m a plotter because winging it would make me feel too insecure. My plotting isn’t set in stone, however. It probably mirrors my attitude to life. I am not a madly impulsive go with the flow person. I have to plan to be spontaneous!
What is the best thing about being a writer?
Hopefully, having people connect with my characters and the problems they face so that they become as real to others as they are to me.
What is the worst thing about being a writer?
Self- promotion is very hard for me. It is something I struggle with as I am far more comfortable cheerleading for someone else. However, I feel I owe it to my editor, who has had such belief in me, to raise my head above the parapet and do my best. Before all this happened I would describe my profile as low to horizontal. I remember walking down the aisle on my wedding day and all eyes swivelled to look at me. I was horrified!
Have you ever considered quitting writing, and if so how have you worked through this?
Yes, a number of times. You suddenly catch yourself thinking that the time slogging away at the computer could be put to better use doing something else. What is the point of all this hard work when no one is ever going to read it anyway? At one point I stopped for about three years. Work was demanding. When I wasn’t working, my priority was doing things with my kids. But, for me, writing is like an itch and the desire to scratch it again became overwhelming. I sound like I had a bad attack of hives. I went along to the first year of Crime and Publishment, an annual weekend of crime writing master-classes and came home fired up to do one more massive rewrite, which I finished just before X-mas.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
Up until recently, I haven’t really had a typical writing day but I have to be a lot more disciplined now that I am writing my second DI Farrell novel. If it is a day where I am not seeing clients I get up early and go through to my study which also doubles as a consulting room therefore has a nice relaxed vibe. I throw on something comfy that can withstand enthusiastic contact with my two Retrievers and mentally superglue my bottom to the chair at my desk. I would love to say that my fingers fly over the keys of my laptop but I tend to work in fits and starts, like a car bumping along the road in the wrong gear.
Do you suffer from procrastination and if so how do you handle it?
Yes I do. If I am stuck on a thorny problem I procrastinate by making coffee and eating biscuits. I have discovered writing is terrible for the waistline! If it is an extremely thorny problem I run off to the garage and buy a large bag of sweets.
I actually love having deadlines because I think that I am programmed to respect these because of my previous background. In court work if you didn’t lodge something at court on or before 11a.m, for example, the sky would fall in!
Which is more important – plot or characters and why?
I think they are both incredibly important but for me, a story always starts with the arrival of a character rather than a plot in my head. My characters become real and it is like I overhear snatches of their conversation in my head. I would be so scared to say that to a psychiatrist!
What have been your 3 biggest learnings during your writing career?
- Submit to every opportunity that you hear about.
- If life gets too busy write little and often. It all mounts up. Consistency is key.
- Never give up!
How do you manage social media as a writer?
I am on a huge learning curve with that right now. Before I got my publishing contract in mid- March I had never been on Twitter. I didn’t even post on my Facebook Page. I only interacted in one or two small closed groups. I didn’t have a Smartphone either until recently. I have a complete horror of accidentally being rude by failing to do something I don’t know that I’m meant to do. It took me ages to learn to retweet with a quote and share with a post. Doing anything on social media for the first time terrifies me. Really, we are talking rabbit caught in the headlights. I still haven’t got the whole copy a link thing and have to get help with that. I am really low tech yet love science fiction which is a bit of a paradox. On publication day, I was sitting in my dressing gown with all 3 devices pinging at me and totally panicking but I got on top of it. I was really overwhelmed by how lovely and generous people have been. I didn’t think it was possible to make friends online but I am already feeling that connection with some people I have regular contact with. It has been a revelation. This old dog is learning new tricks.
Do you have any tips or advice for budding aspiring authors?
- Bash through that first draft. Don’t edit as you go along. It can be polished later. Once you get all the way through the first draft you know you can go the distance and the editing can then begin.
- Do not give up. Commit to being in this writing game for the long haul. If you work hard and persevere you will be published.
- Once your book and synopsis are as good as they can be, try and let them go. You need to detach from them and start another book while the first book is being submitted. This is a case of do as I say and not as I do. I was incredibly fortunate in having my first novel published but I could have written at least another 3 books in the time I took with this one.
- As I am no spring chicken, I do not intend to make that mistake again. I will bury them in the garden to get closure, if necessary!
- Join a supportive writing group. Writing novels can be a lonely business. Not only does it make a world of difference to have a gang of writing pals to go to events with but everyone shares information about publishing opportunities.
- Start building an online presence. You have probably all done that already but, if you haven’t, take the plunge.
Do you suffer from writer’s block and if so how do you overcome?
I have done in the past but not so much now. I think the best way over that is to try a bit of wild writing where you take a pad of A4 paper, set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and just write really fast without thinking about it until the timer goes off. You mustn’t think about what you are writing while you are doing it. It doesn’t matter in the slightest if it is incoherent drivel. The aim is to do it in a stream of consciousness way so that your internal critic/editor is switched off. The first time I experienced this at a writing group I had had a really bad day at work and when the timer went off I was shocked to discover I had written a really violent short story where someone was stabbed through the eye. It was not something I would consciously write.
Do you ever think of the next book whilst writing?
I think when you are writing a series character, you have to look ahead. However, now that I can’t tinker with this one anymore, it is as though my mind is more receptive again. I have a few different books simmering away on the stove.
What do you wear to write?
Usually something unspeakably horrible that I’d be black affronted to answer the door in.
If readers want to get in touch how do they contact you?
I am on Twitter @JackieMBaldwin1
I also have an author Facebook page (currently wildly out of control and needing some posts but I’m going to be sorting that out in the next couple of days) at Jackie Baldwin Author.
Thank you Jackie – fab interview.
Here are some things I am taking from this interview:
- I loved how you became attached to one of your characters and felt like it would be a death for them to never exist outside your own head.
- I can relate to self promotion being struggle. Sigh!
- There is this wonderful sense of grit and determination from you, which comes across in this interview – this ‘never give up’ motto. Love it!
- I can also relate to the urge to write being like an itch – yes yes yes!
- Your writing tips for aspiring authors are really fab and deserve to be in own their blog post!
Thank you for sharing these answers with me and the readers of BlondeWriteMore.
Good luck with the book and the blog tour!
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>