How to Create a Great Setting for Your Fantasy Novel

shutterstock_189557657Creating a believable, compelling setting is a key ingredient in helping readers to immerse themselves in your novel, regardless of the genre. But I believe that in fantasy novels, setting is even more critical. The rules of the world you create must make sense, and often the setting can be a compelling incentive to pick up your story in the first place.

Below are some tips from popular series that have nailed the task of creating a unique, fascinating setting.

Ensure that your setting reinforces the key concepts of your story.
Example: Divergent by Veronica Roth
In Roth’s world, people are split into five factions by personality types. The setting builds upon this concept and enables readers to understand the world better. For example, the people of the Abnegation faction, who value self-sacrifice, live in austere, simple buildings that don’t even have mirrors. The Dauntless, who value courage, live in an underground pit with paths along the sides that have no railings. Anyone could easily plunge to their death with one wrong move. The impact of Roth’s use of setting makes the world instantly feel more believable.

Reveal your setting slowly, letting readers absorb the nuances.
Example: Silo series by Hugh Howey
Howey is a master at leading readers expertly through his imaginative world. When readers are first introduced to the setting in the Silo series, which is an immense, self-sustaining underground building, it isn’t clear exactly how this world functions, or how it came to be. But through the point of view of different characters, the layers are slowly revealed. Readers see how the silo sustains itself, and how the very nature of the different levels of the silo creates divisions between people, and a class system emerges based on how close to the top of the silo people live. It is amazing how quickly the world makes sense, and as additional details are revealed, the setting continues to fascinate.

Hook readers with a mystery about the setting.
Example: The Maze Runner by James Dashner
The setting in The Maze Runner is very simple and contained, but even the characters within the story don’t understand it. The entire world is a small homestead surrounded by a giant maze that the characters can’t escape from. The only way into this world is from an elevator that only goes one way – up. Solving the mystery of who created this world and how to escape is at the crux of the story.

Create a setting that is a fantastic twist on on the real world.
Example: Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
I could point to a number of popular fantasy series for this example, because it’s a device that works well. A favorite of mine is Wicked Lovely, because Marr seamlessly weaves the world of fairies into the world as we know it, and the setting is a key component of making this work. Everyday places deserve a second look for the protagonist, Aislinn, because she is aware that an almost invisible world is overlaid on her own.

Indulge your imagination and don’t be afraid to take risks with your setting.
Example: Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
I’m finishing with Harry Potter because Rowling created the most compelling world that I’ve ever encountered in YA fantasy literature. Staircases that move, secret passages, and pictures that talk all make the world feel incredibly fantastical, like imagination come to life. Fantasy-lovers are looking to be immersed in a world that is new and different, so let your imagination run a little wild.

Which fantasy novels do you think have done the best job with setting?

 

Modeling Your Novel on a Classic

shutterstock_189453926A great source of inspiration for me has always been looking at the classics. And I’m not alone. How many times have familiar storylines crept in to popular works of fiction? The best authors take certain elements from classics and do something so new that many readers don’t notice the references to the original.

I loved how Hugh Howey used elements of Romeo and Juliet in his Silo series. It was a completely original twist on Shakespeare’s classic. Howey used the device of two lovers who come from completely different worlds that are bitterly opposed to each other, but his characters were completely his own. Lukas stands in for Romeo, and while he shares Romeo’s dreaminess and romanticism, is also fiercely intelligent and loyal. Even better, Juliette is a far more compelling Juliet, taking her destiny and those of her people in her hands and leading them to their salvation. By the time I finished Howey’s books, I decided I liked his characters even better than Shakespeare’s originals.

Other authors take the reverse tactic, and choose classic characters and place them in a new setting. One of my favorite recent finds is The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. This is a young adult sci-fi/fantasy series that takes characters from classic fairytales and gives them an extreme makeover. The first book in the series is a loose take on Cinderella. Meyer’s Cinder has a heart of gold at her core, just like her inspiration, but she is a cyborg who helps her prince charming to end a plague that is ravaging the population.

So what have I taken away from those who are borrowing from the greats?

Don’t make your adaptation overly faithful to the original.
It’s tempting to assume that when you’re borrowing elements from a classic that the genius who created it knows best. But it’s critical to bring something dramatically new to the story, or readers might as well read the original. Choose the elements that fit your story, and don’t hesitate to ignore those that don’t work.

Keep your references subtle.
Some of the best stories I’ve read borrow from classics in such a way that I often don’t realize the connection until after I’ve finished the story. It makes a second reading of the book that much better. If it’s too obvious or heavy-handed, the effect can be to dull the impact of your story.

Don’t choose multiple classics to borrow from in one novel.
A rookie mistake that I made in my writing was to incorporate inspiration from multiple texts into my writing. I’m not saying that it isn’t possible to do this, but it takes a masterful hand to incorporate different references expertly. Often the effect can be confusing or overwhelming. And remember, it is your original content that will bring readers back, not what you’re borrowing from the classics.

Have you borrowed from the classics when writing your novel?

How to Promote Your Book on Goodreads

shutterstock_177667814As a self-published author and avid reader, one site that I can’t live without is Goodreads. It’s a social media site where readers can review books that they’ve read and find new books to check out. So when I began writing and promoting The Conjurors Series, I knew that it would be critical to have a presence as an author on this site. Similar sites, such as LibraryThing and Shelfari, are also great places to discover new authors or promote your books, but in my experience Goodreads is the most popular and easiest to navigate. Below you’ll find the tips I’ve found most helpful in maximizing this tool to promote my series.

Create an author page.
The first thing you should do as a self-published author on Goodreads is to look up your books and to identify them as yours. Goodreads makes it easy to then fill out information about yourself and your books. It’s a great way for fans to learn more about you. If they like your writing, it’s one of the first places they may look to see what else you’ve written. If you have a blog, you can also connect it to your Goodreads author page, which is another way to increase your readership.

Maximize your reviews on Goodreads.
It can be a hassle to recruit readers to write reviews for all of the different places your book is listed (Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, etc.) but it is definitely worth it to have a good collection of reviews on Goodreads. There are a ton of potential fans on Goodreads, as it is a go-to site for heavy readers. They want as much proof as possible that your book is worth checking out. Another benefit – whenever a reader identifies that they have finished your book, they are given the option to recommend it to other readers in their network. You can also solicit reviews by joining various groups on Goodreads. More about that in the next tip.

Join Goodreads groups that are relevant to your genre.
Joining Goodreads groups has several benefits. First, it gives you quick exposure to see what books in your genre are popular. I like to make sure that I’ve read all of the latest and greatest books in young adult fantasy, to stay on top of trends and see how other self-published authors in my genre are reaching fans. Second, it can be great place to solicit reviews or promote your book. Many groups have specific topic threads for authors. The two I’ve found most valuable are Making Connections YA Edition Group and How to Promote YOUR Book on Amazon.

Advertise on Goodreads.
Goodreads also offers a simple, highly targeted way to advertise to potential readers. I’m torn about whether or not a recommend this technique. On one hand, I love how I can target my ad to readers who are specifically interested in my genre, or even readers who have read works by other authors who are similar to me. That being said, I haven’t had a lot of luck with readers clicking on my ad. However, this isn’t a waste of money, because I pay for clicks. It means that a few times a week readers check out my book on Amazon because they’ve seen the ad on Goodreads, and a decent percentage of those clicks lead to sales. All in all, I’d say it doesn’t hurt to give it a test run and see how high your click through rate is.

Conduct a giveaway through Goodreads.
Goodreads also offers an easy way to have a giveaway (of physical copies of your book) that is promoted through their site. Although I haven’t yet conducted a Goodreads giveaway of my own, other self-published authors have said that this technique has been valuable. It’s a great way to get your name in front of new readers, and you can always follow up to give away an e-book version of your book with interested readers.

Have you discovered other techniques to maximize your presence on Goodreads?

The Ticking Clock

shutterstock_100477396In expert hands, the device of a ticking clock can add urgency and keep readers turning pages. A personal favorite – will Harry Potter destroy all of the horcruxes before Voldemort attacks Hogwarts? On the other hand, in the wrong hands the ticking clock can feel forced. Every author wants to make their readers feel something when they read their work, but we’d rather it not be annoyance. At least, not annoyance at the writer.

I recently encountered an example of the ticking clock that I found original in the young adult sci-fi novel Unwind by Neal Shusterman. The premise is that parents have the option of having their children “unmade” part by part between the ages of 13 and 18. The first book in the series centers around three kids slated to be unwound, who all escape before the procedure can be performed on them. The very effective ticking clock that runs through the entire series is that if they can survive until they turn 18, then they’re safe. One thing I loved was that the ticking clock keeps ticking, even at the end of the story. It made me instantly download the next book in the series. I was invested, and had to know that the characters I’d come to care for would survive to adulthood.

I’m currently writing the first draft of the third book of The Conjurors Series and decided to add a ticking clock. As the book draws to a close, I find myself uncertain as to whether it’s functioning the way I want it to. It’s possible to start the ticking clock too early, and it adds pressure to every scene. It feels like my protagonist can’t take moments to relax when she knows something big is about to happen.

And readers need those breaks from the action as much as protagonists do. I relish the pauses in my favorite novels, where characters have a chance to feel and aren’t running to the next action scene. Imagine if Edward and Bella never had their moment in the clearing in the woods where they finally admit how they feel? I think Twilight is a great example of a ticking clock gone wrong. The moment that the book becomes a race to save Bella’s life, it loses the heart-rending romance that makes the series compelling.

What books do you think do the best (or worst) job of employing a ticking clock?

How to Create a Series Bible

shutterstock_166195055I remember hearing a story that J. K. Rowling would use reliable Internet sites when she was writing the Harry Potter series to recall specific details from prior books in the series. At the time, I was a little shocked. Shouldn’t an author be able to keep all of the characters and locations they’ve created in their heads? It’s like forgetting that your mother’s eyes are blue or that you’ve been married for five years. There are somethings you should just know.

Now that I’m writing a series of my own, my perspective has completely changed. I can see the value in having a logical way of tracking the details of the characters and world that you create. Searching through prior books in your series, especially if the series is lengthy, is incredibly tedious. By the same token, if readers find little inconsistencies in your story, it can break their suspension of disbelief. Just because you didn’t remember that your protagonist had crooked front teeth doesn’t mean that an adoring fan won’t be horrified when you contradict yourself later.

That’s where a series bible comes in. I first heard about TV writers using it to track various episodes and seasons of a show. But it has been fully appropriated by authors to track their book series as well. Every author has a different technique, but the basics are the same. You have a binder, Excel file, sticky notes on a wall, or handwritten or typed notes, that track the characters, settings, and key plot points of each of the books in your series. The more organized and thorough you are, the more useful a tool your series bible can be.

I began my series bible as a list of all of the characters in each book, in no particular order. I listed their backstory, appearance, magical powers (since I write YA fantasy), and key information about what had happened to them so far. Sometimes I also included notes about what would happen in future books as well.

However, as the series has progressed (I’m now in the process of writing the third book in the series) it has helped to be more organized. I personally think Excel is the most logical way to keep track of a wide range of details. In addition to tracking characters, I also keep a map so I remember the geography of the world I’ve created, and details about the culture, landscape, and history of various countries that exist in that world.

Even with these details, I occasionally find myself returning to the first two books in the series for little details, so in the future I plan to be more rigorous about what I record. At its best, a series bible can be a roadmap that allows you to look backward and forward in your series and make adjustments as your story progresses.

Have you created a series bible for your novels? If so, which format did you find to be the most useful?

How to Release (or Re-Release) Your First Self-Published Novel

Cover2When I originally published the first novel in The Conjurors Series in 2011, I had no concept of self publishing. It never occurred to me to promote my book. I simply used Amazon as an easy way for friends and relatives to download my book so I didn’t have to buy them a hard copy and mail it.

Two years later, self publishing had become a phenomenon, and my brother suggested that I market my novel and see what happened. But with a cover cobbled together using Microsoft clip art and no outside editing expertise, I wondered if my book was ready for public consumption. I’m very glad that I did some research and realized that for a self published author to be successful, she needs to have a polished product. A great story is at the core of any good book, but it’s hard to see through typos, horrific formatting, and a generic title that doesn’t provide any clues as to the content inside.

Below are some tips I would recommend any writer take before releasing a first novel or re-releasing an existing story.

  1. Invest in professional cover art. Unless you’re a graphic designer (or are close friends with one) this is a monetary investment that will pay off. It’s the first glimpse readers have of the quality of your work, and it needs to shine. I used Streetlight Graphics, and was thrilled with the quality of their work.
  2. Hire a professional editor to review your writing. I thought I had all of the expertise required to edit my own book – I was a double major in journalism and English in college, and part of my day job involves editing others’ writing. But I was astonished at how many nits my editor found in my writing. She also provided a much-needed sanity check to ensure that there weren’t any inconsistencies in the story. I worked with Shelley Holloway, and found her eye for detail was exactly what I needed.
  3. Evaluate the title of your book. I recommend searching Amazon books and using a search engine to see what pops up when you enter your title. I found that there were at least a dozen books with the title I had chosen, which would make it difficult for someone to search for.
  4. Write a blurb that’s as interesting as your novel. I was glad that I spent some time writing and having my editor review my book’s blurb as well. After your cover and title, it will make the biggest impact on whether or not readers choose to buy your book. For tips from successful authors who have done this well, check out this post.
  5. Create a web presence for yourself as an author. At the very least, have a Twitter and Facebook account that can keep fans, friends and family updated on everything you publish. This is also a valuable place to direct fans as your book attracts attention so they can hear about future works that you publish. I also recommend having a website with information about yourself and your books. A blog is great as well if you have the time. It’s an excellent way to network with other writers and communicate with your fan base.
  6. Consider releasing both an e-book and a physical copy of your book. Despite a slight learning curve when it comes to formatting for an e-book, there is no downside to making your book available in digital form. It’s free and is a great way for you to have giveaways without breaking the bank. At the same time, there is something powerful about a copy of your book that you can hold in your hands and bring to local libraries and stores to see if they are willing to display it.

So I’m proud to announce that I am re-releasing the first book in The Conjurors Series. It has a new title, The Society of Imaginary Friends (formerly Into the Dark), has been properly edited by an outside professional, and is rewritten with some of the knowledge I’ve gained in the years since I originally wrote it.

Below is a blurb about The Society of Imaginary Friends (available on Amazon):

The-Society-of-Imaginary-Friends-2500x1563-Amazon-Smashwords-Kobo-AppleBelief is a powerful magic.

Valerie Diaz has a power that she can’t contain, and it’s killing her.

Bounced between foster homes and the streets, she only has time to concentrate on staying alive. But a visit from the imaginary friend of her childhood opens a world of possibilities, including a new life half a universe away on a planet that is bursting with magic.

The Society of Imaginary Friends follows Valerie on a journey that straddles two worlds. In order to survive, she must travel many light years away to a realm where anything is possible.

On the Globe, imaginary friends come to life, the last of the unicorns rules the realm, and magic seeps from the pores of all the Conjurors who live there.

But choosing to embrace her potential will set Valerie on a treacherous course–one filled with true love, adventure and perilous danger.

The second novel in the series, Knights of Light, will be released in early March. I’d love to hear what you think about my story, and I welcome any reviews!

Tips on Writing Series Backstory

shutterstock_103729193I’ve begun writing the third book in The Conjurors Series, and in the opening chapters I’m running into an issue that I remember from writing the second book. How much backstory should I include from the prior books? I flipped through some of my favorite YA fantasy novels, like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, and found that the authors made subtle references to the prior books, but it was done in such a way as to not interrupt the flow of the story.

Since I don’t have J.K. Rowling’s phone number, I tried to work backwards to see what was working. I researched what other writers recommend on this topic and was surprised to find that there weren’t a lot of tips out there. Below is the list I’ve compiled on what has worked for me when writing series backstory.

Include brief reminders of who characters are and any defining characteristics when they are introduced for the first time.
Whether it’s a defining physical characteristic, personality trait, or supernatural power, a phrase or sentence about the basic essence of who characters are can help readers flash back to the earlier story. This is especially critical for minor characters.

Only recall plot points from prior books when absolutely necessary.
If readers will be confused about what’s happening, it’s okay to include a brief sentence or two referencing key events from past books. But don’t feel you have to rehash the entire plot – new readers may be intrigued enough to go back and read prior books in the series. I know when I read books by my favorite authors that I love little Easter eggs that reference earlier stories. It’s okay if continuing readers don’t catch all of your references during their first read, as long as they can follow the plot.

Let critical backstory emerge through dialogue and action where possible.
Rather than telling readers what they should know about your series backstory, let your characters ask the questions, or subtly weave in critical information into dialogue. Even better, let it emerge during the action. For example, if your character was seriously wounded in a prior book, reveal the persisting weakness or pain during a current battle. The old scar will make sense for new and continuing readers alike.

Even if you don’t mention information from past books outright, make sure prior events still inform how your character behaves.
One thing that I noticed worked incredibly well in successful YA fantasy series was that even when events from prior books in the series weren’t explicitly rehashed, the ways the characters had evolved stayed true to the story. Any way the character has matured, grown, or perhaps fallen apart, like Katniss in The Hunger Games, is carried through. I try to think about how my protagonist changes over the course of the novel, and how that ties into the larger change in her character arc for the entire series.

Ask your beta readers to flag places where they were confused about who characters were or past plot that was being referenced.
The most important source of advice for how much backstory from prior books to include was from my beta readers. Even my own father, one of my most trusted and valuable beta readers, struggled to remember the nuances of the plot and the details about minor characters from the first book when he beta read book two. Knowing where he was scratching his head let me know the places that needed me to invest some time referencing past plot points.

Do you have any additional suggestions for how much backstory to include when writing subsequent novels in a series?

Motivation vs. Inspiration

shutterstock_81172669For self-published writers, a lot of deadlines are self-imposed. This can be a blessing and a curse. It allows for flexibility, but it also enables us to procrastinate, since the only person we answer to is ourselves. Sometimes we’re waiting for inspiration to strike, but at least for me, I think that the real culprit is motivation. Do I have the energy, after a day of working my day job and a night with my adorable but rambunctious toddler, to sit down and write a couple thousand words? Or would I rather finish the Divergent trilogy? Perhaps if I had an editor breathing down my neck that would be the motivation I need to channel my inspiration and write.

However, motivation won’t be a problem for me in 2014. I have a unique deadline that is compelling me to finish writing the third book of The Conjurors Series. I’m having a baby in the middle of March. After my little bundle is here, I question whether, for at least a few months, coherent writing will be possible. So it’s up to me, right now, to admit that being pregnant is no excuse for slacking off. But having a newborn and a toddler might be a compelling reason to take a break in a few months.

Knowing that this deadline is coming has been both motivating and inspiring. It’s immovable, and every time my baby kicks inside me it’s a reminder that time is ticking by. But rather than feeling that the pressure of the deadline is leaving me blocked, I’m finding that my inspiration is there when I focus on it. I suspect it’s been there the whole time, and the only thing holding me back was finding the motivation to tap into it.

So once I land back on Earth and juggling two kids instead of one feels possible, I’m wondering how I can find the motivation to always chase after my goals this aggressively. I don’t think my husband would be on board with having babies every time I’m getting lazy with my writing.

What do you do to motivate yourself to adhere to your deadlines and keep writing when you’d rather be playing Candy Crush? Please tell me, because I’m going to need all the motivation I can find to write pretty soon!

The Best Time of Year to Release Your Self-Published Novel

Seasons

As a self-published author, deciding when to release your book can feel secondary to the bigger concerns of writing, editing, and marketing your masterpiece. And it certainly is. However, giving some thought to the best time of year to release your baby into the great, wide world can yield significant value in terms of sales. The first 6-8 months after you release your book is the time when to make the biggest splash, and timing it for a season that best suits your needs can help you maximize your profits in those months.

After researching how my fellow self-published authors have fared in selling books, below are the trends that I’ve noticed.

Spring
Spring is an average time of the year in terms of book sales for most self-published authors. However, it could be a great season for you as a self-published author if you choose to do heavy local promotion of your book during this time. Farmer’s markets and outdoor events can gather large crowds when the weather is at its best. Publishing and promoting your novel in the spring months could be a differentiator for you, especially if you are hoping to cultivate a local readership. For more tips on locally promoting your book, check out my post on the subject here.

Summer
The summer months are the slowest time when it comes to selling books in most genres. Whether it’s going on vacation for adults or getting through the grind of required summer reading for kids and young adults, readers simply don’t buy as many books as they do at other times of the year. Self-published authors shouldn’t be alarmed if they see a dip in sales in the summer. Depending on how often you publish, you could always delay your release until September, when book sales start to pick up.

Fall
After the slow months of summer, fall brings a welcome rejuvenation to selling books. Many readers buy seasonal books at this time, whether it’s spooky stories to get in the mood for Halloween or nonfiction cookbooks for Thanksgiving dinner. Personally, in the fall I find myself downloading Christmas stories for my e-reader to get me ready for the holiday season. If you have written something that ties in well to a seasonal activity, make sure to have your book ready on virtual shelves and heavily promoted in September and October.

Winter
The winter season is a great time for selling books. Before the holidays, many people purchase books as gifts. This can be a good time to sell hard copies of your book, since it’s harder to give an e-book as a present. After the holidays, readers are stocking up their e-readers with the stories they want to read in the new year.  And by the time February rolls around, romance authors often get a nice boost in readership. This is just speculation on my part, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the cold, wet weather also gives readers more time to search for and read books as well. This is an ideal time to get new readers hooked on your series.

The best option of all is to publish often. While there are seasonal fluctuations, successful self-published authors agree that publishing regularly is the key to a satisfied and growing fan base. If you can manage to publish 3-4 times a year, timing your releases based on seasonal fluctuations is secondary.

Do you have any successes or troubles that you think related to the time of year you published your book? If so, I’d love to hear what happened.

Author Interview: Alison Williams on Writing Historical Drama

The Black Hours book coverWell-researched historical fiction can have a profound impact on a reader, particularly when it touches on a subject as fascinating and appalling as the persecution of “witches” in England in the 17th century. Alison Williams tackles this difficult topic in her novel The Black Hours, evoking a dark, terrifying mood that made me appreciate yet again that I wasn’t born a few hundred years ago. Her story not only graphically details the blind paranoia of the times and the torture used on women accused of witchcraft, but also exposes the vulnerable powerlessness that women in general were exposed to at that time.

Alison shared her insights on researching and writing her novel, as well as what inspired her to explore the dark topic of witchcraft.

Tell us a little about yourself.

Alison WilliamsI live in Basingstoke, a town in Hampshire in the south of England. I originally trained as a journalist and met my husband at college. We have been married for 19 years and have two teenage children. I worked in education for several years, mainly with children with special needs. In my forties I decided that I needed to focus on my writing so took a Masters in Creative Writing. This really helped with my novel – part of The Black Hours was submitted in my final portfolio. I now write full-time as well as helping out with my husband’s PR business. I love to read – my favorite authors are Hilary Mantel and Elizabeth Kostova. I also like to watch movies (especially if they happen to be starring Johnny Depp or Ryan Gosling!). I also love music and like to see bands live whenever possible – in the last month I have seen Johnny Marr, Arctic Monkeys and Stereophonics. I’m happy to say that my kids often come with me – although usually because I’m paying for the tickets!

What was the original inspiration for your historical drama, The Black Hours?

I’ve always been extremely interested in history and, in particular, women’s history. I find it rather sad that a man like Matthew Hopkins <the villain of the novel> actually existed and did the awful things that he did, but that he is not really that well-known. In fact, a lot of people that have read The Black Hours think that I made him up! He was responsible for hundreds of deaths in England yet is hardly mentioned in our history books. Consequently, I really feel his victims have largely been forgotten – all too often they are just names on a list in a book or museum. We tend to forget that they were real people, with real lives, families, dreams, hopes and fears. What they suffered was dreadful and I really felt compelled to give them a voice. Although The Black Hours is fiction and Alice <the protagonist of the novel> never existed, the methods Matthew Hopkins uses in the novel are all methods actually used on real victims. I hope, in some small way, the novel pays tribute to those real victims.

You have a gift for creating a distinctly dark and desperate mood that permeates your novel. Did you consciously cultivate this tone, and if so, what were your techniques?

Thank you! I’m so glad that the desperation of the women comes across. I think that the tone comes naturally as a result of the subject matter. I felt that I had to try and put myself in their shoes (as much as a 21st century woman can) and try to understand and express how they must have been feeling as their world and everything they loved was threatened and ultimately destroyed. The biggest compliment I have had was from a reader who said that she was actually shouting at Matthew as she read because she felt as frustrated as Alice must have felt. That helplessness, frustration and despair, that feeling that there was nothing you could possibly do to help yourself out of this terrible situation, was what I imagined his real victims must have felt.

The Black Hours also explores the complex gender and power relationships at a particular point in history. Do you feel that your protagonist, Alice, is empowered by the end of your novel?

I have a real problem with some female characters in historical fiction who manage to fight against the odds and be independent, free and liberated. While I want Alice to be empowered and strong, which I think she is, I also want her to be realistic. I think it does a disservice to women of the past when modern day writers ignore the constraints that women lived under. By making them falsely brave or heroic I think they take away something from the everyday bravery that many, many women had to have in order to just survive. In 1647, Alice was empowered by simply being able to live alone and fend for herself.

Many of the readers of this blog are self published. Do you have any advice or marketing tips that have worked well for you?

I am learning all the time! I think that marketing is really tough because there are so many other books out there fighting for the readers’ attention. The best thing I have done is to develop a support network of other independent writers. I don’t think it helps to see other indie authors as the competition, rather I see my self-published colleagues as friends. I know that I can ask them for advice and support and in return I am happy to offer my own advice and support.

What is the most unusual thing that has ever inspired your writing?

I meet up with a group of four other writers once a month. We all write in different genres and have very different styles. We have, in the past, swapped genres and had a go at writing a piece in a genre we were really uncomfortable with. I got science fiction/fantasy! I can’t say I was exactly inspired, or that my attempt was very successful, but it was good to stretch my writing.

Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you?

I have to have total silence when I work. Any noise is instantly a complete distraction. Even the dog has learnt to be quiet in the day when I’m sat at my desk! It’s a shame because I’d love to have music on or listen to the radio, but if I do that then my focus is instantly on whatever song is playing and not on my writing. I must have a terrible attention span! Noise isn’t the only thing that distracts me – working from home there’s the chores, the telephone ringing, the doorbell and of course Facebook and Twitter to distract. What I’d really like is to have a house with enough land to build a little office at the bottom of the garden where I could hide away from everyone and everything and just get on!