Author Interview – Janet Hopton

My apologies for not posting an author interview last week. It was a bit of a hectic week for me one way or another, but I’m back on the case now and would like to extend a very warm welcome to Janet Hopton. Janet’s fast paced thriller ‘Strange Days’ was published towards the end of 2012, and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to catch up with her and bombard her with questions.

Novel:  STRANGE DAYS

Purchase Strange Days on Amazon

UK link         US link

 

Alison – Hello Janet, welcome to my blog and thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Let’s start with your debut novel Strange Days. In your own words, please tell us more about the book and its launch.

JanetStrange Days is Crime/Thriller Fiction.  It is my debut novel and it tells the story of a young barmaid whose life is changed for ever when she gets herself involved, after witnessing a car accident.

Since the launch of Strange Days on the 29th of November 2012, I have done two book signings, one at Waterstone’s in Derby and another at Waterstone’s in Burton-on-Trent.  Both signings went very well resulting in 45 books been sold altogether.  Unfortunately, since then I have had a fall resulting in some injuries, which has meant that I haven’t been unable to do anymore promotion but I hope to get back on track very soon.  I intend to arrange more signings and talks at Women’s Institutes and Townswomen’s Guilds.

Alison – I’m sorry to hear about your accident, and hope you are on the mend now. I’m sure you’re looking forward to getting back to the business of promoting Strange Days. What inspired you to become an author in the first place?

Janet – Since being a teenager I have had it on my mind that I would like to write but for some reason never got started, other than writing a few poems.  It wasn’t until I was married and with teenagers of my own, did I decide to have a go.  It has always been in the back of my mind that I wanted to achieve something, to be recognised in someway, to leave something behind after I am gone.  Maybe that is my driving force!

Alison – I can’t think of anything better than books to leave behind for generations to come! Looking to authors from the past, do you feel that anyone in particular has influenced your writing?

Janet – I don’t think my writing has been influenced by any other authors.  I think it is entirely me, or am I being naive thinking that?  You ask which authors I like.  To be honest, I think I like the books rather than the authors.  A good book makes a good author and you have to be a good author to write a good book and there are many who fit that category.  I particularly like the classics, such as Dickens, The Brontes, Jane Austen but any good book will do!

Alison – I’m a big fan of Dickens myself, I love his turn of phrase. Was there anything in particular that gave you inspiration for Strange Days itself?

Janet – My inspiration for Strange Days was when I worked behind the bar in our local pub.  It came from observing the clientele and getting intrigued by them and wondering what their lives must be like.

Alison – People watching is something I guess all authors must do. Our characters would be a little boring otherwise! Going back to the subject of books in general, what are you reading at the moment, and what is your opinion?

Janet – The book that I am reading at the moment is Small Island by Andrea Levy.  I am enjoying reading it.  I thought at first that she was taking too long to get to the plot and going into too much detail about the characters in it but as I have read further I have found that she has brought the characters to life for me in a very interesting way.  I am only two thirds through it at the moment, therefore cannot give my full opinion on it.

Alison – I recently read a highly entertaining blog in which an author describes the rituals she has to perform before she begins writing for the day. A second author commented that she has to be wearing certain jewellery when she writes. Do you have any idiosyncrasies when you’re writing?

Janet – None in particular, other than that I like to be alone in the house when I write and nobody can see it until I am happy that it is finished.

Alison – I can relate to that. My poor partner gets snarled at if he so much as glances at my unedited work! As I’ve mentioned I’m reading a lot of excellent blogs by fellow authors, and one thing that intrigues me is the different writing styles each one has. Do you like to plan your work, or do you just see where the story takes you?

Janet – I didn’t plan Strange Days.  I had an idea and worked on it.  I let my imagination run away with me as I typed.

Alison – That’s very much how I write too. Once I get to know my characters the story becomes theirs and I just follow along to write it all down. I remember hearing an author speaking on a radio show, saying his characters told him when they considered it the right time to finish their story. Do you find your characters talk to you?

Janet – I haven’t noticed my characters talking to me, if they did I would worry that I was Schizophrenic, but I will say that I do become my main characters as I write.

Alison – That’s very interesting. My characters chat away to me all the time, but I’ve never felt that I was one of them. It just goes to show we all have our own unique ways of writing. It must be very exciting, and quite daunting, once your book is published and you know people are reading it, especially when those people start to write reviews. Has Strange Days received any reviews, and were you happy with them?

Janet –  I have had some favourable reviews, the ones on Amazon giving Strange Days 4* status and some on my Facebook Site – Fans of Strange Days, all very favourable.

Alison – Do you feel you have learnt anything throughout the publishing of Strange Days?

Janet – I think I learnt a lot from my publishing experience.  The way the process is done from the editing, through the proof reading and artwork stages.  I looked at self publishing at first but felt out of my depth, so I went through an independent publisher, Book Guild.  I was glad that I did, as when it came to promoting my book at Waterstones, I was told that they wouldn’t have been interested in it, if I had self-published.  I am not sure whether that is always the case!

On reflection I think I might have benefited from a more local publisher, the only reason I say this is that Book Guild Publishing is in Brighton and I am in Derby.  There were occasions that I thought maybe they would have attended promotional events if they had been closer and that I could perhaps have attended promotional events that they are involved with.

Alison – I think bookshops are becoming very wary of promoting unknown authors now, with all the competition from e-books making it harder and harder for them to survive. I’m convinced Waterstones would never have agreed to hosting my book launch had I not had the support of an established publishing firm. Aside from book signings, have you joined any book clubs or writers groups while promoting Strange Days?

Janet – I am not involved with any book clubs, but having said that I recently joined Vixen Fiction, a small group of ladies who like to write and meet at our local library once a month.  We have a trip to D H Lawrence’s House and Museum in Nottinghamshire coming up soon.

Alison – I’ve found networking with authors, editors and book lovers very useful as I approach the publication date of my novel. At the very least we can bounce ideas off one another, and I’ve made some useful contacts for when the time comes to get reviews rolling in. I’ve mentioned editing here; would any writing other than fiction, such as editing or script writing, appeal to you?

Janet – I would be interested in other writing ideas, such has writing plays but I am not sure how good I would be at it.  As for writing reviews, I don’t think that I am eloquent enough to do a good job, especially when there is so much at stake.  Editing is very specialist, I think one must need a degree in English Grammar to be able to do it.

Alison – I’m not so sure about that. Obviously, an editor needs a high standard of grammar and a good command of the language in general, as well as an eye for storylines and characterisation, but I think one can learn all that from being a voracious reader. You’re right about script writing, which I think is very different to writing a novel. As for reviewing, I think you do yourself a disservice! Anyone who can write a book deemed worthy of publication is eloquent enough to write a review. Revisiting the subject of editing again, do you think authors need to get their work professionally edited and proof read, or is it something they can do themselves?

Janet – I do think that professional editing and proof reading is essential for the publishing process for most of us.  I hope that someone edits and proof-reads this before it goes out!

Alison – Just me I’m afraid, although I may be able to persuade one of the lovely people at Book Guild to cast their expert eyes over it too! It’s no disrespect to an author’s talent, but I don’t believe anyone can successfully edit and proof read their own novel, and it’s a shame that some authors think a DIY job is a good way to save some money. Apart from employing the professionals to edit and proof read, is there any other advice you would give to a budding author?

Janet – My advice to any budding authors out there is to give it a go, what can you lose?  You will never know, unless you try!

Alison – I’ve recently received the first copies of my debut novel, which I found immensely exciting. What a great feeling it was to hold my book in my hands for the first time. How did you feel when the initial copies of Strange Days arrived?

Janet – I felt a bit overwhelmed when my book arrived all done and dusted.  In fact I made my husband open the box and look at it first.  My first reaction when I got my hands on it was ‘WOW’, it was a lovely book and nicely presented.  My only gripe was that I thought it would be thicker.  The strangest feeling was seeing it being advertised in Waterstones for my signing.  I then expected to see it everywhere, on bookshop shelves, in libraries, I guess that only happens, every blue moon!  Not giving up hope though!

When in London I called into The British Library and asked for it, only to be told I was too early as it takes more than six months to get there.  Must try again!

Alison – Are you planning a sequel to Strange Days?

Janet – I haven’t planned a sequel to Strange Days but it isn’t out of the question, especially as friends tell me that they need to know what happens next to some of my characters.

I do have another novel nearly finished and hope that my publisher will like it.

Alison – I shall keep my eyes open for that. Would you ever consider ghost writing a novel for a celebrity ‘author’?

Janet – Ghost Writing for a celebrity author – I think that if I was younger that would be a great idea.  I am not sure what the celebrity author would think of me doing it though.

Alison – Have you ever thought about Strange Days being made into a film or television drama? If so, would you like to appear in it?

 Janet – Some have said that Strange Days would make a good television drama, as for me starring in it; I think that would be best left to the actors.  Maybe an extra on set would be good!

Alison – Just a couple of general questions to round off the interview. What are your top five books, if you can narrow it down to five?

Janet – My five top books are:

  • Papillon – Henri Charierre
  • Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  • The Blind Miller (I like a good cry) – Catherine Cookson
  • The Secret Garden (Childhood Inspiration) – Frances Hodgson Burnett

Oh yes, I did like Puckoon (I also like a good laugh) – Spike Milligan

Alison – I loved The Secret Garden as a child too, I must have read it dozens of times. I do love my Kindle for its convenience, but I don’t think it will ever replace the pleasure of opening a brand new book and smelling the print before I delve into the story. Do you think there is a future for physical books, or will the e-book eventually take over completely?

Janet – I do hope that the future is okay for real, touchable, smellable books, however I think that there is a place for e-books to.  Perhaps everyone who purchases an e-book should buy a real book to make amends.  I can’t see readers loaning out their e-books, can you?

Alison – No, I can’t see that happening either; but, on the plus side for us authors, it means everyone will buy their own copy for their e-reader and we make more sales. Kerr-ching! Thank you very much Janet for taking part in this interview. It has been a real pleasure to chat and hear your news and views.

Janet – Thank you Alison, I think this is a great idea!

To find out more about Janet and her work, please visit her facebook page Fans of Strange Days or follow her on Twitter  

Author:  JANET HOPTON

 

Author Interview with EMMA LONG

EMMA LONG

Today I am delighted to introduce EMMA LONG, my first interviewee and Quick & Easy Homemade Meals Book Coverauthor of the very well received cookery book ‘QUICK AND EASY HOMEMADE MEALS’, published by Book Guild. After several years working for The Swallow Hotel Group as an Assistant Manager, Emma set up her own Birmingham-based business, Emma’s Pantry, in 1998, which she ran until 2012 when she joined her family run property business full time. In response to demand from Emma’s Pantry staff and customers she created ‘QUICK AND EASY HOMEMADE MEALS’, in which she guides her hungry readers through easy to follow recipes making the most of common ingredients. Each recipe is accompanied by full colour photographs, showing the raw ingredients and the delicious meals that can be created.

When not cooking, Emma is a keen tennis player and gardener, an avid reader, and enjoys playing the guitar and drums. I’m delighted to say she has found time in her busy schedule to answer some questions for me. So without further ado, let’s welcome Emma and get to know her a little better.

Alison – Briefly describe your latest book / work in progress, along with details of book signings, release date (where relevant), promotional events etc.

Emma – My book “Quick and Easy Homemade Meals” was published in 2012 and is my first publication – It is as the cover states ‘A book of tasty recipes for the busy person’.

Each recipe is accompanied with a photo of the raw ingredients as well as one of the finished dish, something I feel is a unique selling point, as I have yet to discover a publication which has this feature.

I am currently writing my second book and have nearly finished ‘trying and testing’ the recipes. Additionally, I hope to combine both books to develop a student friendly version which will include advice on essential ingredients for the fridge, freezer, and store cupboard.

Alison – ‘Quick and Easy Homemade Meals’ is now on my wish list; my cookery skills are in need of some improvement! When and why did you decide to become and author?

Emma – I decided to become an author in 2011 and was inspired by not only my love of preparing food but also the pleasure I get from constructing a tasty dish by combining a few ingredients. I wanted to capture this inspiration in book form and so starting to write down my recipes.

Writing a book and having it published is a very satisfying and rewarding achievement – something I wanted to fulfil before my 40th birthday !

I do like a challenge and am always looking for new ways to add another ‘string to my bow’.

Alison – What are you reading at the moment, and what is your opinion?

Emma – I am a very keen reader and since 2010 and have on average been reading a book a week. I am currently in between books at the moment as I am just finishing “The Innocent” by Harlan Coben and am about to start “Inferno” the new novel by Dan Brown. I really enjoy Harlan Coben books as each chapter leaves you on the edge of your seat – really well written thrillers.

Alison – Has your book received favourable reviews ? Please feel free to quote from the reviews / and / or post links here.

Emma – Yes, I am pleased to say the Burton Mail (Saturday, 25th February, 2012) provided a very favourable review as have some customers on Amazon.

Caroline Kay from the Burton Mail wrote:

“I may not be a very adventurous cook, but I do like my cookery books.

Over the years I have acquired quite a few – but the one thing I like the most is to see a picture of each of the dishes which are included. Not all cookery books offer this luxury – in fact, many moons ago, I had one to review which didn’t have a single picture or illustration throughout.

Quick and Easy Homemade Meals, however, doesn’t just have a full colour photograph illustrating how each dish should look when prepared, but also a picture of the raw ingredients. Personally, I love this quirky addition.

The book is divided into 11 sections – beef dishes, pasta, chicken, fish, pork, lamb, vegetarian, alternative meals, side dishes, sauces, and sandwich fillings.

All the dishes are quick and easy to prepare and the majority don’t have a particularly long cooking time which is ideal for those, like me, who always seem to be in a rush. There is a good selection of recipes mixing classics with favourites and includes some interesting snacks and side dishes.

There are more than 100 recipes featured from an author who, unlike many of our cookery brethren, doesn’t believe in the motto ‘the more complicated the better’.

Chances are you will have most of the ingredients in your store cupboard, fridge and freezer.”

Amazon Customers have given my book a 5 star rating and the comments during 2012 – 2013 included:

“Great Book !”

“Quite a discovery”

“I highly recommend this book”

“Excellent cook book”

A local Birmingham magazine called “Gem” which is delivered to homes within the area have been very supportive, including me in two issues in 2012 and I have been approached by The Editor to write a feature for the July and August editions this year.

Recently, my old University, Oxford Brookes, from which I graduated in 1995, posted a profile detailing my career to date on their website. The link is here.

Furthermore, in order to promote my book I have designed a website  and have a dedicated Facebook page on which I post updates, news, and recipes:

Alison – It must be fabulous to know that people have not only bought ‘Quick and Easy Homemade Meals’ they have enjoyed it so much they review and recommend it. All the hard work and the long publishing process was definitely worthwhile. What have you learned from the publishing experience ? Are there things you would do differently in future ?

Emma – The publishing process was a completely new experience for me, but the publisher kept me informed at each stage so I knew what to expect. It could be said you learn from your mistakes the first time round which makes the publishing procedure easier and gives you a greater understanding for your second publication.

The Facebook page I created for my book has been very successful, and so in hindsight perhaps I should have designed one earlier, maybe pre-book launch, and thus I could have started to built an audience and gained more interest earlier.

Alison – Do you think professional editing and proof reading are essential parts of the publishing process ? Do you think an author can successfully perform these tasks themselves ? Please give reasons for your answer.

Emma – Most definitely these are essential parts. As an author you become very engrossed in your work and possibly overlook typographical errors and may miss out, in the case of a cookery book, the mention of a specific ingredient which has been listed but omitted from the method.

Proof reading and editing provide ‘a fresh pair of eyes’ and are beneficial tools in order to offer a critical evaluation.

Alison – I agree. Recently I saw a cartoon picture with the caption ‘Don’t ask an author to poof read their own work, they’ll only see whatever they intended to write’. In addition to employing the services of professional editors and proof readers, is there any other advice you would give to a budding author ?

Emma – Research your topic thoroughly and look for a USP (unique selling point) which will inevitably help sell your book. Don’t be disheartened by rejection use it positively – I was turned down by 14 Literary Agents until I found a publisher who saw the potential in my manuscript and I am now a publisher author !

Use the internet as a platform to showcase your work, such as creating a Facebook page and designing a website.

It you believe in your work, undoubtedly others will too, and thus you may well fulfil a niche in the market which has largely remained unexplored.

Alison – Social media is an invaluable marketing tool, isn’t it. After working so hard to find a publisher, it must have been great to see your book in print for the first time. How did you feel?

Emma – Thrilled and excited ! To see my initial manuscript turned into a book meant I fulfilled an ambition to be a published author by 40. As a new author the process felt quite daunting but I am delighted with the finished product. The support and positive comments have made the whole process worthwhile.

Alison – Do you think someone can be taught to write books, or is it a natural talent ?

Emma – I think there is a writer and book in everyone ! The word ‘talent’ is defined in the dictionary as an ‘ability’ which I believe each one of us has, but some may not realise. Our introduction to creative writing can start at an early age at school, but career choices, and experiences during life can provide material which could result in a book. I recommend putting pen to paper and let your creative juices flow !

Alison – What are your top five books ? A favourite series can count as one choice.

Emma- This is a very difficult question as I have enjoyed some many books by different authors over the years but I have managed to produce a short list as follows:

1)      “Angels and Demons” by Dan Brown

2)      “Hothouse Flower” by Lucinda Riley

3)      “Never Look Away” by Linwood Barclay

4)      “Tell No One” by Harlan Coben

5)      “Confessions of a Midwife” by Diane Chamberlain

Alison – Good choices! ‘Tell No One’ is a particular favourite of mine too. What do you think is the future for the physical book ? Do you think there will always be people buying hard copies of books, or will the e-reader take over completely ?

Emma – Sadly there has been a steady demise in the traditional High Street bookstore over the past few years as on line retailers, such as Amazon, have succeeded in meeting the demands of the consumer whose hectic life style limits their spare time and thus ordering a book via the internet, which can be delivered to your e-reader within seconds, removes the need to leave your desk to shop.

I, too have joined the growing band of people who own a Kindle (the device is certainly easier and weighs less to take on holiday than several novels !) and have recently uploaded a Kindle version of my book on to the Amazon website.

Perhaps, like a fashion item, the book will come back into vogue and the e-reader will become a less favourable mode of reading, only time will tell !

Alison – I think there will always be a call for real books as well as e-books, particularly for reference. I can’t imagine following recipes on my kindle, for example, so I’m sure there is a future for the traditional book. Let’s hope so!

Emma Long author photoThank you very much to Emma for her excellent comments. I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview as much as I have, and if you fancy trying Emma’s recipes for yourself QUICK AND EASY HOMEMADE MEALS can be ordered directly from Book Guild, or from  Amazon:       UK link     US Link

You can also follow Emma on FACEBOOK

Writing Techniques.

I am very sceptical of adverts inviting me to ‘learn how to write a novel’. How exactly? Yes a writing course can help to brush up on grammar, sentence construction and such like, but I don’t believe the ability to write wonderful stories is something that can be taught.

Until I started writing Dory’s Avengers, my first novel, I had absolutely no idea how I would go about it. Social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads offer the opportunity to interact with fellow authors, and I never tire of hearing their opinions and anecdotes. However, authors are unique, individual human beings with unique, individual writing techniques, and those techniques can only be developed by trial and error. Detailed planning works for a lot of top quality authors, but it wasn’t long before I discovered it doesn’t work for me.

I did actually make a plan for Dory’s Avengers before I started writing. This plan has long since disappeared into the murky depths of my computer, which is a shame as it would probably be quite hilarious to read it now. Give or take some characters’ names, it wouldn’t bear any resemblance to the finished novel. Through socialising with authors and reading their blogs, I’ve learned that many favour creating character biogs before starting on their novel, so I decided to give it one more try with book number two (unimaginatively entitled ‘New Book’ at the moment). Waste of time! Already the characters are swapping roles as the story develops; the protagonist’s best friend has gone bad, her boyfriend is not all he seems, the antagonist may or may not remain an antagonist; I can’t say for sure because I really don’t know yet.

It’s probably fair to say that my writing ‘technique’ is far too haphazard to even qualify as a technique. In fact, I just write. The ideas come spilling out of my head and I write them down as quickly as my rather limited typing ability will allow; then I read back, reject the rubbish and edit the rest into something fit for public scrutiny. No one reads my unedited work except me, and authors who favour planning would baulk at the size of my ‘rejected chapters’ folder, but this ‘write it and see’ method is the only one that works for me. I’ll wager it’s not a method any ‘writing by numbers’ course would advocate!

So to return to my original point, how exactly can a course teach someone to write a novel? I’ve picked up advice from blogs and discussion forums, and I’ve passed on advice to aspiring authors, but there is no magic formula. There is no ‘Just add water for an instant best-seller’. Actually, I think reading too much advice can be counter productive. How stifled would my writing become were I to put into practice everything I’ve learned from other writers? If you were born to write, you will find your style naturally. If you weren’t, no amount of qualifications will turn you into the next JRR Tolkien, Emily Bronte or Roald Dahl.

Printed!

I have just had some super exciting news from my publisher, Book Guild. DORY’S AVENGERS, my début novel, has gone to press to be printed and bound. Within a month I will hold the first copy of my book in my hands, and I’m already feeling pretty overwhelmed at the mere thought. The day I actually receive my author’s copies will be a very emotional, jubilant and significant day in my life.

When I was five-years-old, like a lot of children that age,  I learned to read and write. I immediately embraced this knowledge as an amazing gift, and from that day I’ve had an insatiable appetite for the written word. Whether it be reading another writer’s work, or writing my own stories, blogs, reviews etc, the world of writing is my favourite place. Over four decades it has been a dream of mine to hold up a book and be able to say, ‘I wrote this!’

The beginning of July will bring the realisation of that dream.

Published!

On 15 August 2012 my life changed. I was sitting at the computer, social networking and drinking coffee, when an email popped into my inbox. Telling myself that it was almost certainly junk so there was no need to get excited, I opened my inbox to discover how wrong I was.

The email was from Book Guild Publishing of Brighton, and it read as follows:

Dear Alison

RE: DORY’S AVENGERS

With further reference to our email of 6 August we have now completed the assessment of your manuscript.

Firstly, we were impressed with Dory’s Avengers. This is a compelling novel, set in a credible alternative Britain where control of the population has reached ruthless proportions. Your characterisation is good, with a range of characters both good and evil, all convincingly portrayed. Theodore and Louis are particularly absorbing characters, and their relationship is well drawn, with excellent dialogue. Readers will certainly be satisfied by the impact Dory’s Avengers have on Lord William’s empire. We confirm that we would be pleased to work with you to publication.

I didn’t get much further than this on my initial reading of the email. They liked it! A proper, real life publisher liked my book so much that the only criticism they had to make was that it was too long. Book Guild Publishing of Brighton wanted to work with me to publish Dory’s Avengers.

I cried! Then I jumped around the living room, screamed quite a lot, cried some more, laughed, got a bit hysterical and finally phoned Andy.

Andy was delighted, I was still highly emotional. Wanda was delighted too when I texted the news to her; she phoned me back and got everyone in her office to cheer. My lovely Polish neighbours beamed at me as I skipped round our shared courtyard, talking animatedly into my phone; they obviously realised something pretty momentous had just happened in my life.

Er yes, I think momentous pretty much sums it up!

I still get a thrill thinking about 15 August 2012. It’s not not every day that a lifelong dream becomes a reality, but that is exactly what happened on that day.

I’m going to be a published author.