New Author Interview: LM Milford

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. Almost three months, to be exact. But that’s going to change now (I hope!) with lots of new content coming soon…

To kick things off in style, I’ve got a little interview with one of my good writer friends, Lynne Milford, who has just published her first crime novel, A DEADLY REJECTION – whoohoo – nice one, Lynne. I’ve known Lynne for several years and I know how hard she’s worked on this book, so I am really delighted to be hosting here on my blog as a published author – if you’re looking for some ‘how to’ info on the writing process, you should check out Lynne’s blog, where she has shared lots of tips and tricks that she’s learnt along the way. Her hard work has finally paid off (and she makes me feel guilty, knowing how much she does on her commute while I slob around in my pyjamas…)

So, without further ado… Congratulations on your new release, Lynne. How does it feel to have your book baby out there in the wild?

Thank you. It’s been a long time coming. I keep using the phrase excited and terrified in equal measures and I think that just about sums it up. I’ve been working towards this point for so many years – I first started writing the book about 10 years ago – that it’s hard to believe that it’s finally out there. The cover has been really well received and hopefully the same thing will happen with the book itself. That’s the scary bit! Although I’m reliably informed by other writers that this is completely normal.

Totally normal, in fact, the scary bit never really goes away 😉 Can you tell us what it’s about?

It follows the story of local news reporter Dan Sullivan. He’s bored of his job and desperate for the Big Story that will make his career. He thinks he’s finally got onto something but then his source dies in mysterious circumstances and Dan is implicated. He has to clear his name while trying to track down the story. I think the tag line ‘How far would you go to get what you want?’ probably says it all.

Intriguing! What was the best and worst thing about writing it?

I loved writing the book. I joyfully pantsed through it and I can’t describe the feeling when I wrapped it up and typed ‘The End’. It was the first full-length novel I’d written. It had taken a long time because I was writing around a full-time job as a local news reporter (writing what I knew!) and because I didn’t have a clear idea of what I was doing or what was going on with the planning committee. But editing was a complete nightmare, almost having to go back to the drawing board and re-plot the book so that it makes sense. The editing process took about the same amount of time as it took to write and I’m sure in future I can speed that up! One of the biggest difficulties is having to write in short bursts, in time grabbed here and there. It makes it very difficult to keep track of what you’re doing and when you’re pantsing, keeping track is even harder.

You made a decision to self-publish. How has that process been?

It’s been a very steep learning curve. Even though I’ve read a lot of books and blogs posts and suchlike about it, when you’re immersed in the process it’s quite challenging. It’s fortunate that I’ve done project management in my day job because it helped me to set a timeline and more or less stick to it, but it’s been tough. I’ve learned a lot about it, though, and second time round there’s a few things that I’ll do very differently. I think the worst bit was trying to format the paperback version. I decided, in my great wisdom, to do it myself and ended up having to clear a Sunday and work on it for most of the day to get it done. But I managed to sort it out and I celebrated by playing the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves theme music at top volume. It definitely fitted my mood of feeling epic!

I like your celebration style! Have you got another book planned for the near future?

I’m possibly quite unusual in the sense that the second book is already written. Well, I should say a first draft is written. When I realised I was getting nowhere with the first one, I started writing the second book. That was in about 2010, I think, but full-time job and a long period of illness meant that, again, it took two years to write. And it was pantsed. I’m busy editing it at the moment – I’ve been working on that for about six months I think – and it’s coming together. I’ve developed a few tricks, like plotting cards all over the living room floor, which have been invaluable and I’m already using them to plan my third book. I don’t have a timescale for the second book yet, I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself at the moment! I also have a novella that tells the back story of one of the characters in the first and second books so I’ll be editing and producing that soon too. I wrote that a few years ago now, so I’ll be coming to it really cold, which will make it easier to be objective.

I love that feeling, when you have left something for so long that you barely remember writing it! So what are you working on now?

Editing the second book is the priority now that A Deadly Rejection is out, although alongside that I’ll be doing various marketing activities. I don’t have a fixed plan on those yet but once I’ve recovered from publishing the book I’ll get back on it. The blog comes in handy but there’s work to do to build the audience further on that as well as keeping pace with Twitter. It’s difficult to fit everything in around my day job, but I’m sure I’ll find a way.

You’re fitting in writing around your day job, and you still manage to write excellent blog posts. How do you remain so disciplined?

I think my background as a journalist certainly helps here, but I’ll admit to being more flexible than I was back then. Once I know what I’m writing about, my rule is to try and think of three points I want to make and then write around those. I love this type of writing, because it’s much easier, and I love sharing what I’ve learned. It’s the kind of writing that I find it easy to share because it’s like being back in the news days. I’ll admit to having a spreadsheet where I plan out all my ideas for a few weeks ahead. If I was really disciplined I’d write them well ahead of time but they tend to be written on a Saturday morning for the Monday. Once I get back into editing properly I’ll have to find a system where I write the post in the week – probably while I’m commuting – then I can use my Saturday time for editing. I have said in the past that I’m a writer who blogs and not a blogger who writes and when I’m short on time or taking a break, it’s the blog that gets side-lined. But it’s an important resource for me so I’ll always come back to it and try to be as regular as possible.

Which is exactly what I’m trying to do myself right now… Now that you’re published, is there anything you could go back and tell yourself to do (or not to do) that might have made it all easier?

Plotting will be the first stage of every book I write going forwards. Pantsing has left both my books in such a mess that it’s taken so much time to unknot them. The new process I’ve put together should make things much better. Now I understand the publishing process I’ll change my timeline style. Usually I start with an end date and work backwards but in future I’ll set the editing, proofreading and cover design pieces in place and have the completed book ready before I set a publication date. I think I’ll try and give myself an easier time as well. I’m very driven and when I have an end goal I tend to go at it like a bull in a china shop, as my dad would say. So instead of berating myself for not having things ready in time, I’ll cut myself a bit of slack. Working two jobs at once is exhausting and I need to look after myself as well as doing the writing work.

Yes, it’s something I have really noticed – how important it is to look after yourself when you are juggling many things (and sitting down at a keyboard most hours of the day). Finally, who (or what) inspires you?

My immediate inspirations for becoming a writer were Enid Blyton and JB Fletcher (from Murder, She Wrote). I knew I wanted to tell stories and to have some adventures along the way. I never got the adventures, but I’ve got the story-telling bit so one out of two isn’t bad! The inspiration to kick-start the self-publishing process was actually my dad. Back in April, we’d gone out for lunch (my mam and boyfriend were there as well) and after we’d eaten my dad leaned back in his chair and said ‘So when’s this book being published then?’. My response of ‘Oh, I don’t know’ sounded really lame and I decided that, as being published was what I really wanted to do, I’d better crack on. Six months on, I’ve done it and he has to take some of the credit for that! My Twitter crew (including your good self) are also an inspiration. Everyone works so hard and produces great work, but they always have time for a laugh and encouragement. I wouldn’t have got to where I am now without my Twitter crew.

Thanks, Lynne – all the best with the book – I hope it sells trillions 🙂 

BUY THE BOOK

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: By day, I work in PR and communications; by night (and at weekends) I write crime fiction (as well as baking pies and chocolate brownies). In a previous life worked as a local newspaper reporter. This gave me the inspiration for the story that has become my first novel, A Deadly Rejection. I live in Kent and spend far too much time on trains commuting into London for work, which does however give me time to work on plotting and writing my books. You can keep tabs on what I’m up to by following me on Twitter @lmmilford or by checking out my blog www.lmmilford.wordpress.com I write about what I’m working on, advice on what I’ve learned through my work and how to move forward with writing.

Chatting to Diane Jeffrey

Today, I’m very excited to be sharing an interview with the lovely Diane Jeffrey, whose debut psychological thriller THOSE WHO LIE is out now! I met Diane online via one of my oldest friends, and I’m thrilled to see her published. Diane lives in Lyon, France and her book is set in Oxfordshire and Devon – and let me just say, it will keep you on your toes! Before you rush off to download it, read on for a bit more info about the book and the author.

Hi Diane! Firstly, congratulations on the release of your debut novel. How does it feel to be a published author?

It feels really good. Also a bit scary. There are little bits of my soul between those electronic pages! It took me so long to get the book into a presentable state (two years) and after that it all happened so quickly (just under five months) that I don’t think it has completely sunk in yet.

Enjoy the moment! It’s the most exciting time 🙂 Can you tell me what it’s about in a couple of sentences – an elevator pitch…

Emily only realises she is responsible for her husband’s death on the day of his funeral. But then she starts to receive disturbing messages from him on Facebook, messages that will force her to question her reality and face up to her past…

A very creepy premise! What made you want to write a psychological thriller?

I wrote a novel years ago when my son was a baby. It was RomCom / ChickLit and it didn’t get published, which I now find completely understandable! I have quite wide tastes in books, but my favourite genre is crime and mystery, so I tried my hand at that.

And who are your influences, favourite authors, books…

I think Elizabeth Haynes’s Into the Darkest Corner was the book that got me hooked on psychological thrillers.

In the genre of crime and thrillers, Dennis Lehane is hard to beat, IMHO.

My favourite book ever is Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, but more recently I have been blown away by The Hundred Year Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Cloud Atlas, The Rosie Project, The Help and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.

Into The Darkest Corner is a masterclass in psychological terror. I would love to see it as a film. You set your book in Oxfordshire and the setting is very authentic – did you spend time there doing research?

Ah, now you’re making me spill my secrets! I spent a lot of time virtually exploring Oxford with Google Earth. Emily’s home is based on a description of a real house that I found on an online Oxford estate agency. When I started writing the novel, I hadn’t actually visited Oxford at all (shhhush), but I went there with my pupils on a school trip and recognised Emily’s road as we drove along it in the bus! That was a big moment for me! It had to be Oxford because of the influence of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on my main character.

The past scenes are set in Devon, where I grew up, so that setting was easier!

Ha. It’s not that unusual though – Stef Penney wrote The Tenderness of Wolves without ever visiting Canada 🙂 Those past scenes are quite dark, covering elements of abuse and addiction – did you find these difficult to write?

No. Tbh, I find it harder to write romantic or raunchy sex scenes!!!

In the main abuse scene, which takes place near the beginning of the book, Emily concentrates on her favourite childhood memory, and she takes us there with her so the reader is spared the more disturbing details of the rape and I was spared from writing them! In fact, it is probably more shocking to have an ellipsis than the graphic description in that episode.

There was a scene in the middle of the book that I found difficult to write, simply because elements of it were close to my own experience, but it had nothing to do with abuse or addiction.

I know what you mean – if you can distance yourself from these things, then they can be easier to write. It’s funny how most crime writers are able to write darkness more easily than a bit of sex! Another thing that I’m intrigued about, as a fellow writer, is how you choose your character names – I always spend far too long faffing around on those. How do you pick yours?

My main character is called Emily Klein. She had to be either an ‘Emily’ or an ‘Emma’ because of the ambiguity of the diminutive ‘Em’ in the book, which spells ‘me’ backwards.

The novel was entitled Out Of The Blue to begin with, and Emily, who is an artist, is named after Yves Klein’s shade of blue. Emily is associated strongly with that colour as she struggles not to succumb to a bout of depression, and tries to come out of a dark blue time into something lighter and more hopeful.

For all the other first names, I’m letting you in on more secrets here!

I looked up popular baby names for the year of birth of that character on the Internet and tried to choose one beginning with a letter somewhere near the middle of the alphabet. At one point, I had a whole load of characters whose names began with the letter “J” until a friend of mine pointed out that it was confusing and I had to rechristen some of them! And my copy editor picked up that both Greg’s and Will’s sons were named “Luke”. That was a Star Wars thing and a huge mistake, obvs!!! One of them was renamed “Oliver” at the very last minute!!!

So, I don’t think my method is to be recommended really!

I’ve started using the names of people that I know, mixing up first names and surnames. I often name characters after people who are annoying me and then change them later. Haha! So, do you have a set writing routine, words per day etc or do you write in chunks?

I wrote Those Who Lie on a sabbatical. It took me the whole year. Then it took me another year to rewrite. There were days when I worked non-stop on it for 8-10 hours, and then weeks when I didn’t touch it, but scribbled down thoughts and ideas, usually in the middle of the night!

Well I know how hard you worked on it and it certainly paid off! There is a tendency, these days, for people to rush things, and I think that especially in the beginning, you really need to spend time honing your craft, getting feedback, and rewriting again and again! It’s hard, and I’m going to let you into a secret now – it doesn’t actually get any easier! Can you tell me what, for you, are the best and worst parts of the writing process?

The worst part is the self-doubt and feeling guilty because I always seemed to be inspired when my family needed me! The best bit, by far, was getting The Call after all the rejection emails. On the phone, my editor said so many lovely things about my novel that I was a blubbering mess.

Oh that is so lovely! Everyone remembers The Call. It’s exciting and it’s a relief that you’ve got there and it’s surreal, because then it hits you – you’re about to become a published author! So, did you have the story all planned out before you started writing, or did you wing it and fix it later?

I am a planner! I changed the plans frequently as I went along, but it was mapped out fairly thoroughly before I started typing. I even had a timeline on Excel! All very OCD!

I should probably try winging it more – when I teach and haven’t prepared my lessons, they often turn out better than the ones I have meticulously organised before going into the classroom!

I think there is a balance to be struck between the two – some people always plan, others always wing it (or plotting and ‘pantsing’ as it’s often referred to) – I tend to do a bit of both. Having a timeline mapped out is a great habit to get in to from the start – makes things a lot easier later on! Can you tell me what you’re working on now? Have you started the next one?

I have. I started it about three months ago, but then came Round One of edits for Those Who Lie, followed by Round Two, then Author Amends, then Christmas… I have written the prologue and about a third of Chapter One. BUT I have planned it in some detail…

Excellent! I look forward to hearing more about it 🙂 Assuming you find time to read, these days – what have you read recently that you would recommend to others?

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue and Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent. Definitely 5 stars for both books!

Both currently on my teetering TBR pile! And finally, tells us something about you that will make people go ‘Ooooh!’

Mmmm. Most people are impressed by the fact that I have a bronze medal from the Surf Life Saving World Championships from 1989. I was 16. I’m not sure why that surprises people! Perhaps because I’ve kept the medal all this time or maybe because they work out that I’m not quite as old as I look!!!

I love that! My swimming claim-to-fame is that I have a photo of me with Olympic swimmer David Wilkie, from around 1986. I read recently that he’d been told off at his local health club for swimming too fast… 

Thanks Diane! Good luck with THOSE WHO LIE!

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Diane Jeffrey grew up in Devon. She lives in Lyon, France with her husband and their three children, mischievous Labrador and crazy kitten. THOSE WHO LIE is her debut psychological thriller. Diane is an English teacher. She hates marking and Mondays. When she’s not working or writing, she likes swimming, running and reading. She loves chocolate, beer and holidays.Above all, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends. You can find Diane on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Q&A with Horror Writer Nic Parker

Nic Parker

Nic Parker (she looks so sweet…)

HAPPY NEW YEAR! (How long are we supposed to keep saying that for?!) Anyway, today I’m pleased to welcome a good friend of mine, Nic Parker, to tell you about her love of horror and her excellent new book, Descent to Hell. I asked Nic a few questions, and she gave me some excellent answers – btw, in case you don’t know Nic already – she’s very funny and she swears. A lot 🙂

So I know you’re a big fan of horror. What is it about it that really attracts you? Monsters? Gore? Psychological chills? Ghosts? Or none of those – you just have an unquenchable bloodlust?

Probably the latter 😉 As long as I can think I was fascinated by all things dark and obscure. While others in my class were taking dance lessons I could only think about how to find an uncut watchable video copy of Evil Dead. Horror is the genre with the widest range – for example, Alien is sci-fi but also horror – and I adore all facets of the genre. I’ve been fed up a bit with vampires and zombies lately and I’d say I wouldn’t want to see the 645th torture porn bullshit with a story as thin as a wafer but other than that horror is the genre that just keeps on giving.

What’s your favourite horror movie? 

If I have to break it down to just one it is definitely John Carpenter’s The Thing. I was lucky enough to see the movie on the big screen for the first time ever this year and I was almost moved to tears. Thirty years after its making it remains pristine with awesome actors, perfectly applied tension and handmade effects that get every horror geek drooling.

What’s your favourite horror novel?

I’d have picked a classic like Stephen King’s It or Clive Barker’s Coldheart Canyon and I said I am fed up with zombies but I read M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts this year and the characters and story just blew me away. Carey managed to inject completely original ideas into the genre and a zombie novel that is so poetic without being pathetic and that makes you cry at the perfect ending is worth putting at number one.

Do you think horror works better in books or on screen, or does it depend on the story?

I think horror works on many levels, the obvious, the subliminal and the subconscious. There are monsters that scare you shitless when you see them on screen but two hours after seeing the movie they are cool but not scary anymore. Then there are characters that cling on to you and that keep haunting you for months or years. No matter if it’s written or on the screen, if it’s well done it will scratch at your soul.

What do you really hate about the horror genre?

As I mentioned above, serving the same shit for the umpteenth time, like endless rape and revenge shit. I love gore and violence in movies but not just for the purpose of serving base motives. I am not bothered about sequels as long as they continue the story or tell another story. My absolute pet hate is the goddamned bloody remakes that the coke snorting Hollywood producers come up with.

Who is your favourite horror character? 

My big role model: Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Awesome characterisation of a villain everyone would love as a friend.

He’s my favourite too. With Patrick Bateman coming a close second 🙂 Your debut novel, Descent to Hell, focuses on an important quest – the search for a missing child. What made you want to write about this, in particular?

Well, the main character of the story is Charlie Ward, who will stop at nothing to help his niece because she is more like a daughter to him. My central idea was that he descends to Hell to help a loved one who is trapped down there. I wanted Charlie to be completely unprepared on how to try and find his niece because, honestly, how would you prepare for a trip to Hell? Sunblock 50 and holy water?

So, what did you enjoy most when writing the book?

Conjuring up places in Hell that nobody has read about before, making Hell my own place. Also, being lazy as fuck and doing zero research as you can bend the rules to your own will when you are writing about Hell and demons.

Are you working on something else at the moment?

I’ve got few projects in the pipeline, one is another supernatural story, the other a psychological thriller and I am one third into the sequel to Descent to Hell.

What advice would you give to anyone who’s trying to write a horror novel?

The first advice I’d give to everyone thinking about writing a novel would be: Fucking write it because no one else will do it for you.

Horror is so great because you have so much to choose from, ghosts or ghouls, vampires or monsters, serial killers or aliens – just make them your own creatures and don’t be afraid to add your own ideas – the more fucked up and extraordinary the better!

Writing about fictional characters and the supernatural is a great way to let your mind completely run havoc – anything is possible and the sky – or Hell – is the limit.

And finally… What did you think of Stranger Things? 🙂

There isn’t a love button big enough to express what Stranger Things means to me. I was quite late watching it and this television series captured the essence of the 80s immaculately. Apart from Winona Ryder’s terrible overacting this TV series was an event not to be missed and I wish I had written the story. Watching it meant feeling like being 14 again. The set design, the actors, the awesome soundtrack – a nostalgic blast and beyond brilliant!!

I loved it too! Thanks Nic!

Nic Parker was born in 1971. Her love for the horror genre flourished in early childhood. She enjoyed the opulence of genre productions in the eighties, chasing after forbidden video nasties with friends, and reading mainly Clive Barker and Stephen King. Since her twenties she’s had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing many household names from the horror genre in her role as a journalist for Moviestar magazine. She is an avid book collector, passionate about art and likes to try out new recipes from her many cookbooks. She lives in rural Germany with her husband and six cats. Descent to Hell is the first part in the Hell trilogy with main character Charlie Ward. You can find Nic at her blog and on twitter.

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In case you’re wondering what I’m up to… my latest novel THE DAMSELFLY is out on 2nd Feb (you can pre-order HERE) – and if you sign-up to my website, HERE (or click on the prize image), by the end of January, you can win this very cool bunch of goodies.

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AND for another chance to win a copy of the signed paperback (and a mystery gift) – check out the goodreads giveaway HERE.

THE DAMSELFLY will be launched at branches of Waterstones in Edinburgh and London in February – full details HERE.