Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
Born in Manchester, UK, I took early retirement in 2010 from a career which had taken me to work, live and play in 23 countries across 4 continents. Now based in beautiful Buckinghamshire, I am a member of the Society fo Women Writers and Journalists and I write biographical fiction, historical fiction, non-fiction (local histories), plays and screenplays.
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
My latest novel is ‘Running with Crows – The Life and Death of a Black and Tan’. It is based on my research into the true and tragic story of William Mitchell, the only ‘Black & Tan’ to be hanged for murder during the Irish War of Independence. Through my lengthy research, and having tracked down his living family members, I am persuaded his execution was a miscarriage of justice.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I’m a dogged and determined research junkie and like my books to have as much authentic detail in them as possible so I spend a lot of time researching around my subject. I get a thrill when I uncover some unknown fact or find a source of information other researchers have missed. I’m known to shout ‘eureka!’ at such moments of discovery, but my family are used to this now.
What authors, or books have influenced you?
I love the beautiful prose and warm, credible characters created by Irish writer Michael McLaverty.
When I wrote my first novel ‘A Wistful Eye – The Tragedy of a Titanic Shipwright’, though it was based on the true story of my Titanic-building great grandfather and his murdered wife, I tried to paint a picture of working class Belfast in 1910, and its proud, hardworking but disadvantaged inhabitants, in such a way as to pay homage to McLaverty’s own roots.
What are you working on now?
My best selling local histories focus on my adopted county of Buckinghamshire. ‘Buckinghamshire Spies and Subversives’, due to be published this summer, will recount the county’s 600 year history of subversion, espionage, sabotage, radicals, agents provocateurs and heretic hunters; the first use of covert photography against women of this county; the female spies of two world wars who were incarcerated here; the local spying establishments and the atomic secrets spies; sex and spy scandals and ideological terrorists of modern times. This will be a wider-ranging companion book to ‘The Chalfonts & Gerrards Cross at War’ and ‘The Famous and Infamous of The Chalfonts and District’.
Still interested in miscarriages of justice, however, I am also drafting a screenplay for a film based on the harsh treatment of an executed transgender individual.
What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
I am a trained and experienced public speaker and I enjoy giving talks and presentations on the topics and true stories covered by my books. It’s a lovely way of meeting my existing and new customers and getting to visit different parts of England and Ireland. It’s wonderful to hear other people’s stories and experiences along the way and it’s a great way to pick up new ideas for future projects.
I am a volunteer researcher for my local history and heritage group and sell my books at our local ‘history surgeries’ as well as at my talks. I write articles for a variety of press, journals and magazines. I also review films, plays and books for press and online journals, all of which gets my name ‘out there’.
I also have my author website: www.djkelly.co.uk which attracts thousands of visitors a year, many of whom come in search of the lists of Harland & Wolff shipwrights and other Belfast residents of the Titanic era which I have posted there. Harland & Wolff’s own records were destroyed in the Belfast Blitz of 1941, so I am happy to share my research with other family history seekers. many stop by also to say how much they enjoy my books.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Set realistic and desirable goals for yourself and decide what constitutes success. Some writers want to make a fortune from a trade-published blockbuster. Some just want to see their book in a book shop window. Others are content to hold in their hand their very own book and perhaps give copies of it to their family and friends. Success means different things to different people and there are many different paths to achieve it. If you can’t find a publisher, then be your own publisher. Publishing isn’t half so hard as writing!
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
You don’t have to be published to be a writer. The moment you sit down and put words on paper you are a writer. Never be afraid to call yourself a writer. If you are also marshalling together all the services needed to edit, format, print, promote and distribute your book, then don’t call yourself a self-published author – call yourself a publisher.
What are you reading now?
I’m currently reading a pile of dusty court transcripts, newspaper reports and old maps, plus three draft manuscripts of novels which I am proof reading and editing as a favour to writer friends. However, the book which lives on my bedside cupboard and regularly sends me happily into dreamland is the collected short stories of the late, great Michael McLaverty. When I feel like a chuckle, though, I re-read the books written by my inspirational cousin, the Belfast author-broadcaster Sam McAughtry (RIP).
What’s next for you as a writer?
In addition to my screenplay, I have in draft: a novel based on the life and adventures of my handsome, murdered sailor grandfather; a novel based on the true story of a tragic romance between an aristocrat and a gypsy (revealing a family secret which other researchers have missed), and a factual account of a naval mutiny, details of which have never been revealed to the public.
What is your favorite book of all time?
In fiction, it must be ‘Call My Brother Back’ by – yes you’ve guessed it – Michael McLaverty. If I’m allowed an all time favourite work of non-fiction then it would be ‘The Isles’ by Norman Davies.
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