Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
I call myself a travel writer, or I did until I accidentally produced a
novel. When my son was young we decided to have an adventure and move from London, England to Ontario, Canada for a couple of years, just in case it was fun. The day we took the first step towards that decision I started to write about what happened, working on the principle that I'd want to remember every detail anyway and I'd finally find out if I could write.
People liked the stuff, magazines took some of it, so I carried on. I now have two travelogues written, with a third under construction. Since
independent authors are a co-operative lot, I started hanging out in a
couple of online writing communities and they encouraged me to try my hand at fiction, so I now have a third book which should be the completion of the Armchair Emigration trilogy but isn't.
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
Queenie's Teapot is a combination of two ideas, one that's been rattling around in my head for years and one that occurred to me in the queue to check out of a grocery store. I've long maintained, mostly late at night after too much to drink, that politics is self defeating in that the people who want to run things are the last ones you should trust to do it. 'Make it like jury service' I'd announce. 'Pick people at random, they couldn't do any worse.' Then I watched a lovely older lady at the checkout one day, chatting and joking with all her customers and I wondered what would happen to her when the machines finally took over completely. So, the story is a 'what-if?' about a world where democracy has been dumped for random
selection, and our protagonist is, of course, a lovely old checkout chick who was made redundant by a machine.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I have to shut myself away from my usual work spots and declare a writing space. Since I'm not always in the same place I tend to do this by lighting candles. it's a signal to myself that I'm off social media and going into my head, and a signal to the family that I'm off-limits for a few hours.
What authors, or books have influenced you?
Bill Bryson is the obvious inspiration for the travel books. I love his
focus on the tiny incident, or a throwaway remark, that illuminates just how different people can be while thinking they're the same. I'll never be Paul Theroux, but he's a bit too sneery for me anyway, I'm much more interested in the miniscule language barrier double-take than anything majestic with a sunset behind it. As far as the political satire is concerned, I was greatly cheered by the books of Ben Elton. Turns out you can take a single idea and build a world around it that isn't too dissimilar to our own, phew.
What are you working on now?
Queenie's beta-readers told me they wanted to find out what happened next, so it looks like there will be a trilogy. Book two of the series, Floreat Queenie, is undergoing final edits and I will shortly be lighting those candles again and finding out what happens in book three.
What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
I wish I had an answer for that one. I've learned huge amounts from two great online communities, IndiesUnlimited.com and eNovelAuthorsatWork.com; both advice, support and continual learning communities. Between us we try to keep tabs on marketing websites as they wax and wane, and the constant changes to Amazon's algorithms, but I don't have a foolproof scheme. All I
do know is that they more books you have, the more you will gain from any bit of marketing that does hit the spot, but marketing takes up so much writing time that I frequently end up in a paralysis of doing neither and feeling bad about it.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Take criticism prettily. Never ask anyone if they like a piece of work,
(they'll say yes because they like you) set them up with permission to help you with specific questions: Is this character too wooden? Too much description? Does the plot fizzle out? Then if you get an objection that you disagree with, work out why. It's fine to reject some opinions but if everyone agrees, you're probably wrong. Learn the rules so you can break
them for good reasons.
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
Even God can't please everybody.
What are you reading now?
I'm rereading Michael Dobbs' original books that inspired the House of Cards TV series. A bit of immersion in Westminster doings from the master
What’s next for you as a writer?
After both incomplete trilogies are finished I have a couple of children's
books in my head. But actually I'd like to get a bit serious and go back to
my academic roots. There's a need for accessible, easy-to-read but non
psychobabbly books about grief and loss.
What is your favorite book of all time?
Anthony Trollope's Palliser series. I love his characters, we've all met,
and probably worked with, so many of his people. I've read the Barchester series many times but never quite got round to the political books.