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My latest ‘date’ is with Chris-Jean Clarke. Chris lives in South Staffordshire with her husband, Geoff, two teenagers and their adorable Papillion, Romey, who enjoys spending a few hours a week putting a smile on the faces of the patients at their local mental health hospital – Romey is a Pets as Therapy dog.
I asked first about her book Honesty in World War 2, originally published in 2016 and recently re-released.
“Honesty in World War 2 was inspired by an event that happened to my father following his National Service.
Prior to putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), I spent numerous hours researching and double-checking facts and stories told to me and my siblings by my mum about her experience of the war years. – She was only seven years old, when the war ended. – My mum inspired a number of events in my story. For example, my mum used to be a Tomboy and loved climbing trees. She bet the local boys that she could climb higher than them. On the positive side, she succeeded in her quest as she fell, bringing the branch down with her. However, on the negative side, she gashed her leg on a barbed wire fence. She often showed us her scar and was proud that she didn’t have any stitch marks, which she attributed to my granddad (her father) using a cobweb on the wound. In my story, twins Simon & Samuel (two of the evacuees) are playing by the brook when one of them has an accident. – Having been brought up in the city they not only struggle with living in the countryside, but would rather create mayhem than attempt to fit in. – Imagine their horror when Cyril’s mum starts to bandage a cobweb to the wound on Simon’s leg, especially as the villagers had already tied a pig’s lung to their younger sister’s feet to cure her of Pneumonia!
Although, Honesty in World War 2 was taken down from publication for a short while & has since been re-released, this was due to personal reasons. I promise the story has not been amended since 2016.”
Next I asked her about To Dye For and the Books4Kids programme for which it was written.
“PS Publishing and the Books 4 Kids program is a 501c3 non-profit corporation with a mission to “build children’s character through books.” The B4K brings authors to the classroom – in person or through electronic conferencing. The author reads from his or her book, answers student questions and then leads a discussion re. the moral of the book. – The moral behind To Dye For is self-esteem. – At the end of the discussion each child receives a free copy of the book.
To Dye For opens with Beth, a year-ten student daydreaming about fellow student, Mikolos (“Mike”) Samaras. However, thanks to the antics of Jenny Parker and Shelly Barnes, Beth truly believes that she doesn’t stand a chance with a guy like Mike – because she has red hair. Unwittingly, Mike also reinforces this notion by frequently teasing Beth about her hair. Beth becomes so despondent about her appearance that she decides the only way to solve her problems, is to emulate her younger sister’s beautiful locks and dye her hair the same shade as Grace’s. – After all, Grace is adored by everyone and has stunning strawberry blonde hair.”
Chris is a member of the Peacock Writers, a group of eighteen independent writers from around the world.
“Each of our anthologies are written around a given theme. 100% of the profits from the sale of these books are donated to aid various charities.
I have contributed to nine books, so far, but the book I would strongly recommend is: Springtime Bullies: Special Illustrated Edition (The Peacock Writers Present) (Volume 6)”
Before becoming a writer Chris had a long career working with people with disabilities. I asked her how that experience influenced her writing projects.
“Many of my stories have at least one secondary character who has a disability or special need.
For example, Beth’s sister, Grace in To Dye For has Down’s syndrome. Whilst, in Honesty in World War 2, Malcolm a veteran of the first world war, is slightly senile, and in a way childlike. Whereas, Graham is severely scarred and has walking difficulties – these injuries were incurred when his family home in London was bombed during the war.”
Chris doesn’t have “the luxury of having a quiet space to write, but that’s okay because I know deep down that if my family were to fly the nest, I would just waste the hours stressing about them, instead of writing.”
When it comes to editing, illustration and cover design, Chris uses a range of specialist services.
“To Dye For was edited by my publishing company, PS publishing and the Books 4 Kids program. They also commissioned an illustrator for my cover design.
Honesty in World War 2 was edited by Valerie Byron, author of No Ordinary Woman and other works. Trish Reeb, author of Death by Default and other works, proofread my manuscript. The online community at BookRix & LinkedIn encouraged me to work and rework my opening chapter to create the atmosphere and mood of the train station. (Initially, I had only intended the first chapter to be written in a couple of lines, as I wanted to swiftly move into Cyril’s story. Instead, Cyril’s story starts in chapter two.) Another member at BookRix created my cover for me, by manipulating Emily Roesly’s images. (NB Approval was sought from and granted by Ms. Roesly, author of Whispering Water and other works.) Sharon Brownlie, author of Betrayal and other works reformatted my cover, so that I have the option to have it published as a paperback or hardback copy, later this year.
My books for the Peacock Writers anthologies are edited as a group effort. – We read each other’s stories and offer each other tips. One of our members, Laszlo Kugler, author of Whisper and other works, creates most of our cover art.”
Chris promotes her books at BookRix, LinkedIn, FaceBook & Twitter.
“More of my books have sold since I have been active in FaceBook’s promotional groups, geared to drawing writers and authors together.
However, the other platforms have also been beneficial to me in their own right. In addition, to the support at BookRix community, their system converts our files so that our eBooks can be purchased from all of the major online stores. Trish Reeb, reached out to me via Twitter & offered her free time to proofread Honesty in World War 2. This story has also attracted interest at LinkedIn from a publishing company seeking autobiographies, and an indie film script writer.”
When I asked about writers whose work she admires, she nominated Doug Simpson, author of Soul Awakening.
“[He] is my inspiration. Although Simpson’s story is fictionalised, it is based on his belief that it is plausible for a person to have lived previous lives, whilst still holding fast to, and respecting, the religious belief that there is a heaven (or hell). It gave me great peace of mind to think that I may become acquainted again with family members who have passed on before me, and I don’t need to wait until I die before I will be able to chat to them again.”
As usual I wound up our discussion by asking Chris to reveal something about herself that might surprise her readers.
“Approximately 65% of my employment, took me from mundane to far flung places. One day, I could be cleaning/tidying bedrooms & bathrooms, wiping bums or cleaning up vomit, and the next I could be shopping for clothes or Christmas/birthday presents, eating out/going to the pictures or going on day trips/holidays in England and overseas.”
I enjoyed my date with Chris Jean Clarke and, now that I have shared it with you, I hope you did to.
My latest date with an indie author arrived a bit late, but was well worth waiting for, as I am sure you will agree. I am grateful to Sylva Fae for interrupting her holiday to answer my questions.
Sylva grew up in Lancashire where, “[If] there were hard times for my parents . . . they kept them well hidden from me and my brother. I had a simple but fun childhood, and I look back with fond memories. My parents were artists who had a love of travel and the outdoors. My dad especially loved travelling and would prioritise holidays abroad over buying expensive toys etc – he wanted us to experience new places and learn about other cultures first hand. My mum was the driving force behind buying a farm, which became a sanctuary for injured wildlife and unwanted pets. When not chasing hens and goats out of the house, we often went on adventures around the local moors and would play in the fresh air while my mum sketched the landscape.”
She now lives in Cheshire and owns a woodland in Shropshire. I wondered how that came about and what were the pros and cons.
“When my eldest daughter was a toddler we booked onto a supposedly child-friendly campsite. It turned into a nightmare of rules and regulations with tents regimentally spaced in a crowded field, then there was a horrendous rainstorm! Faced with keeping a rowdy toddler entertained in a tent, we gave up and came home. We had envisaged a relaxing camping experience, sat around the fire as the sun went down, space for our daughter to run wild and have fun, but instead we got the opposite. With a little research, we discovered that there were companies selling plots of woodland. We spent the summer pottering around different sites, until we found our vision of the idyllic woodland camp, hidden in the Shropshire countryside.
Everyone thought we were mad buying a woodland, and they’re probably right but we love it.
We have created a camping area with a fire pit and benches, that is enjoyed by many of our family and friends. Our three girls have the opportunity to experience a little of the childhood we had. They run wild, climb trees, make dens and have learned to cook on a campfire. It’s great to get them playing and learning new skills in the fresh air rather than slaves to technology, like so many other young people nowadays.
Drawbacks? None that I can think of. The woods provide us with a safe place to camp, fuel to heat our house over winter, and as an investment, the value of the land has more than doubled in the nine years we have had it. The only thing I wish was different is that we’d done this years earlier.”
When I asked her about the challenges involved in her past career as a teacher of children and young adults with special needs, she explained how she “fell into this line of work quite by accident, mainly because most of the other teachers were daunted by the challenge the groups presented.
“I never saw disabilities or learning difficulties, I only saw people who approached learning in different ways.
I planned my lessons to enable them to achieve at a rate and in a meaningful way to each individual. It was incredibly rewarding but also frustrating in that the current education system doesn’t fully recognise the achievements these young people make.
The lessons I learned from working with groups of this nature have enhanced my life, and the skills I now carry forward are valuable in many situations.”
Many of Sylva’s books are based on stories she created with her young children very much in mind and contributing to the process. I asked how she thought they compared to traditional children’s fiction like Enid Blyton’s “Famous Five” and “Secret Seven” or more recent works like the “Harry Potter” books.
“I grew up as an Enid Blyton fan, I think I read pretty much every one of her books. I do have a few chapter books, aimed at a similar level on the go, but my main focus is producing picture books. My own children loved the rhyming stories by Julia Donaldson, and the repetitive Hairy Maclary books by Lynley Dodd, and I aspire to create stories that will engage children in the same way.
As her children get older she is adapting her style: “I wanted to create the picture books as memories for my girls of the stories we created together, but already they have outgrown them. I have a few middle school chapter books in the works and a young adult book half written. I must say that I do love the picture book style most of all, but maybe that will change as my girls grow.”
Asked when and where she writes, she explains that since taking voluntary redundancy from her teaching job she writes while her girls are in school – and continues:
“Well, that’s always the plan but inspiration seems to come mostly at night, so I often work in the evenings as well. I type ideas on my mobile phone as they come to me so I’m rarely away from writing. I love to ponder story ideas while I’m sat on a log at the campfire.”
Next we talked about the difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing:
“I was offered publishing deals by two small press publishers but I didn’t feel completely happy with either. I’m not sure what it was that held me back, but I decided to publish independently instead, and I’m glad I did as both publishers have since gone out of business.
I did discover a fantastic publisher through my good friend and children’s author Paul Ian Cross. The Little Lights Studio in Vienna has created a bedtime stories app for families, and I’m proud to have been a part of this project from the beginning. I have five stories in the app and I’m in the process of writing five more.
So now I self-publish books but have a modern publisher for online stories – it’s quite a good combination for me.”
Like all the best children’s books hers are prolifically illustrated – by the author:
“I spent a long time trying to find an illustrator to create the pictures I have when I write. I discovered several things – I am very picky about the styles I like, illustrators are justifiably pricey, and I only like the most expensive! Because of this I stalled for a couple of years, unable to afford what I wanted but unwilling to compromise. I then discovered I could create my own illustrations quite by accident. It started just as a bit of fun creating the story characters for my children, but after showing a couple of my writer friends, they gave me the confidence to illustrate my own stories. Cover design is really just an extension of the illustration process so I do that too.”
Editing, however, is something Sylva regards as too important to undertake herself:
“Editing is definitely something I seek support with.
I believe in supporting other authors and have always offered my services as a beta reader and proof reader to anyone who needs it.
Now we have a faithful network of friends who share skills on a pay-it-forward basis. My work is currently being edited by children’s author Millie Slavidou.”
Noting that Sylva’s website has been rather neglected of late, I wondered how much effort she puts into marketing, probably the most difficult aspect of publishing for us independents.
“You are right! I started the blog after advice from experienced author Lesley Hayes, to write every day. She persuaded me to set up the blog and has encouraged me from the start. As soon as I found the way to illustrate and publish my own books, my energies have gone into that, and yes my poor little blog has been neglected. This is something I want to rectify. My next marketing plan is to reinvent the blog and use it as an additional marketing tool.
I think our best marketing tool is interacting within our community. The more we become involved and support one another, the more help we receive with marketing of our own books. You get what you put in.
I particularly enjoy doing live marketing events, reading to children and answering their questions. Young children are my main audience so their feedback is the most valuable.”
When I asked about her reading preferences she produced a long list of independent authors, including some who have, or soon will be, featured in these ‘dates’.
“I love a good psychological thriller, I want to be kept guessing right until the last page. Since I started beta reading for my writer group, I have read around many genres, perhaps ones I wouldn’t have chosen previously but it has been a great experience. Independent authors like Lesley Hayes, Nico Laeser and Val Tobin are current favourites of mine. In expanding my genres I’ve also discovered authors like Susan Faw, Eric Lahti and Melanie Smith. Each has a different style but I have learned so much from each of them. I would love to meet any of my indie author friends, as I feel we have become friends despite never meeting in real life.”
I like to ask my subjects to reveal something about themselves that might surprise their fans – or, in the case of a children’s author, the fans’ parents. Sylva offers three things:
“My debut book Rainbow Monsters won the Chanticleer Little Peeps award for best in category.
Perhaps not surprising given that I own a woodland, but I run a bushcraft and wild camping group when I’m not writing.
I’m a secret geek! I won the US Navy cryptology challenge two years running despite having no prior knowledge of cryptology or related subjects. Russian newspapers speculated that the winners were being recruited into a top-secret government taskforce, and
my local newspaper suggested I might be a spy!
Of course I’m not a spy, I only did the challenge because I enjoy learning new skills and I’m tenacious in pursuing my goals.
I guess I apply this same tenacity and persistence to my writing too. There is no luck in becoming an author, it takes a lot of hard work and a willingness to learn new skills constantly.”
My ‘date’ this week is a Manchester United supporting woman from Colorado who writes gritty, emotionally charged mysteries. I began by asking her about her home state and why she prefers soccer and Manchester United to her local NFL team, Denver Broncos.
“Colorado is such a varied state. I know many people who hear Colorado and envision Aspen, of course that is one central sliver of the state, but not the majority. I was born on the western edge of the state in a desert surrounded by mountains. It’s an isolating place full of people who’ve lived here for generations. Colorado means home to me. It’s where I’ve grown up and where my memories of my grandparents are.
As to the Broncos, I’ve always loathed the slow pace of American Football, and as I played soccer throughout my formative years that was what drew my interest. David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Renaldo, were much more exciting to watch then men lining up and pushing each other.”
Her books feature settings a long way from Colorado and include France, Scotland and Greece. She feels it is important to have her protagonists undertake a journey in order to discover their inner strengths.
“I think the US serves as a good starting point for the novels. I have been fascinated, from an early age, with the idea of adventure (i.e. Bilbo Baggins). The protagonist enjoys his/her home but longs for more; they leave, and grow and are strengthened in ways they could not have imagined. Scotland is near and dear to my heart and it is in fact my family’s favorite holiday destination.
I do not choose the destinations lightly. In The Clouds Aren’t White Emmeline MacArthur goes where her education and training are able to get her employment. My great-uncle did live in Paris, he was a cosmopolitan, and so that city was almost fated for him.
Now Greece is another beast altogether for me.
I wanted to push myself beyond my comfort zone and to immerse myself in another culture.
It hasn’t been an easy feat but Google Earth helps a lot with describing the setting (I already live in an arid place and so know what it’s like to hike up a mountain in the middle of the day in the summer).”
Her latest novel, the one set in Greece and due for release on April 2nd, is available to pre-order now. It is her third release in a little over two years although it turns out that the first was finished more than a year before publication. Even so, three books in three years is impressive, especially as politics features in her Amazon biography as one of her interests. It turns out that she is highly organised, working to a strict schedule around caring for her daughter.
“I spent a much longer time writing my first novel than I have with the successive novels. I have a beautiful pen on my desk that my husband got me to commemorate when I finished the first book—in 2014. My level of political activism is limited these days, alas, but I’m fortunate to have writing be my sole occupation right now since my daughter is in school. I manage the work rate by planning out my entire year:
each month has a specific goal (or three) and then I break that down further so that I know what I need to do every day to stay on track.
I’m also horribly competitive, if you ask my husband, but when I’m writing a first draft I keep a spreadsheet of my progress – how long I wrote for, how many words, and words per minute. I’m always trying to write more in a shorter amount of time.
Juggling writing and responsibilities has gotten easier with time. Writing is essential for me. I take the weekends off and by Sunday night I’m twitching like an addict.”
I’m writing up the first draft of our interview as it is snowing outside, something I think would please Rachael.
“I’ve always been very jealous of those writers that say, “oh I write at night when everyone’s asleep” or “I write before everyone gets up.” I’m not a morning person. I’m not a night owl. I’m an 8am-10pm person. I drop my daughter off at school, workout, eat, shower, then I sit down at my desk which faces the bay window in my bedroom. It used to belong to my grandmother and I re-painted it navy and gold. Then from 9am-2pm I work. Some days are better than others but my favorites are when it’s snowing and I can sit at my desk with my feet on the heater and watch the world turn white.”
Her books revolve around the solving of mysteries. The protagonist in her soon to be released novel is a police detective. She describes herself, among other things, as ‘a police wife’. That is something she finds extremely helpful in her writing.
“There is no greater assistance to my writing than having a bona fide cop in the house. We have discussions on police tactics, how one enters a building, how one holds a gun, how one avoids bullet spray – while we are on DATES. His office is down the hall from my desk so often I’ll trot over there and ask him an out of the blue question about some detail or other. He never laughs, just gives over the answer and I go back to my desk.
As a former police wife I have a set of memories that are very specific to that group. Long nights, waking up to an empty bed when your husband should have been home four hours ago, never spending an entire Christmas/Thanksgiving/New Years/4th of July etc. with them because of shift work. I also went on a host of ride-a-longs with him while he was serving which opened my eyes to how hard his job was. I actually helped catch a wanted felon on my birthday one year — from the safety of a squad car — it was thrilling nonetheless.”
Another influence is her early life living with a narcissistic mother, an experience she shares with one of my previous ‘dates’, Lucinda Clarke. Both welcome my introduction; as Rachael puts it, “one always feels connected to those people.”
“Yes, my mother, from whom I am estranged, has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). It’s a terrible disorder and I am only now processing the years of abuse and trauma.
Just as being the wife of a cop gave me insight into a different kind of life so did my childhood with an abusive mother. It does not take much imagination to place myself in my character’s mind when they are living with a narcissist—it was such a central part of my formative years. It has also made me desperate to tell stories about people I can relate to. I want a reader who has a loving caring mother be able to see what a blessing she has in her life when she reads about a character that is tormented by his/her parents. I also want a reader who is currently living with that pain to recognize that others have trod the path before her and there is a way out.
At the end of the day, what I really create is a collection of pages that is stuffed with my heart and my pain and experience and dreams. I hope to heaven that my readers see themselves in it.”
She is highly appreciative of her editor and a trusted team of beta readers.
“Where would I be without my editor? Nowhere. I do have a trusted team of beta readers. I have a good friend in Australia who is my Alpha Reader. I send her the (truly horrible) first drafts and she tells me if what I’m doing is good or not. These amazing wonderful people are indispensable.”
She has strong feelings about the often conflicting advice given to authors.
“Recently I picked up a book on writing advice. But the horrible thing gave authors a list of rules and then authors who followed said rules and then authors who didn’t follow said rules. I wanted to scream.
But the one I hate the most is: write what you know.
Excuse me but Tolkien had never been to Middle Earth. C.S. Lewis had never been to Narnia. Tolkien was a master linguist and C.S. Lewis was a master theologian. They took what they knew whether that was languages, or stories, or the Bible, and they turned it into something new and different and unique.
I’m not a male police captain living on the island of Lesvos. But I know people. I know pain. I know how a police officer feels at the end of the day, how on some days he hates his job because it feels like he’s not making a difference at all. I know that. I think that’s the true meaning of ‘write what you know’– find your strengths and then create something new and exciting.
The advice I love? It’s what my husband said to me when I was struggling writing my first novel and feeling like it was ‘too me.’ He said every single author pours themselves in their books. Every page is full of them. That and write for yourself. Write what makes you happy. Happy writers are happy readers.”
Given her penchant for organisation it comes as no surprise when she asks if she can list her favorite writers by categories.
- “Fantasy: Tolkien and Rowling. Absolute pillars.
- Literature: I’m a diehard Austen fan. The way she chastised her whole society without anyone even realizing is pure magic. Gustave Flaubert-Madame Bovary
- Mystery: Donna Leon, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rowling again — Cormoran Strike is perfect.”
As usual I end by asking her to tell us something abut herself that might surprise her readers. She comes up with a Shakespearian connection:
“I’m descended from King Malcolm III of Scotland and the Clan Chiefs of Clan MacKay through my paternal grandmother.”
Rhonda Hopkins is a self-published author from Texas with two decades of experience working within the Family Court system. She writes often quite dark stories featuring zombies. She also has a non-fiction book in the pipeline which will be a guide for people encountering the Family Court for the first time.
I began our conversation by asking her about life in her native Texas. For me “Texas” invokes memories of old cowboy films, vast cattle ranches, rodeos and Dallas – both the TV series and the city with its glass and steel towers. I wondered how accurate was that image.
“That’s a great question and one I’ve never been asked before. Texas is amazing. We have just about everything here. Large cities, small towns, and wide-open spaces. We have a large variety of trees, my favorite being pecan. We had several in our yard when I was a child and l loved climbing them. I’d sit on a large branch, lean back against the trunk, and read for hours.
My grandmother and other relatives always had ranch animals, cows, horses, donkeys, mules, chickens, etc. So, I had the pleasure of having that experience. We still have cows and chickens. And of course, we have wildlife that come into the back – coyotes, foxes, raccoons, possums, and more. I actually posted about a run in I had with a raccoon previously.
As for rodeos – I grew up going to those.
My uncle is a champion bareback rider.
We live in a small town in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, so I feel like I have the best of both worlds. Big cities with everything you could want available and a small-town atmosphere where you know all your neighbors and have an active community.
We have canyons, an ocean, rivers, lakes, and mountains. I feel very fortunate to have been born and raised in Texas and can’t imagine living anywhere else. I have traveled to many other wonderful states in the U.S. and would love to visit them again, but Texas is home.”
I ask her about her years working in the Family Court system. She has a section of her website devoted to providing information for prospective users of the service, but I wonder to what extent her experience feeds into her fiction.
“I’ve worked within the Family Court system for nearly twenty years. The first nine and a half were at Child Protective Services where I dealt with child abuse and neglect. I was an investigator for most of those and a supervisor for the rest. I then did investigations/custody evaluations for the Family Courts. I met the most evil people and the most wonderful during those twenty years. There were funny, horrific, scary, and amazing experiences. All of that, I use in my writing. Most of my fiction is dark, but the best part to me is finding the light within the darkness. I try my best to show the hope and human spirit and endurance within my books.
I also have a new non-fiction book coming out soon, NAVIGATING FAMILY COURT: IN THE BEST INTEREST OF YOUR CHILD. It will offer an insight into what to expect if one has to go through custody litigation and how best to prepare yourself and your children. Co-parenting tips are also included. I’m very happy that I can use my experience to help others through a really difficult time. I’ll have a new website just for that topic once it’s released and I’ll transfer all my former blog posts there, so people will have access to the articles about domestic violence, child custody, and substance abuse.”
On her website she offers her books free of charge to serving members of the defense forces. She got the idea from Anna Erishkigal, a fellow author who writes epic fantasies Rhonda describes as amazing. “I think it’s important that we give back to those that sacrifice so much for our freedoms,” she adds.
I ask what drew her to write about zombies and what she would you say to someone like me, who has never read that genre and has no inclination to do so, to make me change my mind.
“I was asked to participate in LET’S SCARE CANCER TO DEATH, a charity anthology. The proceeds go to The V Foundation For Cancer Research. The theme was zombies. I love watching and reading about zombies, but never intended to write about them. But, when the offer to participate came up, the short story just sort of appeared fully formed. That short story was supposed to be the extent of my zombie work. But, I fell in love with the characters and their stories of survival. More characters came to me and they all seem to be begging me to tell their stories. So, a series was born. My first full-length novel DEAD OF WINTER should be out at the end of August or so.
While the SURVIVAL series has blood and guts – it’s zombies after all – that’s not the focus or even the main theme. I care, and I want my readers to care, more about the survivors and their stories, their perseverance and ability to overcome such a horrific apocalyptic event.
I don’t think zombies would even be the biggest threat in that world. I think it would be other humans.
So my books show the good and the bad of humanity and how my survivors cope with it all – the light within the darkness.”
Previous writers who have featured here have embraced controversial subjects in their writing – the Holocaust, FGM and the grooming of underage girls for sex. When I ask if she thinks it’s wise for writers to tackle such subjects she says that writers should write whatever touches their hearts.
Some writers have a special space for writing, or a time of day reserved for the activity. Rhonda has
a desk and an area set up, “but mainly I write from my big comfy chair on my laptop. But, I’ve been known to write just about anywhere or anytime the muse strikes.”
Currently writing is her only creative activity, but she wishes she could paint.
“My aunt is an amazing artist, but my stick figures don’t even look like stick figures. 😊 She is teaching me to crochet though, so we’ll see how that goes. I love cooking and baking. I especially enjoy baking special things for my nieces and nephews – like the Christmas Tree cake I made this past holiday. I did make ceramics a long time ago when my mom was into it. I might have to try that out again. Although, I’ve been thinking about trying pottery recently.”
I wonder if she uses professional help with preparing her work for publication.
“I use beta readers for the first read through, then a professional editor. I want my work to appeal to readers and be as well developed as possible.
As an indie, I strive to be professional and hire editors and cover designers.”
Her favourite author is Dean Koontz.
“I read many different genres and there are many authors I consider must reads, both traditionally and indie published. However, Dean Koontz is my favorite author. I’ve been reading him since I was about twelve and I believe I have read just about everything he’s ever written. I would hope I could manage to speak if I were having dinner with him – I’m such a fan girl. LOL He’s a magnificent writer, with a wonderful imagination. I’d love to be able to string words together like he can. After just a few sentences, I’m completely immersed in the story and even forget I’m reading. I don’t think that can be taught, but if it could, I’d hope he’d share that ability with me.”
I thank her for the frankness of her answers and she surprises me with an offer – a free copy of SURVIVAL for one of my followers. Here’s how to qualify to receive it: simply be the first to tell me, in a comment, what is Rhonda’s favourite tree.
I came across this writer when I was assigned one of her books in a Goodreads review group. I was so taken with the book that I wanted to find out more about the woman who wrote it.
Kyle has been writing since she was a child. As a teenager she kept her friends entertained with a serial. As an adult she decided most of what she had produced so far wasn’t good enough to be published and burnt it all.
She is a perfectionist, a trait that suits her well in her other activity, that of a potter. Quoting a saying coined by a master ceramicist, the hammer is the potter’s best friend, she goes on to regret the fact that modern computer technology with back-up in the cloud makes it hard for us to irretrievably delete something, thereby tempting us into not being radical enough, but instead to merely tinker around at the edges.
She does not understand the need for a special place or time for her writing. “But I do need hours of concentration and silence,” she says. A keen climber, she adds: “My best ideas come to me when belaying at the bottom of a sea cliff.”
Six book series
It is when we get on to the subject of her six-book series that her passion and perfectionism shines through. Her protagonist is a young woman who is determined to become the first woman to win a World Championship at stock car racing.
“Initially I wrote a book about a young female car mechanic. My agent at the time asked me to turn it into a series. I said I hadn’t planned to, but then the first sentence of the next book just popped into my mind and I knew what it would be about.
Half way through writing the second book of the series, I heard a BBC Radio 4 programme where Brian Sewell talked about his love of Stock Car racing. Yes, that Brian Sewell – the man so posh he made the Queen sound common. The man who came home from school once and asked his mother, ‘Mummy, what are elocution lessons?’ Mummy: ‘Something you’ll never need, darling . . .’ Anyhow, apparently he was a self-confessed petrol-head and was addicted to attending Stock Car races, declaring you could get drunk on the fumes in the air, and purring remarks such as, ‘it’s so utterly common, darling! The cars are all pink and purple and orange and they smash into each other and turn upside down – I love it!’
And I thought – wow, my heroine would think she’d died and gone to heaven. So I researched it, and no female had ever reached further than a semi-final of the World Championship since 1980, and that was the decider, I knew where my heroine Eve was headed…
My husband came home from work to find me staring endlessly at YouTube footage of cars driving mindlessly round in circles. He was bewildered. He’s a man who could get you safely up Everest, but he wouldn’t know a camshaft if it hit him between the eyes (except he might realise it would be safer to duck).
Soon we were puzzling our extended family by attending our nearest big oval in Manchester, Belle Vue, (where my husband apparently once went to the dogs). The BriSCA F2 Stocks’ chief grader sent me PDFs of the scoring systems. I studied the construction rules until I knew them better than most of the drivers. It was fiendishly difficult to find out some details. Stoxradio would always message me back to say that it was on the BriSCA website. IT WASN’T! Come on folks, this is your life, and how come NONE of you can tell me what colour you paint your roof when you win the World of Shale title?! (Two gold stripes, by the way. Someone finally dredged it up!)”
She goes on to reflect some more on the use of research in fiction:
“The trouble is, once you know a lot about a subject, there is a danger that you feel obliged to prove to the reader that you do. But
putting too much technical detail in holds up the flow of the story, and can seem awkward.
As authors we have to put a lot of research into the topic of our latest book to make sure we make it as authentic as possible, and yet we often have to end up writing the bulk of the story without any explicit reference to all that knowledge.
However, sometimes there is information that you feel you have to insert, or else most of the readers won’t understand the import of the story. It’s a ticklish line to tread. How do you ‘educate’ the reader about the technical facts/background information that they need to know to appreciate the storyline? Mostly, you end up leaving it out.
I could hear in my lively imagination the sound of the loud scoffing of mechanical types at my heroine standing around with a spanner in her hand and condemning it as lazy stereotyping! But the book is aimed at teenage girls who really do not want endless details of engine repairs, and the thrust of a scene in a garage is often only moved on by dialogue, and what do we do when we’re stopping to talk to someone? Straighten up and stand there chatting with the tool still in our hand…”
I ask about editing and the use of beta readers. In response she reveals the tension between her determination to tread her own path as a writer and the advice from professionals to write to a market.
“Writing advice is there to be ignored and rules are there to be broken. It’s up to you to decide how you’ll write. Virtually all of the novels that have won the literary prizes over the past few years were published by small independent publishing companies because the big established ones aren’t willing to take risks. When it comes down to it, some writing will achieve a popular audience but the scorn of the literary snobs, and other books will garner critical praise but the majority of readers will be wading through it out of duty.
There isn’t a book in existence that will speak to everyone who reads it. So we need to be resigned to that fact.
A novel is a collaboration between the writer’s imagination and craft, and the reader’s imagination.
The reader may not want to imagine what you are asking him or her to. And that’s their prerogative, they are the guardian of their own mind and spirit, and they have a right to choose what they allow into it. In any crowded room there will only be a few people you will feel able to ‘click’ with and desire to engage with further at any depth. Readers feel like that about books and authors. They have to trust that the murky depths of the writer’s psyche isn’t going to turn sour on them…”
The subject comes up again in relation to the serious subject matter dealt with in the book I read, Purgatory is a Place Too. It concerns the exposure of a paedophile ring run by men of Pakistani origin. But, in the earlier books the protagonist Eve, has a friend who is a Pakistani married to an Indian. I’ll let Dominique explain the problem she encountered with agents and editors in relation to that:
“I haven’t had a good experience of agents, editors or publishers.
The first book in my series went out to agents ten years ago. Two agents got back to me, offering to take it on. The one that took it told me that it was already nearly perfect, but she was going to send it to an editor as a precaution. The editor fiddled around saying the ‘policeman’ in it should be turned into three different policemen because it wasn’t realistic. I spent ages doing that then realised it completely ruined the point of the story. Doh! Told my agent I was changing it back again. The editor then told me to take out the Pakistani girl because she was ‘irrelevant’. I refused. My agent herself was from a Bajan background. How come the only ‘ethnic minority’ friend of my heroine was considered irrelevant? Anyway, the next book turned out to be almost entirely about her.
My agent sent the book out to 15 publishers. They wrote back (and I quote) ‘we love her writing style but no-one is reading contemporary novels right now – can you get her to write one about magic or vampires and send it back to us?’ It was the height of the Harry Potter and Twilight hysteria.
My agent got quite depressed. She had several other YA authors that she’d taken on writing similar contemporary ‘issue’ books and she couldn’t get any of them published.
(There is)a hunger out there for books that reflected the real lives of young people
I knew the publishers were wrong and that there was still a hunger out there for books that reflected the real lives of young people, as virtually every 13-15 year old in my small town had enthusiastically read my manuscript, and they kept asking me when it was going to be published because they wanted to buy a copy.
I guess we were ahead of the curve, because just recently a lot of YA novels have come out about gritty issues. So if I’d been touting it around a couple of years ago I might have struck lucky. By the time it comes to anyone’s attention, it’ll probably be considered passé again…
I put the book aside for 5 years, then took up the series again, finished it and went down the Indie route. The problem is – how do you get it out there to the demographic that needs to read it before it’s completely out of date? That is proving extremely difficult at the moment without the machinery of the conventional industry behind me.”
That’s something with which all independently published writer can empathise.
Now to the sensitive subjects of paedophile rings and racism. Dominique is emphatic in her defense of this choice of subject.
“I didn’t set out specifically to tackle it. I had written 4 books in the series already, but I knew the series wasn’t finished yet and I needed a fresh direction. Maybe a detective type of thing?
Then my brother turned up for Christmas. He was incandescent. He’d recently moved to Rotherham to help bring some of the men involved in the grooming gang scandal to justice. He was mainly working on the Council/Police corruption side of it. But before moving there he’d sat down and read the Jay report and said he cried for two days afterwards.
I was a bit blasé. I’d already known what was going on for at least 2 years by then. I’d even tried to tell my brother. But no-one was listening. It hadn’t hit the media yet. Most of the other scandals (Rochdale, Oxford, Telford, Stoke, Newcastle etc) hadn’t been publicised yet either. So it just became blindingly obvious what the next episode had to be.
My series was already set in a large industrial Lancashire town. One of my heroine’s best friends was conveniently of Pakistani origin and now married to an Indian guy against the will of her family with an attendant honour killing story line. And there had already been a misogyny and rape story line with my heroine. Put it all together and my heroine was ideally situated to discover that a grooming gang was operating in her home town.
Everything that happens to the girls in my book has actually happened to one of the real survivors – in fact I toned it right down to make it bearable to read. For the story to be comprehensible I also had to simplify it. I read the Jay report and stuck to details from that. I didn’t read any of the girls’ accounts so that I wouldn’t accidentally put something in that was too specific to an actual girl. I’ve had contact with survivors since finishing the book and I have read the last few chapters of all their books to accurately reflect their experiences in court in Book 6.
the reality of the British Northern town grooming gang scandals is that the race element is the most explosive and poisonous part of it.
If I was making this up, I’d have carefully established that the individuals from the grooming gang originated from all sorts of backgrounds, but the reality of the British Northern town grooming gang scandals is that the race element is the most explosive and poisonous part of it. It’s the element that most commentators are too squeamish to take on. But it’s exactly that element that has ripped apart the local communities.
In Rotherham 1300 mainly white girls were abused by the almost completely Pakistani gang over a number of years, and those in authority turned a blind eye, and re-framed the girls’ situation as being willing ‘child prostitutes’ which is a maddening conclusion to come to when you bear in mind that these girls were raped as young as 11, and that it generally would start at around 12-13 years (as that is an age when they are still conveniently easy to control).
I felt obliged to increase the age of the girls involved in my novel so as not to distress the reader too much, and to give it some vague chance of maybe getting published. My brother is very brave – he puts his email address out on his website with the sentence ‘Feel free to send all your death threats to this address’. Whereas I don’t allow my image to appear on the internet, as I need to protect my family.
I have tried to represent all sides of the debate so as not to be in danger of inciting race hatred. Due to the book going out to more beta readers than usual I’ve ended up having to add more and more corrective ‘information’. It has now become unwieldy and I can feel a final edit coming on to un-stodge it again…”
Having read Dominique’s book I can confirm that she is scrupulous in her treatment of the issues surrounding the controversy. To end the conversation I ask about her favourite books and writers.
“I tend to read ‘literary’ novels, but want to write entertaining ones. I have no favourite writers. Arundhati Roy’s ‘The God of Small Things’, Lionel Shriver’s ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’, and Hilary Mantel’s ‘Bring up the Bodies’, are all excellent. I like books to be absorbing, detailed, complicated, and make you think, but not what I call ‘one-read-wonders’ – where once you know the ‘tricksy’ ending, there is nothing of any depth left to bring you back to the book again. Many of the top best-sellers are in this latter category.”
I am grateful to Dominique for agreeing to be my first interviewee for this series and for her frank and detailed responses to my probing. I hope you enjoyed the experience, too. You can find Dominique’s books here (these links will take you to her author page at the relevant site) Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
Maybe it reveals a man proud of his own achievements to the point of insufferable arrogance. But, then, he’s American and I am British, brought up with that tight lipped English reserve of the stereotypes (though not of the ruling classes!).
But it also reveals a man with a mission to help others achieve great things in his chosen profession. His Word Weaver contests are part of that. I am definitely going to enter. And if you want an honest opinion of your own ability as a writer, and the chance to win a unique package of writing and publishing guidance, you should, too.
Dan’s contests are always worth entering, if only for the critique which is provided for each the first 50 entries this time around.