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Lisa Shambrook lives in Carmarthen, “an old market town in the West Wales hills, [which] is inspiring as I’m surrounded by rolling hills, mountains, woods and forests, and I’m a stone’s throw from several gorgeous beaches. The scenery constantly changes and Wales, as a whole, has inspired my latest post-apocalyptic work The Seren Stone Chronicles and I’ve just finished writing the first drafts of all three books.”
I am aware that there is a community of writers residing in that part of the world, several of whom are, like Lisa, members of IASD. I suggested that this must offer stimulation and she agreed:
“I attend several local book fairs, and my fellow Welsh authors are a friendly, supportive, and generally amazing bunch. Christoph Fischer and Graham Watkins are regulars with me, and I recently met Penny Luker when she joined us too. I’ve met some truly inspiring authors within the IASD group and further afield in my local writing community like Carol Lovekin, Judith Arnopp, Thorne Moore, Judith Barrow, Greg Howes, and Cheryl Beer, and read some of their amazing books!”
Lisa recently made the move from self-publishing to a traditional contract with a small independent publisher, BHC. What made her decide on that route and how did she find BHC?
“I discovered BHC some years ago and they recently became my traditional publishers at BHC Press. I struggle with the formatting side of self-publishing and love the way they format my books. They offered me a contract a year or so ago for my Surviving Hope series and for A Symphony of Dragons and the contract worked well for me. I have also been given the opportunity with BHC Press to write an introduction and an original short story for their release of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, and that was a real privilege.
I found self-publishing difficult within my emotional/mental health parameters and knowing my publisher is looking after me is helpful. I still have a great deal of say with my work and publishing, and marketing, as we all know, is something we take on as authors, so I do a lot of my own marketing too.”
She writes fantasies in which hope springs from tragedy and believes such themes are important in helping people of all ages cope with life’s ups and downs:
“The Surviving Hope books: Beneath the Rainbow, Beneath the Old Oak, and Beneath the Distant Star have dealt with difficult subjects. They work with grief, depression, self-harm, anger issues, and bullying. It’s heavy stuff, but essential to understand the human condition. I have suffered severe anxiety and depression for most of my life and so the themes have been woven easily into the books with compassion and empathy. The main theme of Beneath the Rainbow is living life to the full and reaching for those so called impossible dreams. I think it’s imperative for both the young and the old to understand these themes and to know they are represented within fiction.”
Lisa has participated in a number of collaborations, including with musicians as well as other writers:
“I worked with Samantha Redstreake Geary when she offered a chance to write for a project she was heading for Audiomachine’s album Tree Of Life. We each wrote a story that continued with the next author and moved through the entire instrumental album. I loved writing a short piece that resounded with the music and worked so well with my sense of empathy and beauty. She included me on a couple of other musical contributions too and it was a real treat as music and the written word work perfectly together!
“Working with other authors is revitalising, and I’m very proud of my collaborations, including You are Not Alone with Ian D. Moore, which many IASD authors will know.”
The proceeds from You are Not Alone are donated to the Macmillan Nurses cancer support charity in the UK. Other collaborations also enabled Lisa and her fellow writers to support charity:
“My favourite collaboration is Human 76 which I managed along with my daughter Bekah, and authors Michael Wombat, and Miranda Kate. My family loves taking out-of-the-ordinary family portrait photographs and we did a post-apocalyptic shoot a few years ago. A photo of my daughter became an inspiration to a group of my author friends and we decided to write a collection of stories surrounding her character. It became an amazing project, pulling fourteen authors together with a great original concept. Each story in this collection follows individual characters through a post-apocalyptic world and they meet the main character at some point during their story. She affects many lives as she searches for her kidnapped sister. I wrote Ghabri, our main character, and put together the opening and closing chapters, the other stories weave between and I was astounded at how well they all worked and brought a wonderful book together.
“When we put the book out there we wanted to support a charity and to fit the themes in the book ‘Water Is Life’ is the charity we chose. It provides clean water in countries without it, and it’s lovely to know you are contributing to something worthwhile and important.”
As well as writing, Lisa has a business which uses old books in a unique and innovative way:
“I have an Etsy shop called Amaranth Alchemy (Not to be confused with an American design consultancy with the same name, FP) which I began with my daughter, but I now run on my own. I hate seeing books going to waste and a local charity collects books to give back to the community, but some are beyond repair. I use books that have been damaged or abandoned and give them new life as book marks, picture frames, and other gifts. I breathe new life into old pages…”
I wondered if there were any copyright issues with such a business. She agrees you have to be careful with certain authors’ works:
“You cannot use Tolkien’s books as the Tolkien estate is very protective of any outside usage. Many old books are already in the public domain. I am only reusing pages that would have gone to landfill, and as far as I know there are no copyright issues with recycling.”
When asked about her favourite authors, she admits t having several:
“My most favourite author is Garth Nix, I adore the Old Kingdom series, especially Lirael my favourite book. I love Tolkien, having been brought up with The Hobbit’ and Lord of the Rings. I have eclectic reading tastes, so often choose books according to the individual story, rather than the author. I also love The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss, and he’d be an author I’d like to meet along with Nix. I think I’d ask about their confidence in their writing, how they learned to accept and embrace their own styles, because I think that’s probably one of the most important things about writing. Not sure where we’d go though.”
In answer to my final question she confesses to being “a quiet introvert”, but she loves “to talk about the deep things of life. I find socialising almost impossible and struggle with people. I think I’m a bit of a squirrel – a scatty, secretive, panicky, hoarding, arty, curl-up-and-sleep, autumnal creature!”
I enjoyed my chat with Lisa. I hope you do, too. Why not check out her website where you can find more information about her books along with purchase links.
My latest author date is with Paul Ian Cross. Paul is originally from Redditch in the English Midlands but now lives in London.
“ I left Redditch in 1999 to go to university. I was eager to move to a city as I’d been in Redditch all my life, and I was ready for a change! It was nice to move away, but I do enjoy going back there to see my sister, brother-in-law and nephew who still live there. I moved to Nottingham for my studies and later moved to London for work, where I’ve been living ever since. I love London as we always discover something new there, whether it be a café, restaurant, art event or bar. However, the craziness of the capital can sometimes be too much. It’s nice to have a balance, and get away from the city sometimes.”
Paul is a research scientist. His first books were an attempt to introduce science in a lively and entertaining way to young children which he believes is an important mission.
“I’ve always had a passion for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, fp), so I always knew I’d go into a science career. I believe it’s very important for children to be introduced to STEM early on, as the concepts will be much easier to digest when they eventually study the subjects at school. We also need more people to go into the sciences, so I hope by introducing STEM concepts to children in a creative way it’ll inspire them to follow a similar career path.”
Paul has also explored family relationships, teamwork, and the idea that children can “achieve whatever they set their mind to”. In a world where adults sometimes seem to be beset by anxieties, does he think it important to give children and young adults a positive message?
“Yes, most definitely. I never felt good enough as a teenager and when I entered my twenties, I didn’t believe I’d ever make it as a writer. I was lucky to meet people who helped build up my confidence in both myself and my writing, and the rest is history. That’s why I want to share the message with children and young adults: you can achieve those dreams you’ve always had, you just have to try and work as hard as possible. It may not work out how you expect, but at least giving it a try is better than having regrets.”
He regularly collaborates with other writers and/or illustrators. I wanted to know how these relationships work? How were any disagreements resolved?
“Yes, as a children’s author the books we create are most definitely a team effort.
I’ve been lucky to work with artists, designers and illustrators who have captured my characters perfectly, so we haven’t really had any disagreements.
We start off by writing a contract together, so we know exactly how we will work together, so I believe that’s the reason why the collaborations have been so successful.”
At least one of his books is listed at Waterstones, something that is beyond the reach of many independently published authors. I wondered how Paul achieved that.
“When I started out as an independent author, I researched the industry as much as possible. I treated it like a job and I did so much work I almost forgot to write! I discovered that the best chance I had of getting into bookshops was to set up a small publishing house, and that’s when Farrow Children’s Books came to be. I named my publishing company after my Grandparents, Dennis and Vicky Farrow. At the moment, Farrow Children’s Books only publishes my own work, but with time I plan to open for submissions from other authors. It’s relatively easy to set yourself up as an independent publisher, you just need to register with Nielsen and purchase some ISBNs.
Now, all of my books are listed on Waterstones.com and they’re also available to order in over 500 independent bookstores around the world.
However, getting your books a place on the shelf is far more difficult, and it’s something I have only recently achieved. My first novel aimed at teens and young adults – The Lights of Time – launches on 27th November and I’ll have my first proper book launch at Moon Lane Books in South London, who will also be stocking copies. It will be incredibly exciting to see my book on their shelves! It’s an amazing children’s book shop managed by Tamara and Clare who also run Tales on Moon Lane in Herne Hill. I’m in the process of approaching Waterstones and Foyles and I’ll be pitching to them too, in the hope that they’ll stock a few copies on the shelves.”
Paul still works as a freelance scientific researcher as well as writing.
“I left my full-time job in the NHS in 2017, and set up my own consultancy. My business has two brands: my clinical research consultancy and my writing, under Farrow Children’s Books. I’m now able to spend half the month as a clinical research consultant, and the rest of the month working on my writing projects. It was a big change for me, with a great amount of risk, but I haven’t looked back since. It was the best decision I ever made!”
Paul would love to meet Andy Weir who wrote The Martian.
“I plan to follow in his footsteps and have my independently published novel developed into a movie! I’d ask him exactly how he agreed his movie contract, as I would like advice with this aspect! I’m currently working on a film treatment (basically a summary of the book) which could potentially be developed into a screenplay. My plan will be to pitch it to producers, to see if they’d be interested in taking on the project. Again, I did lots of research before starting this work, and the process is not as complex as it first appears – finding someone to take on your project is the difficult part. As I always say though, what’s the worst that can happen? They may say no, or they may completely ignore me. But at least I can say I’ve given it a go!”
Paul was kind enough to take time out from a holiday to answer my questions.
“I’m currently in French Polynesia on an atoll called Tikehau. We swam with humpback whales last week and we’ll be meeting a group of manta rays tomorrow! We’re on a two-month tour of the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand. You can check out my holiday snaps on Instagram: @pauliancross.author”
My ‘date’ this week is with a woman who lives a stone’s throw from the ‘Dreaming Spires’ of Oxford.
“I moved to Oxford about thirty years ago, having flirted with the idea of living here for at least five years before that. I was born in London and lived there until my early twenties. I’d never want to go back there for more than a visit now.
I’ve found Oxford is an ideal place for writers, eccentrics, and artists. It’s a place that celebrates diversity, and where you can be anonymous if you wish, and yet experience the feel of a village if you want to find your tribe. I love the way history is embedded in its streets and secret alleyways.
My own personal history is embedded there too, now. The only thing I would change seems like wishing for the tide not to turn – I’m not keen on the vast new shopping centre that screams commercialism, and the mad traffic congestion. But I suppose those hazards are inevitable in our modern society.”
Lesley worked full-time as a writer from the age of 17 and, afterwards, had short stories published and/or read on radio over a period of several years before deciding to switch careers and become a psychotherapist. I wondered if that was a difficult decision to make.
“Not at all. It seemed an organic progression, just as turning again to my writing twenty years later felt the right time. My writing had always focused on the psychological motivations and quirks of human nature, and I was trying to work out my own salvation through it, without realising it at the time.
As I reached the end of my thirties I had survived a great deal of trauma and my move to Oxford had begun a process of profound healing. I trained as a psychotherapist to help me understand more of that trauma and what had enabled my survival, and having learned how to go beyond my own suffering, I wanted to pass that on. It’s something of a cliché that therapists are wounded healers, but it’s true.
My work in therapy and in writing fiction has not been so different.
For me, it’s always been about reaching for the truth, and communicating on a deep level with other human beings.
I recognise that like many introverts I also have a driving need for meaningful connection. It’s what keeps us all afloat.”
Her childhood was lived in a part of London that followers of the BBC soap opera ‘Eastenders’ would recognise. However, whilst the fictional ‘Walford’ has changed hardly at all in the 40 years since its arrival on our screens, the part Lesley knew has changed beyond recognition.
“It’s now very different – the little I’ve seen of it in recent years. I’ve looked up the street where I lived for much of my childhood on Google Maps, and it’s weird to see that it’s all part of Docklands now. The interesting thing, however, is that I only have to call on my memory to see it exactly as it was. I have strong images in my mind of the house where I grew up. I didn’t realise it was a slum, and took for granted the outside lavatory and the huge bomb site at the end of the road. Those early experiences in my working class family are vividly imprinted on me.”
Mention of bomb sites reminds me that Lesley recently turned 70. What do the advancing years mean to her in her life and her writing?
“In spite of the additional physical challenges that ageing brings, I don’t think I’ll ever feel old. The generations of women in my maternal family have been strong and feisty, and youthful in our outlook. I loved my grandmother, who in her late eighties still had a wicked sense of humour.
My mother died only two years ago, also in her late eighties, and she remained politically astute right to the very end – and made sure her vote got cast in the referendum, even though by then she was bed-ridden.
I’m anticipating clocking up quite a few more years than either of them. But I’m also prepared to give in gracefully at whatever age my number comes up. My friends range in age from their early forties to their mid-eighties, and
where like-mindedness and a lively, creative intelligence are present I don’t think age really matters.
As a writer I feel I am at my peak (though I’d probably have said that at whatever age I’d reached when doing this interview!) In writing my current novel I am aware that I am bringing a lifetime of experience and understanding to it. I write with increasingly more compassion and empathy for my characters – which is a reflection of one of the blessings of getting older.
As I see the end of my life no longer as a mere dot on the horizon, I am poignantly aware of my connection not just with other humans but with all creatures, all life. We are all part of ‘it’, and although I’m still no wiser about what ‘it’ is (a lifetime’s inner and outer journeying have been devoted to finding the answer to that) I feel more strongly aware that it is all-encompassing and beautiful.”
How did her past experience as a published writer influence her decision to self-publish when she returned to writing in later life?
“Initially I did put some effort into finding another agent, as the one I’d had for all those years before had retired from Laurence Pollinger. But I soon discovered that in those twenty odd years since I’d last been published the whole world of publishing had changed. It was a salutary lesson in humility to be reminded that for all intents and purposes, and whatever my previous history, I was now a new girl on the block.
I was reluctant to self-publish at first, but it was my son who persuaded me. I hadn’t even heard of kindle, never mind discovering the joys of having one. As it has been with most projects in my life, once I seized the nettle I began vigorously waving the flag for nettles everywhere.
It gets easier with each book I publish to learn the ropes of what’s required. The hardest part has been managing to generate the publicity, as I’m not comfortable with blowing my own trumpet. But I love the process of creating the ads for my books, and the covers. And the one huge advantage of self-publishing for me has been editing my own books (which I always did in the past anyway) and not having a publisher trying to convince me to put in more of this or less of that. I do like having complete creative control.”
Her training and work as a psychotherapist feed into her more recent writing:
“I’m sure the richness of those years of deeper exploration into the psyche, and more importantly the human heart, have influenced me more than I realise. I have always been fascinated in hearing people’s stories (sitting at the feet of my mother and grandmother as a child, listening to them gossip and relate anecdotes about their history, was a rich source of material for my imagination!) I brought that genuine deep interest to my work as a therapist, and I learned to look for patterns and layers in the stories people told about themselves and their families. I think that honed whatever skills I already had, so that I now embed those patterns and layers in the novels I write. I’m not sure I could write in any other way – because I have to be fascinated in what I’m writing and the characters who introduce themselves to me as I bring them into life.”
She is reluctant to start listing author she admires
“because I’d have a hard job choosing which were more important or influential. The writer who has impressed me most recently has been Philip Pullman. I watched a documentary about him and felt such a rapport with him and how he described the way he works. I admire the way he delves so deeply into his characters and the invented landscape he creates in his books. He has such an incredible imagination, and he brings philosophy and spirituality into his books in a way that encourages the reader to question and perhaps even begin thinking in a way they hadn’t before. I love a book and a writer who is able to do that. I don’t know that I could learn anything as a writer from spending time with him, because we all have our unique style. But I would so enjoy hanging out with him and just talking about the process of writing, and life, and what it means to us.”
Like me, Lesley is full of admiration for the way in which other self-published and independently published writers support each other through organisations like IASD. Some say that such support is less forthcoming from traditionally published writers. Some of the people Lesley worked with in the 1970s went on to become household names. Did she consider approaching them when considering re-entering the world of publishing?
“No, I haven’t done that. I did get in touch with a local writer who has had some success (and ironically, all those years ago, just before I gave up writing for psychotherapy, I gave him the name of my agent, which started the ball rolling for him!) I contacted him a few years ago, just before I started writing my last novel, when I was considering trying to get back into mainstream publishing. He wrote back and said he’d had a look at my profile on Amazon and all the reviews I had, and his advice was to stick to self-publishing. Although he had continued to be published by one of the ‘big’ publishers he was making very little money, and being messed around by them. As for those who worked with me on the magazine, it honestly hasn’t occurred to me to get in touch with them. I tend not to look back once I’ve moved on.”
I am envious of her disciplined approach to writing:
“I’m quite disciplined, which I think is essential. I’ve always had to have a ‘writing room’, wherever I’ve lived, although it’s also an internal space. The one thing I’ve always required is non-interrupted silence – which is probably why I’m much happier living alone, and have a cat who doesn’t even purr. I work in the mornings. My preferred routine is between breakfast and lunch, although because I also have a healthy routine of meeting friends in the mornings, that can be reduced. If I’m burning to get on with a particular chapter I’ll return to it later in the afternoon, but never past 6.30 pm. Every day I go back over the previous day’s writing and edit before starting anew. It helps to keep the thread active, and I’ll sometimes see where I need to insert a couple of paragraphs that link to something that has gone before or is about to be written.”
There is nothing not already exposed here or on her website that she would wish to reveal about herself:
“As you’ve pointed out, I reveal a great deal. Possibly too much. When I was writing the material for it (her website) I lost sight of the fact that complete strangers would one day be reading it. On the other hand, anyone who reads my novels can guess certain things about my own life (although the tease is – which bits are fictional?) I’m an odd combination of being both open and private. I’m honest about who I am, and the truth has always been important to me. The details I wouldn’t want to reveal are those that cause me pain to talk about or would in some way impact on someone else.
I’ve always been good at keeping other people’s secrets… and a few of my own.”
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.
Two writers who also happen to be friends discuss the writing process. This is quite long and is followed with a long excerpt from the current Work In Progress of one of them. However, I think it is well worth the effort.
Here’s another post from one of my fellow authors on The Box Under The Bed. Her story is a clever tale of a man with a certain attitude towards women getting his ‘come uppance’. Couldn’t be more topical just now.
If you are one of the 2500 people who downloaded the digital edition whilst it was free the other day, you are in for a treat. Do please show your gratitude by telling all your friends about it and drop a review on Amazon and Goodreads.