Sally Bridgewater – From Newbie to Novelist!

I am delighted to be interviewing a ‘Newbie’ writer, Sally Bridgewater, this month. November is the month when many eager writers embark on the challenge of creating 50,000 words in thirty days as they join the NaNoWriMo challenge. Sally has taken this to the extreme and decided to try writing them in one day. 

 

Welcome, Sally!

Where, when and why did you develop the idea of attempting this personal challenge of moving from ‘Newbie to novelist’ within 24 hours?

Since graduating a couple of years ago I have supposedly been focusing on becoming an author, but distractions (like bills) keep getting in the way. I was getting quite frustrated at not having finished a story yet (apart from one short-ish one here), and never finishing any stage of my goal was really drain my enthusiasm. So actually my primary purpose is to go from Newbie to Novelist in 30 days, and get to ‘The End’ no matter how many words it takes. I added the extra #50Kinaday Wordathon part of the challenge when I stumbled across this podcast from Matt Ahlschlager back in March or April sometime. He makes it sound simple, even quite easy to take on NaNo in a day. I remember I was walking the dog down by our local canal while listening to it, and I could feel the idea of doing it myself getting lodged in my mind. I think I want to do it mainly because it is a neat way to make sure I get a lot of words down on my way to the full first draft. Also, I like turning my life into ‘events’ that I can share with my friends and family, and this one gets particularly fun reactions from people.

This is the equivalent of a writing marathon. How have you prepared for the event physically and for your novel?

Physically speaking, I am just trying to keep myself well and avoid getting too stressed out about it. I could do better though – I often stay up late, I don’t eat enough fruit and I don’t do much exercise, so avoiding the autumn sniffles so far has been mostly luck.
I have been ‘in training’ of a sort over the last few days by trying out a standing desk (I made it myself with two boxes under my laptop and a pile of Writing Magazines under my keyboard). It will definitely help me avoid bad posture if I’m not sitting for the whole day.
Of course, I have also become quite obsessed with my typing speed, and whether I can concentrate for twenty-four hours straight. I don’t know how much direct practice I can do for those things though; I am just going to wait and see. At least I have past experience of working fast when I was writing weekly last-minute essays during my degree.
I have been busy (some might say distracted) preparing the online infrastructure, such as my website and my Facebook page, in time for November. Because of this I have not yet started the plotting for my novel, and at the time of writing there are only 7 days left before it all starts! I have a colleague at work called Tina who has started chanting ‘Plot! Plot! Plot!’ whenever she sees me – I think she’s quite concerned… I work quite well under pressure though so I’m hoping one week is long enough to plan a novel, right?

Have you ever completed the NaNoWriMo challenge before?

Yes, I have ‘won’ (got to the 50,000 word mark) NaNoWriMo for the last two years. I also did Camp NaNoWriMo in July (it is the same concept but less difficult as you can set your own wordcount goal). It really helped me to start writing again. I had heard about it during my degree but didn’t have time to try it, so I promised myself I would do it when I graduated. Both years I worked on a novel about a deaf girl and a Romani boy (they are both prodigies: the boy for music and the girl for mazes). I will finish that novel one day, but I wanted to go with something fresh for this year’s challenge.
The first year I did NaNoWriMo, November 2013, I got as involved as I could with the community, looking around the forums, visiting my local ‘Come Write In’ group each Saturday, and signing up to have a NaNo veteran mentor. I happened to get one of the kindest people on the planet as my mentor, I am sure of it – they even posted me a handmade care package from America, including knitted fingerless gloves and a little jar of coffee. For NaNoWriMo 2016, my fourth, I won’t try and do anything like this Newbie to Novelist challenge again. Instead I will put my experience to some use and take on a couple of mentees myself. My goal is to go above and beyond to encourage them, like my mentor did.

You obviously love writing and reading. Which is your favourite genre to work in?

I’m not sure I know what my favourite genre is to write in, as I have barely started exploring different ones. The story I worked on before for NaNo was a historical adventure set in a slightly-alternative French Revolution; the one I am planning now is science fiction, set in the far future on a different planet. I don’t actually feel qualified to tackle either of those genres, and they are not what I mostly read – they just came out of whatever ideas I had at the time.
I read very widely and in fact I would say that I am addicted to novels. Many a time I read for hours when I should be doing other things, like sleeping. Looking at my bookshelf I can see a lot of fantasy in particular – Game of Thrones, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke – and some steampunk sci-fi (the Mortal Engines series by Philip Reeve). There’s a lot of my old favourites from growing up. I don’t think I am particularly original in my tastes, I absolutely adore Harry Potter and I even have all the Twilight books (I know they are very problematic, but I was exactly the right age of teenage girl when they first came out…).

Where did your love of writing begin?

I definitely have my parents to thank for giving me a love of reading and writing. They put in hours of extra work with me outside of school when I was really young to teach me how to understand written language (I remember jumping from word to word on pieces of paper across the floor of the living room). They also read bedtime stories every night for my whole childhood, and when my sister and I got ‘too old’ for such things, we started reading books aloud to our parents instead, or as a family. I still do read aloud with my boyfriend – it is a really good way of sharing a story with someone. I feel that the best characters from those early bedtime stories have stayed with me. For instance, to this day I consider Matilda from Roald Dahl to be a role model (and Tim Minchin’s adaptation as a musical is brilliant too).
Wanting to be an illustrator and an author are the earliest ambitions I can remember. I wrote a lot of story fragments from being very young (some got saved from our ancient PC and I still have them). When I was 12 my sister turned 10 years’ old and I wrote her a toy-sized trilogy about her stuffed Panda going on an adventure with our hamster across the globe. And when I was in high school and not having a great time (some bullying and so on), I would sometimes spend my break times scribbling in a notebook in the toilets. In the only detention I ever had (I was what one calls a ‘swot’) the headmaster set us to writing a story as punishment, and I couldn’t believe I was being told I could sit and just do my favourite thing for an hour. I was very busy practising my musical instruments usually though (I play violin and piano) so I didn’t make time for it properly until NaNoWriMo 2013.

How supportive are people being of your challenge?

I almost feel a bit silly telling people, because everybody does a double-take when I say how many words I am aiming to write in my Wordathon. Then they usually doubt whether such a thing is even possible, and finally express at least some degree of concern about me undertaking such a thing. I am glad I am getting people interested, but I didn’t want to alarm anyone!
I have had some lovely responses when I have asked for help with the project. I still haven’t done that enough though – apparently I just don’t have a knack for delegation. So if anyone can see a way that they could get involved, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. My e-mail address is new2nov@gmail.com.

What is next for Sally both with your writing and in your career?

Well, after getting this first draft under my belt, I want to leave it for a bit and then come back to the manuscript with fresh eyes in 2016 and edit it. I guess in the long run I want to find myself an agent and look at getting published, but I’m not expecting my first novel to be good enough to do that.
In the meantime, I won’t just be waiting around idly for luck and traditional publishing methods to find me. I am hoping to build up support for my writing by using the crowd-funding platform Patreon. I am still figuring out how to run my own blog, so it will take me a while to discover the best way to self-publish, but if I go that route then I want to make a proper go of it.
I also have plans for my parallel career dream: setting up a social enterprise company to build a website of tools and resources to help people use their brains better. I call it ‘Think Sharp.’ It is going to be my attempt at improving the world, but I will only really have time to think about getting started on it in the New Year after I’ve done this!

Thank you for taking the time to share your ambitions with me. I wish you every success in achieving your goal on the day, but more than that in your literary ambitions over a longer and perhaps more sustainable writing career.

Thank you very much for having me on your blog, Val. I really appreciate it.

An Interview with Martin Edwards

The Frozen Shroud

Martin on Thomson Dream Aug 2012

July’s special guest is award winning crime writer and consultant in a law firm, Martin Edwards. I first heard Martin give a fascinating talk at last year’s CWA conference in the Lake District and could tell that he was not only an authority on the genre, but was passionate about it.

Martin recently won the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham award at the Bristol Crimefest. Congratulations! 

You are an accomplished legal consultant and crime writer. When did this love of law turn into the desire to write crime novels?

The love of crime fiction definitely came first. As a small boy, I became fascinated by the idea of telling stories. Once I discovered Agatha Christie at age nine, the die was cast, and I determined to write detective stories. However, we didn’t know anyone who wrote books, and my parents were rather concerned about my ambition of becoming a detective novelist. So they encourage me to get a ‘proper job’, and that’s where the idea of studying law at university came in. I found that I relished the academic challenges of law, and later I enjoyed the practical side of employment law. I’ve been lucky with my legal career, and it’s introduced me to fascinating people and places. But now I’m aiming at long last to focus on my first love. After thirty years as a partner in my firm, I’ve retired to become a part-time consultant. Yippee!

Would you say that your legal work, involving meeting individuals in pressing circumstances and dealing with their problems, has given you a greater empathy and insight into human relationships and conflicts, which can help with fictional character development?

Jobs, and employment issues, are all about human relationships. After a few years as a lawyer, it dawned on me that this was why employment law appealed to me in a way that subjects like conveyancing did not. Of course, the more people and human dilemmas that you encounter, the more you develop an understanding of people’s behaviour – good, as well as bad – that is definitely helpful when you write fiction. You’re not writing about the people you meet, but about the issues that people have to confront in their lives.

New editions of your Harry Devlin novels have been released. Can you share with us how this Liverpool lawyer came to be created?

My first – and never published, or even fully typed – novel was a football thriller. After that, I wanted to write a book that could be published. When I went to work in Liverpool, it seemed like a wonderful setting for a crime series. I didn’t know any cops or private eyes, so I decided that my hero would be a lawyer, like me. Not really like me, though. He would be a criminal lawyer, and have a tough life in various ways, as well as being rather braver than me. To this day, I’m very fond of Harry, and I’d like to write about him some more one day. In the meantime, I’m excited that the novels are now available again as ebooks, and two have actually been republished successfully as mass market paperbacks, as “Crime Classics”, no less…

For your next series you set the first novel ‘The Coffin Trail’ in The Lake District and introduced your readers to Detective Chief Inspector Hannah Scarlett. What was most challenging: moving from a protagonist who was a lawyer to a DCI or from a ‘Harry’ to ‘Hannah’?

The Frozen Shroud UK editionI was moving from one viewpoint character to two – Hannah and Daniel Kind, the historian who gets to know her in The Coffin Trail. I always intended that the series should be about their developing relationship, but Daniel was the starting point. I saw him as the key character, but when Peter Robinson read the book, he said he thought Hannah was the one I was really focusing on, and I saw at once that he was right. By that point, I’d was writing my ninth novel and I was ready and very willing to tackle story-telling from the perspective of a female character. It was a fresh challenge, and one that excited me. It still does.

You have many projects ongoing simultaneously between your two careers as well as being a critic, an anthologist, a contributor to many non-fiction works as well as keeping your very helpful blog updated. Would you describe yourself as an exceptionally disciplined and driven writer/worker?

TMBA Kindle artworkI admit to being driven, in that I feel very conscious that life is short and that there are a lot of things I want to achieve. To my mind, being ambitious is a good thing, as long as one tests oneself against one’s own self-imposed standards, rather than against other people, or the standards set by others. However, although to some extent I’m self-disciplined, I sometimes wish I were better organised. I do tend to set myself very demanding targets that I fail to meet with monotonous regularity. Perhaps – in a not very coherent way –that’s the method that works best for me, and even if sometimes I feel I could have achieved more, perhaps this helps to drive me on to do better in future.

In your ‘Writing tips’ you advise: ‘Plan the story before you start’. Once this has been done, would you ever amend or change a plot as you begin writing the first draft?

Yes, I’ve done this from time to time. The great thing about writing is this – you can always improve what you have written. A plan works well for me – not everyone is the same, of course. But even the best laid plans are sometimes capable of being changed for the better. So far, I’ve never changed the original solution to any of my novels, but I’ve tinkered with many other elements of my stories.

Your work as an archivist for the CWA and The Detection Club has been widely praised. Could you please tell us something about The Detection Club?

The Detection Club was founded in 1930 by that wonderful and under-rated writer (and rather strange man) Anthony Berkeley Cox, who wrote innovative whodunits as Anthony Berkeley and superb psychological crime novels as Francis Iles. It was the world’s first social network for crime writers, and attracted the likes of Christie, Sayers and Margery Allingham. The aim was for an elite of crime writers to raise the literary standards of the genre, but above all they liked drinking and chatting together. The extent to which their literary aims were achieved is debatable, but the books produced by the Club – for example, the round robin mysteries The Floating Admiral and Ask a Policeman – remain very readable to this day, and have been very successful in new editions in recent years. I’ve written intros to a couple of them, most recently The Anatomy of Murder, an intriguing book of essays about real life murders. The Club is and always has been in essence a sociable dining club. Membership is by election – there is an annual secret ballot – and the Club flourishes to this day.

As a collector of rare crime novels, is there one particular book you would like to own and, if so, what makes it so special to you?

Now you’re asking! I’d love to own a Sherlock Holmes book, signed by Conan Doyle, but alas, I’m sure that’s an impossible dream…

In ‘Dancing with the Hangman’ you explore the question of ‘justice’. In your crime novels do you enjoy being able to write the conclusion that you personally approve of, wherein your legal career the verdict is, to a degree, beyond the legal representative’s control?

Yesterday's Papers ArcturusIntriguing question, and I’m not quite sure about the answer. When I was fighting legal cases in the employment tribunal, I always wanted to win, but on the whole I felt that the right result was usually achieved in most cases. With fiction, I like to see some form of justice done at the end, but this doesn’t always mean the conviction of those who are technically guilty. I think it’s good if a novel reaches a conclusion that affords “satisfaction”, but the forms that satisfaction, and indeed justice, can take are many and various. Christie understood that – consider the finale to Murder on the Orient Express.

Could you share with us some of the delights included in the latest anthology that you have edited for the CWA?

Guilty Parties contains more stories than usual, and I really enjoyed reading them. It would perhaps be invidious to pick personal favourites, but my aim was to showcase the variety and depth of the crime genre, and it’s a book that I’m very pleased to be associated with.

What is next for Martin?

I’m currently working on my seventh Lake District Mystery and I have two or three short stories coming out in the near future. Recently I finished a history of detective fiction between the wars – The Golden Age of Murder – which I would love to see published in 2015, as it’s a book I’m really proud of, and I’ve put a huge amount of effort into it over a good many years. At present I’m editing two anthologies of vintage crime fiction for the British Library, a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, and a book of true crime essays for the CWA. I’m also working on a book that brings together all Dorothy L. Sayers’ reviews of detective fiction from the Thirties. All of which is quite enough to be going on with!

More from Martin

Website: martinedwardsbooks.com
Facebook: Martin Edwards
Twitter: @medwardsbooks