Meet Louise Douglas -the RNA’s 2021 Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller Award winner

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I love the description of ‘contemporary gothic mysteries’ – where and when did you first discover your desire to write novels?

Thank you, Valerie and thank you for inviting me to your website, it’s a treat to be here 🙂

You are very welcome!

I’m one of those people who never wanted to do anything but write. When I was a child and people asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, I always answered: ‘Bookmaker!’ I still love that word now!

I was a dreamy child, often in trouble as I never listened to instructions, struggled to concentrate in school and was always getting lost. This was because I was imagining alternative lives in my head and not paying enough attention to the real world. I loved fiction books; loved the pictures, the feel of the pages, the way the stories unfolded. I was often told that writing was all very well but I needed a ‘proper’ job too. Which was fine, as long as it was a job that I could do while I was day-dreaming.

What is it about this genre that attracts you?

I’ve always been drawn to the dark, but that’s because it’s necessary to accentuate the light. I like pre-Raphaelite paintings, epic Gallic poetry and music with a mysterious edge to the lyrics (Nick Cave, Massive Attack). From a young age, I liked exploring old graveyards, because of the way nature takes over, and because of the inscriptions on the gravestones, the stories they tell and the stories they hide. I love that these sad places inevitably evolve into magical and joyous havens for wildlife. It was inevitable I’d be drawn to the kind of books that meld death and love and wild countryside places and big old abandoned houses with secret doors and love letters hidden between the pages of novels.

The night is darkest before dawn; that’s what makes the sunrise so glorious.

Your winning novel was inspired by a real place – is it place, character, theme or another inspiration that triggers most of your plots?

It is usually places that are the inspiration, I can’t say exactly why. But that’s another habit that has carried through from childhood – finding a certain place and knowing that I have to write about it. I remember being about nine years old and riding in the back of my dad’s car, going past a massive old building that was completely derelict and (I know this will sound weird) although I’d never seen it before, I recognised it. It was somewhere in the East Midlands – that’s all I could tell you about it now, but it’s always stayed clear in my mind. That building has become the asylum-turned-reform school that’s at the centre of the novel I’m writing now.

Are you a meticulous plotter or a more organic writer?

Oh, I wish I could plot! I’ve tried everything to turn myself into a plotter, I’ve got a bookshelf full of ‘How to plot…’ instruction manuals, I’ve asked other writers for advice, scoured the internet for tips, I’ve tried and tried and tried and I just can’t do it! Even if I start with a plot within about 500 words it’s all gone to pot and the characters are doing their own thing or turning into different characters altogether and everything that started off clear in my mind has become a mess.

‘Organic writer’ is a lovely phrase but it doesn’t really describe the chaos that I go through every single time. And the not-plotting is so wasteful. I end up deleting tens of thousands of words because I’ve written myself into a dead end. It’s annoying and frustrating and I wish I could be different but it’s the way it is.

You have a love of nature, creativity and the outdoors, does this shine through your work?

Thank you for this question. I do love nature, plants, animals, the moon and stars, the countryside, urban foxes, the oceans, birds, all of it. I hope it shines through in my work because nature is so important to me. One day I really want to write a book about how the outdoors grounds, inspires, heals and calms. Climate change and the threat to the environment terrifies me.

What has winning this amazing award meant to you?

It means the world to me. Being shortlisted gave me a huge boost; it’s done wonders for my confidence. I’m incredibly grateful and proud to have won. And also… to have my name mentioned in the same sentence as the wonderful Jackie Collins is just.. well it’s amazing! Thank you so much to Simon and Schuster UK for sponsoring the award in her name. #BeMoreJackie.

Has your road to success been long or short?

It’s been a long road, with plenty of steep hills, bumps and potholes and I’ve got lost many, many times and had many a flat tyre but I’m still on that road and still enjoying the ride.

What tip would you give your unpublished self-looking back, or would you not change a thing?

I’d tell myself to learn to plot.

How important has being a member of the RNA been to you as a writer?

It’s been important to me both as a writer and as a human being. Through the RNA I met my first ever writer friends; we used to meet once a month in a pub and we laughed and encouraged one another and I realised what a warm and wonderful community it is. It’s a superb organisation run by incredible people.  I admire and respect the way it promotes romantic fiction in its myriad guises, challenges the sometimes patronising assumptions that appear in the press, supports both new and established writers and helps those of us in what is effectively a solitary profession feel part of a collective.  I’m incredibly proud to be part of it.

What is next for Louise?

Book number eight, The Scarlet Dress, has just been published and I’m currently working on the asylum-turned-reform-school book which is my first ever full-on ghost story.  

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Congratulations and I wish you every ongoing success!

Comments, likes and questions can be left below.

Meet prolific author, Paula R C Readman!

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Welcome, Paula

What are you currently working on?

At the moment I have two projects in the pipeline.  A follow-on novel to my novella, The Funeral Birds, a tale about a failing detective agency run by Dave Cavendish and his side kick, a sixteenth century witch called Granny Wenlock who’s his ancestor. 

The follow –on novel, As the Crow Flies I’ll be exploring more of Granny’s background as well as giving the characters a new case to solve. The novel allows me to bring together two interesting timelines. My problem at the moment is how to make the flow of the plot work as the timelines shift.

My second project is a 7k short story for Black Hare Press Alice 13. It is thirteen different stories, in thirteen different genres all featuring Alice from Wonderland. I’ve written the plot idea, a synopsis and the first four pages. The deadline is allowing me plenty of time to think about it.

As my new novel is flowing nicely I want to focus on that for a little while before finishing my Alice story.       

 That sounds fascinating! Your work crosses different genres. Which came first?

I’ve always loved a good mystery. I think my love of mysteries comes from my love of history. At school I loved learning about ancient history.  We can only imagine how different the world must have been to our ancient ancestors. We know how most things work as science has shown us the key to all life, but to the people in the past it was a real mystery.

A mystery in fiction can cover a wide range of genre from romance to crime novels. I don’t write romance, but I do enjoy writing a wide range of genre from gothic ghost stories to Sci-fi tales.   

 Do you switch from one project to another to stay fresh?

All the time. When one deadline appears on the horizon I will stop and focus on that one and complete it. It gives you the break you need to see any typos, plot failures or weaknesses as well as sparking fresh ideas. When I return to a project I re-read the whole of it before writing more.      

 Do you plan out a story first with a detailed synopsis or work organically, allowing the plot to develop on the page.

A bit of both really. I normally have an idea of the beginning and the ending, so it’s a case of getting from A to B in the most interesting way. With books, I tend to create a paragraph of the overall plot and work out who is the best person to tell the story. My synopsis is written once I’m half way through writing the first draft. You can’t know your full plot until you’ve written the first draft because everything is very fluid when you initially start. 

 Do you begin with an idea of the plot, a character, a setting or does it vary depending upon genre?

I normally write a rough plot idea down, and then work out who my main character will be, along with the setting, timeline whether it is a short story or novel. Once I have the opening paragraph then I’m up and running. As the plot line develops so I add new characters and write up their background. I keep adding important information to a file like the type of car my main character is driving, hair and eye colour etc. I don’t spend time writing a detailed background sheet before starting because none of it may be of relevance to my storyline.   Do I really need to know what school my serial killer went to in my 5k word short story before writing it unless it is relevant to the plot?

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

My best time for writing is just after I’ve woken up. My mind is fresh and sharp and I can get quite a bit written. New ideas flow easier and I can pick up typos too. My husband is normally up early for work, so I’m at my keyboard at 4.00 in the morning.

 That is really impressive! Do you ever write real life experiences into your work?

All writers do through their emotions. No experience whether good or bad is wasted as it all feeds into our writing whether we like it or not. For our characters to be three dimensional we need to use all of our life experiences, which have made us rounded people to create them.  

What was your hardest scene to write?

I wrote a short story called The Meetings which tells of two people meeting in a park. The narrator is the park keeper.  Through him we learn about the couple, but there’s a twist. It touched a real nerve with me as I wrote it not long after my father passed away.

The story was rejected by People’s Friend Magazine but went on to become an overall winner in a writing competition.

How long on average does it take you to write a book or novella?

Oh goodness, how long is a piece of string? Too long in some cases, right? I have eight novels sitting on my computer in various stages of completion. Since I have been writing over 18 years and have only had three books published I’m not 100% sure how long each novel has taken to write. Stone Angels took me six years in total and then another eight months of editing.  In those six years, I lost my mum and life got a little crappy too.  My novella took a week to write but sat on my computer for a long time until the right submission call out came along. 

How have you coped with life in the pandemic?

Quite well. I was already in self-isolation as I was busy editing. So I’ve just continued doing what I was doing. My husband and I are missing travelling to Whitby for the Goth Festivals and I didn’t get my book launch I always dreamt of doing. Unfortunately, I lost two dear friends last year which dampened my excitement at seeing my work published.   

I so miss travelling in North Yorkshire and Whitby in particular. I wish you every success, Paula, with all of your projects and look forward to learning of your next publishing deal.

The Gothic beauty of York Minster

The beautiful medieval York Minster, with its great Gothic towers stands out as you approach the ancient city that has held an important place in British history for centuries.

This Christian place of worship is actually ‘The Cathedral and Metropolitan church of St Peter in York’ but it is loved and known both locally and afar as ‘The Minister’. It is no wonder that it has stood the test of time as it was started in 1220 but was not completed until 1472.

The term ‘Minster’ has come down through time from its original ‘monasterium’ through the Saxon spelling ‘mynster’ to its present day form. It was a place where missionaries sent by Pope Gregory sent priests to convert the pagan Saxons in the late C6.

Under the building its history is lovingly preserved as it houses the ancient centre of the ancient Roman fortress, The Basilica. The very first Christian church on the site has been traced back to the C7 with the Pope recognizing the first Archbishop of York in AD 732. It is, and has been a very important centre of Christianity representing the church in the north of the country.

It has survived an arson attack in 1829 and more recently in 1984 a lightning strike destroyed the roof in the south transept. Fortunately the nearby River Ouse provided a plentiful supply of water for the powerful jets to send it high enough to save the beautiful building’s stained glass windows some of which dates back 800 years.

This is more than a historical building is more than just an amazing piece of architecture. It is a time capsule to a very interesting past in a city of many layers. Today it is still a place of worship with a busy Diocese.

When Abigail walks through its doors she does so to throw her pursuers off her trail. In Regency times this building would appear as a monument of stunning proportions to a young woman who had not travelled far, even from a modest North Yorkshire manor house. York had many timber Tudor style buildings then which would have made it stand out even more.

If you pass through York, stay awhile and explore its interiors from the amazing C15 Great East Window, 15th century, which is claimed to be the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the world to the amazing ceiling of the nave, the courtyard or the towers.

It is certainly worth staying a while and exploring its depth. If you go in February you can even meet The Vikings!

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Ripon Cathedral and the Saxon Crypt

I could not leave Ripon without visiting its ancient cathedral. The ancient building has a fascinating history, the oldest part of which still exists. The ancient Saxon crypt of the original church founded by St Wilfred (AD 634-709) not only still exists, but is open to the public for exploration. Accessed via a narrow staircase and a short narrow tunnel, the small rooms are amazingly peaceful.

(By the way, I’m an author, not a professional photographer!)

St Wilfred influenced the decision of the christian church to move away from the Celtic Church and follow the Roman church. The decisive move been made in 664AD at The Synod of Whitby when the calculation of Easter was decided by following the Roman method. He had a fascinating life and survived many life threatening events.

The main building is a delightful mix of Norman and Gothic styles, reflecting the many periods of history it has survived through. Far from feeling like a museum, which provides cold facts for the casual visitor this is a living house of God. When I visited there were Bible readings in progress, yet we were made welcome giving the palace a warm, homely feel. Other activities were in progress at the same time. There is no set fee to pay, but donations are requested and voluntary.

My visit was quite short as I was en-route to a conference but Ripon is certainly a place I would happily revisit as I am sure that I did not explore all its treasures.

Further sources of information:


[Featured image / The Association of English Cathedrals]

An Interview with Liesel Schwarz

LieselI am delighted to welcome Liesel Schwarz, Queen of Gothic Steampunk to my blog this month. I first came across Liesel’s work when I read her debut novel ‘A Conspiracy of Alchemists’, which is an action packed adventure described as “Combining the best elements of Gothic fiction with contemporary Steampunk”. It was chosen by Random House to launch their SFF imprint (Science Fiction and Fantasy) Del Rey in the UK.

Welcome, Liesel, and thank you for taking the time out to answer my questions.

To me the combination of history, invention, science, fantasy, romance and thrilling adventure is a magical blend – literally too, as it reveals a deadly game between Alchemists and Warlocks as the creatures of light and dark walk among us.

Hi. Thank you for inviting me!

How do you describe Gothic Steampunk?

That’s a question that requires a rather long and convoluted answer. I think steampunk, in broad terms, is the fascination with Victorian optimism. It concerns itself with technology and progress. The Victorians had this obsession with making the world a better place, by “civilising” it. We know today that much of what they did was deeply misguided, but I think their hearts were in the right place. Steampunk takes its cue from those intentions. Gothic romanticism is more about Victorian disillusionment. It is the 19th century’s nostalgia for the romantic ideals that originated in the Dark Ages. I’ve always been a fan of the 19th century Gothic literature and I love steampunk and so I thought it would be cool to create a world that was bright and technologically progressive on the one side while dark and organic on the other. Two sides of the same coin, but in direct opposition with the other. This is how Elle’s world came into being and so I suppose in a way this is why they described the books as Gothic Steampunk.

That’s a great description which captures the complex essence of the genre. When I read your first novel what struck me most was the energy and enthusiasm that came through the words on the page. Have you always been a natural story-teller?

I’m not so sure about the story telling part, but I do know that I have however always been a natural story maker-upper. Telling the stories you create in your head is, I think a natural progression in this case.

Where did your writing journey begin?

When I could hold a crayon. It took a few detours, and I decided to start writing more seriously after I left university but I think writers tend to be born that way. It is again a natural consequence of story maker-uppers.

How long did it take you to become a published author?

A few weeks! No, I’m serious. I was incredibly lucky. I met my agent, he sent my book out to market and I literally had a book deal a few weeks later. Before I met my agent, I did however spend years and years honing my craft. This involved writing stories, polishing them, having them rejected and then starting all over again. I also studied the craft of writing quite intensely. I have an MA in Creative Writing and I am also busy with my PhD on the subject.

Will you ever forget the moment when you were told yours would be the debut novel of Del Rey?

I think I was more excited by the mere fact that my book was going to be published, to be honest. The fact that it would be the debut for a new imprint only really registered with me a bit later. It’s great when you have a good relationship with your editor and publishers and again, I am extremely lucky in this respect.

There are many aspects to your novels. The research of actual inventions must be meticulous – but you have also blended in your own to make the fiction appear real and the impossible plausible. Have you always been drawn to this age of invention?

Yes. I think it started when I was very young. I remember watching films like Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and I found the sheer eccentricity of it all irresistible. This fascination grew as I started reading and it’s been with me ever since.

Do you have great fun spending many hours inventing your own machines on the page?

Actually, many of the machines I use in the books were actual patents filed in the British Library. I think the Victorians were far better at inventing fantastical machines than I could ever be. I think the reason for this is because there was an element of naivety about their inventions. Today, with all the marvels we have at our fingertips, we are a little jaded. Although, I suppose that in a hundred years from now, people will look at us and think, “Oh, how quaint!”

Elle Chance and Mr Marsh are strong characters who continue to develop. Do you have plans for the series to continue over many novels?

I think all characters must develop within a narrative. You can’t really have a story without that and so yes, I have further plans for Elle and Marsh. There will be a book 4 and a book 5 in the future.

Do you constantly jot down ideas for the next book as you work?

I must admit that I am quite bad at jotting things down. Or, I tend to jot things down and then forget about them. Ideas that are live and have potential tend to stick in my mind. They niggle away at me until I write them into a story. I do however carry a notebook with me at all times. I sometimes jot down bits of conversation I’ve overheard when I’m sitting in a coffee shop.

Elle travels widely – how do you research the many locations that your novels cover?

I like to travel and so the settings I use tend to be places I’ve visited. You have to place settings into historical context though and so I do a lot of research as well. I am particularly fond of old city maps. For example – the Cafe d’Enfer in Paris which appears in Sky Pirates really existed in the early 1900s. Today, it is a 1-Euro store (Pound/dollar store) but the doorway still exists. I find that fascinating.

What is next for Liesel?

Well, I have two short stories which will be appearing in anthologies next year and I am currently working on a standalone novel before continuing with the Chronicles of Light and Shadow – so keep watching this space.

More from Liesel