An Interview with Ian Skillicorn

Ian SkillicornWhat better way to usher in the New Year than to share an inspiring interview with Ian Skillicorn who is a very talented and successful writer, publisher, speaker, director, voiceover artist, translator and producer.

Welcome to my blog, Ian! I hope I have not omitted any of the many hats that you wear within your fascinating career.

Thanks for having me! Well, those are all of the various hats I’ve worn over a twenty-five year career to date, but fortunately I haven’t had to wear all of them at the same time!

You obviously have a natural love of language: written and audio, both in English and translation. When and where did this love of words and story-telling begin?

From a very early age. My parents are (and grandparents were) great readers, and so there were always lots of books around the place. The weekly visit to the library was really important in introducing me to a variety of authors, and firing my imagination. At weekends my parents took us to museums, art galleries and historic sites around the country, which gave me a lasting appreciation of art and history, and all sorts of stories about people through the ages. I also had a couple of very supportive English teachers at secondary school who encouraged my own writing efforts. I recently discovered that one of them is a friend of one of my authors, and we have since been in touch, which was lovely.

Did your early career, working for a national magazine in Milan, give you the exposure to the industry that you needed to realise your own literary ambitions and projects?

Not directly, to be honest. I came back from Italy with six years’ solid work experience but at that time, in the 1990s, I think people were expected to follow a much more rigid career path than they are nowadays. I had never worked in the UK, and although I wanted to get into publishing, I found I was over-qualified for some jobs, but didn’t have the relevant experience in this country for others. I ended up taking what was for me the obvious easy route – becoming a freelance translator. It was something I had enjoyed doing in Italy, but literary translation work in the UK was hard to come by, so I went into translating for businesses. It wasn’t really what I wanted to do, but I suppose I was lucky I had it to fall back on. The upside was that being freelance meant I had the flexibility to work on developing my own projects as well. It took many years of working seven days a week, doing lots of projects for free, financing some myself, and numerous false starts before I was finally able to give up the day job. Now I do work in publishing again, with my own imprint, and in the end I was the one who gave me a job!

That has to be one of the main benefits of being self-employed.

Hardacre by CL SkeltonIn 2006 you founded www.shortstoryradio.com. How passionate are you about broadening the market for short story writers?

Very. Short Story Radio was one of those projects I developed in my own time, and initially at my own expense. I often read comments online and in print from creative people who say they refuse ever to work for free, but I don’t completely subscribe to that view. Even if you are passionate about your craft and believe in yourself, in the early days of your career sometimes the only way to get noticed is by creating your own opportunities. Through working on Short Story Radio I learned that there was an appetite for short stories in English not only in this country, but around the world. I met many talented writers and actors, some of whom are now good friends, and realised how difficult it was for short story writers to find paying outlets for their work. After a while I applied for a grant from Arts Council England. My application was successful and that support from ACE financed work for a lot of writers, actors and technicians, and raised the profile of Short Story Radio and its content. It was also a very important morale boost for me, and the start of building up an audio production business which led to many interesting commissions over a number of years. For most of the Short Story Radio writers it was their first experience of being broadcast, and a number have gone on to have successful writing careers.

Do you see a growing trend for shorter fiction evolving both through audio (The Story Player) and eBooks?

I do. However, I think enthusiasm for the short story among readers hasn’t yet caught up with the form’s popularity among writers. It’s often said that the short story is perfect for today’s busy, time-poor lives, but hearing that always makes me cringe. Good writing should be savoured no matter what the length, not because it is “convenient”. I don’t like the idea of a short story being considered the literary equivalent of “wash and go”. That said, I’m sure that new technologies will present all sorts of opportunities for creating, selling and experiencing short stories. We’re only just at the beginning.

Do You Take This Man by Sophie King coverYour connection with short fiction was further strengthened when you founded National Short Story Week in 2010, which has best-selling author Katie Fforde as its patron. What would you say is the essence of a good short story?

That’s a tough question! I suppose it depends on the opinion of the individual reader and their tastes. Personally, I enjoy stories which manage to say something about the human condition, and which I can relate to even if my life is nothing like those of the protagonists. I think that’s why the stories of authors such as Saki and Katherine Mansfield, mostly written more than 100 years ago, are still fresh and relevant today. Their themes are timeless and universal.

If I could just say something about National Short Story Week. One of the best outcomes, which wasn’t actually an original aim, has been the enthusiasm and involvement of schools and their pupils, librarians and teachers. The National Short Story Week Young Writer competition, for year 7 and 8 pupils, is now in its fourth year and going from strength to strength. I can highly recommend the anthology of last year’s winning stories – The Mistake. It reached Number 51 on Amazon’s book charts last November, and has raised funds for Teenage Cancer Trust. The children’s creativity, imagination and use of language are very impressive. If we are serious about championing the short story form, surely the best way to do this is to get people interested in writing and reading short stories from an early age.

The Property of a Gentleman cover artworkThat is excellent and inspiring for the future.

In 2012 you created your own publishing imprint Corazon Books (I love the tag line: Great stories with heart!). It was launched with a novel by bestselling author Sophie King. However, you have just published an out of print title The Property of a Gentleman by Catherine Gaskin who died in 2009. What inspired you about Catherine’s work and do you intend to publish more of her titles?

I was very lucky to launch my business with a title by Sophie King, who is a great writer (and whose work inspired the Corazon tag line!) and a lovely person. I have been familiar with Catherine Gaskin’s work since I was young, when my mother and grandmothers were reading her novels. Although I knew and loved the books, I didn’t know much about the author before I published The Property of a Gentleman. I have since done some research on her life, and was fascinated to discover she wrote her first book, which became a bestseller, while still at school! I have received many nice comments from readers since Corazon Books started reissuing her novels, and it has been very gratifying to see The Property of a Gentleman back in the bestsellers charts both in the UK and Australia. Corazon Books has also recently published Sara Dane, which is probably Catherine Gaskin’s best known work. The Lynmara Legacy is out in February 2015, and will be followed by Promises in the spring.

I heard you speak at three events last year: Society of Author’s day event in Bristol, R.N.A. conference and at the H.N.S workshop. You inspire, entertain and inform people especially about eBooks. How do you view the major changes happening within this very new industry today impacting upon what for decades has been a very set publishing industry in the future?

Thank you, that’s very nice of you to say so. I really enjoy talking at conferences and giving workshops. When so much of the average working day can be spent in front of a pc screen, it’s a good opportunity to get out there and meet like-minded people, and to share ideas and experiences. Obviously we are living through a period of huge technological change, in many aspects of our lives. The publishing industry is clearly going through a major transformation and as such there will be winners and losers. I think it’s too early to say who will be the winners and who the losers. You have to be able and willing to reappraise and adapt quickly.

What is next for Ian?

I’m very excited about the books lined up for publication by Corazon Books this year, which include a number of novels by new talents and other projects I can’t talk about just yet. Plans for National Short Story Week 2015 and the Young Writer competition are already under way. I’m looking forward to doing more ebook workshops for the Society of Authors in March, and at Sheffield Hallam University in April. I also have a long list of ideas I want to pursue, which are currently at different stages of development!

Thank you for taking the time to share your work and experience with us and every best wish for your continued success with all your projects in 2015.

Thank you very much for having me on your blog Valerie, I’ve enjoyed it. Best wishes to you, and for your writing, and to all of your readers too.

More From Ian:

An Interview with Juliet Greenwood

I first met Juliet when we were at Writing Magazine’s awards ceremony back in 2002. We were both winners embarking on our writing careers. A fellow member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Juliet had several works of fiction published under the pseudonym Heather Pardoe and is now a novelist under her own name.

Welcome Juliet!

In what way did ME lead you into a writing career?

It was a really bad viral infection that left me with ME for years. Before then, I’d been energetic and healthy, holding down a career, cycling, rushing up mountains, and working for hours in my garden. Being so ill for so long, and not knowing if I would ever get better, forced me to completely reconsider my life. That’s when I decided I would work part time in a far less stressful job, and just go for my lifelong dream of being a writer. I’d never had the courage to do it before, in case I failed. Having ME made me realise I’d nothing to lose, so it gave me the courage to try.

Have you always been a story-teller with a love of the written word?

Definitely! As a child I used to devour books and write my own wild adventures and the only subject I ever wanted to study was English. In my twenties, I lived in a garret (well an attic room) in London, bashing away on a typewriter, sending stories out and finding them flying right back again. Then I did the sensible thing and found a ‘proper’ job and did a bit of living (the best kind of research). But I never quite lost sight of the dream.

You had established your work under the lovely name of Heather Pardoe, why did you decide to revert to your true name for novels?

I’m very fond of ‘Heather Pardoe’, but I’d always known I was going to write under two names. Writing stories and serials for magazines was a really valuable learning curve. I loved doing them, and had great fun with the novellas I wrote for the ‘My Weekly Story Collection’. But my novels are very different. The kind of story you write is a pact with your readers, which is why many authors write under several names. My Juliet Greenwood books aren’t dark, but they deal with much darker themes (like my heroine racing through the battlefields of WW1 in a beaten up ambulance, on a desperate rescue mission), so I’m very happy writing under two names. I definitely see them as two aspects of me, so when I sit down as Heather, it feels different than when I sit down as Juliet. Although Heather is my middle name, so my two writing personas are not that far apart…

Which author’s work have inspired you the most and why?

There are so many! As a child, the novels of Rosemary Sutcliffe gave me a passion for historical fiction. I love Elisabeth Gaskell, George Elliot and the Bronte’s for their portrayal of strong, passionate women trying to make sense of the world around them on their own terms, and I can never get enough of the twists and turns of Dickens’ plots.

I love the description you gave in one interview of your ‘crog loft’. I have just converted my garden shed – it does not quite have the same ring to it. How structured is your writing day/process? Are you a plotter or do you let the ideas grow organically through the story?

WW1 Seed Cake smallMy crog loft is tiny, but it’s nice and cosy and womb-like (and has steep stairs that stop me from sneaking out into the garden when I hit a tricky bit!). When I’m writing serials, I have to plot everything out, as there is no chance of going back and changing things. When I’m writing my novels, I start with a general idea of the plot, but I know that’s going to change as soon as I start, and find the heroine needs a mother, or a brother or best friend, who turns out to be far too interesting to ignore! I generally know the beginning and the end, but once the first draft is done and the real work begins, anything can happen. That’s the exciting, and the scary bit, because I’m never sure if it’s going to work. I love tightening up the plot, and developing the twists and the turns to (hopefully) keeping the readers on the edge of their seats. ‘Eden’s Garden’ was a real challenge, moving between the modern heroine and Victorian times, and keeping the two stories weaving in and out of each other while not giving the twists (especially the one no one ever spots!) away. ‘We That are Left’ had some of its structure dictated by the historical events of WW1, even though the action is focused mainly on the experience of the women and civilians at home. The next book is also based around historical events, but with some family twists and turns too.

You are a member of the Novelistas whose members include amongst others Trisha Ashley and Valerie-Anne Baglietto. How did you become involved with the group?

I’ve been meeting with the Novelistas for years. We all live in very rural parts of Wales and the North West, and writing is a lonely life, so it’s great to be able to meet up and support each other.

How important do you think it is for an author to be a part of a supportive group/organisation?

I feel it’s very important to be part of a supportive group of fellow writers. It’s like any specialism you feel passionate about – you need fellow geeks, and those going through the same experience, otherwise you can bore the socks off family and friends (after all, I’d glaze over if a stockbroker discussed the minutiae with me every day, even if I had some interest in getting rich quick!).

What would you say a reader can expect from a Juliet Greenwood novel?

A big emotional story, set in a rambling old house in Cornwall or Snowdonia in Victorian or Edwardian times, with women firmly at the centre of the action, each making her own way towards self-fulfilment. There is a mystery to be solved, and danger to be overcome, and the path of true love definitely never runs smooth. There will be a garden in the background somewhere, and probably cake. For ‘We That are Left’ I researched authentic dishes from WW1 newspapers for my heroine to use, as she struggles to keep her family and the local village fed on limited resources, mainly anything she can grow in the kitchen garden on the family estate.

What are you currently working on?

I’ve just finished another serial, this time set among the paddle steamers of Conwy in Victorian times. I’m also deep into my next novel, which is a still a secret, but I can reveal that both cake and bricks are involved. And possibly a suffragette or two?

What is next for Juliet?

I’m looking forward to finishing my next book – especially as I’ve already got ideas I’m passionate about for the next one, or even two. The kindle editions of ‘We That are Left’ and ‘Eden’s Garden’ both reached the top five in the kindle store. I never expected it to happen, but it was such an exciting experience, I’m just itching for the chance for it to happen again. Writing is always a rollercoaster ride. Just watch this space…

More from Juliet

Website: http://www.julietgreenwood.co.uk/
Blog: http://julietgreenwoodauthor.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/juliet.greenwood
Twitter: https://twitter.com/julietgreenwood

‘We That Are Left’, Honno Press, 2014

‘Eden’s Garden’, Honno Press, 2012

An Interview with Sue Moorcroft

Sue M Portrait 300px

Sue Moorcroft is an amazingly versatile writer and tutor who has taken time out of her busy schedule to share her world with us. 

Welcome to my blog, Sue!

Thanks for inviting me.

Do you have a very set and organised working week or, with your busy and diverse writing commitments, do you work to ever evolving priority lists?

Both, I suppose. I have deadlines to meet for novels, serials and my monthly columns for Writers’ Forum, and also sometimes for other work including promo. To fulfill those deadlines I have a fairly long working day, often devoted to working with students in the morning and writing in the afternoon. In that way, I keep fresh for both. I punctuate most days with a class such as yoga, Zumba, FitStep or piano. These seem to see to my physical and mental health as I do most of those classes with friends.

Sometimes I have a teaching commitment that takes precedence or I go somewhere for research purposes. I enjoy spots on local radio, too. Variety is the spice of my life.

When did you first make your first breakthrough as a published author?

I sold my first short story, to The People’s Friend, in 1996. It was April 1st and I just hoped it wasn’t someone’s idea of an April’s Fool joke… I stopped counting at 130 short stories so that first one was quite important. The short stories led to serials but it wasn’t until 2004 that I sold a novel.

How important a role has the RNA played in your writing journey to date?

Very. It helped me to make the transition from short fiction to long. I was actually at a party thrown by a short story agency that placed some of my work when somebody told me about the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme. Then I saw that Marina Oliver was appearing at a library about 20 miles from my home so I went along to that and asked her about the RNA, as she was then (and for many years) a committee member. I applied the next day.

Margaret James was the NWS co-ordinator then and she took a personal interest, including introducing me to someone who became my agent for the next seven years. I left that agent for personal reasons that affected my career in 2009 but have just signed with another, Juliet Pickering at Blake Friedmann.

The RNA members also gave me a ‘can do’ attitude. I’d be at a conference chatting to someone in the lunch queue and realise that they were the author of dozens of novels. But they just seemed ordinary aside from that … It made me realise that it’s hard work, education and talent that makes a writer, rather than some mystical power endowed to people other than myself. And, of course, the RNA gave me a massive number of writing friends.

What can a reader expect from a Sue Moorcroft novel?

A dauntless heroine and an irresistible hero to create sizzle, a contemporary setting, an entertaining read but meaningful subjects explored. Readers say that I make them fall in love with the hero, which is only fair because I fall in love with them all, too!

What have been the 3 stand out highlights of your writing career to date?

When I got ‘the call’ from my agent that began, ‘I have an offer for you.’

When I won Best Romantic Read Award for Is this Love? at the Festival of Romance.

And when a customer at a bookshop signing saw my display, picked up All That Mullarkey and asked, ‘Her! Do you write anything like her? This is what I’m reading at the moment and I love it.’ I squeaked, ‘I am her!’ It turned out that the lady was very ill and had been in hospital a lot. She was reading in the afternoons while she rested and any book that ‘grabbed’ her had become a lifesaver. She bought all of my books apart from Want to Know a Secret? because it had a hospital in it. I felt privileged to have made her illness a little easier to live through.

Sue M Wedding ProposalPlease tell us about your new book The Wedding Proposal and the inspiration behind it?

It’s set in Malta, which is a place I love as I lived there as a child. Because I like to read them I wanted to write a reunion book and that turned out to mean a lot of extra plotting. It was getting the balance right. The reason Lucas and Elle parted four years earlier had to be plausible yet they had to get over it in order to come together when they met again. Lots of backstory plotting required! One of the flats I lived in as a child overlooked a marina so I set the book there, ie I put Lucas and Elle together on a small boat for the summer. I thought it would make it hard for them to avoid one another. (I was right.)

Elle and Lucas have both mellowed while they’ve been apart. Lucas has made his hobby, scuba, into his job, by qualifying as a divemaster. Elle has been made redundant from her whizzy corporate life in IT and in a complete change of direction has begun to volunteer in a drop-in centre for young people. Lucas’s little brother Charlie is loveable but crazy so I brought him on stage to have an accident with far-reaching consequences. Elle still has secrets and Lucas still doesn’t like secrets, so that ignites the plot nicely.

What is next for Sue a) as an author and b) with your upcoming writing events/courses?

I’m writing two things. One is a three-part serial for My Weekly, scheduled to be published over Christmas and New Year. The other is a novel called The Twelve Dates of Christmas which is about dates and Christmas but also revenge porn, hats and ovarian cancer. I know the plot and I’m about one-third of the way through the writing. I’m not sure how I’ve ended up writing about Christmas twice as I actually love summer!

I’ll be at the Festival of Romantic Fiction in Leighton Buzzard on the 13th of September, at the book fair 10am-3pm and the Traditional Afternoon Tea at The Green House 4-5.30pm. I will be at the Romance Readers Awards at Leighton Buzzard Theatre in the evening because I’ve just heard that The Wedding Proposal has been shortlisted for the Best Romantic Read Award!

Next year I’ll be running a week-long writers’ holiday for fabulous Arte Umbria 22-29 July (already filling up) and hopefully one for equally fabby Chez Castillon but I don’t have the dates yet.

Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share some of your writing experiences with my readers.

And thank you for having me.

Sue Moorcroft writes romantic novels of dauntless heroines and irresistible heroes. Is this Love? was nominated for the Readers’ Best Romantic Read Award. Love & Freedom won the Best Romantic Read Award 2011 and Dream a Little Dream was nominated for a RoNA in 2013. Sue received three nominations at the Festival of Romance 2012, and is a Katie Fforde Bursary Award winner. She’s a past vice chair of the RNA and editor of its two anthologies.

Sue also writes short stories, serials, articles, writing ‘how to’ and is a competition judge and creative writing tutor.

Sue’s latest book The Wedding Proposal is available as an ebook from 4 August 2014 and as a paperback from 8 September.

 TWP_RGBpackshotMore from Sue:

Website: www.suemoorcroft.com

Blog: http://suemoorcroft.wordpress.com/

Facebook: sue.moorcroft.3 and https://www.facebook.com/SueMoorcroftAuthor

Twitter: @suemoorcroft

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

An interview with Bill Spence, a.k.a. Jessica Blair

090

This month’s guest is both prolific and successful saga author, Bill Spence a.k.a. Jessica Blair.

You have such a broad spectrum of life experience on which to draw: from teacher training, to Bomb Aimer in the RAF, to journalist. What triggered your initial venture into fiction?

Brought up among books and magazines; encouraged to read from an early age,  I think, unknown to me, stimulated in me a desire to write.  On leaving the RAF in 1946, I wrote a few articles but I always had the desire to write a book. Liking fact and liking fiction I thought I would write a novel based on my experiences as a Bomb Aimer during the war. I really wrote it  for my own satisfaction. I had no idea of the publishing world at that time. After a chance sighting of a short piece in a local evening newspaper, saying a paperback company was looking for war novels, I thought I might as well send mine. They offered a contract to publish (1959) which of course, knocked me sideways and made me think what do I do next. I had always been interested in the West, knew a lot about its history and had read numerous Westerns, so I wrote one! That eventually landed on John Hale’s desk and he offered to publish (1960)  36 followed, the last in 1993. During that time I also wrote two more War novels. A Romance and 3 non-fiction books about aspects of Yorkshire and had become interested in the history of whaling.

Jessica Blair was a pseudonym created in 1993. Why did you switch both genre and gender at this point in your career?

070The study of the history of whaling over a considerable period of time resulted in Harpooned – the Story of Whaling being published in 1980. It was highly illustrated and writing it and gathering the illustrations was a very interesting experience. I decided I would use the knowledge I had gained as background to fiction. The result was the first Jessica Blair novel, The Red Shawl. (1993) It was submitted under my own name but the publisher, Piatkus, who offered me a contract, wanted to publish it under a female name and suggested Jessica Blair.  The reason, I believe, was all to do with marketing.  It has paid off for me — the twenty-third  Jessica Blair novel will appear early next year.

Whitby is a pivotal town in Jessica Blair’s novels. How and when did your interest in this beautiful northern seaside town begin?

Whitby was an important whaling port in the 18th and 19th centuries and this was the background I used for The Red Shawl. Whaling does appear in other Jessica Blair novels but not in everyone.  I knew Whitby from my school days and then after the war. I realized there was a wealth of stories there, throughout its history and into recent times and I am fortunate to be able to absorb the atmosphere of the times I use.

WHITBY GIRL FINALEvery author has their own preferred method of working. For the benefit of aspiring writers would you share yours with us?

I look into a background I would like to use. I place my main female and male characters against that background and ask myself, ‘What if …?’ That question will keep recurring as the book develops. I work from a brief outline and sample three chapters. If my publisher, Piatkus, like those and the idea behind them they will issue a contract – then my computer gets working over-time ! I cannot work to a detailed outline because at that stage there are aspects of the story I know nothing about. Characters react to circumstances, and to each other – so the story develops as those change.

During your extensive research you must have come across some fascinating local characters. Do you ever use real people within your novels or are they all fictitious?

Yes I have met many interesting characters throughout life and whilst they might stimulate ideas I don’t use real people in my novels.

Of all your published work do you have a ‘favourite child’ or is it impossible to choose?

Probably The Red Shawl; it led me much deeper into the worlds of writing and publishing and extended a fascinating life. I must say that my first Western led me to meet my first other writer and that brought a long friendship.

InTheSilenceOfSnow_DemyHB_9780749956295_LRRecent releases have been The Road Beneath Me and In The Silence Of The Snow. Could you tell us something of your upcoming novel, A Tapestry of Dreams, to be released in 2014?

A Tapestry of Dreams is based in the West Riding of Yorkshire (woollen industry) and the Lincolnshire countryside (sheep farming). Set in the 1850s these were the backgrounds against which I placed my two leading characters and asked myself ‘What if?’

What project are you working on next?

That has yet to be decided wit h my publisher, Piatkus.  Ideas are out there but I don’t want to mention them yet as I don’t know what road they will take.

Many thanks for your time in answering my questions and sharing your career with us.

More by Bill: