I love them and their big hearts. That’s why they feature so much in my writing (like my beloved Mashtuk in the Pale series).
I’m keen to get hold of a new book to be released next month – The Wisdom of Wolves by Elli H. Radinger. It looks fascinating. The byline is ‘what wolves can teach us about being human.’ We cretainly need that!
This is a recent picture of my writing companion Aeryn. When she thinks I’ve done enough at the keyboard, she stands up and puts both front paws in my lap.
Laura Laakso, my fabulous guest today on Last Word of the Week, is a Finn who has spent most of her adult life in England. She currently lives in Hertfordshire with her two dogs (and you know I love dog people). Books and storytelling have always been a big part of Laura’s life, from writing fanfiction to running tabletop roleplaying games and now writing original fiction. When she is not writing, editing or plotting, Laura works as an accountant. With two degrees in archaeology, she possesses frighteningly useful skills for disposing of or digging up bodies, and if her internet search history is anything to go by, she is on several international watch lists.
Laura’s debut novel, Fallible Justice, was published last November by the excellent Louise Walters Books and her next two books in the Wilde Investigations series, Echo Murder and Roots of Corruption are due for publication in June 2019 and March 2020. Laura’s Wilde Investigations are paranormal crime novels set in modern day London, but with magic, murder and general mayhem.
LWOTW: Laura, it’s wonderful to meet you! Tell us about when you first realised that you are a writer.
Laura: Probably back at university, when I was preparing a Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying campaign. I got completely carried away with the world I’d created and suddenly realised that I cared more about the back story of my supporting characters than what my players were going to do in the present. Naturally, I had to write everything down. Many years later, I began dabbling in fanfiction, until an extraordinary beta reader showed that I have the skills to write original fiction and told me that I should do just that. My debut novel, Fallible Justice, was dedicated to him as a thank you.
That’s a great story! These days, do you rely more on dreams, imagination, and planning?
Dreams and imagination are the greatest tools a writer has. Daring to dream big and imagine a different world, and then putting them into words is what makes writing so exciting. You never know what your mind creates, both awake and asleep!
That said, I’m a big fan of planning these days, given that I write paranormal crime novels. Having a detailed plan in place before I start writing not only helps me remember all the details, but gives me confidence in the story arcs and red herrings. If I draw up a story progression and it looks more like a tree than a straight line, I know I’m off to a good start. About half the time, my characters ignore the plans completely, but I feel better knowing I at least tried to plan the story.
I love characters who ignore plans! What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
Having readers contact me to say how much they loved one or more of my characters. It’s one thing for me to adore the people I’ve made up, but for others to share those feelings is simply extraordinary. My first reader even wrote me a fanfiction drabble about one of my characters, which I will always treasure. I recently dropped a few hints about my evil plans for future books and made people very anxious. I even received a few threats were I to start hurting their favourite characters.
Oh, that’s a sure sign of success! What are you most looking forward to at the moment?
You mean aside from the good night’s sleep? My publisher and I are about to start work on Roots of Corruption, the third book in my Wilde Investigations series. I absolutely adored writing the story and I can’t wait to see how the editing process turns it into a beautiful novel. I’m also ridiculously excited to see what our talented cover designer Jennie Rawlings will come up with for this book.
If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Dream boldly. The world is full of rules and restrictions, both in terms of writing and in general, and you need believe that you can do the things that keep you going. Be ambitions, but write with self-compassion.
And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character?
I’d love to be Miss Marple’s regular sidekick!
You’d be perfect in the role. And all those cups of tea and biscuits, how fabulous :-). Thank you so much for sharing with me today. Go Wilde!
Rachel Sargeant is the author of Kindle Top Ten bestseller The Perfect Neighbours. She is a previous winner of Writing Magazine’s Crime Short Story competition and has been placed or shortlisted in various competitions, including the Bristol Short Story Prize. Her stories have appeared in My Weekly and the Accent Press Saucy Shorts series. Rachel grew up in Lincolnshire, spent several years living in Germany and now lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and children. It’s wonderful to have Rachel here on Last Word of the Week. Here she is!
Hello, everyone and a big thank you to Clare for hosting me here.
LWOTW: My pleasure! Lovely to meet you. Rachel, when did you write your first story?
I wrote my first short story about sixteen years ago and was overwhelmed when it won Writing Magazine’s Crime Short Story competition. This story has now become the basis for my latest novel The Good Teacher.
That’s completely awesome, congratulations! What about your writing process – what do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
Ideas for scenes sometimes come to me when I’m swimming, but I don’t very often dream about my writing. I suppose planning is the most important to me. I’ll come up with an idea and need to plot it out to build it into something worthwhile. Sadly, I don’t have boundless imagination so I have to work at it.
When you’re swimming? Interesting! What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
The success of The Perfect Neighbours has been very special. I got a real buzz out of seeing it at WHSmith in Waterloo Station next to the Booker Prize winner. And it was lovely to get a bouquet of flowers from HarperCollins when it reached 100,000 sales. They are great to work with.
That’s fabulous, congratulations Rachel. What a winner. What are you most busy with at the moment?
I’m working on the fourth draft of a serial killer thriller that features a new character, a forty-three year old detective inspector called Steph. I’m also gearing up for the promotional tour of The Roommates, a psychological thriller set in a university freshers’ week which comes out later this year.
If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Never give up. Despite beginner’s luck with my first story, it took me another fourteen years to improve my writing technique enough to attract an agent and a mainstream publisher. Just write, write and keep writing.
And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?
More about The Good Teacher by Rachel Sargeant
Even the good have to die.
A beloved teacher is murdered and left in a ditch beside a country lane. His wife is found beaten and gagged in their suburban home.
Even the best schools have secrets.
New detective Pippa Adams learns that the teacher ran a homework club for vulnerable pupils. But what did he really teach them?
Even the perfect family has something to hide.
When Pippa scratches the surface of the school community, she meets families who’ve learned a shattering lesson. And finally uncovers the good teacher’s darkest secrets…
Julie Ryan writes Romance with a Twist. Her three Greek Island mysteries reveal the darker side of those seductive getaways, and her latest contemporary romance Finding Rose links back to Tudor days and also the time of my own special interest — the Great War. Enjoyable and enthralling are some of the words readers use to describe Julie’s novels. Finding Rose is very high on my TBR list. You can see all of Julie’s books on her website.
Welcome, Julie, it’s so nice to meet you. Tell us about when you first realised that you are a writer.
Julie: Good question! I remember reading somewhere that Stephen King said something along the lines of … ‘if you receive a cheque for your writing and it pays the electricity bill and doesn’t bounce then you can consider yourself a writer’. Funnily enough, because I self-published my first book, I didn’t think of myself as a writer even when it did well. After it came out in paperback and I could physically hold a copy of my book, it all became a bit more real. Now, with five books behind me I still have to remind myself sometimes that I am a writer!
Do you rely more on dreams, imagination, and planning?
I start with a very rough plot and a couple of characters but by the end the finished product usually bears little resemblance to the original idea. I admire people who can plot out their book in every chapter but it’s not how I work. I quite like the idea that my book evolves as I write and I really have no idea how it’s going to end.
They do tend to develop a life of their own, don’t they! What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
There are a couple of key moments that will always stand out for me. The first one was holding the print copy of my first book in my hands and realising that it now existed in another realm not just in my imagination. The second highlight was winning the Tim Poole Cup in 2018 with a poem I wrote.
What are you most looking forward to at the moment?
I’m currently writing a script for our local amateur dramatic society. It’s a totally new departure for me and if they like it, I’m hoping it will be performed next year. That would be really awesome!
That’s very exciting! If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Sometimes the idea of wanting to create perfection can put people off writing. I would say just write and worry about editing it later. After all, you can’t edit a blank page.
And finally: Julie, who would you be if you were a fictional character?
I think I am already turning into Shirley Valentine. I saw that film five times when it first came out, as well as seeing the stage play. Not only did it provide inspiration for my first novel but I love the message of finding yourself. She’s also a really funny character but for me, any excuse to spend time in Greece is welcome.
How fabulous! Thank you so much for spending time with me on last Word of the Week.
About The Stars in the Night Harry Fletcher is a confident young man. Harry’s sure that he will marry Nora MacTiernan, no matter what their families say. He’s certain that he will always be there to protect Eddie, the boy his father saved from the gutters of Port Adelaide. Only the War to End All […]
Exciting, engrossing, engaging and surprising: prolific UK writer Richard Dee and all his works can be described with these words. From life as a master mariner and Thames Estuary pilot to baking organic bread and writing sci-fi and steam punk, Richard Dee is one interesting man. In this post we’re going to hear a little about his process, and a bit more about what drives him. I’m so pleased to speak with Richard in today’s Last Word of the Week.
LWOTW: Welcome, Richard Dee! Do you remember when you wrote your first story?
Richard: In 1979, I wrote a short story about a farm in space. It eventually turned into my first novel; Freefall, in 2011-13. I guess that life got in the way there.
That’s quite a journey! Persistence and hanging onto the writing dream are very important, I think. Tell me, what do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
A lot of my stories came from dreams. They still do, my upcoming adventure Life and Other Dreams is based on the possibility that our dreams may just be real.
I see all my stories develop, like watching a film in my head. I can rewind, and I can slow the playback to watch the story unfold slowly, but I can never fast forward to the end.
Because of that, I don’t bother trying to plan, I just type what I see and let the characters move my fingers around the keys. The ending will be as much of a surprise to you as it was to me!
That’s a wonderful method – quite like the visitation of a muse. You’re obviously a born writer. What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
Fame and fortune has sadly eluded me so far! My highlight is getting a good review from someone I’ve never met. And a royalty payment.
Good reviews are gold, aren’t they? Great to get – but I’m sure the fame and fortune would be nice too. What are you most busy with at the moment?
Developing an online course in world building.
Encouraging struggling writers with my Showcase series of blog posts, where I give new and Indie authors a platform.
Writing sequels, prequels, spin-offs and new work.
That’s a lot to be getting on with. Well done you! If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Get the words down somewhere and more will flow. You can’t do much with great ideas if they stay in your head.
Excellent advice! And finally – the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?
Richard’s website is at richarddeescifi.co.uk. Head over there to see what he gets up to, click the FREE STUFF tab or the PORTFOLIO tab to get all the details about Richard’s work and pick up a free novel or short story.
Nikki Crutchley writes chilling mysteries about Auckland’s underworld. I’m very interested to find out more about Nikki and her writing processes across the Ditch in New Zealand.
LWOTW: Welcome, Nikki! Tell us, when did you write your first story?
Nikki: I remember when I was nine or ten I had started reading the Anne of Green Gables series of books. I l oved them and it was this series that made me want to become a writer. I remember writing a ‘story’ called ‘Jane’s Dream’s’. It must’ve taken up at least four of my school books! I wrote every chance I got. I was constantly bugging my teacher to mark it – I thought I’d done an amazing job!
I’m sure you did! What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
Where would any writer be without dreams and imagination? For me, my books start from a small seed. I don’t write a lot down in the beginning. I just let the ideas sit for a while. So a lot of my down time is put into day dreaming about new ideas for books. I am also a big planner. I like to know where my story is going. I don’t always have an ending worked out – or if I do it usually changes – but I do like to know what’s going to happen with the plot and my main characters.
What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
I probably have two. The first was my debut novel, Nothing Bad Happens Here, being a finalist in the Ngaio Marsh Award for best first novel (New Zealand’s crime writing awards). Being a self-published author, this was a big deal for me. And the second would be getting an agent (the wonderful High Spot Literary) a few months ago. Already my manuscripts have been read by publishers that wouldn’t have looked at me otherwise.
What are you most busy with at the moment?
I’m working on my third book, The Murder Club, which is a follow up to my debut, Nothing Bad Happens Here. There’s quite a lot of procrastinating going on at the moment!
If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
There will be rejection and people telling you you’re no good or can’t do it. Ignore them. If this is what you want to do – keep at it!
And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?
Writer, reader, paralegal, knitter, and dog lover! Kellie Butler, today’s guest on Last Word of the Week, is my kind of author. Kellie’s historical novels in her series, The Laurelhurst Chronicles, are perfectly imagined and constructed stories dealing with love, passion, crime, and murder. The Laurelhurst Chronicles are Anglo-American stories set in the 1940s.
LWOTW: Welcome, Kellie! Thanks for being here. Tell me, when did you write your first story?
Kellie: I started writing when I was in high school. I was in a creative writing club, and I wrote for my student newspaper.
Good for you – great way to start. What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
Some of my dreams make excellent fodder for scenes or stories. If I can remember them the next day, I will jot them down. I’ve always had a vivid imagination since I was a child, so I guess it’s a good thing that I’ve been able to turn it into a career. Planning. Hmmm. Since I write a series, planning is crucial for it all to make sense and for me to keep my deadlines on track. I give myself small manageable goals along the way to not feel overwhelmed. A dream without planning and execution won’t happen.
Excellent points, thanks Kellie. So, what’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
Oh gosh. My first book received a five-star review from another historical novelist who I admire immensely. I was jumping up and down the day I received it. I also just had my first author chat and book signing this year.
Exciting times, then. Congratulations on the 5 stars, that is wonderful. What are you most busy with at the moment?
I’m writing the first draft for the third novel (working title The Broken Tree) in my Laurelhurst Chronicles series.
I hope we see it very soon. If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Believe in yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from other writers. This process is a learning curve, and we all must start somewhere.
That’s great advice, thanks Kellie. One of the best things about this Last Word blog is hearing from other authors about their tips and processes. Finally, what’s your favorite colour?
Robin egg blue. It reminds me of spring.
Thank you so much for having me. 😊
An absolute pleasure, Kellie! Thank you so much for sharing.
Deborah Sheldon leans to the darker side. Although she too is a Melbourne-based author and a member of Writers Victoria, I met Deborah for the first time last year when she had Something to Say. Deborah’s novel Contrition was published late last year, and her new novel is about to be released.
Welcome to LWOTW, Deborah! Tell us, when did you write your first story?
I’ve been a professional writer since 1986 when I sold a feature article on steroid abuse to an Australian bodybuilding magazine. The first short story I ever wrote, “300 Degree Days”, was published by Quadrant magazine in 2005. I began switching my attention from non-fiction to fiction in 2007.
My fiction has always leaned towards the darker side, but I’ve been writing horror ever since Midnight Echo published my first horror story “Perfect Little Stitches” in 2015. I’m indulging myself in the various subgenres and having a blast.
What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
Dreams don’t often motivate me but when they do, it’s a punch to the face. My novelette “The Again-Walkers”, inspired by my interest in ninth-century Danish mythology and included in my collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories, began its life as a terrible dream. The nightmare woke me in a literal sweat, unable to return to sleep. In the dark, even as my heart raced, I thought: damn, that nightmare would make one hell of a climax to a story. And yes, I believe it did!
I plan everything I write but not meticulously. As soon as I envisage the premise, my imagination runs straight to the ending. With a finale in mind, I decide on the story’s length whether it be flash fiction, short story, novella or novel, as each form requires a drastically different approach from the get-go. My outlining is sparse. As an example, I’ll block out 24 points (with a sentence or two per point) for a 24-chapter novel. The outline prevents me from meandering in pointless circles as I write.
Imagination is critical. Premises, plots and characters are always noodling around in my thoughts. I keep a work diary, jotter pads and stacks of post-it notes on my desk.
What’s the highlight of your career so far?
As far as fiction is concerned, in June 2018, winning the Australian Shadows Award “Best Collected Work 2017” for Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories. The collection getting long-listed for a Bram Stoker Award would come a very close second!
That said, every acceptance letter is a highlight. I celebrate a story getting published, a new contract with a publisher, a great review. My noir-horror novel Contrition was released in September 2018, which was another career highlight. (My favourite way to celebrate a book release is a restaurant meal with my husband and son, and plenty of chardonnay.)
About mid-year, I have a dark fiction collection coming out, and I’m looking forward to that very much.
That chardy sounds like a good plan! What are you most busy with at the moment?
During 2016 and 2017, I wrote two long-form titles back to back: the novel Contrition (IFWG Publishing Australia) and the bio-horror novella Thylacines (Severed Press). To help my brain to “decompress” and revitalise, I wrote short stories throughout most of 2018. The intensity of such a condensed and challenging medium always gives me an endorphin high.
Right now, I’m about halfway through a novel in a horror subgenre I’ve never attempted before, and loving every minute of it.
I’ll be interested to see what develops next! If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Prepare yourself to commit to a lifelong endeavour. This is a joyful thing! Like Hemingway said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” If you keep his words in mind and your ego in check, you will improve with every story you write.
And the last word of the week: What’s your favourite colour?
Lachlan Walter, writer, science-fiction critic and nursery-hand (the garden kind, not the baby kind) is today’s guest on Last Word of the Week. Lachlan’s Australian post-apocalyptic novel is called The Rain Never Cameand his next book will be the Kaiju story-cycle We Call It Monster. Lachlan also writes science fiction criticism for Aurealismagazine and reviews for the independent ‘weird music’ website Cyclic Defrost. Lachlan’s short fiction can be found floating around online, and he has completed a PhD that explored the relationship between Australian post-apocalyptic fiction and Australian notions of national identity.
LWOTW: Welcome, Lachlan! Tell us about when you first realised that you are a writer.
Lachlan: To me, the distinction between wanting to be a writer and actually being a writer is psychological more than anything else. Being a writer means accepting the fact that you don’t have to write a blockbuster (and probably won’t) or churn out a book a year, but instead have to put in the work and make the sacrifices needed. Lots of people who want to be writers seem to see it as some kind of glamorous calling that doesn’t actually involve any real work, whereas the truth is that it’s often a slog involving persistence and tenacity, in which a thick skin is utterly invaluable. To touch on an old chestnut: writing is about perspiration, not inspiration.
In my case, I realised that I was actually a writer when found myself unable to step away from my work-in-progress of the time. I was putting in ten and twelve-hour days, turning a simple idea into a novel (and neglecting my oh-so-forgiving family and friends), and waking up each morning dead-keen to do it all over again. There were good days and bad days, but the important thing was that they were all writing days, and ever-so-slowly my first book was coming together. By the time I’d completed the first draft, this had become a routine – wake up, have breakfast, clean up, start writing – and was the equivalent of punching a clock or reporting for duty. And thus, I considered myself a writer.
Of course, it helps to have your work affirmed through publication, positive feedback, in-depth reviews and sales, but they aren’t strictly necessary. What matters is your work ethic, getting on with the job and creating a body of work that you can be proud of.
That’s an interesting analysis, thank you. For your writing, do you rely more on dreams, imagination, and planning?
I don’t think I’ve ever had a dream that resulted in a good piece of writing, so let’s scratch that off the list, which leaves imagination and planning. Both are important, but planning is a skill that can be refined whereas imagination is intuitive, inspiring and seems to strike like the metaphorical lightning bolt. An example: I had the idea for my first book long before I put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, which is more accurate though less poetic), but when I started writing it – and consequently started planning it – I really had no idea what I was doing. It wasn’t until a fellow writer gently pointed out that my plan was a bit long – three books long, by their estimate – that I realised how much I had to learn about this underappreciated skill.
In other words, I rely more on my imagination than anything else, but it’s the planning that really matters.
That sounds like a good balance of imagination and organsation. So what’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
This would have to be a tie between having my first book accepted for publication, and having my second book accepted.
Having your first book accepted is an incredible feeling, as all authors would know – it’s a validation of your hard work, and confirmation that the idea behind it and the writing within it is solid and of a high quality. Everyone’s first book is a labour of love, something that’s been happily sweated over, something that contains a little bit of your heart and soul, and mine was no different. As mentioned, I had the idea for it long before I put pen to paper, and nurtured this idea like an obsessed gardener growing the fussiest plants from seed.
But once your first book has been published you realise that if you want to be a writer, you have to do it all over again from the beginning. This can be a struggle because you carry within you an expectation that your second book has to happen sooner rather than later, and you have to conceive it and work at it quickly and diligently, whereas the ideas and writing of your first book just seemed to come naturally and at its own pace. However, once it’s completed to your satisfaction, having it accepted for publication somehow proves that you’ve got what it takes to keep on writing.
That letter (or email) acceptance is such a joy, isn’t it? What are you most looking forward to at the moment?
Finishing my third book, so that I can then get onto the next and the next after that and so on. I’m like most writers – I have more ideas than I do time to write them, and I just can’t wait to get them down and bring them to life.
Oh, yes, that’s the problem. Not where we get our ideas from but how to herd them! If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Write, write and write some more – you can always be better, and the only way to achieve this is through dedication and work. And remember that not every piece of writing has to be a book: short stories, articles, reviews, blogs, criticism, they all help hone your talent.
And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character?
The Doctor, without a doubt. He/she possesses everything that one would want in life, and that makes a good person: kindness, intelligence, inquisitiveness, childlike wonder, loyalty, a circle of loving friends who are loved in return, and a dedication to pacifism that only falters when absolutely necessary.
I thought you had a bit of a Tom Baker look about you! Thanks for speaking with me, Lachlan, and more power to your writing.