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Murky worlds and the business of writing with Elizabeth Ducie

Elizabeth Ducie is a full-time writer from Devon. Although she wrote prize-winning fiction at school, she went on to study science and have a career as a manufacturing consultant, technical writer and small business owner, publishing pharmaceutical text books and editing a technical journal during that time.

Her debut novel, Gorgito’s Ice Rink, was published in 2014, and she then wrote a series of thrillers set in the sometimes murky world of international pharmaceuticals:  Counterfeit! (2016), Deception! (2017) and Corruption! (2018).

Elizabeth also writes and lectures on The Business of Writing, teaching business skills for writers running their own small business, and has published a set of books under that name.

Elizabeth Ducie, writer

Elizabeth Ducie, writer

Welcome, Elizabeth. You have a fascinating background for a novelist. Are there any secrets hidden in your writing?

Elizabeth: When I wrote Counterfeit!, my sister Sheila challenged me to bring some of the characters from my previous novel into the story. And there are occasionally references to real incidents from my travelling days, although usually heavily fictionalised.

Your secrets are safe with me! How do you feel about reviews?

There are many beliefs about the impact reviews have on the algorithms of Amazon and other platforms, but I’m not convinced. There are too many exceptions out there to allow me to believe in a magic number, a threshold above which exciting things start to happen.

But, as a way of hearing what readers think, they are invaluable. I only wish more people would consider posting them. Even a negative review is better than dead silence.

Yes, the silent echo chamber is unnerving. Is there anyone in your past who’d be surprised at your writing?

There was a biology teacher who took me to one side at the start of the upper fifth year (equivalent to year 11) and told me there were girls in the year who were going to do well, but I wasn’t one of them, so I wasn’t to get my hopes up! It still rankles, more than fifty years on. I would love to send her a signed copy of each of my books to make her eat her words.

Yikes! Oh, I hope that was her way of motivating you and not her true opinion! How much research is involved in your writing?

So far, most of my fiction has been set in places I used to work (Former Soviet Union countries, Latin America, Africa) so a lot of the research was done on the hoof. However, my novels tend to have historical flashbacks, for which I do quite a bit of research. But only when I’m editing. I don’t let lack of knowledge interrupt the flow during the first draft.

Gorgito's ice rink by Elizabeth Ducie

Gorgito’s ice rink by Elizabeth Ducie

Ironically, my latest book is set in South Devon where I’ve lived for the past thirteen years. I’m doing far more research for that than any of the internationally-based ones.

That’s ironic, but good to know. What do you think about covers, and do you have any say in yours?

Covers are critical, especially for fiction, where they are a major signpost to the reader on what they can expect from the book. I am independently-published and therefore have absolute say over my covers. When I’m teaching, I always empasise that an indie book should be indistinguishable from a traditionally-published one in terms of appearance and quality of the finished product. This means having a professionally-designed cover. I use Berni Stevens for all my novels.  I developed my own covers for The Business of Writing, but I used a Canvatemplate, which still means the original design is professionally produced.

I completely agree about covers – I believe most readers DO judge a book by its cover. I’m interested in your books aimed at writers, too. Is it easy for you to meet other writers?

They say that writing is a solitary occupation, but I find it’s all too easy to meet other writers. There’s a huge writing community here in the South West of England, plus there are any number of online groups.

I am a member of two great writing groups: Chudleigh Writers’ Circle and Exeter Writers. They are very different in approach and I find my membership of each one invaluable. Plus I still meet up with a small group of writers from the MA we completed in 2012. I have a writing buddy with whom I work on each novel at the developmental editing stage. And this year, I’m Director of the Exeter Literary Festival. And that’s before I even think about Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, all of which are stuffed full of writers.

To be honest, it’s tempting to spend far more time ‘networking’ with other writers than I do writing.  But it’s all great fun; and that’s one of the reasons I gave up the day job to write ‘full-time’.

Director of Exeter Lit Festival, congratulations! Do you have launch parties for your books?

Always. I have an event in our local parish church, the largest space in our small town, with readings, music, cake and fizz. I usually sell quite a few copies on the night, but it’s also about celebrating with my friends and family.

I’ve also been holding online launch parties since 2011. Over the years, I’ve experimented with different formats; and sometimes I don’t have one at all. Lessons I learned along the way included: don’t try running a party for 12 hours; and don’t try running an online party on the same day as the main party. Both occasions were exhausting!

But they do sound like fun. You have an MA, I see. Do you think that creative writing courses are valuable?

It depends on the individual, their experience and their ambitions, but I’m not convinced creative writing is an academic subject. So I’m slightly skeptical about formal university courses, even though I completed one myself. I do, however, think it’s important to attend classes, webinars, conferences, anything that helps train us in our craft, keep us fresh, and build inspiration. I attend the Writers’ Summer School at Swanwick every August; I go to occasional classes or workshops such as those run by Literature Works in Exeter; and I am a real sucker for a free webinar or online conference. The ones run by ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors) are particularly good.

The Business of Writing by Elizabeth Ducie

The Business of Writing by Elizabeth Ducie

Great to know. I love the way you approach writing as a craft that can always be honed. Lovely! Thank you for talking with me in this episode of Last Word of the Week.

You can find Elizabeth’s novels and her Business of Writing books here

http://elizabethducieauthor.co.uk/my-books/

And Elizabeth’s social media links are

Website and blog: http://elizabethducie.co.uk/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Elizabeth-Ducie-Author-312553422131146/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ElizabethDucie

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/educie/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/elizabeth_ducie_author/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katemccormick/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCiYmo3-3feid9BsD2p9eyJQ

 

Gillian Polack: fruitcake that sparkles

Gillian Polack is passionate about people, about books, about history. An Australian writer and editor, Gillian works mainly in the field of speculative fiction. She has published four novels, numerous short stories and nonfiction articles, and is the creator of the New Ceres universe. I first encountered Gillian’s work when I reviewed her novel The Year of the Fruitcake for Aurealis magazine. I started my review by saying that the book ‘fizzes with smart, sparkling prose and razor wit’, and finished it with this: ‘one of the most innovative, droll and appealing voices you’re likely to encounter in modern speculative fiction. To read a page of Polack is to enter a world both astute and delightful.’

As you can imagine, I’m enchanted to host Gillian today.

Welcome, Gillian, and thank you for joining me. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Gillian: My novels are not about me. So many readers read one of my contemporary novels and say “Autobiography!”

This became so common that I started playing a guessing game with readers.

“Which bits of the novel are from my life?” I asked, and now I often intentionally put something in my fiction, to keep the guessing game going. In July I said, “I should stop doing this,” but I haven’t quite decided if I should stop, or if I should still add small and unpredictable bits of my life to my fiction and see if readers will ever work out what is borrowed from reality and what is invented.

Very, very few readers guess right. The most common (and entertaining) incorrect guess is about the character who swims naked in the Murrumbidgee River. I do not know how to swim and I’m exactly the wrong person to take off clothes in a public place.

Now I’ll be looking for clues! What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

I am stumped every time someone asks me my favourite book, because I’m not good at choosing just one. I’m like that with most things. Favourite food. Favourite season. All difficult. My favourite scenes, plural (for each and every novel) they’re the scenes that take me into the book, every time. In my perfect world, every single word of fiction I wrote would do this to me. I’m working on that.

It’s very hard to pick favourites, I agree. If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

Polack-JewishWomen-200x300I wanted to give you the response of my very political character in The Wizardry of Jewish Women for she would argue gloriously and precisely and with much passion to prove her existence. Then I thought of giving you the answer Melusine would give from The Time of the Ghosts. “You’re not from this universe, are you, dear? Let me make you some coffee. If you’ve the time, I’d like to ask you if you’ve seen someone who might have travelled your way.”

These are not the most interesting answers, however. My mindwiped alien (in a perimenopausal human body) in The Year of the Fruit Cake would on some days be very distressed that she’s considered fictional, on others she’d discuss it rationally and at least once a week she’d hurt so much that she didn’t understand what you were trying to say. On her best days, she’d look at the evidence, work out the mathematics behind it, and agree with you. Most of this doesn’t show in the novel, but she’s an exceptionally courageous alien and every day she doubts her reality, she handles that doubt with style.

Fruitcake

As you handled that question with style! Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?

 So very many books…

I’ve known I was going to be a writer since I was eight. Since before then, actually, because I was eight when I made my big decision. I wasn’t taught to read until I was five, so every book I encountered before I was eight was critical. I read Enid Blyton and I read Edith Nesbit. I read Mary Grant Bruce and Elyne Mitchell. I read the complete series of lives of famous scientists my family owned, and I read history books about the Holocaust. No book I was able to read was banned, and I went from John and Betty (the first book I ever read – I remember learning to read with it, and then I remember helping my younger sister when she learned to read) to reading everything within reach in no time at all.

My biggest shock in between eight and thirteen was The Constant Nymph  by Margaret Kennedy (which was shelved in the children’s section until I asked a librarian to explain some critical plot points), and it was one of the books that taught me I didn’t want to write like another writer.

By the time I was thirteen I was reading Tolkien and Tolstoy and Dickens and every single science fiction and historical fiction and fantasy writer I could get my hands on. I had run out of books in the children’s section of the library, you see, and was given permission to borrow books from the adult section.

I can’t imagine life without books. What I knew when I was eight was that this was my playground and my life. That it was all the writers (except a certain few) who inspired me, not any single one. They still do. I have six piles of books to read and when I finish answering these questions, I’m going to start one of them. Today I want to read a book by Meg Keneally and one by Nick Larter. Yesterday, my reading was Kyla Ward and Jeanette Winterson. Tomorrow’s reading is Jo Zebedee and I want to re-visit Ruth Frances Long and maybe, if there’s time, read another Meg Keneally, for a friend just pointed out I hadn’t read her favourite Keneally novel yet.

There are a lot of books by Irish writers on my reading piles this week because of my research – I use my research as an excuse to find new writers. I never want to lose that spark that made me need to write, nor my love of the books of others. Each and every one of them inspires my own writing. 

What a fantastic list and a great approach to reading. Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

I’ve had a scary-bad ten years. So much near-death. So much being physically incapable of doing things. I’ve found a way of surviving, and so I’d like to please tell me back then:

Life is going to throw shit at you. It will be foul and smelly and will never stop. Turn it into fertiliser and grow flowers. The earlier you start doing this the less you will hurt. The shit won’t stop, so you will have plenty of fertiliser. You’re going to grow an amazing garden.

My garden is flourishing. Like all gardens, this takes hard and constant work. This week I’m growing roses. 

Polack-Time of Ghosts1400x2100_preview

Resilience and determination combined with creativity – perfect for gardens and life. What’s next for you in the world of writing?

Three things. I always have a novel happening, and I’ll talk about that in a moment (my summer novel).

The real writing world contains problems for writers like me: I’m a niche writer (many readers love my work, but have trouble finding it, because big publishers do not often take on voices like mine) and I am physically not capable of pushing my barrow much in public (disability sucks, and living in Australia also has its limitations). Next for me, therefore, is trying to find ways of getting my books to the people who want them. I want people to enjoy my books and that means being visible. That’s the hard work bit of what comes next for me. Trying to be visible. Several publishers are helping me with this and I have novels coming out in at least two countries.

The novel I’ll be working on this summer is not going to be angry. It’s going to give some of my characters some happiness. Also, I’m going to try to not kill anyone off.

How am I going to achieve these things? I’ve noticed a lovely theme that goes through some types of teen fiction and through some Korean drama, where people find happiness with each other, as a group. I would like to give this happiness to adults who travel, each of them alone, to another world. I want them to come back changed, but with each other.

This is quite different from my third activity for the next little while. Poison and Light will be released very soon, and I need to help it on its way. It’s about the last artist from Lost Earth, it’s about the way we hide in the past when we can’t face the present, and it’s about life on a distant planet. Life with highwaymen and swordfights and amazing publishers. My favourite part of it right now is the cover art: Lewis Morley didn’t just design a street scene: he built it and photographed it. My world lives.

9781743340455_Ms Cellophane_coverThat sounds awesome, Gillian. Finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I would be someone else’s fictional character. I don’t know whose, but I know precisely what. I’d have all the things I’ve missed out in this life: beauty, health, perfect eyesight, fabulous romance, awesome clothes and strange magic that changes the world. I suspect I’d be the somewhat sarcastic heroine of a steampunk Regency novel.

 

I can see it! And I want to read it! Thank you so much for sharing with me today, Gillian, and more power to you.

Gillian’s links:

Website: http://www.gillianpolack.com

Blog: http://www.gillianpolack.com/blog/

Twitter: @GillianPolack

On my wish list: Writing Speculative Fiction

A book I covet has just been published.

Author Eugen Bacon is here to tell me all about it.

Welcome to Something to Say, Eugen! Can you tell me about your book, published this month by MacMillan?

Eugen: Writing Speculative Fiction: Creative and Critical Approaches is an accessible read about vibrant storytelling of speculative fiction that crosses genre.

It’s a cross-disciplinary book that scrutinises the characteristics of science fiction, fantasy and horror, and considers the potential of literary speculative fiction.

Eugen Bacon 2

Eugen Bacon Author

That sounds wonderful. As a genre-hopper myself, I’m fascinated by insights into all of these. Is there one aspect of this book that you relate to most?

I really love this book because it is a reader’s paradise. It has vignettes and excerpts and samplers from renowned artists and novice students. It has writing exercises at the end of each chapter. It offers provocative and useful insights on speculative fiction, moving—as one reviewer professed—‘between ideas and stories, between analysis and narrative’. It is a book that celebrates amazing authors like Ray Bradbury and Octavia Butler, and supreme theorists like Roland Barthes and Simone de Beauvoir in embracing the pleasure of the text, and writing about the ‘other’.

I’m sold! I want my copy asap (but you have to sign it for me). What do you think drives you to pursue your creativity?

Dominique Hecq, a wonderful friend and mentor (she was my doctorate supervisor), articulates it best. She says that she writes to answer incipient questions troubling her mind, or to relieve some form of anxiety where cause may not yet be symbolised. She states, ‘I write because I must do so, exhilarating, detestable or painful though this might be.’

Like Hecq, I write to… find.

Writing Speculative Fiction

You write with very fluid genre borders yourself, of course.

How do you do it? Many writers have described their processes using analogies – the famous Hemingway one, for example, in which he says that writing is simply a matter of sitting in front of the typewriter and staring at a blank page until you start to sweat blood. Others speak of stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline.

What can you say about your process?

My approach to the compositional space is with excitement, with a sense of urgency, with a knowing that writing is an active speaking. Writing is a search, a journey, a coming through. Text shapes my silence. It shouts my chaos. I often start with a skeleton, a general idea, and then the writing shapes itself.

Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?

Experimental. Inventful. Bold. Otherness. Poetic.

Eugen, thank you so much for having Something to Say!

Here’s an invitation for us all! Put it in your diary.

Please join Eugen at her Melbourne Book Launch on 1 August at Readings in Hawthorn! Eugen will launch her new spec fiction, Claiming T-Mo (more about that soon) and also celebrate the release of Writing Speculative Fiction.

I will be there :-), having my copies signed. Can hardly wait.

Twitter: @EugenBacon

Non-fiction

I have done quite a bit of writing that is not just made up! Here you’ll find links to books on study skills for tertiary students, as well as the book that arose from my PhD studies into Australian WWI literature.

I’ve also published a number of articles both in peer-reviewed journals and student magazines. I’ve included links to all the ones you can find online. They cover literature, history, education, study skills, time management and the student experience.

Non-fiction books

HISTORY

My academic book The Purpose of Futility: writing World War I, Australian style was published by UWA Scholarly in 2015. The result of my PhD studies, this book outlines Australian novels of WWI and shows how they differ from the canonical stories such as those written by Hemingway, Graves and Brittain.

9781742586625_cov.indd

 

EDUCATION

I have also co-authored three study guides to help students make the transition from high school to university. Published by Allen & Unwin, these books demystify uni:

I’ve published some study advice for tertiary students too, such as ‘Slow death of a green balloon: the diary of one PhD examination’ (Plane Tree, 18:2, pp. 24-27), and ‘Multi-crashing: the graduate student’s guide to balancing work and study’ (Plane Tree, 18:1, pp. 30-33.)

Law