Riana Everlyis a Canadian writer of romance and historical romance. Influenced by the beautiful writing of Jane Austen and the rich historical tapestry of the early nineteenth-century, Riana combines elements of stories old and new in her Regency novels. Each one takes a surprising twist on a well-loved tale, much to the delight of her many readers. Love and adventure feature highly, and among these variations you may find your own personal favourite Mr Darcy…
Welcome, Riana. Your books have such an interesting combination of inspirations and cross-genre views. Are there any secrets hidden in your writing?
Riana: I’ve been known to sneak in song lyrics or snatches of plot elements from my favourite operas. But nobody has ever found them, so I don’t think I do it very well.
Well-hidden, then! How much research is involved in your writing?
Oh, so much research! I spend more time researching than writing. I know I can never get everything correct, but I can try, and I do try.
Because I mainly write about the Regency period, I have a fairly broad general knowledge about the basics. I know the general history, the politics, the fashions, etc, but that is just the beginning. For example, in my first published novel, Teaching Eliza (a novel in which Pride & Prejudice meets My Fair Lady), I needed to know about class-based accents in nineteenth-century England. So down the rabbit hole of research I went. For a throwaway sentence in one of my works-in-progress, my main character buys a cribbage board for a gift. And down the rabbit hole went I, searching up the history of cribbage and the sorts of cribbage boards found in England in 1810. And I have to admit, I love that part! It’s what makes the history part of historical research come to life for me.
Sounds wonderful to mix history, created characters, and devious plots. How do you deal with plot holes – if you ever have any!
Me? Plot holes? Never!
(Okay… all the time. But shhhhh. It’s a secret.)
I tend to let my stories sit for a long time between first draft and editing. This way, when I go back to them, it’s with a bit of a clear mind because I have some distance between what I wrote and what I’m reading. But I would never trust myself to find plot holes. Instead, I have a few trusted beta readers who I beg to read with a critical eye and let me know what doesn’t work. And then I go back and rewrite and tinker and fix things and hope I don’t introduce more mistakes as I edit.
What an excellent practice – hope you don’t mind if I ‘borrow’ it! Do you write for yourself or for a particular audience?
I really write for myself. I know the advice out there is to write to market, but that is not me. I have my stories that want to come out, and if they are not exactly what “the market” wants, then so be it. I would rather sacrifice some readers than write something I don’t really want to write.
I completely agree. It’s the story bursting out of me that I want to write, not what’s hot at the moment (which can be sad for the income stream!). What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?
I just dyed my hair purple. Does that count?
Absolutely! Not sure its it’s scarier than sending your writing out into the world, but it’s your hair after all. What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months?
I have been writing some historical mysteries. I have three completed – one almost fully edited and two in various stages of editing. My plans for the next twelve months are to start publishing these and to write the other three I envisage for the series. There is a large story arc for the main characters over the six planned books, which is why that will be the limit to this particular series. But if I still like my characters, there might be more in store for them.
That’s a massive project. It’s exhausting just to hear about it! Go you. What do you think about covers, and do you have any say in yours?
I think a cover is so very important! I know we are always told never to judge a book by its cover, but how can we avoid doing that? Some of my favourite authors have very amateurish-looking covers, and I’ve learned to focus on the text and not the outside, but were I just to see that cover, my instinct would be to assume the inside is as amateurish as the outside. Perhaps that is not a good trait of mine, but it’s there and it’s not going away.
So my advice is always to get a professional cover. If you happen to have those amazing skills, that’s fabulous. But if not, spend the few dollars and get something that looks professional.
I’ve been extremely fortunate to find a terrific cover artist. She listens to me and accepts my constant suggestions and requests with a cheerful smile. One of the perks of being indie!
Yes, it helps to be able to have that closeness, I’m sure, to others involved in getting your story out there. Do you write in more than one genre?
Sort of. Isn’t that a great answer? I started my writing career writing Jane Austen-inspired romance, which I still do and which I love. But I’ve also always loved classic mysteries, and somewhere along the line I had the idea to write some Austenesque murder mysteries. They straddle the line between historical mysteries and cozy mysteries, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know my sleuths as they solve their way through Regency England.
Do you plan your books, or do you listen to your muse?
I used to approach my books with a vague story in mind and let my characters tell me what they were up to. But since I’ve started writing historical mysteries, I find I have to be much more of a planner. Clues, red herrings, more clues… They all have to be there and fit together and make some sort of sense at the end.
That makes perfect sense, indeed. One has to shepherd those lovely characters to a degree, or they’ll toddle off into some other plot of interest only to themselves.
Thank you so much Riana for sharing with me today. I’m so intrigued by your mash-ups of genre and manners into stories that meet us in the now. Long live the Regency in fiction!
Prolific UK author Helena Dixon splits her time between the Black Country and Devon. Married to the same man for over thirty-five years she has three daughters, a cactus called Spike, a crazy cockapoo* (see below) and a tank of tropical fish. She is allergic to adhesives, apples, tinsel and housework. Her addictions of choice are coffee and reality TV. She was winner of The Romance Prize in 2007 and Love Story of the Year 2010, writing as Nell Dixon (with a fantastic list of titles on her bookshelf). Helena now writes historical cozy crime set in the 1930s.
I’m excited to speak with Helena today as we have quite a bit in common. Let’s get to the questions!
Welcome to the Last Word of the Week, Helena! Why is writing important to you?
Helena: Writing is like breathing. I can’t imagine not being able to express the stories that I have galloping around in my head if I didn’t write. I joined my first writing group when I was twelve and have belonged to a writers group for most of my life. I belong to the RNA (Romance Novelists Association), the CWA (Crime Writers Association) and my local writers group which is affiliated to the NAWG (National Association of Writers’ Groups). Writing keeps me sane and makes me a much nicer person to be around.
What would readers never guess about you?
I have severe dyscalculia. I see numbers backwards and jumbled up. I can’t remember or retain them. I can’t read a digital clock very well. I can’t tell left from right or follow directions. I struggle with time as a concept. I can do sums in my head but not if I’m looking at the numbers. I don’t know my phone number, I forget my post code and I don’t know my car registration. I have never used an ATM and only own a mobile phone for the camera facility. I don’t know my number or how to use it.
Goodness, I would never guess that. How amazing and interesting. It obviously has no effect on your reading and writing. How much research is involved in your writing?
Lots. Especially my Helena Dixon books as they are set in 1930s Dartmouth. I recreate journeys via steam train and ferry. I make site visits and take copious notes and pictures. I have lots of wonderful people who answer all kinds of questions to check that I’m as accurate as I can be. For the third Miss Underhay book, due out in June, I visited the golf club where I wanted to leave a body and they kindly gave me a tour in a golf buggy and answered a million and one questions.
Site visits sound like complete fun. Do you have a pet as a writing companion?
Yes, although he is more of a hindrance than a help. That’s my lovely Cockerpoo Teddy. He even has his own facebook page!
(Clare says: Teddy the Cockerpoo* is a spoodle to those of us in the antipodes, i.e. a cocker spaniel crossed with a poodle. Aussies tend not to put ‘poo’ and, er, ‘cock’ in the same sentence, let alone the same word, if we can help it LOL. My own writing companion is the gorgeous and sassy Aeryn Spoodle-Wolf. You might have met her in this earlier post.)
What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months, Helena?
Hmm, I’m working on book 4 of the Miss Underhay series and I also have plans for a stand alone murder mystery. We’ll have to see how that all goes. I may even find time for a novella.
That sounds wonderful. What would be a dream come true for you?
Writing wise, I would love to see the Miss Underhay series on TV. There has been some interest and if anyone is listening it’s still available. My daughter wants a film, mainly because she thinks Beyonce should play Vivian Delaware, a slightly shady OTT jazz singer who appears in the first book, Murder at The Dolphin Hotel.
Oh, i’d love to see those stories on the little – or big – screen too! Fingers crossed. Thank you so much for sharing so much interesting information! I can’t wait to read more of Miss Underhay.
Murder at the Dolphin Hotel is available as ebook, paperback and audiobook
June 1933. Kitty Underhay is a modern, independent woman from the top of her shingle bob to the tip of her t-strap heels. She prides herself on the reputation of her family’s ancient hotel on the blustery English coast. But then a body is found, rooms are ransacked and rumours begin to circulate that someone is on the hunt for a valuable stolen ruby – a ruby that Kitty’s mother may have possessed when she herself went missing during the Great War. Before she can do more than flick a duster, Kitty finds herself in the midst of a murder investigation.
When the local police inspector shows no signs of solving the shocking crimes plaguing the hotel, Kitty steps briskly into the breach. Together with ex-army captain Matthew Bryant, her new hotel security officer, she is determined to decipher this mystery and preserve not only the name of her hotel, but also the lives of her guests.
Could there be a cold-blooded killer under her own roof? And what connects the missing jewel to the mystery from Kitty’s own past?
It’s 2020! I’m not sure how we suddenly arrived at 2020, but here it is. A new month, a new year, a new decade.
And many, many new books to read. Yay!
2019 was a stand out year for me in both reading and writing (see next week’s post for more about that). I met many great books, and authors, for the first time. In this post, I’m listing my Top 10 of 2019. I’m dividing them My Way, in alphabetical order by genre, because numbers are too hard, don’t you think? I’ve already made a resolution to do a top 20 at the end of this year … 10 is too few!
All of these books found me with a permanent smile of pure enjoyment on my face, cover to cover. Except when things got scary, of course. I recommend them all, especially if your taste in reading matter matches mine.
Too many to choose from, of course, when we start talking about my favourite genre. However, for sheer ingenuity and enjoyment, I’m nominating Desdemona and the Deep by CSE Cooney. I loved every baroque word of this glorious adventure. I reviewed this for Aurealis and named it one of my two favourite ‘books of the year’. Yes, we were allowed to choose TWO.
Only two! LOL
This was quite a crowded field for me this year. The story which has lingered longest is Voyage of the Dogs by Greg Van Eekhout. I just loved the Barkonauts on the crippled spaceship Laika trying their best to find a home. Dogs and space travel. How could I resist? Read my review here.
This is of course another favourite genre for me, which always makes it difficult to choose. Yes, I know: all these are difficult to choose. Right up there is The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. I am a dedicated reader of Barker’s wonderful writing, and this did not disappoint. A clever and touching re-telling of the Trojan War story. Read my review here.
My second nominated ‘book of the year’ for Aurealis was Icefall by Stephanie Gunn. Maggie and her wife Aisha travel to the planet of Icefall so that Maggie can climb the mountain that nobody has ever survived … I was enthralled! Space, diversity, adventure, romance, and AI. Perfect.
I was lucky enough to read the whole series for Aurealis this year, and Queens of the Sea by Kim Wilkins was a fabulous conclusion to a sword-and-sorcery adventure about five royal sisters. My favourite is of course Bluebell who is the warrior sister, with her own special magic.
Can you believe I’ve started reading some witchy books? My 2019 favourite was The Lights Go Out in Lychford by Paul Cornell. This short novella, which I reviewed in Aurealis, is very well crafted and great fun, and definitely makes me want to read more about the Witches of Lychford. You’ll devour it in one gulp and come up slightly scared, mostly reassured, and looking for more.
That’s the list for 2019. I’ve already started a list for 2020, but more about that next week. In the meantime, happy reading, happy writing.
Nicola Pryce writes romances featuring Cornwall, adventure, drama, handsome heroes, and foregrounding remarkable women – an irresistible combination. If you’re a bit keen on Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark, or Jane Austen’s Captain Wentworth, or any well-written historical fiction, then you need to meet Nicola asap. Not in 1773. Now!
*Plus read on for a bonus scene!*
Welcome, Nicola. It’s great to meet you. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?
Nicola: If I have to reveal secrets, then it’s that I sail, certainly, but not across vast oceans. I’m more of a harbour hopper, sailing in and out of the towns and secret coves in Cornwall that I describe in my books. My characters inhabit my world, only 226 years before me. I follow their footsteps – every mile they walk, I walk; I have been to every harbour they anchor in, every river they row up, and every inn they dine in. Every mad dash they make across Bodmin Moor, I’m racing behind them. The houses they live in are all there, the streets they walk, the moonlit rose gardens and clifftops where they meet. And I wake to the same hammering in the shipyard, the same bleating of the sheep, the same crowing of the cockerel.
That’s great to know! What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?
My favourite scene is in The Captain’s Girl. My aristocratic heroine, Celia Cavendish, finds herself on a fast cutter in the charge of the rather secretive Captain Arnaud Lefèvre. It is two in the morning, the wind is gentle, the stars bright above them. Captain Lefèvre serves freshly caught seabass, grilled on a bed of herbs; they drink Chablis, watch a shooting star, and all the while the south coast of Cornwall is drawing closer. As she breathes the salt air, relishing the wind in her hair, Celia feels free for the first time in her life. At daybreak, she must return to rigid protocol and social niceties, but more importantly, she must explain her sudden absence.
Oooh, how intriguing! If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?
Badly! I could see it hadn’t gone well when I saw Madame Merrick staring down at me from the first floor of her dressmaking establishment above Pengelly’s Shipyard. The sun was glinting on her lorgnettes and knew that as soon as I opened the door, her hawk-like eyes would pin me into submission.
And I was right. Her silk petticoats rustled as she swung to face me. Elowyn and Mrs Pengelly took refuge in the storeroom, but I knew I must stand my ground.
‘A figment of your imagination? Her French accent is always more noticeable when she’s cross. ‘I think not!’
I had to be brave. Most would turn and run, but I had to explain.
‘You’re a character in my stories, Madame Merrick. You don’t exist off the pages of my books.’
A rise in her perfectly arched eyebrows, a slight ruffle in the feathers of her headdress, and then a smile – and it’s always worrying when Madam Merrick smiles.
‘Well, perhaps it is not such a bad thing. Maybe it is better they think you have fabricated my existence. Yes, let them think that – let them believe, I do not exist. It might well work in my favour. Will you take a glass of punch with me?’
I had to say I would, but only a small glass as I know only too well what goes into Madam Merrick’s punch.
Oh, that’s marvellous, Nicki, thank you so much! An extra scene. Yippee!
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?
I was a dreamy child, a boarder from the age of eight in a school with limited television and a large library and I spent rather more time reading than I should – even finishing Gone with The Wind by Margaret Mitchell in orchestra practice with tears rolling down my cheeks!
I read everything I could, from Agatha Christie detective novels to John Wyndham’s science fiction, but mainly I read historical fiction. I loved Jean Plaidy, Anya Seton, Elizabeth Goudge, Georgette Heyer, Huge Walpole, R F Delderfield, as well as all the Angelique books which we had to cover in brown paper! I did English A level and I enjoyed discovering the Classics.
At 42, I completed an Open University degree and found myself drawn to the eighteenth century and that has certainly influenced the books I write. My favourite author is Jane Austen, but it was Daphne du Maurier and Winston Graham who introduced me to Cornwall through their books.
The Rebecca and Poldark effect, eh? Perfect. Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?
I left school at 18 telling everyone I was going to write a historical novel, but my nursing career and my three children took up all of my time.
Ten years ago, at 52, I decided my children needed to know the real me. They knew me as their mother, and a nurse, but they didn’t know the stories that were always in my mind. I had never written anything down, but I decided to return to the child I was, to the incurable romantic who had read her way through school. So I began writing my first novel – Pengelly’s Daughter. It took me three years. I had never written anything before, but it was picked up by an agent, and then Corvus Books wanted a second book, and a third and a fourth.
What would I say to my myself ten years ago? I’d say, ‘Sit down, take a deep breath because you’re NEVER going to believe this …!’
Indeed, what a fabulous story. Good for you! What’s next for you in the world of writing?
I’m currently writing the fifth book in my series. Each book is written through the eyes of a different heroine. You get to know the new heroine in the previous books and so Book 5 follows The Cornish Lady. It’s now 1799 and Amelia Carew is facing a terrible dilemma.
You can follow the order on my website http://nicolapryce.co.uk/ but all my stories can be read as stand-alone books. I put photos to illustrate the history behind my stories on my website, so there’s background information as well.
Uh-oh, that’s a few more for my TBR pile – but thank you so much, these sound wonderful. And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?
This is such a difficult question because, let’s face it, the trouble with books is that you get to fall in love with so many heroines as well as heroes. I would, of course, love to be Elizabeth Bennet, but – and I might regret this – I think I’m going to go for the daring-do, the energy and romance, and the sheer glamour of Marguerite St Just.
I’d like to be beautiful, graceful, witty, highly intelligent and I’d get to go to fabulous balls and wear stunning silk gowns. I’d have the whole of London falling at my feet, and I’d speak fluent French. I’d also have the very good fortune of discovering that the man I loved, and who had disappointed me so very terribly, is none other than the divine Scarlet Pimpernel.
I’d be just as cross with Sir Percy, just as hurt and disappointed; just as petrified of Citizen Chauvelin, and just as desperate to save my brother. But I’d be her, so I’d have her courage – her extraordinary bravery as she sets off across the channel to save her husband. Yes, can I be her, please? The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy.
Thank you so much Clare for inviting me to share your Last Word of the Week. I’ve had a lovely time answering your questions.
Thank you Nicola, you’ve been a great guest and I’d love to talk again – how about when Cornish Saga 5 appears?! In the meantime, of course Baroness Orczy would love to host you in her novel :-).
Belinda lives in country Victoria (Australia) with her devoted and beloved husband, surrounded by books, cat-fur, and half-eaten cake. Belinda divides her days between writing rom-coms, baking, and indulging her love of comic books.
Belinda’s happy and uplifting novels are often described as ‘funny’ and ‘flirty’, and maybe that’s a reflection of herself as well as her style. I think I’ve just met an incurable romantic!
Welcome, Belinda, it’s lovely to meet you. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?
Opening with the tough questions! What do I think people ought to know? Well, I suppose they ought to know that my books are lovely, will leave you feeling fuzzy, and feeling good and, now that I’ve been unleashed on the world, there’s no stopping me.
Seriously, though, I’m a mid-thirties (still clutching that demographic) girl who loves the love. I bake and cook and wrangle my cats, and my husband is pretty awesome, too.
Baking! Anytime you want to drop something by… Hehe! What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?
There’s on particular scene I love in An Impossible Thing Called Love where William and Emmy explore London together. They tend to do a lot of that, but there’s one moment I especially love where they’re wandering about the Tower Bridge together, talking about the building, the sites around them, and generally enjoying one of their first bits of togetherness in a few years.
If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?
I’ll still with William for this one (An Impossible Thing Called Love). He’d probably laugh, tell you you’re wrong, and continue on his merry way. I mean, he’s still loud enough in my head that he could get a sequel, so I’m quite sure he’d never believe you.
I think I’d like a sequel with the gorgeous William… Oh, let’s get back to the questions! 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?
There’s been so many over the years. As a child, I read a lot of Roald Dahl. I was fascinated with The Witches for a while and borrowed that whenever I could. Baby-Sitters Club books also featured in my childhood. I think my teen years involved quite a bit of science-fiction (Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park in particular).
As an adult, I moved into light-hearted rom-coms and women’s fiction. I think I started putting some serious thought into writing when I stumbled onto Mhairi McFarlane and Lindsey Kelk, and I thought of how much I’d love to produce something so fun.
Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?
Please start writing now. Write and work hard. It will be okay.
I think it will be more than OK! What’s next for you in the world of writing?
I have a lovely little Christmas novella due out in November, titled One Week ‘til Christmas. It’s gorgeous, and is about Isobel and Tom. Isobel finds herself in London just before Christmas as a political reporter. As an odd-job, she’s sent to interview Tom. They form a bond, and explore London together in the week Isobel has left in London.
That sounds like a perfect holiday read. And finally:Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?
Oh, I’d have to say Emmy – because I’m a little in love with William (can you tell?).
Yes I can tell! Thank you so much Emmy – I mean Belinda – for having this week’s Last Word!
Liz Eeles, author of cheerful, uplifting romantic comedies, is my guest today on Last Word of the Week.
Liz lives on the UK’s South Coast with her husband, their grown-up children having moved out. Although she *says* she misses them, she enjoys having more time for writing – sorry, kids! Liz writes funny, feel-good novels set in the gorgeous Cotswolds and Cornwall, which gives her a great excuse to go there on *research trips* aka ‘holidays’. Liz has previously worked as a journalist and press officer, but now she is lucky enough to write novels full-time. Liz loves sci-fi programmes and still harbours a childhood crush on Captain Kirk. Ah, a woman of my stamp methinks…
Welcome, Liz! Thank you so much for joining me. Can you tell me about when you first realised that you are a writer.
Liz: That would be the moment an email arrived in my inbox from digital publisher Bookouture, offering me a contract to write three romantic comedies. I’d been working as a journalist for years so I guess I was already a writer, but being a published author seemed like nothing more than a pipedream – until Bookouture came along, took a look at the fiction I’d been writing in my spare time, and decided to sign me up. Now I get to write novels every day, and my fifth book, A Summer Escape And Strawberry Cake At The Cosy Kettle, has just been published.
Fifth book – wonderful, congratulations. Do you rely more on dreams, imagination, and planning?
I love making up whole new worlds and imagining the people who live there. My first three novels are set in fictional Salt Bay on the wild Cornish coast. And my most recent two romcoms are set in the Cotswolds town of Honeyford, which exists only in my head. So imagination is all important – but I’d never finish a novel without lots of planning to keep me on track.
Sounds like a perfect combination. What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
Publication days are always special. My first one was mostly nerve-racking, as the book I’d worked so hard on was launched into the world. But now I’m on my fifth publication day, I’ve settled down and really enjoy them. Another highlight has been receiving lovely messages from readers who have enjoyed my books.
That’s great. Reader feedback makes it so real! What are you most looking forward to at the moment?
Writing related: I’m busy writing my Christmas book and can’t wait to see its cover – Bookouture’s covers are brilliant so I’m expecting lots of snowy festiveness. Writing a Christmas book in the summer, while I’m sitting in the garden, slathered in sun cream, is rather surreal.
Not writing related: my first grandchild is due at the end of August and I’m very excited. I’ve started loitering in supermarket baby aisles and welling up at the sight of teeny tiny clothes.
What a divine combination! Best wishes for both Christmas and baby! If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Make friends. Writing can be lonely if it’s just you and your computer, but there’s a huge writing community out there that’s very welcoming. I made contact with like-minded people on social media, joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and started going to a monthly meet-up of local writers. We shared the ups and downs of trying to get published, and I made some great friends.
And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character?
As a child, I longed to be a Doctor Who companion, or one of Captain Kirk’s trusty crew members on the Starship Enterprise – though preferably not one in a red jumper because they seemed to get killed off. I’d still quite like to be either of those, actually, and to travel the galaxy.
Great choices there, Liz! Mind if I join you? And many thanks for sharing with us here on last Word of the Week.
Phyllis M. Newman is my guest on today’s Last Word of the Week. Born in New Orleans, Phyllis spent her formative years in Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, and on a dairy farm in Ross Country, Ohio. After a long career in finance and human resources at The Ohio State University, she turned her attention to writing fiction. She published a noir mystery, “Kat’s Eye” in 2015, and “The Vanished Bride of Northfield House” in 2018. Today she lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and three perpetually unimpressed cats, ghostwatchers all.
LWOTW: Lovely to meet you, Phyllis. Tell me, when did you write your first story?
Phyllis: I was thirteen and attending junior high school. It was a murder mystery entitled M is for Murder. (At the time I was living in Dade County Florida, murder capital of the world.) I still have a copy of it somewhere (and since then I think someone stole my title.) Maybe I could brush it up and finish it? At the time, I didn’t have the maturity and discipline to complete it with a well thought out plot and exciting characters. I do remember that the main character was named after my best friend Rhudell.
Ahem, murder capital of the world…*shivers*…You totally should revisit that book! What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
Only if you dream can you write. Only if you have an imagination can you create fiction. Planning, not so much. I prefer to start out with a strong character who has a set of problems and just write as if I am that person. I develop in my mind only a vague idea of where she will go and what she will do and about my major themes. Those details come to me as I flesh out the story.
Case in point, when I started The Vanished Bride of Northfield House, all I knew about Anne, my main character, was that she was orphaned, she secured training as a typewriter, she could see spirits, and it was set in England, 1922. You can see that any writer could develop volumes out of such a situation. It’s quite exciting to write in this way. It’s an adventure.
I love your method! What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
When a traditional publisher accepted my manuscript for publication. And I got a cash advance. And a very professional editor worked closely with me for months to polish and improve the writing. After a year, I was holding a book in my hand with my name on it. Talk about dreams!
That’s a completely magical feeling. What are you most busy with at the moment?
I am polishing a finished manuscript, a novel in the same genre as The Vanished Bride of Northfield House. It is another gothic mystery with elements of the supernatural and a suspenseful romance. And, of course, trying to market and publicize my two other publications.
If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Just write. Stop dreaming and put your fingers to the keyboard (or pen to paper. Whatever floats your boat!) The more you write, the better you are at it. And read. Learn what makes a good story. And don’t forget the craft of writing. Good story telling is an art, but good writing is a craft that anyone can learn. But you can only learn by doing. That’s more than one thing, but all of the above is important.
Excellent advice there, thank you. And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?
I wear yellow, the color of sunshine, at every opportunity
How lovely! Thank you so much, Phyllis, for being my guest on today’s last Word of the Week.
LJ Evans, my guest on today’s Last Word of the Week, is an award winning author who lives in the California Central Valley with her husband, daughter, and the three terrors called cats. She’s been writing compulsively since she was a little girl and will often pull the car over to write when a song lyric strikes her. While she currently spends her days teaching 1st grade in a local public school, she spends her free time reading and writing, as well as binge watching original shows like The Crown, Victoria, and Stranger Things.
If you ask her the one thing she won’t do, it’s pretty much anything that involves dirt—sports, gardening, or otherwise. But she loves to write about all of those things, and her first published heroine was pretty much involved with dirt on a daily basis. Which is exactly what LJ loves about fiction novels—the characters can be everything you’re not and still make their way into your heart.
LWOTW: Welcome, LJ, it’s such pleasure to meet you! Can you tell us about when you first realised that you are a writer?
LJ Evans: This question always has me stalling out. I mean…I’ve written since I was a little girl. Stories by myself. Stories with my sister. Novels. Screenplays. I published my first book, MY LIFE AS A COUNTRY ALBUM, because my sister “made me.” It even won an award, and the first 3 books in the series were nominated for and won some awards, and yet I still didn’t feel like a “writer.” I didn’t feel like I deserved that “tag.” Then, I joined a group of other writers online in December who were talking about all the same things as me. Plot problems, inspiration problems, publishing dilemmas, and it finally clicked. I am a writer. I am an author. It doesn’t matter what happens with the books I write (even if no one reads them). I love to create worlds and characters and stories, and that’s all it takes to be a writer.
You are SO a writer! Do you rely more on dreams, imagination, and planning?
Imagination. I get a LOT of inspiration from music. I’ll be listening to a song and the lyrics and I’ll see a whole scene or a whole novel plot including the characters and sometimes even their names. Is that a little bit of dreams and imagination? I don’t know. I do know that I’m not a planner. I don’t plot out stories before I start, so sometimes that means I have to start over or do more rewrites, but for me, I have to just learn the characters and the story as a I go. I’ve also learned that this is okay. To not plan. There is no one way to write just like there is not just one book that fits everyone. Be you as you write, and that will shine through.
All my books have playlists…in fact, music is so entwined in my books that each chapter starts with a song title. My latest book has over 30 songs tied to it.
That’s completely inspirational. I love it, thank you! What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
Having my first book win the Independent Author Network’s Young Adult Book of the Year was pretty cool. Having no idea, but being nominated for an UTOPiCON Award was huge. But really, the true HIGHLIGHT of my career has been when people I don’t know reach out to me and tell me that my book impacted them in some way. I’ve had lots of parents of Type 1 diabetes children reach out to me, and it makes me realize that I’ve brought attention to a disease that is often overlooked because a lot of people don’t get that Type 1 is NOTHING like Type 2 diabetes. People don’t understand that Type 1 can kill you in a heart beat or slowly and painfully. I love that my story has reached a community of people and wound its way into their hearts. That for me, is the best gift that I can ever have been given back.
That is wonderful. To touch other lives in such a positive way must be very rewarding. Congratulations! What are you most looking forward to at the moment?
Summer. With time to cuddle the cats, time to see my girlie who is on her own creative writing journey at college, and time to read and write.
Oh…did you mean writing? 😉I’m definitely looking forward to writing some spin offs to my last book with characters that people have been asking for. Mac Truck to the rescue!
Well, writing and life are intertwined, aren’t they! If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Don’t get hung up on how others are telling you to write. Write your way. Write your thoughts. Let “you” shine through. But do it a lot. Practice a lot. Write a lot. That doesn’t mean it has to be every day or a certain word count. It’s okay to ebb and flow in the volume of your writing and what you write. Just do it with your own authenticity. Then… TAKE THE RISK to put it out in the world. It’ll be worth it. I promise.
And finally:Who would you be if you were a fictional character?
I WANT to be Jenny Weasley. She was cool, quiet, and powerful. If I can’t be her, then I’ll be Veronica Mars. Do you have the Veronica Mars show in Australia? It has been “off” for several years, but has a new season coming out on Hulu in July! Veronica is played by Kristen Bell, and she’s like a modern-day sassy, bada$$ Nancy Drew. I’m not sure I’ve ever been that sassy, and I’d love to be.
Great choices there. And isn’t it wonderful how writing allows us to let out our sassiest selves?
Thank you so much for speaking with me today. A truly inspirational interview. Plus music! What could be better?
This story is based on what is (to non-Icelanders) a little-known piece of history: Turkish pirates raided Iceland in the 17th century to capture slaves – slaves for sale in the open markets.
Slavery was big business at the time. Many colonial powers were raiding Africa and any poorly-defended island or beach they could find to capture people for the slave market. Horrifying but true. Exploitation that was open and ‘fair game’ to the slave traders who thought nothing of capturing humans for sale. Slavery continues in many places and across many societies, and I wonder whether we are more civilised or less civilised than our predecessors just because we push it out of sight. But back to the book!
The evocation of Icelandic life is wonderful, and I was fully immersed in the characters (who are based on historical figures hinted at in old records) and their reactions to the raid. Asta, the preacher’s wife who is our main interest, is quite complex and not always as obedient and hard-working as she ‘could/should’ be, according to the standards of the village and the time. She is a bit of a dreamer, and that helps her survive the horrific events of the raid, the repulsive sea journey, birthing a child onboard, the slave market and her life in captivity (which is not as grim as it might have been).
There is a also a bit about the politics of Iceland and a fair bit about seafaring. I didn’t find the sea pirates very sympathetic although it is clear that we get many sides of the story. I didn’t quite feel Asta’s attraction to her captor, who had sold off her son and kept her young daughter in his harem, but the scenes of her inner struggles with her circumstances were intriguing.
A lot remains unresolved at the end of this story, but this is a great way into Icelandic history. Highly recommended.