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.
Paula Harmon writes terrific books so many of you will know of her already (such as Murder Brittanica). I’m very glad to introduce Paula to LWOTW so we all have a chance to get to know a little more about her.
LWOTW: Welcome, Paula! Tell us, when did you write your first story?
Paula: The first I can remember was when I was about six or so. It was about the Clangers because I was a huge fan and fundamentally wanted to live in a world a lot more exciting than my own.
And the Clangers were always exciting, I agree! What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
I have very vivid dreams and they often lead to stories if I can remember them long enough to write them down. I’m also a great day-dreamer and spend a lot of time wondering ‘what if…’ – What if I went somewhere different? What if that person is in disguise? What if I found another world behind that door? Having said that I do plan stories a bit – the longer ones that is.
That sounds like a great combination of writerly imagination and organisation. What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
I think getting wonderful feedback from readers and interacting with them at writers’ events. I have read from ‘Kindling’, ‘The Advent Calendar’ and ‘Murder Britannica’ and it’s fantastic when people respond with laughter or sighs or surprise in all the places you want them to. And it was great to be able to publish ‘The Cluttering Discombobulator’ in time to give it to my mother as an 80th birthday present. It is a tribute to my eccentric late father.
What are you most busy with at the moment?
I’m working on a sequel to ‘Murder Britannica’ which I hope to have out in 2019 if possible and on the fifth in the ‘Caster and Fleet’ Series. (By the time you read this, the fourth – ’The Case of the Masquerade Mob’ – will have been out a month.)
If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Write something regularly, even if it’s a couple of sentences or some dialogue – it keeps your writing muscles supple and you never know what it might lead to.
Great advice there! And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?
A deep wine red.
Thank you so much Paula for speaking with me this week.
Louise Walters, the imaginative powerhouse behind Louise Walters Books (open for submissions!), is today’s guest. Louise Walters Books is a small indie publisher focussing on high quality output in adult and YA fiction in all genres. Louise is a first reader, and also a writer, and now editor and publisher.
LWOTW: Welcome Louise! So, when did you write your first story?
Louise: When I was ten years old. It was about a family of three children who spend the summer holidays with their cousin in her big rambling house in the country. It was full of adventures, and very episodic. I still have it!
That sounds like a perfect read for a holiday. What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
What do I think of them? All three are important for writing. I day dream about my characters. I imagine conversations with them. I plan, to a degree; more with screenplays, less with novels.
That’s a few interesting conversations you must have. What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
I’ve had some amazing experiences since I found my agent for my first novel, Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase, back in 2012. My debut being published was really something, a dream come true.
Long live such dreams, eh? What are you most busy with at the moment?
I am now a small indie publisher as well as a writer, and working on my authors’ novels keeps me very busy! I’ve been fortunate to find some wonderfully talented writers and I can’t wait to share their work with readers. Fallible Justice by Laura Laakso is the first book published by Louise Walters Books.
That’s marvellous – more power to you! If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Don’t aspire. Write. Rid yourself of romantic notions of “being a writer”. Writers write, that’s all there is to it!
That’s great advice! And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?