This is a post that appeared on Gaie Sebold’s blog at the end of October 2014. She very kindly asked me ten intelligent questions. Here are my answers
1: The first published short story you have listed on your website was in 1998 – were you already writing and submitting novels then? How long have you been writing?
I started my first novel when I was fifteen and managed six whole chapters, written in longhand and typed, very slowly, on a borrowed Imperial 66. I’d written two novels before I had my first short story published (which was, incidentally, only the second short story I ever wrote). I was a bit in awe of the whole publisher/author thing and clueless about submitting. It was only getting to know writers on the web, from about 1996 onwards, that taught me a little more about presenting and submitting my finished work. I did my first Milford SF Writers’ Conference [http://www.milfordSF.co.uk] in 1998 and meeting real writers, face to face, gave me a huge boost and taught me an enormous amount about not only writing, but the nitty-gritty of publishing.
2: Have you ever found the process of publication frustrating? What advice would you give to authors who are struggling with it?
I think we all struggle with the lead times for publications and, when submitting to an agent or a publisher, the length of time it takes to get a reply, even a negative one. Empire of Dust, which is published by DAW in November, spent three years on the desk of an editor at another major publishing house. I left it there because that editor had said: ‘The first couple of chapters look interesting,’ which is flattering and, frankly, encouraging enough to pin your hopes on. However three years later, despite several nudges from me and promises to read it from her, nothing was happening, so I withdrew the book and started over from the beginning again. I’m pretty sure the editor had not actually read beyond the first two chapters. I understand. Editors are busy people, but it can be frustrating.
I have to say, however, that DAW is a lovely company to work with. Though it’s part of the Penguin Group, now, it’s still got the ethos of a family firm. My editor, Sheila Gilbert, is hugely experienced and extremely insightful. She’s been a pleasure to work with.
The only advice I can give is to be persistent. Stick at it despite the frustrations.
3: You are a professional folk singer and tour manager for folk artists: is folk music a strong influence on your writing?
I’m sure there is bleed over. Sometimes a turn of phrase in a song will slap me around the chops and make me realise I need to look at something from a different angle. And I have written a YA novel based on the Tam Lin story. I think that’s obligatory if you’re a folk singer. It hasn’t been published yet, however, and at the moment it’s on a back-burner as I’m working on the three books that are part of my book deal with DAW.
4: Who or what do you feel have been other major influences on your work?
That’s always a question I get stuck on. We are all composites of our life experience. I think my novels have little bits of everything from TV and movies and all the books I’ve ever read in my life, plus experiences of what I’ve done, from (lots of) horse riding to bringing up children and keeping a band on the road.
5: How do you relax when you’re working on a book?
I don’t. I’m pretty obsessive and can spend sixteen hours a day in the office, either writing or doing the day job. (That’s the booking agent thing for folk bands and artists touring the UK.) It’s not necessarily sixteen productive hours, of course, but I always feel that if I’m in front of the computer I’m working even if I’m blogging or answering email. I love reading, but one thing I can’t do when I’m working on the first draft of a book, however, is read fiction. I may have a non-fiction book on the go, but my fiction reading drops right off the bottom end of the scale. I try to read and blog a minimum of fifty books a year. This year because I’ve been editing one book while writing the first draft of the next, I’ve reached the end of October already and have only managed nine books so far. It doesn’t stop me buying books of course. My Strategic Book Reserve is enormous, just waiting for me to have the time to do it justice. I don’t watch much TV either. At the moment I only stop for Dr Who. I just bought the second season of Arrow, but I won’t let myself watch it until I’ve finished the first draft of the current work in progress. (I’m working on Crossways, the sequel to Empire of Dust, due out in August 2015.)
6: You have two SF books coming out, and one which would more aptly be described as historical fantasy. It’s refreshing to see a debut author publishing in two different subgenres. Did this cause any difficulties when you approached agents or publishers? Do you have any advice for writers who want to do the same?
DAW acquired my historical fantasy first and then asked what else I’d got. When my editor heard I had a completed space opera she was immediately interested. She read it, bought it, ordered a sequel and, in fact, both of those will be out before the fantasy. Way back in the 1990s I made the mistake of writing two linked fantasy novels without thinking it through. The second one was never going to sell until, and unless, the first one did, so effectively I wasted a couple of years. I learned my lesson. Every time I started a new project after that I made sure it was something a) that I wanted to write and b) that was completely different from anything I’d written before. So by the time I got my publishing deal I had a backlog of seven completed novels: two very different historical fantasies (different periods and locations); two linked second-world fantasies; a space opera; a YA fantasy novel and a middle grade fantasy novel featuring horses and magic (not magic horses).
7: Do you plan to branch out into other subgenres – or other genres altogether?
I’ve always written fantasy and science fiction and I find it hard to imagine not writing SF of some kind, though some of it has been fairly light, and some has been much darker and more morally ambiguous. My short stories have ranged from rewritten fairy tales to hard science fiction and from slightly scatty fantasy romances to dark fantasy bordering on horror. I can see me branching out into subgenres of F & SF, but not changing genres altogether.
8: Do you have any further plans for books in either of the worlds you’re already writing in?
Empire of Dust will be followed by a sequel, Crossways. They are already contracted, but I have plans for a third one in the series and possibly more. My first two linked novels are also set in the same universe as Empire of Dust, though possibly a thousand years in the future, when a colony founded in the Crossways book has become isolated. It reads like second world fantasy, but there’s no magic, only humans with psionic talents who may well be descended from the settlers in Crossways.
My historical fantasy (I’m not being coy about the name. Its working title is Winterwood, but that may not be what it ends up being called.) can be a stand-alone, but there’s room for a sequel. It’s already in the same universe as my middle-grade horse book even though it’s separated by 200 years.
9: Are there trends in SFF you find interesting at the moment?
I think, like many people, I’m holding my breath to see what will follow ‘grimdark’ and ‘dystopian YA’. It’s interesting to see fantasies based on cultures other than generic Medieval European, I don’t know how much of a trend that is, but diversity is always welcome.
10: What would you like to say to your future readers?
Buy my book. Buy my book. Buy my book. But seriously, I’d also like to say thanks for joining me on the journey. Every new reader has a different take on the books they read. We, as authors, may think we know what we’re writing about, but readers will always absorb different things from our words and put their own spin on a story. I’m always happy to hear from readers, so please talk to me.
Also I’d like to say that in these days of fewer book outlets on the high street leading to fewer opportunities to browse, that readers are not just the consumers of the publishing industry, they are a vital link in transmitting information about new books. Word or mouth, blogging, Goodreads reviews, Facebook and Twitter are now an essential part of getting the information out to potential new readers. Please, if you enjoy a book, (not just my book, but any book) talk about it, email your friends, mention it on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook, stick it on Pinterest, blog about it, leave a review on Goodreads and Amazon. You have an important part to play in the health of the publishing industry. Together we are mighty. Thank you.
Milford SF Writers’ Conference: www.milfordSF.co.uk
Northwrite Critique Group: www.northwrite.com
Jacey’s music agency: www.jacey-bedford.com