Cathy Hayward Interview: “I read a lot of historical fiction because I love reading about different times in history and it also helps my own writing”

Check out my interview with The Girl In The Maze author Cathy Hayward, who talks me through how she came to create her debut novel and what’s next for her writing career.

Please let me know about The Girl In The Maze. How did you find the process of getting the novel written and preparing for publication?

The Girl in the Maze is historical fiction about three women, generations apart, linked by one terrible tragedy. It explores the theme of mothering and being mothered. I started a creative writing course in 2015 and somewhere in the second year, I realised that what I was writing was not lots of smaller pieces but part of a greater whole, which eventually became The Girl in the Maze. My mother, with whom I’d had a difficult relationship, had died while I was on the course.

It was while I was clearing out her flat that I was inspired with the main part of the plot – a woman discovering something in her late mother’s possessions which sets her on a trail of discovery about her mother’s life. I didn’t discover anything in my mother’s flat, but writing the story was a form of therapy in itself and I now feel at peace with our relationship which is why the book is dedicated to her. I tinkered with it in 2017 and 2018 but it was only in 2019 that I started to properly work on it and I finished it in the first Covid lockdown. My old writing tutor, who had helped me get it ready for publication, suggested I enter the Lost the Plot writing competition which I went on to win. The organisers, Agora Books, then offered me a publishing deal – an amazing moment. But that was after I’d had loads and loads of rejections from agents and publishers.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards history fiction and darker themes?


I didn’t consciously set out to write a dark book. I think you just write what you know. At the time I started writing in earnest, I had just lost both parents and was struggling to come to terms with my relationship with my mother and the fact that could never now be fixed. I knew loose details of my mother’s life and ended up writing a fictionalised account of her experiences to help me with my grieving. I also did an English and History degree back in the 1990s, so writing historical fiction allows me to explore both elements.

What is your career background and how did you come to write a novel?

I trained as a journalist and edited a variety of trade publications, several of which were so niche they were featured on Have I Got News for You. I then moved into the world of PR. I’ve been around writing all my life but hadn’t written creatively since I was at school. It was hitting 40 in 2015 which made me realise it was now or never. I signed up for a creative writing course with the intention of writing a novel and went from there.

Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?

I love a routine. I used to try to fit writing in and around work and life and it just always fell by the wayside. But once Covid hit, I used the time I would have been travelling to London to write and quickly got into a really good routine. I now write between 5 and 7am and then get the kids up and get on with my day job. It works really well, although I do have to go to bed early. My first two novels were inspired by old family history. I came up with the idea for my third while watching a documentary.

What style of writing do you enjoy yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?

I enjoy a mix. I read a lot of historical fiction because I love reading about different times in history and it also helps my own writing. I’ve just finished all three of Stacey Halls books and particularly loved The Familiars. But I can’t resist a good thriller – the sort of book you read in one sitting because it’s just so good. This year I’ve been reading many fellow debut authors books, both to support them and see what else is out there. It’s been a great opportunity to read outside my usual genres – Neema Shah’s debut Kololo Hill about Ugandan Asians fleeing from Uganda after Idi Amin ordered their expulsion was incredibly moving and gave me real insight into the refugee experience.

If you could collaborate with any person, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?


I’ve always wondered what it would be like to collaborate with someone on a writing project. I see fiction books which are co-written and wonder how it’s done. Writing is such a solitary and personal thing, I wonder whether the co-writers fight about where the plot is going! That said, I’d love any opportunity to work with Kate Morton because I adore her epic books about family secrets.

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I’m just starting to go through the edits for my second novel, provisionally titled The Fortune Teller’s Promise, which sees university student Rosie home for the holidays to finish her dissertation which is about the Great War. Her mother suggests she talks to her great-grandmother Edith. Rosie reluctantly visits the old lady but is quickly drawn in by her vivid recollections of the start of the war and her father and brothers joining up to fight. But when Edith repeatedly slips up on dates and locations, Rosie starts to wonder whether her memory is beginning to fail her, or if their family history is not what it seems. 

I studied the Great War at university and loved it, so it’s been wonderful to revisit some of that literature again and do more research. But the story was also inspired by our family history. My late grandmother was engaged to be married to a man who was killed in the Great War.
I’ve also started my third book which is set in the 1970s and explore post-natal depression.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?

One of the judges for the Lost the Plot prize was Laura Pearson, who also published her debut with Agora Books a few years ago and has since had two more books published. She’s been very supportive of me and is very active on Twitter. I’ve just bought all three of her books and am getting started on Missing Pieces, another story about family secrets and intrigue. I’m looking forward to Emily Gunnis’s new book The Midwife’s Secret, which comes out in October and also the second instalment of Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club. I tend to read about two books a month and have a hefty to be read pile!

Huge thanks to Cathy for answering my questions- I’m also reading The Man Who Died Twice and it’s awesome. I’m excited to add The Girl In The Maze to my TBR pile!

C.J. Abazis Interview: “I think of writing as a simulation inside this simulation”

Crime fiction author and software developer talks to me about his work and the influences that drive him.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards darker fiction?

You know about the simulation argument? It’s the idea that, based on an infinite amount of outcomes, we most probably all live in a computer simulation. Well, I think of writing as a simulation inside this simulation. As authors, we simulate alternate realities and characters to prepare our readers for alternate outcomes. Writing “darker fiction” – as you call it – is doing this very knowingly, as if reaching out to the master simulation and trying to mess up its algorithms. It’s the only conceivable freedom.

What is your career background and how did you become a professional writer?

I mostly manage a software development firm. Software development and novel writing share many characteristics. You pick a language, choose frameworks/styles and set down requirements of what needs to be done. In novels it’s “the feel” of the work, what it wants to say, what it leaves behind. Then you write to assemble the plot and go sub-plot by sub-plot, feature-by-feature to make the thing work. Because it has to work. And performance counts in a novel, the same with software, you can never “consume” unnecessary resources, the readers are there to be transported in different worlds, not to play with widgets or investigate your moods. No one cares about your moods except for Spotify.

Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?

I’m a deep conformist; I wear different clothes every day, but they’re of the same brand, same colors and designs. I love doing the same things early in the morning, when I write. Driving to work at exactly the same time. Getting coffee at the same time. We are all Melvin Udalls (As Good as It Gets) in this business, we esteem ritual and sameness and are basically extremely boring people. Otherwise it wouldn’t work. You can never allow drama to spill from the page on to your life and especially vice-versa.

What style of writing do you enjoy yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?

I keep a safe five-year distance from publication to reading and I expect that your smart readers will be doing the same and ignore The Machine Murders until 2026. A book needs to grow organically, you cannot boost it like a Facebook post. So looking at the past five to ten years, I love what Liu Cixin has done with his The Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy. The scope is tremendous. I don’t think any other writer can expand the scope, like him. A daring guy. Beyond literature, I’ve been blown away by Nick Bostrom and his Superintelligence. Couldn’t you tell I’m a Bostrom fan?

If you could collaborate with any person, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Well, I’d love to work with Bostrom for the third novel of The Machine Murders. He has thought and deeply understands our challenges with artificial intelligence and where we should focus our attention in dealing with the control problem. Sometime in the future, it’s going to be a writer, a philosopher and a developer in front of an AGI (artificial general intelligence) agent, trying to save us from turning into paper clips. The politicians and the generals will be useless. We may begin simulating options on this from now.

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

Currently, I’m working on The Machine Murders: Desert Balloons, which will be the second book in the Manos Manu series. It feels better than the first.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?

As I said, I rarely follow the publishing cycle because I think it’s going to be the long tail bringing up marvels like a gold mining pan, that will define my choices. But sometimes I get carried away. And I’m never disappointed by authors like Nassim Taleb, Yuval Harari, Ian McEwan and Kai-Fu Lee – I have pre-ordered his latest, AI 2041 and can’t wait to read it. Ambition is not in shortage in the writer species and these people always deliver on their ambition.

Anything you’d like to add?

I want to thank you Hannah for this interview. Your hands move steadily with the mining pan and the role of great blogs such as the Dorset Book Detective is more important than ever.

Huge thanks to C.J. for answering my questions and writing amazing books: without artists like you we’d have never gotten through the past few months!

Vicki FitzGerald Interview: “The world we live in is a sinister place with an extremely dark underworld that many people do not know exists”

Thriller author Vicki FitzGerald talks to me about her work, the experiences that inspire her work and her exciting future plans.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards darker fiction?

I’ve always preferred crime and horror books. As a child, I would plough through Point Horror novels, while my sister was reading Point Romance. After covering numerous crimes as a Journalist, I decided that I would one day write my own novel. I decided to draw from personal experience. They say write what you know. My first book, Briguella features Journalist, Kate Rivendale AKA me. Kill List explores drugging, which I’ve encountered. I wanted to explore our sinister world and show how bad things happen to good people. One action can change your life forever.


What is your background in writing and how did you get in to writing crime fiction?

After graduating with a BA (Hons) degree in Journalism, I worked for a regional newspaper for a decade before launching my own public relations firm. I was drawn to crime stories covering anything from murders to assaults. Out of the blue a sex attacker attacked 13 women in 13 days in our town. I was reporting at the heart of it and it gave me a huge buzz being part of a major criminal investigation. I decided to draw from my experiences covering the case to create my debut novel, Briguella.


Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?

From true life. The world we live in is a sinister place with an extremely dark underworld that many people do not know exists. I wanted to explore that and ventured onto the dark web. Trust me, I was horrified at what I found in 30 minutes – a hit man an hour away who was willing to kill babies to pensioners.


I always start writing with a cup of tea. In the summer, I work outdoors. I seem to write better with the sun on my face. I also like to write with a glass of wine in the evening. If I’m ever struggling for ideas, I go out and look for places to set a scene or I delve into a binge Netflix session of true crime or thrillers.


What style of writing do you enjoy yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?

I tend to stick with thrillers or non-fiction covering forensic knowledge or those that get into the minds of serial killers. I’m intrigued by killers and what happened in their life to turn them into a murderer. I admire every writer for having the guts to put their soul on paper.


If you could collaborate with any person, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Stephen King. He never gave up on writing despite numerous rejections. After his wife pulled the draft of Carrie out of his bin, he continued writing even though it was out of his comfort zone. It just shows you cannot stop a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively.

Also, Stephen and I have experienced similar traumas with regards to being injured and having to learn to walk again. I guess I admire his fighting spirit.

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

Kill List. I’ve signed with Hollywood agent, Ken Atchity, producer of the blockbuster, The Meg. We are finalising a film treatment for an adaption to a TV series. Either Ken may produce or sell Kill List on to Hollywood producers. Ken compares Kill List to Killing Eve, Breaking Bad, Peppermint, and Prodigal Son. I find that mind-blowing, as they all rank with my favourite shows and films.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?

I’ve recently enjoyed Lucy Clark and Alice Feeney.


Anything you’d like to add?

I just want to encourage others to chase their dreams. If you do not try, you’ll never know.

Thanks for answering my questions, it’s been great to hear from you Vicki. I’m excited for your TV adaptation!

Leye Adenle Interview: “Like most writers, I’ve been writing much, much longer than I’ve been published”

Award-winning author of both short stories and full-length novels Leye Adenle talks me through his work and how he writes in a wide variety of different genres and makes every piece of work deeply compelling.

Tell me about how the books you write. Why do you have such a passion for such a wide range of different genres?

I’ve always enjoyed reading a wide range of genres; horror, romance, thrillers, sci-fi, even literary fiction. If it’s true that you become a writer because you’re a reader, it only makes sense that I would write, or attempt to write, what I love to read. Maybe I’ll add a horror to my thriller and sci-fi one day. Romance is probably the one genre I’m least likely to write – I just don’t believe in love anymore.

You write a lot of short stories: what do you like about this style of writing and how does it compare to writing full-length novels?

The short story format is simply beautiful. To achieve in a few pages what a novel does in hundreds is just elegant. It’s like paintings; what some painters do with great detail, some masters achieve with simple strokes. I love this format above all else.


What is your career background and how did you get into writing professionally?

My background is in economics and computers. You wouldn’t know it by looking at me now, but I used to be a computer nerd. Not anymore. Discovering wine and women cured me. Like most writers, I’ve been writing much, much longer than I’ve been published. As far back as primary school. At some point, I had to justify the hours spent dreaming up stories and writing them down, so I decided to try and get published. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.


Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

I hope not. I hope my writing is so fresh and so original as to be free of tropes and hackneyed terms and all that stuff readers have come to expect and recognise on sight. So original that my works become the tropes of other writers.


What books/ authors do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

I enjoy reading all authors, especially new voices. There is always a new writer to discover: from the past, writers writing in different languages, new writers, not yet published writers. There’s just so much amazing talent out there and I want to experience and enjoy them all.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Lee Child. Why? His Jack Reacher and my Amaka Mbadiwe would make a perfect duo for a thriller.

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

The third book in the Amaka thriller series is currently being copy edited and I’ve already started on the fourth. I’ve also written the first book in a new series – I’m currently editing that.

What are your aims for your future career? Where do you want your writing to take you in 10 years?

I want to keep writing for as long as I live. I hope that 10 years from today, I would have been a successful full-time writer for many years.


Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward in the future?

I am excitedly looking forward to Oyinkan Braithwaite’s next book.


Huge thanks to Leye for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find out more about his work at his website here.

Sophie Anderson Interview: “I generally rate the books that make me weep”

Author Sophie Anderson talks to me about her amazing debut novel The Butterfly Garden and what inspired her to create this gripping book about parental love, motherhood and loss.

Tell me about your book The Butterfly Garden. How you came to define your writing style?

The Butterfly Garden is a book about every mother’s worst nightmare- losing a child. My first child was born days before Madeleine McCann disappeared and I watched the horrendous tragedy play out with my new-born baby in my arms and my hormones going nuts and it affected me on such a visceral level. And it continued to come back to haunt me in the years that followed as I found my path as a mother. Ten years later, I started The Butterfly Garden, a story about motherhood, grief and forgiveness. I like to read emotional women’s fiction, I generally rate the books that make me weep and so this was the sort of book I wanted to write. A book about normal people and how a moments lapse in their integrity can send their normal lives so dramatically off course. But ultimately it is a book about forgiveness and whether a mother can find it in her heart to forgive the son who she blamed for her daughter’s death. In terms of my writing style, I experimented with both first person and third person narratives and ended up using both! I liked the contrast and so weaved the voices of Maggie and Erin together as their stories evolved. And the setting was crucial, I was lucky enough to spend time in both Cornwall and Costa Rica whilst I was writing the novel, two coasts, worlds apart in both geography and culture but both blessed with the humbling and inspiring ocean.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally?

I have always loved books and studied English Literature at university many moons ago. Then I went on to have a career in TV Production which was great fun but just didn’t scratch that creative itch to write. And so after the birth of my fourth child I decided to take some time out of work and enrolled on a creative writing course. I gave myself the four years until my daughter started school to give writing a go and was offered a two book deal with Bookouture just in the nick of time as she started reception in September last year!

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

I wrote most of The Butterfly Garden in a shed at the bottom of my garden hiding from my kids! But I also enjoy writing in cafes, I find the background buzz comforting and inspiring – not that we have been allowed anywhere near a café for a long time but I am looking forward to getting back there. Bizarrely I find that the less time I have to write the more focused and fruitful I am. I wrote my first book with four children under the age of 10 and so had little time for procrastinating. I have since written my second in a matter of months in the last year at the same time as home-schooling the kids in lockdown and whilst it was stressful at times and involved lots of late nights and early mornings it certainly focused the mind on the task in hand!! If I am struggling with something I go for a walk and talk to myself out-loud, trying to work through whatever is blocking me and hoping I don’t come across other ramblers who think me insane!
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

That is really hard!! There are so many amazing writers out there that have been a huge inspiration to me throughout my life but if I had to name one it would be Elizabeth Stroud. I think I could learn so much from her. I am totally in awe of the way that she writes. Not a word is wasted, and yet her characters are so perfectly formed and have such extraordinary depth and complexity. I think Olive Kitteridge is one of the best anti-heroines of our time and could only dream of creating someone so brilliantly flawed and yet somehow lovable.


What books do you like to read and how do they shape your own work?

I like reading well written character lead books. I try to read everything on both the awards and best-sellers lists to see how they have done it! I find it hugely inspiring to see how other authors tell their stories and conjure up their worlds and characters. So much so that I have found myself subconsciously adopting the style of whatever book I am reading at the time and need to do some serious adjusting in later edits to stop my book becoming a total mash-up! Some of my recent sources of inspiration are: Where the Crawdads Sing and the extraordinary sense of place Delia Owens carried through the novel. Hamnet, I love everything Maggie O’Farrell writes but this one was off the dial, her ability to create a character with whom we could feel so much empathy despite being separated by hundreds of years, lots of weeping to be had there! I also loved Small Pleasures, the pacing was so gentle and yet so compelling, reading that book was like snuggling up under a blanket on a rainy day. And I was totally blown away by Sorrows and Bliss and the acerbic wit of her narrator and the way she dealt so masterfully with such delicate subject matters. If I have managed to pull off any iota of these things in my novel I would be delighted!


Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I have recently finished my second book which is due to be published by Bookouture in February next year and I am pretty excited about it! It is a whole new story and set of characters but has some similar themes of family secrets to The Butterfly Garden and is set between Dorset and The Philippines!
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

I have just seen that there is a new Sally Rooney book coming out in September Beautiful World, Where are You? which I am excited about, I loved Normal People and Conversations with Friends so can’t wait to see what she comes up with next. I am yet to read Lisa Taddeo’s Animal but I loved Three Women so looking forward to that too.


Huge thanks to Sophie for her amazing answers and for being so lovely- it’s been great to hear from you! You can find out more about her work on her website or check out her Amazon page to buy The Butterfly Garden.

John Cox Interview: “I was a prolific reader at an early age”

As part of his blog tour to celebrate the publication of his debut novel, Ashes Of The Living, I interview up-and-coming crime fiction author John Cox.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards writing thrillers?

When I first started writing, I focused on paying attention to how many of my favorite thriller writers wrote. Not so much the storyline but rather the style. Did they like first person or third person? How they describe a character’s actions or what a piece of steak tasted like? I tried writing short stories first to see how I would describe an action scene or provide an atmosphere for a tense situation. Most importantly, I have always been drawn to thrillers because the best ones keep you reading until 3 in the morning, and even then, wanting to keep going!

What is your background in writing and how did you get in to publishing your work?

I grew up in a family of teachers who focused on English classes and writing. I was a prolific reader at an early age and wanted to create stories like the ones I was reading. My main passion is telling a good story that other people want to hear. When I got into college, I received some constructive advice and earned awards and accolades that told me that what I was doing was working. I was inspired to start focusing on longer and longer stories until I had my full novel that eventually became my first published work.

Tell me all about your upcoming novel Ashes of the Living. What was your inspiration?

Ashes of the Living is about what grief and anger can do to someone’s morality. My protagonist Detective Tyler Morgan loses everything and must continually ask himself what lines he is willing or not willing to cross to get to his version of justice. I was inspired by my interest in noir and thriller novels and wanted to blend the styles in a book that was fast-paced but still took enough time to examine what people are willing to do in times of duress. It has always been a fascinating subject for me! This is a story about revenge and what a single-minded goal can do to you.

What was your experience getting your work published? Do you have any advice you’d like to share with budding authors looking to get published?

To get my work published, I had to learn to accept that not everyone will respond to your inquiries for review. The book industry is so large that you may have a fantastic story to tell, and publishers and agents will not be able to have time to read it, or perhaps it is not in a genre they can currently accept new writers. Sometimes, being a new writer can be disheartening trying to get others to see your work the way you do. Don’t ever give up on this because the day you are successful is the best feeling in your life.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

Donald Westlake who also wrote under the pen name of Richard Stark. He turned the crime and thriller genre on its head in the 1960s by writing about topics or characters that were controversial by having morally gray themes or elements. Unfortunately, he has passed away, but if anyone wants to see the groundwork of modern thrillers, I highly recommend his body of work.

What does the future have in store for you? Have you got any exciting plans to develop it that you can share with us?

I am focused on my next novel and cannot wait to share further details as it progresses. I do not want to give too much away because it is tied to the ending of Ashes of the Living, but I am focused on writing about what inspires me, humanity, and how our perception of it can change continually.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?

I have enjoyed Chris McDonald’s work recently and recommend anyone check out his DI Erika Piper series. This is a new author to keep an eye on! He has great talent and is very interactive with his fan base.

Is there anything you want to add?

I am proud to be a part of the writing community and all the phenomenal people I have met in the last several years. Always keep reading, writing, and sharing with others those stories that inspire or move you!

Thanks to John for answering my questions; it’s been awesome to be a part of your blog tour!

Rebecca Wait Interview: “I’ve always been especially interested in the nuances of relationships”

Teacher and writer Rebecca Wait, author of the amazing thriller Our Fathers, The Followers and other incredible contemporary novels talks to me about her writing and how she uses her experiences to inform her work.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards thriller and mystery writing?

Despite the subject of Our Fathers, I’ve never really thought of myself as a mystery or thriller writer until recently. My previous novel The Followers also occupies quite clear crime/ thriller territory, though it was never marketed that way (and when asked, I always describe my books in unhelpfully vague terms as ‘contemporary fiction’). But I read a lot of thriller and mystery novels, which I think often distil some of the most important elements of novel writing, with their emphasis on clear story-telling, narrative momentum and pace. The very best also display depth of characterisation, psychological acuity and emotional heft – which essentially makes for the perfect novel.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally?

I’ve always written stories, and decided when I was still quite a young child that I would be a writer one day (whilst having no idea, obviously, what it involved). I finished my first novel not long after graduating from university and was taken on by my agent off the back of that (she’s fantastic, and is still my agent now). Then I secured a book deal for that first novel, and everything followed from there.

This all makes it sound like it was very easy for me, but in terms of publicity and book sales I would describe my success as pretty modest – it’s often felt like two steps forward and one step back, which I think a lot of writers would echo. Our Fathers has been my most high profile book to date. I’d never have been able to make a living from writing alone. I qualified as a secondary school English teacher after university, and have been balancing teaching and writing ever since. I’m lucky that I enjoy both jobs, so it’s worked out well for me, though occasionally I feel a bit frazzled and short of headspace.

Please tell me about your books. Why do you think readers are drawn to them?

Well, I hope they offer the things I look for myself in the books I read: a gripping story, well-drawn characters and emotional impact. I’ve always been especially interested in the nuances of relationships, and those micro-interactions between people that carry so much more weight than might appear. So I suppose one of my main focuses has always been the gap between what’s on the surface and what’s below the surface. It also occurs to me that all three of my published novels have some kind of trauma at their heart: my most recent two deal with the lead up to and aftermath of a violent crime, whilst my first, The View on the Way Down, focuses on a catastrophic tragedy that befalls a family. So there’s a lot of darkness there, but I also try to inject some warmth and humour.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

I definitely find inspiration from teaching – not specific events, but just being out there in the world, interacting with people; and my students can be very funny. Similarly, an evening in the pub with my friends (though that feels a long time ago now) can get my ideas going. I also read a lot of non-fiction, especially medical and psychology books, which sometimes spark ideas. The novel I’m currently working on is about a particularly dysfunctional family, and so I’ve been reading a lot of self-help books about distancing yourself from a toxic mother (I should add here that my own mother is lovely; unfortunately too lovely for the purposes of my research).

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

I’m not sure I’d be a very good collaborator when it comes to novels; it all feels so internal that I can’t imagine I’d play well with others. But if I could force another writer to collaborate with me, I’d ‘collaborate’ with Hilary Mantel on a novel.  (I put collaborate in inverted commas because I wouldn’t really plan on helping much. I’d just watch her beadily to see how she works, make some mental notes, and then claim 50% of the credit when the book came out.)

What books do you enjoy reading yourself and how do they influence your own work?

It definitely varies depending on my mood. At the moment, I only seem to be reading thrillers. I’m in a lockdown slump, and really need a strong storyline to carry me through a book. Usually I read more widely: lots of contemporary fiction, lots of non-fiction, plus as an English teacher I obviously read a lot for my job and at the moment that’s taking up most of my mental capacity. I’m doing Middlemarch with my A-Level class at the moment, over Zoom, which is fantastic, but also quite high-effort for us all.

In terms of influence, I think it’s quite indirect for me: I notice when I read what other writers are doing well (and sometimes, what they are doing less well), and that can give my own work a steer. For example, if a plot development has been really carefully seeded throughout a book, I might go back and look again at how those clues have been planted, and how the reader might have been misdirected.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I’m excited about the novel I’m working on at the moment, which I’ve almost finished now. I really am pleased with it. But it’s hard to sustain giddy levels of excitement during lockdown. At the moment, I get more excited about my next meal than about my work. For instance, I’m making pancakes later. It’s all I can think about.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

I really enjoyed Romy Hausmann’s novel Dear Child, so I’m looking forward to her next book, which is out later this year. And Elizabeth Strout has a new novel out in October – I can’t wait for that.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thanks for the interview!

Many thanks to you Rebecca; it’s been an absolute pleasure learning about your writing and background!

Ericka Waller Interview: “I love character driven books”

Dog-lover and author of Dog Days Ericka Waller talks me through her writing process and all the work that goes into turning her ideas into amazing novels. She also tells me about her dogs, so she’s automatically awesome!    

Tell me about your career background. How did you become a published author?

That’s a long story. I always loved reading and writing. I did well in English but didn’t go on to university. I fell into marketing, which I didn’t really enjoy. Office life was not for me. Chats round the water cooler and drinkies after work. It felt like being the weirdo at school again.

The sudden loss of a close friend (aneurysm while at work) made me realise life was too short. She left three children under nine without a mum. I’d just had my first child. Suddenly my life felt like a bomb. I left my job to get my NCTJ in journalism. I already wrote a blog about my life as a mother. I ended up becoming a columnist for the Brighton paper. I had two stabs at getting a book published during that time, and then finally got accepted onto the Faber course for Novel Writing. 

The rest is history. That is a very short version, which does not include my anxiety, or the many almost misses and luck along the way. Nor does it do credit to my husband who demanded I not give up and forced me on the train to London for the course each week.

Tell me all about Dog Days. What inspired you to write it?

Grief, suicide, sadness and awkward women! I lost a very close friend (yes, another one) very suddenly. He was involved in the Shoreham Air Disaster. I think I needed to exorcise my grief, hence George. George has more than a dash of the friend I lost, Maurice, in him.

My husband also lost a friend, to suicide. I saw the black hole it left in people’s lives and realised how you never really know how people are feeling.

I wanted to write a character who turned out to be a lot more vulnerable than he appeared. Debunk the myth it’s a selfish thing to do. It’s tragic yes but I don’t believe it’s selfish.

I suffered from post-natal depression after all three of my children and found it fascinating to wake up with a completely different head to the one I was wearing the day before.  I thought about books like The Yellow Wallpaper and the idea that women think themselves in and out of things. It’s so damaging!

There is still a lot (too much) pressure on women to have a baby, start an organic candle making business, lose weight, breastfeed forever and enjoy every second of sleepless nights, nipple hairs, a lack of pelvic floor and never being able to anything for yourself without guilt weighing you down. Real life is had. I wanted to write a complicated woman, neither mad nor bad, just struggling.

Why do you think readers will enjoy reading your book?

Hopefully because, all of the above aside, it’s funny and honest and real and encourages the reader to live in the moment and enjoy what and who is important in life. It may change opinions on suicide, post-natal depression and even really grumpy old men! Obviously, it’s a hard sell on getting a dog…

What books do you like to read and how do they impact on your own writing?

I love character driven books. Anne Tyler is my favourite author. Her characters are so real, so happy and sad and honest. I still think about them. I also love Katherine Heiny, Mary Beth Keane, and Dianne Setterfield. I love irrelevant character traits damaged people. I am not plot driven. I care more about the people than the story. I love Fredrik Backman, Hanya Yanagihara for the worlds they create, and oh god I could go on and on and on.

Is there anything else that influences your writing (places, people, films etc)?

Music and poetry yes. I think my brain absorbs a bit of everything, people, places, experiences, sounds, memories, and trauma, chews it up and then spits it back out a while later as a book. It’s not a conscious decision I make. I didn’t choose to write Dog Days. George, Dan and Lizzie moved into my head and refused to leave till I exorcised them. I do like to explore films and books I’ve not read or seen before in between writing, to see what comes out afterwards. I watched a lot of Poirot and listened to a lot of Dean Martin while working on book two…

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

Anne Tyler I think, probably. Yes her, or Fredrik Backman because I love them so very much. Can I have two? Can we live together while we write?

I’ve got to know- how many dogs do you have and why do you love dogs so much?

I have three dogs. A Labrador called Buddy, a miniature dachshund called Wiener and a Griffon called Enzo. I love that they love me unconditionally. I need that. I am impossibly hard on myself and finickity to live with. A real Virgo-pain-in-the-arse. My dogs love me when I win, when I lose, when I cry, when I fail, when I fall. They offer me a constant I’ve not always had in my life. You won’t be surprised to hear I lost my aunt a few years ago. I lived with her growing up. She was my second mother. She was more than that to be honest. Anyway, she used to say to me: ‘It doesn’t matter what has happened. It doesn’t matter how you feel. Get up, get up every day, wash your face with a clean hot flannel, make a pot of tea, then take your dogs for a walk.’ I do that, every day, regardless of how bad I feel and I always end up feeling better.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

Helen Paris who was on the Faber course with me and has her book Lost Property coming out in April. Everything about her is exceptional and her book is so good I can’t talk about it without feeling emotional.

I’m also loving some of the translated literature coming out. Look out for Mad Women’s Ball by Victoria Mas, and Lonely Castle In the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura!

Anything you’d like to add?

To anyone writing, don’t give up. To readers, give something new a go.

Thanks for taking the time Ericka, it’s been ace to hear about you and your writing (and your dogs)!

Ann Bloxwich Interview: “It was after reading a Dick Francis story that I discovered I loved crime thrillers”

Here’s my interview Ann Bloxwich, an up-and-coming author who’s in the process of bringing her new crime fiction novel to readers.

Tell me about how your debut book. Why do you think readers will enjoy it?

My debut novel is called Death on Two Legs. It’s a contemporary police procedural set in the West Midlands; and features Detective Inspector Alex Peachey. I think readers will enjoy the fact that Alex is a normal everyday guy, dealing with normal everyday problems. He has a happy marriage; he likes playing computer games when he’s not working and he’s a decent boss. He has a disabled son at home, which presents its own challenges. I thought it would be interesting to show some of the problems that you face as a parent of a disabled child can impact on all of your life, not just at home.

What is your career background and how did you get into writing?

I’ve been a full-time parent since my son was born. A difficult birth and a negligent nurse led to him having cerebral palsy, so my ex-husband and I didn’t know what sort of care he would need as he grew up. I’ve always been an avid reader, so when my ex was sent to the Falkland Islands for five months, I decided to set myself the challenge of reading the entire collection of Reader’s Digest condensed books that we had sitting on the bookshelf, no matter what the subject matter. It was after reading a Dick Francis story that I discovered I loved crime thrillers. I didn’t know where to start with writing, so forgot about it until years later. I’d become friends with a male stripper (his son was classmates with my youngest son) and he asked me to help him with some promoting. This involved finding venues and putting on shows for him and his colleagues, not just strippers but drag queens too. I spent lots of time backstage, helping guys sort out costumes, etc. – the novelty of being surrounded by naked men soon wears off when you have to pick up discarded clothes, run backwards and forwards getting drinks and so on. I once had to separate two 6ft men who were arguing about who had stolen the other’s hair band. Given that I’m only 4ft 10ins, it could have got nasty, but I had four children by then, so it was like dealing with overgrown toddlers. I put my best mum voice on and told them both off. They stopped immediately, mumbled their apologies, and they never misbehaved again.

I was chatting to one of the guys one night and mentioned I’d always fancied writing a book. He said if anyone ever wrote about the stripping life it would be quite an eye-opener. It sparked an idea in my head, but again I pushed it aside. It wasn’t until my daughter got us tickets for the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, that I decided to go for it. My author hero, Jeffery Deaver, was on the stage, and he was so encouraging to new writers that my daughter turned to me and ‘Go for it, mum. You can do this.’ She then paid for me to go to a new crime writing workshop in Gretna Green, run by author and hotel owner, Graham Smith. We lived near Wolverhampton at the time, so I had a long drive up the M6 to get there. I was shaking the whole way! Graham was very warm and friendly, he made myself and my fellow students feel completely at ease. I’ve been back every year since then, and have made some wonderful friends and learned so much. The course has been very successful; with thirteen attendees going on to become published authors. I got so much support from the people I’d met that we upped sticks and moved to Dumfries four years ago, so I could concentrate on my writing.

As a new author who’s trying to get published, what are your thoughts on the industry currently? How can it become more accepting to new authors such as yourself?

The industry has taken a battering this year, with the Covid-19 outbreak affecting every part of it. Writing courses and festivals have all been cancelled or run online, and I think agents and publishers have been hard-pressed to keep established authors afloat, without taking on new ones. One thing that does bother me is the issue of which genre books belong to. I’ve had some rejections that say they don’t know where my book will fit in the current market, which is so frustrating. Why reject a book because it doesn’t fit into a box? Surely, it’s better to publish a book because it’s well written and has a good story than worry about how it should be labelled? I’ve had rejections that said ‘We like the story, characters etc., but we don’t know where it would fit in the current market’. I’m always clear that my book is a police procedural, so it should fit in the crime/police procedural market. I’m not a publisher or an agent though, so maybe I just don’t understand how it works.

What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

I love crime fiction, psychological thrillers and so on. My all-time favourite is Jeffery Deaver, but there are many authors whose books I buy regardless of the story, because I know it will be brilliant. I tried plotting, like Jeffery does (he does fifty rewrites when he’s writing!) but could not get my head around working from start to finish. I wrote the prologue for my book first, the wrote the scene with the drag queen being interviewed, then wrote the last chapter. Don’t forget I still had a disabled son to look after, so had to work around his needs. With book two I’m trying to at least get a rough draft down so I can see where everything is going to go. I’ve doing NaNoWriMo for the first time this year, to help me with this. My son has moved into a supported living facility now, so my time is my own. I usually get an idea for a story, and then write a first chapter. Then, depending on whether I think it will carry a story, I’ll set out the characters in a similar format to IMDB. I have a cast list of people who I’d want to play my characters if they ever make it to the big screen – this helps me to ‘see’ them as people

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Ideally, it would be Jeffery Deaver, His attention to detail is incredible, and he’s a nice guy. Alternatively, I’d love to write with Lee Child, but he’s just filled that vacancy.

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

I’m currently working on book two of the Alex Peachey series, which is called Goodnight, God Bless.  Someone is torturing and murdering paedophiles in specific ways that only mean something to their past victims. Alex has to figure out who the killer is, while dealing with the fallout from book one. I’ve also got a standalone drafted out, but that may become book four, as I already have an idea for book three. I’m a typical Gemini; I never have just one thing on the go.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to in the future?

I’ve just finished reading Hold Your Tongue by Deborah Masson. It won the Bloody Scotland Crime Debut of the Year 2020, and I can see why. I’m looking forward to reading more of her books. Robert Scragg’s books are fantastic, one of the best police procedurals I’ve ever read. I also should mention Rob Parker, his Ben Bracken series is beautifully written, with a real sense of place. There are lots more I could mention, but we’d be here all night.

Anything you’d like to add?

Only to say thank you to everyone who has encouraged, helped, and supported me so far. I hope I won’t let you down.

Thanks for answering my questions; it’s great to hear from up-and-coming authors and I’m looking forward to reading your debut when it’s out.