Hi Kerry, welcome back to the Write Romantics blog and thank you for agreeing to be our guest this week, for a second time. Last time you stopped by to see us, you’d just self-published The Class Ceiling and we know a lot has happened since then… We’d love to start by asking you a little bit about what’s happened since your last visit.
What’s the best thing about being a traditionally published writer and have there been any unexpected elements?
I’m finding it very relaxing to be able to say ‘I’m published by HarperCollins’ and for everyone to nod because they recognise the name. When I was self-published, I always felt that I needed to explain my reasons for that. However, self-publishing was such a valuable experience so I’m really glad that has been part of my route to publication – I use everything I learned from that to make the most of my traditional publishing opportunity now. The most positive unexpected element is how supportive and generous-spirited the online community – Twitter and Facebook – has been. Disappointingly though, I thought I’d be absolutely sure of my place in the writing world and breeze along thinking, ‘I have a book deal therefore I am a capable author’ but I still sit at the laptop wondering how the hell I ever wrote a novel before, with self-doubt ready to screech in and fill any available space. I think that’s my personality though (damn it!).
What did you do to mark your publication days and do you still get a thrill every time you spot your book in a store or supermarket?
Even though the big focus for publicity was the paperback launch of The School Gate Survival Guide, the ebook coming out back in July felt like a huge milestone, so I made a little video of how it felt to be published.
I do still get a thrill when I see the book in a supermarket. I asked a woman to take a picture of me in Tesco on paperback publication day and blushed so horrendously when she asked if I was the author that the poor woman was practically backing away from the heat.
The School Gate Survival Guide is, amongst other things, a fascinating insight into the impact that school life can have on the parents, as well as the children. What are your top tips for surviving playground politics and have you ever experienced anything like that in real life?
Oddly enough, my own school gate experiences have been largely positive and I’ve made some very close friends at my children’s schools. We all know a parent who’s taken ‘giving their child every advantage in life’ to the extreme but fundamentally, I think most parents only want the best for their children, it’s just that some are quite pushy about it! My top tip for surviving playground politics is not to get dragged into them in the first place: be friendly, smile and give genuine compliments about other people’s children when the opportunity arises.
What are you working on now and what would you say your biggest writing ambitions is?
I’m just on the downhill slope to the end of the first draft of my third novel, which is about how small secrets get bigger and more toxic as they pass down the generations. My biggest writing ambition is to take time to enjoy the moment, the small successes along the way, rather than immediately finding a new goal to strive for. I do have an ambition to write a sit-com – the cheek and backchat from my teens are too priceless not to earn their keep somehow!
How do you keep creating new and entirely different characters as you write more books and do you ever worry about similarities, such as recurring themes, between your novels?
I don’t find it too hard to write entirely different characters. I ask myself with each one what it is that the character wants most in the world and the answer to that defines everything they do. So, in The School Gate Survival Guide, Maia wants her children to have a better life than hers. In my next book, The Divorce Domino, the middle-aged protagonist, Octavia, wants to feel young and as though life is full of possibilities again. That’s the easier bit. I do worry about similarities as my novels are about real people with real problems – and usually, people tend to have the same sorts of problems – marital, financial and child-related!
Have you had any strange encounters or messages from readers and, if so, how have you dealt with them?
I get lots of lovely messages from readers and I can’t begin to explain how uplifting they are, especially when I first self-published and people I didn’t know bothered to find me on Facebook to tell me how much they’d enjoyed my novel. So far, I haven’t had any really weird encounters although a man came to my book signing recently and asked me to sign his autograph book as well as the novel in case I became really famous…hope he makes thousands out of my signature!
Who is your favourite character from any of the books that you have written so far and was (s)he based on anyone in particular?
My favourite character is Clover from The School Gate Survival Guide – she’s warm, generous-spirited and doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. She’s the person I’d like to be if I wasn’t afraid of embarrassing my children. I got the idea for her at a party years ago. The six-year-old birthday girl was giving the entertainer a heart attack by ripping the paper off all her presents willy-nilly. The entertainer ran to her mother to say that no one was writing down what she’d received from whom (at a time when the norm was to spend a miserable Sunday pinning a six-year-old to a chair to write fifteen laborious thankyou letters). The mother replied, ‘Oh I couldn’t give a *bleep*, I never bother with thank you letters’. It was so un-PC I had to admire her!
Where did you get the idea for The Divorce Domino and what do you think of the advice that you should “write about what you know”?
Unfortunately, I got the idea for The Divorce Domino from witnessing the impact on friendship groups when one couple gets divorced. I realised that for a period of time, the trauma is so great for the person getting divorced that the usual to and fro of friendship trivia gets suspended – it seems entirely inappropriate to talk about the fact that you can’t get your child to practise the piano/you can’t find a reliable electrician when your poor friend is worrying about whether or not she’ll have to sell the house. Later on, when everything settles down, the person in the stable marriage can often feel left out of their friend’s new life because they are dating again, socialising more, making new single friends and having exciting child-free weekends.
I do tend to write what I know because all my books are driven by my fascination with relationships so I get my ideas from daily life. Exotic locations sometimes feature in my books because I used to be a travel journalist. The Divorce Domino is partly set in Corsica and my next one has some scenes in Florence as I lived in both of those places. I suppose my advice is, if you’re not going to write about what you know, then be prepared to spend a lot more time checking your facts – there will always be someone out there who knows and is prepared to put you right publicly.
What piece of advice would you give yourself about writing if you could go back to your pre-publication days?
Take a creative writing course as soon as possible. Don’t spend your twenties and most of your thirties procrastinating by telling yourself that you’ve got no literary connections and ordinary people from Peterborough don’t get published. Build a network of writers and authors you like, so that you have someone to bounce ideas around with. Find people to talk to who don’t nose-dive into their scrambled eggs as soon as you get to the second sentence about your plot problem. Don’t tell everyone you’re writing a novel so you don’t have to keep saying, ‘No, not published yet. No, not the next JK Rowling yet.’ And probably the most important piece of advice – you’re going to have to believe in yourself for a long time before someone else does.
Would you recommend self-publishing as a starting point for authors wanting to get their foot in the door and do you think self-publishing authors should invest in professional proof-reading and editing services?
For me, it was a tremendously uplifting and motivating experience because it proved there was a demand for a book that had been widely rejected by agents. However, I was utterly naïve about how much effort I would need to make with marketing my novel. I quickly realised that 400 Facebook friends equals about three and a half sales. If you can’t or don’t want to dedicate the time to marketing both online and in the ‘real world’ (i.e. speaking to writing/reading groups, going to networking events, meeting with local ‘target’ groups – in my case, mums with children) then it’s going to be exceptionally difficult to get your book to stand out. I read as much as I could on the subject and launched myself into marketing wholeheartedly, but it does take up valuable writing time.
I cannot stress enough the importance of investing in professional proofreading and editing – plus a professionally designed cover. If you don’t take yourself seriously, why should anyone else?
Who are your biggest influences in writing?
In terms of writing, I’ve been so lucky to meet some fabulous authors who’ve been generous with their time and help. I met my writing buddy, Jenny Ashcroft, at the York Festival of Writing a few years ago and I utterly trust her judgment. When I’m throwing myself on the sofa in despair, I send her my manky old pages of jumbled up first draft drivel and she helps me make sense of them. Another author, Adrienne Dines, whom I met at Winchester Writers’ Conference, is brilliant at taking my lazy, hazy ideas of a storyline and shaking them about until there’s some grain of coherence in the plot. Networking and conferences are never wasted! My agent, Clare Wallace, is also a great sense check – I feel utterly comfortable about asking her advice about anything.
It sounds horribly arrogant to say I’m not influenced by other writers – of course, I read widely and it would be astonishing if some techniques and ideas didn’t soak in – but I don’t deliberately set out to write like another author, or at least, not consciously. I did sit down and dissect Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret to see how she intertwined all the different strands of the story because I thought she handled a large cast of characters with complete aplomb. And I admire Caitlin Moran’s unique expressions – she makes me laugh out loud. I’d love to be more outrageous but I’m still a bit constrained by what people think. (Cringes and hides under kitchen table at the thought that my ageing relatives will be reading about actual, rather than hinted at, sex in the next novel).
What do your children and family think of your writing success?
My son has just about stopped telling his teachers I’m ‘an unsuccessful author’ when they ask if I work. I think my daughter is quite proud – she gave me a lovely postcard for my birthday that said ‘I can. I will. Watch me.’ I was delighted that she’d seen my perseverance pay off…I hope it will make her feel she can do anything, even when people are doubting her. My mother chases after women with children (target audience!) at car boot sales to give them a promotional bookmark and my husband is a shameless salesman. Taking my dad to see the books coming off the presses was probably one of the most joyful days of my life. That was a true WOW moment.
Anything else you’d like to share with us or advice you can give would be gratefully received!
I’d like to reiterate the advice my husband gave me: you can’t sell a book hiding in the cupboard under the stairs. Write the best book you can, then understand as much as you can about the industry, be generous-spirited – share information and introduce people, network like mad, be brave and pursue every avenue.
Good luck and thanks for having me.
Find out more about Kerry Fisher
Kerry’s fabulous ‘The School Gate Survival Guide’ is The Write Romantics’ Book-Club book of the month on Goodreads this month. You can join in the reviews and discussions here.
The ‘The School Gate Survival Guide’ is available to buy here.
Kerry’s website is: http://www.kerryfisherauthor.com/
Follower Kerry on Twitter: @KerryFSwayne
Like Kerry on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kerryfisherauthor?fref=ts