Across the past year or so, we’ve been delighted to welcome a variety of guests to our Saturday Spotlight slot. Some have been successful prolific authors, some have been a few books into their journey, others have been new writers launching their debut novels and a couple have even been like most of The Write Romantics: starting their journey.
Today we’re delighted to welcome a fellow NWS-member, Sharon Booth, to our blog. Sharon joined the NWS in 2013 and is making great progress by preparing to write her third novel already! She runs a fantastic blog – The Moongazing Hare – and is generally an all-round lovely person. I know because I’ve had the pleasure to meet up with her on a couple of occasions for tea and cake and the time has just whizzed by.
The Write Romantics have posed some questions so, without further ado, I’ll hand over to Sharon who can tell us all about her journey, her current activities and how she’s so great at blogging and networking. Plus, she’s given us some fab piccies of the inspiration for her debut series.
Why now in terms of starting your writing journey? Have you wanted to do this for a long time and, if so, what makes now the right time?
I spent most of my childhood writing stories – apart from the time I was reading them, of course. I always said I’d be a writer when I grew up, but when I reached school-leaving age, writing as a career seemed like a ridiculous dream for someone like me. In fact, my careers interview at school can be summarised like this: “Okay, you’re a girl. (Well spotted.) Right then, shop or office? (Gosh, decisions, decisions.) Ah, you’re doing ‘O’ levels. (Only in English Language and English Literature. Doesn’t that tell you something?) Office then. Off you go. (Eh? What just happened?)” I got drafted into doing an office practice course and that was more or less it. I got married, had five children, and spent a good many years in the wilderness of depression – to the point of rarely going out of the house – and total lack of self-belief. I still read a lot but I rarely tried to write. I think it was a combination of factors that pushed me back into writing: I’d been home-schooling my daughter and she’d turned sixteen and started college so I had more free time and was looking around for something to challenge me; I’d got a job which, at the time, involved working afternoons only, which meant I had every morning to myself; I had a new-found confidence after graduating from the Open University with an honours degree in literature; I heard about NaNoWriMo which seemed an excellent way to discipline myself into writing that first draft; but most of all, I had a bunch of characters, buzzing round my brain like annoying flies, who appeared from nowhere as I was journeying to Somerset back in 2011 and simply wouldn’t go away. They forced me to buy a notebook and spend a lot of that holiday jotting down preliminary thoughts and ideas that would eventually become There Must Be An Angel. My husband and kids were thrilled. Once the idea was in my head there was no stopping me. I remembered how much I’d loved writing. Now I can’t imagine my life without it.
Where do you get the inspiration for your setting and characters from?
Sherlock! Doctor Who! The Musketeers! Hehe…truthfully, when it comes to my characters, I don’t think anyone actually inspires their personalities. They come from somewhere inside my head. Possibly they’re all aspects of me which is a rather worrying thought, given the way some of them behave. However, I do like to put a face to the name, so I like to “cast” my characters as if I’m making a film of the book and in my head almost every single one of them looks like a famous actor or actress who suits the part. (See above list). However, I can’t seem to find anyone suitable to play the heroines. No one seems right. Maybe that’s because I write in first person so I see the events from “inside” the character and never really get a clear picture of what she looks like from the outside, if that makes sense. I do have a Pinterest board with the people and places that inspired me for There Must Be An Angel, but I’m wary of that really. I may see my hero in one way but I’m sure that every reader will have their own view of what he looks like and that’s fine. Whatever floats their boat! I love the fact that I can cast a gorgeous actor as my hero and make him do or say whatever I like. It’s like stalking but without any danger of being arrested. Louise Marley asked me if it was Benedict Cumberbatch or Sherlock I was bending to my will and I said that was too deep for me! When I thought about it, though, I realised it was neither. In my mind, one of my heroes may have Benedict’s physical appearance but his actual character is nothing like Sherlock or any other role that he’s played and I wouldn’t know what his own character is like, having never met him 😦 (Give me time…) My hero is my own creation. I’ve just borrowed the face! I’ve been having a lot of fun lately falling in love with someone who looks uncannily like Matthew Rhys. I have a Doctor and a Musketeer to go yet. Yum. As for the setting, the series of books I’m writing now is set in a fictional village called Kearton Bay, but it’s very closely modelled on the gorgeous North Yorkshire village of Robin Hood’s Bay, up near Whitby. I just knew it was the right place for my characters to live. I went back there only last week and got very emotional. I’ve spent the last three years living with that place inside my head so it felt like coming home. I kept getting all excited and saying things like, “That’s where such and such happened,” and “That’s where my heroine did this,” and taking lots of photos and muttering, “But would she be able to see that from this viewpoint?” and other such things which made my family members sigh a lot and roll their eyes and walk away pretending they didn’t know me, which I thought was rather rude.
You write great blog entries. Do you enjoy writing these for the pure enjoyment of writing them or is it all about raising your profile?
Well, firstly, thank you for saying that! I’m always a bag of nerves every time I hit “publish” on a blog post so it’s reassuring to hear you like them. I set up a blog in the first place because I wanted to prove to myself that I would be able to let someone else read my writing. I’d never shown my work to anyone other than various creative writing tutors before so it was a big thing to overcome, and I knew I had to have the courage to send my words out into the world if I was ever going to publish a novel. Setting up a blog seemed a good way to start. I love messing around with it, to be honest. It’s had several facelifts and I like trying different things and seeing what works. I love writing the book reviews. I just wish I had more time to read so I could publish more of them! I understand that having a blog is an essential part of an author’s profile nowadays but it has to be fun, too. If it was all about the profile I’d make sure I posted at least once a week and in a regular slot, but I’m not as organised as that. I write when I have something to say and as inspiration strikes. It may not be as professional as some but at least I’m blogging because I want to. I write as if I’m chatting to my friends – and in a way I am. I’m still stunned that someone else takes the trouble to read my posts and even more astonished when people comment. I’m very grateful to all the followers of The Moongazing Hare.
What is your greatest single writing ambition and your biggest single fear about the foray into publication?
I had a dream a few weeks ago that my book had gone live on Amazon and I had four reviews – all of them one star. The comments ranged from “Don’t give up the day job” to something that is completely unsuitable for the delicate eyes of The Write Romantics. I guess that’s my biggest fear! I suppose, therefore, my biggest ambition is to have people read my books and say they love them. I’d like to be able to make a living from writing and be able to give up the day job and I’d like to be taken seriously as a writer by my peers, but more than anything I’d like to get a message from a reader to say they’d loved one of my books and it had made them smile or laugh or cry and they couldn’t wait to read the next one. That would mean the absolute world to me.
Where would you like to be, in terms of your writing career, in five years’ time?
I’d like to have had three or four books published by then and have built up a group of readers who actually look out for my next novel. There are four books in The Kearton Bay Chronicles and in five years I’d like to think my next series will be well underway. I have some interesting ideas for a new bunch of characters and another glorious setting. I’m looking forward to getting on with that. I’d like to have met some of the fabulous writers I’ve spoken to on Facebook and Twitter, and to have the courage to say to anyone who asks what I do, “Actually, I’m a writer,” without going bright red, stammering and backing away before they start to laugh. Dammit, the day will come I tells ya!
Indie or traditional publishing?
In an ideal world I’d eventually like to have experience of both. I read an interview with the wonderful Milly Johnson in which she said she’s glad she waited to be published traditionally because it taught her an awful lot and gave her a great deal of support. I then read an interview with Val McDermid who said that she thinks it would be highly unlikely that she’d have a writing career if she’d been starting out today, given how tough it is to get a publishing deal and the fact that writers are dropped if they don’t perform well enough with their first book. So while I can see that being traditionally published would be wonderful in many ways, being realistic it would be foolish to dismiss indie publishing out of hand. There are pros and cons to both paths. I think these days indie publishing is seen as a valid publishing choice by most writers. I know it would be lovely to have all the experience and support of a big publishing house behind you, but really, I’m drawn to the control that indie publishing gives the author. I love the idea of choosing my own cover and title and deciding on my own publishing schedule. I know there are many indie authors out there making a respectable living from self-publishing and loving the freedom it gives them. It’s true that many indie books sink without trace, but then, so do many traditionally-published books. Being contracted to a traditional publisher doesn’t guarantee sales, and I’m sorry to say it doesn’t guarantee error-free books either. I understand the moans about people who dash off a story and rush to publish it but I’ve read lots of indie books and have thoroughly enjoyed them. A lot of the books I’ve reviewed on my blog have been indie published. Indie authors can hire cover designers, professional formatters, editors and proof-readers, and the indie authors I know take a great deal of time and care to get their books just right. It seems the days of the publisher doing all the promotional work are long gone, too, so I don’t think having to plug your book should put people off the indie route. You’ll more than likely have to plug away whichever path you choose! In the end it all comes down to personal choice. What works for one person may not work for another. And I think most readers don’t care one way or the other who publishes the book they’re reading as long as they love the story.
You seem fab at networking. Can you give us any tips?
Honestly, I didn’t realise I was networking at first! The first contact I ever made with another writer was on Twitter. I’d just read What a Difference a Day Makes by Carole Matthews and loved it so much that I tweeted about it. She replied! Writers make me as starstruck as Hollywood stars make other people so I was stunned. The day I got a reply from Veronica Henry my hands were shaking so much I could barely operate the mouse 🙂 My point is, I didn’t consciously try to network. I just followed people who interested me on Twitter and Facebook and tentatively joined in with some of their conversations and was highly relieved to find they didn’t snap at me and tell me to go away! I started reviewing books I liked and was astonished to get thank you messages from some of the authors and eventually requests from other authors to review their books. I nervously messaged the lovely Lizzie Lamb for some advice about joining the RNA after reading an interview with her in a magazine, and she very kindly replied, giving me lots of tips and encouragement. I’ve never forgotten that. Bit by bit I found I was chatting to writers just as I would anyone else. I’ve found the writing community in general to be a very friendly and generous group of people who are more than happy to pass on tips and advice and are, with few exceptions, supportive and encouraging to newbie writers. I try to share as many blog posts and book releases as I can because I think being a writer is damn hard work and the more we help each other the better. If I don’t like a book I don’t review it. I only ever publish positive four or five star book reviews because I think there are more than enough people ready and willing to give horrible reviews, even to books they haven’t read. I once read a review for a book which gave it one star because the seller hadn’t delivered it in the estimated time. I mean, honestly! *bangs head on desk*.
What do your family and friends think?
I’m a bit of an odd-bod in my family. Hardly any of my relatives read! I know!! My brother and sister rarely pick up a book. My mother used to read sagas but is now more likely to do a crossword. My children don’t read (which is a source of anguish to me, given the amount of books I bought them when they were little and the effort I put into encouraging them) and my husband has only ever read one book in his life. *sigh*. DH is very supportive now, although we went through a difficult time when I started writing regularly, and it took him a long time to realise how serious I was about it. When he finally understood what it meant to me he changed completely, and is very understanding now and rather proud of me which is nice. I think at first my family and friends thought it was a joke. Then they got excited and there were lots of comments about me being the next JK Rowling. (I sometimes think that JK Rowling is the only author some people have heard of and, much as I adore her, I got pretty sick of hearing her name.) Then they got bored and started asking why my book wasn’t finished yet and demanding to know when it was going to be published. They seemed to think that a book can be written in a matter of weeks, be sent to an overjoyed publisher and appear in the shops before you can say “Harry Potter”. Now they’ve lost interest entirely which is a relief all round. My boss informed me that he is going to take up writing when he retires and he thinks he should be able to “knock off” a novel a month. I was so angry I wanted to throw my keyboard at him, but I merely raised an eyebrow and told him he was a gifted man and I would look forward to reading his work. If he beats me to publication I may turn to gin.
What do you personally get from writing?
Backache, sleepless nights, and a hatred of the comma that borders on a phobia. Actually, that’s true, but I also get the most incredible pleasure from it, too. If I didn’t I wouldn’t do it. In this day and age I don’t think any writer does it for the money – unless you’re already well-established and selling shed loads of novels, in which case congratulations and hats off to you. Long may it continue! For me, writing lets me enter a world where people I love make their homes. It lets me work out aspects of my life that perhaps haven’t gone according to plan and rewrite them with a happy ending. It’s where I find my friends. It’s where I get to fall in love all over again. It’s where I laugh and cry and hang out with people who interest, amuse, delight or annoy me. With a hard afternoon in the office ahead of me, a letter box stuffed with bills, a medical appointment on the horizon and a car that’s failed its MOT, I switch on my laptop and head off to meet my pals and find out what they’re up to. They’re like my version of Wordsworth’s Daffodils. When I’m feeling down, “they flash upon that inward eye” and make me smile and I can’t wait to meet them again. It’s given me a sense of purpose, helped me make new friends (not least the lovely Write Romantics!), increased my confidence and made me proud that I’ve achieved something. I honestly can’t imagine not writing. What the hell was I doing all those years?
What part of the writing process do you enjoy the most? What part do you dislike (if any)?
I love it when the writing is flowing and the words are coming easily and it feels almost as if the book’s writing itself. Days like that are fabulous. I especially love it if I’m making myself laugh as I write. Nine times out of ten I’ll go back to that passage and wonder what the hell I was thinking and delete it, but sometimes I still laugh and there’s nothing better than that. The bit I dislike most is having to be brutal and cut out all the stuff that doesn’t need to be there. I feel like I’m The Grim Reaper sometimes. I can’t count the number of scenes I’ve written that have ended up in a file titled “Deleted Scenes…keep in case they come in useful one day.” They probably won’t. Ninety per cent of them are rubbish which was why they were deleted in the first place, but I hate to throw anything away. I’m from Yorkshire. What do you expect? 🙂
Thank you for joining us today, Sharon. It’s been a pleasure to hear all about your writing journey and to see your lovely pictures. I’m sure we’ll be welcoming you back again very soon as a published writer, whether that’s indie or traditional. Can’t wait!