Category Archives: Interviews

Selling books and meeting readers with Pauline Hazelwood

Phil: Last week, Pauline Hazelewood of Saddletank books told us how she goes about writing train-based children’s stories. This time, she moves on to the exciting (for prospective authors) task of selling books and meeting authors. As I said, Pauline has been a memorable presence at a number of exhibitions I’ve attended and gets out and about to meet her readers in a way many authors need to consider if they want to sell copies.

I’ve met you at several railway events, and you list more on your website. How many do you attend and what sort of events do you attend each year?

I thought I’d try to do one a month. I need to see people and find out what they think of the books, but I am a bit swamped with the other work that I do. I like meeting the enthusiasts that go along to the railway events. You meet genuine, kind, interesting people, often very knowledgeable.  I do a few model railway events, some steam fairs and of course my annual trip to Bala Lake Railway, where it all started with the book on Alice.

The kids are very cute and entertaining. It’s a lot of fun with the props that I take along. My model railway and soft sculpture steam engine entertain and draw people in. I often pretend that the model engine is voice activated. The kids will shout ‘GO!”, and ‘STOP’ to the engine while I work the controls out of sight. Sometimes a deluded adult will believe  it too, which is a hilarious.!

This is a lot of effort. Do the sales at an event justify the travel, or are there more reasons to get out there?

I don’t generally travel that far or that often, but this book business has introduced me to some fantastic people and places. Actually on reflection the research part is definitely growing and becoming more exciting.  the sales events are a different thing.

I’ve done quite a few art shows and the camaraderie is part of the fun. You always feel that the circus is back in town. The steam fairs draw a fantastic relaxed bunch of enthusiasts that aren’t  so commercial and are so knowledgeable about history and mechanical engineering. And there’s often a beer tent and music, crafts and so on. I love it. It’s fascinating.

Feedback and meeting the public is great too. I sometimes wonder if it’s worthwhile carrying on with the books and what have I got myself into, but the positive feedback from total strangers amazes me and encourages me to  do more. People actually enjoy reading them to their children, just as I’d hoped. Some kids know the words by heart from some of the books. I re-read one that I was sending out the other day to sort of remind myself what it was like and I liked it.

You’ve built a strong brand with products beyond the books and this extends to your costume on the stand. Was all this planned or did it evolve? Where did the hat come from?

I love dressing up! I think that when I put on an outfit the show is on. You need to stand out a bit from the people buying. I like that steam punk look. Bowler hats are so cute. You know the ladies of Bolivia wear them because the British Railway workers went there to set up the railway. They must have swapped a few favours to get their hands on them. Nowadays they’re actually made in Bolivia.

I’m glad that you think it’s a strong brand. Perhaps that’s just because it’s only me working on it and I  just do what I like all the time. I have some very lucky breaks. The very smart expensive stand that I now use I found in a skip! I can’t believe my luck with that. The display company near my studio was filling a skip with loads of brand new display stuff. I can’t bear to see things not being recycled so I and another mad lady kept climbing in and we filled the boots our cars with all sorts of new things.

This links up with the products in a way, as I’m keen to get everything that I sell, made in Britain. The books, magnets, bags, etc are all made here and there will soon be an eco friendly, british made, non plastic, wonderful little toy engine on sale too!

How important do you feel it is for authors to go out and meet readers?

I suppose it depends on the individual, but I love it. It’s great to meet all the children. I run occasional art classes for kids, it’s good to show them the roughs of the books, so that they can see how a book is developed. and it’s fun chatting with people. I want girls to see that the railways aren’t just for boys, that mechanical engineering is an option and that painting and drawing engines is fun for anyone to do.

I’m  also learning Welsh because I go to Wales each year. I love learning languages and you can download podcasts of Welsh from the ‘say something in Welsh’ website. I already speak Spanish ( my mother is Gibraltarian), and some French, so I enjoy practising with people who can speak those languages.

When I do art demos for  art societies, it’s a performance. I paint a picture and tell funny stories at the same time . I like making people laugh and I like sharing skills and tips, passing on ideas, so it’s very much the same thing.

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Don’t forget, you can find Pauline’s books here.


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Taking the train through Pauline Hazelwood’s writing

Phil: I’ve met Pauline Hazelwood a few times at model railway exhibitions with her Saddletank Books stand. She has written and illustrated a series of children’s books using steam locomotives as the main characters, with historically accurate stories. Readers not only enjoy both the words and pictures, along the way they learn a bit too.

Having badgered her to agree to an interview, we’ll be running this over two weeks. Part One covers writing and storytelling. Part Two, promoting yourself as an independent author and actually selling copies.

Your books feature wonderful illustrations as well as a story. Do you write the book first and then produce the illustrations or do they evolve side-by-side?

I’m an artist foremost. I usually create the stories at the beginning in sketch books. I work round the images in my head. They inspire the words. I see everything in pictures and I love drawing people. I sketch a lot, especially when I’m travelling. I have lots of sketch books full of drawings, little studies in watercolours too. They build up a library in my head so that when I go to sketch a scene, it’s there.

Quite a few of the pages come from events that have happened around me, they get mixed into the story line of the engine. Or I get inspired by something, for example the scene from the auction in the second book, is very loosely based on the painting by Norman Rockwell’s.’ Freedom of speech‘, it was such fun to use as a basis because it was the right period and really had all the elements in my mind , to go with the story. Norman Rockwell used the ‘Thinker ‘ sculpture for one of his pictures of an American football player.

Each book is historically accurate. How much research does this entail to find a suitable story?

The choice of each engine story has just naturally evolved as I’ve visited different railways and met owners of engines and railway enthusiasts. There are fantastic engines everywhere, and so much history that I want people to know about. I enjoy the research. I love finding out little incidental things about the people and time, to humanise the whole thing and make it more than a mechanical engineering history. The enthusiasts often have loads of information to pass on and will disregard some elements but if I ask lots of questions I can usually find a lot of things that interest me and hopefully interest the reader. I might have a theme in mind of friendship or including animals or showing how hard the work was , whatever it is, I dig around till I find enough to support the theme or end up finding another exciting path to follow.

How long does it take to write/draw each book?

There isn’t a fixed time. it depends on what other work is on and how busy I am in life generally ( as I run some art classes and paint in oils and watercolours which  I love. I also do painting demos for art societies. )… sometimes I mull over things for quite a while, rehashing the text. I sketch out a vague outline, and carry it around with me all the time and sketch and write bits in cafes, or wherever. Sometimes it flows and is really quick.and at other times, odd ideas and suggestions from other people add to the whole thing too.

The illustrations appear hand drawn. Most writers just use a laptop, but I’m thinking that your “tools” are rather more varied.

My illustrations are very much hand drawn, I start with soft pencil drawings, slightly larger than the finished book. I create a detailed pencil drawing of every page and solve every problem before tracing it onto watercolour paper. The pencil stage is the most creative bit and the pencil drawings to me often seem nicer and more expressive. I’ll make prints of some of them, some time, to sell.  I then do pen and wash paintings of the whole book which then doesn’t take that long. I’m quite particular about which pens, paper and paint I like to use. Teaching watercolour helps a lot. I know my materials well and even though they are cartoons, I’m using the same ideas that I teach in general watercolour work. With a children’s book I have to put as much of the information into the pictures, not the words, which suits me..

The elephant in the room for books about steam engines with faces has to be Thomas the Tank engine. How do your books differ from the Rev Awdry’s?

Awdry’s books were irrelevant for me. My three sons never liked the books but they did watch the videos and loved playing with the toys along with other toy trains. His books were written in a very different way, based on the Isle of Sodor and the facts that were used, were put into a different context. I absolutely love Edward Ardizones’ illustrations, whimsical pen and wash. He illustrated the Graeme Green book about an engine and Colin McNaughton books and style of illustration, I loved reading to my sons. We used to get loads of books from the libraries and buy quite a few too, always full of illustrations and I loved the fantastic writing in some of them, that appealed to adults as well as children. You could tell that the writer had thoroughly enjoyed writing them . And I enjoyed putting on silly voices too, big time, so I had to include those in the books.  I also love alliteration and the sound of certain words. I have favourite letters and I like long words too. I have to stick to the facts at the end of the day though so this provides a nice  framework for me.

Any hints for people aspiring to write children’s books?

After I started doing these books I remembered that when I was a child, I used to tell my older sister bed time stories that I made up each night as we lay in our twin beds.  I wrote quite a few little story books for fun for myself. I lived in a daydreamy fantasy world as a child and when I played with the chess set, I gave each piece a character and voice. If you want to write a children’s book, you probably are already writing, you just haven’t found the right subject or idea to share with the world so far.  I don’t know whether writing a children’s book is something I aspire to do. I wanted to share some amazing things that I had discovered.  I feel as if I’m uncovering a whole load of stuff that is kept hidden because it’s tucked away in boring manuals and boring history books, but if you tell it through pictures, people like me, that are too busy or lazy to read those books, will find out about it.

You can find visit Pauline’s Saddltank Books website here.

I reviewed Polar Bear and Sealion here.

Next week, we look at marketing books and getting out to meet the readers.

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Remembering with Pam Nixon

Back in June, Candice and I visited Worcester Litfest for an event called “Authors of a Certain Era“.  I came away with Pam Nixon’s book “But I’ll remember this.”

The book tells the story of Dilly, a rather naive eighteen year old who is a boarder at the Girls’ High School and her meeting with glamorous couple, Mike and Alithea Davis. The text immerses the reader in a 1950s world that seems very alien today. My mother, in her 70s, raced through it and tells me that it brought back a lot of memories and the atmosphere is absolutely spot on. 

As a co-published author, we thought it would be interesting to have a chat with Pam.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

When I retired from a career teaching English I imagined years of leisure ahead during which I’d read long novels like pamnixonheasdshotUlysses and Moby Dick as well as having time to write my novel.

It didn’t turn out quite like that. My daughters started producing children and wanting me to go and help, sometimes locally but also in France and Australia.

We sold the family house and renovated a wreck of a flat in Oxford, where there proved to be many distractions. I took GCSE French and Italian, did art and literature classes as well as joining writers’ groups -and then there was the local arts cinema, the theatre, art exhibitions and friends to keep up with.

Somehow the novel did get written, but it took a great deal longer than I’d envisaged.

How did you start writing?

My mother wrote poems and stories for my sister and me when we were children. Before she was married she’d had poems published in a magazine called ‘The People’s Friend’ so I always thought writing was quite a normal thing to do.

I wrote poems that rhymed and had lots of thous and thees, Later I wrote more sophisticated ones, officially published in school magazines and unkind rhymes about teachers, unofficially passed round amongst my contemporaries.

I started stories but never finished them. I wrote plays for my sister and friends to perform But then I went to Oxford to read English and felt so intimidated by people who seemed so much cleverer and cooler than me that I more or less gave up writing anything original for years.

I never quite gave up the idea of being a writer however and eventually got up the courage to go on an Arvon course. Other courses followed and I joined a poetry group. I had a few poems published, got commended in competitions – even won one but I still wanted to write a novel.

What’s a typical writing day? Do you set yourself a word count?

I really don’t have a typical writing day. Life is fairly unpredictable and I write when I can.

With my first novel I had a break of about two years when I got totally stuck and started to write a family memoir. It was a life-writing class that started me going again.

Then I found a mentor and had to produce something every fortnight. That’s how the first draft was finished.

After that I became obsessed and wrote whenever I could sometimes for hours at a time, completely oblivious to anything else that was going on.

Now , with my second novel, I’m stuck again and this time am distracting myself by writing a play – I’ve just finished a ten week playwriting course – but the novel is going on in my head and I’m making notes.

Favourite place to write?

We live in a second floor flat and don’t have many rooms but, as it’s part of a Victorian house, they are quite big. I write in a corner of our bedroom under a velux window so it’s nice and light. I’m very happy there surrounded by books and files with a big table for my laptop and printer. The only disadvantage is I can’t work late at night if my husband wants to go to sleep

My children clubbed together to put up a summerhouse at the end of the garden that they hoped I’d use as a writing room but it’s a long way down to the garden; so I only work there when the weather is lovely and it seems a pity to stay indoors

Could you tell us a little about your novel “But I’ll remember this”

pamnixonI like to base my writing on real life and memory but when I was younger I thought my life was so ordinary it was of little interest. As I grew older ,however I began to realise that my time as a boarder at a girls’ high school in a provincial cathedral city in the mid-fifties was part of a vanished world. I wanted to recapture that world through fiction but I couldn’t think of a plot. Then I remembered that during my last year at school I’d longed for some interesting people to arrive and I thought, ‘What if they had ? As soon as I’d created charming Mike, his exotic wife Alithea and the pompous Hugh the plot almost wrote itself .

The story is written from the point of view of a young girl. Is it autobiographical?

Well it is and it isn’t. I did quite a lot to differentiate Dilly from my eighteen year old self , changing things about her background and appearance, but a great deal of her day to day experience was described from memory. Nobody interesting ever did appear in my life during that last year at school. However I have a lot of trouble convincing some people that I’m not still yearning for some lost love, who in fact never existed.

The older Dilly is a more successful poet than I am and my husband is not an academic and is not at all like Steve although he’s convinced Steve is based on him – actually he’s a bit more like Mike!

Are any of the characters based on real people – that you will admit to!

After the book was published I got an e-mail from a man who’d been a pupil at the Boys’ Grammar School in the same era. He wrote,
‘The most fictional bit is the passage on the title page which says “Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead or to businesses, companies, events, institutions or locations is completely coincidental. I was reminded of many people institutions and locations…”’

I did invent some people however – or half-invented them. The hero, Mike, for example, is based on anecdotes my then boyfriend used to tell me about his history teacher. After the novel was published another one of the ex-grammar school boys put me in touch with the real life history teacher ,whom I found, to my embarrassment, was still alive . He turned out to have come from a very different background than the one I’d invented for him. He wasn’t the son of a Welsh coal miner, but of a German, Jewish banker. He’d come over here on Kinder transport. Fortunately he was amused by the character I’d created.

So yes, a lot of the characters are based on real people or my interpretation of them.

The book is co-published, what did this involve between writing and publication?

3Score Publishing was set up by a friend of ours and my husband and I had been involved in it for some years.

A few years ago I’d become tired of a senior editor at a large publishing house telling me how, having been so impressed by the first three chapters of my novel she couldn’t wait to read the rest. She managed to resist the temptation for 5 months; so I decided I’d had enough and turned to 3Score.

My husband did most of the work preparing it for the printers as he has a background in IT. It was meticulously proof-read by another 3Score member who is a retired language teacher and our friend who set up the co-operative,had had a career in PR so helped with publicity.

I had some outside help. My sister did the painting for the cover which I then gave to a graphic designer. The marketing manager of Blackwell’s in the Broad in Oxford whom I know, offered me a book launch there. I managed to get 60 people to come that evening and it was a great success.

I’m not much good at social media and most of my sales come through word of mouth. Lately I’ve been giving talks to local W.I s on my novel and have sold a number through them.

What’s next, is there another novel in the pipeline?

As I’ve said I’m a bit stuck on my next novel at the moment.

The title is ‘A Passion for Dead Leaves ‘. It’s about the relationship between two sisters who, despite their strong affection for each other, have a rather strained relationship.

Part of it is set in Cyprus where we lived for 4 years during the 60s and one of the reasons I’m not progressing at the moment is that I’m doing some background reading about the politics of the time. I also need to find out something about RAF family life, the A level chemistry syllabus in the 60s and, later on, about coloured glazes on pots. In other words this novel requires more research than the first one.

In the meantime I want to finish my play, ‘Franglais’, which will be entered for a competition in January.

Thanks Pam.Good luck with the play, and your research for the next novel.

You can buy “But I’ll Remember This” from Amazon.

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Self-publishing with Polly Courtney

Polly CourtneyPhil: Last week, we chatted with author Polly Courtney about the writing process. This isn’t the end of the process. While most writers dream of handing their manuscript over to a publisher who will take it away and sell the book, Polly choses to self-publish. How does author as publishing house work? We were eager to know…

Most new authors concentrate on producing a story but as a self-publisher, you appear to approach the book as much more than this. Does the book just become “product” to sell this way? Can the temptation to write something easy to sell ever change the content of the book?

Good question. It’s one of those things that’s very personal: some authors feel it’s compromising their integrity to think about the commerciality of their novel before they start writing. I don’t have a problem with it – although I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I change my intentions for a book based on its market appeal. I’m fortunate, in a way, that the subjects which get me going are also ones that other people find interesting. Would I write a book about a little-known issue that had never hit the news? Maybe – no, definitely, if I felt strongly enough about it. I’d just have to create the demand, instead of using existing interest in the subject.

Your books are famously not chick-lit but do they fit a genre? Does this matter if you don’t have to fit within the pre-conceived ideas of a publishers marketing department, or does it make it harder pitching the book to sellers?

I’ve never been good at fitting in a box (book-wise). It’s a problem for publishers, definitely. They need to be able to see where a book will sit ‘on the shelf’, but mine falls between shelves; it’s fiction, but it’s social issues-led. “What do we call it? Which author is it like?” publishers ask, in a panic. That’s why I was squeezed into the ‘chick lit’ mould when I was with HarperCollins: it was the closest recognised genre they were happy to work with. Frankly, I don’t need to put my work in a box; the main thing is that it’s well represented in a visual sense (i.e. title and cover) so that readers can tell what themes and styles are inside. That’s the beauty of online bookstores; the recommendations engines can provide suggestions for readers based on their reading habits. No need for shelf-based searching any more!

(These are the ‘on brand’ cover designs for my self-published novels, courtesy of the incredible Sinem Erkas):

Golden Handcuffs, Poles Apart, Ferel Yout

How does the planning work? Do you treat it like a project with charts, spreadsheets, budgets and all the related paraphernalia?

Oh, boy. You asked for it. I am anal when it comes to planning. Seriously, there are financial spreadsheets, Excel timeplans and lists – many, many lists. In the run-up to launch for Feral Youth, my boss has left me daily to-do lists with penalties for late completion. It’s tough, working for yourself (but I love it).

Ferel Youth plan

What advice could you give to new authors looking to promote their books? Since you have a new novel out and are re-releasing some old ones, presumably there is a plan, what does it involve?

Here’s some advice I would give any author or wannabe author (including my twenty-four-year-old self, a few years ago):

Take time to think about what you really want to write (style, content, themes etc.) and who might like to read it (demographics, attitudinal groups, etc.) and then think about the best way to publish, staying true to these two important things. For some writers, this might mean signing with a publisher (one that really understands your goals), but for others it might mean going it alone and retaining control over the execution of that vision. And remember: if it doesn’t fit in a box, that’s not a problem any more 🙂

Thank you again for your time Polly. Don’t forget, if you want to know more, visit


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Golden Keyboard – A chat with Polly Courtney Part 1

Polly CourtneyPolly Courtney left university to embark on a career as investment banker with no intention of becoming a writer. Her first book, Golden Handcuffs, came out of a desire to expose the reality of life in the Square Mile. This self-published novel attracted the attention of HarperCollins who signed her for what most authors dream about, a 3-book deal.

Having discovered her passion, Polly went on to write Poles Apart, a light-hearted novel based on her Polish migrant friend’s experiences in England. Subsequent novels have covered sexism, racism, fame culture and the summer riots. She is a passionate champion of the underdog and this is reflected in her novels.

In late 2011, Polly famously walked out on her publisher, for the ‘girly’ titles and covers assigned to her books – most notably, It’s a Man’s World, a hard-hitting take on the lads’ mag industry and its impact on society marketed as chick-lit.

This experience has seen Polly return to self-publishing, most recently with the novel Feral Youth  launched yesterday, and become a champion of authors who wish to go it alone. We first met her at Stratford Literary Festival in a session that saw us walk away fired up to crack on with The Book in a way we hadn’t been for some time. Obviously we wanted to know more, so I fired off a quick e-mail request quickly answered with a generous agreement to answer a few of our questions despite being in the throes of launching Feral Youth.

We’ve split the interview into two halves. Today we look at the nuts and bolts of writing a book. On Tuesday we’ll be asking about self-publishing a novel.

PollyWritingWhere and how do you write? Do you set goals for numbers of words written per session? Write in the morning before breakfast or later in the evening? Use only pink and fluffy pens?

Definitely the pink and fluffy pens!

No, I use a clunky old laptop, which is black and only a little fluffy. I plan my books meticulously before I sit down to write the first chapter: planning the different threads, the interactions between characters etc. so that when it’s time to sit down and write, I know who’s going to do what and how.

I can only write in the afternoons (I know… don’t ask why) so in the mornings I get ‘stuff’ done: go for a run, tweet, make calls, tweet, write articles, tweet… you get the idea.

Your books always focus on an issue and then weave a story around this. How do you pick the central theme? I’m assuming you don’t just grab a copy of the Daily Mail and see what they are getting worked up about.

Damn – you’ve worked me out!

The truth is, the ‘issues’ (lads’ mag culture, city sexism, wealth divide etc.) are ones that have been swilling around in my head for a while, making me angry. I don’t like to see inequality or prejudice going unnoticed and although I’m not deluded enough to think that my novels will change society, it makes me feel better to know that ‘the flipside’ (of the Daily Mail argument) is getting some airtime.

FYPlanDo you plot the entire story before starting or do the characters become alive and drive the plot lines?

I plan the story, but when I start writing the chapters, the characters soon start behaving in ways I hadn’t quite anticipated. I’ve never managed to stick to the original plan for a novel – but I think that’s OK. I’d hate to force the characters to do something against their will!

How much Polly Courtney is in your characters? Your first book came from your job but after this, there are some interesting similarities – the main characters mother is usually strong and demanding figure for example.

My first book was definitely semi-autobiographical, based on my experiences in the City. Since then, there have been components of me in all my novels, but only streaks: attitudes and opinions, not the whole me. In my latest novel, Feral Youth you might struggle to see me in any of the characters, as it’s set on the streets of Peckham – but I’m sure you’ll find me in there somewhere…

Interestingly, the ‘mother figure’ who appears in a couple of my novels is based not on my own, but on an amalgamation of ‘pushy mothers’ I saw during my school days: parents who would push their girls so hard that many of them suffered from depression and worse – driven by the relentless goal to ‘have it all’. My parents are definitely not pushy; in fact, their attitude has always been ‘do what makes you happy’!

Unlike chick-lit authors, your male characters are very well written and rounded. How easy do you find to write the opposite sex without resorting to clichés?

Why thank you! I actually enjoy writing in different voices: the teenagers in Feral Youth definitely felt most ‘alive’, and the men in my previous novels were interesting to write, too. I guess I’m just fascinated by people and things that are different from what I’ve grown up with.

Thanks Polly for this. Next week we’ll peek behind the scenes of publishing a novel yourself. In the meantime, visit Polly’s website at


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After the darkness – ruminating on our chat with Julia Crouch

Julia CrouchPhil: Well done again for bagging another top interview.

Candice: Why, thank you. Your turn to get the next one.

Phil: Hmm. Anyway, the main thing I notice is that as with Daisy Waugh,  editing is the key to the finished book. I can understand this as Julia’s books rely heavily on a well-planned plot. You can’t just let the characters run off and do their own thing, they have to perform like actors on a stage so you reach the denouncement and tie up most, if not all of the plot strands. This is, I suspect, the difference between “real” authors and the rest of us. They see the big picture whereas we are too busy enjoying the details. I even found this post on her blog that shows the novel split up into Post-it notes. I suppose this must mean we are heading in the right direction.

Glad you asked the question about being “light and fluffy”. We were both completely fooled by Julia at Stratford Literary Festival. I’m glad I didn’t get to ask a question because it’s obvious that if she didn’t like it, a horrible death would be plotted for the questioner! Seriously though, I read the first two novels and wondered where the author stopped and character started. Every Vow You Break takes place around the background of a theatre company and I wonder if there are people reading it who are thinking, “Has she based XXX on me?”.

Maybe this is catharsis – you can do things on the page that you shouldn’t do in real life. In fact, people generally want to read an extreme version of real life and that’s exactly what the crime writer provides. The trick is to keep things believable which must mean reining in the imagination at times.

Work-wise, Julia is very organised. Deadlines. 90 minute writing sessions. Word targets. Even a proper office, albeit a shed at the bottom of the garden. Yet again though, there seems to be a lot of running involved. Not sure I like the sound of that.

Candice: I seem to be handling the running part of this partnership. Perhaps we should share the workload here?

Phil: Maybe not. I mean, I’m sure that running is fine if you can get yourself “in the zone”, let your mind float free and enter a Zen-like trance. Becoming a frustrated, sweaty lump isn’t quite so helpful.

Candice: Hum. I really like this idea but am not a morning run person so I wonder how this works for me? The idea of doing something before settling down it is good though, hence the idea of leaving the home as otherwise it takes me ages to concentrate.

Phil: Yes, we always seem to be more productive when using a library for work. When fame and riches arrive, we’re going to hire office space so a working mindset takes over. Thinking along those lines, the targets are a good idea. At “real” work, everyone has deadlines and I bet if we’d had something definite to aim at, our book would be finished by now.

Another area to look forward to is publicity. We can both do the showing off bit, so the thought of appearing at festivals, talks, library events, signings and workshops appeals. This is another difference between “real” authors and the rest. They understand that writing is just part of the job. You have to sell what you produce and this can’t be done from an ivory tower, or even well-insulated shed at the bottom of the garden.

Candice: I’ve been thinking hard about needing to buy new frocks for public appearances. In fact I’m planning to do some more research on as soon as I’ve finished writing this post…

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An Interview with Julia Crouch – Part 2

Candice: Part 2 of our interview with thriller writer – Julia Crouch.

How did you approach an agent or publisher and when did you expect from them?

I researched agents and came up with the one I wanted (Simon Trewin) because, like me, he had a theatrical background. He was also very open to new writers and he was very well respected and connected in the industry. This was what I needed, because when I went into Headline (my publishers) to talk to my future editor before they signed me, it was the first time I had ever met a publishing professional face to face. When I signed my contract, I was the only published writer I knew. I had not one contact in the publishing world and no understanding of how it worked. Simon was my intermediary in all that. He also negotiated a great deal for me at a point where, like any new writer, I would have done anything to be published – very handy indeed!

You come from quite a creative background – playwright and director, graphic designer.  Do you think you were always destined to be a writer?

I’d often thought about it, but I thought writing novels for a living was what other people did. I lacked the background, contacts and temperament for it. But in fact now I’m here, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I’ve never really planned anything in my life, just gone with the flow, guided by the need to make a living and raise my kids in a way that makes me and them happy. I have to say that, while I imagined from the outside that the publishing world was full of fierce naysayers, now I’m in it, I haven’t met a bunch of nicer, more fun people in my life. And that includes all those actors I used to hang out with.

It seems that an author’s ability to promote themselves is very important these days.  How do you feel about doing publicity? Do you feel the need to blog or tweet or if it something you’d do anyway?

I think I would probably tweet and use facebook, but I doubt if I’d blog. I enjoy the blogging, and I try always to find things to talk about that other people find interesting – usually it’s about my process as a writer, and discoveries I make as I’m working. Obviously, if I weren’t a writer, I wouldn’t have that to talk about.

I don’t really view it as publicity – although I suppose it is all that in the long run. I see it more as a way of offsetting the fact that I spend most days entirely on my own. I like that, and treasure the rare day when I have no appointments whatsoever, but it’s nice to know there are other people out there when I surface from my 90 minute stretches. Writers seem to be the most prolific tweeters out there, for precisely that reason!

I do a lot of appearances now – festivals, talks, library events, signings and workshops. I have to say the old theatre me loves all that. And it’s a good excuse for a spot of frock-buying. At least that’s what I tell the old man.

Do you write the sort of fiction you enjoy reading?

I do. I have always enjoyed the more psychological literary type of books. I would say that encompasses a wide range of reading – from the Brontes through Virginia Woolf, to Patricia Highsmith, Ian McEwan, Julie Myerson and to my contemporaries like Sophie Hannah, Erin Kelly and Louise Millar. Since I have been moving in crime writing circles, I have come to appreciate that genre more widely, and now enjoy a bit of police procedural and the odd action type thriller. Not that I think I would ever write those particularly, but in the best examples, the demands of plot, tension and character require a certain skill that is rarely seen in other genres.

How you feel about the idea that you don’t look like you’d write the sort of books you do?  I was quite shocked by the plot lines (incest,murder) from someone who came across as a ‘light and fluffy’ (I mean that as a compliment!)

I heard it said once that crime writers are generally sweeter people because they get all their dark side out in the writing. I think to some extent this is true of me. And for me, it’s all about understanding human beings. While I’m always imagining worst case scenarios in life and in fiction, I don’t believe in evil any more than I believe in original sin. I think we are inherently good and only do things because of life experience or accidents of internal wiring or chemistry. It’s the tipping points that interest me.

The greatest stories are those that throw the most challenges down for their characters and/or their readers. This has always been true – look at the Bible, at Aristotle’s Poetics, at Shakespeare. What we get up to at the extremes is endlessly fascinating.

Thanks again to Julia for letting us interview her.  Happy reading blog readers and pick up a copy of one of Julia’s books to find out more about her ‘Hidden Darkness’

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Crouching Tiger Hidden Darkness – An Interview with Julia Crouch Part 1

Julia Crouch

Candice:  Phil and I saw Julia Crouch at last year’s Stratford Literary Festival.  We liked her unassuming style and have gone on to read a couple of her books between us (reviews to follow). So, we thought she’s been an ideal person for our next interview.

A bit of background: Ex Theatre director and writer, Julia Crouch took a step away from the stress of the theatre to become a graphic designer.  However, still harbouring writing plans she took an Open University course in creative writing. Through this she discovered NaNoWriMo and novel writing, and after that, there was no looking back.

CUCKOO came out in hardback in the UK in March 2011. Every Vow You Break, in March 2012, and  TARNISHED,  in March 2013. She is currently working on her fourth book.

Why did writing in NaNoWriMo inspire you?  Do you need a deadline?

I have to have deadlines – I set myself daily and weekly wordcounts, and if I fail to meet them, I work the weekend. While NaNoWriMo introduced me to this concept for writing, it was inherent in my former lives as a theatre director (the opening night!) and graphic design (the print date).

More importantly, though, I needed a way to get past the part of me that had always previously lost hope around the third chapter. The speed of the NaNoWriMo process precludes going over what you have already written – you have to keep moving forward, accepting that you will have mistakes to clear up at the end of the process.

 Why did you feel the need to edit your first book for so long? (7 months after initial draft)

I had many mistakes to clear up! But seriously, after just a month writing a first draft, seven months isn’t such a long time to edit. What you emerge with after NaNoWriMo will have a high pants-to-pearls ratio – in fact I always call it my draft zero, because it is really a pre first draft. In order to put it into a state where I felt happy to show it to someone else, I had to work hard at it. Cuckoo (the novel in question) also more than doubled in length from 50,000 words to 120,000. I must then add that after that edit, it went through another four before publication. For me the draft zero is just setting the parameters of the story, so that I have something to work with.

Where do you work?  What is your typical day?

I work mostly in my shed – a comfortable insulated room at the bottom of our garden in Brighton. It’s my favourite place because it is removed from the house, but I am close to hand for when the kids get home, etc. I usually have at least one cat in here with me, snoozing in the warm spot behind my monitor. My best working days start with a run, then I get my son off to school (my other two kids are grown up now and live in London), then I get into the shed for about 9am, do a bit of admin, then switch on MacFreedom and some helpful music (favourites are Philip Glass Metamorphosis, Brian Eno’s Music for Airports or Glenn Gould playing Bach). and work in 90 minute batches, interspersed with a bit of internetting and/or domestic tasks to loosen me up. I work until about five or six. I rarely work in the evening unless I am really late with something.

Sometimes I take myself off for a day or two and I just wake up early, pull my laptop into bed and work for a good six or so hours before going for a walk or run then carrying on until the evening. This is the most productive way for me, but not compatible with having a family or any sort of real life!

Do you recommend writing courses?  We notice you went on a few.  Would you say this is a good way to move from amateur to professional?

I didn’t write prose from when I was at school until I did the OU introduction to Creative Writing about seven years ago. I just always thought I’d like to, but had never got around to it. The OU courses were essential for me to give me confidence and practice, but I also learned the craft side of writing – like how to use punctuation and grammar properly and creatively, what commonly constitutes good writing, how to read like a writer. I also became used to sharing my work, and therefore to writing for readers. I would thoroughly recommend doing a course, or, at least, joining a writing group.

Continue to Part Two of this interview


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Liebster Award

Phil: Thanks to Realm of the Goddess for awarding us the Liebster Award. It’s always nice to be recognised, although Candice is a bit disappointed that there is no Hollywood ceremony to attend as she has bought a new frock. I haven’t bought a new frock but I did get my hair cut which is nearly the same thing. (Candice – Phil I’m sure you’d look lovely in a frock!)

Anyway, as part of the deal, we have to answer some random questions, so over hot drinks and warm laptops, we had a go.

Why did you start blogging?

Candice – Phil told me we had to. To be honest I wasn’t very into blogs when we started but he wouldn’t shut up about it.

Phil – I started blogging back in the late 90’s when it was just starting to take off and have run a couple of blogs for my hobbies, so one for Nolanparker seemed the natural thing to do. The discipline of having to produce words regularly is useful for anyone who aspires to write and we need something to stop us just sitting around and eating cake.

If you could come back as anyone else, who would it be and why?

Candice – Hmmm, not sure. I don’t think I’ve ever really wanted to be anyone else.

Phil – I’d quite like to be King I suppose. Would I get to behead people who annoy me?

Candice – Like who?

Phil – BMW drivers mainly. And people who play music out of their phone on the bus.

Who did you most want to be like as a child?

Candice – No one specific. I had pop star posters on my bedroom wall but I never wanted to be any of them. Snog them possibly. What I wanted to be was an actor or writer, some sort of performer but definitely me.

Phil – Peter from Enid Blyton‘s Secret Seven stories. I remember him being quite clever and being good at disguises. With hindsight, there was a lot of Sherlock Holmes in him, another character I’ve always admired.

Who is your favourite character from a book?

Candice – I read a lot of books and so my favorite character tends to be someone from whatever I’m reading at the moment. Perhaps that makes me a bit fickle!

Phil – Edward The Blue Engine from the Thomas the Tank engine stories.

What do you like to write about?

Candice – Strong female characters. The genre doesn’t matter so much but the lead will have a lot of me, or at least a lot of who I might like to be, in her. It’s escapism really – putting yourself in different situations and seeing what happens.

Phil – I’m really not fussy. Since we started writing fiction seriously I’ve had a go at genres that I’d never considered such as chick-lit and horror. This means going and reading some examples and that’s been good fun. I tend to start with a story and have no idea where it’s going to end up anyway.

What country would you most like to visit?

Candice – Thailand or China. I want to go somewhere I haven’t been before to experience something different.  I always like to come back from a holiday feeling like I’ve learned something not just sat reading a book. Of course there are places where I feel I’ve only scratched the surface like America or Mexico so those would be good too. Wherever it is, there needs to be some nice beaches to so the tan can be topped up.

Phil – I’ve always fancied America by train. Coast to coast and back again, perhaps with a loop through Canada. Trouble is, I hate flying so I want to cross the wet bits on a boat. Mind you, I’ve always wanted to see Moscow, although I suspect a lot of the old Communist stuff has gone so North Korea perhaps? I don’t need a beach though.

What kind of music do you enjoy the most?

Candice – Indie stuff. Foo fighters (Dave Grohl – Yum), Ed Sheeran, Bastille. Maybe a bit of R’n’B/dance on a night out too.

Phil – Anything but R’n’B/dance please. I’m listening to a lot of Bellowhead at the moment with Thea Gilmore and Golgol Bordello in the mix. And some Wombles, because I look like Wellington.

Do you like the feeling of holding a book in your hands or do you prefer e-readers?

Candice – No contest, a proper book.

Phil – Me too. I can see the point of e-readers I suppose but nothing beats the feel of a book, especially an old one.

During which part of the day are you most productive?

Candice – The afternoon. I tend to get a slow start in the morning because I can’t focus.

Phil – I need something to focus on. If I have to get something done then I’m fine. Otherwise I can faff around and achieve nothing, If I’m excited about a project I’ll disappear into it and time doesn’t matter.

If you could have any superpower, which would it be?

Candice – Time travel. I’d like to visit myself when younger tell myself school is not as bad as I think it is. Finding out next week’s lottery numbers would be nice too!

Phil – Invisibility.

Candice – Who said that?

How did you feel when you were nominated for this award?

Candice – It’s really nice to be acknowledged. You can write all this stuff and wonder if there is anyone else reading it. Getting a “Like” or even an award makes it seem worthwhile.

Phil – Like most bloggers, you wonder if anyone reads your stuff and more importantly, whether anyone likes it. Getting an award is nice recognition that we’re doing something right. Thanks very much.


Notes on the Liebster Award: The origins of this award seem lot in the mists of time. The general consensus is that it originated in Germany, Liebster meaning favorite or
dearest, to showcase bloggers with fewer than 200 followers (or less than 3000 according to some rules). Upon accepting the award the recipient must then pass it on to 5 more blogs. Or maybe 11.

Basically, it’s a positive pyramid scheme where bloggers pass on the award to other bloggers in the hope of a bit of coverage. One day, every blog will have a Liebster award. In the meantime, we’ll take it because it IS really nice that someone has read our stuff and enjoyed it. Sometimes, a warm glow is worth more than awards, even if you can’t wear a posh dress to it.


Filed under Candice, Interviews, Phil

Chatting with Miss Daisy

Phil: Wow! A proper author talking about writing on our blog. I’m still a bit amazed that you managed to pull that one off madam.

Candice: Well, I am THAT good…

Phil: I think the most surprising thing was the idea that editing was the most enjoyable part of writing a novel. I know that like most writers, as far as I am concerned the first draft contains the greatest writing the world has ever seen and I hate going back and fiddling with it. Daisy seems to consider the first draft to be a rough cut to be refined. I suppose it’s a bit like a sculptor knocking his lump of marble into something that nearly resembles a statue and then going over the stone repeatedly to refine the result.

Spending months fiddling with the opening of a book does ring a bell though. If you don’t get it right, then the reader is turned off but I wonder how easy this is when you are so close to the work. At least we can pass text to each other for feedback.

Daisy says she feels the need to write, it’s not just a means to an end, and I’m not sure that you could write a novel without passion for the story. For everything we’re produced, at least one of us has really believed in the story from the outset. Sometimes I have to write stuff just to get it out of my head. I suppose that inspiration strikes at odd times, especially when you work on historical novels. That means you have to be open to new inspiration, she must have dozens of events filed away in a mental “That will make a good story” box.

I love the idea that it’s a relief to escape into writing a novel from journalism. Disappearing into a story you have complete control over, if your characters will let you, must contrast massively with trying to work with real world events. In a novel you don’t run the risk of history proving you wrong either as many columnists found to their cost when the much derided Olympics were succesful last year.

One surprise was that Daisy writes in cafes. I’d always assumed that as succesful writer would quickly sort themselves out an office to hide in. Presumably in the part of London she lives in, the residents aren’t constantly interupting her typing to say, “Are you that Daisy Waugh? I saw you on the nolanparker blog the other day. They’re very good aren’t they. You must be so proud.”. Good to see that I’m not the only one who find the Interweb a drain on my productivity though!

Not sure about going for a run as thinking time. Far to energetic for me.

Candice: Hmmmm.

Phil: Interesting point about people fiddling with smart phones on the tube. When I visit the capital, I always reckoned you could tell who worked there because the paperback would be out and open as soon the moment its owner stopped moving on the train. Reading was an unselfconcious thing to do. As she says, there are less novels and more Angry Birds entertaining commuters nowadays. As a writer, you have to say this is a bad thing and not just because fewer books will be sold. I’m sure someone will suggest that many will be reading e-books but I suspect that once you are using a screen, the dreaded web will offer other temptations. You can’t check your e-mail in a paperback.

One thing I do get is the joy of seeing your book on sale. I’ve shuffled magazine racks in Smiths before now if something I’ve writen is in print. This couldn’t compare to the first time our novel was printed up for test readers and I picked the copies out of the box. As I recall, the only other person who would have been as thrilled as me was on holiday at the time. If that happens when The Book is published, I’m going to the printers on my own. I don’t care. I’ll be the one in Waterstones fondling the covers.


Filed under Candice, Interviews, Phil, Writing