An Interview with Author Fran Macilvey

Fran Macilvey contacted me a while ago and asked if I’d liked to review her memoir – Trapped: My Life With Cerebral Palsy.  I obviously said yes because I love reviewing books and discovering new authors and also I like reading about other disabled people (especially people who also have CP) and seeing how our experiences compare.  Despite one of my friends telling me point blank I shouldn’t read this book because I’d find it depressing I enjoyed reading it.

My full review of Trapped will be posted tomorrow (edit: it’s now available here) but Fran was also kind enough to answer some interview questions for me and they are posted below.  My interview with Fran was probably the hardest one to come up with questions for (other than my very first author interview) because I had a lot I wanted to ask her that I suspected would fall under the too nosy/too personal/not really relevant/boring if you aren’t me.  I’d like to thank her for sending me a free copy of Trapped and for taking the time to answer these questions.

UK - Edinburgh - Fran Macilvey
visual description: Fran’s official author photo. She is a white woman with dark hair and glasses and wears a blue shirt and dark gray jacket.

What made you decide to write Trapped?

Once my daughter had started school I had time on my hands and could no longer pretend that writing was ‘frivolous’. I wanted my family and friends to understand my motivations, because I had become expert at saying and doing a lot of nothing. It was a big chance for me to learn more about the motivations of my family, to understand them better, and get to know them again; and to get over all the sadness. It was hard work, but I gained so much from having the courage to sit down and just start.

When I was younger I was always put off writing a book about CP for fear it’d be put in the “painful lives” section of Waterstones.  Did you have any concerns about how Trapped would be received?

Oh, yes, totally. I understand that. It took me years to write my story, and to learn to leave other people’s stories alone. Having arrived at what I thought was a reasonable narrative I had to let other people read it and comment. It felt like jumping off a cliff. Yes, it was very frightening. I was unsure whether I had done the right thing, especially having put so much effort into it. Putting memoir out is really tough, because of course, all critique feels more personal. But it does get easier, and I can honestly say that without the help of readers, reviewers and those who offered feedback, the book would never have been written.

If you could give one piece of advice to the parent of someone just diagnosed with CP what would it be?
Relax and enjoy the journey as much as you can. If you care to listen, you can learn from each other. That’s two, sorry.

Would you give the same advice to a child or teen/young adult with CP or would you give them different advice?

Much the same, I suspect. Treating each other with respect is harder than it looks, and we can be careless about that, without meaning to be. But for a young adult, I would say, live adventurously. Look for the happiness in every situation.

Is there another book you’d like to write and if so what is it?
I have a second book in progress called, ‘Happiness Matters’ which is about how I learned to prioritise all the important things in life: love, patience, optimism and joy, and make them work better for me.

If you could give me one tip (or even a couple of tips) to improve my writing what would it be?
Always write as honestly as you can, even if that is within a fantasy framework. When I write honestly, I feel more alive, and that energy feeds into the writing. Fear, shame and personal embarrassment hold us back and are a bit of a waste of time. Take a leap.

What’s your favourite book that you think I absolutely have to read if I haven’t already?*
How about ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ or ’Pride and Prejudice’? In non-fiction, I would recommend ‘Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China’ by Yung Chang. If you prefer something humorous, perhaps Lilian Beckwith’s ‘The Hills is Lonely’ or the James Herriot books.

Say I invented a time machine and you could go back to an earlier part of your life what would you choose?
Two weeks in 1971, so that I could go back and see our pets, sit in the sun, swim in the ocean and maybe go on safari one more time. So long as you could guarantee that afterwards, I could come back here. Life is very good for me at the moment!

*I’ve read both Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and Pride and Prejudice already and would also recommend them to any of my readers looking for a classic read.

An Interview with Author Marie Chow

I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of Unwell by Marie Chow to review. That will be up later today. Marie was kind enough to answer some questions for me too. I have to post the review and the interview in separate posts to stop them being ridiculously long. And I got too distracted by facebook to get both sorted out before my lunch is ready! Ooops!

This is probably a tricky one but can you describe Unwell in six words or less?

 

In Memory of a Failed Life

 

Where did the idea for Unwell come from?

I had a moment of panic when I was pregnant with my first child. I wasn’t sure I was ready, I wasn’t sure I was prepared. I wasn’t sure I could go through with it. Options and thoughts that I had never once considered started to float through my head.
My moment of panic eventually subsided, and I am now the proud (and long-suffering) mother of two very spirited… toddlers. But the idea of being trapped by motherhood, of being unwilling to give up the part of your identity that does seem to get inevitably subsumed by being a parent, was an idea that stayed with me. Eventually, after marinating for long enough, it became this book.

 

 

Without wanting to spoil anyone who hasn’t read it, what’s your favourite part of the book? I really liked it for lots of different reasons but especially liked the bits where she talks about the writing class she took.

First, I’m so happy you liked that part! It’s near the beginning, where I made the biggest and deepest editorial cuts (about 30 pages from the initial introduction), and it was a huge internal debate for me, whether to hang onto that scene. In most ways, it really doesn’t push the narrative forward, but I felt it was a solid introduction to the protagonist, and I was just really attached to the Guy character.

 

My other favorite scenes are: the introduction to Barbara (yet another professor), and the very end.

 

 

I enjoy writing and was wondering if you have any writing tips for me?

I’m new to blogging, but one of my favorite guest posts I’ve done, originally entitled the Pros and Cons of Indie Publishing, really turned into what’s become a bit of a mantra for me: Quit or Commit! It’s been such a tough road: learning how to self-publish, trying to figure out this marketing thing, committing to putting yourself out there, and then realizing that even your best effort sometimes isn’t enough. I’ve had both wonderful and scathing reviews from strangers, people who said they loved it, but it disturbed them, people who thought they maybe hated it, but then weren’t sure. It’s been an up and down journey and I feel like the one thing I’ve learned is, you have to pretty much write through everything. The ups and downs of the actual process, the joy and agony of reading and receiving reviews, and everything in-between.

 

Since I know I’m not ready (or even able right now) to quit writing, I have to commit to the process: which means that I write a minimum of 2,000 words a day, even if it means starting a new project, even if it means sitting in front of my computer and listening to the same song on repeat until something, anything, starts clicking.

 

Is there something you’ve always wanted to write but haven’t yet?

I have something like 6 novels in progress. I know full-well which one I most want to finish writing, and it’s the one that I am struggling with the most. It’s set in a different time period, and the research required is immense. It was a story that was told to me (and that I was asked to write) and so the emotional burden there is also… intense. To distract myself, I’ve started a variety of other books and projects, but I know what my priority is, it’s just difficult getting there.

 

I absolutely love reading and would love to know what your favourite book is – I’m always looking for recommendations of things to read.

Margaret Atwood’s Blind Assassin*

Richard Russo’s Empire Falls

Jhumpa Lahiri’s short stories, specifically “Sexy” and “A Temporary Matter”

Tobias Wolff’s short stories, specifically “A Bullet in the Brain” and “Say Yes”

 

I see you’ve also written a children’s book.  Which was easier writing for children or writing for adults and which would prefer to do in future? Or do you hope to continue to do both?

What a great series of questions – I find it easier to write books for adults (and then edit later). For the children’s books, I either have an idea or I don’t! I don’t have an active children’s book I’m writing (though there are three that are “done” and just getting illustrated and I do have a young adult book). I would love to write

 

**Note from me: I’ve already read The Blind Assassin, I read it last year and really liked it so if you’re looking at Marie’s recommendations and thinking of trying one I’d suggest that one.  Not read any of the others yet 🙂

An Interview with Author Andrea Murray

I’m taking part in the blog tour for Omni by Andrea Murray.  It’s a brilliant book, one of the best I’ve read for a while.  My review for it will be up shortly but the short version is it’s well worth reading.  Andrea was also kind enough to answer some questions for me and send me some writing tips which I thought I would post separately.

Where did the idea for Omni come from?

Omni  is a retelling of the ancient story of Paris and Helen.  Nearly all of the characters were created from one of the original characters.  I attempted to give the characters names that begin with the same letter as their namesakes as well as making those names words which denote character traits. For example, Pierce, an orphan like Paris, is a Drudge.  As a Drudge, he’s the lowest member of the Omni society, yet he doesn’t let that limit him.  Instead, he manages to “pierce” through those restrictions and gain the attention of important members of society.

 

I’ve been a teacher for seventeen years, and many years ago, I taught seventh grade language arts.  As part of that curriculum, we completed a large unit on Greek and Roman mythology.  I was fortunate enough to have my nephew in one of those classes.  He developed an appreciation for all those great old stories, and every time a new mythology movie comes out , he calls me for confirmation that the story is accurate or to tell me whether it’s worth watching.   He inspired the use of the story.
The society, Omni, came from my classroom.  Each week, we study Greek and Latin root words.  One of those a couple of years ago was “omni,” which means “all.”  While discussing the word , the idea of a society completely controlled by the government came to me.   I created the society, in part, from our own society, where entertainers  like sports heroes and film stars make unfathomable amounts of money while many families can’t even pay their utilities .

 

I had trouble picking one favourite part of Omni, If it isn’t going to be too much of a spoiler what’s your favourite part of it?

I’m going to cheat a little on this question because I have multiple favorites.  The scenes I like the best are those in which the sovereigns meet with Pierce individually.  There are three of those, and I just can’t decide which I like best.  I tried to incorporate the qualities and symbols that the original goddesses who inspired the scene would have.  For example, Acumen’s bike is an “owl” model; the owl is Athena’s symbol.  Honor wears a peacock feather in the pocket of her jacket.  The peacock represents Hera.  I tried to throw in little allusions to draw on the original story.  I had a lot of fun with those scenes.

 

I’m always looking for recommendations for books or authors.  Who is your favourite author or what’s your favourite book?

Oh my! That’s a hard question.  I love Kresley Cole and the Immortals After Dark series.  I’ve read all of those and will read them until she decides to stop I suppose.  I also like JR Ward’s The Black Dagger Brotherhood.

 

I’ve been revisiting childhood favourite reads over the last few years. What were your favourite books growing up?

I read all of the Little House on the Prairie  novels, and I read a lot of the Nancy Drew novels (though I probably couldn’t tell you anything about them now :).  I wasn’t a big reader growing up.  I didn’t really start to read until I was a junior in high school.  To be honest, I think young adult fiction is in its prime now.  We didn’t have close to the selection my students have now.

 

What are the best and worst things about being a writer?

I love hearing from my fans.  It gives me chills when someone, especially someone from outside of the United States, messages me or gives me a review.  It’s touching knowing they allowed me into their lives for a tiny fraction of time.

 

Did you have another dream job in mind as a child or have you always wanted to write?

I wanted to be a rock star! I sang in church, and I naively thought this made me special.  I memorized all the songs on my Barbie and Rockers  cassette tape and spent hours blasting them out in my bedroom.  Then I wanted to be a nurse until I realized the sight of  blood makes me nauseous.

 

I see you like cheesy sci fi.  So do I but it’s been lacking in my viewing lately, do you have any suggestions?

I just watched one this weekend called The Devil’s Pass.  It was on Netflix.  My niece and I always look for “B” sci-fi movies when we have a chance to watch one together.  I was actually very surprised by this one.  It was the best B movie I think I’ve ever watched.  It was scary! Like sweaty-hand-cover-your-face scary!

 

What’s the best part about being a teacher? Would you give it up and write full time if given the chance or would your miss it?

Believe it or not, interacting with my students is both the best and worst part of the job.  We all have days when we aren’t really fit for public, when we just want to be left alone and not talk to anyone.  Those are tough, but overall, the students make me love my job.  They are so full of life and energy! The morning greetings as I walk down the hall never fail to make me feel special.  When a student I haven’t had in a year or so shows up at my door with a huge smile just to say hi,  it makes it all seem worth it.  I would miss it although writing full time would be AMAZING!  I think not teaching would actually age me even faster!

 

An Interview with Author Rhoda Baxter

One of the many (too many) books I’m in the middle of reading at the moment is Patently in Love by Rhoda Baxter.  I was sent it to review and that will be up later in the week.  Suffice to say right now that I’m enjoying it.  I was also offered the opportunity to interview Rhoda for my blog which I’m very excited about as it’s my first author interview on my blog.

About Rhoda Baxter

 

Rhoda Baxter started off in the South of England and pinged around the world a bit until she ended up in the North of England, where the cakes are better. Along the way she collected one husband, two kids, a few (ahem) extra stone in weight and a DPhil in molecular biology (but not necessarily in that order). She had a childhood ambition to be an astronaut or at least 5 feet tall. Having failed at both of these, she now writes humourous novels instead.

 

Her first novel, Patently in Love was a contender for the RNA Joan Hessayon Award and was a top ten finalist in the 2012 Preditors and Editors poll for romance reads. Her second novel is Having a Ball and her third novel, Dr January will be published by Choc Lit Publishing in autumn 2014.

 

She can be found wittering on about science, comedy and cake on her website www.rhodabaxter.com or on Facebook or Twitter (@rhodabaxter).

  1. What are the best and worst things about being a writer? (or best and worst moments?)

 

The best moments with each book is at the start, when suddenly there’s a story you’re itching to write. The characters are there, in your mind, not 100% found yet, but getting clearer each day. You have The Concept. It’s exciting. It’s going to be the best book you’ve ever written. At that point in time no one can persuade you not to write this book.

 

 

The worst point comes about 40000 words later, when you’ve hit the ‘saggy middle’. Suddenly, this book is hard. It just won’t get straight in your head. It’s fiddly. It’s impossible to write and it’s TERRIBLE. Julie Cohen (fabulous author and teacher of creative writing) calls this the ‘suckage point’. All the writers I know get this. The only thing you can do is to keep going and hope you can edit the rubbish bits out when you’ve got to the end.

 

 

  1. Where do you get your ideas for your books from?

 

The idea usually start with the characters. I have a character in mind, usually a minor one from a previous book, but not always, and I want to know more about them. I don’t really know where these characters come from. I try not to analyse it too much in case they stop.

 

 

  1. What do you do when you’ve no motivation to write or have the dreaded writers block?

 

Ah. Writer’s block. I’ve got a solution for this one. Sit down and write. I have very little writing time as I have to fit it in between a day job and looking after two kids. So when I’m sitting down in front of the laptop, I don’t have the luxury of being unable to write. I just have to do it.

 

No motivation on the other hand is a problem. Usually, at the editing stage (did I mention that a large part of the writing process is rewriting?). When I’m at this stage, I tend to do a lot of online shopping and (to the delight of my family) baking and cleaning. Anything to avoid the editing. But still, it needs to be done, so at some point I knuckle down and do it. At least by then I’ve got a good supply of cake and a nice clean house to keep me going.

 

 

  1. I see you post books reviews on your blog. Who is your favourite author or your favourite book and why?

 

I’m not sure I could name my favourite book! It’s too cruel. I don’t want all the other books to think that I love them less. If I pick a favourite author on the basis that I reread their books a lot, I’d choose Terry Pratchett. I’ve read these books over and over and I still love them. If you want to see how a writer matures, read the Discworld series in order of publication. You can see the progression from light, funny and gag driven books to deep, complex and character driven (still funny, but the jokes are more sophisticated).

 

 

  1. What’s the one thing you haven’t written about yet but would like to?

 

Oh goodness, there are so many things. I find it difficult to write about things that affect me personally – which isn’t surprising, I suppose- so I prefer to write about issues that interest me on a less visceral level. Dr January (out in autumn 2014) tackles emotional abuse and bullying in the workplace (with jokes and romance, obviously). I’m planning my 2014 book at the moment and I’m thinking of making it about father daughter relationships.

 

  1. Have you always wanted to be a writer or did you have another dream job in mind as a child?

 

My dream jobs when I was a child were Astronaut, Scientist, Writer and Bookshop owner. I’m too short and have crappy eyesight, so I can’t be an astronaut. I was a scientist and still work in a related field. My parents always said I should get a real job first and then write in my spare time. I hate to say it, but they’re right. I don’t think I’d give up my day job even if I could afford to (which I can’t). It gives me the chance to interact with real people and makes me think about things that I wouldn’t normally have noticed. It gives me things to write about.

 

I think I’ve changed my mind about being a bookshop owner now. I think two out of four is enough.

 

 

  1. If you achieve one main goal in 2014 what do you hope it’ll be?

 

I’d like to do a talk in front of a real audience. Dr January will be the first book I’ve had out in paperback (the others are ebooks), so I’ve not had a reason to do talks until now. I find the thought fairly petrifying – what if I fluff my words or go on stage with my dress tucked in my knickers or something?

 

As far as writing goals are concerned, I’d like to write a novel and one novella this year. I’ve never written a novella before. It would be a challenge.

 

 

Thank you so much for having me on your blog. It’s been a pleasure.

 

I hope you enjoy reading Patently in Love. I certainly had a lot of fun writing it.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions Rhoda!