I'd like to welcome you to my interview with author, Elizabeth Mills. Enjoy.
Hello Elizabeth, can you please introduce yourself?
I'm Elizabeth Audrey Mills, and I work from my home in Three Bridges, near Crawley in West Sussex, where I live with my writer husband.
A creative household then! How long have you been writing?
Even at school, I enjoyed writing creatively. But it was only after I retired from full-time employment, in 2009, that I found the time to focus on producing a full-length book.
What first got you interested in writing?
The impetus to start my first novel came from a name, Natalie Tereshchenko, that I took for my avatar in an online, virtual world. The story grew in my head until I had to start writing it down. Eventually, after many changes, it became the basis of my second novel, Inexorable.
Do you attend a writing group?
There is a wonderful creative writing group back in my home-town of Lowestoft, and I found it very stimulating, as well as meeting some lovely people. Since I moved to Sussex, however, I haven't looked for a group to join as I don't feel that I can commit to regular meetings
What genre(s) do you write? What drew you to this/these genre(s)?
I seem to have found my niche in Adult Historical Fiction. It's where I feel most comfortable, and I enjoy all the research. For Inexorable, the impetus came initially from Natalie's name, which is from Ukraine but is also common in Russia. I was inspired by the idea of linking her to the Russian Royal Family, and set about finding out what I could about the Tsar and how he was brought down by the revolution. When I started A Song For Joey, though, I wanted a rest from the intensity of research, so I set it in England, at a time and in a place with which I am familiar.
Are there any genres that you don't enjoy writing?
Well, so far I haven't wandered far, but there are genres that I would not even consider trying, such as War, Horror or Western - they are just too far removed from my taste in reading and from my nature.
What types of things do you write?
Poetry is fun; I have written a few poems - but they must have a rhyme and rhythm. I cannot write free verse. I love writing short stories; the disciplines are so different from the novel format. All my writing is fictional.
Who/what influences your writing? Where do you get your inspiration from?
Jane Austin has been my biggest influence; I love the way she gives her characters a life, then lets them live it. I have read many of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, and I am sure I must have absorbed some of his style, as also with Douglas Adams. And since meeting Gabrielle Kimm and reading her first two novels, I have found a standard of writing to which I aspire.
How do you come up with your characters' names and personalities?
All my ideas start with at least one character. Sometimes, that will come from a first or last name I may hear or read, or the name may arrive later, as the character grows. I let that person develop in my mind until I have some idea of his or her personality and a life history. Names may need to be researched - as, for instance, my Russian characters. When writing historical fiction, it is important to ensure that names are valid for that period. Sometimes, a character in one story may inspire a new book idea; Belinda, the main character in A Song For Joey, was born in the writing of Inexorable, though she took on her own personality as her story grew.
What is your writing routine?
My best time for writing is early in the morning, but home life often throws a spanner into the works. I don't have a private place to go, so I am constantly interrupted by my spouse. But I try to write every day, and aim to produce a thousand words a day - sometimes I only manage half, often much less, especially if it's a difficult part of a story.
Do you start out with a complete idea for your stories, or do you just start writing and hope for the best?
I usually have a plan for the story, but inevitably the characters and events take over, and the finished book is vastly different from my first ideas. However, it is good to set the book out at the start, with the main events and some kind of sequence, and begin to decide on your main characters and where they will first appear. I have discovered a computer program that helps me to prepare and write my book, and to keep track of my characters, locations, objects, etc. - rather like 'project management' software. It's called yWriter from Australian author and computer programmer, Simon Hayes.
I will definitely have a look at that. Do you have an editing process?
Friends kindly read my work and comment, but I have to do my own editing. It's not ideal, because I am too familiar with the work, and will miss things just because I know what I expect to see. It can help to read it in a different format; most word processors will convert a document into a PDF, which can then be read with Adobe Reader. Ideally, you should try to get your final draft read by an experienced proof-reader.
Good advice there. What do you enjoy the most/least about writing?
I can honestly say that I enjoy every part of the process, from the moment when the first idea begins to form until the day a book appears for sale.
Have you ever had anything published?
Getting published is the hardest part of the writing process. I tried sending my first book to literary agents, without success, and eventually took the 'self-publish' route. It was after the third rejection that I decided, after reading a good article by author Jessica Park, to try self-publishing.
Now that I understand the process involved, I would recommend self-publishing to anyone trying to break into the world of literature. What used to be called 'Vanity Publishing' is now a valid and potentially profitable option. But I would add one very important caveat: never pay someone to publish your book. 'Print on Demand' services such as Lulu and Createspace mean that you can issue your masterpiece as a paperback without risking any of your own money, and the royalties are better than you could hope for from a conventional publishing deal.
Even simpler, and my first step of choice, is to release it as an ebook, through Kindle or Smashwords. I started by publishing my first book, A Song For Joey, through the Kindle Direct Publishing system, which placed my book on the Amazon website. After a while, I produced a version suitable for printing, and released it through Createspace (another Amazon company). My second book, Inexorable, is now also out on Kindle and Smashwords, and I am working on the cover design for the paperback version.
It is worth noting that publishers and agents watch the self-publish sales figures. They're on the lookout for successful works, and contracts have resulted - as an example, there is the recent success of the Fifty Shades series. And that throws up another tip - if getting published is the most important things to you, and you don't care what you write, then sit down and produce a clone of whatever is popular at the time ... there are already Fifty Shades lookalikes being released by authors and publishers jumping on the bandwagon.
That's extremely useful advice. Thank you for the detailed insight into your own experience. How important is it for you to share your writing?
I would write, even if no-one saw my work; but when a book is finished and I am happy with the result, I want the world to see it and tell me how clever I am. It's vanity, I confess. Isn't that what drives every artist?
I couldn't agree more! Have you ever entered any writing competitions?
Yes, I won the 'Winter' competition of the writing group I belonged to, Waveney Wordsmiths, and was placed third in a national competition.
Congratulations. Do you have any favourite lines from novels/plays/poetry/films/songs, or any favourite literary quotations?
The words from Paul Simon's song 'The Boxer' haunt me. I think all my writing is driven by the heartbreaking images he creates, of a life beset with pain, and the courage of the person who picks himself up from the floor and fights on. I like to think he overcomes in the end.
What are you working on at the moment?
I'm working on the cover design for the printed version of Inexorable. I hope to have a book out before the end of September. Then I shall start writing the sequel to A Song For Joey.
Good luck with that. Apart from writing, what are your other hobbies/interests?
When I'm not writing, I'm a full-time housewife, and that doesn't leave much time for other things, but I like to read, listen to music, socialise, and shop.
What types of books do you read? Do you think your writing reflects your book tastes?
Undoubtedly, I write what I would like to read. I aspire to improve with each book, to learn from the process of creating a world for my characters and to watch how they deal with the situations they inhabit. As a child of the age in which we live, I am aware that I think and write as though watching a film of TV drama.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you've been given with regards to writing?
Gabrielle Kimm, who writes wonderful, historical novels, advised me to make a point of writing ten words every day. Of course, ten words won't get your novel finished, but more words will flow - it's the establishing of a routine that is important.
What advice could you give to a new writer?
Oh my gosh - I'm so new myself that I'm not sure I have much to say. I suppose the main thing I would say is "Write every day."
Some things I have discovered since I started are ...
Learn from other writers - read books you would have liked to have written, and study the author's style ... how they handle narrative and description, how they build their characters, etc.
Give your characters the freedom to change the story you had planned, even if you have to go back through preceding chapters and change things - trust your characters.
Let your words flow, even if they are not very good - if the story wants to come out, don't stifle it by worrying about your style. You can always go back and tidy it up later.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I want to say this, to anyone who thinks about writing ...
Don't expect it to be easy, don't expect wealth and fame to ensue, don't let anyone tell you how to do it, don't give up ... do it!
Oh, and you don't have to use a computer - pen and paper are great (though publishers may not be keen on transcribing fifty-thousand handwritten words for you). If you have a computer, but a limited budget, there is free software you can use: as well as yWriter, I used 'OpenOffice' from Apache as my word-processor of choice (even though I also have a copy of Microsoft Word, I prefer OpenOffice). It is also free from here.
Do you have a website/twitter/facebook/blog dedicated to your writing?
Without the support of a traditional publisher, every self-publishing writer must try to find ways of bringing their work to potential audiences. I have a Facebook page for each of my books, and they can be found here: A Song For Joey and Inexorable.
I also enrolled them both in a new publicity service through Facebook, called Bookpulse, and they can be found here: A Song For Joey and Inexorable. It is hard to tell, at the moment, if Bookpulse is producing interest, but I know that my Facebook pages are visited by friends, and that some sales have resulted.
A website of your own is also good. Getting a domain name and designing your own site used to be very difficult, and it is still rather daunting, but I found the services at www.one.com very good, and I now have my own website at http://www.itsliz.net.
Would you be able to provide a short piece of your work?
This is a little essay. At each meeting of Waveney Wordsmiths, we would have a short, intense challenge set; the task being to write a piece in 45 minutes on a theme set by one member of the group. This piece resulted from someone giving us three objects to include in a story on any subject …
A brick, a red shoe and a harmonica
The door opened and the room fell into silence as those already present looked up to see who was arriving. An onlooker would have observed three men seated around a table, blinking in the sudden brightness as their small group was pierced by a shaft of sunlight lancing across the room from the doorway. Silhouetted against the glare stood a solitary figure, like a visitor from outer space.
He raised a hand in greeting, and the others called out a welcome. The silence broken, conversations restarted as the latecomer closed the door and took his place at the table. The soft sound of a harmonica resumed from the shadows.
On the table were a candle, casting its meagre glow upon the faces of the men, and a rough stack of paper, held down by a brick. The man who had just arrived added some more paper to the pile.
At this point, the casual onlooker would note that there remained one empty chair, and that the men kept glancing anxiously towards the closed door, as though expecting another arrival. The final guest, however, was already there, watching them, unseen, from the shadows.
After several tense minutes, the music stopped, and the harmonica player stepped into the faint circle of light from the candle. The men turned to look in surprise as the figure came into view. First a red shoe appeared, then the hem of a swirling black skirt, and finally a head of long, blonde hair.
She took her place at the table and collected the pile of paper from the centre, placing it into a bag she carried. Then, from the same bag, she took a wad of small cards, which she flexed as she looked around the table.
“Very well, gentlemen,” she smiled, “let's play poker.”
© October 2010 Elizabeth Audrey Mills