Saturday, 29 June 2013

The fourth of my current Author Interviews - Anne (C.A.) Shilton, author of 'Barricades - the journey of Javert'

This series of interviews is a little different to others, as each question was posed to my ‘victims’ on an individual basis, and in many respects, based on previous responses. This provides a very spontaneous, open, honest, and - I hope, interesting insight as to what it takes to become a writer in today’s world of publishing.

This week I would like to welcome Anne (C.A.) Shilton, from sunny Norfolk, England...a former colleague of mine, and author of ‘Barricades – The journey of Javert’, now available in paperback format as well as Kindle.

I was interested, not only because Anne and I had previously worked together, but that she has released a novel that may be seen as part of a ‘niche’ market place, with its associations with the work ‘Les Miserables’ by Victor Hugo, and the subsequent and highly popular stage musical and film.

Welcome Anne...


Q1 - I would be delighted if you would pen a brief outline of 'Anne / C.A. Shilton'...the woman and the author...

I have always been interested in writing – in fact the first piece I wrote that I intended for publication was completed when I was around eleven years old. I wrote a script for ‘Wagon Train’ and sent it off to Hollywood! Needless to say, it was returned (unopened), with a letter to say that union rules would not allow my material to be considered. It’s a pity they didn’t open it – I suspect they would have fallen about laughing.

As an adult, I wanted a career with excitement (!) and prospects, so I joined the police service. I think my dream of becoming a first class author took a knock when I went to the training centre – I still remember the instructor scrawling in red ink all over my first attempt at a police report ‘this is a police report, not a novel. Do you think you’re Enid Blyton?’ Believe it or not, that trainer is now a good friend – he still proof reads my work too!

I was a police officer for 22 years, which gave me some great material and experiences for writing. When I left the police I at last had time to really concentrate on my writing. One of the first things I had to do was to lose my ‘police report’ style and see if that embryo novelist was still in there. I went on a residential Creative Writing course, did an Open University Creative Writing course, and completed the Certificate in Creative Writing with the University of East Anglia. Then I decided to stop doing courses, and start writing creatively! My first novel Barricades is the result.

When I’m not writing creatively, I am probably walking Jasper, my slightly manic American Cocker Spaniel, on the beaches of Norfolk.

Q2 - Your first novel 'Barricades - Javert's story' would lead most readers to suspect that you have a love of 'Les Miserables' in one form or another; Stage, film or book. What in fact lead you to want to write about Javert, and how have you gone about creating the character from such tender years?

I first saw the Musical ‘Les Miserables’ some years ago, as a result of which I read Victor Hugo’s novel. In both cases, the character of Javert fascinated me. What factors had turned him into this outwardly cold, implacable character, who nonetheless had a deeply buried seed of humanity?

Victor Hugo uses Javert to represent ‘the system’ prevailing in France at the time of his novel – uncaring, unmoved by individual suffering, carrying out the law of the land with unthinking obedience. He gave very little background to the character, just that he had been born in prison, that his father was a convict and his mother a fortune teller, that he realised that he would always be a social pariah whose only choice was whether to operate outside the law, or as an enforcer of the law.

I therefore had the beginning of Javert’s life, as a despised outcast from society. I also had Hugo’s account of the mature adult. In order to capture the factors that turned a vulnerable boy into a pitiless adult, I asked myself some key questions:

What kind of upbringing would this boy have? Certainly a harsh one,
probably lacking in any real love or affection, perhaps bullied and abused.
He would be likely to grow up ashamed of his own heritage, and with a great
deal of emotional baggage.

How would the tremendous upheaval of the French Revolution affect him? He
would have been ten years old when the Revolution began, and in his early
teens when the violence was at its height. If he was thrust into the heart
of that violence and horror, the effect on him would be considerable.

Q3 - Given the period in which it is set, how did you go about your Historical research for what life in France must have been like, and the infrastructure in which Javert would have lived?

Given the fact that the action took place around 200 years ago, I obviously couldn’t experience it at first hand. However, I felt that it was important to get as good a sense as possible of both time and place.

I visited France twice. On the first occasion I drove down through France, trying to visit the modern equivalents of the places Javert would have visited. The Tour Royale was still there (now a museum). Sadly it was closed for safety reasons, but I was still able to prowl around the exterior and get a feel for the place. Some of the actual coastline has changed very little.

In Paris, I again visited all the places that crop up in the novel and tried to let my imagination run riot. For some reason, night time seemed the best for that, maybe because it was quiet. Standing in the middle of the Notre Dame bridge at midnight, it wasn’t difficult to imagine the way things might have been in the early 1830’s. 

I also visited several museums, art galleries etc dedicated to the history of the French Revolution, including the Conciergerie where the victims of the guillotine were imprisoned whilst awaiting their fate. The friend who accompanied me was a French speaker, which helped a great deal.

So far as reading research was concerned, I read a great deal about the history of the French Revolution, and its causes. One excellent source for the early part of my novel was Hilary Mantel’s ‘A Place of Greater Safety.’ The primary source for the latter part of my novel was, not surprisingly, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.

Q4 - It is quite apparent that as new self-published authors, aside from the actual skills and creativity you need to get your book out in the first place, each of you has a tale to tell about your experiences promoting and marketing your books. You have managed to do this amidst family and work pressures, yet seem to have achieved great results.
Would you explain what lessons you have learned about promotion and marketing that could be picked up by authors who have not yet gone through this process?

I think the main lesson I have learned is that I really was very ignorant of the whole process. Naively so, really. I was so excited and tied up by the business of publishing the book, I hadn’t really considered the marketing side. Of course, I very soon realised that people wouldn’t buy the book unless they knew it was there. So the importance of marketing soon registered with me.

How to market effectively was a horse of a different colour. It still is! I have learnt a lot about the use of Facebook, forums, freebie sites etc – but the more I learn, the more I realise how ignorant I still am.

It is difficult to strike the right balance. I want and need to promote, but I don’t want to spam or become a pain in the proverbial. Looking at the Amazon forums, the constant self-promotion by some Indies really is excessive and irritating.

The experienced Indies on the forums all say that it takes time, so I guess I need to learn something that comes hard to me – namely, patience. A friend of mine has summed it up beautifully – ‘Remember – it’s a marathon, not a sprint!’

Q5 - You have all gone through the process of Agent rejection, and clearly the process has spurred you on to self publish.
How disappointing was rejection, and having chosen the SP route, would anything persuade you to return and search for a TP route and the treadmill of agents and the like, for subsequent books?

Rejection was disappointing, and even though I know I have a good product, it did knock my confidence in the early stages. I know that agents and publishers sometimes miss outstanding books, and I also know that they are (naturally enough) primarily interested in what will sell and thus make them money. Sometimes quality and money go hand in glove, but not always.

My confidence was actually boosted by my second rejection, when the person signing the standard worded rejection letter added a handwritten sentence ‘I really like this book – I’m afraid we are publishing very little historical fiction nowadays.’ (I know my genre is not one of the most popular sellers). It would be great if more publishers would take that few seconds to encourage a good writer!

Will I try the traditional publishing route again? I’m not sure yet. The pros of TP are, of course, the cash in hand of the advance, and the perceived kudos of being traditionally published. The downsides are the treadmill and the long delay between acceptance and getting the book out there. If I can get my marketing right and Barricades sells a respectable number of copies, I may not try the TP route. Self publishing is very hard work, but that would make a degree of success even more rewarding, just because I have put so much into it.

Q6 - How does it feel to suddenly become the focus of attention from people, all over the world, who now see you as a favourite author. Have you acquired any stalkers yet? What has been your favourite accolade?

I don’t think I have quite attained that status yet. If I ever do become well known, I would be surprised if I acquired any stalkers - I think that generally happens to young women of film star status. But I’m not surprised to hear that you have acquired a couple, I think ladies of a certain age can become a little obsessive. I saw this happen to an actor friend of mine, when some women associated him too strongly with the role that he played. In your case, they probably associate you with Sam Shepherd. Understandably so, because you are rather more than just Shepherd’s ‘creator’; you also used to follow the same profession, and to almost literally walk in Shepherd’s footsteps. 

Q7 - Another writer, on my review of 'Barricades' on Goodreads, was surprised that you had chosen Javert (being the baddie) to expose, rather than Jean Valjean. Did you ever consider how controversial it might be perceived to expand on the life of the baddie rather than the hero of 'Les Mis'? Might there be a second book in the series that does just that?

Interesting one!
I know that Javert is often regarded as the ‘baddie’ but I have never thought of him in that way. Born and raised an outcast from society, his only choice was whether to be an outcast outside the law, or an outcast within the law. He is certainly very hard and inflexible, but he is also very fair and incorruptible. Bear in mind that Valjean was originally a poacher and a thief. His five year sentence was extended to nineteen years because of his escape attempts, and when he was paroled the first thing he did was steal, first silver from the Bishop of Digne, then 40 sols from a little boy. That was the Valjean Javert knew.

Valjean later received a ‘road to Damascus’ experience and became a truly good man, but it was Javert’s weakness that he couldn’t believe in the possibility of such a man reforming. In Javert’s eyes, leopards did not – and could not – change their spots. 

Would I like to ‘re-visit’ Valjean? The possibility exists, certainly. But Valjean was very much the ‘hero’ of Hugo’s novel, which means that his life after leaving prison is already covered in great detail. I think the overlap with Hugo’s Les Misérables would be too great, probably around 75 per cent. Barricades is different because Hugo gave us very little about Javert. That meant that I was able to write an original novel, with (at the most) 10 per cent overlap. And even that was written from a different perspective. 

Q8 - What are your future writing plans, projects and expectations; what can readers expect to see from Anne Shilton in coming years?

I am currently working on a murder/mystery novel, with a strong theme of police culture of the 80’s running through it. I also have a children’s book in production, for age group around 9 to 12 years. As a sideline, I have taken a leaf from your book (author speak for ‘what a good idea – I’ll nick it!) and am partway through a little booklet provisionally entitled ‘Black Shuck and other Norfolk Myths – in rhyme.’ Those are all projects on which I am currently working (when I’m not trying to promote Barricades!)

An embryo future project is to write a book on the life of George Fox (founder of the Quakers, and incidentally a Leicestershire man). I should like to do it as a novel, incorporating the history and religious upheaval of the time. An ambitious project, that lies – maybe – somewhere in the future.

I should also like to do a stage version of Barricades. Much as I would love to do a musical version, I don’t have the skills for that unless I can team up with someone who does have musical skills.

My expectations? To go on writing and to enjoy so doing; to get more books out there, and to grow as a writer. A degree of success would be wonderful, but I think that is more a hope than an expectation. 

I would like to thank Anne for providing us with such great information and insight!

‘Barricades – The journey of Javert’, is now available in paperback and e-book formats. For more information, please take the time to look at the links, below...

Twitter           @CAShilton1

Friday, 28 June 2013

Stock-taking week! What has happened in the last three months?

Hey guys;

I am a little slow off the mark with blogging, presently, as I have been taking stock, this last week.

I can't believe, at times, how quickly things have come to pass.

Three months ago, I was unpublished.

I released my first novel 'Jack Ketch's Puppets' and simultaneously, my first non-fiction attempt, 'Leicestershire Myth & Legend - in verse', back in March.

I had three followers on G+ back then, and had not ventured into the G+ communities.

Earlier this month, I released a novella 'Death Lurks in Cock Muck Hill' as book #2 in 'The Borough Boys' series.

Yesterday, out of 16.6 million books on Amazon, and 1.6 million books on Kindle, two were in the top 5% of Kindle, and all three in the top 10%, and all three in the top 5% of all Amazon books.

I have just short of 900 followers on G+

Thank you all so much!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

The third of my current Author Interviews - Keri Beevis, author of the award winning debut novel, 'Dead Letter Day'.

This series of interviews is a little different to others, as each question was posed to my ‘victims’ on an individual basis, and in many respects, based on previous responses. This provides a very spontaneous, open, honest, and - I hope, interesting insight as to what it takes to become a writer in today’s world of publishing.

This week’s guest author is the talented Norfolk, England, lass, Keri Beevis - my second guest from around the Norwich area in as many weeks. 

Keri is the author of prize winning debut novel ‘Dead Letter Day’.

Keri also works with a condition called 'Synesthesia' which I had never heard of before, but is quite fascinating in its own right, as she will explain later in the interview.


Welcome Keri!

Q1 - How would you, personally, like to introduce Keri Beevis - the woman and the author...

Keri Beevis is an award winning author from Norfolk, England, who has been writing for over twenty years. In previous incarnations she has worked as a video rental store assistant, the world’s worst hairdresser and as a caricaturist, but the love and need to write has always been in her blood. Her debut novel, Dead Letter Day, an American set, twisty serial killer thriller came runner up in the Rethink Press New Novels Competition 2012. Keri lives with her two pampered cats and is busy working on the sequel to Dead Letter Day. When not writing she can usually be found watching movies or frequenting the beer gardens of the Norfolk countryside.

Q2 - from all of your pages and assorted posts, it appears that you are Norfolk born and bred, and living in the heart of a lovely English County. I am interested to know why you chose to set your first novel 'Dead Letter Day' in the USA and not England. What factors influenced you the most to do so?

I am Norfolk born and bred, love my home and would happily stay here for the rest of my life. Norfolk is a beautiful county with a low crime rate and a picturesque coastline, and my home city of Norwich has a pub for every day of the year. What is not to love?

So why did I set Dead Letter Day in America?

I have always been obsessed with fiction. Movies were as big a part of my childhood as writing and reading and this was only fueled by my dad buying two video rental stores. It was the eighties, a time when the British film industry was in decline and so my diet consisted of mainly American based movies. I watched everything going, comedy, horror, thriller, romance, gangster, you name it, but had a particular fondness for the brat pack films, slasher flicks and anything with a clever twist that would keep me guessing. Likewise, the books I read were by mostly American authors, such as Stephen King, Richard Laymon and Nora Roberts.
It was escapism and I loved it, and when it came to writing I wanted my own stories to be a part of this same world. When I first started writing it felt natural to me to set my books in the States. I tried writing British based stories, but they always felt false and indeed were criticized for being “too Americanized”.

I have never been to Oregon, but hope to visit one day. Of all the states, to me it looks the most beautiful, and maybe there is something about its rugged coastline and lush forests that reminds me of the North Norfolk coast.

Q3 - Given that you have taken your inspiration from USA based films and novels, and noting that for book two you have sought reference from Jon Curtis for background, how have you gone about establishing such realistic data about your American cops and the way they would live their daily lives? Have films and books given you all of that, or do you have other resources in the USA?

I would love to say that I did a lot of in depth research with US police officers, but the truth is I wrote Dead Letter Day when I was 25 and based everything on the many TV shows and movies I had watched and the books I had read. I did refer to reference books whenever I got stuck to try and ensure accuracy.

It was only when doing the final edit after the book was runner up in the New Novels Competition that I was able to rely heavily on the Internet. It was at this point I ran various things past my Californian friends and also my sister, who is a detective with Norfolk Constabulary; though I admit I just asked questions and didn’t give any of them the manuscript to read, so there are a few small inaccuracies on things I neglected to check.

Book two is being better researched. I now have several copper friends volunteering to help (I think they want a mention in the acknowledgements) and Jon has been very helpful. The role of the psychologist is small but crucial to the plot and I have really benefitted from the information he has given me. 

Q4 - It is quite apparent that as a new self-published author, aside from the actual skills and creativity you need to get your book out in the first place, you have a tale to tell about your experiences promoting and marketing your books. You have managed to do this amidst family, social and work pressures, yet seem to have achieved great results.

Would you explain what lessons you have learned about promotion and marketing that could be picked up by authors who have not yet gone through this process?

I would say the one lesson I have learnt about promotion and marketing is that you can never start too soon and the Internet is the way to go forward as it offers a massive audience. The second I knew I was going to have a book published I set up a Facebook author page, joined sites such as LinkedIn, Pinterest, Goodreads and Shelfari, and also started to focus more on my Twitter account.

I found through Twitter that if I followed and engaged with fellow writers, they would often follow back. Likewise, you soon learn which authors are reciprocal with retweets. With LinkedIn I joined writing groups, which brought me into contact with lots of other authors, while with Facebook, I asked friends to follow my page and share my posts about the book. This helped build up my audience and brought the book to the attention of a lot of people before it was published.

When the book launched I did a press release that was sent to all local media, as well as some national. A couple came back and I took every bit of exposure I could. I have linked my Facebook account up to my Twitter account so everything I post gets duplicated and I have tried to post every day, even if it is something very brief. I have learnt that out of sight is out of mind, whereas if I’m plugging away being a pain in the ass in everyone’s face, my Amazon rankings improve. I have also tried to engage readers with some posts asking a question, so they can interact, as well as free book giveaways for sharing my page and of course the character naming idea. I have also had posters printed and tried to get them in as many local shops as possible.

Marketing can be a full time job and it is tough to switch on the laptop after a hard day at work and start all over again, but it is very worth it and the bigger an audience you reach the better the chance you have of your book selling. Use your friends and family, get them to blanket email their address book, retweet you on Twitter and share your links on Facebook. It makes a huge difference.

One other final thing I tried, with mixed results, was Facebook adverts. I would set an advert for about £2 to run over a 2 hour period when I knew several people would be online and I would target fans of specific authors. You only have a few words to play with, so it has to be eye catching and for every 1000 pages on which the advert appeared I would be charged about 15pence. I would then be notified every time someone clicked on to my Amazon link. It was difficult to gauge how successful this was. Some nights my rankings would drastically improve, while on others, despite having a dozen clicks, they would drop. It’s worth bearing in mind though for a cheap form of advertising.

Q5 - You have all gone through the process of Agent rejection, and clearly the process has spurred you on to self publish.

How disappointing was rejection, and having chosen the SP route, would anything persuade you to return and search for a TP route and the treadmill of agents and the like, for subsequent books?

As you’ll have heard in my radio interview I did get signed by an agent and then rejected by a publisher at the last hurdle. The rejection was blowing. The decision came down to one person and that stung. I had been rejected before. In fact I used to paper my wall with the rejection slips to spur me on, as I’d heard that’s what Stephen King had done. But this was gutting, as I really had reached the very last hurdle, and like a fool I gave up.

I actually won my self-publishing package through a competition a friend had nagged the hell out of me to enter. Would I have self-published if the opportunity hadn’t come along? Possibly not, as I had lost all confidence in my writing. It was only because of the competition and the pressure my friend put me under, that I entered. So glad she believed in me.

As for the future, the sequel to Dead Letter Day will be with Rethink Press and looking at the success of some indie books, I have to say self-publishing beyond that would definitely be an option. While traditional publishing undoubtedly unearths some talent, I do think for a lot of writers it is a case of who you know and there are some awful books available through big publishing houses. Likewise, while I know there are plenty of bad indie books, there are also hugely talented writers who deserve the chance to have their book read.

Q6 - How does it feel to suddenly become the focus of attention from people, all over the world, who now see you as a favourite author. Have you acquired any stalkers yet? What has been your favourite accolade?

Yes, I definitely have a few fans since DLD was released and it is the most surreal, but lovely feeling. I can’t get over how much some people interact on my page, all because they loved the book and want to engage with me – the author. It is all good for the book and they are always very polite and kind with their words. I actually had the chance to meet a fan of DLD this weekend, as we were at the same party. She was a lovely lady; smart, elegant and articulate, and there was me stuffing my face with a plate of sausages and coleslaw, already on my second glass of wine and tripping over stuff (which I hasten to add I do with or without the aid of wine). I couldn’t quite get my head round the fact she seemed to find me fascinating and wanted to spend time in my company.

My favourite accolade? I have a couple. My review in the local Eastern Daily Press, which was sweet. I couldn’t have asked for a better review, as there was absolutely no criticism at all and the journalist said she is now a fan and can’t wait for the sequel. That just blew me away. The second one was last week. I was browsing my publishers Facebook page and noticed one of my Australian fans had taken to their page to post about how much she’d loved my book. It was a really good feeling knowing she had felt passionate enough to do that.

Q7 - you state in some of your previous publicity materials that you suffer from 'Synesthesia'. Could you explain to the readers what that actually results in, and how it affects your writing? How might others recognise that they may be similarly affected?

I have a very basic form of Synesthesia, which is colour word/letter association. It is utterly pointless and to be honest I assumed everyone saw words and names in colour, until I read a newspaper article about it. Synesthesia is a merging of the senses. More interesting cases I have read about include a guy who tasted words. For example, whenever he said the name Barbara he got the strong taste of elastic bands. Some musicians with Synesthesia can see sound. I believe I have read that both Billy Joel and John Mayer have this form. I am not sure if my form of Synesthesia helps my writing in any way, though it is said that artistic people are more likely to have the condition. It does mess with my head a little when words are written in one colour and to me they should be something different. For example, on the cover of DLD my name is written in yellow. To me, Keri is a red word and Beevis is a brown word. That would have looked stupid on the book though, so I have to get over it.

Q8 - You are currently working on your sequel to 'Dead Letter Day'. How much of that is down to your personal desire to extend the characters and exploit them further? How much pressure, as an author, do you feel there is to produce a sequel to such a successful novel?

I have never written a sequel and my new book was always intended to be another stand-alone book. Before it went to print my publisher was gently suggesting bringing some of the characters back, but it wasn’t until I had quite a few requests from readers that I finally relented. I already had a plot in mind and a couple of new characters and I was actually debating over whether to set my new novel in the US again or here in the UK. It was flattering knowing that people were eager to read more about the characters I had created, so I decided to make a few changes to the new plot, set it back in Juniper, Oregon and bring back some of the original cast. I am so pleased my fans pushed me in this direction, as I didn’t realise how much I would enjoy writing about my old friends again. The pressure is definitely on. There are high expectations for the sequel and I don’t want to disappoint my fans who are eagerly awaiting the book. Dead Letter Day has a lot of twists, including a final huge one, few people have managed to get. I have to admit figuring out how I am going to top that is causing me a few sleepless nights.

Q9 - What else does Keri Beevis have in the pipeline for her readers? Future plans, projects and aspirations?

Movies and books go hand in hand for me and plan A was always to get published, with plan B getting my novels made into movies. Well, they do say ‘aim high’. With regards to writing, I have another thriller already completed, that I am very proud of. It’s currently called Pandora’s Box, though that title will likely change. The pace is slower than Dead Letter Day and I want to do some work on it before it is released to try and speed it up, but my intention is to release the sequel to DLD, then bring Pandora’s Box out almost on the back of it. I will then probably go back to my characters in Juniper for a third story.

I would like to thank Keri for providing us with such great information and insight!

 ‘Dead Letter Day’, by Keri Beevis, is now available in paperback and e-book formats. For more information, please take the time to look at the links, below...



Those voices in my head...

The voices inside my head have finally started, once again. I have been struggling with how to adapt the work I have already under...