Sunday 9 June 2013

The first of my author interviews - Megan Denby - 'A thistle in the mist'.

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.

I have been very deliberate in my choice of ‘first author interview’ to be published.

My choice was actually very easy, as the hugely talented Canadian, Megan Denby, author of the wonderful inaugural novel ‘A thistle in the mist’, came to my attention immediately, when, as a ‘newbie’ I engaged within assorted ‘discussion groups’ for writers, looking for inspiration and answers.

Megan and I were asking the same questions, in our own, unique ways, at almost identical times. Megan answered some of my questions, and I hope I answered some of Megan’s as helpfully.

Megan continues to be one of my staunchest supporters and assists me tremendously, whilst being an incredibly busy lady in her own right. 

Megan received the following review from me...and I meant every word of it...

'Megan Denby is a hugely talented Author. In this, her first novel, she has created a high benchmark for what she can achieve. This is a book that is easily read by both female and male readers. Megan's intelligent and intuitive use of male themes, mixed in with a story of love, devotion, betrayal, trust, hope, determination, makes for a compelling read. Meara, the main character is brilliantly crafted, and leaves you in no doubt, what a warm and loving person she is. Taken on a wild roller-coaster, starting in Scotland during the Napoleonic Wars, and then crossing oceans and back to have her life restored, this is both artistic and touching. An insight into the cruelty of humanity and the vulnerabilities that the devious exploit. Fantastic use of words. Keep a look out for Megan, as I believe she is going to be a best-seller!'

Here are my questions, and Megan’s responses...

                                                Welcome, Megan Denby!

Q1 - would you also be so kind as to compose an introduction to Megan Denby, the woman and the author...for me to open the interview with. How, perhaps, you would like readers to identify you?

Megan Denby chose her tagline 'Not Your Average Lassie' for many reasons. She is the great-granddaughter of a Scottish lady who inspired her to write her first novel, the Scottish tale of love and deception, 'A Thistle in the Mist. Growing up, she always felt like she was on the outside looking in while words, stories, thoughts and images collided inside her head. She now seeks solace in the stolen moments when she can write in between the busy, yet idyllic life she has created with her wife and six children.


Q2 - Having picked through your FB and social media sites, website, etc, it appears that you are very much a self developed writer. Your prose is beautiful and your story immaculately crafted. What formal training have you undertaken, or conversely, how have you taught yourself to write to achieve your level of ability? 

I always excelled in English and possessed a wild imagination that lent itself to any story I wrote. At age 35, I enrolled in a creative writing program taught by published author, Sue Reynolds. Incredibly supportive and encouraging, she instantly became my mentor. I am basically a shy person, so 'putting myself out there' was a scary prospect. I thought I might vomit as I entered the first class but my fears were quickly put to rest as I realized everyone else felt the same way. 

I learned a great deal from Sue and the other writers but I think the most valuable thing I learned was to 'tone down' my writing. I was under the impression that adjectives needed to be used in every sentence to make it exciting. One of the students, after reading something I'd written, described my prose as a Krispy Krème donut - just a little too sweet. This made a huge impression on me and I quickly changed my style to a 'show, don't tell' technique so that my readers could experience my stories through action, thoughts, dialogue and their senses rather than through exposition coated in outrageous adjectives. 

I must have done something right as Sue invited me to the 'next level' of her creative writing classes. I had the honour of learning many tips from seasoned writers and I quickly overcame my shyness. I received tremendous feedback from Sue and my fellow students - praise that I needed to move forward with my writing. I completed my novel, A Thistle in the Mist, but my life took a different course and I didn't pursue it any further at that time.
Years later, I pulled out my manuscript and began to edit. I was surprised how my thoughts toward writing had changed. In the ensuing years, I had read hundreds of books and I knew exactly what I liked. So I edited and cut and rewrote. I tried to write the kind of story I loved to read. When I sent it out to agents, one agent in particular, a lovely lady from the agency that represents Dan Brown told me she found my prose to have a "hypnotic, fairy-tale-like quality" and my stayed with her for days. This was a huge boost to my ego! 

Although she ultimately rejected my story, I knew now that I would publish no matter what.

Q3 - What have been the greatest influences to perform at this level?

My greatest influences have been my high school English teacher, favourite authors, Luanne Rice and Barbara Erskine, novelist Sue Reynolds, my wife, Jen, who pushed me to publish my story, my sister, Kim, who edited every word and was my biggest champion and most recently my new friends, supportive and talented independent authors who have generously shared some incredible advice. To know other writers are going through the exact same process and emotions as I am has been a tremendous encouragement to me - an encouragement that I am happy to pass on to fellow authors.

Q4 - Picking up on your first response, you state that your prose was described as having a "hypnotic, fairy-tale-like quality". 

Having read 'A Thistle in the mist' I could not agree more. 

How did that help / influence you to produce a beautifully crafted first novel, which seems to abound with significant elements of Grandma Ross' life, and therefore, must have been a) very personal and b) hugely cathartic, to write?

I began A Thistle in the Mist about twelve years ago and I was indeed inspired by my Grandma Ross. I have always been drawn to the Scottish burr, no doubt because of Grandma's lilting brogue and once I knew her entire story - the abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepmother, the loss of her younger sister, the loss of her son and her subsequent emigration to Canada to become an indentured servant - I felt I had the basis for a compelling fictional story and an outlet for the love and admiration I felt for this very special woman. 

Throughout the years my style of writing has basically remained the same. Although I have toned down my overuse of adjectives, I just write from the heart. I love beautiful words and words that evoke emotion and it is natural for me to write in this style.

It was very late one evening, during my submission process, and I decided to send out one more query letter. I had researched one particular agent who preferred the first three chapters in addition to a query letter. I sent it off then hopped into bed. I always keep my cell phone on my bedside table in case any of my kids need me and as I prepared to turn off my light, my phone beeped. I checked the email and it was a reply from the agent. She loved what she had read and wanted the entire manuscript.

This agent was from the New York agency that represents the author, Dan Brown so you can imagine my ridiculous excitement. I stayed up until 3am, obsessively going over my manuscript before I let it go to her. She ultimately rejected my story as she felt I needed to make my male character, Duncan, more likeable and she felt I needed to enhance the historical details but she did offer to look at anything else I had written. It was in her rejection letter that she told me my prose had a 'hypnotic fairy-tale-like-quality'. It was this particular praise that had an enormous effect on me as a writer. I carried her rejection around on my phone for months - reading and re-reading this small bit of validation that had touched me to my very core. She 'got' my writing! I credit this agent, Courtney Miller-Callihan, for making me believe in myself. I remolded Duncan and implemented a few of her other suggestions and in so doing, I believe I crafted a story that has touched many readers - exactly what I had set out to do twelve years ago.

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?

Before I dive into any new project, I research and dissect so that I can approach it in the best possible way. Therefore when I began the submission process I was under no illusions and knew the odds were stacked against me. I gave myself six months. I crafted the 'perfect' query letter and stalked agents I felt were a good fit for my novel. Though I received some great feedback, I received just as many rejections. I proceeded to self-publish at the end of the six months.
I enjoy the freedom I have to promote as I like, control my own storyline and cover art and I also like that my deadlines are my own.

However it would be nice to just write and not have to worry about everything else that goes with it. So, when my second book is complete I will approach one particular agent who showed interest in my first book. She invited me to send any other work when it was completed so I will take advantage of this offer. If she is not interested, I will self-publish and be grateful that I have this option!

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?

It's been really exciting connecting with people from every corner of the world. At times my head spins a little at the sheer volume of messages and emails I am getting but I am so flattered by each and every one! I cannot rely on my memory to remind me to come back to them later so I do my best to answer people and chat with them immediately. I really can't say I have any 'stalkers'. But I do have avid readers whom I am SO grateful for. Personal messages and emails regarding my book truly make my day and I will never get sick of them! These notes inspire me and give me the incentive to 'push on'!

At my recent book signing my grade two teacher surprised me. It was an incredible moment. I hadn't seen her since I was six or seven years old. Her husband told me she'd mentioned me often over the past thirty-nine years and when she saw me in the newspaper she decided to come and see me and purchase my book. It is moments like these that I am very grateful for.

Q7 - in Chaunce Stanton's new novel, ‘Blank Slate Boarding House for Creatives', he brings together several colourful characters from history that have clearly been of interest or influential to him in his life and / or as a writer.

If you could hold a dinner party, and invite just four of the most influential people from your past, who would they be and why would they be invited?

The most colourful characters from my past are my grandparents! A dinner party would be most entertaining if I could include my Great-Grandma Ross, my Nana, my Grandad and my Grandpa. Grandma Ross was the inspiration behind A Thistle in the Mist. I remember her clearly, her Scottish burr, her stories and her big laugh. However the bits and pieces of her history that I include in my story have been gleaned from other family members. I'd love to hear her voice again and learn of her past firsthand. My Nana was her daughter and had the same big laugh and smiled sweetly while swearing like a trooper. To sit down with Nana, hear her voice and have a few drinks with her while she good-naturedly makes fun of me would be a dream come true. And Grandad. Well, Grandad was a man like no other. He had a great impact on my life. With a colourful past, a talent for the Jew's harp and a huge heart he was always the life of the party. If I could see him one more time I'd wrap my arms around his neck and breathe deep of his essence of wood smoke and homemade wine. Grandpa was my dad's dad and he was a rascal - always ready with an off-colour joke. I remember his whistle and the twinkle in his eye and I'd love to sit down with him now to learn more of his childhood. I hope I am fortunate enough to have such an impact on my own grandchildren one day.

Q8 - What else does Megan Denby have in the pipeline for her readers? I know you are writing the sequel to 'A Thistle in the Mist'. Also, how much of that sequel is down to your personal desire to extend / expand the story and characters, or conversely, how much pressure, as an author, do you feel under to provide a sequel for your readers?

Next in line for me is the sequel to A Thistle in the Mist. The working title is Lost to the Mist and features the same core cast of characters. When writing my first book, I always knew there was more to the story and when I finally finished it I tossed around the idea of doing book two. Judging from the reaction of my readers, a sequel is in order and I am hard at work on that now. It is exciting working with my characters again and developing new storylines but it is also a challenge to produce something with the same pace as my first book - but I am definitely up for that challenge. Currently I feel tremendous pressure to complete this story as I have a self-imposed deadline of August and receive several emails a week asking when it will be done! If A Thistle in the Mist had not been met with such enthusiasm, I would instead be working on a YA novel I started for teen boys or a contemporary thriller about a young woman who awakes from a coma. I will get back to both, one day!


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

 ‘A thistle in the mist’ by Megan Denby, is now available in paperback and e-book formats. For more information, please take the time to look at the links, below...







  1. Fantastic interview and really interesting to read. Credit to you, Phil, for composing the interesting questions, but also to Megan, for giving such engaging and honest answers.

    1. Hi Keri; very kind of you to say so. I have to admit that I have been blessed with some great contemporary authors to get to know, and have the pleasure to interview, on such intimate terms. I hope I do you all justice! megan is a fantastic lady, and like yourself, is worthy of every credit she gets!

    2. I enjoyed reading this, Megan and Phil. A very personable interview.

    3. Hi Teagan; Thanks very much. Megan is an extraordinary lady and has great talent. Are you ready for me to interview you yet?

  2. Wonderful interview Phil and Megan.

    1. Hi Timothy;

      Thanks for the comment. Megan is a great lady and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring what makes her tick! Glad you enjoyed the can add your name to my list of future victims if you would care to?

  3. A really absorbing read, Phil. It is maddening to hear about the rejections from publishing houses when they clearly acknowledge someone has got genuine talent. They just wait for the finished package, instead of investing in it. This is where writers supporting other writers is so very important because whilst you can learn the skills by yourself honest feedback and criticism speeds up the process considerably. Good luck to Megan with her book and the upcoming sequel:)

    1. Thanks very much for the positive comments Jane. I think you are spot on re the supportive element of new writers development. I love the friendship and camaradery that the writers groups and G+ have offered me, and I hope I give back something in return. Megan certainly was a great support to me, and she is a great writer!

  4. Phil, thanks so much for your lovely intro. I am so lucky to have 'met' you! You make me laugh and inspire me every day with your energy. It was a pleasure being interviewed by you and thank you for presenting it with such care! And thank you for your lovely comments, Keri, Teagan, Timothy and Jane!

    1. Hey Megan; I was just like you...we found our feet in self-publishing at much the same time, and I felt like we had a bond - respect for each other - very quickly. I have also found that with half a dozen or so guys now...Keri, Chaunce, Tim Hurley, Jane Turley, Buzz...and just regret that we are so widely spread. I would love to get together with you all, because I really think we would have a hoot! Thank you for being such an open and honest 'victim'! Let me have your postal address, and I will send off a signed copy of my latest asap!


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