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


  1. Great interview, Phil. I didn't know you and Anne had worked together.

    Your book sounds intriguing, Anne - definitely adding it to my must-read list! I can really relate to being blindsided by the prospect of self-promotion. It is a lot of work but we are fortunate to be able to learn from each other during this process! Best of luck to you!


    1. Hi Megan; I will make sure Anne gets your comments! Thanks, as always!


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