A Conversation with Susan Hancock

Dr. Susan Hancock is a retired university lecturer, now writing a unique science fiction series. Set in Elizabethan England, Anstey’s Kingdom involves travel in time and space and the conflicts between love, safety, and freedom in a dangerous world. I’m waiting to finish the first trilogy before reviewing the books, but the premise was so intriguing I asked Susan to chat with me about her books.

Tell a new reader a bit about your books: setting, concept, main characters.

The setting for my Anstey’s Kingdom trilogy is split between sixteenth-century Devon, England and a planet in the Auriga Constellation. Since the latter is the home world of my protagonists, I have named the planet Domum-Orbis. There is a rationale behind the Latinate oddments, but I can’t reveal it without giving a massive spoiler relating to Anstey’s Legacy: No Greater Love (the third book.)

The books began with a series of ‘what if’ questions. What would it feel like to suddenly discover that you weren’t human? What would it be like, as a refugee fleeing from war on a far planet, to find yourself in the power of the man who had appeared to offer you freedom…at a price? How would you cope with being so very different in a time and place where such difference could endanger your life?

Kat (Kathryn Wrenn) is my female lead. She has been brought up in a comfortable household in Elizabethan England and has no idea at all that, while she has a human father, her mother is from Auriga and not human at all.

Thomas Alban escaped to Earth with his parents when he was just 5 years of age. He knows his origins, but is contracted to work for the eponymous Anstey for the rest of his life, as one of the technicians running the underground complex in which the exiles hide.

Do you have a favourite character? If so, why?

Oh yes, Thomas is such a lovely, mixed-up man. Book two, Anstey’s Revenge: Will Love be Enough? Is really his book, as he struggles to come to terms with extreme depression and thoughts of self-harm. I suppose, in a bizarre way, I feel guilty about everything I’ve put him through. I’ve certainly cried at my laptop over his struggles.

Given the time period and setting, it’s possible to read your books as an allegory for religious persecution in Tudor times. Is there any basis for that, or is that just the Tudor history geek in me reading too much in?

I can see how you might read it in that way, but it’s more of a distanced comment on the endless persecution of the vulnerable, for whatever reason, and the ways in which refugees can be exploited. I’m thinking, in particular, of people smugglers and sex-traffickers here. I’m not underplaying the extreme dangers of existing in the Tudor times, but it is perhaps telling that James, whose relationship with human Robert would mean death if they were caught, prefers to take his chances in the outside world rather than endlessly labour, unpaid, in Anstey’s Kingdom. A freedom/safety conundrum. The violence of the times is more than matched by the violence perpetrated by Anstey, and his resident thugs, on anyone who defies him.

How did you research the period, specifically regarding the setting and the real places mentioned?

I spent a lot of time working in the North Devon Records Office in Barnstaple, Devon. Everyone there was very helpful and it was fascinating to read so many books relating to the history of the area, together with maps and reproductions of wood-cuts, all giving a real ‘feel’ for the period. Of prime interest—details of the pirates who occupied Lundy Island at that time (I later visited Lundy) and information on the floods which swept down the Bristol Channel during the period covered in book 2. I had to shift the date of the floods slightly, but was able to make reference to specifics of a scene which is the subject of a woodcut from 1607.  

Staying at the Royal and Fortescue Hotel in Barnstaple, which was once the Fortescue Arms where Kat and Thomas also stayed, gave me a really shivery feeling, particularly looking at the ceiling in their bistro which dates from 1620. [Forgive the tendency to refer to my protagonists as if they are real people—they have come to feel as if they are to me.]

I also researched on-line and made good use of books such as Ian Mortimer’s invaluable The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England.

Your academic specialty, if I’ve done my research correctly, is children’s literature, especially the concept of the child within literature. So, two questions arising from this: Do you have a favourite children’s book – and if you do, why that book? Second question: what drew you to write adult books?

My instinctive reaction to your first question is to say Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books. However, I’m conscious that this is the choice of the adult reader in me (perhaps evidenced by the fact that Tehanu, the perhaps-adult fourth book, is my favourite of these.) Going back to my own childhood, I was totally enthralled by the books of Rosemary Sutcliffe, Geoffrey Trease and Henry Treece. As a rather solitary child, I used to creep about the house and garden in my favourite emerald green dress, pretending to be one or other of the Celtic or Ancient British characters from fiction (only occasionally a Roman.)

I’m sure, however, that I’ve missed out loads of other significant books and will immediately think of them once this interview is concluded!

There is a fairly lengthy hiatus between my non-fiction writing on children’s literature and my embarking on writing adult books. For a relatively long period I was wrestling internal demons and had no desire to write anything (in fact I did a lot of very inexpert painting and was convinced I would never write again.) I can’t really explain why I suddenly became obsessed with a story and a ‘people’ taking shape in my mind (answering the ‘what if’ questions I outlined earlier.) All I know is that the words fairly poured out of me, and the characters took a firm grip on my psyche, demanding that their stories be told. I think of myself more as a story-teller than a writer, and perhaps that is a legacy of my children’s literature studies. So many incredible plots and happenings people that world. That said, my books are, I confess, very violent and sexually explicit.

I have only a superficial knowledge of Jungian thought, but I believe you have quite a bit more. How has this influenced your writing? Are there aspects of your book that should be viewed through Jungian concepts?

My interest in Jungian psychoanalytic criticism arose from my research into the ways in which child-characters are formed in literature for children and in myth, legend and folk tale. A part of that involved looking at miniature characters, giants (the ultimate hyperbolic child), and what such constructions—from Tom Thumb to Tommelise to Nils Holgersson to Issun-Boshi—reveal of the societies in which they come to life. So, the short answer to your question is “no” I don’t think it has influenced me (consciously at least!) A psychoanalytic critic might well have a field day analysing my books, but that critic is no longer me.

Did you read science fiction prior to writing your series? If so, what are your favourite books? And if not, what drew you to this genre?

I enjoy an eclectic mix of books, with my science fiction reading coming from books such as Anne McCaffrey’s early dragon books, concerning colonists from Earth who settle on the fictional planet of Pern, and the Crystal series. My late uncle, who had a PhD in nuclear physics from Cambridge and was at one time President of the British Interplanetary Society, loved her more space-oriented books, in particular the ‘Brain and Brawn Ship’ series, and introduced me to some of them.

Do you listen to music for inspiration? Did any songs (or poems or other books or movies/tv) inspire or shape your concepts or characters in your series?

Words from poems and plays do float through my head while I’m writing. Certain lines suggest themselves as analogous with certain characters and actions. For example, my WIP currently involves my character feeling the compulsion to share her story, no matter who it is with—in this case her sleeping baby daughter. It made me think, inescapably, of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

I enjoy listening to music, but my choices are more about mood than any influence on my writing. Although, thinking of it, perhaps love songs for some of my scenes.

Who are your greatest support people for your writing?

My husband Peter, who loves to read my work and is quick to point out plot holes and bits that don’t work, is my main person. My neighbour, Yvonne, is also very supportive and encouraging as a rough draft reader. Latterly my granddaughter (who has an MA in publishing) did some excellent editing work (pointing out problem areas rather than a line-by-line edit) but refused, point-blank, to look at any ‘sex’ scenes written by me.   

And is there a four-legged furry friend (or two) who helps out?

Sadly, my furry friends did not survive to see the publication of my books. I’m sure they would have enjoyed sitting on them. Jasper and Rosie (ginger tom and sister tabby) were our much-loved feline friends and dear Lucy, a rescue cross between a Jack Russell terrier and a German shepherd (I know, the mind boggles) was our canine companion. They were a great age when they finally succumbed (18, 17 and 16 respectively) and we haven’t had the heart to replace them.

What’s next?

I have just completed a sequel to the ‘Anstey’ books, which concerns Kat’s and Thomas’s three children. This is currently away for editing, cover design etc. and should be out in September. Work is also in progress with a prequel, which is currently giving me problems—the form of the solo narrator’s voice and single POV are not my usual mode of working…we shall see.  

This last question is very personal. As one cancer survivor to another, there is a theme of anger, of violation and PTSD among your characters. Do you think this is a reflection of what we go through in diagnosis and treatment, expressed in your books? If so, was this conscious – a form of therapy?

Yes, the writing was definitely cathartic: there is also a lot of me written out in Thomas, plus the books gave me a way of regaining a feeling of purpose in my life. A couple of things about the cancer affected me badly: the first was developing a sense of guilt that I was still alive when so many weren’t. I became very numb, depressed and uncertain why I should be living. What was the point of my survival? How many better and more purposeful lives could have been saved in my place? Also affecting me was a certain anger at the complete loss of agency in my life. I had difficulty in coming to terms with damage to the nerves in my spine (a mix of the effects of radiotherapy and the activity of the original tumours themselves.) It took a while to get used to not being able to walk about, to being stuck in the house, totally dependent on help to go out. Starting writing was a little like a dam bursting. A point to my life and something I didn’t need to be able to walk to do.

I appreciate being given the opportunity to talk about it.

Thank you, Susan. Your answers will make your second and third books (still on my TBR list) all the more intriguing!

An image posted by the author.

You can find more information about Susan on her website, or connect with her on Twitter.

Featured Image: Eighteenth century view of Barnstaple, Museum Of Barnstaple And NorthDevon. Public Domain.

BOOK SPOTLIGHT & REVIEW : DISCERNING GRACE by Emma Lombard

London 1826. Wilful Grace Baxter, will not marry old Lord Silverton with his salivary incontinence and dead-mouse stink. Discovering she is a pawn in an arrangement between slobbery Silverton and her calculating father, Grace is devastated when Silverton reveals his true callous nature.

Refusing this fate, Grace resolves to stow away. Heading to the docks, disguised as a lad to ease her escape, she encounters smooth-talking naval recruiter, Gilly, who lures her aboard HMS Discerning with promises of freedom and exploration in South America.

When Grace’s big mouth lands her bare-bottomed over a cannon for insubordination, her identity is exposed. The captain wants her back in London but his orders, to chart the icy archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, forbid it. Lieutenant Seamus Fitzwilliam gallantly offers to take Grace off the fretting captain’s hands by placing her under his protection.

Grace must now win over the crew she betrayed with her secret, while managing her feelings towards her taciturn protector, whose obstinate chivalry stifles her new-found independence.

An excerpt from the novel, followed by my review.

London, 13 May 1826

A deep-throated rumble of laughter drew Grace’s eyes across the crowded drawing room, and over to Uncle Farfar. Heading over to him, she admired the double row of gold buttons on his blue naval coat glinting in the luminescence of the gilt chandelier above. The crystal beads cast a sprinkling of starlight around the room. Grace thought the evening had a distinctly tropical aura with wide-fronded palms and vines spilling from all corners in a waterfall of greenery. Grace also thought Mothers’ décor was fanciful and faux.

Uncle Farfar beckoned a young man, the single epaulette on his right shoulder announcing that he was a lieutenant in His Majesty’s Royal Navy. “Ah, Fitzwilliam. Just in time,” beamed Uncle Farfar, his face flushed with pleasure. Uncle Farfar was actually Admiral Arthur Jameson Baxter, highly decorated for his successful engagement in Admiral Nelson’s campaign at the Battle of Trafalgar. He had lovingly endured the childhood nickname Grace had bestowed upon him when she was eighteen months old, and unable to pronounce his name, Uncle Arthur. He had not escaped the deep weathering of a man who had spent his life at sea, and though his face was much rounder these days, Grace thought he still had a kindness in his eyes.

Centring himself between Grace and the new arrival, Uncle Farfar said, “Lieutenant Seamus Fitzwilliam, may I introduce you to Miss Grace Baxter, my niece and the delight of my life.”

Grace smiled politely, admiring the shades of gold shimmering across Fitzwilliam’s smoothed-back hair, caught tidily in a black silk ribbon at his graceful nape.

“The pleasure is all mine, Miss Baxter,” said Fitzwilliam, formally kissing her hand.

“Lieutenant.” Grace took her hand back, fingers curling, and Fitzwilliam clasped his own behind his back.

Uncle Farfar’s sharp eyes flicked across the room, and his cordiality shrivelled. “God save us, see who approaches? Lord Silverton.”

To Grace, Lord Silverton appeared closer to a hundred years old, despite him only being in his early fifties. He was also a childless widower of renowned wealth and lineage. His bulging midriff announced no shortage of good food. He had been a mysterious figure on the outskirts of Grace’s life since she could remember, but no number of years had lessened her discomfort around him.

“Your servant, madam,” drawled Silverton, bowing stiffly.

Grace dipped her head in greeting, lowering her gaze from Silverton’s beady eyes to the neatly tied cravat at the base of his bulbous, waggling chin. How could any respectable lady willingly draw herself to the attention of this crusty, timeworn creature?

“Your gown is simply delightful, Miss Baxter,” said Silverton. “Reminds me of the gossamer wings of a dragonfly.” Silverton’s obtrusive stare seemed to blacken Uncle Farfar’s mood further.

Oblivious, Silverton droned on, “Fascinating creatures! Dragonfly rituals of courtship may seem romantic to those inclined to observe the world through rose-coloured spectacles, but the amazing show of flips and spirals is usually the female trying to escape the boorish behaviour of the males.”

“I cannot possibly imagine how that feels,” Grace muttered, peering impassively around the crowded room. Fitzwilliam’s quick dry cough sounded suspiciously like a laugh, and Grace studied him from the corner of her eye. His face betrayed nothing.

Just then the butler rang the bell. Silverton’s beady eyes fixed on Grace. “Would you care to dine with me this evening, Miss Baxter?”

Uncle Farfar cleared his throat. “If you don’t mind Silverton, I’d appreciate my niece’s company this evening.” Uncle Farfar drew Grace away before Silverton could say anything more, and ushered her into the dining room. Fitzwilliam followed two steps behind with his allotted dinner companion, Miss Pettigrew. Her petite hand curled in his elbow, and her coifed black hair barely met his shoulder. Grace had made her acquaintance only once before, and realised with a sinking heart that she was in for an evening of little to no conversation with the demure creature, should she sit beside her. The stretched table was laid with the snowiest of linen, and set with such precision that even the King of England would have been pressed to find fault.

Uncle Farfar waved at the empty chairs. “Would you care to sit between Lieutenant Fitzwilliam and I, Grace dear? You might need to give me a kick under the table if we bore you with too much naval chatter.”

Grace sank into her chair. “Nonsense, Uncle. I do so enjoy your tales.”

Fitzwilliam waited for Miss Pettigrew to be seated as she gave him a simpering smile. A wave of relief washed over Grace at not being stuck with Silverton for the evening. Uncle Farfar clearly had the same thoughts, and he chuckled, “At least you’re squirrelled with us, away from that pompous windbag.”

Grace peered down the long table, her eyes narrowing as she caught Silverton’s beady eyes, grey as a wolf’s pelt, roaming freely across her décolletage. She scratched absentmindedly at the fine lace edging around the low neck of her lavender gown, aware that her unladylike fidgeting would likely irk Father at some point in the evening. But it could not be helped. Lace was wretchedly itchy.

Fitzwilliam pulled in his chair, and nodded at Captain Steven Fincham sitting stiffly opposite him like a squat Napoleonic figure. Dark circles beneath Fincham’s bleary, bloodshot eyes gave Grace the impression that he was in poor health, was suffering from the crapulous effects of intoxication, or both.

With the soup course over, Grace eyed the line of footmen entering with platters laden with succulent roast lamb. The thin slices looked perfectly browned on the outside with just a peek of pink inside. Her stomach grumbled at the rich buttery scent of the potatoes being served onto her plate. She intended to enjoy every mouthful. At the sound of cutlery pinging on glass, Grace turned her attention to her father, Lord Flint, who rose with his wine glass raised.

“As you know, my dear wife’s partiality to dinner parties ensures they happen with alarming regularity.” A polite smattering of laughter rippled around the table. “But tonight, we have two guests who deserve our well wishes.” Father inclined his bewigged head at Captain Fincham. “Captain Fincham and Lieutenant Fitzwilliam will soon be leaving England’s fair shores in an effort to expand our great nation’s knowledge of the world.” His crystal cut glass glimmered in the candlelight. “To a safe and prosperous journey, gentlemen.”

“To a safe and prosperous journey,” echoed the diners.

Uncle Farfar’s grey head peered around Grace at Fitzwilliam. “Where are you off to this time, Lieutenant?”

Relieved to be released from Fincham’s melancholy, and Miss Pettigrew’s muteness, Grace widened her eyes, equally interested to hear his answer.

“Plymouth first, to pick up the rest of the ship’s company and fresh supplies, before we sail to Tierra del Fuego,” said Fitzwilliam.

“Damned notorious waters off the Horn of South America, eh?” declared Uncle Farfar.

“That’s right,” interrupted Fincham, his unsteady hand lowering his empty glass to the table. “We’re sailing out tomorrow on the Discerning. To chart the coasts between Montevideo and Chiloé Island.”

“Ah, yes, the hydrographic survey! I recall hearing of it around the Admiralty.” Uncle Farfar’s eyes blazed. “The Royal Navy has been around those parts for years, but they’ve few charts to show for it. About time someone had a crack at it.” He inclined his head at Fitzwilliam. “Sounds just the kind of adventure a young man like you would relish.”

“Indeed, sir.” Fitzwilliam agreed.

Grace tucked a chocolate corkscrew of hair, that had rebelliously come undone, behind her ear. “What a pity you shan’t be here for the ball next week, Lieutenant. Mother will no doubt outdo herself again.” Fitzwilliam was about to reply when Lady Flint’s tinkling laughter drew his attention down the other end of the table. Despite numerous suitors declaring that Grace’s natural beauty stemmed from her mother, Grace thought Lady Flint’s shrewd eyes and downturned mouth erased all prettiness. She glanced back at the handsome naval officer beside her.

“You’ll have to pardon me, Miss Baxter,” Fitzwilliam said ruefully. “I find society balls to be little more than an exercise in attaching one unwitting party to another, usually for monetary gain.”

“Hear, hear!” Fincham banged the table, jangling the silverware. Miss Pettigrew squeaked with fright. Fincham blustered, “The oceans of the world are far less dangerous to navigate as far as I’m concerned.”

Grace laughed. “I quite agree, Captain Fincham. Father had me all but married off to Colonel Dunne until he found out he’s as poor as a church mouse and about to be shipped off to India.” She turned to Fitzwilliam, one brow arching as she whispered from the corner of her mouth, “Dull as a butter knife too.”

Clearly amused by her honesty, Fitzwilliam’s shoulders jiggled with silent laughter, and he smirked. Grace had never understood how Father threw her at suitors who were highly suitable on paper but wholly unsuitable in person.


Now you’ve read the excerpt, here’s my review:

A young woman discovers she’s been promised to a disgusting old lecher, and so, she runs away. Not the first time this scenario has started a story, but the young woman in question doesn’t usually end up as a cabin boy on a survey vessel! 

But that’s exactly where Grace Baxter’s flight takes her, and the twists and turns of her story (or should I say the ebb and swell, as we’re aboard ship?) as she adapts to life on board, learns the skills of seamanship, and fights for acceptance among the other men make for entertaining reading. We meet an array of characters against whom Grace must pit her wits – and her fists – to take her place as one of the crew, creating an ensemble cast, each of whom adds in their own way to the story.

Emma Lombard’s debut novel is full of detail that helps the reader envision the confined world of the Discerning, the ship on which she’s taken refuge. It’s clearly well researched: the daily tasks of the crew; the fear when Grace must learn to climb rigging; the food served, and the stench of the sleeping quarters all serve to create a believable backdrop to Grace’s tale.

Many conflicts and reversals, big and small, keep the reader’s attention, without feeling forced or added simply to have yet another problem to be solved. Discerning Grace is a romance, too; can you put a determined young woman and an honourable lieutenant together on a ship without one?   Discerning Grace is an admirable debut novel, and a beguiling blend of historical fiction and women’s fiction.

AUTHOR BIO

Emma Lombard was born in Pontefract in the UK. She grew up in Africa—calling Zimbabwe and South Africa home for a few years—before finally settling in Brisbane Australia, and raising four boys. Before she started writing historical fiction, she was a freelance editor in the corporate world, which was definitely not half as exciting as writing rollicking romantic adventures. Her characters are fearless seafarers, even though in real life Emma gets disastrously sea sick. Discerning Grace is the first book in The White Sails Series.

Connect with Emma: WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagramGoodreads

Love & Adversity on the High Seas

Emma Lombard’s Discerning Grace is a high seas adventure with an adventurous heroine – a young woman who runs away to sea rather than marry a boring old man. Here, Emma talks about the inspiration for Grace, what she does for fun, and what it means when she’s staring off into space.

What inspired you to write DISCERNING GRACE (Book 1)?

I’ve always been a little nosy—I know, I know … curiosity killed the cat! But back in 2001 during one of my regular letter-writing sessions to my grandmother in England, I decided I’d like to know a little more about our family history from the older generation. Once they’ve passed it’s so hard to find out what kinds of people they knew and the sorts of things they got up to.

So, my darling late grandmother, whom I was incredibly close to, indulgently began answering my questions and documenting memories of her own childhood and stories of ancestors. All it took was for me to read the opening to one of her letters and I just KNEW I had to write a story about it! This is what the letter said, ‘Your GGG grandmother was only 16 when she ran away from home to marry a sea captain … her family cut her off and she sailed the seas with him …’

Come on! What author couldn’t resist a little bit of real-life inspiration like that?

And so, that is how my purely fictional, historical naval adventure— with a dash of romance—blossomed. I’ve been thrilled by the journey of writing it and all the research too, but most of all, I’ve loved imagining the incredible courage and fortitude it would have taken my ancestor to choose such a life! Plus, there is my GGG grandfather’s side of the tale to consider too. As my grandmother put it, they were ‘obviously a very enlightened couple, and she a very, very liberated woman.’

What was the best piece of writing advice you received when starting out?

To give my main character, Grace Baxter, more agency instead of her being a victim of circumstance. I was pushed to get her to create and direct her own circumstances. This was a bit more of a challenge having a female lead character in the early 1800s because of societal restrictions on women in those days. But I also figured that there had to be pioneering women, even back then, who broke the mould. Since Grace is inspired by my three times great grandmother, who indeed bucked the norm in her day by leaving her well-to-do family in England to elope with an English sea captain and live with him at sea, I felt I had a little more leeway to play with when writing Grace’s character. And besides, what’s a rollicking romantic adventure without a feisty heroine!

What is your favourite historical era and why? Do you have a favourite historical female? Why?

I’m open when it comes to reading historical fiction through the different eras, from Jean M. Auel’s prehistoric The Clan of the Cave Bear, to Vikings and Romans, through to later centuries like in Wilbur Smith’s Courtney series. As for writing it, I’ve been so immersed in the 19th century since I’ve been writing my own books, that I have a soft spot for this era. There’s a great balance of knowledge and information out there since it wasn’t too long ago—say unlike the ancient Egyptian era. I have huge admiration for historical authors who write about ancient times. The research required for that is mammoth (snigger)!

While there are many well-known historical females, my research unearthed a whole world of unknown women whose stories have not had a spotlight shone on them. These have been my favourite historical females to find—mothers penning journals about parenthood, sisters writing letters to relatives from the other side of the world, wives aboard ships keeping diaries that recorded tiny details of daily life not captured in a ship’s log books. It took me ages to find some resources that spoke about women aboard ships who were not just there to entertain the sailors, but who played a pivotal role in sailing the ship, raising a family aboard, and supporting industrious endeavours. These are some of my favourites:

  • Seafaring Women by renowned historian, Linda Grant De Pauw
  • Female Tars by Suzanne J. Stark
  • Hen Frigates by maritime historian, Joan Durett
  • She Captains by maritime historian, Joan Durett

What message are you sharing in your books?

The themes in my first novel, DISCERNING GRACE (Book 1), include:

  • an independent woman
  • the importance of love over money
  • appearances can be deceiving
  • love can conquer all
  • triumph over adversity

Does each book stand alone, or are you building a body of work with connections or themes between each book?

I love reading a long series where you can immerse yourself into another world and get to know the characters intimately through several books, so it felt perfectly natural for me to write a series too. It has been a joy to evolve my characters from their young and naïve selves in the first book, and mature them through their life experiences in subsequent books. Discerning Grace (Book 1) is out now. The second book is nearly ready to publish, and I have complete draft manuscripts for books three and four.

A movie producer wants to turn your book into a movie and you get to make a cameo. What would you do in the movie?

Ooo, isn’t this every writer’s dream!

Due to the nature of my story aboard a 19th century Royal Naval tall ship, there aren’t that many female characters, though I could play no role on the ship since I get hideously sea sick!

I would have to stick with a role that is safe on land, so perhaps one of the dinner guests in my opening scene.

You have created images for your main characters, how does that help you write them?

I asked my beta readers to send me images of real-life people who they thought most looked like Seamus and Grace. Those images, along with the descriptions from my book, created the basis for the artwork I’ve commissioned (because I can barely draw a stick man!) They turned out exactly as I envisaged them in my mind’s eye!

It has been marvellous to have them drawn so young and fresh when we first meet them. For the subsequent books in the series, I can envisage the deepening of Seamus’s smile line beside his mouth, or the crow’s feet around Grace’s aquamarine eyes. I don’t necessarily speak to my characters, but I do sit and watch them interact and play out scenes in my head (it must look like I’m staring into space, and not working, when I do this!) I only need to look at their body language in their artwork for an inspirational reminder about how they react physically and verbally to different situations.

Since I own this artwork, I’ve actually created my own Redbubble store called, By-the-Book (yes, like the name of my newsletter), where my readers can grab their own favourite keepsakes.

What do you do for fun? What does a perfect day look like?

In everyday life, I’m Mum to four teenage sons—my men children, all of whom are taller than me—and two cantankerous cats who often thrash it out for a spot on my lap! I live in the perpetually sunny city of Brisbane in Australia. I love building jigsaw puzzles (especially Wasgij, backwards puzzles), playing Candy Crush (my secret shame!), and playing board games with my boys—though gone are the days when used to I beat them, they whip me soundly now. And I totally suck at Risk! Having raised four rambunctious boys, my perfect day these days constitutes solitude and silence. It doesn’t matter where, as long as those two ingredients are present.

AUTHOR BIO

Emma Lombard was born in Pontefract in the UK. She grew up in Africa—calling Zimbabwe and South Africa home for a few years—before finally settling in Brisbane Australia, and raising four boys. Before she started writing historical fiction, she was a freelance editor in the corporate world, which was definitely not half as exciting as writing rollicking romantic adventures. Her characters are fearless seafarers, even though in real life Emma gets disastrously sea sick. Discerning Grace, is the first book in The White Sails Series.

Connect with Emma: WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagramGoodreads

72 and Counting

by Nikki Everts

A few random thoughts about how I came to be publishing my first novel at age 72.

I have always written – mostly for myself in journals where I bemoan my fate, rant against those closest to me and try to sort out the confusion of my life. These journals are confined to a dusty box and while I dread the thought of my children reading them when I’m dead, I cannot yet bring myself to throw them away. They are embarrassingly dull and depict a person going round and round the same mulberry bush of problems year after year. However, writing down my thoughts and feelings when I knew no one would be watching gave me a fluidity and freedom in writing that has been very helpful. So when the real authors advise us newbies to just keep writing, they are on to something.

I’d still be writing only for myself if it weren’t for writers’ groups, gatherings and workshops. The first one I dared to participate in was led by an off the wall, erudite bibliophile named Gord Jones who made me believe that my writing was worthy of being read by others. That gift of confidence gave me the impetus to actually write one of the two stories I’d been playing around with. A novel writing course offered at a local college was my next step. The teacher insisted at our first meeting that we break into groups based on genre. Naturally, I panicked – I had to choose between my two darlings: mystery or sci-fi? I simply could not decide. Then a woman burst into the classroom late. I immediately liked her and she sat down beside me. She had no qualms about choosing a genre – mystery it was. And there you are; my decision was made. There were three mystery writers and we persisted meeting together long after the course was over. Those monthly meetings motivated me to keep writing chapter after chapter, if only to have something to read to the group. Although I enjoy the process of writing I am not disciplined and need extrinsic motivation. So, know yourself and put in place whatever you need to keep walking, running, crawling or limping towards your writing goal.

I’d imagined the life of a writer in an ivory tower sort of way. Perhaps this works for some, but the encouragement, feedback and contributions of others have made my writing much better than it ever could’ve been had I gone it alone. The novel I just published with Arboretum Press, Evidence of Uncertain Origin, began thirty years ago when, for reasons I do not remember, I daydreamed a vivid scene that became the climax of the story. I spent a very long time figuring out who the people were in the scene and how they got there and what happened to them afterwards. The story shifted and morphed as I shared it with others and became a better story than the one I started with. I know it is terrifying to share your writing with others – it is a tender shoot of your very own tender soul – but taking the risk really is worth it.

Stay true to your story. Don’t take short cuts or try to be clever. Don’t fall in love with your own words. Integrity makes or breaks a story. If a sub plot or character or those well-crafted words do not harmonize with the whole, be ruthless and kill them off. You know the ones I mean.

I’m not sure I could’ve completed a novel any earlier in my life than I have now. I truly do believe that it is never too late to find out what you love to do and do it. So go for it!

Graduating in in 1969 from the University of California, Berkeley, Nikki travelled for several months, arriving in Montréal in April, 1970 where she lived until 1992. Nikki came of age in California during the sixties and held a sympathetic view of the Front de libération du Québec until the October Crisis. The events leading up to the FLQ’s kidnapping and murder of Pierre Laporte, the beauty of Montréal and the complexity of Québec politics inspired the setting and backdrop of Evidence of Uncertain Origin, Nikki’s first mystery novel.

Nikki lives and writes in Guelph, Ontario. She has self-published a book of poetry, connect dis connect with the help of Vocamus Press and developed writing workshops under the auspices of her small business, Scripted Images. She is working on a second mystery novel.

Purchase links for Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other sources here.

Trillium: an author interview with M.L. Holton

I recently reviewed M.L. Holton’s novel Trillium, a multi-generational saga set in Ontario’s fruit-growing Niagara Peninsula. I live less than an hour north of this area, and local history has always been an interest of mine. I thoroughly enjoyed the book (my full review is here), so I asked the author to talk a little bit more about the work.

Tell us about what inspired Trillium.

I had been thinking for awhile about how I wanted to focus on a rural environment rather than an urban one as per my last two novels, Economic Sex and The Gilded Beaver by Anonymous.

Small farming communities are tightly-bound social networks of multi-generational cross-breeding. They are, in the main, supportive and stable. In North America, they are rapidly becoming a thing of the past as the young move to the cities for better employment opportunities and generational farmers, with miniscule profit-margins, sell-out to larger agri-business concerns. The migration is undercutting the bedrock of our uniquely Canadian society.

I also wanted to explore and expand on the on-going controversy between ‘nature’ versus ‘nurture’. How do we become who we are?

Trillium spans a period of 250 years, from early settlement on the Niagara Peninsula to the early 2000. This timeframe gave me a much larger canvas to work.

❖ How has your life influenced your writing, specifically in this book?

There’s no question that I have pulled on my life experiences to craft this work.

I grew up on the fringe of a farming community in Halton County. We raised sheep and fowl on a small scale. As a child, I watched and learned from my enterprising father, (born and raised in the area), as he constantly interacted with the landscape and livestock on our property. Nature was omnipresent – dictating birth, life and death. Working outside with my brothers and my father was always fun and pleasurable. Wind in our hair, dirt up our fingernails. This quasi-bucolic country lifestyle was very far removed from the social lifestyle that my mother managed to create for our family. She was involved with various local charities, sport associations and social clubs ‘in the city’. That activity widened our community circle and life experiences. My father’s family business was involved with the early development of a yarn company in Hamilton during the 19th century. But, by the mid 1980s, this century-old family firm experienced an acute downturn as a result of cheaper South American and Asian imports. We all had to adjust.

As example, I was removed from a distanced private school of 600 students and started attending a nearby public high school of 3000 students. Rather than getting picked up by a bus, I walked to school. To a wide-eyed teen, the differences between the two learning institutions were acute. Coordinated school uniforms were replaced by the media-driven trends of ‘fashion’. Individual ‘popularity’ was valued more than team work or basic ‘competence’.

These kinds of juxtapositions caught my eye and ear and became a kind of foundation about my evolving observations about the ‘otherness’ of people. I seemed a perpetual ‘outsider’, and did not fully integrate into any group ‘clique’ after the transition.

I believe this ‘outsider’ status has served me well, long term.  It gives me not only an individualistic perception of ‘what’s going on’ but it provides a critical emotional distance to ‘assess’. I have always thought of myself as a ‘witness’ more than a participant. It is a good vantage point and strong starting point for any writer: distanced observation.

❖The cover is your own art work! Tell us about it.

I wanted a cover image that amplified the central idea of natural growth in the story. In this instance, the focus was on a regional grape vine. Initially, I started with a stark photo image but it was too hard. I then tried a stylized graphic but it was too ephemeral. I finally settled on a close-up detail from an oil painting I had done some years ago ~ of a man’s hand holding a grape cluster. To my mind, the image is perfect. It is a human hand connected to the growing land.

❖What do you hope readers will take from Trillium?

My intent was to write an entertaining as well as enlightening book about the evolving rural area around the southern end of Lake Ontario, in Canada.  

In order to do that, I crafted the bedlam and chaos of a ‘good story’, filled with emotional arcs and empathy etc,, but interwove the story around fascinating pieces of local history from the Greater Hamilton and Niagara area. The medley of colourful characters is also influenced by larger global events, like the rise of fascism in Europe during the 1930s and the two World Wars of the twentieth century. I wanted to make this fictional story ‘believable’ to the contemporary reader. As far as I know, no-one in the vicinity has attempted a similarly ambitious ‘grassroots’ construct.

I think my voice is rather unique in the telling. But, ultimately, readers must determine if that is true or not.

What is odd or quirky or engaging about your story or characters?


There’s plenty of quirk in this work, primarily because each character has an early failing or foible that manifests later. These insights drive the story forward so that there are ‘aha’ moments when a later incident clicks into place. It’s basic ‘cause & effect’ that amplifies the intimate causality of human interactions.

Character names were chosen to reflect the ethnic origins of their families and to help readers keep the large cast of characters clear in their minds. As example, Gregorio is clearly not part of the O’Sullivan clan …

One outstanding quirk was the development of the simpleton savant Anna. Illiterate and sheltered from the world by her protective Italian family, Anna, untethered from normal social conventions, has an uncanny knack with plants. She can grow anything. Her simplistic yet attuned capability irreversibly alters the course of her family’s evolution. To say more may ruin the story for some, so I’ll stop there except to say, readers do seem to resonate with her. She’s a peach, so to speak.

To whom would you recommend this book to? Are there any trigger warnings or age restrictions?

I would recommend this story to anyone who loves rambling family sagas, epic storytelling, and historical fiction that rides the vicissitudes of human logic and emotions. There’s a lot going on in this story: good, bad, ugly and even, at times, indifference as the narrative voice pulls back to ‘observe’.

As each generation matures into adulthood, Trillium could be seen as an adult ‘coming-of-age’ tale. As for warnings, there are three sex scenes that are rather graphic. Their violence is an integral part of the story, so that’s that.

Would Trillium translate well to the screen? If so, who should make it or star in it?

Ideally, I think this would make an engaging Canadian series ~ a timely cross between the British drama, ‘Peaky Blinders’ and the well-scripted American family drama, ‘Bloodline’, set in Florida.

Trillium would, of course, have to be 100% Canadian. Why? Because Canada is still very young on the world stage. We are in desperate need of these in-depth local stories to explain the unique evolution of our own particular civil society. Otherwise, we’ll continue to be swamped by better told English-speaking stories from elsewhere.

My dream team would be a co-production between Anglo-Canadian, Irish and Italian producers (to achieve maximum market share), with a well-rounded cast from each ethnic origin. The director, showrunners and crew would be Canadian. It could all be shot on location around the southern end of Lake Ontario – from hovels to mansions.

I have done a preliminary casting, just for fun. In the end though, that’s a pipedream for a writer. If the title was optioned by an established production company, all those casting and location decisions would be their responsibility. Yes, I am the originator of this story, but a team of seasoned scriptwriters would have to flush it out to make it truly noteworthy as well as globally marketable. The story is all there, for the right team.

What genre is Trillium? Is this your preferred genre to write in? What do you read?


I call this a hybrid historical fiction. As I explained above, I wrote a ‘good story’ around many current and timely issues.

In the past, I have written poetry, social history, journalism, and two other long-form fictional works. I love the nuances of languages and the endless possibilities that they offer to an open imagination.

My reading, as a human on the planet, has always been ferocious.


Tell us about your writing process.

For this title, I followed a strict regimen. From February to October of 2018, I did nothing but write, edit, re-craft and finalize the work. Literally, 10am to 6pm, 5 days a week. I took weekends off to recharge and took hourly lunches during the writing week to refresh myself.

It may interest your readers to know that I wrote a detailed outline for Trillium almost a decade ago. That outline smouldered in my writing box until I found the key to access the story. The key was ‘technology’.

Technology has transformed our lives over a very short period of time. I wanted to ‘document’ that evolution and could do that quite clearly within a historical context.

I stopped this story before the internet became ubiquitous.

LINKS – CA Amazon – https://amzn.to/2q0iEeL

US Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/Trillium-Margaret-Lindsay-Holton/dp/0992127289

The Healing Power of Words: Audrey Semprum on finding your way through writing.

Time and circumstance have a way of challenging a person beyond what they feel like they can endure or overcome. As a seasoned writer, the greatest breakthrough I have ever experienced is when I came to the realization that there is viable healing that can be gleaned from addressing a situation with the power and permanence of words.

I have discovered time and again that using words as an anchor grounds me, and helps me come to the place of peace – knowing that somehow everything is going to be okay. I had been a leader for several years in different capacities in my local church, but I had never been so challenged. It was during this time of great trial that I first realized the power of overcoming adversity with words. I was dealt a harsh life blow and I had nothing to stabilize me – mentally and emotionally. I was caught in a perpetual state of anguish and despair. I couldn’t change a thing. The whole situation was out of my control, and just awful.

With great effort on my husband’s part, I was coaxed to come out of my room. I had stowed away in despair and felt powerless to battle the hopelessness that was enveloping me. My husband convinced me to take a ride with him.  As my husband and I quietly headed down the highway, which was our norm, I began to feel a song rise up in my spirit. I wasn’t trying to create anything. I was just trying to survive. I grabbed a pen and a notebook and I began to write down the song. As the words flowed onto the paper a healing washed over me.

When I returned home that day I was changed by the power of the words in the song that I had penned. I had discovered that as I released the hope and the words that were tucked down deep inside that I was able to actualize them as I applied my stored faith from deep within. It wasn’t a momentary breakthrough, but a monumental breakthrough. When I returned home that day I was able to pick up the shattered pieces of my life and move on – no longer broken beyond repair.

Through the years I have applied the same principle when I am faced with other challenging situations. I sit down and I start writing, and as I face my adversities by writing about them I find answers that I hadn’t previously been able to see because of the circumstances. As I write away my problems I find a great release. I am able to tap into an inner strength and peace.  Words indeed, have the power to bring about healing if allowed to flow out of a painful or confusing situation. As a writer, I am grateful for the opportunity that writing allows and I am always amazed at the healing power of words.


Twitter: @audreysemprun

Blog hub – Singular Multiplicities in Art   – links to several online social media sites:  https://audreysemprun.wordpress.com

Pinterest:    https://www.pinterest.com/joyfulnoizministries/

Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/joyfulnoizministries/

Book Link:  http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/creativepreacher 

Email for Public: audrey@audreysemprun.com 

http://0.gravatar.com/avatar/e5d19d4aff472035fd6a09f8531bc9ad

Brief Biography:

Audrey Semprun lives with her husband in the high desert terrain of Prescott, Arizona. Audrey enjoys the peacefulness that living in a small mountain community allows. She gleans inspiration from not only the small town atmosphere, but also from the beauty that surrounds her. She is passionate about her faith, her large family, and about writing. Audrey uses her creativity to relay life lessons in a down to earth and meaningful way – always trying to bring light, love, and hope by means of the poetry and the stories that she shares.

Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt: J.C. Salazar on the journey to become a writer.

I want to write. I have always wanted to write. I published my first book at the age of 61. So what took me so long? Fear and self-doubt. I’ll explain later. I am a late bloomer. As such, I came late to writing. My path to the place where I could don the title of writer with full confidence was a long and frustrating one.

I won’t go into the myriad of personal setbacks, though there were many, so I will just give an overview of my journey. I was an immigrant child at the age of nine. I arrived in Houston, along with my family of seven, in 1965. My life seemingly began that summer.

In reality I had been a dreamer of a child, with notions of creativity since infancy in my family’s farm in Mexico. I discovered this, along with a richness of other facts about myself and other family members once I embarked in writing my first book in earnest. I wrote Of Dreams & Thorns much later than 1965. It wasn’t till after my retirement as a college professor and administrator of a federal college program that I was able to clear my head and heart of all negativity regarding my proclamation that I was indeed a writer.

Of course, in reality I had been writing Dreams since my adolescence, at least. It came to me as vague notions of something that ought to be written down and shared. Aspects of it, bits and pieces, phrases, images, characters speaking their mind, shouting out for attention. I kept telling them I wasn’t ready, or I wasn’t the one. I was afraid to let them down if I lacked skill. After all, I had studied the best writers in the world. How could I presume to join their ranks?

I studied writing even as I taught freshman composition. I eventually learned about a pathetic disconnection between academic and creative writing. I studied poetry (last year I published my book of poems, states of unitedness) and I attended a couple of courses in fiction, taught by members of our University of Houston’s award-winning creative writing program. Alas, it seemed the more I studied, formally and independently, the more I knew that the best way to write and finish a book is to just do it, to borrow from Nike. So I began my book in 2017.

Before that, I wrote lots of poetry and ideas that I never threw away. Forty years wasted, it seems like sometimes. But more often than not, I believe that, for me with my history and circumstances, those 40 years were necessary preparation. Of course, I could have cut that time in half had I made a conscious assessment and decision to just get started. By the time of my retirement, and finally embracing my total freedom of choice, it was 2014.

It took a year to get reacquainted with myself and sort out all types of elements that defined me. All that assessment pointed indubitably to my being a writer. I finally had no more excuses not to act on my truest impulses. I wrote the book in six months, but in reality I had been writing it for forty years, at least at some basic level. The writing experience unleashed a pent-up craving to master the novel form. I made myself go beyond most basic writing book advice, and I assumed the mantle of writer in my own right.

With that, it was as if I gave myself permission to never again let self-doubt or fear of criticism slow me down. When you are a Mexican immigrant child, when you see yourself as a poor country peasant, when you doubt if you have mastered the English language enough to use it creatively, it builds up self-doubt and insecurities. Well, I somehow managed to shed all that garbage. I was well accomplished in many other areas, after all; I certainly had the wherewithal to do it.

I wrote, and I studied, and I wrote. I edited, and edited, and edited. I hired professional cover and book interior designers, and I hired two professional editors. I was investing in my book as if I were a minor “traditional” publisher. I learned the business, and it taught me that my route was to be an independent publisher. The aspects of publishing a book and getting it to market, or “in shelves,” end up falling into a category of business that we creative types seem to hate. I certainly do.

I will not expound much on the trials and tribulations of the modern status of publishing as regards novice writers, but I do recommend a thorough study of it if you are planning to embark in a writing career or adventure of your own.

So there it is — My short version of how I became a writer late in life as opposed to the more ideal time of my twenties through forties. I do regret that I started late, but only because with age come health issues and other things that slow me down. I have so many projects I want to complete. I have grown considerably as a writer since first publishing my two books, but that is part of the process.

Of Dreams and Thorns is available on Amazon in Kindle, paperback, and audiobook formats.

You May Say that I’m a Dreamer

Like many baby-boomers, Dianna Hammond remembers watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Too young to really crush on them, she grew up appreciating the music, and their seemingly unlimited talent. She reads a lot, but mostly non-fiction. So what was she to think when she awoke one September morning after a dream with a title, characters and story arc in her head?

Time X 2 is a time travel love story involving Paul McCartney, pre-1966. Now, that date doesn’t mean a lot to some people, but others firmly believe Paul McCartney was killed in 1966 and replaced with the person currently portraying him. Dianna wasn’t in that camp when the dream came to her; she had to look up the term “PIDer” (one who believes Paul Is Dead), although she does remember thinking “That’s not Paul” when Sergeant Pepper came out in 1967.

Dianna began listening to interviews, watching videos, using the things she saw to make Paul as authentic as she could in her story. In the process, she became convinced that Paul is indeed dead, saying, “I can in seconds flat tell you which picture is Paul or his replacement. The mannerisms of Paul pre-1966 and the current one are inconsistent, as are their speaking voices.”

Why is this important so many years later?

It shows the cognitive dissonance that we all exhibit as we look at life. In the book I use John Lennon’s lyric, ‘Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.’ Written in late 1966 early 1967, coincidence?

What would you like people to take away from the book?

I hope to bring some ‘ah-ha’ moments to people who read it much as Dan Brown did with The DaVinci Code. Please understand, I am in no way comparing myself to him, just using the fact that his book sparked conversation.

Have your life experiences influenced what you are writing in any way?

Yes and no, Paul and Emily have a very healthy relationship even though they come from different times. Personally, my relationships have been one-sided. I’ve been married twice, but I am not sure I have ever been truly in love, so I observed couples who are, mainly my son and his wife, to understand what it must be like to give yourself to another but still hold on to your own individuality.

What do your family and friends think of this new venture? Are they supportive, dismissive, neutral?

My family and friends are very supportive and encouraging. Some (the younger generation) have mocked me for writing about Paul McCartney, but that’s alright, at least they know who he is. My son is currently reading the book to help in mechanics of it. I have had friends read it and they seem to enjoy it. My 91-year-old father says I’m the ‘Grandma Moses’ of writing. I don’t know about that but it has given me enjoyment and I feel as if Paul and Emily are my other children.

Do you have a real-life writing community? 

No, I don’t at the moment. I am looking to reach out to local writers here in Atlanta and join a group soon.

Are you going to pursue an agent, a traditional publishing contract, a smaller indie house, or self-publication…and what’s driving that choice? Or is it too soon to tell?

I am on the 4th draft and final editing. I plan to pursue traditional publishing through an agent. I think I would feel more comfortable with an agent guiding my way. Let the querying begin!.

What’s next?

I retired early at the age of 61, I am now 63. I am single so I have unlimited freedom to pursue this new adventure. I’ve been thankful that this has given me a purpose in retirement I am outlining the second in the series which will be called Time X 4. Keeping the theme going.

Dianna can be found on Twitter @DiannaHammond90

Critical Learnings: Eileen Curley Hammond on becoming an author after 60.

Other writers: “I penned my first story at 13.” “I started writing at an early age.” “I always knew I wanted to write.”

Not me. I was perfectly comfortable in the corporate world. Sure I dipped my toe in on occasion, when necessary, but I always kept my eye on the next most profitable move. Enter age 50: I lost my job.

Then a wonderful thing happened. They sent me to an outplacement service. The service made me focus on what was most important in my life. Through that I realized I wanted to write. And if I didn’t have some semblance of writing in my life I’d be unhappy. It was a revelation.

I’d like to tell you that I immediately whipped out pen and paper. No, I still had to pay the bills. But I found a great company for which to work. And in every venue, I strove to tell a succinct story well.

When I was 57 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. That was another turning point. Although I’ve now been cancer free for nearly six years (Yay!), it was time for some changes. I set a goal to retire from corporate life at 60 and to write a book after retirement. And I did.

While writing the first book in the Merry March cozy mystery series, I researched various publishing options. I bought books, attended writer conferences, and badgered everyone I knew. After examining all the options, (and reading Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry’s great book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published) I decided that the independent route was best for me. Being older, I didn’t want to spend my time knocking on agents and then publishers’ doors.

Some critical learnings on my path to becoming an author:

Hire an editor. It was an investment, but it was a critical step. The old adage, you don’t know what you don’t know, was absolutely true in my case. Miranda from Editing Realm edited my first two books and she was wonderful.

Read Stephen King’s book On Writing. He writes 2,000 words a day, no matter what. And if he has a good day, he gets done early. He suggested that newbie writers hit a lower target, 1,000 words. Why was this so helpful? Because I always felt guilty. If I wasn’t writing, I felt bad. If I was writing, I felt I should be getting things done around the house. And worst of all, I retired, gosh darn it, and that meant I should be able to have some fun in my life. This one piece of advice made my life manageable again.

Understand that self publishing is hard. You are in charge of everything. Cover design selection, interior book formatting, copyright and Library of Congress applications, etc. Helen Sedwick’s book Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook helped me think about the steps I might need to take.

Where am I now? I’ve published three books in the Merry March series and am finalizing the first draft of the fourth. It’s been a struggle on occasion, but it’s also been incredibly fulfilling.

Follow Eileen Curley Hammond:

Twitter: @curleyhammcozy

Website: eileencurleyhammond.com

Amazon author page: https://amzn.to/2YdzKbw

Getting Those Stories out There: an interview with S.L. Partington

New Voices of Experience Part III

The dream of many writers is a publishing contract. But as author S.L. Partington has discovered over the last ten years, in many ways it is only the beginning, and there are many ways to define success.

I’m Sharon Partington. I live in Alberta, Canada, and I’m a retired uber nerd who plays video games when I’m not writing. I wrote my first story when I was nine or ten – Star Trek fan fiction. In high school I wrote an S.E. Hinton-inspired short story, which my teacher read to the class (I was thrilled and mortified). A high school creative writing course taught me to write an appreciate poetry. Then came the first fantasy novel, hand-written almost 30 years ago. Finally, in 2007, a contract with a small press, for Hunter, a science-fiction thriller.

All the feelings that come with that contract: elation, trepidation, disbelief: I’ve done it! I’m going to be a published author!  But publishers are in business, and business models change. My publisher decided to change from a multi-genre publisher to focus on romances, and Hunter didn’t fit. I requested my rights back, and they agreed.  The contract didn’t specify that they had to, so one piece of advice I’d give new writers is make sure your contract covers rights revision to the author, in case of a change of publisher focus, or if it goes out of business.

Hunter then went to a second publisher, one my editor was working for at the time. That didn’t work out either, due to communication problems and creative differences. But what I learned was that I can do this writing thing: my stories, and my storytelling abilities are good enough. I’ve chosen to go indie at this point so I have absolute creative control over my books. I don’t have to worry about whether or not Vampires or Zombies or whatever are hot or trending. I can write my own stories and put them out there myself. There’s a huge amount of freedom in that.

Marketing has been an enormous challenge – mostly finding strategies that don’t cost a lot (I have a very limited budget) and actually produce results. I do have a Twitter presence, and I also have a Facebook author page, although the Facebook page doesn’t get much traffic. I also have an author website. I have tried the Amazon ads, but didn’t get a great result. Navigating the keywords is very much a mystery for me – finding ones that work can be daunting. There are resources to help with that – from Amazon itself, and from other authors – and I have looked at a few of them. It’s very true that it takes money to make money and that can be a real challenge when your budget is so limited. I don’t think my age has anything to do with it really – I do know how the internet works and readers don’t know how old I am, they just know whether or not I’ve managed to tell a good story.

Success for me has more to do with getting those stories out there as opposed to being on the best seller’s list. I write the stories that I want to read. That’s the main reason I chose to go the Indie route. I don’t have the patience (at the moment) to query traditional publishers and/or agents. That’s not to say it will never happen – just for now it’s not the way I want to go. There are lots of roads that lead to the same destination.

Hunter is the first of a series – there are 4 books planned. I also have a fantasy series in the works, but it’s still in the planning stage. Fantasy and science fiction have always been my genres of choice. Hunter began as a first line prompt that took on a life of its own. I write (and read) to escape reality for a while. Fantasy and scifi allow me to do that.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/canadianscifiauthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SharonLorraine2?lang=en

Website: https://sharonpartington19.wixsite.com/authorslp2

Blog: https://authorslp.blogspot.com/