Welcome to the one hundred and thirty-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with novelist and short story author Alberta Ross. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the authors further.
Morgen: Hello Alberta. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Alberta: Well I’m retired and fast approaching my seventh decade. As a very young child I had scribbled stories in exercise books but never taken it any further. I spent most of my youth travelling and then, suffering from a menopausal hiccup, at 40 decided I’d take myself to university coming away eventually with a BSc Hons and an MA. Then, while virtually housebound nursing my mother, in about 2006/7 I decided I’d have another go at writing. That was when Ellen’s Tale first saw light of day. I took the decision at the beginning of 2010 to come out and declare I was a ‘writer’, an ‘author’. I had self-published Ellen’s Tale by then and had almost finished the sequel The Storyteller’s Tale so it was time to stop feeling guilty about time spent on the computer and go for it.
Morgen: I like that, to ‘come out’. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Alberta: The series I am writing at the moment is Dystopian but I also write in various others in my short stories and in November am attempting in the NaNoWrMo (http://nanowrimo.org) challenge to write a modern day novel.
Morgen: Oh great! I’ve done it (and ‘won’ it – completed the 50,000 words) three times (and plan to again this year). I’d recommend it to anyone especially if they’re anything like me, better with deadlines. What have you had published to-date?
Alberta: Ellen’s Tale, The Storyteller’s Tale, these are the first two of the Sefuty Chronicles, the third Jack’s Tale is due out any second now. I have also published a collection of short stories A Patchwork of Perspectives.
Morgen: I love short stories. I wrote them before NaNo and have gone back to them again now… my first love, really. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Alberta: All of it. Being self-published this is a must. I spend about two hours every day ‘networking’ and exploring new sites.
Morgen: That sounds pretty good going (I think I spend that much just after work!). Do you have an agent?
Alberta: No. I’m a one-man band!
Morgen: Or ‘person band’ in these politically-correct times. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Alberta: Yes all of them. Actually the process is fairly easy; once I had read how the formatting was supposed to be done it was a matter of painstakingly doing it. I learnt and have been formatting Jack’s Tale for e-book conversion right from the start, so much easier! I have started reading books on my Sony reader and find it just fine, especially when I was holiday. I had an accident ten years ago and badly smashed my wrist; some days even holding a paperback for any length of time is extremely painful so I find the e reader a real boon. I was dreading having to give up reading and, of course, I do not get any younger so being able to increase the font size is wonderful. A lot of us oldies have trouble with small fonts in the print books.
Morgen: “fairly easy” is music to my ears, I’m just embarking on the process at the moment. I love larger print and I’m 44. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Alberta: Before I went the Indie route I tried the agent way. I had some extremely nice rejections; one asked to read the whole book but decided it wasn’t for them. I was expecting rejections though so it wasn’t a great trauma. I might well have continued this way for longer but I had a serious illness which made me re-evaluate my life a trifle and I decided that my lifespan might be too short to faff (waste time) around too long so I went into publishing it myself.
Morgen: As I am… and we get all the joy of decision-making. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Alberta: A second collection of short stories. My friend from forever / editor prefers these, must keep the editor happy!
Morgen: A ‘friend’ after my own heart. And yes, good plan to keep the editor (Rachel, in my case) happy. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Alberta: I love writing and any day I’m at home I will write something. I think I managed 7000 words one day but that is not so good for one, physically or mentally.
Morgen: I’ve done that a few times for NaNo (mostly playing catch-up) and yes, it’s exhausting. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Alberta: Not sure I have ever had a total block. Some days the words don’t flow as easily as others but I do consider ‘thinking’ about the writing is as important as the actuality. So if the words are having a day off I go away do a little gardening / sewing and let my brain work out the next moves. There are, of course, other matters to do with the writing such as blogging, answering comments, networking; they all involve the writing process.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Alberta: I have always said I don’t plot because it sounds on other folks’ sites that the process means writing character profiles, location maps and scene by scene plans and I don’t work that way but of course I do plot in my head before I ever put words on screen. I know all the main story of the next book before I have finished the present WIP so when I go to start the new story it’s all there, I know the characters, have even heard their conversations. Then I write in a very haphazard way. I don’t seem to think in straight lines so scenes go down randomly and at the end I have to shuffle them around to get some order.
Morgen: You work a book ahead… wow. You mentioned characters there, do you have a method for creating them, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Alberta: I like the names to have some relevant meaning to the character even if it is only known to me – so I spend a great deal of time on baby naming sites! The characters just seem to materialise ready-made in my imagination though I suspect they have been lurking there for decades growing as my experiences grow.
Morgen: You might like to read a guest post I have coming up mid-October by Carol Crigger on names. She’s submitted it already, it’s funny. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Alberta: My friend from forever / editor. We’ve known each other for 58 years now, she’s the one person I trust implicitly to tell me the truth.
Morgen: A good friend to have. I have a reader friend of over 30 years but she likes everything I’ve sent her so too biased (or kind) methinks. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Alberta: I do try because my work is not good; with dyspraxia I have trouble not only with spelling but punctuation, just do not notice things such as missing full stops. My editor says my grammar is a trifle hazy at times as well! I believe I am improving but she has a lot of hard work putting any kind of gloss on my words.
Morgen: I don’t think anyone is infallible. Even on the fourth edit of the second NaNo (a 117,540-word chick lit) I was finding thought vs though so eventually it has to go to the professional. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Alberta: As I say, a great deal of thinking, pondering and role-playing in my imagination. Then, before and during my writing, I undertake quite a lot of research on and around events in the book.
Morgen: Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Alberta: Computer every time. I carry a small notebook and pen always in my bag so that if stranded anywhere I can make notes, but the stories are always on the computer. At the end of writing on the machine I then need to read it as a printed version before I can edit or re-jig it – I just find it easier if it looks vaguely like a book.
Morgen: Me too, funny that, although I think it’s been scientifically proven that we read differently on paper vs computer (ditto the writing process). What sort of music do you listen to when you write?
Alberta: Any kind. From Grand Opera, such as Verdi, to Bob Dylan; anything that involves a voice. It’s used as background but I have noticed my feet are keeping up even if my head is somewhere else!
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Alberta: The Chronicles are written in the form of letters, interviews and diary entries so they are multiple first person. The next novel I intend to write will be three lots of third person. I would like to crack the second person and have read what I can; there are not a lot of novels in that format out there but it is a fairly depressing form and very difficult. My small ambition is to manage the form and write a happy or upbeat second person narrative.
Morgen: Good luck with that. I’d say the majority of mine are dark but then, as you say, it lends itself to dark which is probably why I like it so much. As you say, few people have written 2ppov novels (Jay McInerney is probably the most remembered – I have it, it’s very dark). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second-person_narrative lists others. Speaking of dark, do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Alberta: Oh yes. However, if they don’t actually see light of day, they will be useful for plundering for other work!
Morgen: Absolutely, it’s recycling. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Alberta: Favourite would be the living with the characters for months, getting to know them. The least would be saying goodbye to them.
Morgen: Unless you bring them back in other stories. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Alberta: How much fun it is. I have to prise myself away each night. It’s a great life.
Morgen: Isn’t it. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Alberta: Do it. Don’t say you can’t – it may well be true but it equally may be wrong so go on and just ‘do it’. Have confidence, do the research, accept there are lows as well as highs.
Morgen: Lots of lows (rejection, loneliness for some) but the highs make it all worth it… if you want to do it strongly enough of course. What do you like to read?
Alberta: Do you have time?
Morgen: Sure, as long as you like.
Alberta: Almost anything. I don’t have any favourite genre but graze across them all. Literary to fantasy it’s the story I’m after and if it’s a good story I’ll follow.
Morgen: In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Alberta: In the UK and I think it is harder to make yourself known worldwide if attempting to do it on the net. However progress is being made.
Morgen: That’s good to hear. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Alberta: I have found them incredible helpful. Fellow writers are very generous with their help and when I first ventured onto the sites feeling lost and forlorn they took me by the hand and led me through the ins and outs. I have managed new software with their guidance, new skills helped by their advice. They have led me to new places of interest, pointed me to sites that help the research. Marvellous places networking sites.
Morgen: I’m pretty sure there’s no industry quite like writing… not as friendly (anyone reading this feel free to prove me wrong… or try). Where can we find out about you and your work?
Alberta: http://www.albertaross.co.uk (details my books, extracts, readers comments and contact information), http://sefutychronicles-albertaross.blogspot.com (where I blogs about writing, self-publishing and my books), http://www.didyoueverkissafrog.typepad.com (where I blog about anything I fancy). I can also be followed on Twitter (http://twitter.com/albertaross).
Morgen: Yep, a busy lady. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Alberta: There will always be a place for storytelling in society – how the future for printed or electronic books pans out in the dwindling resource scenarios being waved at us is anyone’s guess but the stories themselves will always be around in some form or other. Maybe in the future we won’t be writers but storytellers, everything turning full circle.
Morgen: Or both… Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Alberta: Just that the Sefuty Chronicles are about survival in a world without almost everything we are used to. So a couple of question to your readers:
How good are you at the old skills?
What would you miss most if fossil fuel does run out, are we even aware what commodities need fuel?
and, if the world does heat up, how secure do you think our food supply is?
Ooh great, thank you Alberta.
Alberta spent the first part of her adult life travelling the world, the middle years studying and now has settled down to write. From the first part she has endless photographs, memories and friends. From the second she has a BSc Hons, an MA and friends. Now in the third part everything comes together.
Over the years Alberta’s interests have expanded, as has her book and music collection. A shortlist would include reading (almost anything), science, opera, folk, gardening, philosophy, crazy patchwork, freeform crochet, ethics, social history, cooking (and eating of course), gardening, anthropology, climate change and sustainability.
She claims her parents gave her, apart from a love of reading and music, an interest and curiosity in everything which in itself has become a total inability to be bored and for this she is always grateful.
Update July 2012: The third of The Sefuty Chronicles series – Jack’s Tale was published at the end of last year, and I am half way through the first draft of the fourth The Ancestor’s Tale – hopeful for the end of this year or beginning of next. I have created two trailers so far for the series: The Sefuty Chronicles (which gives a background to the series) and Ellen’s Tale being the first of The Sefuty Chronicles.
I had to change my printers because of costs, I went with Lulu, and so have had to change all my covers and I have kindled the books so new purchase links are: Smashwords for multiple formats, Lulu for print copies and Amazon for the Kindle. The attempt at a modern novel which was to be started last November in NaNoWrMo is now a robust WIP with a hopeful date to publish next summer, 2013. I re-formatted my short story collection for e-books splitting them into 3 shorter books. This year I am hoping to bring out the first e-book of what will be a new collection – this one will concentrate on the fairy/myth/magical side of short story writing. And for this year’s NaNo I am attempting a creation myth story – with bacteria and virus as the heroes!:)
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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