Welcome to the one hundred and ninety-second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, biographers, publishers, agents and more. Today’s is with crime novelist Sheila Quigley. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Sheila. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Sheila: At age 7 I couldn’t read a word, it all just looked like a load of squiggles. Too much time spent day dreaming, making my own stories up. Then this day a teacher collared me, and demanded I stand up in class and read aloud. Found out, I ran home crying and picked up the local rag. Pointed to a word, and asked my mother what it was. I sat on the stairs staring at the word and saying it over and over. I learned five words that night and that went on for three weeks until I became top of the class for reading. It was shortly after that I started writing my own stuff. This went on forever until after thirty years of sending stuff off I finally got published. I was in shock the day my agent phoned and told me the book had gone to auction and 8 major publishers were after it.
Morgen: Wow… thirty years. I admire your persistence and what a result. What genre do you generally write?
Sheila: Crime fiction is my main genre. I have five Seahills books out in the first series. My new series, is crime with a twist, sort of conspiracy and a street kid who swears he has the gift of far sight.
Morgen: I love crime. Dark and light, that’s me. What have you had published to-date?
Sheila: Run For Home. Bad Moon Rising. Living On A Prayer. Every Breath You Take. The Road To Hell. These are the five books up until now in my Seahills series… New series. Thorn In My Side. And out this month, Nowhere Man.
Morgen: I’ve got songs going round in my head now. Can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Sheila: The first time I saw my books in the shop window was on a trip to London, with the camera crew who filmed my documentary about the road to publication. One whole window was filled with Run For Home. Cried my eyes out.
Morgen: All these experiences… you should write a book. Have you ever seen a member of the public reading your book?
Sheila: Yes, on another trip to London on the train. I didn’t say anything just sat there grinning like an idiot. Certain the other passengers thought I was quite mad.
Morgen: Crime novelist Peter James said at a recent talk (at one of my local libraries ) that he’d said to a little old lady reading his book on a train that it was “his book” and she apologised, gave it back and said she’d found it and that it wasn’t very good anyway, so you spared yourself something like that! How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Sheila: As much as I can. There are so many good books out there to compete with. There is room for all, but if no one knows it’s out there it’s not gonna happen.
Morgen: Absolutely. I hadn’t really realised how many writers are all wanting to get their voices (literally) heard until I started these blog interviews. No.200 is coming up and I think I’ve only scratched the surface. I say that I’ll keep going as long as there are authors who want to be involved or until I’ve interviewed every writer on the planet but I suspect it’ll be the former first. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Morgen: I think most people still do. There’s constant talk on the likes of LinkedIn about the paperback ‘dying’ but I don’t think it’ll be in our lifetimes (I hope not anyway). I think eBooks and pBooks serve different purposes, they certainly do for me anyway; pBooks at home (especially as I have so many of them to read) and eBooks for away. You mentioned the titles of your books earlier, how much say did you have in choosing them? How important do you think they are?
Sheila: I chose all of my titles. On the day that I heard from the agent after having sent him a screenplay in which he said was brilliant but would I write a gangster novel set in the north east I went straight upstairs to start it and Run For Home by Lindisfarne was play on the radio. I thought what a fantastic title, and so the first book was born.
Morgen: Ah, that was the only title I couldn’t place… great idea for a series by the way. A bit like Janet Evanovich’s numbered series and Sue Grafton’s alphabetical… I think having a link is a good plan and series are very popular (with readers and agents / publishers). Going off at a slight tangent, do any of your books have dedications?
Sheila: Mostly to family and good friends.
Morgen: Who designed your books’ covers?
Sheila: The new series covers were designed by my son Michael and I think both are great. Really atmospheric.
Morgen: So do I, which is what you want in crime novels. Crime writer Stephen Booth (at another recently local library talk) said some of his covers were rejected because the supermarket Tesco didn’t approve – they’d gone from the traditional dark format to lighter / brighter – fortunately he’s now with a different publisher and they’ve back to dark. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Sheila: Run For Home was my first acceptance and nothing in the world can beat the feeling. But each book brings its own excitement as soon as it hits the shelves.
Morgen: A first child then subsequent ones, I guess. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Sheila: I had thirty years of rejections and of course like any rejection they hurt. But I refused to give up.
Morgen: And look where perseverance got you. There’s nothing else I want to do so I’d be same. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Sheila: Working on the final book in the Mike Yorke series. It was always only going to be a trilogy, then back to the Seahills lot. ONLY…having second thoughts there may be another Mike Yorke I will have to see how the third book goes and see if I can wrap things up nicely.
Morgen: Perhaps you could do stand alones with him… or bring him back for another series. Do you manage to write every day?
Sheila: Once I’ve started a book I write every day and most of the day with the odd break here and there for general living. Shopping, walking the mutts, and driving. My car has a sticker on it that says. Mam’s taxi. Nana’s taxi, and anybody bugger else want a lift.
Morgen: A question some authors dread, where do you get your inspiration from?
Sheila: Might as well say I pick it up from the Co-op every Friday morning. Although at a library event a few years ago a woman stood up and said. I know how you write such brilliant characters . I thought, hmm I have to hear this. She went on to say. You are being channelled. Em, no way that is so spooky!
Morgen: I’ve heard some authors say the same thing (seriously) and I guess it comes from somewhere but yes, I’d stick with saying mine comes from my subconscious. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Sheila: Hardly do any plotting, start the story and see how it goes, that way I get as many surprises as my readers.
Morgen: Most of the authors I’ve spoken to have said the same, some describing themselves as ‘pantsers’ which I really like. I plotted my first one but then it went by the wayside pretty quickly so I learned to let it do it’s own thing. Do you write short stories? If so, apart from the word count, what do you see as the differences between them and novels and why do you think they’re so difficult to get published?
Morgen: I think unless you know from the outset it’s good to try different formats. I started with short stories then wrote a novel for NaNoWriMo (and another, and another…) but have gone back to my first love (although I do plan to de-waffle the novels and eNovella-ise them ). I admire novelists as I know how tricky it is pulling all the threads back in. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Sheila: My editor who is brilliant.
Morgen: So’s mine, they’re worth their weight (in gold, chocolate…) aren’t they? Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Sheila: I think like everything you do you get better at it as time goes by.
Morgen: You do, like playing the piano. How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Sheila: For the Mike Yorke series I had to do a lot of research, mostly by visiting Holy Island which I love and any excuse will do to get there. I receive e-mails daily from people about the Seahills series. The amount of women who are in love with Luke Daniels is amazing. And also about most of the other characters. Men love Lorraine Hunt. The Mike Yorke series it’s Smiler and Aunt May. Everyone women and men alike are concerned for both of them.
Morgen: I did think earlier about readers not wanting a series to end and I think writers are the same when we ‘meet’ a character we grow really fond of. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Sheila: Much prefer a computer everything flows from the middle finger of my right hand.
Morgen: I hope it’s insured. Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Sheila: Once I’m in full flow, a brass band could march through my room and I would neither see them nor hear them.
Morgen: Now there’s an image. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Sheila: Much prefer third person, I think it gives you a little bit more freedom. Never tried second.
Morgen: Oh, I love it. Editors don’t, but it’s not really been written that much and it does tend to get quite dark (which is what most of my writing is, so probably why I like it). What do you like to read?
Sheila: Love Stephen King and The Stand is my most favorite book.
Morgen: I blame Stephen King for me wearing glasses (as a teenager I bought every book of his on day of release then read til I’d finished… including under the covers at night with a torch). Thank you so much Sheila, it’s been great hearing all about your writing.
If you’d like to find out more about Sheila’s books, do take a look at her website: http://www.theseahills.co.uk.
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