Welcome to the two hundred and ninety-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with murder mystery and contemporary women’s novelist and guest blogger Sue Welfare. 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, Sue. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Sue: Hi Morgen, what a lovely place you’ve got here at WordPress.
Morgen: Thank you, Sue. (you can come again )
Sue: I’m in my mid 50s, and have been reading and writing for as long as I can remember. I always wanted to be a writer and part of me is still surprised that I’m actually here doing it! I love stories, not just books and films or on TV but overhearing snippets in cafes or in shops and then my busy brain fills in all the gaps. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than write. I grew up and still live in Norfolk about two miles from where I was born – I’ve been to lots of other places but always come back.
Morgen: I’ve not gone far (about 60 miles). If you’ve been writing for years, is there a genre that you generally write?
Sue: I write commercial women’s fiction – specifically Rom Com – but I began by writing for publication with a murder mystery, which ended up – heavily edited – as my first book, ‘A Few Little Lies’ with the murder taken out, and I still have all kinds of ideas for thrillers in various stages of production, including a couple of radio plays, tucked away.
Morgen: Oh! I’ve seen ‘A Few Little Lies’. I don’t have it, sadly, but will certainly get it next time I see it. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Sue: I’ve had about 25 novels published so far, 12 of those are erotic novels (under various pseudonyms!!) and the rest have been written as Sue Welfare, Gemma Fox and Kate Lawson.
I’ve also originated and written a radio soap that was broadcast on Radio Norfolk and had a sitcom performed during the Channel 4 Sitcom fest. Oh and I wrote a pantomime for my local Amateur Dramatic group which was huge fun.
Morgen: A wonderful variety (so you don’t get bored). Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Sue: Lots, for everything from novels to TV script to articles! I always read them to see what I can learn from the comments, even if I disagree with them or get all hurt and huffy about a publisher or a production company not wanting my work! It’s easy to miss what’s being said because we all invest a big bit of who we are into our creativity – or at least I do. Those objective eyes and comments can be really valuable.
Morgen: They can providing they’re constructive – someone just saying you’re rubbish (or being more diplomatic) isn’t helpful. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Sue: I was one of the winners of the Mail on Sunday first 150 Words of a Novel Completion. I won the Wyrd Short Story competition in the late 1990s, and was amongst the winners of the Channel 4 Sit Com Festival in 1999 – more recently I was shortlisted for the Melissa Nathan Comedy Romance Awards.
Morgen: Ah yes. I don’t write romance (particularly, although I do write some comedy – hard to believe with all my dark stuff online) but have seen her two books during my ‘rounds’. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Sue: I do have an agent, the fabulous Maggie Phillips at Ed Victor Ltd who had been a real rock in my career and become a very treasured friend over the years. She is the combination of great supporter and an informed, intelligent critic, which is a real plus when you’re developing a career, a style and a voice.
That said publishing is undergoing some huge changes, not unlike those seen by the music industry a few years ago, and while once upon a time I would have said yes having an agent was vital, things are changing so radically with the advent of epublishing that I’m no longer sure if that is as true. A lot of the universal truths of publishing seem to be on the move. I think enormous changes will hit the huge publishing houses with their vast overheads (which has meant for years that the creators of their product, we writers, getting only a tiny percentage of cover price) – So, to quote Mr Dylan, ‘Times they are a changin’!
Morgen: I, for one, are very excited. Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Sue: Most of my titles are available as ebooks, and I’m seriously considering epublishing a thriller and a collection of short stories in the not too distant future.
I love my Kindle but tend to use it for books I would probably only read once and then tuck away on the shelf. I have no doubt I’ll be buying ‘proper’ books for years to come. I love the feel of books, love to browse, love to look through them – recipes books, craft books, big chunky hardbacks by favourite authors – so I’m going to be buying both!
Morgen: Almost everyone I’ve spoken to has said the same, and I’m no exception. pBooks for home (and I have hundreds of them) and eBooks for away. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Sue: I do quite a lot and would quite like to do more – I gives talks, do signings, write articles, go on local radio and do all kinds of online things. I think it comes with the territory these days; it’s not enough just to write a book you have to help support and promote it too.
Morgen: Indeed but that means you get to meet your readers. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Sue: I like Hot Pursuit (written as Gemma Fox) and Just Desserts (written as Sue Welfare) as both stories had percolated around in my head for years before they finally made it to the page. And characters? Probably Molly Foster, the lead character in Mother of The Bride (written as Kate Lawson) I imagined her being played by Caroline Quentin.
Morgen: She’s a great actress. Did you have any say in the title / covers of your book(s)? How important do you think they are?
Sue: Both can be a sore point! Titles are often changed by other people on the editorial team. The means that occasionally (but rarely) it’s been something I’ve hated. Oh I did find myself once being asked to write strawberries and champagne into a book because that was what the artist had put on the cover and everyone thought they looked fabulous! Book covers and titles are obviously really important because they are what first catch the eye of the reader – but you have to trust that your publisher understands and knows the market.
Morgen: You do, exactly and (hopefully) they get it right. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Sue: A new book currently called Cooking up a Storm – more romance, but with some interesting twists and recipes!
Morgen: Ooh, I like the sound of that – I’m a big fan of twists. Do you manage to write every day? With everything you do, do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Sue: I do – it’s more of an obsession than a career! And no, I haven’t ever suffered from writer’s block, but, like with everything else in life, some days are better than others creatively and so if I’m feeling a bit grim I’ll concentrate on email and admin or any writing project that isn’t the one I’m struggling with!!
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Sue: I plan a lot, not always on paper but developing the story in my head, collecting notes and little snippets of conversation or ideas or scenes – the very last thing I do is actually write the book. I always know before I start where the book is going to end, although even with all that planning the story almost always takes twists and turns that I hadn’t anticipated and it’s nice to go ‘off plan’ – although it still ends up taking me to what I think is the most satisfying ending.
Morgen: I love it when the characters take over. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Sue: For me the people in my books are the most important part – I know a lot about them when I begin to write but my starting point for their creation is often one tiny characteristic which I then add to and add to till I know them well enough to get going. I also like to imagine following them around the supermarket seeing what is in their basket or trolley.
Morgen: And hopefully being surprised / mortified. Do you write any non-fiction, poetry or short stories?
Sue: Yes, to all those, although my main focus is full length fiction.
Morgen: You’ve written so many books now, do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Sue: I don’t do formal drafts – instead I edit constantly as I go along, usually going right back to the beginning and reworking from the opening line at least 3 or 4 times as I write and get to know the people and the situations better. I usually begin my working day by re-reading what I’ve written the previous day and editing it. I really enjoy the reshaping and re-working part of writing a book.
Morgen: From one of my least favourite aspects to another, do you have to do much research?
Sue: Some. I like to visit the places in my books, even if – which is often the case – they are places I already know.
Morgen: A great excuse for a coffee stop or window shop. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Sue: I almost always write in the third person but like the first person too – I’ve never tried to write anything in the second person – but I’ve just been looking up some examples and might now you’ve pointed it up!
Morgen: Oh do! I love it. I’ve got some starters here – help yourself. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Sue: Oh yes!!! I think everyone has a few (in my case make that lots!) but that’s part of learning the skills, the art and the craft of writing to get published. Some of them I keep planning to rework and rewrite as the story still excites me, it’s just the presentation and the telling that is bad! But others are just plain awful and will stay buried!
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Sue: I love editing, I hate… actually I like it all really!
Morgen: I said (implied) earlier that my least favourite were editing and research but I do love it when I know it’s polished and who doesn’t love trawling the internet. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Sue: Write and read, do as much as you can of both.
Don’t give up, success is as much about perseverance as talent.
Learn how to set out a page properly.
Be nosy, ask questions.
Value your unique take on life.
Morgen: Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Sue: Don’t get it right, get it written (moral: you can always make something better in the edit, but if there is nothing on the page there is nothing to work with)
Morgen: Ah, ha. The heading of your guest post for me the other day – I like it. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Sue: I teach writing skills in various places and am currently working with a local university encouraging academics to express themselves more clearly, and in way that is more accessible to people outside their specialist subjects. I do this under the umbrella of a group called WriteOutLoud which I set up with two others to help people develop their own creative voice. We work with memoir and have been into prisons, day centres of adults with learning difficulties as well as Joe Public. In October 2010 we took WriteOutLoud out to Nigeria, to a conference for aid workers, which was amazing.
I also run creative writing & memoir writing workshops independently and love teaching; it’s such a sharp contrast to the hours send alone tapping away at a keyboard!
Morgen: It’s certainly not the same thing but I love running my writing groups. I leave my day job this week and will have to start looking at other ways of bringing in an income and a chap emailed me the other day as he thought he did courses. I don’t… yet. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?
Sue: I make rag rugs and handbags – and teach other people how to do that, too.
I read, walk the dog and work in the garden – oh and I love photography and cooking.
I’m very seldom found sitting around doing nothing and my idea of hell would be a beach holiday!
Morgen: Me too, and my last two-week holiday (August 2001) was just that. I went to Malaga with three girlfriends and expected that we’d hire a car and investigate but all they wanted to do was sit around drinking (smoking in one case) and talk. Now, I can talk for England but even so… It was before I started creative writing so nowadays I would have taken a laptop or suitcase of notepaper. Fortunately it was a friend of a friend’s apartment so there was a bookcase and I ended up reading 11 books plus a few I had on Walkman so was actually in my element although my ‘friends’ weren’t impressed and we didn’t keep in touch. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Sue: I don’t think people will ever lose their taste for stories and with the advent of the new forms of delivery it’s a really exciting time to be a writers or story teller – but it is a time of change and flux which can be unnerving as the routes to success are less clear.
Morgen: I definitely think it’ll be a stronger outlook for writers, which from this side of the table, is a wonderful thing. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Sue: I’ve got a website: www.Katelawson.co.uk – but you’ll probably find out a lot more about me on Facebook! You’ll find me there as Sue Welfare. Please feel free to friend me!
Morgen: (I have ) Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Sue: Oh yes please! My new book for One Night Only is out on March 1st. I had huge fun writing it. It’s very slightly darker than my previous books which I think that may be my inner thriller writer finally rearing her ugly head! Thank you, Morgen, for interviewing me – xx
Morgen: You’re so welcome. Thank you, Sue. Good luck with ONO.
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