Welcome to the two hundred and ninety-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with romance comedy novelist Sheryl Browne. 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, Sheryl. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Sheryl: I live in Worcestershire but grew up in Birmingham where I studied Art & Design. Like most women, I’m a multi-tasker extraordinaire , wearing whichever hat suits the task. I’m a partner in my own business, a mum, and a foster-parent to disabled dogs. Currently, I have a tiny, partially sighted, midget Jack Russell, Snoops aka Rambo (who stars in my recently released book and is actually quite feisty despite blinky-eyed vulnerable appearances) and an OAP cross collie / lab.
Creative by nature, I’ve had a passion for writing since childhood, when – perhaps realising I wasn’t overconfident – my English teacher awarded me 21+/20 for one of my essays and went on to nurture what he thought was a talent! I was / am still an avid reader. I devour women’s contemporary fiction, loving anything that explores life events and how people cope and grow through those events. Looking back, my first attempts at novel writing were possibly a catharsis to loss in my own life. Anyhow, long story short, someone at Random House said I wrote well and my ambition to write to be read grew from there. I soon realised, however, in looking at life’s tragedies, my writing might make depressing reading, and found myself leaning toward the humour in a situation, which in itself is a catharsis, a coping mechanism, if you like. Not that I would laugh at people’s disasters. God knows, I’m a walking disaster myself (I’m the kind of person that breaks her ankle, goes to work on crutches, falls face-first off the bus and splats her face on the pavement!). I’m looking to laugh with people, rather than at them. My aim when I write is to leave someone with that all-important feel-good factor. If someone laughs, it makes me feel good, and it’s a fabulous way to measure whether I’ve succeeded.
Morgen: Absolutely – a reader has to feel emotion when they’ve finished a book and we all need our spirits lifting, and you’ve given me the image of Frank Spencer and Orville so you’ve done the trick already. You’ve mentioned humour, is that what you generally write?
Sheryl: I write rom com largely, which I find tends to come naturally. Because my stories are character led, though, looking at real people and real life situations, I do tend to get into my characters’ psyche and wonder how they would cope with certain trauma. The result is that my writing strays toward psychological thriller, usually centred around a family in peril. I have one full – which my editor thought extremely publishable, but which still has to see the light of day – and one work-in-progress.
Morgen: Keeping yourself out of mischief. What have you had published to-date?
Sheryl: I have one previously published book, again a rom com, which was published in the US. The rights to this book have now been bought back. It has a good re-edit, and is currently under consideration for publication in the UK.
Morgen: Ooh, great. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Sheryl: Ahhhh, rejections. Masses! And, yes, they can be heartbreaking, soul-destroying sometimes. You can’t get much more soul-destroying than having an agent thinking your first sweated-over book is a bestseller, only for it not to sell – at all! I would, however, call them a necessary evil; part of the learning curve. In amongst the many rejections I’ve had over the years, I’ve had some excellent feedback from agents and publishers, who have taken the time – even now, in the current hectic climate – to comment. Rejection is part and parcel of being a writer, but you have to look at criticism positively. If someone has taken the trouble to make suggestions, it is because they are trying to help. Possibly they think your work has merit. I try to grow from it and move on. Standard rejections you can’t do much with, of course. Most writers get their fair share of those. Researching submission requirements and what genre the agent represents I find helps cut out a few inevitable rejections.
Morgen: It certainly earns brownie points and it’s amazing how wrong some people get it; wanting their submissions to stand out but then they stand out for all the wrong reasons. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Sheryl: I did get shortlisted for a BBC sitcom writing comp once! I was quite proud of the fact that the then bod at the Beeb asked me to send other scripts direct to him. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t pursue that really, possibly because I was more drawn to novel-writing. Maybe though, one day.
Morgen: Oh, no! Your golden opportunity. Actually, I wrote the first 102 pages of a script and didn’t enjoy it so I don’t blame you sticking to novels, although I’ve done four a bit of those and much prefer short stories (far fewer threads) but then if we all wrote the same thing there’s be more competition. You mentioned a moment ago having an agent, do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Sheryl: I have had an agent. Vital to an author’s success? No, not vital. I think some authors, with natural talent and a good deal of persistence and hard work will succeed. An agent knows the ropes though and, importantly, can get your work in front of a publisher suitable for your genre. She / he can negotiate the pitfalls, the contract, offer editorial advice; help guide you through the jungle. Some will even offer advice on eBook formatting now. A good agent is worth their weight in gold. Again, though, I think research is important. You have to do your homework. There’s good and bad in every industry.
The traditional publishing climate is tough at the moment – for writers, publishers and agents alike. The growth in independent publishing means there are ways forward for authors. People will always want to read books, in whatever format.
Morgen: They will, absolutely. And obviously the format of the moment is eBooks. Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Sheryl: Recipes For Disaster is available in print and on Kindle. Some authors’ books are available only as eBooks – and there are a lot of good books I would have missed had I not given in and got myself a Kindle. I’m glad I did. It’s compact and handy for workdays, away-days and holidays, though I can’t see me ever giving up paper books. There’s something about the touch, smell and feel of books, the beautiful covers. It’s a bit like opening a box of chocolates and indulging yourself, but with none of the guilt!
Morgen: or the calories. You and I are pretty much of the same opinion as most of my other interviewees that eBooks and pBooks will run alongside each other because we love both for their own reasons. And I “gave in” recently too. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Sheryl: I do allocate time for marketing. I think getting yourself out there is essential with online access to bookshops, publisher and author sites available at the click of a button, especially with the surge in eBook publishing. Branding is part of your marketing tool. If readers fancy a change of author or genre, they’re going to ‘Google it’, after all. As an author, you would want your name to pop up, along with your product.
Morgen: We do. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Sheryl: I have three other rom coms under consideration at the moment, so… am taking a deep breath and a pause. Hopefully, I’ll have some editing to do! That said, I do have two works-in-progress on the go. I have ideas bobbing around all the while, usually in the wee hours or while I’m in the shower, as they tend to, annoyingly.
Morgen: Where you have a waterproof pen and paper… Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Sheryl: I start with a basic premise. One of my novels, for instance, looks at a father with an autistic son (my writing has been labelled ‘thoughtful but funny rom com’ by the way!). That was it. I then have a rough idea of how many characters I need, plot strings, if any – and then run with it.
Morgen: Most authors do – it must be how our collective brains are wired… or those of our characters. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Sheryl: Annoyingly, my characters have to be christened before I can get properly underway with the story. I suppose it makes them real people from outset – in my mind, anyhow. If the name doesn’t fit the character, it bugs me and breaks my concentration.
Morgen: And the chances are your readers won’t like it. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Sheryl: I think you grow as you write – and read, of course. You can learn so much from other authors. I think sending out a first draft is a bad idea though, no matter how perfect you think it might be. I always try to rest the work now, and then re-edit, and re-edit. The thing is, a novel can always be improved. It’s knowing when to stop! I do use the services of freelance editors, too, when I need to. The last editor I used was Elizabeth Bailey www.helpingwritersgetitright.co.uk recommended to me by someone at the RNA.
Morgen: We’re too close to our own work, aren’t we. We know the reasoning behind it all. You said earlier that research is important, do you have to do much?
Sheryl: Yes, always. I do have experience of autism, for instance, but needed to do loads of research. It’s vital to get your facts right if you are to be believable.
Morgen: Or else someone will pick you up on it. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
Sheryl: I write in first and third and find I am comfortable with both. First allows you to write quite snappily, but does have limitations. Third allows you to more easily bring in other people’s points-of view. That said, Recipes For Disaster is all in first – and there are several points-of-view. Hmm? Does it work? Well, the publisher likes it!
Morgen: And I love the cover. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Sheryl: Always consider advice and, if it’s constructive, use it. Don’t be too precious about your writing. If something needs changing or taking out, just do it. You are the writer. You have the power to do that. Lastly, if you are truly passionate about writing, then keep learning, and keep at it.
Morgen: I am. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Sheryl: I’m a school critique partner for a local school. Basically, that means I look at children’s essays as part of their School Learning Project. The first request I received from a child via email, asked me whether I would please be his ‘critical partner’. Bless.
Morgen: Oh, sweet. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?
Sheryl: Walking my OAP dog – at a snail’s pace. Walking my partially sighted JR – who barks at bushes. I lost a three-legged babe recently. Poor girl had one leg at the front (a good, strong leg) and had to use a dog wheelchair (she did love her walks though, I hasten to add in case you think I drag my poor dogs out protesting ) At that time, I took all three dogs out at once. Picture the scene.
Morgen: I can… alongside Frank Spencer and Orville. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Sheryl: Yes, I’m on Twitter and Facebook (recently a proud, new loveahappyending author). I am also on Goodreads, Linked in, Branchout, etc, and a member of several Yahoo Groups. It can be very time consuming, so what works for me is to allocate time slots (life allowing). You can sometimes find yourself bobbing all over the place, supporting people here and there. The thing is, those people will offer the same support to you, which is a good way of attracting attention to build up a fan-base. It was great to link up with loveahappyending therefore, a lovely, supportive group, consisting thirty showcased authors. The aim of their interactive Reader / Author website “is to work together with our Associate Readers to raise the profile of our hand-picked group of Authors. To let YOU know all about some wonderful novels that might not have appeared before you until now! Some are not on the bookshelves in stores, but only available online … but either way, we wouldn’t want YOU to miss out on the chance to support a new author when you next purchase a book”.
Morgen: I think I need to start writing some more-uplifting stories. Where can we find out about you and your work?
As mentioned, I’m also on Goodreads, Linked in and Branchout. I’d be thrilled to see you wherever you might find me!
Morgen: I find you quite often on Facebook and I’m thrilled too. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Sheryl: I’d just like to take the opportunity of mentioning Safkhet Publishing. A truly honest and caring publishing house, they have been an absolute pleasure to work with throughout and I can’t thank them enough. Oh, and also to say thank you to the shy cover model for unveiling his gorgeous sexy legs!
Morgen: That’s what husbands are for. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Sheryl: Yes, how do you do it? Talented writer, podcaster, tutor, Radio Litopia contributor, interviewer and Chair of Northampton Writers! I could only aspire.
Morgen: :*) <scuttles off into the corner blushing> It’s somewhere between passion and obsession – my mum would tell you which end of the two. Thank you so much, Sheryl. Lovely chatting with you.
I then invited Sheryl to include an extract of her writing…
“one cup red or green seedless grapes, three cups shredded chicken…”
“OK, got it.” Phone wedged between shoulder and ear-hole, I scribbled down the ingredients Becky was giving me — while frantically spraying Febreze to disguise the stench of dead fish.
“…cooked,” Becky added.
“What?” I knitted my much furrowed brow.
“three cups shredded… cooked… chicken.” She spelled it out, slowly, as if talking to an incompetent. I might have taken umbrage, but for the fact that my domestic Goddess gene wasn’t so much deficient, as it died, probably at birth. A slave in the kitchen I was not. Slut in the bedroom I could do. Or would quite like to. Somehow, though, I doubted the new man in my life would want to make mad passionate love to the girl who’d just killed off his mother.
“Honestly, Lisa…” Becky sighed. “It has to be cooked before you shred it. You can’t shred raw chicken, can you?”
She was taking the pee now. “Obviously,” I dripped, indignant, though there was a good possibility I might have tried.
“And make sure it’s a happy chicken.”
“Ri-ght.” I paused to ponder. “Cooked and shredded, I should think it’ll be highly amused.”
“Oh, ha-di-ha.” Becky didn’t sound impressed. “I meant, an organic chicken, plucked and without giblets. Wash it under cold water, then place the whole chicken in a big pot, cover it with water, and bring it to
boil over a high heat.”
“By which time it will be positively ecstatic.”
Now residing in Worcestershire, Sheryl grew up in Birmingham, UK, where she studied Art & Design. She wears many hats: a partner in her own business, a mother, and a foster parent to disabled dogs, currently giving home to a feisty, but partially blind, midget Jack Russell and an OAP cross collie/lab.
Creative in spirit, Sheryl has always had a passion for writing. A full member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association for some years, she has previously been published in the US and writes Romantic Comedy because, as she puts it, “life is just too short to be miserable”.
Update September 2012: The three books I referred to have since been contracted by Safkhet Publishing (two now published, in fact, and one baby on the way, so to speak. The books published are Somebody to Love (which has got some FABulous reviews) and Warrant for Love, which came runner-up book of the week on Stafford FM Book Club (was really worried about that one, so thrilled to bits!), details below. The book to be published, I think in the New Year, is A Little Bit of Madness. Safkhet is actually looking at recruiting models for the cover of that at the Festival of Romance, which should be fun!
Morgen: Congratulations, Sheryl… and yes, that does sound like fun.
Somebody to Love
How do you tell her?
After that idiot of a husband ran off with that broomstick of a girl, single-mom Donna thinks there’s no sunshine in her future. What she needs now is a hunk of a guy who loves her and her three-legged dog with no complications. Solution? Call the police. Mark is a single dad with two big worries – protect and serve, and his autistic son Karl. Desperately he wants someone who’ll love him and his son without question and with no complications. He’s been hurt before and Karl needs stability – not short dates. So he’ll do anything for his kid – even lie to protect him. Can these two get it together and get together? Is Mark the hunk Donna needs? Is Donna the rock Mark can lean on? If they look hard enough, can they find Somebody to Love.
Publisher’s Note: Somebody to Love has been made with love… love of animals. Sheryl Browne has done excellent research on assistance dogs, specifically their use with autistic individuals. With a focus on romance with police officers, appealing to all readers who love our boys in blue, the author’s “teasing but not telling” style makes this read appropriate for anyone, including young adults and older teens.
Warrant for Love
Three couples in a twisting story that resolves perfectly.
Life for Paul is like a typical country song. He comes from a broken home, his wife is divorcing him, he’s got no place to live, he’s losing custody of his son, and his sergeant, who’s sleeping with his wife, is a loud-mouthed bully who won’t let up on him – not even at work. Before Leanne can give her cheating boyfriend what for, she’s wrongfully arrested for soliciting – by Paul. There’s an undeniable attraction though and things could be looking up for Paul, except for Leanne’s friends, who have it in for her ex. Leanne wants closure, Paul wants a home, Nicky and Jade want revenge. Blackmail, lies, adultery, entrapment. Will it work out in the end or will Paul uphold the law?
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