Welcome to the two hundred and fifty-eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with YA and historical romance fiction author Fiona Ingram. 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, Fiona. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Fiona: I am a South African children’s author. Up until a few years ago I was a journalist and editor. Something rather unexpected sparked my new career as an author—a family trip to Egypt with my mother and two young nephews. We had a great time and I thought I’d write them a short story as a different kind of souvenir…. Well, one book and a planned book series later, I had changed careers.
Morgen: That’s great. I only came to writing six years ago and it was a definite light bulb moment. What genre do you write?
Fiona: I write juvenile fiction, for middle grade age group, but I also write historical fiction (romance) under a pseudonym.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date?
Fiona: My first MG adventure novel The Secret of the Sacred Scarab is published, along with a Viking adventure novel This Enchanted Land (a collaboration), and my first historical novel. However, my children’s books are the most important part of my writing. The other books are just for fun.
Morgen: Hopefully they’re all fun. Have you ever seen a member of the public reading your book… in any unusual locations?
Fiona: Alas, no. When I do I will run up to them and frighten them half to death by hugging them!
Morgen: What an image. How much of the marketing do you do?
Fiona: Marketing is the hardest aspect of being an author. I started knowing nothing about marketing but very quickly learned that if you want people to buy your books you have to really get out there and get noticed. I blog, Tweet, write articles, go on blog tours, get book reviews, and I enter every book contest I can find.
Morgen: How have you done in that respect?
Fiona: Let me blow my own trumpet and give you a list.
Fiona: Book Award Nominations & Wins for The Secret of the Sacred Scarab:
- Finalist Children’s Fiction USA Next Generation 2009 Indie Book Awards
- Finalist Juvenile Fiction USA National Best Books 2009 Awards
- Winner Pre-Teen USA Readers’ Favorites 2009 Awards
- Number 2 in the USA Children’s & Teens Book Connection Top Ten Favourite Books of 2009 for Kids, Tweens & Teens
- Winner Silver Medal Teen Fiction 2010 Nautilus Book Awards
- Finalist Children’s Fiction 2010 International Book Awards
- Winner Bronze Medal Pre-Teen Fiction 2010 Moonbeam Book Awards
- Finalist 2011 Rubery Book Awards
- Winner Gold Award Mystery Pre-Teen 2011 Children’s Literary Classics Awards
Morgen: Wow. Congratulations. Do you competitions help with a writer’s success?
Fiona: I think any win or nomination proves your book has reached a certain standard so, yes, I think contests can add to a writer’s success.
Morgen: You mentioned earlier that you write under a pseudonym. Do you think they make a difference to an author’s profile?
Fiona: I am not sure they make a difference – it depends on one’s reason for using a pseudonym. Mine is to completely separate my middle grade writing from my adult writing.
Morgen: A lot of authors do (Ruth Rendell = Barbara Vine, Joanna Trollope = Caroline Harvey, Sophie Kinsella = Madeleine Wickham. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Fiona: I would love an agent. I received 35 rejections from British literary agents and I was so naïve I thought no one would ever want me. I self-published in the USA and did all the hard slog myself. I have won lots of awards and have signed a movie option with a British movie company. However, there is something so secure about saying, ‘Well, my agent recommends.…”
Morgen: It does sound good doesn’t it. Us Brits clearly have no taste… well, apart from the movie company. You’ve self-published, does this mean your books are available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Fiona: My MG novel and my first historical romance are e-books but I am not sure about the whole e-publishing game. Living in South Africa which has quite a traditional outlook, I find not many people here have Kindles yet. I prefer real books but when I am sitting in the car, waiting for my daughter to come out of school, I consider e-books!
Morgen: I think we’re slower in the UK too, certainly more than the US, although I’ve caught up this week (and I love it) because there was a small cheap version. I already had a generic eReader but it took that to push me to a Kindle. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Fiona: My first acceptance was actually my first historical romance and I thought it was a mistake when the publishers said they would love to read the manuscript. My biggest thrill was when the movie company sent me a message saying they had bought, read and loved my book The Secret of the Sacred Scarab and would I like to think about a movie option. I nearly fell off my chair and instantly saw myself as the next JK Rowling. (I still do!)
Morgen: And you could be. We have to aim high. You mentioned the rejections, how did you deal with them?
Fiona: I think it has scarred me for life. Well, I hope not but despite reading about all the famous authors who were once rejected, and how all those agents who turned them down must be kicking themselves… it still hurts when someone says no. The historical romance publishers like my writing and have already asked for the next manuscript.
Morgen: JK was rejected 14-16 times (depending where you read about it). If a writer wants to be a writer then they’ll just keep going. I have 20-something rejections so I’m catching you up. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Fiona: I am editing my second MG adventure novel which follows on from The Secret of the Sacred Scarab. It is called The Search for the Stone of Excalibur and (you guessed it) is all about Arthur and his famous sword. I have also completed my second historical romance.
Morgen: I had three agents tell me last year that they’re looking for more historical so you’ve certainly picked the right genre. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Fiona: I try to write every day. Sometimes I get in a few days of hard slog, but often the boring parts of real life interfere, like shopping, paying bills, doing the school run etc. The most I have written in a day is around 4000 words.
Morgen: That’s great. 300 words is a 100,000 word novel in a year – a wonderful result for little effort… we just need to find the time to do it. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Fiona: I sometimes get bogged down trying to get my characters from one point to another but then I leave that section and move on. When I return to the bottle-neck I find the characters have sorted it out.
Morgen: Aren’t they great, I think them coming alive is my favourite thing. A question some authors dread: where do you get your inspiration from?
Fiona: I have no idea. My book The Secret of the Sacred Scarab was inspired by the trip to Egypt with my two nephews, aged 10 and 12 at the time. From then on the sequels and beyond just created themselves in my head. My historical romances came about because my mother, who is a Mills & Boon addict, tossed one aside and said, “I’m sure you could write one of these.” So I did.
Morgen: It’s great that you have two first readers for your middle grade books. I have a young family living next door to me (late / early teens and a four-year-old). You said about your characters “sorting it out”, do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Fiona: The middle grade series just created itself and I draw extensively on history, geography, ancient myths and legends, which is wonderful. The other writing starts as a tiny idea and grows. However, I do a basic outline, creating a one-sentence synopsis of the story. Then I do chapter breakdowns, write down what I want to achieve in each chapter, and go for it!
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Fiona: I find real people inspire my characters. Perhaps it is just one or two aspects to create the seed that grows into a character. I like to begin with something I have seen in real people and develop it from there. I do struggle every now and again with names. I think all the best ones are taken!
Morgen: Well, unless you want to go for Harry Potter then you could always take a first name from one and a surname from another. Harry Baggins? Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Fiona: No, lucky me, I stay at home and write all day and night if I want to do so.
Morgen: You are lucky. I’ve been trying to escape the day job since October (nearly there :)). Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Fiona: Whoever is editing my work is the first reader. However, my friends and colleagues are always asking me to fill them in on what I have written. I find people are generally interested in what someone is writing about. I once had to wait three hours at the hospital for my mom to have a small procedure done. A woman who was also waiting asked me what I did. I said I had written an adventure for kids. “Oh,” she said. “That sounds wonderful. Please tell me all about it.” So I told everyone in the waiting room the entire adventure. They loved it!
Morgen: And there is the art of storytelling in its rawest form. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Fiona: I do my own editing and I rely on a professional editor. However, I reread previous work a lot and correct as I go along. I find it impossible to leave a mistake to be fixed later.
Morgen: It’s so tempting to do that. You’re doing the right thing though by having a professional involved. I have and she picks things that hadn’t even occurred to me, as do my writing group. We’re always too close to our own work, knowing the thought behind it. Historical writing has to be so accurate. How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Fiona: All my writing relies on accurate research so I read widely before getting started. For instance, my third MG novel is set in Mexico (The Temple of The Crystal Timekeeper) so I have to read up about locality, lost tribes, myths and legends and all the elements of a new and exotic environment. Yes, readers of my book The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, as well as many reviewers have commented on how Egypt has come alive for them while reading the book.
Morgen: It must help having been there, and as you so was the inspiration behind it. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Fiona: I always read what I wrote the day before to get myself back into the story. Then I look at my chapter outline and dive in.
Morgen: Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Fiona: I make my initial notes and I write my chapter outlines on paper. For actual writing I use the computer.
Morgen: Me too, much quicker. 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?
Fiona: I like to listen to music in the afternoon while I work. For some reason I prefer silence in the morning.
Morgen: I can understand that; mornings are more serene, aren’t they? What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Fiona: I prefer third person. I have never tried second person.
Morgen: Oh do! I love it. I have a dark side so it suits me but doesn’t suit everyone. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_person_narrative may help explain it. Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Fiona: In my second MG novel (The Search for the Stone of Excalibur) I need a prologue to put readers back into the picture of the Egyptian adventure (The Secret of the Sacred Scarab). In the second book I also found an epilogue was necessary. Actually two characters got together and just made it happen! They can be useful, especially if you pick up a book that continues something begun in earlier books. The danger is keeping them short and to the point!
Morgen: Absolutely. I used to skip over them until I started these interviews and realised how useful they can be but do glaze over if they’re too long – they may as well be Chapter 1s in that case. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Fiona: I have something I began a very long time ago but I realise now I did not have the life experience and maturity to complete it. I will do so when my MG book series is finished.
Morgen: That would be great. I have loads I need to revisit and it would be a shame for them not to get an airing (unless they’re really dreadful of course). What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Fiona: I love the feeling when the story just drives me as a writer and I find my fingers fly across the keyboard. Grammar and spelling go out the window as I try to keep up with the story unfolding in my head. Or else I find whole scenes, complete with dialogue and backstory, playing out in my head long before it is even time to tackle that part. My least favourite aspects of writing are reading what I have just typed and correcting all the spelling and grammar! Another boring thing is having to actually leave my desk, go out into the real world and shop and pay bills.
Morgen: Well, when you’re up there with JK Rowling you can have an assistant to do all that. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Fiona: When people say to me, “I loved your book!” and when I win yet another award or nomination.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Fiona: 1. Never give up. 2. Make sure your writing meets the industry standard and if that means spending money on editing before submitting it to an agent or publisher, then do it. 3. Never stop marketing your book every day.
I have written several articles on publishing and marketing so interested readers can visit my Media Page on www.FionaIngram.com. The best kind of marketing is to come up with ideas that relate directly to the appeal your book has for the particular audience. Don’t get stuck on traditional plans. Think ‘out the box’ and people will respond to something new and original. Please visit Author Marketing Experts http://www.amarketingexpert.com and Dana Lynn Smith’s site www.TheSavvyBookMarketer.com for absolutely everything there is to know about book marketing and getting book reviews. Loads of fantastic tips!
Morgen: Brilliant, thanks for that. We talked about the Kindle earlier, what do you like to read? Any authors you could recommend?
Fiona: I read just about anything (except chick lit) so I am open to all kinds of genres and writing. If anyone out there enjoys quirky fantasy please try Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Screamingly funny!
Morgen: I’ve not read any but my brother was a big fan (before he grew up and got a job, house etc. now I don’t think he reads at all). Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Fiona: Nike’s marketing phrase: ‘Just do it!’
Morgen: Absolutely – as I mentioned earlier writing 300 words a day will get you a 100,000 word novel in a year (she says and doesn’t do it, although I do NaNoWriMo novels so they’re half-way in a month). What do you do when you’re not writing?
Fiona: I read, entertain my menagerie of animals, go to movies, art, theatre, anything cultural, and I love travelling.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Fiona: At the risk of sounding pushy, I have a really good list of websites on my Media Page. Again http://www.amarketingexpert.com and www.TheSavvyBookMarketer.com will guide any author to writing success.
Morgen: Not pushy. I’m all for sharing useful information. You’re based in South Africa, do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Fiona: My writing has been an incredible journey and not without its dark and dreary moments. Living here affords very few good opportunities for publishing. Hence my decision to find a publisher in the USA. That too has its drawbacks—I can’t do as much as I would like with book readings etc. But the benefit of the Internet has proved itself! I have found that through blogging, tweeting, Facebook, and other online means, I have been able to build up a good author profile.
Morgen: It’s all the ‘not what you know but who you know’ (although both certainly helps) so just getting people to know you exist without being pushy. Are you on any forums or networking sites?
Fiona: I find that just the marketing and social media stuff eats into too much writing time already so no, I don’t do forums.
Morgen: The very reason my mum doesn’t have a computer. I wouldn’t be without one. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Fiona: I think writers have a great future. Look at the huge number of books being published and read every day!
Morgen: If you could have your life over again, is there anything you’d have done differently (writing-related or otherwise)?
Fiona: I would have started writing books ten years earlier, but then I would not have notched up the life experience and writing skills required, so I guess everything happens at the right time.
Morgen: Exactly. Sometimes I think I wished I’d started earlier (I was late 30s) but I think eBooks have turned the publishing profession around to our side and I’m really excited about that. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Fiona: If any readers feel there is a book somewhere inside them then go ahead and start writing. Don’t wait. Just write it down. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is than you think!
Morgen: It is, it’s great. I wrote my first for NaNoWriMo and have done three more. As you said earlier just write something and edit it later – you can’t edit a blank page. Thank you Fiona, I’ve enjoyed chatting with you and I’d love to have you back to talk about your movie.
I then invited Fiona to include an example of her writing and in this extract, young hero Adam Sinclair and his cousin are trapped in an abandoned tomb while trying to escape from two killers. Unfortunately the tomb is still occupied… by a giant cobra!
The snake jerked at the sound of his voice. It glided closer to the stone sarcophagus. Adam lay back on the pile of smelly bones and closed his eyes to half-slits. He looked up at the ceiling where the painted cobra shimmered.
I can’t believe this is happening. I know it’s after me.
The slithering, scraping sound grew louder. Then directly in front of him, just at the edge of the stone sarcophagus, the forked tongue whipping back and forth came into view followed by the loathsome head, which reared up, its hood spread wide. Then the creature opened its monstrous jaws, revealing wicked fangs. A clear drop of deadly poison trembled on the end of each fang, glistening like a pearl.
Adam heard a hideous hissing as the snake stared into the stone coffin, hunting for its prey, waiting for the tiniest movement that would betray his presence. Adam closed his eyes so he wouldn’t have to look into the snake’s gleaming black orbs. I’m finished, he thought, sliding his hand into his pocket and feeling the scarab. Somehow, just holding it made him feel calmer.
Fiona Ingram began her writing career by inventing stories to entertain her three younger brothers when she was about ten. Later she graduated in theatre studies, moved into journalism and has been writing ever since. Although Fiona Ingram has been a journalist for the last fifteen years, writing a children’s book—The Secret of the Sacred Scarab—was an unexpected step, inspired by a recent trip to Egypt. The tale of the sacred scarab began life as an anecdotal tale for her two nephews (then 10 and 12), who had accompanied her on the Egyptian trip. This short story grew into a children’s book, the first in the adventure series Chronicles of the Stone. The author has already completed the next book in the series—The Search for the Stone of Excalibur—a huge treat for young King Arthur fans. Although Fiona does not have children of her own, she adopted an African child from an underprivileged background who is just discovering the joys of reading for pleasure. Fiona’s experiences in teaching her daughter to read has resulted in her interest in child literacy and in creating ways to get kids more interested in reading, as well as helping parents to instil a love of reading in their children.
Naturally, Fiona is a voracious reader and has been from early childhood. Her interests include literature, art, theatre, collecting antiques, animals, music, and films. She loves travel and has been fortunate to have lived in Europe (while studying) and America (for work). She has travelled widely and fulfilled many of her travel goals.
Fiona’s latest book is the middle grade adventure novel, The Secret of the Sacred Scarab – Book 1 in the Chronicles of the Stone series. Visit her at: Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Google+ | Goodreads | Authors Den | YouTube | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Barnes & Noble | Nook
About The Secret of the Sacred Scarab
A 5000-year-old mystery comes to life when a scruffy peddler gives Adam and Justin Sinclair an old Egyptian scarab on their very first day in Egypt. Only when the evil Dr. Faisal Khalid shows a particular interest in the cousins and their scarab, do the boys realise they are in terrible danger. Dr. Khalid wants the relic at all costs. Justin and Adam embark upon the adventure of a lifetime, taking them down the Nile and across the harsh desert in their search for the legendary tomb of the Scarab King, an ancient Egyptian ruler. They are plunged into a whirlpool of hazardous and mysterious events when Dr. Khalid kidnaps them. They survive terrifying dangers in a hostile environment (such as a giant cobra, as well as sinking sand), pursued by enemies in their quest to solve the secret of the sacred scarab. They must translate the hieroglyphic clues on the underside of the scarab, as well as rescue the missing archaeologist James Kinnaird, and their friend, the Egyptologist Ebrahim Faza, before time runs out. They must also learn more about the ancient Seven Stones of Power and the mysterious Shemsu-Hor. With just their wits, courage, and each other, the boys manage to survive … only to find that the end of one journey is the beginning of another!
Young explorers will enjoy an interactive journey through Egypt, following Justin and Adam’s exciting adventure on www.secretofthesacredscarab.com. Readers can also browse the first chapter of the book. Those who survive the journey and manage to translate the Curse of Thoth will be able to read the first chapter in Adam and Justin’s next adventure—The Search for the Stone of Excalibur—as they hunt for the Scroll of the Ancients.
Update September 2012: I won another award/nomination for The Secret of the Sacred Scarab: Winner Gold Award Mystery Pre-Teen 2011 Children’s Literary Classics Awards’ and 2nd Place in the 2011 YA Sharpwrit Book Awards. I have also now had three (yes 3!) historical romances published, and am contracted for another 3, so that’s going well. My second MG novel should be published late this year.
By the way, I do review books and if you look at my Goodreads shelf you’ll see some interesting books that earned a five stars from me (not easy!). I am sure the authors are worth interviewing.
Morgen: Congratulations and haven’t you been working hard. I shall take a look. My ‘requirement’ for an interview is that the person writes, so I’m sure they are.
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.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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As I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t unfortunately review books but I have a list of those who do. I welcome critique for the four new writing groups listed below and / or flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays. For other opportunities see (see Opportunities on this blog).
The full details of the new online writing groups, and their associated Facebook groups, are:
- Morgen’s Online Novel Writing Group (http://novelwritinggroup.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/groups/508696639153189)
- Morgen’s Online Poetry Writing Group (http://poetrywritinggroup.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/groups/388850977875934)
- Morgen’s Online Script Writing Group (http://scriptwritinggroup.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/groups/319941328108017)
- Morgen’s Online Short Story Writing Group (http://shortstorywritinggroup.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/groups/544072635605445)
We look forward to reading your comments.