Welcome to the three hundred and forty-first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with thriller novelist, short story and non-fiction author, guest blogger, and spotlightee Alana Woods. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Welcome back, Alana. Please tell us something about yourself.
Alana: Female, born in Leicester UK. My family were £10 Poms, immigrating to Australia when I was four. I grew up in the coastal suburbs of Adelaide but now live in Canberra. It’s where two of my children live. We (that’s me and my husband John) also spend time in Burgess Hill in West Sussex with another of our children, Simone, also an author. She had the bad luck (well, bad luck for us) to meet an Englishman on her world travels and settled in the UK. So now, if we want to see her and our two UK grandsons, we have to visit.
Morgen: I’ve been to Burgess Hill! I love Burgess Hill, but then I love Sussex. Home number two (because we all dream, don’t we) is going to be in Sussex (and no.3 in Norfolk :)). How did you come to be a writer?
Alana: I’ve always liked writing but it wasn’t until I was about thirty that I became serious. I had just finished reading a bodice ripper (remember them?) and it was dreadful. I remember throwing it down in disgust and saying ‘I could do better than that’ and my husband naively said, ‘Well, why don’t you?’ Twelve weeks later I was still writing and he asked ‘Haven’t you finished yet?’ That was a lot of years ago. Now he asks ‘When are you going to start making money?’
Morgen: <laughs> Oh dear. Maybe I should just aim for house no.2. I presume you didn’t stick with the bodice rippers, what genre do you generally write now?
Alana: My novels are thrillers and so far the subject matters have been inspired by jobs I’ve held. I worked in court reporting for five years and Automaton is a result of that. My first job was at the Weapons Research Establishment in South Australia and that inspired Imbroglio. The novel I’m working on now, Dragline, is a corporate crime thriller and I got the idea for it while working as Director Publishing for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in Canberra.
Short stories are a different kettle of fish: my published collection spans romance, crime, travel and humour.
As for my Family medical history, that was essentially John’s idea. Last year our daughter Simone published a companion set of house journals (and here’s the link in case anyone is interested in checking them out Simone Woods’ house journals) and out of the blue John said that since our children were small he had thought that a journal where you could record everything of a medical nature that happens in your family would be a good idea. When I picked my jaw up off the floor because he’d never mentioned it before I decided to do it!
Morgen: It’s just getting every family now to buy a copy. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Alana: This leads on nicely from the last question. After reading that bodice ripper I began a Tudor period historical fiction. I love the era. But after about 100 pages I ran out of steam and never finished it. Next came a Mills & Boon type romance, which I finished, but couldn’t bring myself to write another, and nowadays I’d cringe if anyone read it. Then I tried young adult fiction but wasn’t enthralled with that either. It was when I started writing thrillers that I knew I was home.
Morgen: Mills & Boons are much harder than people thing. I bought a few to read to see if I could do it but I knew deep down that once you start and if you get accepted you then need to write quite a number of them and I like writing different things (usually darker). Do you write under a pseudonym?
Alana: No. You put a huge amount of effort into writing, so I want everyone to know that it’s me.
Morgen: You’ve mentioned some works that haven’t gone (and may never go) anywhere, have you had any rejections with those you’ve sent out?
Alana: Too many to keep a count of over the years. To begin with I was fuelled by the constructive rejections but after a while the pleasure of reading nice things about your work gives way to exasperation—if they liked it so much why didn’t they accept it??!!! Later my reaction was to get angry, followed by tears (of frustration), and finally I would say ‘To hell with them’.
In 2001 I stopped trying to find a publisher or literary agent and published Automaton myself. It sold 3,000 copies in two years and won Best Australian self-published fiction in 2003. Since then I’ve never bothered with publishers because I know I can do it myself.
Morgen: I submitted to / met a few agents but then I discovered eBooks and went my own way too. It’s early days but I’m hoping things will pick up when I get my novels online (only short stories and a workbook so far). You mentioned your win with Automaton, have you had any other competition success?
Alana: Automaton was also nominated by Sisters-in-Crime for the Davitt Awards in 2004. One of my short stories—The scenic route—won the South UK best short story in 2009; I was with Simone at the time.
Morgen: I didn’t know there was a South UK best short story, I’m going to have to check that out. You’re self-published, are all your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Alana: Yes, they’re available on Amazon as eBooks. I published the paperback versions through CreateSpace and then contracted them to convert Automaton and Imbroglio to eBooks.
I have a Kindle Touch 3G and love it. The best thing about it is that I can take hundreds of books on trips with me now! But I still like holding a real book, and you can’t beat the flippability of a real book. I find flipping back on a Kindle is annoying because you need to either flip back each page or remember a location number. If there’s a better way I haven’t found it yet.
Morgen: ‘flippability’, I love that. The Kindle Touch comes out here in the UK a week on Friday (not that I’m counting the days yet… OK, eleven) my friend Caroline’s bagged my Kindle 4 as soon as I get the Touch. The audiobook facility is the real appeal for me although it’ll be much quicker making notes. Do you do much marketing for your books?
Alana: When I originally published Automaton I did the rounds of bookshops in four of Australia’s states, cold calling. I sold the first print run of 1,000 that way. The second print run of 2,000 I sold directly, through market stalls, State royal shows and giving author talks at libraries and clubs. This time around it’s all been online so far: my website, Facebook, Twitter, blogging, Google +, Goodreads, and Amazon of course.
Morgen: Wow, that’s good going. Presumably you chose the titles and covers for your books, how important do you think they are?
Alana: That’s one of the advantages of publishing your own work, you have total control. So far my thriller titles are a direct consequence of the stories. Automaton, at least here in Australia, is legal parlance for an accused person who says they have no memory of the crime they have been charged with. And as that’s what Automaton is about it was the natural title. Imbroglio means ‘a complicated affair’ and that sums up the story exactly. The one I’m working on at the moment involves spiders, ergo Dragline.
The covers are my ideas but rendered by a friend who is a very talented artist and professional graphic artist. I wanted my three thrillers to be themed and when Dragline is published people will see what I mean, although if you look at Automaton and Imbroglio you’ll get the idea.
The look of a book is incredibly important. And a title needs to intrigue.
Morgen: I’m a big fan of titles, and I like the way you’ve gone for single words each time. Your books sound very in-depth, do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Alana: It depends. Imbroglio has two main characters and their stories run parallel, so I plotted it all out to keep track of who was doing what when. But with Automaton and Dragline I just had the ideas and ran with them.
Morgen: I’m more of the latter than the former but then most stories deviate, don’t they, when the characters get their hands on it. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Alana: I think my writing has got better over the years but I still do a lot of editing, as I write and once I’ve finished the first draft. Then, once I think it’s perfect I put it away for 12 to 18 months. It’s amazing how much I’ll rewrite when the story has become new to me again.
Morgen: I was going to say that you’ve got a lot of willpower but then it’s been about the same time for mine and I’m sure they’ll have more holes than a sieve when I go back to them. You said earlier that you write what you know, or at least have had experience of, do you have to do much research?
Alana: I have a certain amount of knowledge which has come from the jobs I’ve had. But all of the books have needed research so that I can show more than a superficial understanding of the subjects.
Morgen: Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Alana: I’m a professional editor; it’s what I do for a living.
Morgen: Oh, maybe we could have a part two where I grill… <coughs> sit you down and ask you nicely all about that side of your writing life. In the meantime, where can we find out about you and your work?
Thank you, Alana.
I then invited Alana to include an extract of her writing and this is from Imbroglio…
Something grazed her leg. It took a long moment for the fact to register because she was almost comatose.
Blinking in the sun she turned instinctively away from its blinding light. Where she was came next. Then why she was there.
Something had grazed her leg.
She came fully alert, her heart suffocating in its small confines.
She grabbed for her feet and wilted with relief that they were both still attached. She ducked her face. No blood. No marks.
Needing air almost immediately she whipped her head up and, whimpering, craned around for the signs. Nothing. Panicking she ducked under again and twisted, waiting to see it, waiting for the connection, anticipating the pain, dreading the death.
Please no, she kept praying, please no, not like that.
Waiting for it her fear turned to Dutch courage and she forced her fingers wide, making claws of her hands. Come on, she screamed in her mind, I dare you. I’ll bloody well gouge your eyes out before you get me. Where are you? Come on. But no predator answered the challenge. Whatever it was that had brushed past, it had not been interested. She was alone. The birds had left. No ships were steaming to her rescue. And the sharks weren’t hungry.
Alana’s family immigrated to Australia from the UK when she was four and bought land an hour south of Adelaide. For the next 15 years she explored her way through school, the beach, roaming as far as her bike would take her in a day, and books.
In 1966 she met John, married him the next year, and the year after had twins, Simone and Simon— Alana and John still get ribbed about that.
Three years later Nicole joined the team—for a moment they thought she was twins too, and joke now that it would have been Nicole and Nicholas. You can imagine the derision!
In 1980 they moved to Canberra to further their careers until 2004 when they moved to Queensland, spending five years there before moving back to Canberra because they missed their family. They also now spend time in the UK with Simone, her husband and two sons. You can also read Alana’s guest post on editing and spotlight.
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