Welcome to the four hundred and twenty-second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with travel and short story author Vic Heaney. 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, Vic. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Vic: I am rapidly approaching 72 years of age. I live in the beautiful French Pyrenees with my wife Gay. I have 3 daughters who live in Saudi Arabia, Italy and the United States. I have a granddaughter of 27 years, 2 grandsons of 21 and 22, all three in England, and a grandson of 7 in Italy.
I have always enjoyed writing and have had to do a great deal in most of my jobs as they needed a lot of communication but probably not as much as I indulged in. I have also irregularly written, and been published, for most of my adult life. Mainly articles.
Morgen: What genre do you currently write?
Vic: I now write books which can loosely be categorised as travel. I also write short stories, usually to supplied specifications because they are for competitions.
Morgen: I haven’t entered any competitions for a while but I do prefer the themed ones. I’m involved in one for a writing group I chair (the H.E. Bates short story competition) and this year is the first time we’ve had a theme (‘A walk at midnight’). Crime novelist Stephen Booth is our judge this year so it’ll be interesting to see how many entries are ‘dark’. 🙂 What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Vic: Sporadically, over my adult lifetime, I have had articles published, mainly about travel, motoring or exercise, especially running. I write under my own name now, although I did have one article published under the name Ted MacArthur because I thought it would please my mother (Ted was my father’s name and MacArthur was my mother’s family name). I dropped the idea when she asked my why on earth I had used that instead of my own name.
Morgen: That’s mothers for you. 🙂 Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Vic: I have had articles rejected because they used to be written much more on spec than is the case now. I had my book rejected a couple of times (with encouraging words) before I decided to self-publish.
Morgen: Having feedback is pretty rare these days, most editors / agents don’t have the time so they must have seen the merit in your work, it just was for them. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Vic: I subscribe to Writers’ News and Writing Magazine mainly so I can enter the monthly short story competitions. I have been shortlisted 5 times so I understand how the perpetual bridesmaid feels.
Morgen: 🙂 I’ve entered a few times and been shortlisted a couple – it’s still great seeing my name in the magazine but I know what you mean, having your photo, bio and the story would be great. I should try again. You’ve self-published, presumably you don’t have an agent, do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Vic: I do not have an agent. I have not tried to get one but have read so many times of writers trying to get an agent only to be told that agents are only interested in somebody who already has a book deal. As so many publishers are only interested in writers who have an agent, this seems to be a bit of a problem.
Morgen: Some small publishers prefer to find writers directly so they don’t have to pay commission and some writers prefer it so they get more direct contact but anyone looking for the ‘big six’, I’d say would need an agent. Some writers are self-publishing then being found so you just have to keep going. 🙂 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?
Vic: My only book to date – Vic’s Big Walk from SW France to NW England” was published as an e-book. “Vic’s Big Walk” is now available in paperback. It has not yet reached the Amazon shelves but will be there soon. In the meantime, it can be bought directly from the publishers (this link will take you straight to the book). I published the e-version through Bookbaby, who accept a Word (there are other options) document and publish the book on Amazon Kindle, iBookstore, Sony, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Copia, Baker & Taylor, Gardners, and eBookPie. As they cement agreements with other platforms, my book is sold on those as well. All for $99, which seems like a pretty good deal to me, compared with the effort of publishing myself on all or any of those platforms.
I read both paper books and books on Kindle. I have a particular eye problem so the facility on the Kindle to increase the print size is wonderful. I travel a great deal so it is excellent to be able to carry scores or hundreds of books in something which weighs less than one book. And as the print is very black on pure white, it is easier on the eye than reading a book.
Morgen: Most authors love both and I’m the same. I do love the Kindle for its clarity and as you say, have over 400 novels / stories on mine. 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Vic: Because my book is self-published I have had to do all the marketing myself. I have spent hundreds of hours on this.
Morgen: Which is often a ‘least favourite aspect’ of other interviewees – we’re writers, we should be writing, although we get to interact directly with our (potential) readers which is great. 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?
Vic: My only book so far – although I have three others in the pipeline – is about my 70-day walk to raise funds for pancreatic cancer research. So the only characters in there are myself, my wife, my children and friends, and many people I met along the way. Immodestly, I can think of only one person suitable to play myself in the film. 🙂 Seriously, I had not thought about that and will have to give thought to which distinguished 70-year old actors are out there (the walk was from my home in the French Pyrenees to the house of my birth in Blackpool, Northern England – I arrived on my 70th birthday). The BBC TV news coverage of the finish to my walk can be seen on youtube.
Morgen: Sean Connery perhaps? 🙂 Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your book(s)? How important do you think they are?
Vic: Because the BBC played “Walk of Life” by Dire Straits over the news item, I thought it would be a good idea to have that as the title to my book. Also because I have always been a big Dire Straits / Mark Knopfler fan – in fact I have attended a concert in every one of their tours to date except that Mark was touring in Europe and UK during my Big Walk so I had to miss for the first time. Also “Walk of Life” was relevant because, at almost 2,000 kms, it was certainly the walk of my life and it was also to raise funds to save lives. I even had Mark’s permission, through his manager, to use “Walk of Life” as the title of the book but decided to stick with “Vic’s Big Walk” – the title of my blog – because that had become well-known, and because if you Google “Vic’s Big Walk” you come up with lots of stuff about my walk, and now about my book. If you Google “Walk of Life” you come up with lots of pages about Dire Straits. Mark was still kind enough to publicise my book on his website.
As regards covers, I am lucky enough to have a friend who is a graphic designer and photographer. He designed the cover of my book, which is quite striking, I think.
Morgen: I’d say it does what it is supposed to – tell you the content, and non-fiction should be clearer than fiction. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Vic: I am continuing to enter the Writers’ News short story competitions and am determined that this is the year I will win one of them. I am also working on 3 more books, which I intend to publish during the next 12 months. This may seem a tall order, but they are all three books which are largely written. My wife and I lived in Cyprus for a number of years and I wrote a book about that but did not seek a publisher. I wrote my own autobiography for my children and will now update it for general consumption – I have led a varied and interesting life. The beauty of writing e-books is that if they do not sell, you have lost nothing but your own effort – a bit like digital photography where you can take hundreds of shots and then reject all or most of them without having incurred the cost of film and developing. I will also publish a book of short stories originally written for competitions, including the 5 (or hopefully more by then) shortlisted.
But before then I will publish “Vic’s Big Walk” in paperback, using Lulu. All proceeds from that book go directly to pancreatic cancer research. The book is to raise awareness as well as funds. It is featured on the website of Pancreatic Cancer UK and I know that some people look at the details and decide not to buy because they prefer a paper book or do not have an eReader.
Morgen: I’ve been to Cyprus three times and love it. If I could afford a holiday home I’d pick somewhere in the Larnaca hills… with a sea view of course. 🙂 Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Vic: I don’t write every day. I know I should, but I don’t. My travelling lifestyle doesn’t help with that. I have bursts of activity. Once I sit down to the keyboard I do not suffer from writer’s block.
Morgen: It must be easier when you’re writing non-fiction certainly. With your short stories, do you plot them or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Vic: I usually sit down with a vague idea and am amazed by what comes out of my fingers onto the screen. Fortunately I can touch-type so the mechanics do not get in the way.
Morgen: It’s the not knowing what will come out of my brain that I love. 🙂 Do you have a method for creating your characters?
Vic: No, I fly by the seat of my pants on this. The characters also come off my fingers.
Vic: I always felt that I could not write fiction and have been surprised by the success (shortlisting) of some of my stories, and by how, reading back through those I have written some time ago, they still look OK to me.
Morgen: I’m hoping I feel the same when I go back to my 100+ old (<7 years) ones. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Vic: I find that I generally have to make only slight adjustments to what I have written. Apart from proof-reading that is – although this is not something you can ideally do yourself – you tend to see what you meant to write, not what is there. Fortunately my wife is an excellent proof reader.
Morgen: Absolutely. A writer should always have a second pair of eyes; family, friends, writing group if not a professional. Do you have to do much research?
Vic: For the non-fiction works I have always written about subjects known to me, so any research is about background – for instance interesting facts about some of the places I passed through on my Big Walk, and which are therefore mentioned in the book.
Morgen: With your short stories, what point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Vic: I vary between first and third person. I have not tried second person.
Morgen: Most editors don’t like it (I know Sue Moorcroft, Writers Forum competition judge, does like it :)) and most writers / readers don’t but you never know until you try. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Vic: I am busy resurrecting those which have been hiding.
Morgen: 🙂 What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Vic: I love writing, always have. I love sitting down with blank paper and seeing it turn black. I am always amazed when I look at some of my older works, expecting to cringe, but see that they hold up. I just wish I were more disciplined about doing it every day. And of course I regret all those wasted years when I had my priorities wrong, bringing up a family and spending all that time at work. 🙂
Morgen: You had to work to bring up your family, I wouldn’t have said anyone should regret that. As for writing every day, I started 5PM Fiction at the beginning of June and I’ll be 35 stories in as of today so feel free to use any of the prompts I’ve been using if that helps. I also have loads on my blog’s Exercises and Sentence Starts page. 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Vic: Read the answer preceding this one and get cracking at every opportunity. The years fly by. Also, read a lot. Everything you can lay your hands on. In fact, I doubt if you could be a good writer if you are not an avid reader.
Morgen: I don’t read enough… I’m pretty organised and keep saying I’m going to go to bed at a certain time before I sleep but find I’m way past the ‘sleep’ time when I go to bed! 😦 If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Vic: Alexander the Great. Vegetarian Moussaka. I don’t know if he was a vegetarian, but I am.
Willie Nelson. Pizza for him, but I would have a sniffer dog handy to check him for weed.
Lloyd George. Jacket potato with leeks. I would hide my father in case Lloyd George knew him.
Morgen: 🙂 I’m not a vegetarian but I’d be happy with any / all of those. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Vic: Marcel Proust: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Morgen: I love that. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Vic: Not at the moment, although my wife and I at one time ghost-wrote several autobiographies for circulation within their own family and friends.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Vic: We travel a lot. 3 months in New Zealand every year, for instance. I walk a lot, having been a competitive runner for most of my life. I read several books a week. I have learned to play the guitar since I turned 60, and have even played in a band onstage.
Morgen: Wow. No wonder you don’t have time to write every day. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Vic: I have joined a few forums in order to publicise my book. And have had some moderate success in that.
Morgen: You do have to be out there. I blog a lot (three or four pieces on this blog and two re-run interviews a day on http://morgensauthorinterviews.blogspot.co.uk) but my sales (short story collection and writing guide) are still a trickle because I don’t really push myself as well as my guests. I’m working on getting my novels online so hopefully I can start appearing on other blogs and change that. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Vic: I think the coming of epublishing means that any writer can get his books or stories out where they can be read. Whether they will be read depends on their quality. Of course it also means that readers will have more choice and that it will be more difficult for them to find your excellent work.
Morgen: It will but I do think reviews will sway readers… a writer can only have so many friends. 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Vic: I would like to thank you for the opportunity to do this interview and hopefully to have my work more widely publicised, and for the help this also gives with my fundraising for pancreatic cancer research.
Morgen: You’re very welcome, I hope this helps. Thank you, Vic.
I then invited Vic to include an extract of his writing and this is from ‘Vic’s Big Walk from SW France to NW England’…
Mine host is very friendly. Another man comes in, obviously his copain. We have a bit of a talk about why I am walking. When I come to pay, it is a bit gloomy inside by the till, I have trouble sorting the money out – I don’t handle money very often anyway. I eventually let him select the money from my hand. I say I have a problem with my eyes. He says, “Cataracts?” I say, “Yes, but also pattern dystrophy”.
“My wife has that,” he says. I am not sure by now whether he is talking about the cataracts or the pattern dystrophy. The latter is a fairly rare condition and not to be wished on anybody as it eventually removes the central vision completely. He says, “Vous pouvez voire la femme?” I think, does he mean can I see my wife, but he gestures to something on the wall. When I get close enough I see it is a picture of two women in bikinis. He laughs and says, “See – your eyes are OK really.”
and a synopsis of his book…
In 2010a grandfather went for a walk. A mere 1900 kms. Backwards through his life, from his home in the French Pyrenees to his very beginnings in Northern England. His aims – to walk for 70 days – to arrive on his 70th birthday – to raise funds for pancreatic cancer research.
2 years of training. 17.5 Million steps walked. All this not only to raise funds but also to raise awareness of this dreadful illness. Vic Heaney’s first wife Gaile was a victim of pancreatic cancer.
There were many physical challenges, not least an eye condition which meant he could not read maps and had difficulty walking on uneven ground. Some weeks his total climbs would have seen him to the summit of Everest.
Many characters were met on the way. Even those who said, “Where are the Pyrenees?” were sent on their way with an appreciation of the awfulness of pancreatic cancer.
In 2011 the same grandfather wrote a book about his epic walk. Join Vic in his great adventure. And feel good about it – every purchase will help to raise more funds to help conquer pancreatic cancer.
Vic Heaney lives with his wife Gay in the Pyrenean foothills in France, not far from the Spanish border. He was born in northern England, attended grammar school, insisted on leaving at the age of 15 because a life at sea beckoned. His subsequent careers included that first job as a Merchant Navy Radio Officer, a 7-year stint working for GCHQ, 14 years with Britain’s major computer manufacturer, largely as a regional manager, and another 10 years running his own computer services company. He retired at age 50 and has spent much time since then travelling the world. He is a reader and writer, a guitar player and a music listener, an ex-runner, now a prolific walker. He has many other interests including US politics and will be in the States again this year to experience the excitement of the Presidential election.
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