Welcome to the six hundred and eighty-first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction writer, proofreader and copywriter Alison Thompson. 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, Alison. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Alison: Hi Morgen. I live in Oxfordshire, UK with my partner, teenage kids, two cats and a bearded dragon, but I’m originally from London. I’m actually better known as The Proof Fairy (www.theprooffairy.com) – I am a professional proofreader and copywriter and have been editing other people’s books for a few years now! However, I have wanted to write my own book for ages and I’ve finally got round to doing it.
Morgen: I know how that goes. Life so often gets in the way but once you get there it’s a great feeling. You write non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Alison: My son was diagnosed with ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder –when he was six, and we’ve been on a roller coaster journey since then. At the time of his diagnosis I read every book I could get my hands on to find out more about his condition but everything was either written by a doctor, or an American, or both. What I really wanted was a book written by someone like me – a mum in the UK – so when the time was right I decided I’d write it myself!
Morgen: Toni Morrison is quoted as saying “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it”. And Carol Shields a variation of the same. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Alison: My only book so far is The Boy From Hell: Life with a Child with ADHD, and it’s the story of the first fifteen year of my son’s life, looking at his initial diagnosis, diet and medication, schooling and so on. I’ve actually published it under my maiden name, Alison Thompson – which I plan to go back to permanently later this year.
Morgen: You’ve self-published – what lead to you going your own way?
Alison: Yes, I self-published on Kindle and with CreateSpace. Once I’d started writing the book I decided I didn’t want to have to wait months for an agent or publisher to accept it – I just wanted to get it out there!
Morgen: That is the trouble. It can take weeks (or months) to hear an answer and then if you are fortunate enough to be accepted, then usually many months before the book is published, and you still have to do most / all of the marketing. I tried a dozen agents for The Serial Dater’s Shopping List, they all said “no” (or rather all but one, the other didn’t reply) so I had a go at eBooking. It really isn’t that hard (I explained how to do it on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/ebooks/how-to-create-an-ebook). You mentioned your book is available as a Kindle eBook – do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Alison: Yes, the book is available for Kindle as well as in paperback at Amazon (http://viewBook.at/1482755122). I am a huge Kindle fan, though I never thought I would be! When they first came out I was very sceptical because I love books, but then I bought one to take on holiday and haven’t looked back. In fact, I very rarely read “real” books now and I find I read a lot more than I used to – and that was a lot!
Morgen: I do think eBooks have got more people reading, and in your case more. It took me a while to buy a Kindle then I upgraded (or side-graded) to the app on my Ipad and love it. That said, I don’t read enough, although I do listen to a lot of audiobooks, because I can multitask. I’ve ‘read’ about half a dozen in the last few days. Did you choose the title / cover of your book?
Alison: I used my old diaries for a lot of the material for the book and I noticed that I often referred to my son as “the boy from hell” because his behaviour was that challenging – so the title just became an obvious choice. I know it’s quite a contentious title, quite controversial, and I know some people won’t like it, but that’s the risk I’ve taken. I hope people will see that it’s actually a bit tongue in cheek, and I hope other parents of children with ADHD will have a wry smile on their faces when they see it!
I had an idea for the cover design and I even tried to put it together myself but graphics aren’t my strong point. I actually used a designer I found on fiverr.com, and I am really pleased with the result.
Morgen: I’ve not used fiverr.com myself but have heard great things and anything you can’t do yourself but can buy for $5 has got to be a great idea. Which authors did you read when you were younger and did they shape you as a writer?
Alison: As a kid, Enid Blyton was a huge favourite and I read pretty much everything she wrote. I also became a big fan of Agatha Christie though I could never get on with Miss Marple books. Now I read a pretty eclectic mix of genres, from crime and thrillers to chick lit and literary fiction. Strangely I very rarely read non-fiction, though I feel like I am better at writing factual books than fiction.
Morgen: It’s funny you say that about Miss Marple. I’ve only listened to Agatha Christie novels (and of seen most if not all the movies) – the Miss Marple ones were narrated by Joan Hickson and I loved them – but it’s interesting that we can feel so strongly (either way) about figments of someone’s else’s (then our) imagination. That’s the wonderful thing about creating fiction; we bring two-dimensional characters to live. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Alison: The Boy From Hell hasn’t been out long so I’m still busy promoting that, but I do have a couple of ideas I want to work on. I’d like to do a pocket guide to ADHD, kind of as an introduction to the subject, and I also have an idea for something provisionally titled Diary of a Battered Wife, which is likely to be a bit of a grim read! I’ve done some research for another book, based on people’s different experiences of Christmas, and I’m sure there must be a novel in me somewhere too!
Morgen: They do say there is a novel inside everyone. So far I’ve found seven (I’m writing the latter for Camp NaNoWriMo this month) and the latest two are the first and second of a series. That’s an interesting process – remembering the first (only written last November) well enough to ensure continuity. I’ve gone back and changed things (renaming a dog for instance). I’d like to write the whole series before I publish any of them in case I want to change things so I don’t know how serial authors do it – perhaps they map out, and agree, everything in advance, which I don’t (although I have thought I’d plan the rest of the series before I write the third). It is great fun letting your imagination go, so yes, Alison, do it! 🙂 Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Alison: I do write most days – but normally copy for other people! When I first started the book I found it really difficult to juggle my own writing and client work so I actually went away for three days and got about 13,000 words down on paper in that time. That gave me the impetus to keep going and get the book finished. I’d love to be disciplined enough to write a thousand words a day but sadly I’m not – I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo twice and never got past day two!
Morgen: Oh dear. What a shame. This is my sixth NaNo (although first ‘Camp’ version) and I find it’s the only thing to get me writing in chunks (although I’m three days behind already and it’s only day seven). But then I’m lucky; no family, just a dog and I can write, listen to audiobooks, think while we’re out. You do a lot of editing for other people (which I always find it so much easier than my own), do you do a lot of editing on your own writing or do you find that, given your experience, it’s more fully-formed?
Alison: With The Boy From Hell I found I really liked what I initially wrote, and editing was more a case of expanding on the original ideas rather than changing them.
Morgen: Do you have to do much research?
Alison: As I mentioned earlier, a lot of the research for the book came from my own diary entries over the last 12 years. My son has really managed to get control of many of his ADHD behaviours now and it was fascinating to look back and see just how bad things were at times. There were also things that I had forgotten about which became essential to the book. I did a lot of additional research too, into the causes of ADHD, statistics and so on, which was quite eye-opening.
Morgen: That’s great news, about your son. It’s easy to say, when you’re going through a tough time, that things will get better, but they invariably do (even if life throws different challenges). Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Alison: I did start writing a novel a couple of years ago but didn’t get very far with it. At the moment I can’t see it being published but you never know!
Morgen: If you like it (and unbiased second opinions give it the thumbs up) then you can certainly self-publish. Self-publishing has had a bad name because too many authors wrote their books and put them online too quickly, without even getting them read by others but I do think authors these days are more careful. One guy on a LinkedIn thread said he’d just finished writing and book and was going to put it online, without any ‘help’ (he almost seemed proud of the fact) but was shot down in the proverbial flames. No-one agreed with him which was reassuring. Do you enter any non-fiction competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Alison: I haven’t done – but then I’m very new to the world of writing. It might be fun to do! Maybe anyone reading this interview could recommend some good ones to me?
Morgen: I do have some listed (in date then genre order) on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/competitions-calendar. 🙂 You mentioned agents earlier – do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Alison: Perhaps an agent might be able to get me a publishing contract and get greater exposure, but at the moment that’s not something I’ve considered.
Morgen: Maybe for your novel. Do you do much marketing for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Alison: I did quite a lot of marketing leading up to the launch of The Boy From Hell. I built a website (www.theboyfromhell.co.uk) where I ran a competition, posted extracts from the book and also took pre-orders. That worked really well because the pre-orders actually funded the purchase of plenty of books to get me started. I did a lot of social media, contacted a few ADHD charities and managed to get a couple of authority reviews, too. And I held a virtual launch party on Facebook, which was great fun! I ran competitions throughout the day and people really got into the spirit of it. It did a good job of raising the profile of the book and I made a few sales too.
Morgen: Wow, that’s making me tired just reading it. What great ideas. I know I should get out more, although I’m not really pushing my novel until I have at least one other out there because not everyone likes chick-lit (one agent told me it was ‘dead’) – I blew a sub-conscious raspberry – but then she also looked me square in the face and said “You’re a crime writer, you need to write crime” and as it turns out, I do. 🙂 What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Alison: I guess at first I wasn’t sure that I’d have enough to say, or that my story would be of interest to anyone else, and I’ve been amazed by the feedback I’ve had. I loved writing, loved researching and loved promoting the book. The only bit I found dull was formatting it – which is strange, because I actually offer that service through my business!
Morgen: <laughs> We don’t always enjoy every aspect of our job but it’s great to hear that you love everything else. I left my job in March 2012 and apart from the money worries (I rent out two bedrooms which only really covers the bills), I’m living the dream. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Alison: Just go for it! I truly believe everyone has a story to tell or a unique perspective on some subject or other. Self-publishing gives everyone the opportunity to get their story out there. However, my one big bit of advice would be to get someone to proofread your book before you go to print. Even I, as a professional proofreader, got another proofreader to check my manuscript. There are books out there with a great concept that are ruined by poor editing and typos.
Morgen: Absolutely, and it’s such a shame when they’re probably really good books. 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)?
Alison: Hmm, that’s a tough one! I think I’d have Louis Theroux, Johnny Depp and Emmeline Pankhurst – that could lead to some interesting conversations! I can cook but have a tendency to burn things so I think I’d order in a curry … or let my partner Steve cook, as he’s ace!
Morgen: A great combination. I’d love to be a fly on the wall for Johnny Depp. He’s such a quirky actor. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Alison: In my professional life I proofread, edit, copywrite and blog for authors, businesses and charities so I’m always working with the written word! An average day can see me writing blog posts about video conferencing and accountancy, proofreading articles on dog care and recruitment and editing a novel too.
Morgen: No chance of getting bored then. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Alison: I’m a member of 4Networking (www.4networking.biz), which is a business networking site, and that has been great for promoting me as a proofreader and copywriter. As I’m new to book writing I’ve been hanging around in a few Facebook groups, like The Indie Author Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/smashwordsauthor), and I also find The Creative Penn (http://www.thecreativepenn.com) and The Book Designer (http://www.thebookdesigner.com) really useful. And of course I’ve discovered your site now and think I might be spending a lot of time here!
Morgen: Ah yes, The Creative Penn. I interviewed Joanna on Easter Sunday 2012. A very popular lady. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Alison: I think the future is looking good. At the moment there’s a feeling that anyone and everyone can be an author, because self-publishing gives us all that opportunity, and there’s a lot of dross being published, especially on Kindle. But readers aren’t stupid, they can spot those books that aren’t well written or are written solely to make money, and I think gradually things will calm down and the quality will improve. I doubt there’s ever been a better time to be an author!
Morgen: I agree. I love being me now. 🙂 You mentioned you’d developed a website for your book – where can we find out about you and your writing?
Alison: There’s a website for the book at www.theboyfromhell.co.uk and you can find out more about my business at www.theprooffairy.com. I also have a personal blog at www.alisonneale.co.uk – it’s a bit rambly though! I guess if I write any more books I should invest in a specific website for my authoring!
Morgen: I’m biased (because I have nine of their sites, including five online writing groups) but I’d recommend WordPress. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Alison: When I decided to write the book I didn’t go into it as a money-making exercise – I wanted to help other families struggling with ADHD, and I can already tell that’s happening from the feedback. It’s also opened the door to other opportunities – I’m doing a couple of presentations on publishing at networking events, and have been invited to speak at an ADHD conference too. So if you’re thinking of becoming an author do it for the love, the passion and the experience, not for the money!
Morgen: That’s me to a tee. The only thing I charge for on my blogs are these in-depth interviews (£10 / $15) and I run a maximum of two a week so I need to hang on to my lodgers (housemates) for a while yet. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Alison: How on earth do you find time to run such fantastic resources for writers AND do your own writing?
Morgen: :*) Thank you. By doing little else. I do have other commitments (writing groups, a mother to take to car boots sales / charity shops once a month or so, friends to see) but I’m very lucky that I can concentrate so much time on this site (and my others). I was a secretary since leaving school so it’s helped me be very organised (I’d struggle without a wonderful colour-coded Word matrix) and type quickly. I started (eight years ago) writing short stories, which will always be my first love and I write one a day, albeit mostly flash fiction for my 5pm fiction slot) and thought it took a year to write a novel (because that’s what most authors produced) but then I heard about NaNoWriMo and here I am five years later writing number seven. Thank you, Alison. It’s been great chatting with you.
I then invited Alison to include a short synopsis of her book…
When he was younger Daniel’s behaviour was challenging, earning him the nickname “the boy from hell” – and it was no real surprise when he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder at the age of six.
The Boy from Hell: Life with a Child with ADHD is the story of the first fifteen years of Daniel’s life, as told by his mum. From struggles to find the right schooling through diagnosis and medication to brushes with the law, it’s been a rollercoaster ride of a journey that every parent of a child with ADHD will recognise.
As well as sharing their unique experience, Alison Thompson shares advice and information that has helped her along the way, and offers hope for the future for the many families living with an ADHD child. You’ll also hear about life with ADHD from the sibling’s perspective, and from Daniel himself.
“A well researched, informative and accessible guide, full of practical tips for parents and professionals – especially teachers! This book is a must for anyone whose life has been touched by ADHD.” Dr Tony Lloyd, CEO, ADHD Foundation
Alison Thompson was born in Harrow, north west London and now lives in rural Oxfordshire with her partner, teenage children, two cats and a bearded dragon.
A professional proofreader and copywriter by trade, Alison’s first book, The Boy from Hell: Life with a Child with ADHD, was published in March 2013.
As well as writing Alison enjoys photography, reading, music, art journalling and swimming, and watching football and motorsports.
In 2008 Alison was nominated for the mother@work Most Exceptional Working Mother award. She made the shortlist of three (from an entry of over 80) and attended the final at 11 Downing Street.
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