As I’ve mentioned on other Social Media, toward the end of each month, I’m inviting another writer into my blogging boudoir, sitting them in the oxblood leather wingback by the crackling fire with a small sherry, and then interrogating them mercilessly. (muahahah)
My first victim, (or ‘guest’ if you will) is Suffolk-based author of historical supernatural Fantasy Becky Wright, who was good enough to chat to me about time-slips, local history, and juggling small children and writing (metaphorically of course, literal child-juggling is irresponsible, though impressive)
Hi, Becky. Thanks for agreeing to be in the hot seat for the first of my Author Talks. What I want to do with this on a monthly basis is to showcase a different writer and hopefully let people get to know them a little better, so why don’t we kick off with a bit about your latest books? You have two different irons in the fire at the moment, the dark and delicious Manningtree Account, and the Time-slip tale Remember to Love me. They’re very different stories. Can you tell us a little about them?
Hi, James. Thank you so much for inviting me, I’m excited to be the first to take up the hot seat for your Author Talks. It really is a great idea.
You’re right, my two books are poles apart, and, it’s a point that’s been raised quite a lot. Although, they both bear my signature, everything that I love in a book. Both have a time-slip element, with strong storylines in both eras and a historical touch.
For Remember to Love Me, we need to time-travel ourselves, a little, back to 2008. It was originally published but a small local publisher. I wrote it part-time over four years whilst raising my family and working full time. It’s quite a personal tale, and I’m not sure when I first put pen to paper that I intended it for other eyes.
Remember to Love Me is the first book in The Legacy Trilogy, it’s classed as a romance, and, there is a strong romantic feel to it, but it’s not the core of the storyline, it’s about family love and loyalty. Set in my Suffolk hometown of Bury St Edmunds, it slips between 1900 and 1997. April, in the here and now, along with her grandmother make discoveries about the family’s past, loss deceit, death and betrayal. The whole trilogy will bring us full circle in for family’s history, touching down in 1926 and 1945.
The Manningtree Account, now that is very dark and delicious, and, a thriller, with no romance…well maybe the tiniest hint. Again, it slips between past and presents, 1640’s and the grim history of the Essex witch trials and the Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins sitting at the core of the story, and 2016 with a modern paranormal team investigating a rather nasty haunting.
Writing across two very different genres is something I’m very familiar with too. Personally, I find it a challenge and also quite refreshing. Is it something that comes naturally to you? Do you have any habits or rituals you use to get yourself in the right mindset for a specific genre when writing? (I tend to listen to different kinds of music depending what series I’m working on)
I agree, it can be a challenge, something I’m dealing with as we speak. It can take me quite a while to get my whole-body shift into a new genre. Everything around me will change. And, I mean everything, from my TV watch list to my music playlist, and most definitely, my current reads. I’ve been reading, as you know, both your Phoebe Harkness series and Beverley Lee’s Gabriel Davenport series, they have both been invaluable for getting me in the mood for Manningtree, but as I’m soon to head back into Rose de Mai, book 2 of the trilogy, then it will be the likes of Kate Morton and Rachel Hore.
James, I know you love design and images, being a creative soul, I’m very much the same. I love Pinterest. Using imagery for mood boards is a fantastic source of not only inspirations but brain conditioning. I have a playlist and mood board for each of my books. I find I need to be completely submerged into the feel of what I’m trying to create.
I’m exactly the same with music! I have quite a rock/punk soundtrack writing Phoebe whereas for my fantasy writing, for some reason I’m drawn to Choral classical. So aside from images and music to set your mind, are there any odd writing rituals we should know about? ‘Must use a number 3 HB pencil sharpened counterclockwise? Can only draft between 1 and 2 am?’ things like that?
It’s funny, I’ve been thinking quite long and hard about this, and what may seem perfectly normal to one may seem extremely odd to another. I love and need perfect silence when I’m writing, and I think that’s not for concentration but for my characters, they literally speak to me. I need to stay focused on them, they can be tricky little blighters, and go off in their own little tangents if I’m not careful. I also must be sat at my desk. I have loads of technology to write on, as well as piles of fresh notebooks and pens. I’ve tried my laptop or my tablet, all over the house, or sat in the garden, but I tend to drift off somewhere else. So, at my desk and pc is the only place things get done. Oh, and of course, there must be coffee, excellent quality and strong.
I’m convinced coffee is a direct line to every writer’s muse! I’m fairly sure Homer and Virgil had a Frappuccino in hand when they addressed the ancient crowds with their tales.
Okay, going to put you on the spot now. you’re in a movie studio and you have two minutes to ‘pitch’ your books to the producers. How do you sum them up simply but effectively? GO!
Oh, that’s so hard, as you know I’m a waffler. It would be a dream, I think I’d hire someone to pitch for me…but here goes.
Remember to Love Me, a lavish period drama, set amongst the backdrop of rural Suffolk, steeped in history and stunning architecture. Think in the vain of a classic Merchant Ivory movie.
On the cusp of the Edwardian era, two sisters, their idealistic lives set out before them, but war takes and the reaper sweeps. 1997, a descendant, April, plagued by visions, dreams and strange memories that aren’t hers. She delves into the family past, digging up deceit, loss, death and fearful family secrets. Revealing, that she bears the family’s startling supernatural legacy.
The Manningtree Account, creepy, dark chilling, atmospheric thriller. A Grimm fairytale meets Blair Witch, with a twist of Hitchcock.
1646, English Civil War reaps the county, men’s hearts divided. But in the hearts of the lowly countrymen, another war rages, superstition. But, there is a man who wheedles his employ of town, village and hamlet. His success speaks of a countryside rife with evil, an intemperate plague of witches, the Devil’s Whores. 2016, Manningtree, a modern feisty paranormal team, investigate a dark violent haunting. But as the seemingly endless night wains, nothing is what it seems. With a devastating twist in the status quo, can the team survive the night.
Well, I’d be sold on those. It’s so hard to sum something potentially complex up like that, but I think it’s a useful skill to practice, as that’s exactly what Agents and Publishers expect you to do.
Some writers deliberately set out to give a message with their story, or for there to be a certain theme, whereas others believe you never really know what the themes in your book are until you finished writing it. Which side of the coin do you come down on with that?
I have no theme or message to put across in my book. Its purely about the escapism and I also hate trying to generalise the theme or genre. As we’ve spoken about, both my books are completely different, however both sit in the fantasy genre. Before I released Remember to Love Me, I had a terrible time placing it in its genre and theme to the book, it’s so multi-faceted. To an extent, it’s the same with Manningtree. It is a thriller, there’s no real blood or gore, but it is psychologically disturbing, and I’ve been told by those who won’t read anything scarier than a shopping list, that it’s pretty terrifying. And as to message, only one with Manningtree…always leave a candle burning.
That’s one thing I was certainly tempted to do after I’d read it! I think next time I visit your part of the world I’ll view it through witchfinder eyes. You deal with a lot of local and regional history in your writing. Has that always been a passion of yours? To what extent do the locations you choose influence the characters and the story?
I remember quite vividly, my English teacher once told me to ‘write what you know’ then it will be authentic. Now, I was only ten years old, but that’s always stuck, engrained itself into my subconscious, therefore, each time a new story comes along, it has its roots planted with my feet.
I also love history and to be honest, blessed to live in such a beautiful and historic part of the country, that also, steeped in ghost stories, true life murders, historical intrigues to keep me going for a long while. Now, saying all that, if a character feels the need to travel, then I’ll go along for the ride. I’m heading to Juan le Pins, on the French Riviera for Rose de Mai, but will be back home by the end of the book.
It’s a skill, I think, to blend together the facts you’ve researched with the fiction you’re creating. What levels of research do you normally do? And does this differ for you depending what type of book you are writing? Are you a planner or a pantser?
My honest opinion is, if you are creating something that has historical facts, or pertains to a particular era, it is your duty to be as authentic as possible. Over the years, I’ve spent many longs months researching all different aspect for my trilogy. I would hate for someone to remark that an aspect was wrong, especially as it’s set on my home turf. For example, in Remember to Love Me, there’s a scene where one of my main characters boards a train, with his battalion, they’re off to fight in the Boer War. Now, I know that due to extensive research, the date, the time and even the weather conditions of that train departure, completely with raging snow storm.
When it came to writing Manningtree, research material was readily available, with the Essex witch trials and Matthew Hopkins himself, having a prevalent place in my local grim history. Although, as I state at the beginning of the book, it’s more the essence of the story rather than an actual account.
I’m undeniably a planner, I like to know what I’m about to create, I like lists. But to my own disgrace, I’m also a procrastinator, not through laziness, but maybe a little self-doubt of my own ability.
You have a couple of novels/novellas under your belt now. Do you feel you’re finding your ‘voice’ or still experimenting? Do you seek out other literature similar to your own when writing, or avoid it like the plague?
That is a very good question. I adore ghosts, the paranormal and supernatural. Each time I’ve had a new story thread wheedle its way into my thoughts, it always leans to that part of fantasy. However, until very recently, I’d have said I would always favor the lighter, more romantic side of fantasy. Until, that is, The Manningtree Account. I’ve thrilled at creating something a little darker, more menacing, and a little evil. I’m not sure if I have it in me to write full-on horror, but it’s now becoming quite clear, I’ve turned to the dark side.
Regarding to my reading genre, I like experimenting, but whilst I’m writing my reading needs to fit.
You used to work in the wedding industry, you’ve raised a family, what made you decide to sit down and write? Can you tell us about your journey to becoming an author?
That wonderful English teacher, that taught a very shy, timid, ten-year-old, probably had no idea what introducing me to Dickens and Shakespeare would do. Although, my writing career has started quite late in life, my love of books, writing has always been there, somewhere deep within. I remember as a child, I would talk to myself, a lot, narrate everything that was going on around me, inside my head. Of course, I still do, now I can put it to paper and call it a book.
As we’ve spoken about, Remember to Love Me, was originally published back in 2008, my life crumbled somewhat, soon after, leading me to make drastic choices and a divorce. Life changed and I headed in a different direction, through choice and must as need. I worked within the wedding industry, managing a popular wedding venue and more recently managing a bridal gown boutique….as you can see, I’m a romantic at heart. It was during this time I met my new husband, who incidentally, and still a little bit creepily, shares the name of one of my characters…who I created years before we met. It was actually my husband who encouraged my way back into writing. He is a massive support, it wouldn’t be possible without him. We now have a very active three-year old, I’m effectively a stay at home mum, again. So, now I’m juggling, full time writing and full time parenting. Ah, I’m a multi-tasker too.
It’s definitely a challenge, balancing family and real life-adulting with writing. I think a lot of readers imagine we have all the time in the world to sit and write at leisure, but it’s easier said than done when juggling everything, I know.
So having now gone from thinking ‘I should write a book’ to having published work, have there been any surprises or lessons you’ve learned along the way? Anything you would do differently, or wished you’d been more clued up on before you started?
It’s hard, that’s what I’ve learnt. But, the process is a learning experience. I think we can all share knowledge and experiences, read and listen to others advice. Even have a clear strategy and format to work to, but until you actually dip your toe in that water, you can’t ever really appreciate how you are going to fair. And, I think that it has a lot to do with genre, readers, and opinions. I came from an original background of direct sales and marketing, having been coached and trained by some of the best. I knew all about how to apply marketing strategies, finding your audience, creating a brand, selling face to face, selling yourself. It, I admit has had a huge advantage over the past year, but this industry is a strange entity. I’m of the opinion what may work for one may not work for another.
I think above all, the fabulous support network on social media has been my lifeline. Not just for the obvious sales, networking and marketing avenue but, its true worth lies in its comradery and emotional support. Instagram is my extended family. What, I would have done, however, is joined it long before, if I had known. I think preparation is the true key.
It’s an inspirational community to be part of, I agree! So, another quick fire on-the-spot publisher question for you then : Ten words or less: why the heck should we read your books rather than the other eight million on sale out there?
Oh hell, that’s hard, a ten-word challenge. We can all shout about our books but goodness, here goes, ok.
“My thoughts, love, pain’s within. Love them, they’ll love you.”
And what one piece of advice would you give other aspiring authors, from your own experience?
If in your heart, you truly cannot bear to imagine your life being full of anything but books, writing, lack of sleep, messy house, piles of notebooks and love of words, then, just do it. Do not allow yourself to listen to negative advise, if it’s aimed to dampen your spirit, or you’ll live with the ‘what if’ But most importantly, surround yourself with likeminded souls, who understand and can relate to all your little insecurity, and achievements.
I tend to be very unstructured with my own writing schedule, but I know a lot of writers are fairly regimented and disciplined. What’s a regular writing day like for you?
I only actually write when my sons at school, it’s pointless even considering doing otherwise, the task will be fruitless and I’ll end up spending valuable writing time editing a page of nonsense.
So, it’s off to do the short school run. Husband will make me a fresh mug of coffee and breakfast before he sets off the work, then it’s headfirst into it. I can’t waste time, its solid writing until the school home run. Some days are obviously better and far more productive than others. I like to aim for 2,000 – 3,000 words a day, sometimes I may just get carried off, coming up for air and realising it’s more like 5,000 but it can so easily go the other way and 50 words later, I’m still staring at the screen. I take those days as story plotting, I end up writing a list or doing extra research, they are never pointless.
That’s so true. They say only about 10% of the research a writer does actually makes it into the book, but it colours the narrative nonetheless. So before I let you go, one last question. What can we expect next from you?
So, what’s next. Thanks to the incredible reception and lovely reviews, The Manningtree Account is still consuming my writing schedule. Its paperback edition is due sometime in June, it will be a special extended ‘Writer’s Cut’ to make it worthwhile. Not only does it go further back, giving you some extra background of the witches and Hopkins, I’ve also given the readers a little extra special final chapter…although I must admit, it wrote itself.
After that, I’m eager to finish Rose de Mai, book 2 in time for Christmas, and Serenade, book 3 next year.
Upon a having a completed trilogy, I’ll be delving into the dark depth of more sinister thrillers. I have a new book lined up. I’m super excited and honestly, James, I want to tell you more, but it’s top secret…all I’ll say is, it will be based on a true-life, high profile murder mystery from the early 19th century, that happened literally on my doorstep. It will bear all my hallmarks with a little supernatural and time play.
I may also have another little dark novella, ghost story, for early next year.
No wonder I do not sleep.
(Becky is now asleep and snoring in the author-hotseat, and I hate to disturb her, so I’ll just whisper a thanks for chatting to me and let the rest of you know where to find out more: )
To explore more about Becky’s writing, visit her site at BeckyWrightAuthor.com
You can find both of her works on Amazon at the below links: