AuthorTalk 2 – a Chat with Beverley Lee

Hello folks.

For those of you who have been following my blog for a while, you will know that from time to time, I like to invite a fellow writer into my luxurious subterranean blog chambers, sit them down in a leather wing-back chair before the roaring fire, close the heavy drapes against the night outside, and pick their brains, author-to-author. Previously I’ve chatted at length to the wonderfully Becky Wright about her work across different genres, from time-slip to witchcraft. (if you haven’t read it yet, go check out the blog post.

This time around, I’ve been visited by one of my nicest real-world freinds, the gothically-inclined writer of fang-filled chillers, Beverley Lee.

Beverley Lee

 Bev is a genuinely lovely, warm and freindly person, so heaven knows where all the darkness in her writing comes from (but wherever it is, we’re all grateful for it) I’ve toured odd village graveyards with her, and encounted both very strange barmen covered in garlic and creepy knitting, and I’ve dragged her all around Oxford on a very hot day (for which i’m sure shes still hasn’t quite forgiven me) so at least this time around, we are sitting down comfortably with a glass each of something that (from a distance at least) resembles red wine. Read on and see what we chatted about…

Authortalk: Beverley Lee : author of The Gabriel Davenport Series

James (J)

Hi Bev, thanks for coming in for an author-talk with me.

Beverly (B)

Hi Shay, thanks for the hot seat this month, which with the weather we are having is not far from the temperature of the sun….

J.

 That’s why I haven’t lit the roaring fire today. (settles back into creaking leather wingback chair, sticking slightly) and I can see the bag of Jelly-babies you brought me are melting a little. It’s all a bit Dante’s Inferno. Anyway, heat aside. The idea of these chats is to give people a chance to get to know you and your works, and to give a little flavour of the kind of thing you write, so…let’s start off discussing your book series. You’re currently two thirds through your Gabriel Davenport Series, can you sum up briefly for us what the series is about? Blurb me!

B.

Okay! The Gabriel Davenport Series is about what happens when a twisted branch of fate descends on a normal family and rips their world apart. It starts with Gabriel as a baby, and the events that happen shape the life he is to lead. Without giving away any spoilers, it’s also about darkness and the thin, blurred line between that and the light, where nothing is quite as it seems. It’s about secrets and loyalty and consequences, and how Gabriel deals with each one as the series progresses.

J.

Secrets definitely play a big part in your books! *eyes a magpie tapping suspiciously at the window pane* I want us to talk about the two books in the series so far individually, as for me, although they are two parts of one story, in some ways they feel like very different animals, and not just because of your shift between them from third person to first person.

Let’s start off with book one. The Making of Gabriel Davenport struck me as initially on reading as a chiller/ghost story/paranormal initially, then moving more into vampire fantasy toward the last third of the book. What was your intention when setting out? Did you have a genre in mind? A mood? Or just a story to tell?

B.

My intention was just to tell a story. I knew it would be dark and a little disturbing but I was honestly surprised when readers started to call it a horror novel. And I was doubly surprised that people seemed genuinely terrified when reading it. I didn’t know when I started out how it would unfold, but I did know *that* ending. The menace in the story is a very important factor and it took on a life of its own. I was very aware that my antagonist had its own reasons for how it reacted and thought. The ‘bad guy’ always needs a back story!

J.

That’s so true! Gone are the days when bad guys could get away with twirling moustaches and cackling about evil plots. Readers need to believe characters. We want to know why they pull wings of flies, so I agree it’s important to have a decent backstory and motive for any good antagonist. This is how the best bad guys are made!

Speaking of bad guys, I know you quite well in the real world, you were one of my first ‘bookish’ besties on Social media and we’ve tramped around a few spooky village graveyards and such a couple of times. Anyone who knows you on social media universally acknowledges that you are a lovely bright and warm person, and I can attest to this in person, so what is it in you that makes you want to explore the darkness? What’s the lure of the dark side for you?

B.

Ah, there’s a darkness inside all of us! I call it my balance and I’ve always been drawn towards the thrall of darker fiction. Maybe it’s because it’s like a forbidden fruit, we’re not supposed to want to taste the juice, but anything forbidden has its own unique charms? It also doesn’t come with a rulebook. I can play in the shadows and not have anyone tell me that it’s not accurate. Darkness completes me as a person and as a writer.

J.

Plus of course I know you’re secretly wicked, but you made me promise not to tell anyone or you’d reveal where I hid those bodies. So I’ll play along and we’ll just all agree you’re lovely!

There are a lot of themes we could talk about in TMOGD, Loss, destruction of family, hubris, metamorphosis. Do you set out with a ‘message’ in mind? Is there something specific you want, or hope people will take away from your books?

B.

I really didn’t set out with any message. I’m a huge believer in that different people take away different things from the same story. It’s part of what makes words such magical things. But there’s definitely a thread of loyalty running through it, and how far the human spirit will battle for survival, even in the face of seemingly hopeless circumstances. So if there is a message, it might be ‘stand in your corner and fight.’

J.

I love that! All of your characters feel like fighters to me. One of the strongest elements I found in both books in this series were how your characters feel very alive to me, especially those who reside at the manor, but you have a sparse descriptive prose which is actually incredibly difficult to pull off well (though you manage it magnificently) What makes a character interesting to you, and where do you think they come from?

B.

Ah, thanks, Shay. I’m a terrible overly descriptive writer if left to my own devices. I can waffle on for hours about sunlight streaming through a window…But I knew my series had to be sharp and fast paced so had to reign in the wordiness to fit. Interesting characters come in many forms. All of the ones in both Gabriel and Shadows blazed into my life and refused to be pushed aside. It’s that thirst to be heard that excites me, even from a secondary character. I have a real soft spot for Ella, my housekeeper. Her first scene with Noah and the sandwich still makes me smile. Where do they come from? Gosh, now there’s a question. They’re just there, waiting their turn to slide into the right story.

J.

I do often wonder if all us writers have multiple personalities. I have no idea where mine come from either, but you have to listen when they speak. Do you have a favourite character from your stories? Mine is obviously Moth, because everyone loves a complicated bad-boy.

B.

Oh, hard question! That’s like choosing your favourite child… As a writer I think we love all of our characters, for different reasons. So I’m going to flip this question around and tell you why I love a few of mine. Gabriel, of course, who will always have a special place in my heart. He was the one who coaxed me into believing that I could actually do this writing thing properly. Noah Isaacs, my man of the cloth, father-figure to Gabriel and long standing friend of Edward Carver, is the character most like me. He’s incredibly loyal and is always willing to put himself out for others, even if this is a detriment to himself. Olivia Taverner, hot-headed student of the paranormal, because she’s fierce and courageous, is never afraid to speak her mind and is probably the character least like me! My master vampire, Clove, for gifting me with the joy of a mind that has seen so much and for being both deadly and delicious. And, of course, Moth. Who wasn’t supposed to have more than a minor role, but who stormed in and demanded his own little slice of the action.

J.

So quite a few favourites then! (I suppose it would be a bad sign if you didn’t get on well with your own imaginary friends.) But conversely, are there any characters you have written who you found initially difficult to get a handle on? Or who took a while to speak to you properly? Occasionally I’ve had a character who felt sketchy and a bit of a puzzle for ages, until just one epiphany about backstory, or one character-trait suddenly slips into place and they suddenly become ‘real’ to me.

B.

My antagonist in Gabriel was quite stereotypical until I found out its backstory. Then I realised that it came to be what it was purely by an act of fate. It almost mirrored what had happened to Gabriel. Once I had the back story it became much more rounded and I learned to understand its motives which helped a lot as the story progressed. Teal took a while to take hold because of his quietness. But he was the one who gave me the main thread for Shadows and once I had that his character blossomed.

J.

I think sometimes the quieter characters have the most to say. I love playing with empty space and unspoken words.

Regarding style, there are echoes of Anne Rice in your writing, with the familial interlocking relationships of Cloves and his charges, and also of James Herbert, with your chilling and often poetic descriptions. Who would you say your influences have been?

B.

I’ve definitely been heavily influenced by Anne Rice. The Vampire Lestat is in my top five books, and that gothic expressiveness is very evident in my writing. But I take my influences from other great writers too – Neil Gaiman’s magical realism because he makes me believe in the impossible. Stephen King for showing me that even minor characters can be compelling and that setting is key. James Herbert for teaching me about the slow build of menace. A couple of honorary mentions go to Arthur Conan-Doyle, whose The Hound of the Baskervilles was the first story to scare me, and George R R Martin, for putting epic into modern high fantasy.

Whatever we read is fuel for any writer’s imagination and we bleed part of it into our own veins.

J.

I agree, the more you read, the better you write, and I think the more you write, the less you emulate others and start to find your own voice. We all have our favourite writers and writing styles that appeal to us in particular. What, to you, constitutes ‘good writing’?

B.

Anything that makes me ‘feel’. You can have the greatest story in the world but if I don’t care about the world created or the characters I will really struggle to get through it. Give me feels and you’ll go on my automatic to buy list. As I said above I can fall into the overly descriptive trap if left to my own devices. But I know that if a book goes into too much detail it can lose me. Give me atmosphere and just tell me there was something in the dark. My imagination can fill in all the blanks!

J.

Rejecting our own verbosity is a problem for every writer I think. Stephen King got it right when he tells us ‘kill your darlings’ cut and cut and cut. We all hate editing but we have to control that urge to make the reader see ‘exactly’ what we are seeing as we write. Easier said than done!

Your second book, SITS takes us further away from the human world and much deeper into the vampire society, which was exciting to explore. How thoroughly do you flesh out your world-building before you put pen to paper? Do you know every inch of the dark worlds you create, or are you feeling your own way along in the shadows with the reader? Are you a planner or a pantser, as the saying goes?

B.

I have a very basic outline that I work to, and certain things that I want from the world I create. I’m a manic note maker and have books filled with scribbles but only some of them make it onto the page. I much prefer to discover my world as I write, along with my characters. It adds an excitement that I’d truly miss if I had everything mapped out. In Shadows, the world of vampire politics only unveiled itself when a certain antagonist came into play. That led to a huge, very dark plot twist which might never have come about if I’d tried to keep to a plan.

J.

Sometimes the best plot turns are the ones we writers don’t see coming ourselves, I agree! Stories are alive after all; we only guide them as best we can.

One of my absolutely favourite characters in your writing is Gabriel’s mother. I love her whole character arc and her almost classical tragedy. Gabe has a succession of potential father-figures too, throughout the tale, with varying approaches and degrees of success.  How important is a sense of family and belonging to Gabe, and what drives him to find a place to belong?

B.

I think a sense of family and comfort is very important to Gabe. The events of his past are always ghosts in his present. He can’t outrun them, made more acute by his mother’s poignant presence. Gabe always had that insatiable curiosity in him that wanted to know more about his history, even though he was secure in his adopted family. But balanced with this confused need for deeper knowledge is the anchoring stability from both Carver and Noah. The events that happen to him are constantly changing the dynamics of family, but in the end he only craves what we all do, a place that accepts him and that feels like home.

J.

He mirrors my Robin in that sense, who is also ‘looking for a place to belong’ and a way to come to terms with who he is in the world. I wonder sometimes if this trait in characters is a reflection on our own feelings as writers. We’re always a bit on the outskirts, looking in, trying to find a place to belong. (or maybe I’m just head shrinking because of the heat – and the sugar-rush from these jelly-babies)

Describe a typical writing day for us. Do you have a set routine, any habits?

B.

I’d love to say that I have a certain time of day where I go through a set of inspiring routines, then sit down to write – but really I write at any time. The only habit I have is that I need to have tea at my side. It’s what fuels my muse, I swear! When I’m drafting I aim for about 1,500 words a day but that doesn’t include the time spent scribbling notes or constantly going over ideas for scenes in my head. I’m always *writing* in the sense that my characters are with me constantly, whatever I’m doing.

J.

It’s not something you can switch off, right? Everything is fair game for inspiration. Like myself, you draw a lot of inspiration for story locations from places in the real world. How important is it to you to get that first hand research for places, and how do you translate the mood or feelings into words?

B.

I love the grounding influence of using real locations. There’s something so enticing about standing in a solid place and imagining your characters there. My descriptivism come into play a lot in scenes like this. I like to use all the senses to draw my reader into the midst of it. If I’m using a real location I need to do it justice too. I will take lots of photos (as I know you do!) and make notes, both mental and scribbled, to look back on. Sometimes I’ll combine locations though, as in the crypt in A Shining in the Shadows, which draws influence from the Undercroft at York Minster, the crypt at Winchester Cathedral, and my own imagination.

J.

I love so much that our story worlds collide in such strange ways. Without giving too much away, York Minster’s Undercroft plays a big part in my next instalment in Changeling too. Great minds think alike! We should have made a daytrip of it.

You’re incredibly active online on social media, (much more so than me, and I feel like I live online as it is) I’m often staggered you manage to comment on almost everyone’s photos, (I do try to, but I’m always two or three days behind!) while you’re also running twitter, tumblr and everything else. How on earth do you find the time to maintain such a visible presence, and still find time to write? Are there secretly two of you?

B.

Ha, I never sleep…Seriously, I often feel like I’m always running two steps behind! I actually gave up on Tumblr because it confused me terribly *writer confession*. Supporting other authors is very important to me as we’re all in this together. The writing community (especially on Instagram) is like family to me, and I give back as much as I can, as I’m incredibly grateful for everything that’s been done for me in the past. And I watch very little TV. My typical day starts and ends with social media with a hefty dose in between, even if I’m travelling. Chasing illusive Wi-Fi seems to be an obsession…

J.

Very well said. The writing community is definitely a second family to me. I was surprised how supportive we all are of each other when I started out. I had a preconception that everyone would be undercutting each other, trying to outshine one another and at each other’s throats, but It’s the exact opposite. Social media is a great way to connect with other writers and we all get on so well, no matter how diverse our genres. Not only that, but outside of ‘writing’ there’s great life-support there two. Those guys helped me through my recent impalement. I think we all support each other awesomely.

How important, to you as an indie author, do you think social media has been in raising your profile and getting your books out there in the world? Is there anything you would do differently with hindsight from a marketing perspective?

B.

It’s been the single most important thing. Without it I could never have created an interest for my books. As an indie author, making any kind of mark out in the big literary world, is incredibly difficult. Without my supporters buying, reviewing and shouting out my books, I would have been lost into the ether before I started. Marketing kills me. I’d probably try and learn more about the whole process before I’d published, but truly, as the lines keep changing, it’s all just winging it!

J.

You’re not missing much with marketing, trust me. I have publishers doing god-knows what in the background but I haven’t got a single clue what actually goes on. I just smile and nod and go where they tell me. We’re all always happy to shout each other out though. There’s never a reason not to champion a book, if it’s worth shouting about.

Right, quick fire round! You have ten words to sum up your series and pitch it to me, go!

B.

Re-evaluate everything you thought you knew about the night. It watches. (Eleven, sue me 😉 I hate these things!)

J.

 I SUPPOSE I’ll let you off with the extra word, seen as it’s you. Still get a penalty point though. So aside from your own work, what are your favourite reads of the moment? Do you have a favourite type of book, or are you a genre-hopper?

B.

I am absolutely loving the Darker Shade of Magic series from V E Schwab right now. It’s sharp and generous storytelling with a refreshing take on magic and such wonderful world-building. Characters that make me ‘feel’ and who are elegantly conceived. I wish I’d thought of the concept first, damn it.

My go-to reads are always dark fantasy/horror, but I’ll pick anything up if the story calls to me.

J.

I haven’t read any Schwab yet. (I’m always a couple of years behind whatever is trending) but I’ve only heard good things so far.

You’re signed to an agency these days (hopefully with an agent who’s a loveable Rottweiler like mine, they’re worth their weight in gold) but you started out Self-published initially. Has publishing your own books been a blessing, as you have more control than if you had gone through a traditional publishing route, or a curse due to the amount of legwork required to go it alone? (or a mixture of both)

B.

A definite mix of both. Publishing myself has given me a lot more freedom as to where my books are sold, pricing for promotions, inclusion in book blogs, etc.  But it’s extremely hard work and very time consuming. And that time could have been spent writing. So that’s where having a traditional publisher would have been worth its weight in gold. Plus, they have a lot more fingers in a lot more pies!

J.

And Royalties and advances definitely free up your time for more writing, which is what your voracious readers demand. We all love reviews, obviously our books need them to be visible and to be seen and heard. I used to obsess over them, and made myself take a few steps back after a while. How important to you are reviews or feedback? Do you handle them well, good or bad?

B.

Reviews and feedback are lifeblood to any writer. Honestly, each one gives me a little high. This week I passed the milestone of 100 reviews on Goodreads for Gabriel. Achievements like this always help if you’re having a little dither about whether you are good enough some days. I’ve had a few reviews that haven’t been too complimentary, but I have to remind myself that reading is very subjective. Did I seethe a bit? You bet I did…

J.

That first ‘bad review’ is always horrible, I agree. We just have to learn to take it on the chin. You can’t please everyone. I always think if just one person loves my writing, I’m doing it right, even if only for them! With two books under your belt now, what advice would you give to a new or aspiring writer just starting off on the journey you are on?

B.

Never stop believing that the story you have to tell deserves to be seen. There’s so much pressure out there on new writers, so many ‘rules’ that they are supposed to adhere to. It’s very easy to try and mould your story to fit into every box. But trust it. Trust your characters to carry it to the place it needs to be. Love it and hate it and nurture it. Because it’s a word child and it needs to be born.

J.

Writing is definitely a compelling need I think. But what would you be doing with your life if you weren’t a writer?

B.

I’d be a hermit. Hold on, that’s probably the same thing 😉 After a career path that has involved banking, the civil service and education, I’d be fulfilled in a job that makes me feel whole. Of course, owning a book store would be top of the list, the kind with a comfy little coffee shop attached, but I’d also like to work for a conservation organisation like the National Trust. Books and nature are my favourite things.

J.

At what point did you sit yourself down and decide to become a serious novelist, rather than just an idea to try it? Was there an event, or series of events that led you to roll up your sleeves and take the plunge?

B.

I was at a point in my life where I knew that if I didn’t pluck up the courage and take the chance, I would forever be wondering if I had the potential. I didn’t want to be one of those people who look back on their life and wonder ‘what if?’ Gabriel gave me the courage to put myself out there (and as an introvert that’s a very scary thing.) And before I had finished writing it I knew there had to be a sequel. I’m sure there are lots of different definitions about the term ‘serious novelist.’ If it means that you can’t see your life without writing and story and the constant, glorious shadow of character, then I’m holding up my hand.

J.

I’m right there with you. I always think you can tell a good writer as we would STILL do it, even if we weren’t getting paid to do it. to ‘not write’ is unthinkable. The stories must out. (although I admit, it’s nicer to be paid to do it than not.) What, for you, is the best part about the writing experience? And the worst?

B.

The best – The anticipation of where the story might lead. My writing is a very organic process. I have points I’d like the story to reach and I work with my characters to get to each one. Sometimes they comply, but sometimes they take a complete deviation. And that’s when some of the true magic appears. They will say or do something which can take me onto a new path. That’s exactly what happened with Moth and Teal in The Making of Gabriel Davenport.

The worst – Editing when you’re down to the nitty gritty of searching for words you’ve used too often. By this time it’s usually around draft seven, and I’ve reached the point where I’ve developed blinkers on the story. And that final read through when I minutely pick apart the printed proof. Somehow seeing the story as an actual physical book always brings up some tiny typos, no matter how many times you’ve edited.

J.

There’s a definite editing snow-blindness point we all reach, that’s for certain, and yes, when we get the physical copy that’s when the spelling mistakes wave at us from the page! Ah well, the story matters more. It’s not a school essay. What are your plans once the series is finished? Can we expect similar genre or a different direction? What does the future hold for Beverley Lee? Other than a nice cup of inspirational tea?

B.

Of course. You can’t get rid of me that easily! Future projects will definitely carry a dark vibe. I don’t think I can write without that underlying vibration. I’ve nothing concrete planned but lots of little ideas nibbling. Right now, Gabriel and company mean there’s not much room for anything new to start shouting, but I like to think the seeds are geminating 😉

Sometimes I wish I had a crystal ball, to be able to skip forward a few years and see where I’ll be. But that would take away all of the magic, because the destination is not as important as what you find on your journey.

J.

The same process as writing the story applies to the writer’s own journey I guess. We can plan and aim for where we want to go and be, but life will take its own path, and the fun is certainly in all the unexpected twists and turns. I hope In a few years, crystal ball or not, we’re still gabbing away online and pouring out stories.

Thanks so much for coming in and spilling your soul today Bev. It’s been a pleasure. I’ll get the mop-bucket out in a second and sort out that spilled-soul, although in this heat, it might just be sweat. I’d open a window but I don’t want to let that magpie in. it doesn’t look trustworthy.

*swivels on chair like Vincent price to face imaginary ‘camera number two*

Hope you’ve all enjoyed me picking Bev’s brain like a carrion crow. If you haven’t already, please do check out the Gabriel Davenport Series, both books are available online (click the linky-dinks below) and go and say Hi to Bev all over the internet on Insta/Twitter/Facebook etc. She really is lovely (in whisper…just don’t cross her)

(Click the pics below to be taken to Amazon)

Book One

Book Two

ALSO…

And don’t forget, Bev and I are hosting the Shayverlee six-word story challenge on Bookstagram in July. (see my previous blog post for details) it will be great fun, we are kind and loving hosts and promise not to get the cat-o-nine-tails on you for your literary efforts! Unless you really deserve it of course.

Until next authortalk. xxx

 

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