An interview with author Mel Sherratt

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This week I talk to gritty crime writer Mel Sherratt, who stormed up the Kindle charts with her debut novel Taunting The Dead. Now she’s just released her second book, Somewhere To Hide, which is promising to be just as successful, and she’s got a third novel on the way.

What inspired you to become a writer?

I’ve always been interested in writing – from as far back as writing short stories in exercise books at school. I just love words – writing and reading. And I’ve always wanted to write a book. To see my name on the cover, see what people have to say about it – that’s always special and a great motivator.

Have you always wanted to write about crime specifically?

Strangely enough, I think my writing was influenced by my reading and I’ve come full circle. My early attempts of writing a book were more crime thriller (even though I was into reading Stephen King and Dean Koontz) – actually I still love my first idea which was a kind of paranormal, psychological thriller…I may write it one day now I’ve learned how to do it! I then started to read the greats such as Marian Keyes, Adele Parks and Lisa Jewell and my writing attempts were then lighter but with a working class edge. And then my writing just went darker. I decided to study more crime thrillers and wrote Somewhere To Hide. And then I took it one stage further and wrote Taunting The Dead, predominantly a police procedural.

When I read Taunting the Dead, I found myself both attracted to and revolted by the villainous Terry Ryder. Where did you get the inspiration for his character from?

Thanks so much for reading it. Terry Ryder is actually based on a local business man that I have never met, nor would think he would be anything like him in real life! My only aim was to create a good-looking charmer who is a ruthless and dangerous man underneath. I wanted readers to like him one minute and loathe him the next. And of course there are lots of screen bad boys that I could use as inspiration too.

DS Allie Shenton’s marriage certainly got put to the test in Taunting the Dead. I got the impression she’s capable of sabotaging a good thing…

Wow, that’s a great impression to get, thanks. Yes, Allie is a passionate soul. I always intended her to be a likeable person, at home and at work. I wanted her to be warm yet vulnerable and strong at the same time. I also wanted a character that was content within a loving relationship but may or not be tempted when the situation arose. And I think it depended on your views around infidelity if you really liked her or not…

What are you writing next? Will we see more of Allie Shenton?

I’m just about to start finishing off the second novel in The Estate series, Behind A Closed Door, which is out in October. The main character in this one is Josie Mellor. She’s a housing officer so it’s about some of the cases she deals with on the estate, as well as some of her work life around domestic violence starting to mirror her home life.

DS Allie Shenton is a tricky one. There are so many people asking me to write the next one but for me, I think the success of Taunting The Dead was partly because the book was set around a ‘did she, didn’t she’ question. There is a lot of sexual tension and obviously there can’t be that in the next book. I’m worried that it then might become too ‘ordinary.’  Scary stuff, although at this moment in time, I do intend to bring out another Allie Shenton book. When? Hmm…

When you write, do you plan the whole story carefully before you start writing, or do you let the story evolve as you write?

I do a bit of both. I start with the characters and their stories and this usually gives me a rough beginning, middle and end. Then I interlink the sub plots and create about twenty chapters consisting of bullet points. Those twenty chapters turn into about forty as I draft the story out. But I do let the characters dictate – which sounds bizarre as I am the writer – but if a character goes off plot, I know it’s for a reason and as I always write a quick ‘dirty’ first draft, I can figure out what I need to happen as a result of those changes later in the second draft.

Do you have a muse or someone you frequently go to for honest feedback on your writing?

I have five people. I have my best friend from my home town who isn’t a writer, I have three writer friends and also my mum. I have to say they are all extremely honest, to the point of being brutal but that’s what I need to hear. Fresh eyes always make something better in my opinion.

When do you know you’ve finished writing your book?

Once I’ve finished with it, and my five readers have come back to me with their thoughts, I do one more draft and then I’m done writing wise.  I send the book off to a copy editor and she checks through it for me. Because I’ve self-published them, I then read the script three times before uploading it so I can spot/change any tiny amendments, even plot-wise if I still feel the need. Once it’s uploaded, then I can say it’s finished.

As a writer, you’re bound to have had your fair share of rejections from publishers. How have you learned to overcome that?

Rejection has been a biggie for me. I took the last one really hard last year after four months of hoping and going a step further and a step further, but as a writer you need to learn to pick yourself up, brush yourself down and carry on. Also, in the case of Somewhere To Hide, not writing something that fitted into a genre mould has meant it’s been harder for me. But I do believe in what I write and thankfully readers have enjoyed it.

What other obstacles have you had to overcome in your writing career?

I suppose it would have to be trying to overcome self-doubt – although it still gets to me every now and then. I mean, really, I sold how many books!

What would your top tip be to all aspiring novelists out there?

Always keep honing your craft, playing with words, read others to learn from and, above all, love what you do. Trust your gut reaction. And if you’re after a book deal, never give up!

  

An interview with chick lit author Nicola May

This week I’m interviewing Nicola May, successful self-published chick lit author of Star Fish, Working It Out and Better Together. Nicola embarked on her self-publishing journey by bringing out her first two novels in paperback. This is what she has to say about her experience so far.

You’ve self-published three novels: Working It Out, Better Together and Star Fish. Firstly, what led you to self-publish, and secondly, what led you to self-publish in paperback as opposed to in ebook format?

I tried for years to get published in the traditional way. I even had a reputable agent at one stage but it is very hard to get a publishing deal. It wasn’t until I got a letter from Hodder saying they hoped it wasn’t a big regret turning me down that I knew I was good enough to get my writing out to the wider world.

My dream was always to write a book that people could hold and read and I could see it on a bookshelf. Even now if I saw someone reading my book on a train I might faint with excitement. It hasn’t happened yet! I think that avid readers do still like to hold an actual book in their hands and the face-to-face contact at launches, signings etc is good for word-of-mouth marketing.

Being honest and I hate to say it out loud, it is actually far more cost effective to sell electronically only as overheads are minimal. I do see lots of authors following this route. My third novel Better Together has outsold both of my other novels on the Kindle as I haven’t printed this one. I am going to put my fourth novel in print due to popular demand from my readers but only a small run initially. I will of course put it on the Kindle too as it would be stupid not to. 

What have you done to market your books?

What haven’t I done to market my books! I have an author website (www.nicolamay.com), Facebook page (Nicola May) and Twitter account @nicolamay1. I have done local radio interviews talking about my self-publishing story and have had various articles in local papers, plus in WOMAN magazine. Star Fish was also hot read of the week in WOMAN magazine earlier this year. Plus, it has a full-page review in Horoscope magazine this month. I constantly sign at various Waterstones stores and get involved in local craft fairs and festivals.

What has self-publishing taught you about the publishing industry?

That it’s a hard industry to succeed in. Unless you have a bestseller you are not going to earn life-changing money and constant marketing is a must.

What would your top tips be to anyone contemplating self-publishing?

Be prepared to work VERY hard. Everyone aspires to be the next J.K. Rowling but it ain’t that easy. You and your books are a brand and successful, constant marketing is key to your success. Be nice to everyone you meet along the way. Keep writing and most importantly, be BOLD!

Are you working on a new novel? If so, when will we be able to buy it?

I am indeed, it is entitled The School Gates and I’m half way through. I am aiming for an autumn release. I haven’t got an exact date yet but follow me on Twitter and I will give regular updates. This is an exclusive book blurb just for you and your readers!

The School Gates by Nicola May

At 3.10 pm every weekday, parents gather at Featherstone Primary to collect their children. For a special few, the friendships forged at the school gates will see them through lives filled with drama, secrets and sorrows.

When Yummy Mummy Alana reveals the identity of her lovechild’s father, she doesn’t expect the consequences to be quite so extreme. Ex Czech au-pair Earth Mummy Dana finds happiness in her secret sideline, but really all she longs for is another child. Slummy Mummy Mo’s wife-beating husband leads her down a path she never thought possible, and Super Mummy Joan has to cope when life deals her a devastating blow. And what of Gay Daddy Gordon? Will he be able to juggle parenthood and cope with his broken heart at the same time?

Four very different mothers. One adorable dad. And the intertwining trials and tribulations that a year at the primary school gates brings.

Mugs and mooches

I’ve just finished reading Lionel Shriver’s novel ‘So Much For That’. It was a bit of a slow burner, but the ending was, in true Shriver style, totally rewarding.

One of the themes that runs through this book is that of ‘mugs and mooches’, or rather, people who play by the rules (mugs) and those who don’t (mooches). For example, there are people who fill in their tax returns as honestly as they can, and those who think it’s only natural to fiddle the system. I related to the protagonist Shep Knacker: I’m a mug. I’m not very good at breaking the rules, partly because of my conscience, but mainly because whenever I do, I get caught.

When I was sixteen I was nearly expelled from school. I and a group of friends had decided to bunk off Spanish, which was a ‘general study’ and therefore a lesson we didn’t feel obliged to attend. We sneaked off after registration to a local café where we sat slurping coffee and chain-smoking cigarettes. Not daring to be late for history, I headed back to school ten minutes earlier than my friends and bided my time in the toilets until the bell rang for the next lesson.

While hiding in the toilets, I heard sobbing. It was a first year kid, distraught because she’d just been told off by the headmistress. As I tried to console her, the headmistress herself walked in, ordered the girl back to class and swiftly walked out again. I breathed a sigh of relief just a second too soon: she returned in an instant. ‘Shouldn’t you be in Spanish?’ she barked. ‘I just needed the loo,’ I mumbled. Later that day, after she’d conferred with the Spanish teacher, I was summoned to her office and threatened with expulsion if I made any more poor choices about my attendance.

How I kicked myself for being mug enough to return to school earlier than I needed to! Had I been a proper mooch, I would have hung out in the café for the full duration of my Spanish lesson, and not got caught.

Nearly 25 years later, my mug’s curse is as present as ever. When my eldest daughter started in reception a few years ago, she liked riding her scooter to school. Abiding by the rules, I would take it off her at the school gates, as you weren’t supposed to ride scooters in the playground.

My daughter would always whine, ‘But everyone else is riding their scooter, why can’t I?’ Eventually I got sick of telling her, ‘Because you’re not supposed to,’ as we were pretty much the only mugs obeying the rules. So, as I didn’t want my daughter to grow up being a total goody-two-shoes – or supergrass for that matter – one day I relented and handed it back to her. Two minutes later, she scooted straight into the headmistress, who politely, but firmly, reminded me of the school policy on playground safety.

Naturally we went back to carrying the scooter at the school gates. As for the other rule-breakers? Those kids continued to sail skillfully past the headmistress’s back while she stood there chatting and joking with their parents.

So if you’re a mug like me, I recommend ‘So Much For That’. For deep down in every mug, a mooch lurks waiting…