Then and Now: Mel Sherratt, author of Taunting the Dead

The start of a new year always sees me in reflective mode when it comes to my writing. It is a chance to look back on the year that was, the year that ‘nearly’ was, and is a wonderful opportunity to dust myself off, frame those lovely rejection comments, read my 5-star reviews, feel better about everything and set new goals for the year ahead. This business of writing can, at times, be a fickle thing and I think it’s important to celebrate successes as well as to moan about the near misses and the very nearly’s. With this in mind, I am starting a regular feature on Whims & Tonic which gives writers an opportunity to share the ups and downs (mainly ups) from the past twelve months. ‘Then and Now‘, if you will.

To kick things off, I am delighted to have self-publishing sensation, Mel Sherratt, author of Kindle bestseller ‘Taunting the Dead‘ to tell us about her past year. If ever there was a role-model for ‘keeping going’, Mel is your woman! Over to you, Mel…

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About the author

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Ever since she can remember, Mel Sherratt has been a meddler of words. Right from those early childhood scribbles when she won her first and only writing competition at the age of 11, she was rarely without a pen in her hand or her nose in a book. Born and raised in Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire, Mel used her beloved city as a backdrop for her first novel, Taunting the Dead, and it went on to be a Kindle #1 best seller in three different categories and #3 in the overall charts. It is also in the top 100 kindle best selling books of 2012.

Mel’s new series of psychological suspense, The Estate, is set in the fictional place of Stockleigh because she believes that the Mitchell Estate can be found a few miles from anywhere in any town or city…

Mel is represented by Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency. You can find out more at melsherratt.co.uk on twitter as @writermels and on Facebook.

Where were you with your writing this time last year?

I was feeling frustrated, nervous and elated at the same time. Exactly this time last year, the crime thriller I had self-published a few weeks earlier, TAUNTING THE DEAD, was just about to hit the top 100 Kindle best sellers. It was an incredibly exciting time as I’d been trying for a traditional deal for over twelve years with various books but with no luck. My writing is cross-genre – it’s gritty, and fast paced like a crime thriller should be, but with a lot of fear and emotion and empathy, with the villains as well as with the good guys.

TTD Cover

What was causing you the most challenges/frustration?

I was quite elated to see the book rising so quickly and to see so many glowing reviews. TAUNTING THE DEAD went to No. 3 in the overall chart and No. 1 in police procedurals and stayed in the top one hundred for twelve weeks. But the downside of self-publishing is that to get the book noticed it had to go out at a low price – to tempt a reader to take a chance. I get really disheartened when I hear that books ‘shouldn’t be sold for less than the price of a cup of coffee’. For me, it was a great marketing tool, allowing me to get my name known. It means I can charge more for my books now but I still like to keep the price affordable. Over the past twelve months, I’ve seen mainstream publishers doing the same and I think it’s brilliant, although I do draw the line at books for 20p!

What was the pivotal moment for you in the last 12 months?

I think it was when I decided that rather than try to get a traditional two book deal on the back of the sales of TAUNTING THE DEAD, I wanted to self-publish the series I’d written, THE ESTATE. I really did believe in the series. The books are a mixture of women’s fiction and crime and I knew by studying the Kindle chart that there could be a market for them. I have three out now – SOMEWHERE TO HIDE, BEHIND A CLOSED DOOR and FIGHTING FOR SURVIVAL are at No.  2, 3 and 4 in the psychological thrillers category at the moment.

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Where are you with your writing now?

I’m currently finishing a new book, a dark psychological suspense. It’s a hint of Single White Female with a splash of Panic Room and a liberal sprinkling of Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct. I’m also getting ideas together for the next book, working on the synopsis and first three chapters.

What was/were the low point/s and high point/s of the last twelve months?

The low point was parting company with my agent as the working relationship for me wasn’t working. But it gave me the impetus to think of my writing as a business and the end result was that I published four books in my name and two books in a pen name in just over fourteen months. I also came to the attention of several agents who in turn contacted me. I’m now represented by Madeleine Milburn and really looking forward to what we can do together.

What is the most important thing you have learned during the last twelve months?

To take time for friends and family. Working on a big project such as writing a book can make you selfish with your time. I’m often so consumed in my thoughts that I can’t switch off. For me, I write drafts quickly so they are often intense sessions of ten hours a day, every day for about three weeks at a time. I’m not sure I can find another way to work though – I like to pour it out quickly and then go back to edit. Also, just how much you can achieve in a year if you put your mind to it. I’ve even shocked myself at my output and what I have learned to do. I’ve really enjoyed it.

What are your hopes for the next twelve months?

My hope for the next twelve months is to get a two book deal. Self-publishing is something I shall continue as long as it feels right for me but the book deal is my ultimate aim. I shall, though, release book four of THE ESTATE series around summer time, and I have lots of irons in the fire on other projects that I hope to reveal soon.

Any other good news, inspirational or positive experiences to take away from the last twelve months?

I’m a firm believer of always taking an opportunity if it arises so this year has found me featured in the Daily Mirror and Best Magazine, appearing on numerous local radio stations and recording a podcast hosted by TV presenter Sue Cook. I now write a monthly column for my local evening newspaper, The Sentinel, and am mentoring two writers. I’ve been quoted in The Bookseller by Ian Rankin and I’ve recently found out that TAUNTING THE DEAD was in the top 100 best selling Kindle books of 2012. I was absolutely delighted to hear it – it was in the top ten of fifteen self-published titles in that 100 too.

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Thanks so much to Mel for sharing her writing year.  A true inspiration and proof that perseverance is the key. It looks as though Mel is poised for great things in 2013. As they say, watch this space … !

Royalist Rebel, by Anita Seymour

Today, I am delighted to be hosting the final stage of the blog tour for Royalist Rebel, a recently released historical novel from Anita Seymour, who I very nearly had dinner with at the Historical Novel Society Conference in London last September! I am always blown away by the stories which are uncovered by historical novelists and the incredible tale of Elizabeth Murray and the English Civil War, set amid the backdrop of stunning Ham House, is a fascinating premise. Anita describes the novel:

During the early days of the English Civil Wars, Elizabeth Murray lived at Ham House on the River Thames near Richmond with her mother and three younger sisters while her father, William Murray, was a Gentleman of the Bedchamber at the exiled court of Charles I in Oxford.

In the winter of 1643 as the war edged closer, Catherine Murray took her daughters to Oxford, where they lived amongst impoverished and dispossessed Royalists gathered round King Charles, who plotted to regain London and his throne.

Reputed to be Oliver Cromwell’s mistress as well as a spy for the Royalist secret organisation The Sealed Knot, Elizabeth married twice and died in 1698 at 72 years old, alone, embittered and impoverished in her beloved Ham House. Vilified by society and abandoned by her children, the triumphs of her remarkable life largely forgotten.

If you visit Ham House, which has been restored to the way it looked during Elizabeth’s lifetime, this is the woman the guides talk about; an irascible, embittered widow stripped of her glory and reduced to genteel poverty in her beloved childhood home. They run ghost evenings at Ham, where tales of sightings of the old lady’s spirit that roams the mansion tapping the floors with her stick, her small dog at her side while the scent of attar of roses permeates her favourite rooms announcing her presence.

In the gallery is this portrait of Elizabeth, painted by Sir Peter Lely when she was eighteen. This was the young woman I wanted to discover and subsequently began writing about – the beautiful, intelligent and passionate young girl on the verge of womanhood who was dedicated to Ham House, the Royalist cause and the men in her life; her father William Murray, son of a minister who rose to become King Charles’ friend and confidant, Lionel Tollemache, her husband of twenty years who adored her, Oliver Cromwell who was fascinated by her, and John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale, Charles II’s favourite on whom he heaped honours and riches, only to ostracise him after a bitter quarrel.

Royalist Rebel is the story of that girl.

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Royalist Rebel by Claymore Books, an imprint of Pen and Sword, is released on 31st January 2013.

Anita’s first two novels are set during the Monmouth Rebellion and the Glorious Revolution. She also released two Victorian Romances in 2011.

http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Historical-Fiction/c/146/

For a little background on the novel, see Anita’s Book Blog
http://royalistrebel.blogspot.co.uk/

The National Trust Website of Elizabeth Murray’s former home, Ham House, at Petersham near Richmond, Surrey
http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house/

Anita’s Blog
http://thedisorganisedauthor.blogspot.co.uk/

Talking about ‘Wild’ with Cheryl Strayed

wildI recently had the opportunity to interview Cheryl Strayed, author of the New York Times bestselling memoir ‘Wild’ – an incredible account of Cheryl’s eleven-hundred mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail on the west coast of America, following the death of her mother. Oprah Winfrey read the book and was so blown away by it that she started up her book club again.

I spoke to Cheryl about the experience of her solo hike, what it feels like when Oprah Winfrey calls your mobile and what impact the success of Wild has had on her.

Read my full interview here at writing.ie and check out the trailer for Wild below.

You can follow Cheryl on Twitter at @CherylStrayed or visit her website to read more about this fascinating woman and exceptionally talented writer. 

The Next Big Thing

As any writer will tell you, this writing life can be a lonely old process. Hours and hours sitting alone at some makeshift form of desk or office can leave you feeling a bit like Alice falling down a rabbit hall. One minute you feel toweringly tall after producing a thousand wonderful words from nowhere, while at other times you begin to shrink to the size of a pea after staring at a blank page for most of a morning. You start to mutter strange ditties to yourself and imagine that your cat is grinning inanely at you. So, when I was asked to participate in an author blog hop, to share something of my latest work in progress, I though, yeah, why not!

How The Next Big Thing Blog hop works: An author answers ten questions and then tags up to five authors to do the same thing the following week. “Easy peasy, squeeze the lemon.” (any Horrible Histories fans may chuckle at this, everyone else, feel free to carry on).

Dianne Ascroft, author of Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves:A Short Story Collection and Hitler and Mars Bars, tagged me in The Next Big Thing. Dianne loves to lose herself in the past, particularly in stories set in Ireland and Scotland. Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves includes tales of outsiders who discover they belong, a humorous slice of life yarn, heartwarming love stories and a tale of taming fear. The shadows are on the wall, in the heart and clouding a woman’s memories while tangible foes tramp through the physical landscape. You can read Dianne’s Next Big Thing Post here.

Here are my answers to the ten gruelling questions:

1) What is the working title of your next book?

The working title is ‘Daughters of the Flowers’ although I’m still not completely happy with that and am constantly scribbling down other possible titles.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

It is an amalgamation of a couple of ideas which I have been mulling over for years and have been making notes on in various notebooks. Having initially started writing the story in one direction, I felt that something wasn’t quite right – that I wasn’t writing the story I wanted to tell. With further research and reading around the people and period of history I was basing my story in – street sellers in Victorian London – I discovered a fascinating interview with two young orphan flower sellers and details of a Christian philanthropist, John Groom who was helping the very poor. This took the plot in a different direction, and eventually led to me starting again and writing, what became, ‘Daughters of the Flowers.’

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Historical Fiction – although I prefer to call it ‘contemporary historical fiction’ as it isn’t ancient history or a historical novel based on royalty.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? 

Oooo- rubs hands with glee! It would have to be a very English cast, with Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith as two of the leading ‘more mature’ characters! I would also love someone like Mia Wasikowska (the actress who played Alice in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland) to be my female heroine, with someone like Andrew Strong (who played the character Egg in ‘This Life’) or Benedicte Cumberbatch as my hero. For the children – who knows. Perhaps we would discover another Daniel Radcliffe or Emma Watson!

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

I will interpret this as one ‘long’ sentence!

Spanning several decades, Daughters of the Flowers tells the story of a young girl who is searching for her lost sister, a young woman who is searching for acceptance and how a small, pink, paper rose, and one man’s incredible vision, eventually allows them to discover what it is that they are really looking for.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Ultimately, I hope to find a publisher for ‘Daughters of the Flowers’, even though I self-published my first novel ‘The Girl Who Came Home’ in 2012. People often ask me why I want a traditional publisher when I have successfully self-published. The reasons are many, but essentially it is because I want the full experience of working with a publishing house – with an editor who believes in my writing and in my novel and who can really bring the best out of my writing and push me to write the best novel I can. I also want my novels to be physical things which are picked up in bookshops and kept in libraries, as well as downloaded onto Kindles – basically, I’m a traditionalist at heart!

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

It took around six months to write the first draft (after I’d scrapped nearly fifty thousand words and started again!) and then around three months to re-write and edit .

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

At its historical heart, this is a novel about orphaned and disabled flower sellers in Victorian London and is inspired by true events which, as far as I’m aware, haven’t been covered before in novel form, so I’d like to think there is something unique about it! In terms of style, I would love my writing to be compared to that of Sarah Waters, Rose Tremain and Philippa Gregory.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The novel was inspired by true events surrounding orphaned and disabled flower sellers in Victorian London, who were taken off the streets by a Christian preacher, John Groom, and employed to make artificial flowers in a workroom at his chapel. The flower girls went on to make millions of roses for Queen Alexandra Rose Day in June, 1912, the first charitable event to raise funds through the sale of artificial flowers. The John Groom charity still operates today, under the name Liveability. It was also inspired by my love of  George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and by Henry Mayhew’s amazing social history study, ‘London Labour and the London Poor’.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

The novel combines elements of the paranormal, romance and family saga while being firmly rooted in the contrasting lives of the very poor and the very wealthy in London at the turn of the century. The novel has a very strong emotional pull, portraying a personal, very human side of the lives of Victorian street sellers. It is a gentle, redemptive and hopeful tale and takes the reader on a compelling, emotional journey which challenges them to consider what they would do if they were faced with the same circumstances.

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The authors I have tagged, and who will post their own responses to these questions on their blogs next week are:

Elizabeth Carden is an author of historical fiction and freelance writer. Before embarking on writing fiction full-time, she worked in politics as a gubernatorial press secretary and speech writer. She was runner up in the Historical Novel Society’s 2012 Short Story Award in London. Elizabeth lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and two children.

@elizcarden

Gaynor Alder is a Melbourne based writer with a penchant for vintage glamour and all things Parisian. She is Editor-in-Chief of The Modern Woman’s Survival Guide and Teenage Girl’s Survival Guide and gallivants around the country as a Travel Writer, testing the thread count of sheets and the fluffiness of hotel pillows.

She started writing The Modern Woman’s Survival Guide, after the umpteenth person told her, you know you should really write a book. Her fingers struggled daily to keep up with the thoughts that desperately wanted to become words on pages, to take centre stage in a book that she knew was going to become the new voice of womankind. Her calling, her destiny, her whatever you want to call it, Gaynor writes because she can’t not write. She stands by her adage that the quality of your life, is dictated by the quality of your hair.

@themodernwoman

Over to you, ladies!