‘What extactly is an indie author?’ a friend asked when I told her I was taking part in the recent #indieauthorweekuk, a series of events aimed at independent writers.
Trust me, it is a question I’ve also asked myself especially when faced with the uphill task of marketing and getting your books ‘out there’ in an already crowded market.
Actually the answer is simple. A so-called ‘indie’ author is one who publishes directly to a platform – the big one being Amazon but there are a growing number of other players – rather than doing it through a traditional publisher. A bit like those indie musicians who go directly to YouTube, Spotify etc.
Right from the outset, I wanted to learn about the book publishing process from start to finish. Not just the main writing bit but commissioning a cover, creating a book ‘blurb’, formatting, bringing in test readers, proof reading, marketing – the learning curve goes on. Note that word ‘commissioning’ because not all of those elements are done by me. However, I am involved actively in all of these stages and have been gaining knowledge along the way.
Certainly the decision to go the ‘indie’ route wasn’t made as a result of any rejection. To date I have never approached a traditional publisher or agent about my fictional work, despite having past dealings with some top publishers about factual books.
More writers, (including some who have already gone the traditional publishing route), are opting for independent publishing because of the creative freedom it gives, the ability to get their work out more quickly and to keep a larger share of any royalties. Nobody is saying it is easy – trust me it isn’t! – but there is a satisfaction in being able to say ‘this is down to me’ and to involve the people of your own choosing.
Indie authors are growing more savvy and realising that strength comes from a sense of community. Which brings me back to the #indieauthorweekuk annual event. Linked to a regular networking group, this was set up 4 years ago by Sue Miller, founder of #Team Author UK, which provides Assisted Publishing services to independent authors. Sue was looking for bespoke indie author festivals/events and because she couldn’t find any, she created one.
This year I did a series of Q&As with five authors, (Jude Lennon, Amanda Davey, Lesley Rawlinson, Chris Turnbull and Su Echo Falls S’ari aka Rose English). It was great to learn about their work and to share it across social media. Their individual writing journeys were fascinating and different – we have all vowed to keep in touch and try to meet up when things return to normality.
Jude Lennon and I also did a recorded chat about short stories. Aside from a few virtual sound gremlins – we are all getting used to those aren’t we? – it was good fun and I hope we might have encouraged a few people to take the short fiction writing plunge.
During our short story chat, Jude and I discussed our love of heading off in our respective mobile ‘homes’ – in Jude’s case that is a vintage VW Camper Van and mine is a Motor Home. It is a great chance to escape, chill out and to catch up on reading. Short stories are good to dip into but whatever you chose, road trips and reading go hand in hand.
Recently yours truly, my husband and our dog Bonnie, took two mini breaks in our MoHo – the first was an overnight stay at the Cosawes site in Ponsanooth (mid Cornwall) and the second was at Tollgate Farm in the seaside town of Perranporth, where we stayed for two nights. Both were great places with good sized pitches and brilliant dog walks.
Neither are far from where we live but it was a chance to give the MoHo a much needed run out and to get a change of scene after months of lockdown.
On both occasions we struck lucky with the weather and at Ponsanooth we walked to the ‘Stag Hunt’ pub ( a bit of an uphill trot getting there but less onerous on the way back!). It was our first experience of eating out since January’s lockdown and the meal didn’t disappoint. The staff were friendly and the pub decor was reassuringly traditional – the local Treen’s beer was also good according to my other half who knows about these things!
On our first day in Perranporth, the sun came out big time and the beach was packed but the following day it was much quieter. After a decent walk – there are several local routes to choose from – we had lunch in the ‘Watering Hole’ restaurant/bar right on the beach. It took a while getting to grips with the pesky QR electronic ordering system (!) but our drinks and food arrived quickly – again the staff were delightful. Even managed to buy a couple of pairs of jaunty flip-flops which scream out ‘summer has arrived’!
Our next MoHo trip will be a two week tour of places ‘up country’ as they say here in Cornwall, including Somerset, the Cotswolds, Warwickshire, the Lake District and then into Wales. After months of going nowhere, we can’t wait
This is usually my cue to recommend a book but this time I’m going to give a mention to the fabulous butterflyboxes people who combine their love of books with special gift boxes. I stumbled upon them when I was looking for a family present with a bit of a difference and have since ordered several boxes. Having decided to donate half of all the proceeds from my short story book, ‘Shorts and Thoughts’, to the Social Workers’ Benevolent Trust Charity swbt.org – which gives help to frontline social workers experiencing hardship – I contacted butterflyboxes to see if we could do a special tie-in gift box for carers and those in the wider caring professions.
The answer was a yes!
This is the latest version of the box which includes a selection of teas, coffee, biscuits and of course the short stories book. Here is the link: https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/903972491/ and they do a variety of other boxes which are well worth looking at.
Tell us about your ‘Miss Ruby Heart’ character – a cute talking toy Spaniel.
– Miss Ruby Heart is a King Charles spaniel character from my book ‘Young Ebenezer ~ A New Christmas Carol’. She is the Ghost of Christmas Past and along with a magical clock called ‘Grandfather Time’ they try to help a naughty young lad to mend his ways. It is a modern-day version of the Charles Dickens classic but for kids. The talking part came about from my lovely author friend Deb McEwan who has a beautiful rescue dog called Sandy. Deb discovered the ‘My Talking Pet’ app. You take a photo of your pet, adjust the facial features then record a message into the app and your pet talks the message back to you. I thought it would be fun to have Miss Ruby Heart review children’s books!
You have been part of the ‘Share a Story’ event on Instagram. What is the idea behind this?
– I believe this first came about via the March World Book Day Events, they had the hashtag #ShareAStory. I liked it and it kind of stuck – I use it in my Miss Ruby Heart tagline now.
You like visiting ‘bespoke’ shops and are an admirer of metal sculptures from ‘Paul’s Metal Crafting’ made from recycled materials. Tell us a bit about your love of independent and quirky shops.
– I adore unusual things and greatly admire the gifts that people have. I am in awe of the passion people put into their art forms be it books, painting, the amazing ‘Metal Crafting’ from Paul, or quirky tea shops with delicious cakes! I am a Yorkshire lass and have lived and worked in many places but Herefordshire is now my adopted home. A beautiful city not too big but has just about everything from great architecture (Hereford Cathedral) to adorable Independent shops.
A few years ago you wrote a short story ‘Lost Love in Spring’ under your pen name Rose English. Intriguingly it features an A-Z of herbal remedies! What inspired you to write this?
– First and foremost, I am a read~a~holic. I devour books on all subjects and my local library has been a source of unusual books. I think I picked up an old book on ancient remedies and somewhere along the way I was inspired to write a story. Because it was a short story, I thought it might be nice to expand the book to include the A-Z of herbal remedies. I already had lots of research so I put it to good use. For each plant I included a piece of ancient poetry. I also added the history and features of the plant along with its ancient and modern medicinal use.
Finally – the one that I have to ask! What have been your lockdown saviours?
– Lockdown, what lockdown? Only kidding I work in the NHS so like many keyworkers (not just in the NHS but elsewhere too) we have been working flat out and to be honest I barely noticed much difference. The biggest thing has been wearing a face mask almost all the time and being extra vigilant ‘Hands, Face, Space’. I have great admiration for Independent Authors and small businesses that have adapted through the hard and challenging times. Wherever possible I have tried over the months to help #SpreadTheWord on their behalf. Oh – and there is always cake!
You do a broad range of writing which includes detective novels, time travel and children’s books. A tough one, but which genre is your ‘favourite’?
All my non-childrens books are set in the past which I love as it allows me to learn more about the time in which it is based. My books are also set in real towns and cities so I get to discover what they looked like and how people lived there. So despite the different genres I see them all as ‘historical fiction’ mixed with time travel or crime. Research is the biggest part of my writing, and this is the part I love the most. However children’s books are the most rewarding – I often get children sending me drawings or photographs of themselves with the books or their pets.
You have a fascination with Whitby, where one of your characters, Detective Matthews, is based and the town features in a number of your other books including ‘Whitby’s Darkest Secret’. Tell us about how you create a real sense of time and place in your writing.
Being from Yorkshire, Whitby has always been one of my favourite places. The old town still has many of the buildings where my books are set which makes visiting all the more more special. Research is a key factor in my writing and it’s important that I am not placing something into the story that hasn’t been invented yet. I also adore the Victorian photographer Frank Sutcliffe who took many photographs of the fishing town in and around where my books are set. They can be fantastic sources for ensuring I’m not straying too far from the truth.
Your latest children’s book ‘Olly and The Treasure Map’ features a Jack Russell (based on your own Jack Russell) and his fictional pal, the Labrador Luna. How would you sum up their doggy duo adventures?
‘Olly & The Treasure Map’ is book 2 of the Olly The Jack series. It is a series that I have wanted to do for a long time, and now seemed right. In book 2 we meet Luna the Lab – Olly’s real life best friend. The two of them have been friends since they were puppies and it’s adorable how they play together. In the book I wanted this friendship to come across, and the illustrations by Izzy Bean have done that perfectly. I couldn’t be happier with the results and am thrilled to say Izzy is currently illustrating book 3.
You’ve decided recently to have a change of career after working for over a decade in higher education. As you answer these questions, you are in Sri Lanka working for a month on a sea turtle conservation project! What prompted you to make this change?
After 14 years working in higher education I felt that it was time to move onto something new. I had always felt as though I had fallen into my career by accident, and although I loved it once, I knew it was time for change. Before jumping into the next thing I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for me to do something that has always been a huge bucket list item… volunteering to work abroad in conservation. Shortly after handing in my resignation I applied to go to Sri Lanka and was accepted. As I write this I am enjoying a whole month in the country before I return to the UK and start a new job in a completely different sector.
Finally – if you had to show just one of your favourite authors around Whitby, who would you choose and why?
I think I would choose author Martin Ferguson. Martin is the author of ‘The Relic Hunters’ series, and currently one of my favourites. They are a brilliant blend of historical fiction and modern day adventure. In Whitby I would take Martin to the ruined Abbey, and try and talk him into writing a Hunters book based around it.
Tell us about your latest children’s book ‘Magical Tales from the Woodpecker Tree’.
– The book is the third in a series that began with ‘Tales from the Woodpecker Tree’ published in 2017, followed by ‘Christmas Tales from the Woodpecker Tree’ in 2018. Each book is a collection of short stories, many of which are aimed at increasing children’s awareness of the natural world. From friendly owls and grumpy badgers to a three-toed Woodpecker, it’s all there!
How did you first get into writing children’s books?
– As a primary school teacher, I was always writing. I loved making up stories with the children or sharing my ideas with them. After I retired in 2013 I decided to see if I could do anything with the stories I’d written and was lucky enough to meet author Jude Lennon and go on one of her writing courses. Through her I met Sue Miller and became involved with Team Author UK – that set me on my way.
Where do you like to write and do you have any ‘writing rituals’?
– In the summer months I like nothing better than writing in my conservatory, with the door open on to the garden, or even out of doors. I dream of having a writing shed in the garden, but I’d need a considerably bigger piece of land! I don’t think I have any rituals really; when the muse strikes I just sit down and write. I used to be a pen and paper girl, but now I prefer to write and edit straight on to the computer.
What is your next writing project?
– In 2020 I published my first novel aimed at 9 -12 year olds, ‘De Morville’s Sword’, and I knew then that, although I love writing short stories, longer novels are what I really want to do. Since then, I’ve been working on a book called ‘Osprey Girl’ set in the Scottish Highlands. Maggie is a little girl who is trying to adjust to a new way of life and she becomes involved in a drama, trying to save an Osprey nest from disaster.
If you had to pick one author to invite around for dinner, who would you chose and why?
This is so difficult! I enjoy reading such a wide range of books, but as a children’s author I think I would like to sit down with Emma Carroll whose life experiences mirror my own in many ways: former teacher, cancer survivor. I’d love to discuss how she is inspired by historical events as this is something I have in mind for future books of my own.
You can find Lesley on: www.lesleyrawlinsonauthor.co.uk
You are a writer, photographer and draw too – quite a ‘polymath’! Tell us how you manage to combine these things…
– It’s lovely to be called a ‘polymath’! It’s interesting actually, because all can be linked together with the common goal of telling a story – so they have more in common than you might expect. Non fiction is still best in ‘story form’, photographs are well known for their ability to tell a story and drawings are about communicating ideas as well. Plus, variety is the spice of life!
Intriguingly you’ve also been a ‘map curator’– what did this involve?
– Firstly, becoming a map curator requires intense dedication to getting the job as there are very few of them. Once you have got into the job it depends on where you work. Some map libraries hold old maps, while others hold maps that are in constant use and are modern. There is an element of conservation included, but a great deal of cataloguing as well as dealing with enquiries. Computers are a vital tool these days. Cataloguing international mapping was surprisingly fascinating and one of my successors went on to work in Stanfords in London. (Another is now the head of the Map Library at the Bodleian in Oxford).
You are part of theTilia Publishing team – what is the inspiration behind the company?
– When I started working for myself in 2004 I named the business ‘Tilia Services’ – Tilia is the Latin name for the genus of Lime trees and a favourite view in childhood was of the massive Lime tree at the bottom of our garden. Plus, (and I think you’ll like this), Lime as a tree and as a wood is pretty much a ‘polymath’ in all the different things that you can do with it!
Your grandfather, Sir Harold Harding, was an amazing man and sat on the tribunal investigating the Aberfan Disaster in 1966, How did he influence you?
– My grandfather had a fabulous sense of humour and time spent with him was always great fun. He was a civil engineer, but loved history and Ronnie Barker. He generously paid for my undergraduate dissertation to be typed (which was just as well as it turned out I couldn’t spell archaeology properly!) and for my successful driving lessons. He taught me that short pithy sentences grab the reader’s attention most successfully, although I’ve still to get fully into that mindset. He and my grandmother hilariously described how they chose their bed, by going around the store bouncing on the edges of all the beds until they found the right one. I published his autobiography as our first book as a way of saying thank you for the richness of the times I spent with him
Finally – tell us about your book ‘Freckles and Friends’ – a great title by the way!
– Freckles and Friends! Oh yes… A few years ago we were serenaded by a young robin we called Freckles after the freckles on his tummy. I would put updates about him and his antics on Facebook for my friends to enjoy. One friend, Jane, suddenly turned to me and said “You know what your next book should be? It should be called ‘Freckles and Friends’ and be about the wildlife in your garden and the young robin Freckles!” At first I wasn’t keen, but then realised that actually there were some funny stories that had happened in our small garden and it could be free of the po-faced veneration that is in a lot of books. Wildlife is rich in its interaction. Just today I was in the garden and a couple of bees plomped onto the path next to me in a clinch, my immediate response was to think of kids on the TV who go ‘Fight Fight!’ It has been so heartening to hear from readers of the book who have been finding the stories in their gardens and their own access to wildlife. That’s what it’s for.
You are best known for your children’s books but you have been working on your first full length novel for ‘grown-ups’. Tell us a bit about that.
– ‘Kintsugi’ (working title) is a contemporary fiction with an historical twist. The main character has a well ordered, normal life which is turned upside down by family history and skeletons in the closet. Very different to my children’s tales about lambs and starfish!
You have also written a collection of short stories ‘A Slice of Lennon’, How do you find writing in a shorter form?
– I’ve been in a writing group for about four years now. Our monthly challenges are supposed to have a word limit of 500 words, not that we ever stick to that! Our pieces are generally between 1000-2000 words and doing that on a regular basis has really helped to establish my short story writing. I find you can be more inventive. People are more forgiving of flights of fancy in short stories.
Indie Author Week UK is growing in popularity and a busy annual week for you and the team. What inspired the setting up of this event?
– It was set up by Sue Miller who founded Team Author UK which provides Assisted Publishing services to Indie Authors. Sue was looking for festivals/events that her authors could get involved with and because she couldn’t find one, she created Indie Author Week UK which has now been going for 4 years.
When you aren’t busy working you like to escape in your campervan which you call ‘Buttercup’!. What plans have you got for campervan adventures this summer?
– We love our van! We have had a couple of trips to Wales and Shropshire so far and we will definitely be exploring other areas too. We haven’t booked anywhere definite yet but potentially Derbyshire, Yorkshire or back to Wales and Shropshire.
As if writing a novel, giving talks, collaborating with other writers and artists isn’t enough (!) you have also played an active part in the Liverpool Year of Writing. How is that going?
– It’s going really well. The whole city is being encouraged to get involved whether as authors, writers, would be writers or families who want to enjoy experimenting with words. There have been around 300 events so far, several competitions and more to come. It’s a great way to promote the importance of literacy.