It definitely lights a fire under me when I have a tale which wants to come out. I can sometime stay up until 3-4am if I have to finish a scene. At other times I can agonize over a phrase or sentence and before I know it the day has gone and I’ve only written a paragraph. I miss it when I can’t write.
What is your writing Kryptonite
Emotional upset for sure. My last book took me a year to write as I was distracted by my husband being injured in an accident and my mother-in-law passing away from a long illness. I was very lucky to have a lovely mother-in-law. She is sorely missed.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I kinda do. I write under my married name and feature on social media under my maiden name for social interactions. I also write under initials. I don’t hide my gender, but it’s not immediately obvious when you look at the book cover.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I’ve met many wonderful people on this journey and I’ve found them to be an incredibly generous and open community. I’d really encourage new writers to reach out and make contact. Not only will you find that they share resources, but you’ll probably make all kinds of new friends too. There are too many to mention but Kit Prate and Joanie Chevalier deserve a special mention. Both have been so supportive and inspiring to a brand new writer and have gone the extra mile in helping me cross over so many barriers. Kit introduced me to her publisher after reading my work, and helped me out of the slush pile. Joanie helped to point me towards the various groups which help a new writer with marketing and publicity. Not only that but she actually made up some advertising material and told me to ‘get my swag on.’ I was being far too Scottish—reticent and unwilling to look like I was bragging by saying my book was good. Both ladies have been incredible and I can’t thank them enough. Read their books and you’ll soon see how lucky I was to be assisted by them.
Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
‘The Innocents’ is definitely meant to be part of a larger body of work. It’s the first of a trilogy, but if people like them there’s plenty of scope to keep them going. I would still continue with each book being a self-contained mystery with the larger universe of the characters providing an over-arching connection between the books. The third book is written and at editing stage, but there are plenty of trials I can still put the characters through yet.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
So far it’s been on editing. I’ve learned so much from every bit of feedback given to me and I they all go towards making me better writer. That said there’s been free advice from other writers. As a newcomer to the writing community I have found great generosity of spirit and so many people have shared some of their valuable time to help me. I’ll be very happy to pay that forward. On another note I have just spent some money on publicity. I’ve yet to see how that will work. That may be my new enthusiasm if it really pays off.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
That would be in my work as a young police officer. I learned that talking people down from spiraling emotions is a powerful tool in keeping people safe, and more potent than violence. I also learned that listening to detail is vital too. Noting the small things helped to push cases along in gathering evidence. I also learned the complex and intricate ways people use language to put you down and grab power in a situation. Understanding that really helps you stay in control of a situation. It’s useful for a writer to grasp that and be able to shift the dynamics in a scene through clever use of words.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
That would have to be ‘The Moonstone’ by Wilkie Collins. Not only is it considered the first proper detective novel in the English language, it also shows working class females as rounded characters instead of foils for male attention. It also is the first to introduce many of the elements we take for granted in mysteries such as red herrings, false suspects, the skilled investigator, and a final twist. Collins was actually vastly more popular than Dickens in his day, but is now largely forgotten in comparison
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Lol, maybe a giant sloth? Or one of those dogs or cats which go viral for bumping into glass doors or falling off things.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
‘The Innocents’ has been written and re-written to death. It’s probably in about its tenth incarnation. The second book in the trilogy was launched on 26th July and the third is at the editing stage before being submitted for publication. I have numerous other mysteries plotted. It all depends on public demand on whether or not I continue the series or write them as standalone mysteries.
What does literary success look like to you?
To have people read and enjoy my stories. I make no pretence at literary genius or at writing anything worthy. I write stories which I hope people will enjoy.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Copious amounts. ‘The Innocents’ has taken years of research into the work of the early Pinkertons, especially the female agents and the kind of work they did, including their methodologies. I research everything, even the stationary which was in use and the correct codes for the telegraph stations mentioned in the books. The forensics are fascinating to dig into too. You name it I researched it. Everything which influences every aspect of the stories. Abigail’s ability to disguise herself and alter her accent is taken directly from reports on the skills of the original female Pinkerton, Kate Warne. The theatrical make up and wigs were also true to the period. Stage make up had been primitive earlier in the century, but better stage lighting revealed a need for far better make up techniques, products, and prosthetics. Greasepaint was invented in the 1860s by Ludwig Leichner, building on the work of Karl Freidrich Baudius (1796–1860) in the 1850s. Lighting also improved costumes and acting techniques. It drove a desire for more natural representations in every area, simply because people could see the stage more clearly. Crepe hair went out and quality wigs came in. Colors were mixed to mimic skin tones and classes in their application were popular in the acting profession. Latex wasn’t invented until 1920, but prior to that rubber was moulded or even applied to a light fabric backing. When it was the right shape it was expertly painted to look exactly like a nose, dewlap, bald cap, or any other body part. I even researched whether someone with as much hair as the average Victorian woman could wear a short wig. The answer came from a young woman who enjoys cosplay – and she explains online how to pleat her long thick hair and coil it flat under the cap before putting the short wig on. It absolutely IS possible. I was really surprised to find how many really strange crimes and mass murders from the past seem to have been forgotten by all but a few. The past is littered with remarkable characters; honest and dishonest. There are cross-dressers, madmen, greedy people, selfish people, arrogant people, and clever people on both sides of the law. I was also conscious of how often history repeats itself and how themes come up time and time again as history stratifies the same issues and concerns time and time again. I was also impressed by the dedication of a few clever people who worked to catch criminals and close down their attempts to cover their tracks.
How many hours a day/week do you write?
I have no set timetable. I wish I was that organised. Some days I write into the wee small hours, other times I can be researching and go down the rabbit hole following some amazing character or story. In the end all of it is productive and results in a story though. The actual process of writing is only the end of a longer mechanism. The invention has to come first.
How do you select the names of your characters?
As I write 19th century characters I try to keep them in period and maintain a sense of place. I’ll research popular or unusual names as well as using names of people I know if they’re appropriate. I’ve also been known to add really unusual names to my note as I come across them. Some are too good not to use.
What was your hardest scene to write?
The interrogation scene. I had to inject a sense of menace into it to make it work. I know it’s not usual to make your hero do bad things, but he’s a professional criminal and he has to find out who this mysterious woman is and how much danger the heroine poses to him. It disturbed people who initially saw this as a straight romance, which it isn’t.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
I only write mystery. I loved them right from the start because the reader can play along with the story. There are rules to writing a mystery, and the writer has to keep to them if the reader is to be able to play along. The story has to keep moving, all the clues need to be available and the plot needs to be convincing. The rules were set out in ‘The Detective Club’ which featured members such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, G. K. Chesterson, and E. C. Bentley. Not all the rules hold true today – for instance rule 5 states, “No Chinaman must figure in the story.” That I simply a ridiculous premise today. Agatha Christie broke rule 7 “The detective must not himself commit the crime” but they still provide a framework for the modern mystery writer. The method of murdering the victim must be a robust and feasible technique and not invented or spurious. The motive for murder in a whodunit should be personal, and not an act of war or part of a professional hit. That takes the killing into a different genre of writing. Many of the old rules say that a twin or a servant cannot be used as the murderer, but those rules have also been broken in modern writing and shown to be no longer relevant.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been playing with this story and universe since 2008. It looks like I’m a slow developer. I started writing seriously about two years ago and spent about a year being turned down by everyone. I acted on every bit of feedback and continually got my work reviewed and improved until it was polished enough to be accepted.
What inspires you?
Anything and everything. I can meet someone with an unusual name and I have to note it. I can read news story, read remarkable history, or find some amazing spy gadget. Somehow I piece them all together to form a mystery.
How do you find or make time to write?
I found myself with enforced leisure after a serious accident. Like many people I always wanted to write but life and family got in the way. I got hooked and wanted to get good enough to be taken seriously. I’m lucky to be in a position to dedicate time every day to writing. I look in awe at friends with families and job and wonder how they do it.
What projects are you working on at the present?
I’m editing the third of ‘The Innocents’ trilogy and have outlined some more mysteries I can have my characters solve if they are a success. I also have a completely separate mystery set in 19th century Edinburgh planned which I’m quite excited about starting.
What do your plans for future projects include?
Another mystery. No surprised there. I want to continue with the universe I created in ‘The Innocents’ as I think there are still a lot I can do with the characters. I also have a Gothic 19th century medical mystery set in Edinburgh in mind which is not related to that series.
Chris Asbrey has lived and worked all over the world in the Police Service, Civil Service, and private industry, working for the safety, legal rights, and security of the public. A life-changing injury meant a change of course into contract law and consumer protection for a department attached to the Home Office.
In that role she produced magazine and newspaper articles based on consumer law and wrote guides for the Consumer Direct Website. She was Media Trained, by The Rank Organization, and acted as a consultant to the BBC’s One Show and Watchdog. She has also been interviewed on BBC radio answering questions on consumer law to the public.
She lives with her husband and two daft cats in Northamptonshire, England—for now. She’s moving to the beautiful medieval city of York.
Hi, Mandy, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself and your background? I am originally from England but moved to Canada ten years ago. This is the third continent; I have lived on, as I was born in South Africa. The sharp contrasts in culture, weather, landscape and experience have left traces in my soul that I draw upon for my writing. My lifelong interest in the natural world and fairy folklore, influence my writing style and some of the subjects I cover. Although, I have been creative my whole life, delving into paint, clay, textiles, and everything in between, it was not until I moved to Canada that I ‘found’ writing. It seems bizarre that I never tried writing as a creative outlet before, but I am now making up for lost time. My first book was published in 2011 and to date, I have four others published with two more launching in 2018!
Discuss your newest book. My novel, The Twesome Loop, starts its journey in the late 1990’s English countryside, where several characters make seemingly unrelated choices to travel to Italy. Melissa is fleeing a loveless marriage, Gerald wants to find his soul mate, Brett is motivated by greed and Nancy’s insatiable lust drives her. They are drawn not only by the beauty and life of Italy, but by an unexplained inner longing. Each is unaware that a pact made generations before, links their souls to each other and the beautiful villa they will stay in. A parallel story takes the reader to 1874, where a young woman’s happiness is sacrificed for her father’s ambition. Unable to resist she suffers at her older husbands hands until his brother offers a way to escape.
The story came about because I have been fascinated with reincarnation for decades and it was a way to incorporate it into a narrative. I also love England and Italy and enjoyed featuring both places. Sounds amazing!
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? When I came to Canada I promised myself a creative outlet. My children were older and did not need constant attention so I wanted to find something for me, not just for my creativity but also to meet new people in our new country. During our first library trip, a regular Saturday occurrence, I browsed the many leaflets displayed for local clubs and picked up a handful. As we left I saw a notice board promoting a writing group the following Tuesday. I sorted out the leaflet read the information and decided to attend. The first meeting was nerve racking – new people, new place, and new craft. I listened and stayed quiet for a couple of meetings then braved reading a brief story. The surprise ending had everyone gasp and that’s the moment I was hooked.
What are your current projects? Oh wow! This is going to be a list.
YA novella, Creature Hunt on Planet Toaria – publishing spring 2018 – chapter header illustrations to decide upon & complete.
Adult speculative fiction, Life in Slake Patch – final editing & revisions -publishing fall 2018
Adult western romance, Willow Tree Tears – final editing & revisions 2019
Adult suspense/thriller, The Giving Thief – final editing & revisions 2019
Sequel to adult romance novella, The Rython Kingdom – writing narrative 2019
Finding a steam-punk anthology for my short story, The Toymaker
Freelance work – ghost writing a business book
A lot to look forward to in the next year. Good luck. 🙂
What books have most influenced your life most? I would have to say, I have been a compulsive reader my whole life and there are far too many books to mention. I loved magical themes, stories of the natural world and a broad spectrum of genres. However, I am a huge Stephen King fan, his skillful story telling is masterful and awe inspiring. King is such an inspiration to many, myself included. He is a great mentor, even if he is not aware of it.
What inspired you to write your first book? My first book was a children’s picture book, Rumble’s First Scare, so not a complicated or long narrative! It came about when I wrote a story prompted by a word prompt on my writing group’s website. The theme was Halloween but I didn’t want to write the usual ‘someone gets scared by something’ so wrote from the point of view of a young monster on his first scare. My friend and fellow writing group member, Linda persuaded me to publish it. And that was the start.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special? This is a difficult question in the case of The Twesome Loop as there are four main characters whose lives are impacted by the discovery of their past lives. (see above question). The novel, Life in Slake Patch is set in an alternative future under matriarchal law. The sexes live in separate compounds and only have weekly visits. My main POV character is Evan – a young man living the life unchanged for generations. He becomes the vehicle for change, while fighting a band of dissents, holding a secret book and becoming married.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? In The Twesome Loop, I want my readers to see love can be a powerful thing across time but also that love can overcome religion, traditions and oppression. This is a good message, especially with Valentine’s day just a few days passed.
Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recent book? For The Twesome Loop, I see Liam Hemsworth and Camilla Belle as the love torn lovers.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start something? Once I began writing short responses to word prompts, it soon became a flood of ideas crowding my mind. The more I wrote the longer the narratives and the more I became obsessed.
Do you write full-time or part-time? Unfortunately only part-time – I have a full time job as well as a freelance writing business. I also have roles as secretary for the local writer’s foundation and president of the local arts & culture council.
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book? To actually finish it, I wrote the first draft during a NaNoWriMo in 2010. It was revised and edited, put away and the process repeated seven times. I loved the story but the complication of two time periods and multiple characters back and forth across time took some careful plotting and continuity. NaNoWriMo is a daunting task within itself, but the complexities of your work make it twice as. That also means twice as rewarding.
What is the easiest thing about writing? Sitting down and typing while the story unfolds on the page – I am a free flow writer, so do not plot prior to writing. I let the narrative and characters carry me on a journey.
What book are you reading now? I have just finished Sleeping Beauties and started 11/22/63 – yes I know both Stephen King and I don’t usually read them back to back but they were Christmas gifts. I will have to check out Sleeping Beauties, it’s one I haven’t heard of.
What is one random thing about you? I used to sit in graveyards cleaning the gravestones as a youth. I find graveyards so peaceful and think it is a respectable job, cleaning gravestones.
What is your preferred medium of writing? Pen and paper or strictly tablet and computer? Most of my writing is on my laptop although I do jot down short stories in notebooks when an idea hits me.
What does your writing process look like? An idea will come to me, whether from a news story, an overheard dialogue, or even a photo and it sparks a character or setting in my mind. As I have said before, I let the story flow through me and even when it diverts in a direction I was not expecting I just go with it. I can sit and write, when left alone, for hours. Sometimes I listen to classical music but mostly in silence. It is my happy place.
How important are names to you in your books? I try to make sure the names reflect the character’s traits, time period and their place in the narrative.
Did you make any marketing mistakes or is there anything you would avoid in future? I am spasmodic in my promotion and need to be more organized in avenues of advertising and target marketing.
What is your favorite book and why? You will find this interesting as it is not a Stephen King book. I love and re-read on a regular basis a book called Ferney by James Long. It centers on a young woman and an old man who are the reincarnations of past lives. It is a fabulously written book and the story totally mesmerizing.
Do you have any advice for other writers? Find a writing group who supports and encourages you and where you can receive constructive critique. Like the Authors Helping Authors Beyond Marketing (New budding group on Facebook).
What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Apart from the day job – freelance projects, event planning for both non-profit organizations, traveling to book events and attending local author readings.
From where do you gain your inspiration? It is a common answer from writers – everywhere and everything but I have found unusual news stories, fairy folklore and the natural world to be my main sources of inspiration. I’ve been waiting to plug this in because I found it to be my favorite cover of one of your books!
What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing against being published or the other way around? As I am published through a small publishing company, I cannot comment on self-publishing. I will say that a smaller publisher enables me to have more control over the process, the design and look of the books and it is a far more personal service.
How do you market your books? I am prolific on social media, I have a blog where my books are featured, and my publisher’s website has all my titles. I regularly attend author readings and local and provincial literary events. My books are in the local libraries and independent book stores.
Would you or do you use a PR agency? Funny you should ask I have just had discussions with a PR company this week. It is a new venture for me.
Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books? Start local and build from there – try not to conquer the world in one go. Gauge how much you want to market and where and focus on that, spreading yourself too thin only exhausts you and leaves no time to write.
What part of your writing time do you devote to marketing your book? I would say writing is 60% and marketing 40% – it is the writing I enjoy and if people read my stories now or in the future that is my reward.
What do you do to get book reviews? How successful has your quest for reviews been so far?
I do not openly request book reviews apart from the occasional meme share on social media. When people buy my books I do request a review. I am keen to see what this PR company can do on this subject. Watch this space.
Any amusing story about marketing books that happened to you? When I was promoting The Twesome Loop I did entice readers by mentioning that it contained ‘spicy bits’ – several purchasers remarked on this strategy saying it was the reason they wanted to read it.
Which social network worked best for you? I find Facebook, twitter and Goodreads all have on par success for me. My blog seems to be the place readers and writers visit a great deal.
Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why? Without a doubt I would love to spend time with my literary hero, Stephen King. He is a skillful writer but also a fascinating personality, to sit down with him would be a dream come true. I would like to find out what makes the man tick.
If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why? I would be honored to have written Ferney. It is the ultimate reincarnation story.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Don’t be afraid to try new styles, don’t restrict yourself to one genre explore them all. Let the story flow and do not edit as you go but later on once the narrative is finished.
How can readers discover more about you and you work? I am all over social media:
Due to a dreadful constant cough my energy has been at a low ebb so writing has taken a back seat as I try to get better. It is the worse possible timing over the festive season. Hopefully as I gradually get better my writing Muse will return.
Books: The men are in Spain and the war is affecting them, as it would. Back home things have changed but stayed the same. Relationships are strained and letters are infrequent. Beautiful writing and character development.
Christmas books have been added to my pile – 300 writing prompts and Sleeping Beauties. Now to consider which King book to read first as I still have 11/22/63 to start. I admit Beauties is calling me.
What books did you get for Christmas?
Holiday’s tend to reek havoc on our writing schedule but there are ways of grabbing writing time.
Keep track of the number of words you write instead of how long you wrote.
Relax your normal rigorous writing timetable – take time to chill and observe.
Make the most of “un-scheduled” time – waiting for a flight, children’s rehearsals, a break for coffee during shopping.
Wake up earlier (or stay up later) than usual to ensure that you spend some time writing.
How do you find time to writing during the holidays?