The Writing Life of: Carol Hedges
This week on ‘The Writing Life of:’ I am thrilled to be interviewing author Carol Hedges. Carol will be sharing with us details of her writing life, telling us all about her latest book Rack & Ruin, which was released on 19th November 2016, and answering a few fun questions.
So, without further ado I’ll hand you over to Carol
Carol Hedges is the successful UK writer of 16 books for Teenagers/Young Adults and Adults. Her writing has received much critical acclaim, and her novel Jigsaw was long-listed for the Carnegie Medal.
Her ebook Jigsaw Pieces, which deals unflinchingly with many of the problems that beset today’s teens, is available on Amazon. She is currently writing a series of adult Victorian Crime Fiction novels set in the murky gaslit world of 1860s London and featuring the two Scotland Yard detectives Detective Inspector Leo Stride & Detective Sergeant Jack Cully.
The first book, Diamonds & Dust, A Victorian Murder Mystery is available as both book and ebook. The second, Honour & Obey was published in November 2014 and is also available in both formats as is the third novel, Death & Dominion and the fourth, Rack & Ruin. The fifth book, Smoke & Mirrors will be published in 2017.
Carol lives in Hertfordshire. When not writing/sleeping/trying to resist cake, she tutors A level and GCSE English Literature. She campaigns as chair of a local action group to save a community urban green space from possible development. She also minds her granddaughter, star of the Award Winning series of blogs: The Adventures of L-Plate Gran.
1) As a child what did you want to do when you grew up?
I wanted to be a whole shedload of things, like most children. Mostly, I wanted to be George, in the Enid Blyton Famous Five books, because she had a dog, didn’t have a pesky small brother and got away from her parents every now and again. Oh bliss!
2) Who were your favourite childhood authors?
I was a great ‘pony book’ girl. In those days, you went down the pony or the ballet route. Primrose Cumming, the ‘Jill and her pony books’, Enid Blyton ~ all the Famous Five books, and Judy Blume Fifteen. I also liked Malcolm Saville Lone Pine series and A Stephen Tring. I doubt anyone below the age of 60 reading this will know these authors ( apart from Blyton)!
Also in those days, writers were not ‘personalities’ as they are today, so you only got a tiny biography and if you were lucky, a pic on the inside cover. Mind, we weren’t really interested in them either, just the stories. Now, writers have to be in the public arena a lot more, which, given our shy retiring nature, is hard work. As if writing isn’t hard work enough!
3) At what point in your life did you realise you wanted to be a writer?
I realised I could write when I was in Year 8 ~ I won a class essay competition. I also had a suspicion that it was something I might do even earlier: at primary school, age 9 I won the Essay Cup for a book review of Alice in Wonderland. On both occasions then, and even today, I haven’t a bloody clue why my stuff was so enjoyed! I just wrote it.
4) How did you go about following that dream?
Well, the usual route: writing stuff. Getting it rejected, and writing more stuff, which was rejected in turn. It wasn’t until I was 40 that I had my first children’s novel commercially published.
5) What is your writing day like? Do you aim for a certain amount of pages or words before you stop for the day?
I do try to write every day, if I can (not the days I mind my 3 yr old granddaughter, then I just drink prosecco. A lot).
I don’t have a word count, as I think it puts pressure on one to meet an unreasonable deadline. Some days, I might only write a paragraph, others, a couple of thousand words. The trick is to write SOMETHING every day, to keep one’s hand in.
6) Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I did! When the first Victorian detective book was taken by a publisher, I thought about calling myself Victoria Collins (the first after the queen, the second after Wilkie Collins, who wrote the first detective fiction). Trouble is, it would mean having 2 Facebook writing pages and probably 2 Twitter accounts. And as I am 66 and have enough problems remembering where I left my house keys, I had visions of forgetting who I was. So decided to stay with Carol Hedges. At least there’s a fair chance I’ll remember who I am in some foggy future when brain cells are dying at an alarming rate.
7) Do you have any strange habits before starting, or whilst in the midst of writing?
Oooh you SO know writers! I have to line up all the desk furniture before starting. Every object has to be just so. I have a lot of objects ranging from a knitted cupcake to some Litala glass ducks, so it takes time. And I share the desk with a cat, so many of them get batted about during the day and have to be lined up again.
All the pens have to be in the ‘Glamorous Granny’ mug. And Thermidor, my lucky red beanbag lobster has to be sitting on top of the computer. Sad, innit?
8) Do you write longhand, typewriter, or on a computer?
I make notes in longhand. I write on an old iMac that isn’t connected to the internet, so I can’t be distracted by messages popping up. Actually, I highly recommend this, even though it means you have to transfer the finished manuscript to another laptop to publish it.
9) How many books have you written? Do you have any unpublished work?
I’ve had 16 novels published, in both teenage and adult genres. I’ve probably got the same number unpublished. Probably just as well.
10) Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m a bit of both, veering to the latter. I do make research notes and initial sketches before writing. And I have a vague idea of the possible narrative trajectory. Then I write the opening and the final scene. The rest is pure leap in the dark stuff. I prefer it like that, though other writers gasp a bit when I tell them.
You can always alter or change on first edits. My reasoning is: I like to be on the edge of my seat with the plot: hopefully that also means readers will be.
11) Do you read all the reviews left for your book(s)?
Everybody has negative reviews…unless you’ve paid for them, or got all your mates to lie. I have bad ones, same as any others. Most are not reviews, just snarky comments from people who either are in the same ‘field’, or didn’t enjoy the book.
We live in a literary democracy, so they are entitled to their opinion, however stupid (I have a bad review from someone who couldn’t manage to download the book…). I check reviews from time to time ~ and try to comment or say thank you to those who have gone out of their way to leave an extensive comment. It’s only polite.
My stuff is a bit ‘marmite’ ~ it’s NOT traditional ‘histfic’, in that I like to write in present tense, incorporating a Thackeray/Dickens vocabulary and authorial stance. And some of it is plain pastiche. So it’s inevitable that it won’t appeal to everybody.
Concerning your latest book:
Victorian Murder Mystery: Stride & Cully Book Four
Publisher – CreateSpace Independent Pub
Pages – 250
Release Date – 19th November 2016
ISBN 13 – 978-1539958697
The city is in the grip of railway mania when the gruesome discovery of several infant corpses in an abandoned house forces Inspector Lachlan Greig of A Division, Bow Street Police Office and his men to enter the dark and horrific world of baby farming. It will take all Greig’s skill and ingenuity to track down the evil perpetrators and get justice for the murdered innocents.
Meanwhile two school friends Letitia and Daisy stand side by side on the threshold of womanhood. One longs for marriage to a handsome man The other craves entry to higher education. Will their dreams come true, or will their lives be shattered into little pieces by the tragic and unexpected events that are about to overtake them?
Hope meets horror, and Parliament is threatened by anarchists in this rumbustious fourth Victorian crime novel, set once again amongst the dangerous twisting alleyways and gaslit thoroughfares of 1860s London.
12) How long did it take you to get from the idea’s stage to your date of publication?
Rack & Ruin, the 4th Stride & Cully book took 6 months for the first draft, another month to edit, then a gap of a couple of months to let it settle before a second edit. My two editors/proofreaders take 5 months to deal with it. The actual formatting and uploading takes a couple of days.
Altogether, probably eighteen months goes by from the opening words to you downloading it.
13) How did you come up with the names for your characters?
D I Leo Stride is a pastiche of Conan Doyle’s Inspector Lestrade in the Sherlock Holmes series. Jack Cully just wondered into the story from somewhere else, as did most of the other characters. The joy of Victorian fiction is that people DID have peculiar names back then …I come across them all the time when researching.
14) Can you give us an insight into your main character(s) life?, What makes them tick?
Stride & Cully are detectives in the recently formed detective division of Scotland Yard. They are the backbone of every book, and have evolved over the series.
Stride is a bit of a coffee addict, with a reputation for never giving up on an investigation, although he frequently draws the wrong conclusion. He hates the press, in particular Richard Dandy, chief reported on The Illustrated News, who makes his life miserable by doorstepping him. Also he is repelled by the ‘dead body’ side, and is ruthlessly teased by Robinson, the dour sarky police surgeon every time he has to visit the police morgue. We have the sense that Mrs Stride is a bit of a martinet.
Jack Cully is a total sweetie! He puts up with Stride’s moods and is much kinder and much more intuitive. He is married to Emily, a young women he met when she was working as a seamstress (Honour & Obey). They are a lovely couple, and I really enjoy writing about them. They appear in every book, and in the 5th one, Smoke & Mirrors (to be published Sept 2017) they play a pivotal role in the story. As do many of the characters from the first book, Diamonds & Dust.
15) Which was your hardest scene to write?
Funnily enough, the sex scene in Death & Dominion! I had never written a sex scene before and sidled up to it very apprehensively! It is far too easy to write something ludicrous, or unrealistic. I took the liberty of going onto Twitter and tweeting that I was about to write my first sex scene. Several wonderful people jumped in to help.
A friend who writes really good female erotica pointed me to a couple of pieces. Another friend gave me some good advice: ‘if anything embarrasses you when you’re writing it, don’t write it.’
Whether I have succeeded in making Belinda Kite’s seduction believable is left to the reader!
16) How did you come up with the title of your book?
I chose the first title Diamonds & Dust because it was short and sounded easy to remember. Once the precedent of a 3 word title had been set, it was merely a case of picking similar ones. Thus Honour & Obey, Death & Dominion, Rack & Ruin, and the next one, Smoke & Mirrors.
17) Did you get a family member/friend to read your work before sending to the publishers?
I am self-published, so this isn’t a route I go down. However, I would never hand my work over to any family member or friend until it was published. I think it’s too much a burden on them. Suppose they hate it? And can’t tell you? Eeek!
18) What process did you go through to get your book published?
I used, in the old days, to get my books published via an agent. Now, I/my able husband do all the formatting and uploading to Amazon/Createspace ourselves.
My covers are supplied by a professional graphic artist, David Baird, who is also a family friend. My imprint, Little G Books, is named in honour of my lovely granddaughter. It’s a family & friend business! I love it!
19) What did you do once you had written the final word in your book?
I feel a huge sense of relief and achievement. Then I start fiddling with it. Always. Not good!
20) What’s next for you, writing-wise?
I’ve just started a sixth Stride & Cully book. Not got far with it, and still thinking about it. So we shall have to see.
1) What’s your favourite food?
Cake. Any sort of cake, though Victoria sandwich cake is probably the most genre-specific.
2) If you had a box of crayons and you could only choose one, which colour would you choose?
Orange. See the hair!
3) What movie could you watch over and over again?
Muppet’s Christmas Carol. Nothing says Christmas more than singing vegetables!
4) What would be the top song on your playlist?
Anything by Paul Simon.
5) If you won millions on the lottery, what would be your first purchase?
I’d pay off my daughter’s mortgage.
6) A talking duck walks into your room wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, whats the first thing he says to you?
‘I’m completely quackers, what’s your excuse?’
You can find out more about Carol by visiting her website/social media sites below.