The Writing Life of: Steven Neil
This week on ‘The Writing Life of:‘ I am thrilled to be interviewing author Steven Neil. Steven will be sharing with us detail of his writing life, telling us all about his latest book ‘The Merest Loss‘, which was released on 14th November 2017 and answering a few fun questions too.
So without further ado I’ll hand you over to Steven Neil
Steven Neil has a BSc in Economics from the London School of Economics, a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from the Open University and an MA in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes University.
In his working life he has been a bookmaker’s clerk, management tutor, management consultant, bloodstock agent and racehorse breeder. He is married and lives in rural Northamptonshire.
1) As a child what did you want to do when you grew up?
Auntie: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Me: I want to be like Grandad.
Auntie: But Grandad’s retired.
I managed to semi-retire when I was 50 so that I could pursue other avenues.
2) Who were your favourite childhood authors?
Anna Sewell: Black Beauty
Frederick Marryatt: Children of the New Forest
Rosemary Sutcliff: The Eagle of the Ninth
3) At what point in your life did you realise you wanted to be a writer?
When I was about 52. I wrote some short stories when I was studying English Literature at A level, when I was 17. Instead of studying English at university I studied Economics. I didn’t write fiction again for 35 years.
4) How did you go about following that dream?
I studied English Literature and Creative Writing at the Open University. It took me five years to complete my degree. I enjoyed it so much I carried on and took a one year Masters in Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes.
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 write at odd times. I often write late at night, but I also write early in the morning when ideas that have been running through my mind overnight are still fresh. I like to write to word count. I think 200-300 words, edited and polished is good going.
6) Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Steven Neil is my name but it is not all of my name, so it is a partial pseudonym I suppose. It means I can have a presence on social media as an author whilst retaining a degree of privacy.
7) Do you have any strange habits before starting, or whilst in the midst of writing?
Not really, but I do have lots of avoidance strategies to slow my writing e.g. social media, making coffee, rearranging my desk, staring out of the window.
8) Do you write longhand, typewriter, or on a computer?
I write straight on to PC and I edit on the PC. I have also used Dragon software to dictate on to PC. It works to about 85% accuracy once it learns your voice and I find it helps to unfreeze my thinking if I am struggling to type words on to the page.
9) How many books have you written? Do you have any unpublished work?
Just the one novel. I have lots of unpublished short stories, which I really should get around to editing.
10) Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Completely a plotter. I plan every chapter and every plot turn and I write the final chapter very early so that I know where I am heading.
11) Do you read all the reviews left for your book(s)?
I read all my reviews. I know I can’t please all the people all of the time and that no two people read the same book the same way. One of my creative writing tutors advised me to look up my favourite books of all time on Goodreads and see how few of them have an average rating above 4 out of 5. Only one of them did.
Concerning your latest book:
Publisher – Matador
Pages – 368
Release Date – 14th November 2017
ISBN 13 – 978-1788039710
Format – ebook, paperback
A story of love and political intrigue, set against the backdrop of the English hunting shires and the streets of Victorian London and post-revolutionary Paris.
When Harriet Howard becomes Louis Napoleon’s mistress and financial backer and appears at his side in Paris in 1848, it is as if she has emerged from nowhere. How did the English daughter of a Norfolk boot-maker meet the future Emperor? Who is the mysterious Nicholas Sly and what is his hold over Harriet?
Can Harriet meet her obligations and return to her former life and the man she left behind? What is her involvement with British Government secret services? Can Harriet’s friend, jockey Tom Olliver, help her son Martin solve his own mystery: the identity of his father?
The central character is Harriet Howard and the action takes place between 1836 and 1873. The plot centres on Harriet’s relationships with Louis Napoleon and famous Grand National winning jockey, Jem Mason. The backdrop to the action includes significant characters from the age, including Lord Palmerston, Queen Victoria and the Duke of Grafton, as well as Emperor Napoleon III.
The worlds of horse racing, hunting and government provide the scope for rural settings to contrast with the city scenes of London and Paris and for racing skulduggery to vie with political chicanery.
The Merest Loss is historical fiction with a twist. It’s pacy and exciting with captivating characters and a distinctive narrative voice.
12) How long did it take you to get from the idea’s stage to your date of publication?
Three years from idea to publication. Probably took about two years of research to ensure historical accuracy and about one year pure writing time.
13) How did you come up with the names for your characters?
Almost all of the characters are real people. I came across Harriet Howard by accident when researching jockey Jem Mason, winner of the first Grand National in 1839. I decided I wanted to solve the mystery of how a woman born outside the aristocracy could have become Louis Napoleon’s mistress and financial backer and who, when she eventually died, was a multi-millionairess in today’s terms. The Merest Loss is my fictional interpretation.
14) Can you give us an insight into your main character(s) life?, What makes them tick?
Harriet Howard is the heroine. She is independent, feisty, stubborn, beautiful and intelligent. Jem Mason is the main love interest. He is taciturn, difficult and moody, but also charismatic, talented and single-minded. Tom Olliver, friend to both Harriet and Jem, is loyal, tough, reliable and a brilliant horseman. Louis Napoleon is arrogant, feckless, self-regarding and a womaniser.
15) Which was your hardest scene to write?
All of them. I am not a natural writer. Nothing came easy. However I think the planning and organisation skills I learned in my business career, allied to the writing craft skills I learned in my degree and my masters degree gave me the tools of the trade. I think Harriet Howard’s story deserved to be told as it is a fascinating tale. I hope I have done it justice.
16) How did you come up with the title of your book?
The merest loss is a phrase from Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare. It is also an ironic phrase used by my character Nicholas Sly (the villain) in an early scene with Harriet Howard (heroine).
17) Did you get a family member/friend to read your work before sending to the publishers?
Yes, lots of friends and family read my drafts but I also commissioned an independent development and copy editor to make sure I received a critical appraisal. It was an essential and valuable step.
18) What process did you go through to get your book published?
I decided early on that I would by-pass the traditional publishing route and publish independently. I decided that provided I could find a publisher who could guarantee the production of a finished book indistinguishable in typesetting, style, quality, look and feel to a mainstream publisher that this would be the way to go.
I also looked at the economics of publishing and realised that if an agent, a publisher, a distributor and a retailer were all taking a cut there would be little left for the author. This way I keep a larger percentage of the book price and I still own 100% of the rights if we ever go to film!
19) What did you do once you had written the final word in your book?
I went back to the beginning and started editing. When I received the final edited proof, ready for publication, I opened a bottle of champagne.
20) What’s next for you, writing-wise?
Not sure. I am busy promoting my first novel The Merest Loss. I am still writing short stories and maybe a collection might be the next project.
1) What’s your favourite food?
Steak and chips and salad washed down with a nice Gran Reserva Rioja.
2) If you had a box of crayons and you could only choose one, which colour would you choose?
3) What movie could you watch over and over again?
Can I have three: Death in Venice, Lawrence of Arabia, Rebecca (the original).
4) What would be the top song on your playlist?
Layla: Derek and the Dominoes.
5) If you won millions, what would be your first purchase?
A new PC with internet that works 100% all of the time. Oh and a Porsche 911 Carrera 4.
6) A talking duck walks into your room wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, whats the first thing he says to you?
‘Are you the famous, best-selling, award winning author of the novel The Merest Loss, about to be serialised on Netflix. Then I wake up.’
You can find out more about Steven Neil by visiting the website/social media sites below.
I would like to say a big thank you to Steven Neil for sharing with us details of his writing life, and for a wonderful interview.