Author Spotlight – Felicity Pulman

October 19, 2014 at 12:31 pm (Book reviews, Interesting stories, Interviews) (, , , , )

Pulman_FelicityAustralian author Felicity Pulman’s latest book is I, Morgana, a beautifully written story about King Arthur’s half-sister, a woman loved and loathed in equal measure. Last night she was awarded a fellowship to spend three months in England to write and research the much-anticipated sequel. Just as exciting for readers, a reworked version of her brilliant six-book medieval crime/romance series The Janna Mysteries, about the daughter of a herbwife and healer being trained in the Craft, whose life is turned upside down when her mother is murdered, is being republished from January 2015. Felicity has also penned A Ring Through Time, The Shalott Trilogy, Ghost Boy, The Little Penguins of Manly and more. Read her interview below, and visit her at http://www.felicitypulman.com.au.

felicitybookWhat inspired you to take on Morgana, such a huge presence in literature and legend, and write her story?

My interest in Arthurian legend began when I wrote the Shalott Trilogy, a timeslip ‘rewriting’ of the doom of Elaine of Astolat (the ‘Lady of Shalott’) and Camelot. The legendary ‘wicked witch’ (Morgana) and the ‘jealous bitch’ (Guenevere) fascinated me, and while I went some way towards reclaiming Guenevere’s character in the Shalott trilogy, Morgana continued to haunt me. I was intrigued by how she’s always reviled (in traditional tellings of the legend) as a wicked, scheming ‘witch’ bent on destruction – and yet legend has it that she was one of the queens who took Arthur by boat to the Isle of Avalon to be healed of his wounds after his bloody battle against Mordred at Camlann. Why? To me, this is an act of a contrite and loving sister, completely at odds with the Morgana of the traditional legend. So I decided to rewrite the story from Morgana’s point of view, coming to an understanding of this magically complex, passionate, ambitious, charismatic and deeply flawed woman as I did so. It was a fascinating journey, a journey that will continue in the sequel as I look towards the future and the prophecy, that ‘one day Arthur will return to save Britain in her hour of need’.

[Read my review of I, Morgana…]

Did you learn anything about yourself, or life, while you explored her psyche?

I think all writers invest something of themselves in the characters they create – so yes, it was certainly an exercise in exploring my own dark side! It was also an affirmation of the need to think before you act and also to take responsibility for your actions – a hard-won lesson for Morgana, but also for us all! It was an exploration of ambition, power, the use of magic to get what you want (as in ‘be careful what you wish for!’) and of hate, jealousy and revenge. But it was also an exploration of the love between a man and a woman, and the love of a mother for her child – and the heartache that loving sometimes brings.

Did your research into that time, and that form of spirituality, challenge your beliefs in any way?

I love writing about the Middle Ages, contrasting the splendor and extravagance of the court with the squalor and dirt – and the hard scrabble for life – suffered by the poor. Christianity, of course, was a huge part of everyone’s life at that time, whether secular or within the confines of an abbey or monastery. Both Morgana and Janna spend time in an abbey, and their questioning reflects my own conflicted views and beliefs (which I believe mostly stem from a past-life experience). My head reached a conclusion long ago, but my heart tells me different so, like my characters, I fall back on the notion of a God, but not necessarily a Christian one.

felicity-janna-book1-2Can you give a little update about The Janna Mysteries yet, or is it still a secret?

It’s not a secret, it’s more a work in progress, but I can give you an update of what I know so far. The Janna Mysteries are being reworked for an adult readership, and will be retitled The Janna Chronicles. The originals took plants and herbs as their titles: Rosemary for Remembrance, Rue for Repentance, Lilies for Love, Willows for Weeping, Sage for Sanctuary and Thyme for Trust, reflecting the knowledge of herbs and healing that Janna learned from her mother. The new books will have different titles which focus more on the crimes and mysteries that Janna solves on her quest to find her unknown father in order to fulfil her vow to avenge her mother’s death, and we’re still working on these. The first book will be published by Momentum in January 2015, with the next five books published every month thereafter – so fans of The Janna Mysteries who didn’t manage to get hold of all the books will soon be able to read the whole series within six months, as will a whole lot of new readers!

[Read my reviews of The Janna Mysteries…]

And how is the sequel to I, Morgana going?

The great news is that I’ve just been awarded the inaugural Di Yerbury Writing Fellowship from the Society of Women Writers, which will give me accommodation in the UK for three months of quiet writing time next year, as well as a base from which to do all the research I’ll need to do for the next book (with the working title Return to Camelot.) I am so grateful for this opportunity and already have a growing file of notes that will form the basis of the new book.

What’s your day like in terms of writing?

I don’t have a set schedule, but I do try to do writing-related ‘stuff’ every day – whether it’s being out talking about my books, or conducting writing workshops, or planning for either of those things, or researching what I need to know, or reading historical fiction (my favourite form of research!) or – yes – actually sitting down and WRITING!! Followed, of course, by editing – often accompanied by swearing and consumption of chocolate.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

A bit of both. Through mistakes made in the past, I’ve learned that what works for me is to know how the book begins (there are often a few false starts) and also how it ends (although that sometimes changes too). For me, the joy of writing is to dream up the characters and a situation, and then set them in motion and follow their journey towards the end – a journey that often takes unexpected twists and turns because I’ve learned to listen to the voices and visions that sometimes inspire me. Even if I don’t know where they’re taking me, I always find that ultimately it all makes sense and that the story is immeasurably strengthened as a result. So I’m a pantser in that regard – but everyone works differently, so it’s really a matter of finding out what works best for you.

Any tips for people wanting to write a novel?

Lots! You can look at my website to read them all – the writing tips are here. The most important message, I think, would be: if you don’t care passionately about your story and the characters in it, don’t bother to write it.

Are you a tea or coffee person, and how do you take it?

I drink both (with milk and sugar) but in the evening I’d rather have a glass of wine!

 

You can buy I, Morgana in bookstores or from Momentum Books. Keep an eye out there for info on The Janna Chronicles too…

Visit Felicity at her website here, and her blog here.

Read my review of A Ring Through Time.

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Interviewed on NaNoWriMo Inspiration…

October 17, 2014 at 9:28 am (Interviews, NaNoWriMo, Publishing) (, , , , , )

I was interviewed by Canadian writer Dianna L. Gunn about NaNoWriMo recently, for the first of her Author Spotlight articles to celebrate the upcoming NaNoWriMo. She found me on the NaNoWriMo site on the list of participants who’d had some of their NaNoWriMo books published…

You can read the full interview here, as well as checking out other inspiration from successful NaNoWriMo-ers 🙂

Cover_Mists_smallHow much planning did you do before starting NaNoWriMo?

I planned to do a lot of planning – but it hasn’t worked out that way. The first year I’d thought that I would have all of October to spend on plotting and planning, but I didn’t end up finishing the launch and promotion and website for my previous book until October 31, so the next day I just started writing furiously and discovering what would happen as it spewed out onto the page. And the same thing happened last year, and looks set to reoccur this year. So now I’m wondering if I’m just a make-it-up-as-I-go-along type anyway – a pantser as it’s known in the NaNoWriMo universe, for flying by the seat of my pants (I relate to this blog, although in reverse).

I find the process of different writers fascinating – some plan meticulously, and I really admire that, while others don’t plan at all, which can be stressful, and it seems that I’m the latter. Which makes sense I guess, since I’m a bit impatient, but I’ve also discovered that I really love seeing where the writing takes me, watching it unfold as I go and not knowing what will happen in the end. There’s a certain alchemy to the journey that I love, so although I always say I’ll plan next time, maybe I never will. I also really love the forced nature of NaNoWriMo – I could have started book three already, and tried to find time to write it amongst my busy life, but part of me thinks it would take much longer that way, that I would procrastinate too much, and second guess myself, and get bogged down in editing as I go, and wait until inspiration hits – which is never a guaranteed event – so I think I’ll be the most productive if I just wait until November 1st and write it all then.

Of course I’ll spend months afterwards editing and revising and rewriting and the rest of it, but there’s nothing like the pressure of a November deadline to force you to bang out a first draft

What advice would you give people attempting NaNoWriMo this year?

Tell people you’re doing it, to make yourself accountable. I posted my word count on Facebook each day, and I would have been embarrassed if I’d given up – which is partly why I publicly stated that I was doing it :-) I also had a few friends who were doing it, and that definitely encouraged me to keep going. Not that I would have quit – I’m pretty stubborn – but seeing other people’s word counts in my buddies list definitely spurred me on (I discovered a competitive streak I didn’t know I had), and I know that me posting about my progress (and the triumphs and challenges and frustrations and joys) kept other people inspired too. Plus, don’t despair if you don’t finish – no matter what happens, you’ll still have a lot more of a book written than you otherwise would have.

Three of our group of ten got to 50,000 words (and beyond) by November 30 – which is higher than the overall average – another two passed 20,000 words, and everyone else made an awesome start, and had the beginnings of a tale for next year.

Don’t be discouraged, and don’t be afraid of the blank page. I absolutely love the process of NaNoWriMo – my first time I started with just the vaguest wisp of an idea – that a girl goes to stay with her grandma in England and finds a cottage in the mists she’s not sure really exists… That was it, and each day when I started writing, I didn’t know what was going to happen – I’d just start writing, without stopping, scrawling sentences one after the other, and words would just flow out of me, and a whole story eventually emerged.

Which leads to my most important suggestion – be fearless. I had to stop worrying about how good what I was writing was, and just write. With my non-fiction books, if I had a migraine or felt uninspired I would do some research, or edit previous chapters, or do something else related to the project that didn’t involve writing. But with the knowledge that I had to rack up 1667 words each day (and more if I’d slacked off a bit in previous days), I didn’t have that luxury – I just had to write. And that was really freeing. My inner editor was switched off, and I wrote without thinking, almost stream of consciousness, and I never looked back at what I’d written either, I just kept going forward. And I was surprised (and happy) when I realised that by just keeping on writing, I’d figure out how to get from one scene to another. Each day I’d start with no idea of what would happen, yet by the end of that session I’d worked out how to progress the plot. Writing so regularly helped too, because I was thinking about the story all the time, and I’d often solve a problem in the shower or while working out, when my mind was free to wander. I loved writing long hand too – even though it was annoying to have to type it in at night, it somehow seemed to flow better using pen and paper rather than a keyboard… I’m often asked what the secret to writing a book is, and they’re always disappointed with my answer – but it’s true. To write a book, you just have to sit down and write it. Day after day after day. Seems obvious I know, but people always hope for a magic spell, a shortcut of some kind, but it doesn’t exist.

You can read the full interview here, as well as checking out other inspiration from successful NaNoWriMo-ers 🙂

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The Upside of Bad Reviews

October 12, 2014 at 12:40 pm (Interesting stories, Publishing) (, , , )

A fascinating blog post from author Anne R Allen, who not only survived bad reviews from the Amazon bullies – she got a huge sales lift. Thanks Mean Girls!

Read the full blog post here.

All successful authors get terrible reviews. Every. Single. One. Here’s a hilarious sampler of one-star Amazon reviews of classics from the Huffington Post. But bad reviews don’t always bring down sales.
In fact, bad reviews can actually stimulate buying. It happened to me.

I got a swarm of one-stars on my buy page for my Camilla Mysteries Boxed Set as “punishment” for standing up for a bullied writer on a high profile publishing blog. Probably not a wise thing to do at the time my mother was dying and I’d been diagnosed with a breast tumor, but I thought I was in a safe place when I wasn’t (there are no safe places).

Even though the blogger wisely deleted the troll-infested thread almost immediately, the mean girl army had already been deployed and had orders to swarm. “Swarming” a buy page with one-star fake reviews is a major sport on Amazon. It has even happened to the Zon itself. Its new Fire phone has over 1500 one-stars, apparently as a protest from Greenpeace, who don’t like Amazon’s environmental policies.

But when it’s just you and you’re already stressed this stuff can be pretty upsetting. I dreaded booting up my computer every morning for months. I knew better than to go to Goodreads, the native habitat of that particular denomination of meanies, but I had to go to Amazon occasionally. Each time I had a new review it would be one or two stars, containing a veiled personal attack that also showed the reader hadn’t read anything but the “look inside”.

Then a weird thing happened. My sales started to climb. And climb. After a couple of weeks, it hit the bestseller list in humor. One day I woke up and found I was ahead of five Janet Evanovich titles and my favorite humor book of all time, Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The book sold over 2000 copies that month and stayed on the bestseller list for half a year. Thanks, Mean Girls!

Read the full blog post here.

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Best-selling Author Goes Indie

October 12, 2014 at 12:20 pm (Interesting stories, Publishing) (, , )

There’s an interesting article about indie publishing at Publishers Weekly. Read the full story here.

New York Times bestselling author Eileen Goudge has written 32 novels, sold millions of copies, and been translated into 22 languages. But you won’t find her next novel in a publisher’s catalog: she’s doing it herself.

Back in 1989, Goudge published her first novel, Garden of Lies with Viking Books. It went on to become a New York Times bestseller that shipped over a million copies and was published in 22 languages. “I was riding high, touring the country, doing book events, being interviewed by major newspapers, and appearing on TV talk shows,” says Goudge of her early success. And she continued to garner six-figure advances — for a while.

Once the 2008 recession hit and digital publishing revolutionized the industry, Goudge found her book sales declining and her career in trouble. “To my horror,” she says, “I found I was facing a major crisis as my career went into a death spiral.” Luckily, she found a solution. “For me, she says, “it was self-publish or perish.”

In order to learn more about promoting her books as an indie author, Goudge says she’s joined several indie-author groups as well as subscribing to blogs about the subject. In particular, she recommends following the publishing blogs of both Jane Friedman and Anne R. Allen. “I’ve implemented many of their tips, which have helped boost my SEO,” Goudge says.

Read the full story here.

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Sad – less than 20 per cent of WA students read books…

October 9, 2014 at 8:37 pm (Interesting stories) (, )

A very sad story today – less than 20 per cent of teenagers read books 😦

Read the full story here.

Margaret Merga, who interviewed the students as part of her PhD studies at Edith Cowan University, said reading books not only helped teens get better results at school but also boosted their chances of getting a good job and increased their ability to communicate in modern society.

“Communication in this day and age is like a kind of power,” she said.

She was concerned that adolescents were choosing to read less even though demands for more advanced literacy skills had increased.

“Research suggests that aliteracy, the state in which an individual has acquired the skill to read, but chooses not to, is a growing trend both in Australia and internationally,” she said.

Dr Merga said evidence showed that many of the benefits that came from reading books – such as developing a longer attention span – could not be gained from reading magazines, comic books or digital screens…

Read the full story here.

 

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Interview about Into the Mists…

October 9, 2014 at 1:57 pm (Interviews, NaNoWriMo) (, , )

I was interviewed recently about Into the Mists, about the importance of the mists to the story, as well as the importance of the two black cats, and lots of other interesting questions…

Below are a few of the questions and answers, and you can read the full interview here.

Into the Mists is a mystical magical novel that follows the journey of Carlie, a teenager who after her parents are killed in a car crash, struggles to find her place in life. She finds herself on a plane leaving behind her home country Australia to live with the grandmother she never knew existed in the UK. What was your influence when choosing the UK as your destination?
The British Isles are a place of myth and magic – and mists – and a lot of my own magical experiences took place there, so it seemed right to base much of the book there. The mists are almost a character in themselves in Carlie’s story, and I needed to ground her experiences within these mists in my reality, and that is where I have encountered them. One summer solstice eve I found myself trapped by the mists atop the tor in Glastonbury, England, stranded up there until the sun rose the next day; one pre-dawn autumnal morning I walked into the swirling mists as I wandered through the sacred stones of nearby Avebury; another time the mists descended on me while I was climbing a mountain in north-west Ireland, on a grey and truly Otherworldly afternoon. And I’ve danced in stone circles there, been licked by a calf as I sat meditating within one, entered sea caves and clamboured into ancient burial tombs, walked through green fields and ruined castles and places of myth and legend there, all of which wove themselves into the story somehow.

Are there parts of Into the Mists that resemble your own life?
My first response when I read this question was no – especially as my parents are still very much alive, and sadly my grandparents are not. But a lot of Carlie’s experiences did emerge from my own. Many of the rituals she takes part in are based on my experiences, her questioning and scepticism around magic and spirituality does echo mine, and she drinks her tea the same way I do. So while Carlie’s life-defining moment was very different to mine, I guess there is a little of me in her, or her in me, I’m not sure which way that goes.

Two cats play an important role within your book. Was there anything in particular that influenced the events involving the cats and their personalities?
I’ve never really thought about this, but they were very important to the story. In a broad sense, Luther is Rose’s witchy black cat, her familiar, but when Carlie arrives at her grandmother’s she feels very isolated and alone and out of her depth, and scared of this woman too, and angry at people and at the world. So Luther is her way to communicate – she can confide in him, without having to speak to her grandma – he is a sounding board she uses to understand how she’s actually feeling and what she thinks of things. He enables her to start feeling love and affection, without having to let her grandmother in, and the support of the natural world, without having to accept magic. Luther was a melding of two black cats I’ve spent time with – one was my flatmate’s cat Luther, who I loved (and hence the name), and the other was Mowsie, who resided upstairs from me for a few years, but who basically lived with me, just going home for meals. And Shadow was based on Mowsie’s sister Freckles, who used to jump up on the table when I was doing healings and put her little paw on the person too. In the book Shadow embodies magic, healing and possibility, and a link for Carlie to her mother. And she is perhaps less real, but still equally important to Carlie on her journey…

You started writing Into the Mists the day after you finished your book Witchy Magic, as part of the thirty-day National Novel Writing Month. Do you feel this had any influence on the writing of Into the Mists?
It influenced the book in so much as I had thought I would spend October planning Into the Mists – writing up a chapter outline and plotting it all out. Instead I was still working on Witchy Magic (and the book launch, the US release, the website etc) until October 31, so on November 1 I just had to dive in, and make it up as I went along 🙂 And it was fascinating, how the story wove itself together through the process of writing. I think in a way my first book, Seven Sacred Sites: Magical Journeys That Will Change Your Life, had more of an impact on this novel, as that included many of my magical experiences in sacred places around the world, as well as all my research on the history and culture and legends of those places, all of which threaded itself into Into the Mists in some small way I’m sure.

Read the full interview here.

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NaNoWriMo Countdown…

October 6, 2014 at 11:41 am (Interesting stories, NaNoWriMo) (, )

Less than four weeks til NaNoWriMo starts (yikes – it gave me a bit of a shock writing that!)…

Here’s an interesting interview with author Sophie Kinsella from the BBC, about her tips for writing – and finishing – a book. It’s different for everyone, but some might inspire you – and some might even totally disagree with, and make you realise an opposite truth about yourself and your writing. Either way, these ten tips are food for thought…

Read the article here

My favourite, cos it’s so true? “JUST GET TO THE END. It’s the hardest thing and it’s the most important thing because so many of us have ideas for books. The first stage is actually write it instead of just talking about it, and the next stage is to keep going until you get to the end. Everybody, no matter who they are gets to the middle of a book and thinks crikey, I’ve had enough of this. You get bored with your story and your characters, you hate them all, you can’t think why you started this wretched story in the first place. The truth is, every book is hard to write, everybody reaches a wall, whether it is a plot hole or a scene that you can’t get past. So you’ve just got to get to the end. Even if it’s not the greatest draft, if it needs rewriting fine, at least you have a book to rewrite…”

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