DEB: Helen, you’ve been with us before here at Debbie’s Book Bag, so these questions may be a little different from those I sent you the last time. A lot of my readers are writers also and some of my questions are directed in that manner.
HELEN: Hi – lovely to be back!
DEB: Helen, tell us what you’ve been up to since you were here last?
HELEN: A lot!
After the last Blog Tour – for I Am The Chosen King (US edition of Harold the King) - for my US Publisher, Sourcebooks Inc, I was looking forward to getting back to writing my next novel – Ripples In The sand (more about that later). What I was not expecting was for my small UK independent publisher to go bust. Although the company had, I must be honest, not been as satisfactory as they should have been, I was at least with their mainstream imprint. However, there was no point in staying with a company that could no longer publish my books, so I made the choice to find a reliable, efficient and professional assisted publishing house. The alternative was to give up writing (not an option) try to find another mainstream – which would not be easy, and would have meant that my books would be out of print here in the UK for many months, or go along the self publish route. I found SilverWood Books, a company that handles the technical side of self publishing books. I had known Helen Hart for several years, she has built the company into the qualities I was looking for. And while the cost has been along the “gulp” level, quality was my prime objective.
The next blow came when I realized I was not going to get my files back from ‘Gone Bust Publishing’. I had old files, but these were not edited (mind you looking at some of the errors and typos in the published files – on both sides of the Atlantic - I’m annoyed to find so many printing errors) I therefore undertook to do a massive re-edit, calling in the aid of my UK editor Jo Field, and two lovely people who helped me as “readers” Kelly, and Stuart. Between us, and Helen Hart of SilverWood and her assistant, Sarah, I hope we have corrected most of the typos! In three months we have managed to get four books back in print, with the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy following soon.
Fortunately I have the wonderfully talented Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics as a cover designer, so we designed a new cover for Harold, and slightly tweaked the Sea Witch Voyages – SilverWood suggesting that we have a conformity about all my books that are published here in the UK, mainly a similar style and feel.
I had planned a Blog Tour for my Sea Witch Series about a month before the old publisher went belly up – books had gone out and arrangements made. Rather than abandon the idea I decided to carry on…. so here I am, but with better quality books published under the SilverWood Banner. The Sea Witch Books, I must add, are also available in the US and on Kindle – and as far as I am aware on other e-book format such as Nook Books etc, although I’m not certain about that (I’d love to have this verified!) Next step is to get Barnes and Noble interested enough to stock them, meanwhile, huzzah for Amazon.com
DEB: Tell us a little about Jesamiah Acorne and the Sea Witch? Is this a series that is close to your heart?
HELEN: Oh yes, definitely! I adore my Jesamiah! While I enjoy writing my serious historical fiction books, the Sea Witch series is more historical adventure fantasy – sailor’s yarn tales, a blend of Sharpe, Hornblower, Pirates of the Caribbean and Indiana Jones all rolled into one. The historical setting is accurate (although I do take a few poetic licence liberties) and my sailing detail is as spot on as I can get it. I wanted to write a novel where I could make up the main characters and the plot – and where the main protagonist gets to stay alive in the last chapter (unlike in most historical fiction!) I also wanted to create my own charmer of a rogue…. Or did he invade me and demand to be set free from the realm of imagination I wonder? I have a suspicion that the latter is more accurate!
DEB: The Golden Age of Piracy has always been something I’ve been interested in. What drew you to writing a series set in this time period?
HELEN: The first Pirates of the Caribbean movie – the Curse of the Black Pearl. It was a fun movie - and who can resist The first Pirates of the Caribbean movie – the Curse of the Black Pearl. It was a fun movie - and who can resist Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow? I was intrigued, though: what was the reality of pirates? About to go on vacation I grabbed a couple of non fiction books and read up on the history of the Golden Age (about 1680 – 1730 – quite a short period) The facts were stunning, and almost immediately I had ideas for the plot of a story popping into my head. Blending historical fact with imaginative fiction is always what has drawn me to writing, so I took a few Golden Age piratical facts, decided upon my characters – and away I went. I wrote the first draft of what became Sea Witch in three months, barely stopping – I even wrote on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. Jesamiah had come alive and I could not put him down.
DEB: When you are researching for a particular book, what kinds of resources do you use and what is most helpful to you in finding out what you need to know for your novel?
HELEN: Mostly good non-fiction books – although Google is now invaluable. (Be careful with “facts” on the Internet though – always check, and double check) Google Earth is fabulous for researching other countries, and as for web cams….! Where I can I like to go to places where I have scenes set – not always easy if, as in Sea Witch, some of the action takes place in Cape Town, South Africa. I did manage to get to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, though, where a lot of the third Voyage in the series, Bring It Close, takes place. Being able to view actual buildings, walk along the roads where your character is going to walk – and spend a quiet half hour inside the gaol – all helps to make a story feel real.
I also researched Nautical Matters. I now have an extensive library of maritime books, the best one, which gives precise details of how to sail a tall ship I found for £5 (about $3?) in a charity thrift shop! I am also fortunate in having respected maritime author James L Nelson as a friend, who kindly edits the sailing bits for me. Add to that I have another two friends who actually live in Williamsburg. Judy goes to investigate anything I need (she recently found out a lot of information about growing tobacco) and John F Millar, who runs a B & B built the replica ship the Rose – better known now as HMS Surprise, moored in San Diego. So I have some very knowledgeable people in my e-mail list!
DEB: A lot of my readers are writers and they are interested in how you first got started writing. What gave you the confidence to try to sell your manuscript?
HELEN: I started writing stories when I was about 13. I desperately wanted a pony, we couldn’t afford one, so I made one up and wrote stories about her. (Didn’t everyone do that?) From there I moved to Science Fiction and Fantasy – and then discovered Historical Fiction. I spent years attempting to write what would, eventually, become The Kingmaking, the first of my Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy. To be a real writer, though was just a dream. I drove my friends mad by saying “When I write my book”. None of them believed I would ever do it. Then I discovered Sharon Kay Penman’s Here Be Dragons – wow if only I could write like that! I sent her a letter (in the pre-email days!) and she wrote back: “If you can make a four page letter as interesting as this” she said, “I can’t wait to read the book.” A short while later she was in London, UK, where I live and we met for coffee – and became friends. Sharon encouraged me to write, and took the time to show me where I was going wrong. She introduced me to her agent, and Random House took me on.
Sadly, about twelve years later I parted company with the agent at the same time as Random House decided to drop my back list. Historical Fiction – then – had fallen out of fashion. Which is how I came to be with the small company that went broke, mentioned above.
For confidence – well I still haven’t got confidence in myself. Every book I write I worry about (not helped by inefficient foundering publishers and not having an agent) But I rather think that maybe to be over confident is as bad. I care about my work – and I work hard to ensure the end result is as good as I personally can get it. Another reason why I am now happy to be “self published”. I am at last in control of my books that are produced here in the UK. All errors are mine (bites nails, I hope there are not too many of them now!)
DEB: Do you have advice for new writers?
HELEN: First of all, don’t keep talking about “I want to write a book” – get on and DO it! You may never get published, but you certainly will not if you never get the thing actually written. Then, seriously consider getting an editor to help you polish the book to make it shine. Yes this costs money, but it is worth it. This is a definite must if you decide to self publish. There is absolutely no reason why a self published book cannot be as good quality as any traditional mainstream book. The difference is, too many self published authors do not take the time or care to ensure that their work is professionally produced. That means investing in professional help. Quality costs – but believe me, cheap, in the long run, costs even more!
Get your book edited – and I don’t mean ask Aunt Ada who used to be a teacher to check the spelling and punctuation. You need a professional to mark up too many Point Of View changes, too much author’s voice, the continuity errors – the technical bloopers.
Anyone can write a book – but it takes hard work, and professional advice to produce a readable book.
I have some more hints and tips here, feel free to browse!
DEB: My readers are also interested in you as a person. Name one pet peeve that you have?
HELEN: People who ask for an honest opinion, and then become rude when they get one! Unfortunately I have come across this several times. Hopeful writers ask if I will give an honest opinion on their book – I only ever look at one chapter though, and if asked for an honest opinion, I give an honest opinion. I try to give constructive criticism, pointing out errors as mentioned above – but you would be surprised at the number of people who are affronted when I politely suggest they use an editor, or change some of the too often repeated words and phrases. I’ve been told I don’t know what I’m talking about more than once. Um, which one if us is the published author? Which one the “wannabe” who has enough rejection slips to paper the entire house?
So if you ask for an honest opinion ensure you want an honest opinion. If all you want is “wow its fantastic” don’t come to me! (phew, I feel better for that rant! *laugh*)
DEB: Tell us one thing that readers may not know about you?
HELEN: I have three strings of blue solar lights draped from the trees and shrubs outside my office window. At night they reflect on the pond and look beautiful. It’s very frustrating when its not been sunny enough to power them. (Which reminds me, one of the climbing shrubs has overtaken the solar-energy battery box – I must clear it tomorrow!)
DEB: If you could travel to any time period when and where would it be?
HELEN: Not the Golden Age of piracy – far too smelly! I would like to go back to 1064 to warn Harold Godwinesson not to trust Duke William of Normandy. Or to the early 5th Century to find out if there really was a King Arthur.
DEB: What books are you most interested in that are coming out in 2011? Written by yourself or other authors.
HELEN: My own, Ripples In the Sand – the Fourth Sea Witch Voyage. I should have had it written by now so frustrating to not be able to get on with it! I bring Jesamiah and Sea Witch back to England, Devon. Jesamiah has a legitimate cargo of tobacco to sell, and some illicit contraband. He also gets mixed up in the Jacobite rebellion of 1719, a jail break and meets up with an old flame. Meanwhile his woman, Tiola Oldstagh (a white witch) must see into the past to discover why Tethys, the Goddess of the Sea, is messing up her and Jesamiah’s life. Something went wrong in Tiola’s past existence, she has to find out what in order to save Jesamiah from drowning at sea! Ooh exciting!
And for a book that is not mine – I can’t wait to read Sharon Penman’s Lionheart…. And for good measure, I’ve just finished Elizabeth Chadwick’s Lady of the English. What a fabulous read!
DEB: Thank-You so much for your time!
HELEN: On the contrary – thank you!
Helen Hollick has been so gracious in offering one copy of her book, Bring it Close for giveaway to one winner from Debbie's Book Bag!
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~ The deadline to enter this giveaway is Midnight EST August 5th.
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