Friday, 20 April 2012

Interrogating Linda Gruchy

On the publication of Linda Gruchy's new book, I interview her.  Linda is another one of my favourite authors who turns her hand to various genres and excels at them all

How do you strike the balance between writing something you want to write and writing something that people want to read, in terms of the compromises you make, if any?

For me often it’s not so much the compromise between what I want to write and what people want to read, as what I want to write and what editors will buy. If I want to sell my work to women’s magazines, the requirements are very specific, for example, The People’s Friend don’t like anything with even a hint of the supernatural in it, but Fiction Feast will have something spooky, providing it’s not too spooky. Fiction Feast will take crime but it mustn’t be graphic. Since I am primarily a crime writer, I find it quite a discipline to write for that market. I have to resist the temptation to liven up my womag stories with the odd dead body, just to give them a bit of oomph.  

With publishing on Kindle it gives me the freedom to write what I feel is right. That is liberating, but also quite scary because editors know what the market is after, whereas I don’t have that knowledge. Get it wrong and the market (that is, Kindle Readers) can be unforgiving.

My first draft of Earth Magic was aimed at being a Pocket Novel, which had to be a specific size (at the time 30,000 words) with other tight editorial requirements. It was rejected because one of the characters smoked cannabis, and this would have offended the readership. I was frustrated and upset at the time, but putting it onto Kindle meant that I could keep that aspect and add in more of what I wanted to see in the story, what I felt the story needed. But I was now writing for myself and an unknown market, not that Pocket Novel market. 

That said, it would be easy, without editorial control, to become too self-indulgent with a book. But we see that with mainstream, successful authors too. We have to remember we are writing for others and put their needs first.

I also think it’s wrong to use a book to make a religious or a political point or demonstrate one’s self-awarded state of superior moral fibre. Nobody likes to be lectured at. Instead I think novels should challenge and entertain. If I’m expecting people to part with money to read my work, they should get a fair exchange for that money. 

What excites, attracts or appeals to you about the genre(s) you write in.

A good crime novel works on so many levels. There’s the who-dun-it aspect, the writing, the character development, and the logical progression from a premise to the conclusion. With Agatha Christie novels I find the inadvertent social commentary very interesting. I am very fond of the Cadfael novels because they are compassionate and so well written. Some modern thrillers/crime novels I find hard to enjoy because I either don’t care much for the protagonists, or sometimes actively dislike them. I also dislike it when I see a hole in the plot, but sometimes the writing is so good that doesn’t matter.  

Do you have a box, drawer, folder etc where you keep thoughts and ideas for future stories? Such as names you have come across, bits of dialogue, ideas, characters - even if you have no idea when you might use them? 

I have a notebook, which I never remember to use, and I have ideas files on my computer but they’re saved all over the place. I once sketched out a womag story quite briefly but it was so brief I can’t remember a thing about it, even on reading the notes. I wish I were better organised. 

How much of you is in your characters? Which of your characters is the you that you’d most like to be? Or be with? 

I think there’s a little bit of me in several of my characters, but there’s a little bit of a lot of other people as well. A sort of pick-and-mix. 

Meg in Death in Spigg’s Wood is the one person people may think of as being me, since she’s a kick boxer and an ex-researcher, and when I first started writing Death in Spigg’s Wood, the plot came from me asking myself how I would behave in an assault situation, or if I were arrested. I would be as naïve as Meg (or would have been ten years ago). But I needed things to happen as the story developed where I thought, “I would never do that.” When I realised that I was not Meg, and Meg was not me, I could give her her freedom to develop as she wished. It was a very liberating moment. Now I would say we have very little in common.

I think there’s quite a bit of me in Hedley and in Fiona (whom we see a lot more of in Death in Flitbury Marshes) but even so, they only contain elements of my character.

When a book idea is fermenting I start off with a basic premise, and ask what I would do in those circumstances, then start changing things with my pick-and-mix kit and apply that to the just-supposes. That way I hope I end up with differing characters, rather than the same character regurgitated each time. Because I empathise with my characters I don’t like them to behave in a way which offends me. (Fortunately I’m quite a tolerant person.) 

Do you become so wrapped up in your writing that your spouse wonders if they're married to you or one of your characters? 

I did at first, because it’s very much like playing a part in a play. I found myself swearing a lot because Meg swore a great deal at first, though I edited most of that out when I realised it made her an unsympathetic character. Fiona Connor swears too, and I empathise a great deal with her. Or maybe it’s the other way round. Maybe my characters swear because I’m a closet foul-mouth.

It’s not so much character absorption that my family suffers from so much as me becoming so intense when I write that I lose track of time and forget to feed them. The worst thing I’ve done is forgotten to put the chicken in the oven and come down to serve it up to find it sitting stuffed and raw in the roasting tin. I’m much better now I’ve got over the first-love daft stage. I still get the awful feeling that unless I write it down immediately there and then, it will vanish like water beneath my fingertips. It won’t, especially if I make a note of where I want to go next in the manuscript.

What type of book do you like reading? Is it the same genre as you write?

I have wide-ranging tastes and a mixture of what I call duty reads and pleasure reads. The duty-reads include modern crime writers (who then become pleasure-reads eg I really enjoy Val McDermot’s work) and saga and romance (which I’m not keen on but needed to look at if I was going to try and write in the genre. I often lose patience with the protagonists in romances because of the contrived nature of a lot of the conflict). I tend to prefer Fantasy to hard SF. I quite like frothy Chick Lit, except where they are so far removed from my personal existence I can’t empathise with them. I’d never heard of Jimmy Choos before I read Chick Lit, and I get exasperated when the protagonist’s problems are self-inflicted through idiotic behaviour. 

What lengths do you go to to convince us readers that your book has the X factor? 

I have no idea if my books have the X factor. I just want them to be the best they can be. I try hard to make sure there are no plot holes, and that people will be entertained by what I have written. Crime stories work on so many levels. I’d like people to feel their emotions engaged as well as their thinking processes. People like to figure out who-dun-it. They don’t like to feel cheated by duff clues or silly, illogical outcomes. I hope people who read my work feel moved, saddened, uplifted, even angered. Sometimes with crime it’s hard to have a happy ending, but I do like something good to come at the end.

That said, I know I can’t please everyone, and what pleases one person, will be anathema to another.  

How do you feel when a reader points out the spelling mistake(s) you have made? 

Mortified. I’m a very poor typist and make a lot of typing errors when doing my first drafts. Because I’m in such a hurry to keep up with my brain and get it all down when it’s flowing, I tend to not worry about the typos until later. Then I am very painstaking in trying to get rid of them. The problem is that if I know what I’ve written I will miss even glaring mistakes. Leaving the manuscript for days/weeks/months does make this process easier. The problem is that the fresh tweaks will often contain errors. I have a writer friend who is good at picking up errors and we read each other’s mss. She’s also very hot on grammar and has pulled me up a few times. I have several other writer friends who will also help, but I can’t keep asking them to read the same ms over and over.

Even though I’m mortified by any errors, I’d still like to know if people find them so I can correct them. I did this with the first version of DISW where there were, I think, 5 typos and a missing word. My fear is that in correcting those I introduced more formatting errors in the updated version. It looked fine on the preview to me, but I don’t altogether trust the technology. I’m a technophobe.

People are very unforgiving of the slightest error in an Indie published book, whereas there are quite often mistakes in traditionally published books. It’s almost as if we have to try harder to gain the same level of respect. 

What do you like most about visiting KUF? 

Being able to talk quite honestly about Kindle and Kindle publishing; interacting with other authors who share the same worries and the same joys; being able to interact with readers—I need to know if what I am writing is pleasing people. I am writing primarily for my readers and not myself. 

What is on your near horizon? 

In the Elversford Series we have Death in Flitbury Marshes which is coming out very soon, then Death in Galwell Gardens (which needs a lot of work doing to it). 

As Linda M Priestley, on the Romance front, I have a novella Book Lovers, which needs some work to bring it to how I want it. (It was submitted as a Pocket Novel but was rejected because though it was “well written and enjoyable” they “tend to shy away from storylines that feature possible murder”—see what I mean about my romances morphing into crime stories? I can now have it as I want it. Yippee. 

I also have some short stories which are not suitable for womag, and will bring these out as anthologies soon.

I have a novella coming out in Large Print soon, for libraries. Once that’s published, after a decent time I will kindle that. This too is a crime novel cunningly disguised as a Romance.

If my current agent sells my historical adventure or my latest crime novel, plans may have to change.

I have so many things to do, a big problem is knowing what to do next.

Where can we find you for more information? 



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