Image Credits:- Some images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos. Many thanks to Val Penny for supplying book and author photos and some fabulous shots of Edinburgh. Photos of The Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick were taken by me, Allison Symes.
It is always a joy to welcome authors to Chandler’s Ford Today and it is especially lovely to welcome back Scottish crime writer, Val Penny. I interviewed Val in June. She is a busy soul with a new book out and a new role at The Writers’ Summer School, Swanwick as well.
She also has huge experience of blog tours which form a major marketing “foundation” for many authors when it comes to launching new books. More on that shortly. Val’s latest book is Hunter’s Secret, the latest in her fabulous DCI Hunter Wilson series (also known as the Edinburgh Crime Mysteries so no prizes for guessing where the setting is!).
BLURB – HUNTER’S SECRET
Detective Inspector Hunter Wilson is called to the scene of a murder. DCs Tim Myerscough and Bear Zewedu found a corpse, but when Hunter arrives it has disappeared, and all is not as it seems.
Hunter recalls the disappearance of a dead body thirty years earlier. The Major Incident Team is called in but sees no connection – it is too long ago. Hunter is determined to investigate the past and the present with the benefit of modern DNA testing.
Tim has other problems in his life. His father, Sir Peter Myerscough, is released from jail. He, too, remembers the earlier murder. There is no love lost between Hunter and Sir Peter. Will Hunter accept help from his nemesis to catch a killer?
Hunter’s own secret is exciting and crucial to his future. Will it change his life? And can he keep Edinburgh safe?
Welcome back to Chandler’s Ford Today, Val.
Many congratulations, Val, on the publication of Hunter’s Secret. Tell me just when did you know that the DCI Hunter Wilson books would become a series? How did that change how you approached his characterisation? Have you had to map out a complete life for him or are there still plenty of aspects to him you do not yet know but will have to add to your records as you go? How much do you need to know before you get that first draft written?
Thank you so much, Allison, I appreciate your kind words about Hunter’s Secret. From the time I began my first novel, Hunter’s Chase, I always knew that I wanted that I wanted the novel to be the first in a series (although each book can be read on its own) and therefore the characters would need to advance, mature and change while their story-lines develop to retain my readers’ interest.
In order to do this, before I start writing I create full biographies and back stories for all my main characters. This allows me to know not only what they look like but what they like to wear, what they choose to eat and drink and how they spend their leisure time. Even more important is that I know how each of my characters will react to the variety of different difficult and unpredictable situations that I create for them.
Since we last talked here, you have become vice-chair of The Writers’ Summer School, Swanwick, Val. Many congratulations on that too. Can you share something about what the role entails and why the School is so special? How do you feel it benefits writers of all levels of experience?
I am honoured to be the Vice Chair of The Writer’s Summer School. The school has met at The Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick for 74 years (with a one year gap due to Covid restrictions) and will be celebrating its Diamond Jubilee in 2024.
The role of the Vice Chair is to put together the programme for the school and so I am currently seeking pitches from those who might be able to teach courses to our delegates as well as those willing to volunteer to help with social events.
Delegates who have attended the school often speak about the ‘magic’ of Swanwick that inspires their creativity and sparks their enthusiasm to write or continue writing. This feeling is created by the respect paid to every type of writing and love of the written world; the camaraderie of the school and the nurturing each writer receives from their fellow enthusiasts.
The school benefits writers of all genres of writing and supports a wide age range and social demographic. The experience is inclusive and offers young writers and those of restricted means financial support to enable them to attend the school.
As you will understand, providing the programme for the school and such a wide variety of writers and writing interests is a great responsibility, and I am relishing the challenge.
Val, you use blog tours as a major part of your book launch events. What is it about blog tours you love? What tips would you give to writers wondering about having a blog tour themselves? What do you think the advantages are? How long in advance of publication do you need to plan for these tours?
Book launches are an important and exciting time for authors. You will remember from the initial publication of your own books, Allison, that getting the word out that a new novel is coming out is critical to its commercial success.
I am lucky enough to have reasonably good followings on social media, however, it is vital to ensure that as many people as possible know about the new work when it launches and getting other to inform their readers of your new book can be useful.
One way of doing this is through blog tours. However, blog tours, where bloggers and other authors help promote books vary widely in the costs charged (by the person arranging the tour) and the quality of the tour. When I talk about the quality of the tour, I am referring to the number of bloggers that are willing to take part and the likely interests of their followers. As I am a crime author, I would like the bloggers and authors who take part in my blog tours to appeal more to readers than to exponents of the intricacies of 15th century tapestries!
What can writers do to help themselves in the run up to publication day when it happens? I know I don’t lose the buzz of being published, there’s nothing quite like opening a package with books with your name on the front cover, but what aspect of being published do you like the most?
This is a really big question, and the answer varies depending on whether you have a publisher or are self-published. If you are self-published, you will have to deal with all these different jobs yourself, however, if you are a member of a publishing stable, as we are, Allison, your publisher deals with some of these matters for you.
Building the excitement for your new book should start between three and six months before the novel is due to be released. This can be done with at no cost, but it does require time and persistence. You can let your readers know through social media, newsletters and emails that a new book will be published on the due date. Tell them the title, tease them that a cover reveal will come soon.
Then of course, perhaps a month or so later you will have the cover reveal and perhaps share the blurb online to rack up the tension and extend the excitement further before preorders commence. To know a reader has enough faith in your work to part with their hard earned cash before being able to read an extract of your book or even a review, is humbling.
Many authors and their publishers off books at a special, reduced, pre-order price again to secure readers attention and interest before the publication date of the book. Then, when the book is published, the pre-order sales will push the book up the rankings and hopefully readers who have secured early copies may be generous enough to write reviews, even a short, favourable review gladdens the heart of any author.
Because, like any author, the part of the book launch I enjoy most, is hearing from readers that they have enjoyed a novel I have written.
You use prologues in many of your novels, Val. Why do you find these useful and what do you get yours to do? Writers are often advised to “drip feed” information into a book to avoid “info dump” but it is not always possible to do that and a prologue is a good alternative here. How do you get the best use out of your prologues? Not every writer uses or likes prologues but what made you decide this would be a good route for you to take?
I use prologues when a story relies on a different time or place or a specific viewpoint to put it into context. It is not so much an ‘info dump’ as setting the scene so the rest of the novel makes sense to may readers.
I think the use of prologues and epilogues depends very much on the arc of the story, but there is no doubt that they have their uses in my crime fiction books.
How do you manage writing series, especially since you write more than one of them? How do you juggle the needs of the different characters and ensure they develop over succeeding novels?
Writing two different series does make for more work, but also more fun for me as an author. Indeed, the main character in my second series, The Jane Renwick Thrillers, DS Jane Renwick, started out as a member of the police team in my first novel, Hunter’s Chase, which is the first book in the series of DI Hunter Wilson Crime Thrillers.
I certainly need to know and understand each of my characters, particularly the main characters and I must know how they will react to the circumstances I create for them. However, my readers do not need to know every detail about the different characters, but it is important that I share the information necessary to my readers as each story unfolds.
Let me take Hunter Wilson as an example. He is a son of the manse, in other words, his father was a church of Scotland minister so, although Hunter is not particularly religious, he was taught the difference between right and wrong from an early age. My readers are also familiar with the fact that he drinks good quality black coffee and not instant coffee most of his team drink. He enjoys pub grub from his local bar where he plays darts and likes going out for Indian meals with his partner, the pathologist, Dr Meera Sharma.
Hunter’s relationship with Meera has developed over the series so far from the admiring glances he snuck during Hunter’s Chase to one of the secrets he is withholding from her in the next book to be released, Hunter’s Secret.
Most importantly, readers have to know that they are able to trust Hunter to do the right thing, act fairly and to keep Edinburgh safe.
Writers write what they love. They also read what they love which in turn can inspire their writing. Who are your favourite crime authors and why, Val?
I was very fortunate to be mentored by the talented crime author, Peter Robinson and I do enjoy his books. However, I also enjoy the clever plots shared in the psychological crime thrillers written by Erin Kelly, the humour in the crime thrillers by Linwood Barclay, and the attention to detail shown by Kathy Reichs in her crime novels.
Crime fiction is one of the biggest selling genres (along with romantic fiction). Val, what do you think the fascination is with crime fiction? What would you say makes for a great crime story?
Aah yes, the perennial attraction of crime fiction! As it happens, I do have a theory about that. Most people have been no nearer a crime than they have to a ghost or the dark side of the moon, so I think the attraction of the crime fiction genre is the fascination with the unknown.
I do think a crime story is improved by a dash of humour, a pinch of gore, and enough red herrings to create a good, old-fashioned twist in the tale.
Who are your favourite characters by other authors? Who are your own favourite characters? What do you think makes for a great character? What tips on characterisation have you found most useful?
I think any credible fictional character must have flaws and problems as well as strengths and successes. That is why I enjoy A.A.Dhand’s main protagonist, Hardeep (Harry) Virdee so much and why Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Anne Cleeves’ character, Vera Stanhope, both stand the test of time.
When I write I take a churlish pleasure in putting my characters in difficult positions or setting them seemingly impossible tasks and working out how the characteristics I have given them allow them to find a way out.
Apart from my main protagonists, DI Hunter Wilson (DI Hunter Wilson Crime Thrillers) and DS Jane Renwick (Jane Renwick Crime Thrillers), the character that I most enjoy writing is Jamie Thomson. Jamie has ambitions to be a leading gangster in Edinburgh, but he more often gets caught in the act or fails to complete his criminal endeavours. Nevertheless, in his own mind he remains a force to be reckoned with.
How long does it take you to write a book? How long does the editing side take? I am expecting one of those answers to be longer than the other!
Oh my, you do ask the hard questions, Allison! My first book took me about two and a half years to write, partly because I was recovering from cancer and partly because I had no clue what I was doing. It then took me about six months to edit before I sent it off to a professional editor before submitting the manuscript to publishers.
Since then, I hope I have become a little better at my craft and it takes me about six months to write the book, and a similar length of time before the manuscript is in a decent enough shape to send to my publishers for a further edit. I do feel editing is just as important as the story-telling as without it, the novel will not reach its full potential.
A huge thank you, Val, for a wonderful interview and good luck with Hunter’s Secret. For more details on where you can find Val Penny on social media etc, do see below.
Val Penny has an Llb degree from the University of Edinburgh and her MSc from Napier University. She has had many jobs including hairdresser, waitress, banker, azalea farmer and lecturer but has not yet achieved either of her childhood dreams of being a ballerina or owning a candy store. Until those dreams come true, she has turned her hand to writing poetry, short stories,nonfiction books, and novels. Her novels are published by SpellBound Books Ltd. Val is an American author living in SW Scotland. She has two adult daughters of whom she is justly proud and lives with her husband and their cat.
WEBSITE AND SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS
Author Twitter Page
(Val’s Twitter page has a fabulous tagline – “I kill people for a living in my 5* Thrillers: The DI Hunter Wilson and Jane Renwick Thrillers.”).
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