One joy of going to a great writing event such as the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School is discovering so many wonderful writers and their amazing range of work.
It is my pleasure then to introduce Elizabeth Hurst, another Swanwick stalwart, who writes the Lost Souls series.
Elizabeth’s books feature strong female characters, historical mysteries, romances, and ghosts! Plenty to keep the pages turning then…
Elizabeth is currently promoting her first book in the Lost Souls series (a Kindle countdown offer) but if you want to know more, do check out this link to her website.
Elizabeth’s first book in the Lost Souls series is Siren Spirit, which is a timeslip romance with some erotic scenes. If you like romance with history, this is a book well worth checking out. mybook.to/SirenSpirit. Blurb below.
Emma McVeigh is emotionally adrift. Broken-hearted after her marriage breakup, she has escaped city life and sought solace in a quintessential English village.
Allowing herself time to regroup seems like the best course of action in her life right now. However, the picture-perfect thatched cottage she moves into hides a secret and is not the sanctuary she was hoping for.
Enter her dashing next-door neighbour, Lewis. Charismatic and confident, he seems to be everything Emma wants in a man and she’s very attracted to him. But after a drunken one-night stand, he turns out to be not all he seems either.
Can they each face their inner demons and, in doing so, solve the mystery of another lost soul?
Buy Links below.
Allison: Hello and welcome, Elizabeth, to Chandler’s Ford Today.
1. Can you tell us more about what you write and why you love writing in this genre?
I hated history at school so it’s a little crazy I now write stories that involve the past. (The school syllabus of the mid-1980s was not inspiring!) What I enjoy now is reading about periods of history that pique my interest and creating inspiring and enlightening stories for readers to enjoy. Putting characters into human situations, giving them conflicts to deal with, and seeing how they resolve their struggles is about bringing history to life. If readers can identify with my characters, they will learn a little of what it was like to live during that period of history.
2. What are the particular challenges to this form of writing? How have you worked out how to deal with these?
The hardest thing for anyone who writes about history is to remain as true as you can to the period without compromising the story. Research is essential, and reading novels from a similar time period to your own work can help so long as they are well researched.
Then there is the challenge of writing two timelines with different writing styles. As the series has progressed, I have found it useful to draft the historical timeline separately and slot it around the contemporary story afterwards. It seems to work for me, but I’m sure there will be other writers who do it differently.
3. How did you get into creative writing?
I am a latecomer to writing, having not started until I turned forty. I never once felt I could write fiction before that. I always assumed I wasn’t good enough, that writers were on some pedestal or higher plane than the rest of us mere mortals. Then I met someone who persuaded me to give it a go. How refreshing to discover that, actually, most of us are fairly down to earth. Well, more or less…
4. I always ask this of authors I interview so no getting out of it! Can you share your three top tips for writers?
1. If you haven’t already, read On Writing by Stephen King. I’m not a horror fan, but he is prolific and shares his own story as well as giving advice;
2. Don’t be afraid to ask what you think might be stupid questions of your fellow writers. We were all newbies once. No question is ever ridiculous. Except, perhaps, not to ask it in the first place and then regretting it.
3. There are days when the words just flow out of my head and onto the page, like a rushing river in springtime, right after the snow has melted. Unfortunately, these are few and far between. I think the sooner you can come to terms with the amount of work involved in bringing a book baby into the world, the sooner it takes the pressure off and the better your writing will be. Don’t stress about it. Just do it.
Allison: I happily second all of the above. On Writing is one of my favourite writing guides and I have been the one asking what seems to be stupid questions. They never are. Someone else is always glad you asked!
5. What drew you to write about the paranormal? We both know Jen Wilson who writes the Kindred Spirits series which combines her love of history with ghosts. So what was your route into writing paranormal stories and has it been a route you always intended to go down?
I’m sorry to say I have never experienced anything remotely supernatural, so all of the ghostly events in my novellas are from my imagination. Sorry to disappoint! I am, however, intrigued about what happens to us when we die. Is there a spirit world, where we might go until our unresolved issues are somehow ironed out? Science cannot yet tell us, although it does agree that there is yet so much of the physical world about which we do not know. So, why not…?
I am often drawn to reading stories about supernatural creatures: vampires, werewolves, etc. so with hindsight it seems natural to have gone along that route.
6. What would you say your writing style is? How has it evolved since you first began writing seriously?
I cut my writing teeth on erotica, and there are some erotic scenes in Siren Spirit which started out as a short story of around 3,000 words. For that reason, I think my style tends to be graphic and visceral. I don’t shy away from topics like suicide, for instance, and my second book features a character who suffers from clinical depression.
7. Are you a planner or a pantser when it comes to working out your stories?
A bit of both, I suppose. I start off by making a plan, but then my characters get other ideas and wander off piste. So I re-draft the plan and carry on. As long as we end up in the same place, it doesn’t really matter so much, in my opinion. You have to let the characters tell the story.
8. Where do you stand on the question of having a writing routine? For me it’s crucial but I know of writers who do just “go with the flow” (or say they do. Can’t see how that would work but there you go!).
They say you should write every day, but my day job involves editing and proofreading for other authors, and I prefer to dedicate my mind solely to a project, so I tend to write only on the days between editing jobs. Sometimes this is only one day per week, but I can spend the whole day in my fictional world and really getting into my character’s purpose at that point.
9. What kind of genres do you like to read?
I read historical fiction, romances of all kinds and I like a good thriller sometimes to mix it up. I’m currently reading Circe by Madeline Miller and it’s breathtaking.
10. Which authors have influenced you the most?
Lots of authors have influenced me in different ways. Elizabeth Gilbert is hugely inspirational, for her talks and her approach to a creative life as well as her writing. I also love Margaret Atwood, Robert Harris and Kazuo Ishiguro, just for being damn good storytellers.
11. We both adore Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. What drew you to go to it and what do you love best about it?
I first went to Swanwick in 2013, because they were running a course on self-publishing erotic fiction. At the time, I had a few short stories and I was thinking of publishing them, which I subsequently did. However, I soon realised that Swanwick is about much, much more than just the course material (which was excellent).
In the years since then, I have been to various conferences and writing events, but Swanwick is by far and away my favourite. The reason is simple: it’s less about the technical side of writing and more about the friendships and networking opportunities. As an indie author, making connections is crucial to your success.
Appearing on your blog, Allison, for example, is a delight because we have met in person at Swanwick. Sadly, it hasn’t been possible to hold a school in 2020, but I know we’re all dying to meet up again next year, which will the best year yet, if I’m not mistaken. (Allison: Oh yes!).
12. How much research do you do?
Historical fiction, probably more than any other genre, requires copious amounts of research. It is too easy to fall down a rabbit hole and spend hours, days and weeks reading books and articles on your chosen period without getting any words down on paper for your book. It’s always great if you can visit a town or city that you intend to write about, especially if it contains a monument or landmark which applies to your story.
My Lost Souls series is loosely based on the Warwickshire village where I once lived, and books two and three include real people from the past, so it has been fascinating researching them.
13. Are there any aspects of writing you particularly enjoy?
There is nothing better than being at the very beginning of the process. I have the original idea, which sits in my head and percolates for a little while, then one day I decide to start. Out come the huge sheets of paper, the sticky notes, the coloured pens, and I spread them over my kitchen table and the brainstorming begins.
It’s where the purest creativity takes place, when the ideas seem to generate themselves. Not all of them end up in the finished product, of course, but it’s like sitting by a natural spring and watching the water rise up from the earth. Utterly magical.
14. Are there any aspects of writing you loathe?
The most terrifying part is just after you click Publish on Amazon. Dozens of horrifying thoughts spring to mind, but the scariest of all is this: what if no one likes it? It’s enough to make you hide under your duvet for the rest of the week.
15. Can you tell us what your writing plans are and when your next book will be out?
The Lost Souls series are all novellas, which is great fun to write and it’s really nice to develop the group of women who make up the contemporary story. The third book is on the back burner for the time being, however, as I am working on my first stand alone full-length novel, A Light Shines in Darkness, which is about a 14th century Italian nun. I am in the final stages of editing, and am hoping for it to be published some time around the end of 2020.
After that, A Letter of Lament, the next Lost Souls novella, will be finished and published, so you can expect to see that some time around the middle of 2021.
Many thanks, Elizabeth, for your fascinating insights into what you write. I look forward to catching up with you again hopefully at Swanwick 2021! And very best of luck with your Lost Souls series and novel.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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