Paula Readman and I have publishers in common. We’ve both been published by Bridge House Publishing and Cafelit. We’ve shared the great joy recently of both of us having two stories in The Best of Cafelit 8 and also a story each in Nativity, the most recent books published by Bridge House. Naturally we are both keen on the independent small presses!
Paula is going from strength to strength and is starting 2020 off in great style with a recently released novella and a short story collection to come later in the year but more on that in a moment.
I learned a long time ago if someone makes something look easy, that same someone will have worked very hard for years to get to that point. This is true for Paula and she’ll share more about this too.
Paula kindly took part in the What Books Mean To Me mini series I ran here some months back. I set all the authors who took part the challenge of naming the one book they would have to save if push came to shove. Paula chose Getting the Words Right: How to Revise, Edit, and Rewrite by Theodore A. Rees Cheney.
Supporting Other Writers
Paula also runs the For Writers Only, Who Write Without Fear of Rejection Facebook support group which gives invaluable support to writers and so many useful market suggestions (both in terms of publishing and competitions writers may wish to explore further).
You do need to check out the terms and conditions of any markets or competitions shown here that are of interest to you, of course, but this is a great way of finding out just what is out there. The variety is amazing. Hats off to Paula for the immense amount of work she puts into running this site. Naturally there are rules but they are sensible ones. No plugging your book and running away. Writers are expected to take part in the discussions and they are fun!
Paula’s Writing Journey
It has been a great pleasure to develop our friendship online and at the Bridge House celebration events. I also understand what being a published author means to Paula (and share the same feelings over it!) and this interview shares something of that and her writing journey.
I find writing journeys endlessly fascinating. No two authors get to be where they are (published or not) by the same route. No two authors are inspired by exactly the same things. Some of us start off wanting to write one thing and find out we’re better at writing something else entirely! Equally opportunities crop up that develop our writing skills. So I find in chatting to authors there is never a lack of interesting conversation!
I am also pleased to say Paula is going to achieve one of her long-held ambitions this year twice. Her first book, The Funeral Birds, a crime novella, has just been published by Demain Publishing (on 28th February 2020). Later in the year her collection of short stories, Days Pass Like a Shadow, will be published by Bridge House Publishing in November. So many congratulations to Paula and now over to her.
And, firstly, Paula explains why The Funeral Birds means so much to her. This is a fantastic example of the grit and determination needed in seeking to be published. It’s also a great example of the virtue of not giving up. Many a writer, including me, has “parked” a piece of work when it hasn’t gone anywhere, wrote something else, been published there, and this has happened to Paula too.
After having my novel Stone Angels rejected thirty-seven times I felt the news that my novella The Funeral Birds was going to be published vindicated my ability to write well. I’m pleased the last publisher to reject Stone Angels was kind enough to explain what the main problem was with the book. The fact was it’s too long. I decided to put some distance between my novel and me after working on it for six years.
So since June 2019 I have reaped my rewards and have had quite a few short stories published. My crime novella The Funeral Birds was one of them. Demain Publishing launched it on 28th February 2020. Demain publishes both horror and crime. In November, Bridge House Publishing will publish my collection of short stories, Days Pass like a Shadow.
I know that reading and writing mean a great deal to you, Paula, and you definitely don’t take them for granted. Can you explain why this is?
Reading brings back memories of sitting in bed with my grandmother reading the The Robins Family in Woman’s Weekly. It is something I’ve always enjoyed doing. Books are knowledge and knowledge is freedom. Writing is something that hasn’t come easy to me.
I’m dyslexic. This was picked up in my junior school, but wasn’t followed up when I went to secondary school. I struggled with most lessons apart from art. When I was thirty-nine I set myself a challenge to see if I could get something in print before I was fifty. My plan was to teach myself from books because I couldn’t afford to take classes or any time off work to study. My husband bought the books I wanted off EBay and I would read them in my break time at work.
Allison: It’s funny you mentioned Woman’s Weekly and the Robins Family. My late mother was a huge fan of the magazine and I used to read about the robins too! Such a long time ago.
What books have influenced you the most? Has any of that spilled over into your own writing?
I read wide range of books, so it is hard to say which novels have influenced my writing. I enjoyed classic ghost stories the most people like M.R James, H G Wells, Edgar Wallace. I like the fact they don’t use gratuitous gore to scare the reader and take the time to build the tension in the storytelling.
Did you find writing a novella easy? It’s a strange form in some ways given it is way above flash fiction but way under what’s expected from a full novel? How did you cope with that?
I wouldn’t say I found writing The Funeral Birds difficult as it started life as a failed BBC short story competition entry. I had planned to turn it into a novel but when I came across Demain Publishing guidelines I decided to submit it as a novella. Of course, I had to increase the word count.
The storyline was easy to write because I had fallen in love with the characters. Dave and Joan Cavendish are based on my neighbours, Dave and Joan. Of course you have met Joan at the Bridge House Book Launching. They are a mature married couple who have a wonderful attitude to life and always makes me smile. The plot of the novella is about a failing detective agency run by Dave Cavendish, and how his distant ancestor, Granny Wenlock, helps him to solve a murder.
Allison: And now time for the book trailer for The Funeral Birds…
I write listening to classical music. It relaxes me and I find I write more. What is your writing “atmosphere”?
Oh we’re alike in writing to music, Allison. I’ve loaded plenty of music onto my main computer. It ranges from classical music through to what is known as New Age. I like a mixture of style so I can select the music that fits in with the piece I’m writing.
Do you believe in writer’s block? For the record, I don’t. I think there are times the words don’t flow so easily but that is part and parcel of being a writer. We’re not robots after all.
I have too many unfinished stories and ideas sitting on my computer to suffer from writer’s block. If the words don’t flow I keep read through all my unfinished master pieces until I find something I can work on. Sometimes it is best to step away from your work, and do something else. In the summertime, I would go and cut the lawn, or nip downstairs and prepared the dinner. Even a few minutes can clear the mind and give you some headspace.
Do you work on one project at a time or do you have a “big” task to do and fill in gaps with smaller ones? I deliberately have different things on the go as it keeps my writing life interesting and I never get bored!
Oh yes I have several things on the good at once. I’m enjoying having variety in my writing. At the moment I’m working on short stories and drabbles for an Australian publishing house Black Hare Press. They have a wide selection of submission call out on the go at once, which is great if you like writing horror. Their brand of books are beautiful, almost a work of art in themselves. I’ve been lucky, and had quite a few stories published by them.
What do you like/dislike about marketing? (Always a timely topic!).
Marketing is what makes or break you are a writer. Unfortunately, nowadays when you sign a contract you’re expected to market your work. The days of sitting in the sun, drinking and writing have gone. What is hard about marketing is the not knowing whether investing time and money is going to reap any rewards. Obviously, if you are a well known celebrity your name on a poster will bring in the crowds easily enough.
Sadly, for new writers like ourselves, we need to work much harder. I make my own business cards, which I hand out at every opportunity. The secret is not to be pushy, and let it happen naturally. It is surprising how interested some people can be when you start talking to them about your writing.
Allison: This is where I’ve found going to conferences, day events, things like the Bridge House event really helpful. You get to practice talking about your writing in a natural way with other people who are sympathetic because they write themselves and know the ups and downs of it. I’ve only ever come across the odd person who only wants to talk about their writing and nobody else’s. Let’s just say those conversations don’t last long. Nor are any long lasting friendships made from things like that!
Got to ask – plots or characters? Which is the most important to you?
Allison, I just knew you would ask me this question… plot or characters? Hmm… this is a bit difficult to answer as it’s normally a bit of both. I first decide what sex my main character will be, but to do this I need to have an idea of what my storyline will be. I enjoy writing from a male point of view. Though I do try to vary it so that my stories don’t all sound the same.
Allison: For me, I mix up writing in the first or third person. I sometimes take a reader straight into a character’s head or into an intriguing situation to avoid having stories sound the same. Variety is essential for you as a writer too I think. If you get bored, a reader definitely will!
Is there something about writing you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started out?
Wow, what a question, Allison. What I really wish I had known is that the length of a novel would become much shorter. An agent told me six years ago that my crime novel was too short at 85K and it needed to be at 120K. I spent six years working on it only to find out it was too long. Agatha Christie’s novels are about 200 pages long and roughly 40k-55k. From now on I shall be working to the length only.
Allison: One annoying thing is trends change and it is hard to predict those changes. One reason I think that is behind the lower word counts is due to good old money. A publisher has to think of their production costs to be fair and an 80K book will be cheaper to produce than a 150K one.
But yes, even for short stories and flash fiction, you have to know what the markets are after and work to that. You see it as trying to give the publisher what they want while still enjoying producing the work. And a good place to look for markets? Well, you could try Paula’s For Writers Only, Who Write Without Fear of Rejection Facebook support group!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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