This week I’m hosting a lady from the enchanting “land of the free, home of the brave”, who knows how to make people laugh. Heather, welcome aboard!
Hi all! I’m a mum of five (not the band) and recently became a grandmother for the first time. Four years ago, I began a quest to become a comedy writer after humble beginnings tweeting jokes and one-liners which seemed to get a great response. As my follower list and favstars increased, so did my need for that drug known as ‘the power to make people laugh’. What a high! I was hooked.
So, I wrote a sitcom and at the same time, joined the professional networking site, LinkedIn. Then things really got interesting.
I managed, just through making a conscious effort to chat to people rather than just ‘collect contacts’ to get my work read by several of the UK’s top producers. I didn’t get a commission for my work, but I did get some fantastic feedback. People thought my work was funny. But I couldn’t actually sell it. So, from there, I went to writing my comedy novel for women, “The New Mrs D”.
I’ve been someone’s mum for the past twenty three years and during that time, held down a pretty diverse collection of jobs, from barmaid, to nursing, to managing social housing stock and finally, to a half and half job of fixing computers and carrying out admin tasks for a HR department. The last one was the straw that broke the donkey’s back. One day, I was photocopying 400 job application forms for my employer – twice – whilst day dreaming about all the better things I could be doing with my life. I’d already started using Twitter by that time and was getting a buzz from the people liking and sharing my jokes. I even saw people pinch them and call them their own at time. That day, I literally looked at my life from standing over a photo-copier and said, ‘you know what? This isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing.’
That week I quit my job, in a recession, to find myself. And don’t get me wrong I did find myself, but I was a lot hungrier than the previous month when I had a monthly pay cheque.
Good for you! (Not the hungry bit, but managing to turn your life around.) What are you working on right now?
A comedy novel with a ‘working title’ I rather hope I get to keep. It’s called, ‘I Hate That You Bloody Left Me’ and it’s about three widows that meet in an online chatroom and decide to go together to see a famous psychic medium, who is doing his last ever show before retiring, in the hope that they might get a message from their husbands. When none of them do, they follow him to his holiday home in the Scottish Highlands to beg him for a private sitting and end up accidentally kidnapping him. The rest of the novel is a series of hilarious misunderstandings and mishaps, but the magic in the ending is that the three women find they are linked in ways they never knew and that perhaps their meeting wasn’t by chance at all.
That sounds highly readable! Are you happy with the pace of your work? Do you aim at a specific word count each day?
My first novel, ‘The New Mrs D’ had to be self-published in the end, even though I managed to get an agent to represent it, so I have ended up spending more time on trying to market this novel than I am on writing, which is a shame. I know even published writers have to market, but when you have very little money to live on, you end up torn between dreaming up ways to sell the first book and that sense of urgency of getting the second book out. Plus, I have to be funny while the wolf is at the door! All of this has meant progress is much slower than I’d like! But every piece of advice I read from other authors screams, ‘get that next book out!’ So, I know I really have to pick up the pace.
I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to the first draft, because I now know that it is never perfect and is always going to need heaps of rewrites and changes. I think stopping to edit yourself is a big barrier to getting to the end. You just have to keep writing!
Say it so I can hear it. I have to learn to do this myself. Plotter, pantser or both?
Plotter. Most definitely. I have a beat sheet that someone gave me and I’ve used it to map out sections for the entire novel where certain things are supposed to happen. Things like, ‘in the beginning, life is like this for your protagonist…’ and then, ‘in the middle, you took her life and turned it upside down! Oh no, what will he/she do?’ It reminds me to keep it a page turner for the reader.
What’s your worst enemy in getting that first draft finished?
Time spent marketing when I wish I was writing! And, being self-published there is that awful, niggly naggly doubt of ‘is this going to work? Am I good enough?’ I spend a lot of time talking myself round from that last one, as I think a lot of writers do.
Could we take a look at your workspace? Is there a particular place you find inspiring for writing?
Haha! I am a fan of longhand and write lying on the floor, in front of the fire. This brings its own little problems…. Like battles for space…
I can see that! Now your photo is pinned on my Featured Writers’ Workspace board on Pinterest. Apart from Word and Google, do you use any other writing or research tools and apps?
Not at all. I just write and when a question on something arises, I Google. I have, however, contacted many professionals on particular issues like in The New Mrs D when I had to write a chapter about my protagonist setting off a mass volcanic eruption scare on a Greek Island. It’s funny, because I thought I was writing something quite far-fetched, but on speaking to a couple of volcanology professionals, I found that it had actually been done in some very amusing circumstances!
Was that the scene where you asked for help on Greek words from me? That’s how we connected on Twitter! How do you intend to celebrate writing “The End” on your draft?
Same as last time – with my favourite nip of Bruichladdich whisky. Sounds like hard liquor, but it really is lovely! You should try it!
Overlooking a loch? Most definitely! Which book publishing processes are you going to outsource and which are you confident enough to undertake yourself?
I’ve learned a huge lesson with this first book, as I went with Amazon owned Createspace and then found I couldn’t distribute the book to the UK or Australia – where my ebook charted at No1 overall bestseller for a time. It has really hampered my efforts as I contacted all the book stores over there, saying, ‘look, my ebook is riding high in the charts. Would you consider stocking the paperback?’ Then after getting a few positive responses I have had to backtrack and publish a second edition – with Ingramspark – who DO distribute to the UK and Australia. I will go straight to Ingrams next time. It is a little harder to format the book, but worth the effort.
Oh my! That must have been frustrating! Do you have any marketing tips or favorite promotional sites you’d like to share?
I’m not going to lie, marketing has been (and is) very, very difficult. I was lucky that my ebook was randomly chosen by Amazon for a one day Kindle Daily Deal which sent it soaring to the top of the humour and women’s fiction charts. But keeping it there is very hard when no one knows who you are.
I have contacted as many book bloggers as I could find and only manage to get reviews on a handful of sites. It is difficult, but there are some lovely folks out there who will review your book for you. You just have to persevere.
I don’t recommend paid adverts through social media. But I wholeheartedly recommend networking kindly and helpfully. Just be yourself. Don’t permanently send out ‘buy my book messages’. I don’t know ANYBODY who doesn’t hate that.
Your blog is hell4heather.com. Do you follow a specific branding pattern with your posts or is it a free writing platform?
My blog is a free platform where I write random thoughts, advice to writers, updates on my progress and post pictures of cows and sheep that have broken into my garden for the umpteenth time this year. I do have the occasional guest post, but they are few and very far between. It’s a platform for my own musings really. I’m not really a great sales person, (she says, with one blog post entitled, ‘BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK!’) so I don’t like to make it about selling – it’s about being me really. Just myself, reaching out to readers in the hope that maybe they’ll see something they’d like to read more of.
Is it comedy you intend to write more of?
For sure! My first novel was rejected by thirteen publishers, many of them offering a commonly themed feedback line: ‘the humour is too crude and close to the bone.’ So, I tried to discipline myself to write something more marketable and ended up with ten chapters of a really unfunny book that I don’t like at all. I’m not sure if I’ll ever go back and rework it, but I had to put it aside and be myself again to begin, ‘I Hate That You Bloody Left Me,’ which is definitely in my signature crude humour and chatty writing style. Whatever you do, you can’t please everyone and comedy is subjective, there will always be people who don’t get the joke or hate your writing style. But then, I don’t know about you but I want to read something edgy and different. And you will never get edgy and different if everyone tried to conform to what is already out there.
Hear, hear! Fun stuff now: Let’s do a rapid fire round.
Flavored sorbet or chocolate ice cream? You said chocolate. If any of the options have chocolate in them, it’s always that. Chocolate toilet seat, Heather? YES PLEASE!
Pizza or sushi? WHY DO PEOPLE EAT RAW FISH?!? I once tasted oysters. Urgh.. like jellied sea. Don’t, just don’t…. PIZZA!
Twilight or The Hunger Games? I’m forty three and watch very little TV. So I’m thinking Twilight because that’s when it’s all lovely and sundownie in the sky.
Ryan Gosling or Benedict Cumberbatch? Colin Firth! Oh wait, that wasn’t one of the choices. Okay, Ryan Gosling played by Colin Firth. There is no room in my private fantasy life for anyone else. There, I said it.
You won’t find me arguing about Colin Firth! Trek in the Andes or snorkeling in Tahiti? I absolutely love hiking, so it’s trekking, hands down. My husband is always dragging me up Scottish munros and I swear at him all the way up because I’m exhausted and he bullies me like a drill seargent to get me there, but I feel a great sense of achievement when we get to the top and the views are always spectacular. It’s another world up there. Of course, a little break in Tahiti afterwards would be nice.
Ugg boots or red-soled designer stilettos? Ugg boots. I hate stilettos. I’m five foot nothing and a little – ahem – top heavy. So stilettos turn me in to the human Leaning Tower of Pisa. Ooh, pizza!
LOL! You’re funny! Finally, please share with us links where we can find you and your work.
Twitter & Instagram @hell4heather
Thank you, Heather, for being here today, and good luck with “The New Mrs D”.