Author Interview: Katrina Hart, author of Finding Destiny, fantasy eBook just released by Pilrig Press!

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Today we have Katrina Hart here with us to discuss her newly released eBook, Finding Destiny, available now from Pilrig Press http://www.pilrigpress.co.uk/books.html and on Amazon.

What motivated you to begin writing creatively?

I’ve always loved writing in diaries and found writing a great release. However, for me, writing really hit me one summer a few years ago. I was sitting looking out of my window thinking about writing, amongst other things. I just knew I wanted to start writing in a different way. So, I think my writing really came alive when I took a writing course online and had a great tutor who helped me focus on bringing out the stories that are in my mind.

How did Finding Destiny come about?

Finding Destiny started as a short story for one of my creative writing assignments. I’m honestly not sure exactly where the story came from. I just started writing and discovered all these people and their world, and from there, their journey grew. 

Which character do you feel most strongly about, and why?

Wow that’s a very hard one because every single character has a special place in my heart for different reasons. But I think Miss Talk A Lot (Lotty) is a character I feel strongly about, because she has some hard times and changes a lot but deep down she just wants to belong. Also, she has a scary side that endeared me to her character. 

If you had to describe the theme of your novel, what would that be?

My novel is about the journey of Alex and how he has to face the past to try and save the future for the people he loves.

What obstacles, if any, did you encounter when writing your novel?

Writing is full of obstacles. For me, I think it was getting my story out of my head and then making it just the way I wanted it. But I also think that was the fun part too, learning how to turn my writing–which sometimes only I could read–into the story I was following in my mind.

What was your greatest joy when crafting your story?

The greatest joy was getting to know all of my characters and following their stories right to the end. Also, getting to know other writers, like yourself, while writing my novel really meant a lot to me.

Once your story was down on paper, did you do a lot of rewriting? Could you talk us through this process?

Once my novel was on paper I started reading it over and making notes for changes, rewriting etc. Then I set about putting the changes in until I was happy I had it the best I could get it. Also, I got some great feedback from people, and my tutor who I got to know on my course, and that helped a lot too. Then it went off to an editor who helped me polish it to the best it can be.

Once you finished writing your novel, how did you go about finding a publisher?

Once I had finished my novel I got the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and started looking in there, but how I found the publisher who is publishing my eBook was through the person who edited my novel

Do you have any future novels in the works?

I do have other novels written/in the middle of being written that I’m still tweaking and working on…

Thank you Katrina for the interview and a big congratulations on the publication of Finding Destiny, available now from Pilrig Press http://www.pilrigpress.co.uk/books.html and Katrina’s blog: https://katrinamarie25.wordpress.com/

Until next time!

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Overcoming metrophobia, also known as a fear of poetry

Stanzas, freeform, sestina, open and closed form. Do these mean anything to you? They barely registered on my literary radar.  As part of my Creative Writing MLitt at Glasgow University I have had to read several volumes of poetry. This initially provoked feelings of shock, horror, dread and silence (lest my fellow students discover my aversion, and ignorance). Not that I’ve never read any poetry before, I have. When I was a teenager I was fond of Robert Browning, Emily Dickinson and E.E. Cummings, amongst others. But I treated them as the adolescent phase I thought them to be. The saints of the literary world who were too high up to ever really understand, and certainly too lofty to emulate.

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But the worst part of all was that we actually had to write a poem. Choke, gasp, gulp.

Terrified of the exercise, I panicked. How do you start? I thought I’d better find out. So, I went to the library and took out The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry (http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Ode-Less-Travelled-Unlocking/dp/009179661X). In it he talks about what goes into poetry in such an accessible way as to make you think that anyone can be a poet. He covers the history, various forms of poetry and metre. But the best part of it is that he even teaches you how to write a poem. Which I did.

And guess what?

It was fun!

I reeled off a Shakespearian sonnet about my cat, Cleo, who just so happens to be named after the ancient Greek muse of history and literature. Here’s a photo of the feline version for inspiration, in case you’d like to write your own Ode to Cleo.

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And for good measure, here’s her brother, Othello. Isn’t he inspiring?

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So I’ve changed my mind. I’ve even written a poem…or two. Not that they are any good, but I’m getting over my metrophobia.

How did I do this and what brought about my recovery? Firstly, having a passionate and inspired professor, who is also a poet, helped (Dr Carolyn Jess-Cooke, who you can read about here: http://www.carolynjesscooke.com/ ). As did getting to meet and hear poets read from and discuss their work. One of the poets we heard was Sheri Benning, a Canadian poet from Saskatchewan who read several poems from her collection Thin Moon Psalm (which you can read about here: http://poetryreviews.ca/reviews/thin-moon-psalm-by-sheri-benning/) As I listened to her read, I was transported to the small farm she called home. I could see the light of the moon on an early spring morning and feel the sweat on her father’s back as he worked. But most of all she captured an image, an emotion, revealed a truth and sometimes told a story—which I could relate to. Yet she did so in only a very few words, and with a rhythm to her voice which made her stories into songs. I realised that each and every word must be appreciated for the sum total of its parts, not just its meaning but also its sound.  I also realised that the idea of poetry being inaccessible to the layman is nonsense.

For example, there are several spoken word artists such as Hollie McNish (http://holliepoetry.com/poetry-videos/) who writes and performs her poetry without any fancy degrees or literary training, and Kate Tempest (http://www.katetempest.co.uk/about), who grew up in a working class family in South London, began as a teenage rapper and now performs all over the world.

Although I haven’t enjoyed all of the poetry we’ve read, watched and listened to (to appreciate poetry you really do have to hear it), I have certainly enjoyed getting to understand language in a new and different way. Right now we’re reading a book called Wild Geese by American poet Mary Oliver. In her poems she describes nature in almost scientific detail, using it to demonstrate the value of life, love and how amazing and wondrous the world really is. Have a read of her poem ‘Swan’ here:  http://maryoliver.beacon.org/publications/monthly/

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I’ve also learned to love the tightness and control of poetry. You would think that the narrower the remit for a piece of work, the less creative but I’ve found this to be the opposite. That isn’t to say that a saga like novel isn’t creative—not in the least. But in a poem, you only have a short space to express your thoughts, and forcing yourself to follow the rhyme and rhythm of verse mentally channels you to be choosier about your language and the words you use to express your thoughts, feelings and ideas.

What do you think about poetry? Enjoy it? Not enjoy it? Have you ever tried writing a poem and if so, how did it go? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and maybe even your poems if you felt like sharing them!

And to end, here are a couple of interesting poetry magazines I’ve discovered as a result of the course. Check them out, and see if they change your mind.

http://www.butchersdogmagazine.com/

http://www.thedarkhorsemagazine.com/newissue.html

Thanks for reading. Until next time!

Writing achievements and support

Today I received something very special in the post–my own copy of The Single Feather by R.F. Hunt!

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This is certain to be a terrific, thought-provoking read. Ruth and I both took novel writing classes at writingclasses.co.uk. It was there we got to know each other, albeit virtually, and to encourage each other with our writing. It was also there that we became friends with Katrina Hart, author of soon to be published fantasy ebook, Finding Destiny, which you can read about here: http://www.pilrigpress.co.uk/books.html .

When we became friends, starting a virtual writers’ circle of sorts, we were all beginners, now three years later, we are all published or soon to be published novelists. This is due in large part to determination, persevering at our writing and editing even when it felt like it was time to give up. Speaking for myself, it was writing friendships such as I have with Ruth and Katie which helped me through the difficult times, when writing felt impossible, as though I would never get anywhere with it. Writing is hard and it’s difficult to maintain self-belief in your project through hundreds of pages, which makes having the support of other writers who will support you with your ‘crazy ideas’ all the more important.

So…hip, hip hooray and three cheers for Ruth!

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I can’t wait to read The Single Feather!

Speaking of writerly support, I would be remiss to not mention how grateful I am for the support of Marianne Wheelaghan, whose writing classes assisted me tremendously on my writing journey. Her new murder mystery novel, Killer Shoeshine, is coming out soon with Pilrig Press, Here’s a photo of her previous novels, The Blue Suitcase (historical fiction) and Food of Ghosts (the first of the DS Louisa Townsend series), both are available from Pilrig Press and both are excellent reads: http://www.pilrigpress.co.uk/books.html

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Also, Anne Hamilton assisted Ruth, Katie and I greatly both as a teacher as well as in the preparation of our manuscripts and with much needed mentoring in my case. She is the author of the intelligent, humorous and thought provoking travel book, A Blonde Bengali Wife, about her journeys in Bangladesh, which you can buy here (all profits go to the charity Bhola’s Children): http://www.ll-publications.com/nonfiction.html Here’s a photo of it’s lovely cover:

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So a big thank you to all the wonderful, inspiring and helpful writers in my life! I can’t wait to read all of your books when they come out!

Are you a writer, and if so, have you found having the support and encouragement of friends or a writers group valuable to your own writing practice? Looking back on your own writing journey, what are the milestones which stand out to you and how do you think you managed to arrive at each? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below.

Preparing to write a novel: Research and planning

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I’ve heard it said that there are writers who write as the story comes to them, uncertain what will happen next, and then there are those who plan and outline to varying degrees. While I like the excitement which goes along with not knowing what will happen next, I am, usually, a planner. This is because planning gives me a greater sense of control over the work, to shape and guide it as needed, and when the going gets tough (and it most certainly will) an outline will never fail to point you back in the right direction.

That said, I also think there is such a thing as over planning your novel to the point of not listening when changes need to be made for fear that your ‘plan’ will be disrupted. However, with historical fiction it is especially important to know what direction you’re moving in so that you can do your research ahead of time.

Prior to writing The Forest King’s Daughter, I did a lot of research. Even after I started writing, I often had to go back and check some detail of daily life. I’d begin writing a scene where a character is adding jam to their porridge and then I’d have to ask myself ‘did they put jam in their porridge back then?’ The answer is no, not if you were a poor crofter. Sugar was a luxury (hence the special lidded box Mrs Johansson keeps her sugar in on a high shelf). Even as late as 1905 Vilhelm Moberg wrote about his father bringing home a block of sugar and giving everyone a piece of it as a special treat to celebrate the peace with Norway (Moberg, When I Was a Child, 1956). Also, their porridge was made from barley, not oats.  I often felt I could not complete a scene without knowing, for certain, if such a thing existed at the time. This made writing the novel exceedingly difficult, especially as it was the first novel I’d ever tried to write.

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But I knew this before I started and still felt I had to write it–needed to write it. As Truman Capote once said, “There is no agony like having an untold story inside you.”

So, how did I deal with this? Preparation. Before even beginning my research I started to outline my characters, their stories, their lifetimes and, of course, the novel itself. I drew up spreadsheets containing births and deaths of fictional characters and what historical events had taken place during their lifetimes that may have affected them. Some of this history was unknown to me so I located world history timelines, European historical timelines, lists of inventions and when they came out. Then I needed to begin reading about these things, deciding what research I needed to do and how I would achieve this.

Ingrid's family tree

There was no easy answer. I didn’t have any research experience and had no idea where to start. Someone said that the best place to start was to read books from the same place and time period as your novel will be set. Okay, easy enough. I did that, paying careful attention to attitudes, customs, ways of speaking etc. I then began reading historical texts, looking at old photos, paintings, reading ship passenger lists and old emigrant diaries (thanks to Norway Heritage, www.norwayheritage.com ). I contacted historical societies, visited the place in Liverpool where the emigrant ships departed from (the ships docked in England before continuing on to America), went to specialist libraries and generally tried to immerse myself in that time and place. I typed and filed as much as I could so I had something to refer to when writing. I used my story outline and my great grandmother’s itinerary as guideposts. I made a lot of mistakes and wrong turns, but I came back and tried again, because I’m very stubborn. And eventually I got there.

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Photo of a painting of an emigrant ship leaving port from Liverpool Maritime Museum

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Statues of emigrants on display at Liverpool Maritime Museum

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Sunset over the Mersey, would it have looked the same then?

Did I use all of the material in my draft? No. I couldn’t have used it all even if I had wanted to. If I did, the novel wouldn’t have made any sense. In fact, it would no longer even be a novel, just a collection of facts and historical impressions. So, was all of this research necessary? I think so. If I hadn’t done the research I wouldn’t have known my subject, my characters or the place they called home and so couldn’t have written the story.

How about you, have you ever written something which required you to do research? If so, how did you approach the research? Did you enjoy it, or loathe it? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please feel free to share using the comments box below.

New writing anthologies I’m excited about

One of the unique elements of studying for the Creative Writing MLitt at Glasgow University is that all students do an Editing and Publication project. So, for example, for my project I’m writing this blog and promoting the publication of my upcoming novel The Forest King’s Daughter.

Other students are running Creative Writing workshops in schools and putting out a student anthology at the end, or doing work with their local writers group. Some students are producing literary anthologies which are open for submissions from the wider writing community. Basically, anything involving editing and publication is acceptable. It’s a fantastic opportunity for new writers to gain experience in the wider world of publication, be that editing, teaching or literary promotion in all its guises. It’s also a great opportunity for new and aspiring authors to submit their work.

So, without further ado, here’s a roundup of some of the publications you’ll want to check out:

  1. Outside Culture Magazine. A publication featuring creative writing from expats the world over, on the subject of what it’s like to be an outsider. Intro by Pico Iyer. Edited by Nichola Deadman. First issue out now! http://outsideculturemagazine.com/
  1. Crooked Holster. An anthology of crime, thriller and mystery. Edited by Joanna Young and her co-conspirator Sandra Kohls. First issue coming out in April. Send them your tales of mayhem and intrigue by 28th February 2015. http://crookedholster.com/
  1. The Atelier Project, a journal dedicated to discovering the roots of creativity. Edited by Molly Murray. Send them your tales of creativity in the form of poetry, prose or creative non-fiction by 1st March 2015. http://atelierproject.net/about-the-project/
  1. Black Opal Arts. A new platform for writers and artists of fantasy/horror. Edited by Rosie McCaffrey and Billie Lamont. Select pieces will be asked to present at the exhibition in Glasgow in April. Submission deadline of 1st April 2015. https://blackopalarts.wordpress.com/
  1. Williwaw Anthology. A new anthology of magical realism. Coming out in print and ebook formats in spring 2015. Edited by Emily Ilett,Claire Martin and Quinn Ramsay. Submission window closes 1st March 2015. https://williwawanthology.wordpress.com/about/

Until next time!

Short stories vs Novels: Which do you write?

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Every writer of fiction has been asked at some point if they are a writer of novels or of short stories. So, which are you?

When I began writing I set out to mostly write short stories. Why? Because they’re short, and, I figured, there are lots of magazines which publish short stories, and that should make my job as a writer easier. Right? Wrong!

No matter how short the story, it won’t be a satisfying read without a well-rounded protagonist, an interesting plot and a strong climax. And trying to fit all of these elements into just a few thousand words (sometimes even less these days with the advent of flash fiction) is no easy feat.

In a novel you have more space to flesh out your characters and storyline, you have room to manoeuvre, so to speak.

Or do you?

These days with novels, if it’s not getting a reader’s attention straight away, they’ll put it down. I’ve always wanted to do a survey of present day novels and compare them to the novels of previous times (say, the 1940’s) to see how they compare. Is it true that we have to be punchier now, or is it just a sense of nostalgia making us believe this?

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A different audience

Many short stories are read online, in magazines or anthologies whereas novels must stand alone. If a reader isn’t sure about your book they won’t buy it, but a short story might be stumbled upon in an anthology and read almost by mistake. Novels require a considerable commitment on the part of the reader in terms of the time they take to read. If they don’t like your characters, or where your plot is going, they won’t invest that time.

Of course, not all short stories are published in magazines, some of them are published as collections, like these.

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Although several of the stories originally appeared in literary magazines such as The New Yorker.

Short stories which turn into novels and vice-versa

When I began writing about the main character of The Forest King’s Daughter, it was in a short story. From there I went on to write more short stories about her and this progressed until I knew she needed a novel. I know some writers who do this in reverse, writing a series of short stories based on their novel’s protagonist after they’ve written the novel. Whichever way round it is, I think character driven fiction is important. If a character wants to take you someplace else, maybe somewhere new where you’re not sure if you’re comfortable going—follow them! It’s our only hope as writers, to follow our ideas through to the end, to explore all possibilities and to discover what we can achieve.

So, which are you? And do you think it’s necessary to specialise in one form or the other? If you’re a novelist, do you ever dabble in short stories? And if you’re a short story writer, have you ever attempted a novel? I’d love to hear your thoughts!