As part of the featured author Q&A sessions, I am very pleased to announce that the featured author for the current session is Louise Burness.
Hi Louise, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself and your background? I live in a seaside town in the north east of Scotland with my partner and cats. I’ve always been a bit of a bohemian sort and have lived in many different places and worked in a variety of jobs. I spent many years working as a Nursery Nurse and in Social Care, which I loved, but I’ve always had a big imagination and been drawn to the creative arts. I moved home five years ago, fully intending to return to London after a year out. I never left. I met my now partner and feel very grounded being back home with my family nearby. I think our priorities change as we get older and I’m a lot more chilled out these days. Writing has given me the creative outlet I needed. Maybe it was the mind that needed to wander, not necessarily the body. Now I’m happy hanging out with my folks, pottering in the garden and cooking. Maybe I’ve finally grown up (but I doubt it).
What are your ambitions for your writing career? My only real ambition was for people to love my books, to write about characters that we can all relate to and to make people laugh. I see the humour in most situations and I try to convey this through my words. Of course, it would be fabulous to have the huge house and the fancy car but success is so much more than about monetary gain. It’s reading the reviews and seeing that this person couldn’t put my novel down, or discovering that someone laughed so loud that she woke her poor husband in the middle of the night. Money can’t buy you genuine feedback like that. Writing isn’t a job to me, it’s a calling, and I feel very fortunate to be following my dream. From a personal perspective, that’s where the real value lies in what I do. I also want to show that it is possible for other independent authors to make a career from writing and I’ll happily make suggestions, if asked, on how to navigate the way around the minefield that is self-publishing. To have full control of my own work is a big deal to me so my partner and I just set up our own business, ‘Charpollo Publishing.’ At the moment we’re really busy with other ventures and only publishing my books through it, but maybe in the future we can branch out and help out other writers.
So, what have you written? I have three Fiction/Humour novels and two books for children. I decided early on that I preferred writing the adult books so I’ve focused on those for now. My first book, ‘Crappily Ever After,’ did so much better than I expected and got to number two in the Amazon Kindle chart. My second, ‘Ivy Eff,’ was my first real work of fiction. I had my concerns as the first book was based on some of my life experiences, I wasn’t sure I’d have another story in me. Finishing Ivy was a relief. I had managed to come up with a pure fiction story. For this reason, it’s my favourite. My latest book, ‘Falling from Grace,’ is due for release this Christmas. I write a lot of humorous poetry too, usually for events like Burn’s night or Christmas. I’m a descendant of the great Robert Burns so perhaps the love of poetry filtered down the line.
What is your most recent novel? ‘Falling from Grace,’ is humorous like my other two but in a much darker way. It’s based on a troubled woman who finds herself sectioned after a fall from her balcony. It follows Grace trying to convince the doctors, in a retreat called Arcadia, that she’s not a risk to herself. She goes on to form strong friendships with the others in there and finds out that maybe she could do with a little help after all. It has a lot of twists and turns so I can’t elaborate too much, as it would give away the plot. I deliberately tried to make this one as unpredictable as I could. I thought long and hard about writing a book about mental health, it is a horrific and debilitating illness for many and I never want to make a mockery of that. That said, I never shy away from any subject and normalising it in a sensitive way can only be a good thing. Many people are afraid of interacting with people with mental health issues, they may be scared they will say the wrong thing and would rather ignore the problem. I like to challenge opinions like that. I felt justified in writing it as a past sufferer of anxiety related issues and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I can laugh about my own issues, but only if it’s an even number of times. I’m excited to hear what readers think of the new book. It’s quite different to the others.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special? Grace has overcome huge adversity in her life. The issues that she is experiencing come from a snowball effect of a lot of trauma from her past. She owns her own flat and is a successful Head of Department at Holly Berry High School, but she’s unfulfilled in many aspects and is looking for something more. Many of her friends have moved on to marriage and kids, she feels like she’s failing in some way having not achieved those tick list items. Her strength is what makes her stand out, in my opinion. Her problems surface after being strong for too long. I think that many people will relate to her and empathise.
What genre are your books? I would categorise my books as Contemporary Fiction Humour. Some would say chick-lit but I’ve really gone off that label. Too many female writers get lumped together under that category and it’s now seen as a derogatory term for ‘fluffy nonsense.’ We need to remember that not that long ago women used to have to write under male, pen names. We should celebrate and support our female writers and see their works as individual and unique. The term chick-lit makes the feminist in me growl, every time I hear it.
What draws you to this genre? I’ve always loved making people laugh. The world can be far too serious and we need more to smile about. Books are true escapism and the only legal high you’ll ever need. My heroines tend to be strong women overcoming everyday issues, just like out in the real world. I also love that I can incorporate people we see all the time on the street. A variety of race, age, abilities, and sexual orientation, I like to bring in people who will give my books flavour. It’s just like creating you own recipe really. A little dash of this, a sprinkle of that. I don’t want bland, one-dimensional characters. I love to celebrate the uniqueness of people and challenge parochial views. It’s how I am as a person and I hope that it’s reflected in my writing
When did you decide to become a writer? I didn’t really, I kind of fell into it. To be honest, I still don’t feel like a writer, I feel a bit of a fraud. I started writing after having dinner with a few mates. I was regaling them with some of my past relationship disasters. One friend said I could write a book about my love life and challenged me to do it. I wrote a few chapters and asked friends for feedback. They wanted more and more, and suddenly, there was a book. I got a real buzz from their opinions but I really didn’t think it was good enough to put “out there.” It sat on my laptop for around four years before a friend who works in IT said he’d put it online for me. I paced my mother’s kitchen, freaking out, as he uploaded it. Within a few hours it was live. I remember being so excited logging in and seeing I’d had fourteen downloads, they were all from friends supporting my efforts. Writing is like baring your soul to the world, it takes courage to let people inside your thoughts.
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured? Not particularly. I can have weeks when I stare at a blank screen and nothing comes to me, then I have times where ideas pour out of me and I can’t type fast enough. I’ve learned to go with the creative flow. I find if I try to push it, I write rubbish. Annoyingly, my most creative time seems to strike in the early hours of the morning. The notes section in my phone is crammed full of those early morning ideas. When I suffer from block, I tend to read a lot and watch movies. They seem to help give my creativity a nudge. I also like to set an ambience and it depends what I’m writing about at the time. I try to get into character so when I had my latest bout of block, I became Grace, as she was at that moment. I dimmed the lights, poured a glass of red and played ‘Oh Holy Night,’ repeatedly on my phone. It’s not easy having to drink wine and belt out carols in the middle of the day, on an unseasonably warm October day in London, but needs must.
Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day? No, it doesn’t work that way for me. I’m naturally rebellious to the point where I’ll even argue with myself. ‘10k words by tonight you say? Get lost, I’m right in the middle of a box-set.’ I’ve learned I’m a rubbish boss and a complete pushover.
Where do your ideas come from? It varies. Sometimes it can just be a name that pops into my head. I was reading an article about IVF when I thought of my second book. I thought, what if her name was Ivy Eff (shortened from Efferson) and she’s going through that very scenario. I do love a play on words. Sometimes it can be one of the 4am ideas that grows into a story. I’m also a big people watcher so many of my ideas come from observations. One thing I could never write is a handbook on how to be a writer. I think you can probably see by now there’s no rhyme or reason to my style.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you? I never chapter plan, it just doesn’t work for me. I find it too restrictive. I do sometimes come up with the ending of a book at the beginning. Then I kind of meander my way towards it.
How long on average does it take you to write a book? Usually around a year, allowing for the inevitable block period of three months that likes to strike around chapter five.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively? I’ve been told that my writing has improved with each book. I tend to write in the same way as I think, like a scattergun of words that needs a bit of order. I enjoy writing more now. In the beginning, I tried to push myself through block and all it created was frustration and a good load of deleted chapters. Now I know it will happen eventually and just focus on other things. I do a lot of my own book illustrations and that helps improve the flow. I’m a very visual person so sometimes just drawing my characters can spur me into action. It makes them jump out of the page and come to life. Getting into character works well for me, I find it helps flow a conversation in my books by thinking about how someone would respond. I’ve learned that I detest editing. My contribution is the imagination and I don’t like to ruin my enjoyment of writing by fussing over comma placement. The whole experience of writing a book is a journey and I feel like I evolve and learn more about it constantly.
Do you read much and if so which writers inspire you? I try to read as much as I can. My favourite writers are Marian Keyes, Mike Gayle and Nick Hornby. Marian’s books always inspire me. I love the Celtic feel of her stories. The Irish and Scots are very similar in humour, all self-deprecating and taking the proverbial out of each other. I should definitely read more classics, I don’t consider myself very well-read.
What is your favourite book and why? Growing up it was, ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,’ by C.S. Lewis. My nose was never out of a book as a kid and it was probably the first book that launched me into a complete world of fantasy. I loved the whole concept of this hidden world, there weren’t many wardrobes that didn’t have me searching the back of them for a good couple of years after. As an adult it would have to be, ‘The Brightest Star in the Sky,’ by Marian Keyes. I love the supernatural feel of it and the interaction with the characters. It kept me guessing all the way through. I won’t give away her plot line but it’s definitely worth a read.
If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why? I think it would have to be, ‘The Alchemist,’ by Paulo Coelho. It’s a fantastic, modern classic and really changed the way I view what I value. Life should be about experiences and not materialistic pleasures. I would love to have his insight and wisdom. I can’t imagine ever writing anything that could come close to Paulo’s works.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Have faith in yourself and don’t listen to the naysayers. A quote from my latest book sums it up; people can feel uncomfortable when you exceed the boundaries that they’ve created for you. It makes them feel insecure, like they themselves are inadequate in some way. If writing is your dream then you’ll probably find that you naturally have a flair for it. Surround yourself with positive people who will nurture your ideas and have confidence in your abilities. Listen to your critics and read the reviews, good and bad. They will help you grow. Your readers are not only your income, you want them to love what you write. Their opinions matter hugely. Find what works for you, there is no rule book. And finally, you’ll probably find you have to read your work back so many times that you become sick of it. This passes and you will learn to love it again.
Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included? Just to thank you. It’s important that writers have a place to voice their opinions and share their work. Indie authors struggle to find a place in the literary world. Bloggers like yourself are invaluable at allowing us to be seen and heard.
Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview.