They say you never really know someone until you live with them and I’ve found that applies to writers as well. By which, I mean, it’s only when you spend quality time with them that you begin to understand what makes them tick and what life experiences they’re drawing upon.
Sharing a blog like Strictly Writing is a little like being in a relationship of sorts, or maybe a creative commune. We share ideas and anecdotes, as well as excerpts. However, sometimes one of us will post something that’s so visceral that it cuts through any intellectualising and brings you to a standstill.
Fellow scribe Tracey Sinclair did just that recently when she blogged about grief and creativity – you can find it hereand I recommend a second reading. You’ll also note from the comments we received that Tracey’s willingness to share exactly what was going on in her life really touched people.
I caught up with her to find out more about her journey as a writer and how her recent experiences had impacted on her writing practice.
Was it a difficult decision to talk so openly and personally about where your life is right now?
It was and it wasn’t – I have blogged about personal things in my life before so it wasn’t a new thing for me to do, and I do think there is genuine value in sharing these kinds of experiences, but actually writing it and getting it out there was far harder than I thought and felt quite exposing. The reaction I got from people made me glad I did it though, as lots of people got in touch to say they found it inspiring and moving.
Have you found writing to be therapeutic and does this change how you write?
Not therapeutic, no, I don’t think so. I enjoy it and it makes me happy, so that has, I suppose, a therapeutic value, but I’m not one of those people who finds some sort of catharsis through writing.
You have a foot in two writing camps – fiction and copywriting / editing. How do you make time for both?
Part of the reason I became a freelancer was so that I would have more flexibility and be able to fit in more fiction writing. Because I can set my own hours I can adapt my work schedule as needed, and work whenever and wherever I want. Sometimes that does mean working very long hours and every day of the week but I don’t mind – I’m happy to be writing at 2am if that’s what it takes to get something done.
What’s next for your main character, Cassandra Bick?
Cass came from a place both of love and frustration – I love the urban fantasy genre but I was sick of the fact that the female characters seemed to fall squarely into two camps, these days: impossibly kick ass lone wolf women or swooning teens, and there didn’t seem to be a place for a woman who you could picture yourself having a drink with, a woman who you can imagine living in the real world and who has friends and a job – someone a bit like me, I suppose, only with a far more interesting love life! I also wanted to write something that reflected modern London (and modern life) so wasn’t just peopled by straight white people. Plus I love writers like Jim Butcher and Joss Whedon who realise that adding humour to something doesn’t devalue it or mean you make it less serious; you can care deeply for characters but still tell a joke, or recognise how ridiculous a situation is. I love the fact that in Dark Dates many of the characters, especially Cass, realise just how insane their lives are and can still make jokes even when things are tough, because that’s how people cope with extreme situations.
In terms of what’s next for her, I honestly don’t know – I have a vague idea of what’s going to happen in the third book, but I won’t know until it’s written, as I tend not to plot too far in advance, I like the story to unfold as I’m writing it. In terms of being affected by my own recent experiences, I don’t think her storyline will be. She’s already lost people and is no stranger to grief so that isn’t a new subject for the books, and I have no plans to shoehorn anything in to write through my own experiences. I imagine all of this upheaval will come out in something, somewhere, but not just yet and I’m not sure these books are the place for it.
What’s your process when writing a Cassandra Bick story?
I tend to start with character sketches or short scenes – sometimes funny, sometimes not – that allow me to give ideas a work out then expand that into a handwritten first draft. Sometimes these stem from the fact that I think something would be funny, sometimes just from an idea I had that I’d like to see how it looks written down. I then do another handwritten draft because I think the fact that it’s a laborious process makes me pay more attention and notice mistakes. I rarely build scenes around humour, but I do reread them once they’re done to see if I can puncture any po-facedness, as that’s one of the things I want the books to avoid. I’m with Joss Whedon (again!) on this one, where he said – and I’m paraphrasing because I can’t recall the exact quote – make it as dark as you like, but then for God’s sake, tell a joke.
When and why did you decide to self-publish?
I had two small press titles published in the literary fiction genre, and was struggling to find anyone to take Dark Dates because, apparently, ‘vampires are over’, but it wasn’t the kind of thing my existing publisher would be interested in. So I thought, sod it, and just put the book out there myself, partly because I just got bored of waiting for any progress and I just wanted the first one off my desk. It’s been quite the learning curve – it’s far harder work than you’d think – but I’m glad I did it, as so many people have told me they loved the books and the reviews have generally been excellent, so it makes me feel like I wasn’t deluding myself by thinking they were good!
Where can we find any other interviews?