Saturday, 21 November 2015

On her way to owning the night - author interview with Michelle Venn

Part of parcel of having become an author is moments and opportunities such as these. Though I have the amazing privilege of speaking to amazing authors such as Karen Long (who was here last week) and Steve Alten, I also love speaking to not only my fellow BNBS colleagues but all those whom I have been met on this exciting, rollercoster of a journey so far. 

This lady is currently halfway through her BNBS campaign for her debut novel. You all know the quality of the stories they publish (some dude on there wrote a halfway decent thriller and there is a dancer with them who writes pretty awesome fantasy novels) so please take the time to check out Michelle's interview and if enthralling love stories are your thing, please show your support and pre order her novel. you won't be disappointed. 

Hi Michelle! Thank you taking the time out of your busy campaign to join me for an interview!! You have joined the growing BNBS family and it’s a pleasure to have you here. So, ‘We Owned The Night’ is your first novel. Tell us a little bit about it.

Hi David, Thanks so much for having me! I am super excited about being interviewed! I feel like a celeb! Haha. I should probably say now that I am the most indecisive person in the world! So if any question requires a decision we might have some problems! I’ve just scanned down the page and seen ‘Favourite colour!’ now that’s going to cause me some trouble! (There would be a monkey with hands over eyes emoji here!)  

So… ‘We Owned the Night’ is based on the notion that a single moment can completely change the course of your life. The main characters Millie and Dex are living completely different lives, on different sides of the globe, he has no idea she even exists! When one moment crosses their paths. The story then follows both their separate lives over the course of a summer where they coincidently end up in the same places but keep missing each other, until after months of him searching for her and trying to find out who she is, they finally meet! Which is pretty epic!
J and then there’s the end…. Which I can’t mention because it’s the best bit and I don’t want to ruin it!

What made you decide to sit down and actually start something?

I actually didn’t ever intend to write a book! There was certainly never a point when I thought ‘I’m going to write a book’ it just sort of happened. I had a really great dream, one of those where you wake up in the middle of it and wish you could go back to sleep and carry on where it left off. I had dreamt part of the story and really wanted to know how it ended, I tried to go back to sleep in the hope it would continue but my then baby daughter was having none of it! It stuck in my head for days and I thought to myself this is a story I would really want to read and I remembered someone once saying to me, to be a good writer you should write what you want to read, so I started writing a first chapter but as I expected (I’m a self confessed quitter!) I got bored and put it away and forgot about it for about 6 months. When I decided to look at it again I started writing and got so into the story that I couldn’t put it down and wrote it to the end. I didn’t have any intention of it ever seeing the light of day! It was just something I got stuck into, enjoyed and wanted to finish for myself.

What was your inspiration?

Since I didn’t intend to write a book there was no real inspiration for writing it but I guess the story itself is inspired by my love of music, singers, bands and going to gigs and music events. The atmosphere and the feeling of being in a crowd at a big music event made for some fun writing.

I know you started out as a graphic designer. Did it feel like a big transition?

It did actually. They feel like two very different things. As a graphic designer, my work is visual, I’ve never had to ‘promote’ myself because people can see what I can do and it speaks for itself. Design is pretty universal, it’s either good or its not whereas books, music etc are subjective, different people like different styles, have different tastes and therefore I know this isn’t something everyone will like and I’m not fully prepared for the criticism that may follow. Writing a book is alien to me. I’m not a writer; this is completely unknown (and scary) territory for me. I’ve gone from a confident professional designer to an amateur writer but in saying that I wouldn’t be pursuing this and (uncomfortably) putting myself out there if I didn’t think the story was great!

How do you create your characters? Dex and Millie…are they based on real life people you know or completely fictional?

They are completely fictional. The only character based on a real person is ‘Sophie’ who’s the receptionist at the office where Millie works.  She is based on a real person I used to know but other than that all the characters are fictional.

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing the story to life?

I quite enjoyed the research side of it. I think I spent more time Googling things I didn’t know than actually writing! But I really wanted it to be believable and as true to life as possible. I can relate to Millie and her life but I obviously have no idea what it would be like to live Dex’ celebrity lifestyle, so that was a challenge to gather enough info and relate enough to be able to write him. I have a couple of ‘celeb’ friends so I was lucky in that I get a bit of an insight into their private lives which made writing Dex’ story a little bit easier and there are a few band members I follow on Twitter and talk to a little bit so they got bombarded with questions too! I guess the only other challenge was forcing myself to attend a music festival so that I could accurately write it in the story, I love going to gigs but I can’t stand festivals, I hate everything about them but I went during the writing of the book so the atmosphere was fresh in my mind to write.

Was it challenging to be creating something new and original in the busy genre? It seems to be channelling the zeitgeist in regards to what readers are looking for which is a little romantic escapism ala Helen Fielding and Cecelia Ahern.

I wouldn’t say it was a challenge as such because when I was writing I didn’t ever have a reader in mind, I was only writing for myself so my only intention was to write exactly what I wanted to read. Cecelia Ahern is one of my favourite authors so if I’ve written anything remotely similar to what she does I’ll be more than happy!

Is ‘We Owned The Night’ a stand-alone story or part of a series?

Currently It’s a stand-alone story but it ends on the perfect start for a sequel. I have started a sequel but I just can’t get into it at the moment so I’m torn between continuing or writing something completely new. The problem I have is that I love my characters I’m not sure if I can tear myself away from them and start from scratch.

Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?

Yes, the only time I can write is when I go to bed at night. My days are hectic! I have 3 daughters 5 and under so my house is always noisy and chaotic, I run my design studio from home so once they go to bed I sit down to work from 7pm-11pm, so the only time I get to write is when I go to bed but that seems to work well for me, It’s silent, I’ve done everything I have to do that day so my mind is clear of everything else and it’s the only time I can properly focus. So when I was writing I tried to write 1-2hrs every night.

Where do the your ideas come from?

Songs! Randomly. I’m a big music fan and I find my inspiration tends to come from lyrics. For example the title of the book came from a song of the same name and in the song the singer describes a girl and she was exactly how I imagined the character of ‘Millie’ to be. One line from the song is ‘You had me dim the lights, you danced just like a child, the wine spilled on your dress and all you did was smile’ from this I imagined a fun, happy, care-free kind of girl and that was what I based Millie on. The end of the book comes from the chorus of a song too but I can’t say which song because it would give the end away.

Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I work to an outline for sure; I’m a bit of an obsessive planner! Before I started writing I bullet pointed the whole story, then I elaborated on the points and wrote the story in a paragraph, then I split that into about 20 chapters and bulked out each one. I created a profile for every character with names, what they would look like, how they would all be related etc. (there would be another monkey with hands over eyes emoji here!) The only thing I didn’t plan was the end, it needed to be something amazing and I wasn’t sure quite what that was until I got there.

Who are your favorite authors/books?

My favourite book is ‘Thanks for the Memories’ Cecelia Ahern but I love most of her books.

If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

I’d really like to say someone really influential or historically important but no, I’m going with actor Justin Long – he’s my ‘weird crush’

If you could meet any of your own characters, who would it be?

I think it would be Ricco, He’s Millie’s best friend and his dad is an Italian millionaire who owns the fashion brand that Millie works for. I’d love to have him as a best friend in real life.

And do you have a favourite character in ‘We Owned The Night’?

I think again it would be Ricco, he’s just very sweet and funny.

If you were going to go out of your comfort zone, what genre would you like to try?

To be honest romance is out of my comfort zone! I do enjoy reading romance but I’m not a romantic person at all. I can’t bare anything soppy so I’m not quite sure how I managed to write a romance novel! I’m not sure about genre but I’d really love to write something that my husband would enjoy reading, he’s supportive of my campaign but he’s not overly interested in reading the book himself, it’s not really his thing! So I would love to try writing something with a more male audience in mind.

‘We Owned The Night’ is your first novel and is currently half way through its pre-order campaign with the publisher Britain’s Next Bestseller (great publishers, or so I’ve heard!!). What have been the high points of getting it onto the page and onto the road to publication so far?

It still hasn’t quite sunk in that it is on the road to publication – as I think I mentioned above I didn’t ever intend to write a book and certainly didn’t ever expect people to read it, publication didn’t even enter my mind! I finished the book about 18 months ago and did nothing with it, I came across Britain’s Next Bestseller website and send in my manuscript on a whim. I didn’t expect to hear anything back, so when I got the email saying it had been accepted it was a bit of a shock!
High point has been the amount of support I’ve had from people, it’s been great! I’m surprised by the amount of people that approach me and tell me how proud they are of me! Even people that I don’t really know that well. I was proud of the fact that I’d written a book but I didn’t expect anyone else to be proud of me…. Except maybe my mum!

And the low points?

Facing a huge fear of mine! Sharing it with the world! I feel like writing a book is a very personal thing, even fiction, as it’s from my own mind, my ideas, my thoughts, my decisions….my story, and that is like letting someone inside of my head which, as a VERY private person is really difficult for me! I like to keep my private life, private, I don’t let the outside world in very often so I feel incredibly exposed to be sharing my work even though the story is not about me, my life or anyone in it, it still feels quite personal. For the first few weeks of my campaign my first thought on waking up each morning was to just delete it all, get it all off of the internet so no one could see it, it took me till about 12 midday every day to talk myself out of it! (One last monkey with hands over eyes emoji!)

Do you have any advice for other writers who may be starting out?

I’m going to just pass on the best advice I was given ‘Write what you want to read’ and don’t quit!

What are you working on at the minute?

I’m still pondering the whole ‘sequel or something new’ thing

Do you have any special message you would like to say to your readers?

Yes! This interview has made me realize that I can’t get through life without the use of emoji’s! …and I think I talk too much!

If you like the sound of my book, please pre-order, it’s awesome I promise!
J (& I send out cake to pre-orderers!)
Oh and one last thing.. Hollywood if you want to make my book into a movie I am totally cool with that! 

And to finish off…

  1. Favourite movie? City of Angels
  2. Favourite colour? It’s actually grey! But that makes me sound super boring! So I’m going with my second fav, pink!
  3. Favourite song? Lady Antebellum ‘We Owned the Night’
  4. Favourite food? Chips!
  5.  Favourite Superhero? Batman
  6. Favourite Doctor (as in Doctor Who though you can go all House if you wish!)? Well, having never watched an episode of Dr. Who in my life I turned to Google! I was going to base my decision on looks, which seemed like a perfectly good way to choose… till I looked at the pictures! Err.. I’m going with Matt Smith based on the fact that I like his bow tie!
  7. Favourite drink? I don’t drink but I am a Pepsi Max addict, does that count?
  8.  Favourite TV show? Friends
  9. Favourite place? Bath city centre, at dusk to be specific!
  10.  Favourite word (swear or otherwise!)? Moron

     Michelle Venn is a mother of three and lives outside the city of Bath in Somerset. A graphic designer and digital artist for 9 years, 'We Owned The Night'is her first novel and is currently available for pre-order at Britain's Next Bestseller and by clicking the link here

Sunday, 15 November 2015

An Unkindness of Ravens - author interview with Karen Long

I have been privileged to have had some exceptional authors guest on my blog since I became an author, but this lady is someone special. I have been a huge fan ever since I read her bestselling debut novel 'The Safe Word' and to have her agree to take time out of her busy life to answer some of my questions is a true honour (and ticks a box for the fanboy in me!!).

So, to kick us off I will simply say hi Karen and thank you for taking the time to guest on my blog. As one of my favourite authors, and as I mentioned above, I’m a little star struck and honoured to have you here. 

And to begin with, ‘The Safe Word’ introduced the world to Eleanor Raven. Tell us a little about her conception and how she came to be?

Thank you for that glowing introduction.
My husband was filming in Toronto several years ago and I took the opportunity to stay over. I love the city. It’s liberated, calm and full of life and felt the right environment to develop story ideas in. I’d been writing for a long time and had wanted to move into crime fiction but up to that point didn’t have an environment I felt confident about using as the backdrop.
What was the initial inspiration behind ‘The Safe Word’?

A coffee and a newspaper browse. There was a small article about a woman who had been reported by eyewitnesses as having been kidnapped and flung into the back of a van. The police had apprehended the vehicle and in the process of rescuing the ‘victim’, were somewhat disconcerted by her less than appreciative response. Apparently she’d been saving up for a ‘red letter’ sexy kidnap day for some time and was less than pleased to have her day spoiled by meddling police. It wasn’t too much of a stretch to imagine how that sort of high-risk behaviour could end in murder.

How helpful was your background in medicine and forensic psychology in crafting the story?

I think the wider your knowledge base is, the easier it is to avoid the pitfalls of modern crime detection. I am an avid reader of all things forensic but there are considerable gaps in my knowledge, which frequently trip me up. I’m not a Torontan, a weapons expert, or detective and have a limited grasp on how data and surveillance works. So, I am aware that I often skirt around aspects of real life detection that I’m unsure of, or don’t feel I have covered sufficiently. Where I am most confident is in describing mind and body: it’s also what I most like to read about. You should write what you want to read.

Eleanor is quite a complex protagonist with particularly interesting strengths and vulnerabilities (not to mention an excellent name!). What were the challenges in imbuing her character with those traits whilst maintaining her role as a detective?

If you are going to spend any amount of time with a fictional character, then you, as reader, need to be in possession of their secrets. I am intrigued by people whose public face is the polarised opposite of how they are in their private world. Her private fears, insecurities and indulgences are in constant friction with her role as an investigator, which gives the plotting an extra layer of conflict to play around with.

Making her into BDSM was a brave move, and I felt made her more human and relatable (I’m not giving away spoilers to the story, dear readers…Eleanor’s sexual proclivities are discussed in the first chapter!). It certainly sets her apart from the usual, more conventional detectives. A deliberate move?

I love the phrase, ‘Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.’ and felt it was a mantra that could accompany Eleanor as she searches for the killer. She doesn’t judge the actions or motivations of others; neither does she empathise with them. I also like the idea that my central character should understand, on many levels, the world she is sent to police. It really appealed to me that her journey to apprehend the killer, should parallel growing insights into her own character.

One reviewer called her an onion in so much as you feel you are only scratching the surface with her. Was she always so multi-layered?

I think the complexity of a character emerges as you try to work how they will react to each event. As I piled on the pressures, it became apparent to me that Eleanor wouldn’t always understand why she reacted or behaved in a particular manner, though insight is what she would ultimately seek. So, when I first conceived Eleanor’s personality, she was determined mainly by her secret. As each novel has progressed she has become more fractured, more self-aware and then eventually healed.

‘The Safe Word’ has a certain voyeuristic feel to it. Was that the intention?

Absolutely. Reading about murder and mayhem is a way or indulging our darker thoughts and fears. If it is to work, then the reader should be uncomfortable. An easy read does just that. You lap it up and go put on the kettle. Murder is an obscenity: our greatest fear, so we shouldn’t be at ease. A thriller, for me, should make you squirm.

And ‘Monster’ (readers will know to whom or rather what I refer!)…based upon your love of animals?

I originally included a dog because it was an easy way of developing characters and relationships within the novel. I love animals, in particular the crow family but pairing Laurence up with a literal Raven was going to test incredulity. I didn’t want Laurence’s character to always just be bouncing off Eleanor’s, so I gave him a little story of his own (and the loan of my german shepherd).

We find Eleanor dealing with her own demons for a verity of reasons in the second novel ‘The Vault’. Was the idea for it always there or did that come later following the release of ‘The Safe Word’?

It wasn’t satisfying dramatically just to repeat the same scenarios because that would mean Eleanor hadn’t progressed from The Safe Word. I am currently writing book three, which sees her in another light, again having learned from The Vault. I understand that each book has to be singular story in its own right but I have written/am writing them as a trilogy, so she has to have an overriding arc.

The antagonist in ‘The Vault’ is fascinating. How did you come up with the concept for that character?

I watched a documentary on a strange little man called Carl Tanzier, who became obsessed with a dying TB patient, called Elena. Following her death, he created a mausoleum and stole her body, preserving it (albeit badly) using his own recipe and turning her into his ‘bride’.
We are all wired up to want, or need similar things such as love, acceptance and family bonds, unfortunately these needs are not always realised in a conventional way. He was, according to people who knew him and worked with him, overly confident in his own intellectual powers, single-minded and secretive. If you combine those traits with those associated with psychopathy, then coming up with the ‘Collector’ wasn’t too hard.
I love writing characters that are guided by their own moral compass. They have no empathy, or sense of how other people view the world. They are terrifying.

It reminded me a little of the Autons from Doctor Who in regards to what happens to the victims being embalmed. It goes to some pretty dark places. 

Exactly. I love the idea of the ‘Uncanny valley’. There’s an emotional peak and trough associated with robots and the recreation of ‘humans’. As a robot is made to look more human, we begin to increase our levels of empathy towards it. But there’s a point, where we begin to become suspicious that the creature in front of us isn’t quite human, despite appearances and behaviour. This creates a sense of ‘uncanniness’ and makes us feel revulsion. It’s a very narrow margin though and with a bit of tweaking, you can elicit an empathic response from people again. I liked the idea of an individual, whose response to this phenomenon was identical in terms of empathy and revulsion to that of a healthy person but just didn’t hit the same markers. For him the lack of movement, skin tone, warmth and vitality didn’t engender a negative emotional response. It’s only when his victims begin to decompose that the response is triggered.

I liked how little details about many of the supporting characters were drip fed throughout the novels, possibly relating to bigger mysteries for some of them. How do you go about building your supporting characters?

All of my characters have to ‘live’ for me. They have their own approaches to conflict, back-stories and complexity. It’s very liberating on the plot front and adds a dimension to events. I also have to spend a great deal of time with these guys and need them to be more than just a means of enabling Eleanor to move through the plot seamlessly.

The books have been praised for their attention to police procedure, crime scene re-enactment and forensic details? How do you go about the research for those elements? Is it Internet based, real-life discussions with experts or a mixture of both?

It’s a definite mixture of both. Without the internet I’d be lost. Every single idea can be researched instantly and checked for veracity but there’s nothing quite like the visceral experience of watching a post mortem or handling a Glock. I’ve been extremely fortunate in having had opportunities to meet people in a great many professions and learn from them. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t watch an actual embalming take place, due to very strict guidelines concerning privacy. However, I have spent time in a morgue, spoken to detectives, seen the ‘Body Worlds’ exhibition and travelled to the places I write about. I’m a big fan of maps and ‘Google maps’, which allow me to sit in my office in rural Shropshire and ‘walk’ through the streets of Toronto. 

Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?

I really try to be regular and prescriptive in work time but write from home, which means that I’m ‘on call’ for my daughters. When they are out at work and college I fight my way through the dogs, who need to accompany my every move, and settle down to a couple of hours. Unfortunately, my writing is glacially slow and if I get two pages written in a day I’m my own hero.

Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?

Both. I am a very linear writer and can’t dip in and out of scenes, or time. It’s page one to the end. I always have a sense of what the first and last few chapters are but the plot always evolves as I go. I know the story beats but not always how I’ll get there.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively between ‘The Safe Word’ and ‘The Vault’?

I think my spelling and punctuation have improved and I’m beginning to understand a little more about how to put a plot together.
Which part (if any and of either) was the hardest part to write?
Oh the middle for sure!

I am in blood
Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er.   ‘Macbeth’

And the easiest?

Chapter One. It trips lightly off the fingers and gives me a sense that it’ll be finished in a month. Funny!

Who are your favorite authors/books?

I love Dennis Lehane and Karin Fossum just for sheer fabulous plotting and economy of style. I don’t think you can beat Graham Greene, William Golding and A.S. Byatt for characterisation and resonance

If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Ooh it would have to be someone who liked a few too many glasses of wine, like myself. I’d love to spend an evening with Sir David Attenborough, as the stories would never dry or tire.

If you could meet any of your own characters, who would it be?

Ah, there’s a thought. I should say Eleanor Raven, as my protagonist but I think it would have to be Dr Mira Hounslow, the chief ME. She’s efficient, intellectual and has a dry sense of humour. I think she’d be fabulous.

And do you have a favourite character in ’The Safe Word’ of ‘The Vault’?

I love Timms. He’s a rough diamond but is based on several very good friends.

If you were going to go out of your comfort zone, what genre would you like to try?

The most unlikely genre for me to write would be romance. I don’t think I have the right personality. If I was to swing for’ improbable but why the hell not’ I’d have a bash at science fiction.

Do you have any advice for other writers who may be starting out?

My advice would be: don’t over-write. Describe it only if there’s merit in you doing so and move on.

And after ‘The Vault’, what’s next for Karen Long and Eleanor Raven?

The Cold Room is book three in the series and should be completed and out there in the spring. After that I’d like to write a ‘stand alone’ crime fiction.

Do you have any special message you would like to say to your readers?

Thank you for reading and supporting me. To have someone buy your book and finish it is fabulous. I raise a glass to you all. (My husband says I raise way too many glasses!).

And to finish off…

  1. Favourite movie?  ‘Seven’ 
  2. Favourite colour? Blue
  3. Favourite song? ‘Jerusalem’
  4. Favourite food? Avocado
  5. Favourite Superhero? Batman
  6. Favourite Doctor (as in Doctor Who though you can go all House if you wish!)? Tom Baker
  7. Favourite drink? Marguerita
  8. Favourite TV show? Peaky Blinders’
  9. Favourite place? Kruger National Park. South Africa
  10. Favourite word (swear or otherwise!)? Asshole’  (It’s my ‘go to’ word)

A huge thank you to Karen for her time and fantastic interview. I cannot recommend The Safe Word and The Vault enough, both of which are available on and and by clicking on the links.

Karen Long was born and raised in the English midlands, educated at Bangor University and taught English and Drama for fifteen years. During her teaching years she studied biology and neurology with the Open University and this interest in medicine, forensics and forensic psychology is reflected in her writing. She is an enthusiastic traveller and has spent time in Toronto, which became the backdrop and inspiration for The Safe Word.

She is a keen amateur naturalist with a deep and abiding love for the crow family. She has dedicated time, love and several fingers in an effort to rehabilitate crows, magpies, rooks and ravens. 

Karen is happy to correspond with readers and can be contacted through her website KarenLongWriter, where she posts regular blogs.

The Safe Word is Karen's first novel and was an Amazon bestseller. It was joined by the second in the Eleanor Raven series, The Vault, in December 2014