Category Archives: author interview

Author interview and novel excerpt: Chris Ward

Today I’m very happy to welcome Chris Ward, a native of Cornwall, England, who currently lives and works in Nagano, Japan. He is the author of 33 published short stories and the novels The Tube Riders and The Man Who Built the World. Chris has very kindly offered to answer a few questions for me and even given a preview of his novel, to whet the appetite of all who read it. So, let’s find out what the fuss is about!

Chris Ward

Tell me about the book. What inspired you to write it? What has the response been like?

I always had a rule in my writing never to write the same book twice.  While it looks like this is going to leave me poor and unknown forever, when I came to write Tube Riders I decided I wanted to write a big, epic sci-fi adventure because, while I had often written short stories in that genre, my novels had always been more mainstream.  I didn’t have much inspiration, so I looked through my short stories and came across one about a group of kids who hang from the side of trains for fun and get in trouble with a rival gang.  A couple of hours of brainstorming later I had expanded it into a sprawling dystopian novel.

The response … well, the handful of people who have read it have loved it.  I’ve had rave reviews, and I’ve even had fan mail.  However, so much stuff is being self-published that it’s been utterly buried under a slag heap of junk.  I’ve sold perhaps 40 copies.  I’m hoping it’ll be a slow burner and that by the time the second and third parts come out (tentatively summers of 2013 and 2014) it will be starting to catch on.  I guess time will tell.

How did you go about creating the dystopian landscape and atmosphere for The Tube Riders? Is it cautionary – it could happen if we take a couple of wrong steps along the way – or purely fictional?

Parts of it are very fictional, such as the scientific advances made by Mega Britain’s scientists.  I’ve very aware that it is impossible to cross a dog with a human due to the difference in number of chromosomes, but this is where it goes into Star Wars/X-Men territory and suspension of belief.  However, the world itself, with the perimeter walls, the restrictions on travel, the secret police, is very much based on real situations.  I live in Japan and am very influenced by the situation in North Korea.  We in the West can barely imagine living in a society where you fear for your life every moment of every day or are born into slavery because your grandparents dared to criticise the government, but there are hundreds of thousands of people currently in that situation.  Mega Britain is a kind of reflection of that and I tried to make it as realistic as possible.  That’s also why everything is in a state of disrepair – the Huntsmen don’t work properly, practically everyone is corrupt … I wanted readers to see beyond all the jumping on and off of moving trains to the dark underbelly of the world beneath, to understand what life is like in a failing society.

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How long had you been writing before you began to take it seriously?

I was about eight years old the first time I remember writing anything.  Through my early teens I dreamed of being a young sensation, but I was eighteen before I finished a novel.  It wasn’t very good and has never been edited.  Nor has my second or third.  I started collecting rejections on my fourth novel, written when I was 22.  By that time it was my dream to be a famous writer, however I’ve always been someone who liked trying new things so I kept my options open.  That’s how I ended up living and working overseas.

Why did you decide to self publish? How has your experience been?

It was pretty much a last resort.  I’d been collecting agent/publisher rejection letters for fifteen years and always saw self-publishing as a vanity way out.  I was at the point where my writing was good enough to sell to professional magazines and it was this that gave me the confidence in my work to try self-publishing, and the belief that had I been born thirty years earlier I would probably have broken through.  I still feel strange about it, because for me it was always about walking into a bookshop and seeing my books on a shelf.  That might never happen now.

As for my experience, it’s been slow.  I don’t sell much.  One thing I’ve learned is that quality has very little to do with what sells and what doesn’t.  Luck, coupled with a marketing brain seems to be far more important.  I’ve read poorly written rubbish that’s selling hundreds of copies a week.  A lot of the bigger selling authors I come across are retired or don’t work, meaning they have the hours to put into all the boring stuff.  As someone who works full and part time I have time for the writing but not much else.  Plus, I enjoy the writing whereas spending an hour trawling through Twitter kills me.  I’d much rather write five pages of another book than bust my gut trying to get one person somewhere to click on my book link.

What advice would you give to any aspiring authors out there?

Write and publish, but don’t get all whiny when it doesn’t work out.  Quit complaining about not selling and getting bad reviews.  The only way to make sales is to work hard to get your book noticed, and the only way to get good reviews is to get better.  Even then, you’ll occasionally get canned.  One of the best books I’ve ever read, The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger, has something like 500 one-star reviews.  That book brought me to tears and the story broke my heart.  I thought it was a masterpiece, but clearly at least 500 people strongly disagreed.  Now, with self-publishing, you get people publishing five or six years before they can even write properly, then jumping up and down and having a fit if they get anything less than a four-star review.  It’s very childish.  Along the same lines, it’s really poor form to be jealous of someone else’s success.  Some of the arguing I see on author’s forums borders on playground behaviour.  These are supposed to be grown adults attempting to be professionals and they’re writing bad reviews of each others’ work, arguing, stalking, and basically acting like little kids fighting over who gets to go first on the slide.  Just don’t do it.  Switch off the internet, grow up, and use your time to write more, write better.


Excerpt from The Tube Riders:

As the others said their goodbyes and left, Marta stood for a moment, looking out across the park towards the huge elevated highway overpass that rose above the city to the south. Half finished, it arched up out of the terraces and housing blocks to the east, rising steadily to a height of five hundred feet. There, at the point where it should have begun its gradual decent to the west, it just ended, sawn off, amputated.

Years ago, she remembered her father standing here with her, telling her about the future. Things had been better then. She’d still been going to school, still believed the world was good, still had dreams about getting a good job like a lawyer or an architect and hadn’t started to do the deplorable things that made her wake up shivering, just to get food or the items she needed to survive.

He had taken her hand and given it a little squeeze. She still remembered the warmth of his skin, the strength and assurance in those fingers. With his other arm he had pointed up at the overpass, in those days busy with scaffolding, cranes and ant-like construction workers, and told her how one day they would take their car, and drive right up over it and out of the city. The government was going to open up London Greater Urban Area again, he said. Let the city people out, and the people from the Greater Forest Areas back in. The smoggy, grey skies of London GUA would clear, the sirens would stop wailing all night, and people would be able to take the chains and the deadlocks off their doors. She remembered how happy she’d felt with her father’s arms around her, holding her close, protecting her.

But something had happened. She didn’t know everything – no one did – but things had changed. The government hadn’t done any of those things. The construction stopped, the skies remained grey, and life got even worse. Riots waited around every street corner. People disappeared without warning amid tearful rumours that the Huntsmen were set to return.

Marta sighed, biting her lip. Her parents and her brother were gone. Marta was just twenty-one, but St. Cannerwells Park was the closest she would ever get to seeing the countryside, and the euphoria of tube riding was the closest she would ever get to happiness.

She gripped the fence with both hands and gritted her teeth, trying not to cry. She was tough. She had adjusted to Mega Britain’s harshness, was accustomed to looking after herself, but just sometimes, life became too much to bear.


Thanks Chris! If people are interested in reading more, you can find The Tube Riders (and Chris’ other works) at Amazon. Chris himself can be found on Twitter as @ChrisWardWriter, on Facebook, and (naturally) his own blog.


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Author interview and novel excerpt: A War Below, by Peyton Farquhar

Something a bit different today, in that I’m doing a hybrid guest author post – part interview, part novel excerpt. The reason for this is that the author, Peyton Farquhar, is not just plugging her newly-released books, but is also spruiking for charity as well. Peyton has decided that proceeds from her series will go to charity – indeed, a different charity for each of the three books released so far. I thought this was a fascinating approach for an author to be taking, so I asked her about her motivation for this, and of course about the books themselves.  The series follows Moses Jones, a slave whose attempted escape to freedom triggers events that force him into an underground world of espionage, revenge and murder. It is inspired by true stories from the Underground Railroad and its secret involvement behind the scenes of the American Civil War.

Tell me about the series. What inspired you to write it?

The series is about a slave, Moses Jones, who attempts to escape his evil owner, Simon Dred, just a month before the American Civil War begins. His escape triggers a series of events that force him into a dark world of revenge, espionage and murder. And while he fights to survive on the run, he’s forced to deal with his lack of faith and a secret love he’s always had for one of his fellow escaping slaves. The four books in the series track the four major stages of his reluctant transformation from slave to underground freedom fighter.

I initially wrote the story as an eight-episode mini-series screenplay over seven years ago and always wanted to see it evolve into something. So I went to work converting it into a fiction series about a year and a half ago. The story is inspired by actual events and sewn together with theory and fiction.

I wanted to show a different side to the Underground Railroad – not just scared slaves hiding from slave hunters. There were slaves that not only stood up and fought for their freedom, but some were also involved in secret operations during the Civil War. There was a secret organization of ex-slaves and free-born blacks that ran a clandestine war against the Confederates. I wanted to shine a light on those heroes.

The first three books in the series are now available in the Kindle Store, the iBookstore and the Nook Store. Visit my website for links:

What made you decide to donate the proceeds of your books to charity?

I was inspired by the real-life heroes that were the basis for the characters in the series. They risked their lives (and some died) to help others. That’s something many of us couldn’t begin to imagine doing. I thought it would be pretty cool to allow their acts to continue helping people nearly 150 years later.

How did you choose which charities to involve?

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has always been a charity I’ve supported. I was blessed with a healthy childhood, but some are not so lucky. The last place a child should be is lying in a hospital facing death, and St. Jude’s is doing amazing things to fight childhood cancer and other catastrophic diseases. Their daily operating costs are $1.8 million, and that number is primarily covered by public contributions. So every dollar donated is important. (

Wounded Warrior Project is an amazing organization that helps injured military service members. These individuals fought and sacrificed for my freedom and the least I could do is help an organization that helps them transition back into their “new normal” life. WWP provides wounded veterans with everything from employment opportunities to combat stress recovery. (

Help-Portrait is a very unique movement, and that’s what I love about it. While St. Jude’s and WWP help those in need by way of “straight-forward” or “conventional” methods, Help-Portrait takes a different approach. They are a global collection of photographers that donate their time and talent to provide portraits to those in need. Every time I describe this charity to a friend, the reaction is always the same. The idea of giving a person in need a photo of themselves seems too simple and useless. But I urge you to visit their website and listen to some of the stories of those that benefitted from this movement. I’ve always appreciated people that take a different approach to things. Help-Portrait does just that, and I’m happy to support them.  (



A War Below series by Peyton Farquhar


Excerpt from the first book in the series (A War Below: Run)

Suddenly, a dark silhouette moved out of the shadows of the bunkhouse across the yard from Moses. He was startled by the shadowy figure quietly creeping toward him.

“Have you made your decision?”
It was Solomon Vesey.
“How did you find me?” Moses asked.
“The others told me you might be here,” Solomon replied. “So?”
“So, what?”
Solomon walked closer and sat down on the step next to Moses.
“I asked you a question. Have you made your decision?”
“I thought I told you earlier today. Did I not make myself clear?”
“Yeah, but I thought I’d give you some time to think about it. I have the count from the others. There are five going. That means we’ve got one more spot. What do you say?”
“I say piss off,” Moses replied.
Solomon stood up and took a few steps away from Moses. He paused and turned around.
“I’m not going to fill the spot,” Solomon told him. “If you change your mind, there will still be room.”
“I’m not going to change my mind. Leave me alone.”
Solomon stared at Moses through the darkness for a moment. He turned to walk away but stopped. He spun back around, walked over to Moses and sat down next to him once again.
“There was this one slave about four or five years ago. My partner and I were running the same scam on his plantation owner. Back then we were moving smaller numbers. We didn’t have the number of folks we do now, so it was harder to move big groups. We would only move about one or two slaves at a time. So it was important to pick the right ones. It always took some time for me to weed out the ones that deserved to go. I would only pick the leaders, the smart ones, the strong ones – the ones that would be more likely to make something of themselves once we got them North. We thought that maybe they would join the cause and help others get to freedom. As I was saying, there was this one slave…what was his name? Doesn’t matter. Anyway, he was smart…smarter than you, Moses. No matter how much I tried to talk him into it, he wouldn’t run either. I guaranteed his safety, but he still wouldn’t do it. When I asked him why, he told me he was afraid. When I asked him what he was afraid of, he just shook his head and walked off. And then I figured it out. He wasn’t afraid of being hurt or killed. He was afraid of being nothing. All of his life, he had been the smart one. He had been the one that every slave looked up to. He was the king of slaves on that plantation, and he thought that if he left that plantation and went out into the real world, he would be nothing. He knew that nobody would ever respect him the way that those other slaves respected him. That’s why he didn’t escape. He was afraid of being nothing.”
Solomon stood up.
“But there was something he didn’t realize, Moses,” Solomon added. “When you’re a slave, you’re already nothing. You’re just plain property. You see, getting free is like getting born. In one push, you become your own person. Regardless of how much respect you get from others, you’re finally your own person. And when you have that, there are only two things that lie in front of you…life and possibility. And those are two beautiful things.”
Moses looked back up at the stars.
“We are meeting inside the barn at the north end of the plantation at midnight tomorrow night,” Solomon said. “I’ll leave the spot open for you. Come if you want.”
Solomon turned and walked away. The night swallowed him up.


Peyton Farquhar is from Nashville, Tennessee, USA.  The first installment of A War BelowRun (currently available from iTunesAmazon andBarnes & Noble) was released in February 2012. Hunt and Run followed later in the year.  Peyton has written a guest post for this blog before, which can be found here. You can follow Peyton on twitter @peytonfarquhar, and you can find out more about the series at


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Author interview: Lianne Simon

Today’s interview is with author Lianne Simon. She and her husband live in Suwanee in the US state of Georgia, just outside of Atlanta. Her debut novel is Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite.

Lianne Simon

Tell me about the book. What inspired you to write it? What has the response been like?
My husband and I were in Phoenix two years ago. The last morning there, I woke with anorexia and a desperate need to tell a story. After dropping thirty pounds, my weight stabilized. With my husband’s encouragement, I abandoned my six-figure-salary career to write about some intersex kid’s gender issues.
I had already spent more than ten years answering inquiries on behalf of a support group for the parents of children born between the sexes. Along the way I’d met several intersex adults and listened to their tales of the issues they faced growing up. But to make Jamie’s story authentic, I had to share from the heart of an intersex child as though it were my own.
Jamie was born with a pixie face and a sexually ambiguous body. Although doctors put male on Jamie’s birth certificate, it quickly became apparent that she considered herself female. Her parents allowed her to live as a girl until authorities discovered that the nine-year-old boy Jameson was being illegally home schooled. Rather than send Jamie to public school as a boy, the family moved to a district that would allow them to continue to home school under close supervision. But Jamie had to live as a boy until her parents could locate a physician willing to help correct her birth certificate.
The child in the photo is nine. He’s the same size as his six-year-old sister. He’s one of the people on whom the character Jamie is based.
At sixteen, the four-foot-eleven soprano leaves a sheltered home school environment for a boys’ dorm at college. His act has convinced his father that he’s happy as a boy. However, when a medical student tells Jamie he should have been raised female, Jamie discovers the life she could have as a girl. Will Jamie risk losing her family and her education for a boyfriend who may desert her or a toddler she may never be allowed to adopt?
I was told by agents that they had no idea how to market such a story, so I concentrated on smaller publishers. I eventually signed with MuseItUp Publishing because of their great reputation. They assigned me an amazing editor who is excited about my book.
Your website mentions your faith several times. How important is being a Christian to your writing, and are you worried about alienating people who don’t share your beliefs?
An author who encouraged me along the way asked me if I was ready for people to think I was writing about myself. Although Confessions is fiction, I found that the telling of Jamie’s story required sharing my heart at a depth that made me groan. Telling can quickly become preaching that turns people off. Faith in Christ is an integral part of me; it’s going to come out. Showing Jamie’s–showing my desperate need of my Savior may still offend a few, but I don’t think it will cause people to stop reading.
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How long had you been writing before you began to take it seriously?
Seriously? I’m not sure how much ‘want’ has to do with it. Pouring your heart out on to paper is cathartic, but after the hundredth edit of the fifth draft, I wondered if I’d ever convey what I intended. My editor had to slap my hand, yank the manuscript away, and say, “You can stop now.”
Why did you decide to self publish? How has your experience been?
I’m taking a hybrid approach that seems to be working for me. MuseItUp Publishing does both e-book and print, but allows their authors to opt out of print. That really is gracious of them. Lea Schizas seems more interested in helping authors than in building an empire.
If you’re going to self-publish, be sure you find a good editor. The rest you can do yourself if you put your mind to it. If I can start a micro-publisher, format my document, and come up with a reasonable cover, I know you can.

Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite, by Lianne Simon

What advice would you give to any aspiring authors out there?
I’m sure you’ve heard them all–write first, edit later–enter late, leave early–show, don’t tell–get right to the action/inciting incident.
But first of all, share so deeply that it hurts, so deeply that the story flows out like pure water from an artesian well. The story itself matters more than everything else.
Thanks for sharing with us. Hope your book does well.
Lianne Simon describes herself as a housewife trying to learn to write, and trying to help the kids she loves. They say you write about what you know. Lianne is a Christian who has some knowledge of intersex conditions and how they affect people, which led her to write her debut novel.
Confessions of  a Teenage Hermaphrodite is due to be released on September 18 and is available for preorder on Amazon. In the meantime, you can read the first chapter on Lianne’s website at


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Author interview: Alison Wong

Today I welcome Alison Wong, author of the novel Take a Chance. Alison  has very kindly agreed to answer some questions about her writing experience and give some advice to all the other writers out there.

Tell me about the book. What inspired you to write it?

 Take A Chance is my first novel, a contemporary romance – chick lit, where Hannah explores re-kindled love for an estranged sister and an ex-fiancé while balancing Chinese family values. Hannah is a 2nd generation British ethnic Chinese and she flutters about with her conscience in deciding if she should give love a chance. When writing about Hannah and Julian, it drew me to my own experiences growing up as an ethnic Chinese in England. I was often told to study hard and go to university and forget about the boys. I believe my parents knew daughters had to work harder because we had our gender discriminating us, and we had our ethnicity too. Cultural assimilation into an adopted country does not mean that parents forget their culture or values. Instead they instill them into their children and for some parents, their aspirations too. For Hannah to find love again, she has to face both her British and Chinese values, especially her family values. In Take A Chance, fate and a little sisterly and heavenly nudging is helping her.

What has the response been like?

Take A Chance was officially released June 2012, so the response from potential buyers-readers is awaiting. I had an initial soft release in May 2012 and the manuscript was updated for the June release. The beauty of having a subsidy self-publisher for my book is that it doesn’t affect the ISBN. I can have my book revised without purchasing a new ISBN, though at a cost. To celebrate the June release I listed my book for a 5 copy free Giveaway on and the response was good. There are readers interested in Take A Chance – the trick is getting them to buy . My self-publisher set my paperback and hardback retail prices and at least I can negotiate the eBook price. The pricing is an issue I’m working on. If you indie-publish or e-publish with Amazon’s KDP and Smashwords you have full control of the price. It’s so tempting to go into indie-publishing in the future. Aside from the Goodreads Giveaway,  I believe it’s important to get reviews as readers place value on them. I’ve so far had three positive reviews of Take a Chance on On the other hand, friends and family have been great. If you’re an aspiring writer and debut author, you really need all the support you can get.

There is a strong cross-cultural theme to the novel.  How hard is it to balance competing cultural values and what impact has this had on your writing?

I like this question. It is the very reason I wrote Take A Chance because its theme is about balancing different cultures: East meets West within a love story. Chinese people are reserved. It is probably because of post-Confucianism in traditional Chinese culture. ‘Elders are to be respected’; ‘authority figures are to be respected’. Both these edicts result in non-violent, obedient and passive respect. Whereas, in the West, individuals are encouraged to be assertive, independent and pro-active yet there is a strong sense of justice. If you have opposite cultures in your upbringing, how do you balance them? Moreover, what if your parents are from the East and you are from East-West? However, I’m proud to be both. It’s not easy though. I’ve been there, growing up as a British ethnic Chinese who can’t read or write Chinese or speak fluent Chinese, and I try to answer some of these questions in my book.

For me, Take A Chance is a romantic and witty, novel way to deal with cultural values from the viewpoint of a modern, British ethnic Chinese woman, Hannah. She tries to balance Chinese and British cultures and her family values while re-kindling her love for sister Rosalyn and her ex-fiancé, Julian. Julian is a worldly man, and it is his openness and acceptance of other cultures that attracts him to Hannah and her to him because he understands her upbringing and family values. He is basically the ideal man – well-educated and reasonably well-off despite being non-Chinese; yet, like Hannah, he is British too. He and Hannah have more in common than Hannah realises. Moreover, Hannah isn’t submissive: she is independent, head strong and a bit of a rebellion, although ironically she is loyal to her parents and is humble and modest too. This is her cultural identity of balancing East and West. In the end, she has to compromise with her family values in order to be true to her identity. She is neither Chinese nor British: she is British but ethnic Chinese. My message to readers is that love always wins. I wish there was more peace and love in the world.

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How long had you been writing before you began to take it seriously?

I guess I knew I always wanted to write since I started my first journal at the age of seven. I still keep a hand-written journal now and I have a blog.  I’m learning to prioritise my time for writing the sequel to Take A Chance. However, I have a higher priority, which is to enjoy life to the fullest.

I sometimes wonder if writing is in my family because my son wrote a journal when he was five. Of course, he wrote only when he was reprimanded. Children can be so honest. My son’s favourite post-reprimand journal entry was: ‘I hate Mummy.’

As a parent and teacher, I didn’t mind the words. He spelt them correctly at least and he needed to vent his anger – better it was on paper than on me.

I have to say though, that teaching wasn’t my vocation despite a successful career. I went into teaching because I needed a job and teaching is in my blood. I come from a line of teachers. I never had the confidence to write though, not even when my Form 4 secondary school English teacher encouraged me to write a memoir one day. I can never forget him because he was the best teacher I ever had, and he had a claim to fame: he taught the English actor, John Hurt. Moreover, my youngest sister upstaged me: she was the natural born writer of the family, next to me of course.

I began to seriously consider writing when I left English teaching and had time on my hand to pursue my passion for writing. What spurred me on though was my youngest sister who died of cancer a few years before I left teaching. I wanted to write a fun love story for her because she never had the chance to fall in love; so, Take A Chance is in memory of her.

Why did you decide to self publish? How has your experience been?

Six years ago I actually considered submitting my manuscript to a US/UK literary agent or publisher dealing with multicultural romances. There was, at the time, a lot of buzz about self-publishing and was free. Other subsidy self-publishers had emerged too as an alternative to traditional publishing. I considered, then a well-established self-publisher but realised how expensive the packages were, and was US based, which made me wary of the royalties and tax issues and marketing on my own as I live in Hong Kong. It was all overwhelming. As it turned out, life’s ups and downs interrupted my plans and my manuscript gathered dust. When a recent near-death experience jarred my life, I was reminded of the dreams my sister never achieved. Life is short; so, I decided to make my dream of being published come true.

I am still learning from the experience. Trafford Singapore has done an excellent service transferring my manuscript to a printed book and an eBook. They have fulfilled their Orchard package terms which includes an ISBN, global distribution on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. However, I have been on a learning curve regarding my self-publisher, self-publishing, marketing and social media.

What advice would you give to any aspiring authors out there?

Success doesn’t come overnight. Catherine Ryan Howard (indie-published author) has an insightful blog Catherine Caffeinated on self-publishing.

There are a lot of self-publishing experts and marketing experts out there and you will be inundated with advice and offers – some free, some not. Self-publishing and marketing books are big business, I’ve come to realise. I chose self-publishing with a subsidy publisher, and post publishing, I wish I researched more information. It’s best to stick with self-publishing rather than buy any marketing packages; far better to spend money on editing and proofreading before you self-publish. And of course, there is the option of Smashwords and Amazon KDP for writers now.

If you are on a string budget, I would advise writers to keep your options open, research them and think about your expectations. For example, I don’t expect to be a bestseller and I’m happy simply show-casing my book.

Should you go the traditional route and query an agent? Some publishers don’t even want to hear from you without an agent. They will not accept unsolicited manuscripts. Even if you queried, you would probably face rejections, nevermind rejections of solicited manuscripts. Fear is the biggest obstacle. So, what can you do? Head for free publishing on Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) or  In my opinion (please do not take this as expert advice since I am no expert) if you are a non-fiction writer and a marketing expert or computer-social media guru, you will be able to cope with marketing and promoting your book once it’s self-published. If you are a novelist, take a hard look at yourself and study your writing and personal style. Is self-publishing the route for you or is the traditional route better if you can overcome fear of rejection, and cope with self-marketing? I don’t want to put aspiring writers off, however. I believe that there is a story in everyone. Traditional publishers and savvy readers are always on the lookout for new talent and new writers, even if a writer is self/indie-published.Times are changing. So, from a writer to another writer: Write. Don’t give up! Courage. Dreams do come true if you make them happen. As Henry David Thoreau said to me when I was writing my book:

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.”


Alison Wong is a Hong Kong born with both Chinese and British roots – the best of both worlds. She was born in Hong Kong but grew up in England. Alison re-rooted in Hong Kong after graduating from Lancaster University, England. Later she gained a post-graduate degree from Hong Kong. After several years of teaching the English language, she left teaching. She now divides her time between being a domestic goddess to her husband and son, and writing. A simple, healthy, happy life is her motto and priority. You can read more about her and her book at, and Take a Chance is available on Amazon in paperback and ebook.


Footnote: Since doing this interview, Alison has parted company with Trafford Singapore. Her advice to writers, however, remains the same. She has now closed her blog and is concentrating on writing her next book, and I wish her all the best.


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Interview: David Vernon, from Stringybark Stories

Today I am very pleased to introduce David Vernon, judge and editor at Stringybark Stories. Stringybark hosts a number of short story competitions each year in an attempt to find the new voices of Australian writing. If you’ve ever been curious about how writing competitions are judged and what people are looking for, then this is for you.

Tell me about Stringybark Stories. What makes you different from other writing competitions?

I established Stringybark Stories in 2010 after I became disillusioned at what was available for Australian writers.  There seemed to be (and in fact still are) two tiers of competitions — the big ones with big prizes and a myriad of little ones with tiny prizes.  Both have problems.  The big ones are bureaucratic, monolithic and unfriendly.  Once you have submitted your story that’s it.  Unless you win something you never hear again from them — they rarely even acknowledge your submission.   The small  ones are bureaucratic in another way — they often require paper-based submission, cheques and once again you never hear anything until the results are announced — and when they are announced it is in the local newspaper and not even on a website.

The other issue is that even if you win a writing competition your story goes into limbo.  You may receive cash, a glow of satisfaction and then that is it.  With Stringybark we publish (in paperback and as an e-book) the winning entries and the highly commended stories.  Hence we support the author by saying categorically, “Your writing is good enough to be published.”

In short, I created Stringybark Stories to encourage short story writing by:

  • being friendly and easy to interact with;
  • being contemporary (we have a large website that is easy to navigate and all entries are accepted electronically);
  • being transparent — all our judging criteria are clear, easy to understand and available and perhaps most importantly we offer the option of receiving feedback on every story entered.  Each entrant can see exactly what each judge thought of their story.  Continuing the transparency theme — we publish the names of all our judges and small biographies about them, so once again writers can see who is judging their work;
  • having more than one judge (quite a few small competitions have only one judge — we have three and often four);
  • helping writers to improve — we produce a free newsletter that comes out once or twice a month;
  • rewarding those who write good stories by ensuring that their story is published, both electronically and in paper form; and
  • celebrating writing success by giving the winning authors a profile page on our website.

Since our first competition in 2010 we have run eight competitions, judged 1127 entries, given $4,190 in prizes, published 273 short stories in 10 e-books and 9 paperbacks.

Our competition themes are set by writers and readers themselves by us seeking regular feedback from writers and that way we know we are meeting the needs of writers and readers.

What do you look for when you’re judging a short story?

We make it very clear on our website what we are looking for — all part of our transparency — but in short we want stories that match the genre of the competition, have a strong and internally consistent plot, good characterisation and deal with interesting subject matter.  In addition, competent punctuation and grammar don’t go astray either!  Everything people want in a novel, we want in a short story.   We do publish submission guidelines which should make it easier for both the submitter and the judge but it is constantly amazing how few people read them and that even fewer writers follow them.

How subjective do you find the process? Is there a way of keeping things as objective as possible or does it just come down to taste?

We do our very best to make a subjective assessment objective.  We mark each story out of fifty — ten marks for interest, ten for plot, ten for style, five for setting, five for characterisation, five for spelling/grammar and five for the judge to allocate on the basis of whether he or she thinks the story should be published.  Thus with four judges each story is marked out of 200.  We find that  by having multiple judges individual judging quirks tend to get ironed out.  We also produce a comprehensive guide for the judges to provide them with clear advice on how to rate elements of a story.  Having said that, it is clear that individual judging taste is very important.  If a judge doesn’t like a particular plot/theme/style then we find that the story tends to be marked down on all criteria.  But then this is no different to reader’s reactions to stories.  If you like something very much then most sins are forgiven.  “What?  Poor punctuation?  No, just a typo.”  Conversely, if you don’t like something then there is little the author can do right.  Human nature, I’m afraid.

Why did you decided to focus on short stories and writing competitions?

Short stories are a wonderful form of literature for writers to practise their art.   In a short story, every word counts and so a word needs to mean just what you want it to mean — nothing more and nothing less.  Similarly, everything else needs to work — characterisation needs to be powerful, the plot clever and the style appropriate.  In longer forms of writing, it is less necessary to be precise and writing can become sloppy.  Dare I say it, but the latter Harry Potter books would be vastly better with being a little shorter.  However, by then JK Rowling was so successful that nobody would dare to suggest pruning of her words!

We focus on writing competitions because it is clear from the interviews we do with authors that writing competitions are an important way for them to receive feedback on their writing.  It is a relatively objective and independent way of finding if what you write is worthwhile.  Friends, relatives, lovers and children never quite manage to provide unbiased advice about the worth of a piece of writing.  They are simply too close to the author to be without any conflict of interest!  Therefore if our overall objective is to encourage Australian writers then supporting them through running a writing competition seems to make sense.

What advice would you have for any aspiring and novice authors out there?

Our author profile section on our website is full of writing wisdom.  However, there is one piece of advice that has always been with me.  The only way to learn to write, is to write.  Just do it!  And then do it again and again and again…


Thanks David! Sage advice, and some really interesting comments about writing and the competition process. I’m not sure that it will help me win when I eventually get around to entering, but it’s certainly worth knowing. I’d also like to thank David for launching Stringybark, and commend him for the policy of transparency in the competitions.:)

If you would like to know more about David then please either visit his website or the Stringybark Short Story Awards. If you’re an Australian writer, I strongly advise you check out the different competitions. Currently they are looking for flash fiction stories, due in about seven weeks time, so if you want to try your hand at that then by all means do so. I’m even considering putting a story together myself!:)


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Author interview: Kathleen S. Allen

Today I’m interviewing Kathleen S. Allen, author of a number of books in genres including poetry, fantasy, zombie, historical fiction, and murder mysteries. Kathleen has a new fantasy novel coming out TODAY, called Lore of Fei, and she has very generously agreed to answer a few questions about it. Here is what she has to say.

Lore of Fei, by Kathleen S. Allen

Tell me about the book. What inspired you to write it?

Lore of Fei is about the race of faeries who are trying to hold onto their land of Fei where they have lived for generations. The warmongering humans know that the Veil of Enclosure, the boundary that separates Fei from Hege, is dissolving. This allows the humans to travel to Fei to steal faerie children in order to enslave them. Ariela is a mutant faerie, she has no wings. She is mistaken for a human child believed to be stolen by the faeries when she was a baby. The warlord, Kel, kills her faerie parents and takes her to Kel’s Lair, the village he governs. She escapes but the Faerie Council wants her to be a spy for them and pretend to be human. They also want her to fix the Veil of Enclosure, but only a silver winged faerie can repair it and no silver winged faerie has been born. But, because Ariela has no wings, she has no faerie magic (magos) – or does she?

It will be released on April 27th  -today – by Muse it Up Publishing. Check out the book trailer on You Tube here:

I have a webpage at: set up for the Lore of Fei series.  My other website,, has information about each book and also features my Jane Eyre mash up, Thornfield Manor: Jane Eyre and Vampires for your enjoyment.

What is it about the fantasy genre that interests you? How did you enjoy the process of world creation?

I love the idea of a world close to our own but different. As a child I believed that if I could time it right, I would see a faerie. Alas, I never did. So I have to write about them instead! The process of world building is fascinating. I had to be careful and go over it to make sure I didn’t break my own rules. I included a glossary at the end of the book because I use “faerie” words for a lot of things. I don’t usually plot out my novels, I am more of a pantser—writing by the seat of my pants—but for this book I had to plot it using a timeline, characters, time frame etc. I even made a family tree for my two main characters.

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How long had you been writing before you began to take it seriously?

I wrote my first book of poems at the age of eight. I remember writing as soon as I learned I could. My mother insisted it was when I was three but I think it was more like when I was five. I’ve always taken my writing seriously but didn’t always have the time to put into it. About a year ago I had an injury that caused me to be off work for a year (now resolved) and so I decided to write and publish some of my novels.  I had my first poem published when I was 15 and my first short story when I was 21. I published two of my novels, Witch Hunter and Please to See the King in 2006 with a publisher but I got the rights back and published them myself this past year.

You’re a veteran of both self-publishing and using traditional publishers.  What have these experiences been like?

I like the freedom of self publishing a lot. I like choosing my own book cover and making my own book trailers and choosing when I will publish it and to what formats. The issue I have with it is having to promote without much money. I’ve done all I can and hope the readers find me but it’s difficult with all the authors out there. I have gone with two smaller publishers and the experience with both has been positive. Of course with smaller publishers again, the promotion is not there as much. Would I like an agent who would send my stuff to “the big six”? Of course. I am actively seeking an agent and have four novels “out there.” An historical fiction, a Dystopian, a zombie book and a contemporary, all young adult. If I don’t get any interest in the next few months I will probably self-publish again.

One of my novels, Fitzroy: The Boy who Would be King is about Henry VIII illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and is my second best selling book. The first is Aine, which is about a girl who discovers she’s a banshee.

I just finished book 2 of the Lore of Fei series, called War of Fei. I am going to do a third book in the series (untitled as of yet).

What advice would you give to any aspiring authors out there?

Don’t stop writing, no matter what and never give up on your dreams. You have to make it happen, you can’t just hope it will. Learn all you can about your craft and write every day. Get beta readers who will help you write to your best ability, join a writing group (even online is good). Don’t be “married” to your words, listen to your betas, listen to your editor and take what they say and use it to make your book better. If you decide to self-publish, get a professional book cover designer, make sure it’s formatted properly for each venue (Kindle, Nook, Smashwords), and this one is important, hire a professional editor to go over you manuscript. This can be pricey but it’s worth it to give your readers the best possible reading experience. Build up your fan base so readers will expect a quality book from you every time.


Thanks, Kathleen! If this has whetted your appetite to read Lore of Fei, you can find it, along with Kathleen’s numerous other works, at Amazon.


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Author interview: Shayna Gier

Today I’m interviewing Shayna Gier, author of Stuck in Estrogen’s Funhouse. Shayna is both an author and book reviewer who is just as dedicated to helping other authors promote their work as she is to promoting her own, and she very generously set out some time to answer a few questions. Here is what she has to say.

Shayna Gier

Tell me about the book. What inspired you to write it? What has the response been like?

Stuck in Estrogen’s Funhouse is a really fun book, at least the first 30 times you read it. I must admit that while I love the characters as much as ever before, after all the read-throughs I no longer find it as fun, but I highly doubt that anyone but me and my editor will ever read it to that point.

It’s about a young bartender, Marti, who is married and, due to an increase in medical costs and such, chooses to go off of the birth control shot. Within three months her body has still not returned to normal, and what’s worse is that despite having a series of negative pregnancy tests (once she figures out how to actually take the test correctly), her body is showing all the signs of pregnancy. To make matters even worse, between frequent trips to the bathroom and unexplained exhaustion, she’s definitely developing cravings, and not just for food. Despite her happy marriage to her husband, Spencer, Marti finds herself more and more flirting with the cute and young new bartender who has just joined the team… and her best friend, who thinks life is to short to stay with one guy, just doesn’t help any at all.

What inspired me? Basically, I wanted to write a book in which the doctors were all wrong. Around 1/3 of the way through the book Marti goes to see her gynecologist, to see if the tests are faulty. Dr. Duck (I love that name!) tells her she’s experiencing a perfectly normal “puberty” maturation, just a bit earlier than it usually hits women. This  happened to me, only it took me over 500 dollars worth of doctor bills to be told that. In the meantime, I was searching the internet and trying to figure out what was going on. I ran into a ton of stories about people not finding out they are pregnant, despite frequent testing, until well into their 2nd trimester. Then, when I was told what was happening, about the effects of estrogen and how it controls both the puberty stuff and pregnancy, I looked into the science of what else estrogen does to women, and used that as a framework for Stuck in Estrogen’s Funhouse.

The response has been overwhelmingly good if you don’t include my inner circle. A lot of people find Marti entirely relatable and really enjoy the book. My inner circle goes either way – my friends love it; my family…well, most keep equating me with Marti and advising that I don’t drink when/if I get pregnant, or else are “disappointed with what (I’ve) made of (my) life” based off the decisions of Marti and her friends. They don’t seem to understand fiction is made up, or how the writer’s mind works, or any of that.

I can see that the book was a collaboration with another author. What made you decide to co-write it? How did the experience work for you?

I give Carissa Barker credit publicly, because if you saw my first draft (available on my website in the archives) you wouldn’t really recognize it. Marti started out as a teenager at Applebees. She was, of course, still going to struggle with pregnancy symptoms and the craziness of hormones, but that was really hard to write, even with her being 19. (I was 21 when this puberty thing hit me… and that was still really young.) So I wrote the actual story. Carissa is my editor, and was able to take my idea, and put it on the paper. It just wasn’t there in the first draft. It was apparent, to a point, in the second draft, and by the third and fourth draft we were working at what I’d consider a typical author/editor relationship. Before the final drafts started to show up, however, I commented to my husband that “I feel like a ghost writer. It’s my ideas, granted, and my words, but Carissa’s done all the work!” And so, in honor of all her work, I listed her on Amazon as having a collaborative part of the story. Because, really, she did.

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How long had you been writing before you began to take it seriously?
I’ve always wanted to, and always have written something or other. My first “published” work was in kindergarten or first grade entitled Chocolate Chip Cookies and Milk which was an assignment that everyone had to do, of course, but mine was good enough to get published in the district’s “outstanding literature” book they put together each year of the student’s works. So either everyone else sucked, or my writing was decent for y age even then. Take your pick.

After that though, I didn’t focus on writing until I was in 6th grade when I started turning out book after book (and starting even more) of fan fiction. Not yet confident enough to invent my own main characters, I thrived off writing my own Jimmy Neutron fics that were just as long as any young adult book at the time. (Now there’s more novels. But if you remember the days of Encyclopedia Brown, you’ll know what I”m talking about in length. I was good too. I didn’t think so, and I don’t know either, but others did. I actually received fan mail several times telling me how much they liked my stories. Some even follow me today as a writer. And, I suppose if I’m honest my fan fiction was at least a cut-above-the-rest of normal fan-fiction… I just compare it to now and squirm though.

After fan-fiction died off, I didn’t really pick up the pen (or computer as it may be) until I was 19 and my best friend, and then ex-boyfriend dumped me. That “caused” me to start writing Lilliana’s Story, and led to a bunch more incomplete works but that are now original fiction. Stuck in Estrogen’s Funhouse was the first to be completed and then published. I’m hoping that more of the current ones will make it to paperback and e-book as well… but at the moment I’m suffering a bout where my writing is painfully bad since my grandma’s death… so I don’t know if the others will make it or not. I hope so, because I love the characters so much!

Why did you decide to self publish? How has your experience been?

Honestly? I suppose there are two reasons. The most important is that I cannot stand the fact that publishers want you to literally sell your rights to them. I love the idea that my book would be read by more people, but there’s a cost to that. In my mind, I don’t care if I get 50 million dollars from having it cooperatively published, it’s not worth selling my ideas and giving up my rights. I understand “risk” to them if I should decide I want to give my book away all around the internet, but as a writer, if I decide to do that, that is my prerogative. I went to a book fair with a ton of authors recently, and they announced over the intercom that “All authors can buy their books at 20% off.” And that itself almost made me lose it. They freaking wrote it. Without them you wouldn’t have the book to sell. The least you can do is give them rights to their own work and give them free copies.

Now, I do realize that most authors are given a few free copies, but if you ask me an author should be able to ask for as many copies as he or she wants, whenever they want. Again, it’s their work. I shouldn’t have to pay for something that comes out of my own head. And with self publishing, I do call all the shots. And while I have to pay for printing, I do get free copies of my work for all intents and purposes. I just pay shipping and handling and production costs.

I’d say the experience of self publishing has been about what I expected. It’s hard to get your name out there, and to market your book… but it can also be incredibly fun! I love having all rights to my work, and while, yeah, I’d love to sell a million copies, I’m seriously just thrilled when I hear of another person that I didn’t know before reading my work. That is awesome. And I love talking to the readers after they’ve read it as well.

What advice would you give to any aspiring authors out there?

Write. Simple as that. Participate in National Novel Writing Month in November, or otherwise turn your inner editor off. Personally, I wouldn’t listen to “don’t talk about your work” because that drives me crazy. Tell people the general idea, and then when you find someone that is just as excited about it as you are, release it to them chapter by chapter as you write it. I find that writers tend to be needy. If I’m the only one excited about my work, it wears off. But if you have someone there to bug you with “what’s next?” and “You have more, right?” Then you find yourself excited to answer their questions and share whats in your mind, with them. This is great motivation to actually writing it down. Just, at least for the first draft, tell them that while you want happy-feedback, it’s not time for constructive criticism — or criticism of any kind — yet. They can tell you that when you’ve finished the first draft, if you feel comfortable with that, or if you ask for it along the way (say you are stuck and you want to know when they think it “went wrong”). Better yet, after the first copy, read it over beginning to end by yourself, no asking others about it while you do so. Take notes. What do you love, what do you think “um… did I really write that?” Were your characters’ motivations clear? Questions like that. Then, start revisions, when you are done re-writing the second draft, have the same person that read it as it was written read it. This is the ideal time for criticism if you elected to not hear it at the end of the first draft. After this, go on to editing and such. But I think that if you follow the above (and nothing tragic happens in real life) then you can easily see your dream of being published come true.


Filed under author interview, writing