AmazonQ1 – RIGHT OFF, TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF, LISSA, AND YOUR MOST RECENT NOVEL – CHANTILLY DAWNS.
“I’ve just turned 50 and have been writing fiction for pleasure all my life, since I first formed letters with a crayon, but it’s only in the past 10 years that I’ve finally earned a living as a writer. My day job is a horseracing journalist, so having left school working with racehorses, I’ve eventually managed to combine two great passions. My novels naturally revolve around the racing world, as it’s one that I know intimately and love. That said, Chantilly Dawns is primarily about a young man facing up to torment and laying to rest past demons and the hero could have had any job in any world – he just happens to be a jockey in the racing world! Hopefully you don’t need an interest in, or knowledge of, racing to enjoy it and feedback from readers has confirmed this, much to my relief!
“In Chantilly Dawns, the hero is Marcel, a disgraced French champion jockey trying to clear his name, but suffering self-doubt too, which threatens to destroy him. It’s as much drama as thriller. In contrast, Gala Day, just out on eBook, is pure thriller, with an unsuccessful jockey, Pete, trying to build a career, but having to avoid corruption to do so, which doesn’t prove easy.”
Q2 – IT’S AN UNFATHOMABLE MYSTERY TO MOST NON-WRITERS HOW SOMEONE CAN CREATE A GREAT STORY, RUNNING INTO HUNDREDS OF PAGES. HOW IS IT DONE? IS THERE A PARTICULAR APPROACH THAT LISSA OLIVER TAKES?
“Ha! Great question! A lot of people setting out to write think they’ll start with something simple, like poetry or a short story. I can’t believe how difficult it is to bring characters to life and tell a story in so little space! For me, a novel is the easiest form of writing, as you have the length of page to really develop a character and slowly release elements of the story to keep the reader engaged.
“For me, it all begins with a character. He’ll spring into my head, I don’t know where from, no doubt inspired by a song I’ve heard or an event. Injustice annoys and inspires me, and music (rock, punk, goth!). It’s not actually what is said or done, it’s just the raw emotion in a singer’s voice, I want to capture that emotion. I don’t play God with my characters, I play the Devil and give them hell! That’s where a good plot and drama emerges!
“As soon as I have a character, I get to know their every detail – school years, family, everything about them, intimately. Then I wait for a suitable plot to come along into which they’ll fit. What if? What if a disaster befalls them? What if they lose someone? What if… Then away we go on a new novel! I use their weaknesses and strengths within the plot, but the characters write the book themselves. I’ll have a rough idea of what is going to happen and how the story ends, but the characters react to situations in their own unique ways and sometimes say and do unexpected things, so I follow their progress more than I guide it. It’s like watching a movie unfold. I think of what I’m going to write; I watch it in my head, watch the reactions, mannerisms, hear them speak; then set it down on paper, almost as though I’m recording something that’s actually happening.
“The plot, for me, is the hardest element to conjure up. The characters just arrive from nowhere and woo me and I need to be with them, which is by writing. I’m addicted to writing, I hate being torn away from them and the keyboard! So, writing a novel is easy, like breathing! And the process is all up there, in my head, until set down on paper.”
Q3 – STILL ON THE QUESTION OF THE CREATIVE PROCESS, SOME WRITERS SCRIBBLE DOWN HUNDREDS OF IDEAS AND THOUGHTS ON SCRAPS OF PAPER, OTHERS GO FOR LONG WALKS TO SORT OUT THE PLOT OF THE STORY. WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH?
“Well, I guess I’m always thinking about my characters, they’re always with me. So I don’t need to scribble anything down or keep notes. I just write whenever I can find the time. As I’m writing 9-5 (or usually odder hours!) as a journalist, I don’t find as much time for my fiction as I’d like – or need! I do go for lots of long walks, with my dog and horse and bullock (!) so that gives me lots of thinking time. I like stimulation so I have a cluttered laptop space, the keyboard has stickers around it like a child’s! I work best with things going on around me, loud music (very loud!) and family and TV, even. I don’t need peace or solitude to write.”
Q4 – IT IS SAID THAT THE PUBLISHING WORLD IS NOW IN CONVULSIONS; THAT THE PRINTED BOOK IS BEING ENGULFED BY THE RELENTLESS DRIVE OF EBOOK PRODUCTION. HAVE YOU A VIEW ON THAT?
“Personally, I like a real book. I prefer to keep an old worn library book and provide the library with a new replacement! The characters are friends, I like to look up at the book spines on the shelf and see them there. But, that said, I do all my writing, editing and proofing on the laptop, so reading on screen is no problem to me and I can see the ease and convenience of eBooks. For readers, they just make books more readily available, which can only be a good thing.
“For authors, I can understand the fear of illegal downloads and not having ‘real’ copies, but I can also say that, putting that fear behind me and trusting the judgement of my publisher, I surprisingly found that eBook sales are greater than physical book sales. So I have to say that eBooks from an author’s point of view are also a great thing. The bulk of my Royalties from all of my books have come from eBook sales, probably 85%. In fact, 100% from my current novel Gala Day, as the publisher only released it as an eBook! Quite a shock, but he knows the market best and so it has proved.
“The ease of eBook publishing means writers can now self-publish without investment and obviously a lot of their work might fall below standard. However, the reading public will soon be the judge of that and there are popular books out there that might never have been published or seen the light of day via traditional methods. So it has offered new potential and opportunities to budding writers as well. And readers are getting books that may otherwise have been denied them. It’s a win, win, I think, when once we get over the horror of no physical book in our hands. That’s like getting a Number One single with no Top Of The Pops to appear on, for someone of my age!”
Q5 – TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF. YOU WERE BORN IN LONDON AND MOVED TO IRELAND. YOU SEEM TO HAVE ACQUIRED AN EXTRAORDINARY AFFECTION FOR DOMESTIC PETS, NOT THE CAT AND DOG VARIETY BUT SOMETHING MORE UNUSUAL. WOULD YOU LIKE TO TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT THE PETS YOU HAVE?
“Aha, Gary and Leo! Well, I grew up on a typical South London council estate and escape from that environment was camping in the countryside and eventually working with horses. We were Thatcher Refugees of the early 1980s escaping to Ireland and land was cheap and plentiful – but not easily managed! It didn’t all happen at once, but as family and pennies grew, so two four-month-old Dexter bullocks arrived to manage the 10-acre garden! Gary and Patrick, the latter sadly dying at the age of six. Gary is now 11 and probably the smartest member of our family – myself included! A very gentle and mild-mannered animal, very considerate and observant. His vocabulary understanding is incredible and really humbles me, as in the same number of years I still can’t understand some things he tries to tell me. Keeping company with him is like keeping company with another person.
“However, he got saddled with Leo as a companion, a retired racehorse of no ability! Leo (raced as Leitmotif) is the exact opposite, he would be termed ‘special’ if he were human, he’s really not the brightest spark, bless him (and I’ve met a lot of racehorses who are exceptionally intelligent) and he is quite demanding, like a toddler. Imagine a very young exuberant and over-friendly Labrador, but standing over five foot at the shoulder and weighing half a ton! Leo is going on nine and has been with us nearly five years, since Patrick’s death. Leo and Gary are just inseparable. Leo would bully other horses and get injured in return, but despite horns to ya-ya, Gary remains placid and accepting and they’re the perfect odd-couple. We also have a dog, a three-year-old German Shepherd called Amber, one of a line of four that we’ve had since we married. And some pet hens and ducks, numbers now dwindling with old age, and a couple of elderly goldfish!”
Q6 – SO WHERE DOES LISSA GO FROM HERE? HAVE YOU A NEW NOVEL BREWING IN THE BACKGROUND?
“Oh, God, yes! Brewing is the word! I get so involved with characters, knowing more than I need to for the novel, and sometimes the bit players of other novels stay with me long after and haunt me! One is haunting me now and he and his father are the hero/anti-hero of the novel in progress, a really dark affair, a psychological drama (set in racing, of course!). I must have started it two years ago now, or more, but it’s just finding the time necessary to really get going. It’s all written already, in my head. Just a matter of getting it down. I find that it can take a year or more to get the first couple of chapters done, but then it takes shape and demands attention, to the detriment of everything else (!) and I then start to plough on at a good rate. I usually take about nine months to write a book, when once I really get going. It’s like reading – you reach a point where you just can’t put it down until you finish it! Currently I’m at my breakthrough Chapter Four, so editors and family beware! That will be me, head down and away for the next nine months!”
Q7 – YOU ARE AN ESTABLISHED WRITER, WITH A WONDERFUL TRACK RECORD. SO WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU GIVE TO THOSE JUST STARTING DOWN THIS ROAD?
“Just be patient, have belief in your work, and never give up. The first, and most important, advice is to finish every project. If you can’t finish your story or novel, you’re not a writer. You should want to finish it and be proud of it. If you’re struggling, then it’s like struggling reading a book – why? Does it not grab your interest? Do you not like the characters?
“When submitting work, presentation is critical. Edit, edit, edit and then edit again. Don’t let one single typo slip through, and ensure the layout is perfect. If you have taken no pride in your work, then how can you expect an editor to? They’ll toss anything shoddy onto the slush pile, without bothering to read it first. It might well be a masterpiece, but it must be presented as a masterpiece or it won’t get recognised.
“Perseverance is the key. Writers receive so many rejections it’s unreal. We could so easily give up. But keep going. Good work always wins through in the end. It’s just that we all have different tastes and the editor rejecting your work is doing so out of personal taste. Take on board any feedback, but retain your self-belief. Write what you want to write and enjoy it.”
(Lissa’s latest novel is called Gala Day and is available as both paperback and eBook on Amazon or signed directly from her, via her website www.lissaoliver.ie. Her previous novel Chantilly Dawns is also available in all formats on Amazon and direct from the author.)