Please join me this morning in getting to know Sue Millard!
Writing is such a challenging endeavor. What got you started on it and what keeps you doing it?
I started aged 7 writing consciously “for” other people to read. A very good teacher when I was 10 used to read both prose and poetry to the whole class every Friday afternoon. He spotted my ability with words and encouraged me, and once you’re launched you never really stop loving words. I sold my first poem at 10, tried a novel when I was 12 (it was crap) and then studied literature at Chester College (now the University of Chester; I was on one of its first degree courses).
What keeps me writing? It depends. Poetry comes and goes, because it needs a powerful inner source. Prose – fiction and non-fiction – are more workmanlike, but I still want to produce something worthwhile, that buyers will want to keep. I do enjoy people saying that they liked my books and poems. I think that’s a given, isn’t it?
I’d like to say that money keeps me motivated to write, but it takes a long while to see profit, especially on paperbacks where you have costs up front. I have to take the view that it’s a long haul and once set up a book should go on earning.
What did you do with your earliest efforts? Did anyone read them? Do you still have them?
I eventually re-vamped the novel outline I wrote at 12 and it became AGAINST THE ODDS, which J A Allen published in 1995.
What made you choose to write in the genres/time periods you write in?
I use whatever vehicle I need to carry the story I want to tell. I don’t stick to just one genre – that would bore me to death.
What do you enjoy most in the writing process? What parts of it do you really dislike?
I don’t dislike any of the writing process! I’m trying to make something satisfying, to impose order on chaos, and all the work needed is done towards that end. I suppose I most enjoy the final stages of editing and polishing and setting up covers and layouts, so that I end up with a good story that is also a nice looking product. I’ve got my head round paperback distribution by going via Lightning Source, and I like doing book signings, blog hops and talks once a book is out, but I don’t much enjoy the marketing that sets the books up to produce sales. I sometimes find it hard to “get into” unscrupulous characters and I often have to edit and rewrite considerably to make them plausible.
If you write in multiple genres how do you make the switch from one to the other? Do you find it a welcome change, crazy-making or a little of both?
Definitely a welcome change. There have been times when I had to write poetry and nothing else, and other times when fictional stories were the only things that would come and and I couldn’t write poetry if my life depended on it. You can’t force poetry. You can produce verse mechanically but real poetry has to have its mainspring inside you – joy or agony, it doesn’t matter which. Simple contentment doesn’t produce poetry. It produces either a researched piece of non fiction or a new novel.
I really couldn’t stick being published by a big-six house and being contracted to produce material within one genre all the time.
Historical fiction takes a lot of research. What is the most memorable or interesting thing you’ve learned along the way?
The hardiness of working people, I think. A world that had no electricity had no really safe light after dark and no power to run the machines that help in household tasks today. That and a lack of piped water meant very hard work for women on washday. I don’t think I would have liked to be a working wife before the late 19th century.
No internal combustion engine meant that transport and agriculture depended on the strength of animals – whether horse, ass, goat or dog – and people had not only to be skilled to handle them, but prepared to put in much longer hours in order to maintain the beasts in good working condition.
What do you to keep all your research information and plot ideas organized and accessible?
I write notes in text files. I keep these snippets in groups, inside named folders on my hard drive below the working title of my work in progress. I bookmark useful websites in named folders too. I’ve tried to use organising programmes like Scrivener and they all have drawbacks for me – probably because they force me to come out of one mode of thought and into another that fits the programme. I tend to lay-out complex timelines in Excel. COACHMAN required that so I could get my head round national events and fit my story into them.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
“Don’t get it right, get it written.” You can edit and tighten and spellcheck once it’s on the page, but until it’s written, it only exists in your head. Get words down on paper or via the keyboard. Also, keep a notebook to jot down ideas or observations that could spark a story some time later.
Tell us a little about your current project.
AGAINST THE ODDS (1993) was a contemporary romance novel, set in the world of steeplechasing. I’m now writing a sequel, which I always meant to do. I’m not sure of the title yet – SECOND something, probably! I wrote 25,000 words of it during November 2012 for NANOWRIMO but I discovered that doesn’t really suit me. I knew I was just stuffing words in to try to hit a target. I’ve paused for the moment at the stage of chopping back initial info-dumps. When I’ve saved them for use later, I can move on. I’d rather write 500 than 1500 words a day, and know they are clean and workmanlike. Even so, a first draft never looks much like the final one!
I’m going to strip the pages out of a hard copy of AGAINST THE ODDS so I can scan and digitise the text. (I wrote that novel on an electronic typewriter and I only ever had hard copies of it.) I’ll correct some printer’s typos while I’m at it – mostly dialogue punctuation, where full stops or commas lie outside the quotation marks. (AAARRGGHH!) I’ll get the book out this year in several digital formats and then that can be simmering while I complete the sequel.
What’s up next for you?
I’m looking forward to doing a talk for the Cumbrian Literary Group in July about the research I did to write COACHMAN.
You can find Sue online at:
Find and purchase her books at http://www.jackdawebooks.co.uk
AGAINST THE ODDS
ONE FELL SWOOP
THE FORTHRIGHT SAGA
FELL FUN and FELL FACTS