Today, we have the pleasure of sitting down with UK author Deborah Jay. Deborah is going to tell us a bit about her writing process, her inspiration and will share some of her work with us.
Please enjoy this edition of 20 Questions:
Q1) When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Probably back when I was about nine, when I started teaching myself to type by copying pages from books. I also began writing my first novel at that age – a children’s book titled ‘Samantha, the Adventurous Poodle’ (why, I don’t know, it just came to me), which only got as far as three chapters when I realised I didn’t have a plot.
After that, I tried a few variations – a comic book (The Adventures of Galloper) with self-drawn pictures, though I freely admit I’m no artist, and then a serial, written longhand as we did in those days, with a friend at school. We wrote alternate chapters, featuring ourselves as footballer’s wives (we both supported the local team). She wrote the emotional stuff, I wrote adventures – perhaps you can see where this is going…
Then later at University, I returned to novel writing and haven’t looked back since.
Q2) How long does it typically take you to write a book?
I’m not fast, a book will take me anything from one to three years. In my defence, I write epic-sized books, 150K to 200K words, which is two or three times the size of a regular book. I also run my own business (training competition horses), which is very full time and sometimes leaves me unable to find any writing time for weeks on end during the busy season.
Q3) What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
As the day job takes priority, I have to write ad hoc when time permits. That’s usually evenings, but also when the weather is foul, and I don’t feel guilty for sitting indoors instead of being outside, working.
Once I sit down, I do a quick review of what I wrote last time to get me back inside my character’s heads, and then launch into new stuff. I write for as long as I feel I’m doing it justice, then quit. That might be an hour or it might be three hours. Sometimes it might be all day, with just short breaks for meals. One thing I’m not short of is inspiration, but once I get tired there’s no point continuing.
Q4) What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
My preferred time for writing is in the dead of night, and totally alone. I need that isolation to totally immerse myself in my characters and their woes.
If I can’t do that, I play movie soundtracks at high volume – they always evoke strong emotions so are terrific for creating mood, as well as blocking out sound. My favourites are things like the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, and the TV series ‘Babylon 5’.
Q5) How are your books published?
I’m what’s known as a ‘hybrid’ author – I have both traditionally and self-published titles.
My traditionally published books are non-fiction manuals about dressage horse training, while I have self-published my fiction after going through three agents without a sale. In the modern publishing world I’m now quite happy about that – I have total freedom to write exactly what I want, not what a publisher demands, and although the marketing time required is tiresome, publishers expect you to do it for yourself these days anyway, so what the heck?
Q6) Where do you get your ideas for your books?
Absolutely no idea! My mind has always been brimming with stories, my only problem is settling down to writing one at a time.
Q7) If you don’t mind sharing, when did you write your first book?
The first book I completed was a 200K word mammoth SF adventure, called ‘Priestess!’ I completed it in my mid twenties, and entered it for all sorts of competitions. It didn’t win.
Now, although I think every now and then about re-writing it – I’m still in love with it – I’m not even sure I have an old copy left. That was pre-internet, and it was printed out using a dot-matrix printer. Last time I saw it the ink was so faded I could barely read it. It’s probably completely gone by now.
Q8) What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
My day job takes up most of my life. I’m incredibly lucky to do a job I absolutely love, and that includes having two or three horses of my own to compete. I’ve represented the UK internationally, and nowadays I’m one of the UK’s top dressage judges, so at certain times of year I’m travelling the length and breadth of the country (plus a little abroad too), judging at all the championships.
If I have any ‘spare’ time, I love gardening, and going to the movies.
Q9) What is your favorite book?
Always such a hard question, and the answer depends on my mindset of the day. Right now, I’d say ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’, by Ursula K Le Guin, which was the very first fantasy novel I read, thanks to an enlightened English teacher at school.
I need to go back now, and read it with a much more informed mind, as I understand from discussions that it was revolutionary for its time, depicting non-Western characters (didn’t notice that at the time), and centred around commentary on political and social issues. Back in the day, it was just a breathtaking, dark adventure with magic and amazing character development.
Q10) What do your family and friends think of your writing?
They are all very proud of me. I’m not sure how many of my family have actually read my work, but the fact they can hold books in their hands with my name on the cover seems to impress them.
As to my friends, lots of them have read my fiction, even if fantasy isn’t their preferred genre, and they have all, so far, been incredibly complimentary – and I know quite a few of them who would say exactly what they think even though we are friends, so I reckon I must be getting it right!
Q11) What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
I’ve realised that although I have no formal education in psychology, I have a passion for understand what makes people tick. Now I’ve started regularly writing characters with serious flaws and mental issues, I’ve become aware that somewhere along the line, I’ve absorbed a lot of knowledge. I put much of that down to developing my coaching skills in the day job (these days coaching has become quite an intellectual exercise centred around developing positive mental attitudes), and deep discussions with a friend who is an NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming) Master Practitioner and Life Coach.
Q12) What do you hate most about the writing process?
How long it takes! I love writing, and I adore editing, if only it could be a faster process!
Q13) How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I’ve written seven (including the equestrian books), and published four, with the fifth due out this autumn. I also published a short story linked to my Urban Fantasy series, and a collection of speculative fiction on behalf of my writer’s group, including one of my own stories.
Favorite? I really can’t choose – I love them all.
Q14) Do you have any suggestions to help us become better writers? If so, what are they?
Read extensively, particularly in your own genre, though any good writing should rub off on the subconscious. Analyse what makes a good book good, in terms of structure and writing technique, and do the same for bad books – there are plenty out there. Try to copy good technique, though not content.
Also, watch films and (strangely enough) soap operas – the writing is very structured and it’s easy to pick apart how the screen writers manipulate our emotions, through timing of events and interaction of characters.
Q15) Do you get feedback from your readers much? How and what kinds of things do they say?
I do, particularly when I have released a new book. I get emails via my website (readers come there via the links in the back matter of my books), and so far it’s all been positive, thank goodness! Mostly they want to say how much the characters have enthralled them, and demand to know when the next book will be out.
Q16) What is your preferred reading audience?
No, really, I’ve had some very unlikely people read and review my books, though when I did an ‘ideal reader’ analysis, it suggested largely adult women across a wide age range. I’ve been surprised how many men have enjoyed the books too, and I welcome anyone, especially those who take the time to write a review.
Q17) What do you think makes a good story?
Great characters with personal flaws, action, adventure, suspense and a plot that keeps surprising you but makes total sense.
Q18) As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I could never make up my mind! Surgeon, air hostess (it was glamorous in those days), teacher, and vet come to mind. I always assumed I would be a writer as well, at the same time as whatever else I did.
Q19) Where can we find your books?
You can find more out about them on my website: https://deborahjayauthor.com/ where each book and story has its own dedicated page.
Q20) Will you give us an excerpt from one of your own favorite works?
Absolutely. This is a snippet from THE PRINCE’S MAN, my epic fantasy which goes by the logline ‘Think James Bond meets Lord of the Rings’.
To put the excerpt in context, here’s a short blurb:
Rustam Chalice, gigolo and spy, loves his life, so when the kingdom he serves is threatened from within, he leaps into action. Only trouble is, the spy master teams him up with an untouchable, beautiful aristocratic assassin who despises him. Plunged into a desperate journey over the mountains, the mismatched pair struggle to survive deadly wildlife, the machinations of a spiteful god – and each other.
“Remove your hand, Chalice,” Risada hissed, “unless you want to lose it.”
Rustam released her, and lay back with a sigh. “Don’t you ever get tired of making threats? Or is it the only form of conversation you know?”
“It seems to be the only sort you respect. And I hardly think the kind you’re used to is appropriate outside the bedchamber.”
She stood up and flounced over to her horse, began digging through a saddle bag. Rustam reconsidered—flounced was not really the correct verb. It would be hard for anyone to flounce wearing those figure hugging breeches and bulky jerkin, but that was how she moved and it made for interesting watching, particularly from his supine viewpoint.
Goddess, he thought in frustration, what a gorgeous woman. Why must she be so obnoxious?
A pair of thin legs walked past his face and Rustam glanced up, startled, his wrist knife slipping instinctively into his fingers.
“Don’t do that!” he snapped at Elwaes.
“Pardon me? Do what?”
“Creep up on people like that. You can get killed that way.” He slid the dagger back into its sheath.
“Apologies, friend Rustam. I had no intention of creeping and, I might suggest, your thoughts were elsewhere at the time.”
Rustam scowled, unable to dispute the Shivan’s observation.
“What’s that?” he asked suspiciously, eyeing the greenish mess in Elwaes’s hand. The elf smiled.
“Rhak moss. It makes an excellent poultice.”
At that moment, Risada returned with a length of cloth. She raised her eyebrows as Elwaes proceeded to slather the gooey moss onto Rustam’s wounds, but wordlessly handed him the cloth which he bound tightly around the whole mess. Rustam stood up and tentatively put some weight on the injured leg. It did feel a touch better, cooler at least. He hobbled over to Nightstalker and began rummaging through his saddle bags for a new pair of breeches.
“Can we ride on now?” Risada asked with a touch of impatience as he fastened his belt.
“Lead on, your Ladyship.”
For the remainder of the day they followed the stream along the plateau, keeping a wary eye out for further ambushes. The towering peaks to either side drew a little closer, but still there was no end to the broken ground staggering endlessly away in front of them. Mosses and short tufts of coarse grass were the only vegetation and they saw no signs of either animals or trolls, other than the occasional pony sized hoof print in the softer soil of the stream bank. As night fell, Risada reluctantly agreed to make camp where they were, rather than fumble on in the dark and risk falling into a crevasse.
“I don’t think we should risk a fire,” she said. “If they’re following us it’ll act as a beacon.”
“I agree,” said Rustam, unsaddling Nightstalker. “How about that?” he muttered to Elwaes who was removing the mare’s bridle. “We actually agreed on something.”
“Don’t expect it to last,” snapped Risada from behind her grey, and then added, “I have very sharp hearing, Chalice.”
“Matches your tongue then, doesn’t it?” he murmured beneath his breath.
This time she didn’t hear.
About Deborah Jay:
Deborah Jay writes fast-paced fantasy adventures featuring quirky characters and multi-layered plots – just what she likes to read.
Living mostly on the UK South coast, she has already invested in her ultimate retirement plan – a farmhouse in the majestic, mystery-filled Scottish Highlands where she retreats to write when she can find time. Her taste for the good things in life is kept in check by the expense of keeping too many dressage horses, and her complete inability to cook.
Her debut novel, epic fantasy THE PRINCE’S MAN, first in a trilogy and winner of a UK Arts Board award, has featured consistently in the Amazon UK Top 100 Epic Fantasy books since publication in July 2013.
Connect with Deborah Jay:
http://viewAuthor.at/DeborahJay (Amazon Author page)