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I had the very great pleasure of being invited to attend a blogger event at Simon & Schuster's offices yesterday and thought that I'd put together a summary of what happened.

The event was a chance to meet 4 of Simon & Schuster's authors who all have books that have either been released recently or are due to be released very shortly. In attendance were:


BENJAMIN WOOD is a graduate of the MFA Creative Writing Programme at the University of British Colombia, where he was the fiction editor of the Canadian literary journal, PRISM International. He is currently a lecturer in Creative Writing at Birkbeck College, University of London and was there to talk about his debut novel, THE BELLWETHER REVIVALS.


REBECCA CHANCE lived in Tuscany and Manhattan before returning to her native London with a handsome American husband in tow. Rebecca's interests include gymnastics, trapeze and pole-dancing, watching America's Next Top Model and cocktail-drinking. She was there to talk about her third novel, BAD SISTERS.


LLOYD SHEPHERD is a former journalist and digital producer who has worked for the Guardian, Channel 4, the BBC and Yahoo. He lives in South London with his family and was there to talk about his debut novel, THE ENGLISH MONSTER.


PENNY HANCOCK lives in Cambridge with her husband and three children. She is a part-time primary school teacher at a speech and language school and has travelled extensively as a language teacher. She was also there to talk about her debut novel, TIDELINE.

Most of the questions had been submitted in advance and were posed to he panel by Alice Murphy, Simon & Schuster's Digital Marketing Executive, but there was also a brief Q&E session at the end. I've set out the questions asked below in bold italics with each panelist's answer underneath.



WHAT DO YOU LOVE BEST ABOUT THE GENRE THAT YOU WRITE IN?

PENNY hadn't read much crime fiction or many thrillers before writing TIDELINE, but she liked the idea of looking beneath the surface of ordinary people and especially when the psychology of a person goes awry.

LLOYD said that he wrote a historical novel by accidence because he'd read and really enjoyed Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, which are a series of science fiction novels set in the 17th century. What he liked was the idea of what people thought at the time and he said that he was more interested in those attitudes than going into a lot of historical detail about the colour of sails etc. In his spare time he reads horror, fantasy, weird stuff and classics.

REBECCA said that she loved fashion and what people wear but she's been around the houses in terms of what she writes and has also written and published crime fiction, literary fiction, short stories, erotica and she writes young adult fiction for the American market. She said that she loves all of these genres equally but does have an awful lot of fun writing bonkbusters like BAD SISTERS. Her advice to new writers was that you probably shouldn't read too much in your chosen genre as you'll become blind to the tropes and cliches but at the same time you should love what you do.

BEN said that he enjoys getting under the skin of characters, which literary fiction allows you to do. He quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson who said that, "Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures". In literary fiction, characters are slightly larger than they are in real life in order to allow you to explore ideas and psychological ideas.



WHAT AUTHORS HAVE INFLUENCED YOUR WRITING STYLE?

BEN said that he reads many US authors such as V. S. Pritchett, Truman Capote and Shirley Jackson - real prose stylists. When it was pointed out that THE BELLWETHER REVIVALS had been compared to THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt, he said that he thought that they explored similar territory. He added that he had recently read BRIDESHEAD REVISITED by Evelyn Waugh and said that he'd enjoyed it and could see why it was such an enduring novel although it he did not think that it is a perfect book. He thinks that both BRIDESHEAD REVISITED and THE SECRET HISTORY have strong central characters who you can follow anywhere.

REBECCA said that when she'd started writing it was because she'd wanted strong female protagonists in crime fiction, so her first books (which were written under the pseudonym Sam Jones) were aimed at giving her what she wanted. She said that she'd been heavily influenced by Peter O'Donnell's MODESTY BLAISE books but she also loved Victoria Holt, Barbara Pym and Judith Krantz and pretty much reads anything and everything.

LLOYD said that Neal Stephenson was a big influence on his work but he also read and re-read Stephen King and Henry James. He said that Stephen King is a master storyteller while PORTRAIT OF A LADY was his favourite book and one that he constantly re-read. He's also a fan of graphic novels, with Alan Moore being a big influence.

PENNY said that she was attracted to women's fiction and spoke of Rose Tremain, Julie Myerson and Beryl Bainbridge, with Beryl Bainbridge being a writer who she'd like to write like. ANNA KARENINA by Leo Tolstoy was her all-time favourite novel.



DO YOU PREFER TO READ PAPER OR DIGITAL BOOKS?

REBECCA said that she is a complete Luddite and will probably be the last person to buy an electronic book reader, although she said that it was attractive because you can download books so quickly.

LLOYD said that he didn't understand why people got so exercised about the format of a book when they don't when it comes to music. It's a way of accessing books conveniently and the idea of having dozens of books on one Kindle rather than having to carry dozens of physical books is very appealing. He also said that he likes looking on-line for books because people share recommendations a lot.

REBECCA added that she'd spoken to an author friend who had used footnotes in her latest book but they hadn't come out well in the electronic format, which led to all kinds of reader complaints.

BEN thought that electronic technology would allow writers of, for example graphic novels, to take stories in new directions, which he found very exciting. Personally, he tends to read paper rather than electronic books and is a stickler for formatting, which in some electronic books can be quite poor.

PENNY said that she doesn't have a Kindle but isn't against them. She did say that she thinks that books are beautiful things when they're on shelves.

LLOYD added the point that you can't pass on Kindle books when you die, which he found worrying because he'd inherited his father's books after his death and still treasures them.



IS THERE A BOOK IN YOUR BOTTOM DRAWER THAT ISN'T PUBLISHED?

BEN said that he'd written a novella during his MFA, which had been good enough to get him an agent but which didn't get bought. He said that it had been aimed at a younger audience and was about music so it was different to THE BELLWETHER REVIVALS but at the same time it helped Ben to write and shape THE BELLWETHER REVIVALS. Ben said that he might go back to that novella at some future point.

REBECCA said that she didn't believe she still had her first novel because it had been written on an Amstrad computer and she wasn't sure she'd changed it to subsequent computers. However she said that she can still remember the first 2 pages of it because she'd written and re-written it so many times. She said that if she still had that first novel then she'd love to revisit it but she wasn't sure about how she'd feel about re-reading it because it was very much informed by Rebecca's own wild child experiences in London.

LLOYD said that he'd written a book when he was 30, which was about a series of murders on a film being shot on location in Wales. He revealed that Ian Banks's agent had been interested and asked him to do a rewrite but Lloyd didn't have the energy and never got around to it.

PENNY said that she had lots of previous books, a couple of which are finished. One was a coming-of-age novel that was a seed for TIDELINE because it was about first love, so it wasn't a wasted novel. She didn't think that she had the energy to pull it out and revisit it. She added that she'd tried to write chick lit but it's hard to do and ended up stopping even though she'd enjoyed it.



HAVE YOUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCES AFFECTED YOUR WRITING?

PENNY said that TIDELINE came about because she'd been thinking about first love and about how a person could never get back those feelings of first love although she hastily pointed out that she had never held captive a young boy. She added that she'd grown up near a river and so it was an excuse to try and re-experience that life and get it back.

BEN said that there were two main threads in THE BELLWETHER REVIVALS that came from his personal experiences. Firstly, he explained that he had grown up in a nursing home and it was an oddly pleasurable experience - a bit like Disney for the elderly - and being close to the elderly fed into the relationships in THE BELLWETHER REVIVALS. Secondly he said that music was important to him as he is a songwriter and musician and he had a visceral relationship with music, which he wanted to feed into some of the scenes. In particular he wanted music to come across in a way that readers could feel and understand rather than in an academic, slightly cold way.

REBECCA said that she hadn't had all the sex that's depicted in her bonkbusters, but she said that she found the scenes fun to write. Plus because she's travelled a lot she knew the locations that she uses and she also has a vivid imagination ...

LLOYD said that there wasn't a lot of him in the Regency murders but he did love the river Thames around Tower Bridge. He made the point that it used to be the case that London had to look into the river all the time but now it looks back from it so he had to try and imagine the Thames as being filled with activity. THE ENGLISH MONSTER took a lot of imagination.



WHAT WAS THE HARDEST PART OF THE BOOK TO WRITE?

LLOYD said that there are several scenes in THE ENGLISH MONSTER which involve real people from the period. He found them hard to write because he didn't want to be unfair about it or injure their memory as he's writing about things that actually happened to those people and little enough is known or written about ordinary people in Regency London because the focus is very much on the aristocracy, and politicians etc rather than scullery maids and servants.

PENNY said that the character of Jez was hard to write because he's a different age and generation to her and he doesn't really have a voice within the book so it was hard for Penny to put herself in his shoes. She said that she had tried to write some scenes from his point of view but she's worried that she hadn't given him justice. She added that she was thinking of potentially doing a sequel to TIDELINE from his point of view.

BEN said that he recently went back to early drafts of THE BELLWETHER REVIVALS because he still finds the writing process hard. He found it most difficult to decide where to start the story, what the inciting incident is and how to develop the framework for the plot.

REBECCA said that she found second drafts really hard. She also finds it difficult to get people into and out of rooms and generally moving people around. She says that she also gets frustrated that she can't get all of the stuff in her head down onto the page to enable the reader to immerse themselves completely in the book.

BEN agreed that giving people a reason to be in the same room at the same time can be tricky.




WHAT'S NEXT FOR YOU?

PENNY said that she's working on a novel about a successful career woman and an immigrant domestic worker that looks to explore what happens when their power relationship begins to change. It's a psychological thriller set in Deptford.

LLOYD had just handed in his second novel that day, which is a sequel to THE ENGLISH MONSTER where his characters have to investigate murders that occur after a strange tree from Tahiti is planted in Kew Gardens. The title may change but it's currently under the working title THE POISONED ISLAND.

REBECCA said that her next book KILLER HEELS is coming out in August, but she's also working on a Christmas novel that will come out in October. KILLER HEELS is set in the fashion world and is about the awful things that women do to women. The heroine is a woman who worries about her weight and who gets thinner. BAD ANGELS is set in a luxury penthouse building in Limehouse which is owned by a Russian oligarch with a plastic surgery next door. It involves a young actress, a gay footballer and a former assassin.

BEN is writing a literary novel about art, identity and avalanches and it's due to be delivered at the end of 2013.



WHEN YOU'RE WRITING DO YOU DO IT TO A SEQUENCE?

REBECCA goes from start to finish but knows people who leave things out and then go back to it. You need to do the thing that works for you. She tends to write quite fast and in concentrated bursts.

LLOYD goes from the start of the story and sometimes doesn't know what the ending will be. He does the first draft quite quickly and then does the research and worries about pacing etc. He doesn't outline.

REBECCA uses 11 page outlines.

BEN sort of outlines in that he uses a three-act structure chart. He also said that you need to find the way that's most comfortable for you. He needs to get words on a page that he can then go back over and think about until it sits right.

REBECCA says that the process does get faster the more books you write. She said that she's written 21 books now and they get easier each time.

PENNY writes the end first so she knows where she's going and has something that she can work towards.

LLOYD said that he had the opening section to THE ENGLISH MONSTER clearly in his head when he started.




HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT ABRIDGED AUDIO BOOKS?

LLOYD said that THE ENGLISH MONSTER wasn't abridged for the audio book. However he said that he's recently won a literary death match where he had to abridge some of his own pages to fit the 7 minute time limit. He found it easier to do when he read it aloud and heard what could be taken out.

REBECCA said that abridgements happen less now because they don't have to produce cassettes or CDs and the market is big for complete books. But she said that audio book rights are like television and film rights in that you need to let go of control because whatever the audio/television/film result people will always still buy the books.

The Event ended with a chance to mingle with and talk to the authors and pick up copies of some of Simon & Schuster's current and forthcoming releases.

Many thanks to Simon & Schuster for the invitation as I had a great time.

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