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Evidently I didn't disgrace myself too badly at the last Simon & Schuster Blogger Event in February because the fools Lovely Folk at Simon & Schuster UK invited me to their autumn/winter blogger event held earlier today so I thought that I'd repay their kindness by putting up a summary of the event.

The format was the same as for the February event with 4 authors sitting on a panel, taking questions that had been previously submitted by the attendees and also further questions from the floor. In attendance were:

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ALI HARRIS is a magazine journalist and has written for publications such as Red, ELLE, Stylist, Cosmopolitan and Company and was deputy features editor at No.1 women's magazine Glamour before leaving to write books and have babies. She lives in Cambridge with her husband and their two children. She was there to talk about her second novel, THE FIRST LAST KISS, which will be released in the UK on 17th January 2013.

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WENDY WALLACE is an award-winning freelance journalist and writer based in London, whose articles have appeared in the Telegraph, the Guardian and the Scotsman. She was there to talk about her debut novel, THE PAINTED BRIDGE, which was released on 24th May 2012 to wide critical acclaim.

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DEAN CRAWFORD began writing after his dream of becoming a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force was curtailed when he failed their stringent sight tests. Fusing his interest in science with a love of fast-paced revelatory thrillers, he soon found a career that he could pursue with as much passion as flying a fighter jet. He was there to talk about his third novel, APOCALYPSE, which will be released on 8th November 2012.

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ROBERT RYAN is an author, journalist and screenwriter. He was born in Liverpool and moved to London to study natural sciences at university. He began his writing career in the late 1980s for The Face, Arena and the US edition of GQ, before moving to a staff job in the Sunday Times. In 1999, after the publication of his first novel, Underdogs, he left to go freelance, although he is still a frequent contributor to the newspaper. He has published a total of twelve novels under his own name, the latest being Death on the Ice, and two (Steel Rain and Copper Kiss) as Tom Neale. He was there to talk about his thirteenth novel (albeit his first for Simon & Schuster), DEAD MAN'S LAND.

The questions were posed by Alice Murphy, Simon & Schuster's Digital Marketing Executive. I've set out the questions asked below in bold italics with each panelist's answer underneath. Please note that I have paraphrased their responses for the sake of brevity.


TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR BOOK.

DEAN: APOCALYPSE is about a villain who has a machine that can look backwards and forwards in time and heroes with the technology to know exactly what's going on in the present.

ALI: THE FIRST LAST KISS is about a love affair between Molly and Ryan who first meet in their teens. It's a non-linear book that tells their story in a non-linear way through the kisses they share.

ROBERT: DEAD MAN'S LAND was a break for me because most of my previous books have been set during or after World War II so this time I decided to move to World War I with a story that follows a doctor who's investigating a murder that's taken place in the Western Front's trenches and that doctor happens to be Doctor Watson, from the Sherlock Holmes tales. I decided to use him because in one of the original Conan-Doyle books, it's mentioned that Dr Watson returns to his regiment.

WENDY: THE PAINTED BRIDGE is set in a private asylum in 1859 and is about a young woman who's been incarcerated there by her husband. The book explores how she got there but a strong theme is about photography and its use in the treatment of mental illness as photography was still in its infancy and people were exploring what could be done with it.


WHAT ARE THE BEST AND WORST THINGS ABOUT BEING A WRITER?

ALI: The best thing is when someone makes your dreams come true and publishes your book because I had many rejections before I got my book deal. The worst thing is that because I have 2 young children, it's difficult to switch between their needs and my writing.

WENDY: I started as a feature writer for a newspaper, so being a journalist gives you confidence in your craft and I felt confident when I wrote my non-fiction books. But writing features or non-fiction is totally different to writing fiction so there's a transition there.

ROBERT: I also still work as a features journalist but the best moment in writing books is when you realise that you can just make things up.

DEAN: I make it all up and try to make it convincing. The science is mostly real but I tweak it to make the story work. There are no negatives so far as I'm concerned because I'm doing what I want to do but the science is quite hard to get my head around. It takes about 6 months to write each book and of that about 3 months is pure research.


HOW DO YOU KEEP MOTIVATED WHEN YOU'RE HAVING DIFFICULT WRITING DAYS?

ALI: I take a break when it's not happening but I do now religiously plot in advance, which I think is how I got published because previously I'd let my books drift along. I needed to learn the structure and then treat it like a job. Even if the words aren't coming then I try to do something else on the story or think about characters or if that doesn't work I go out jogging.

ROBERT: My wife counts the cups of tea I had to get an idea of how well the writing's gone. If I'm stuck I try and go out to do something else. I do think though that if you're not enjoying what you're writing then the chances are that the readers won't enjoy reading it.

ALI: I do personally find that writing 9am - 5pm can be quite stifling. You do have more flexibility in your hours when you write full-time.

WENDY: I go and do something physical. I'm motivated more than I am self-disciplined so even when the writing's tough I still get pleasure from doing it. I did a lot of research before I started to write THE PAINTED BRIDGE and then went back to look up specific points when they came up during the actual writing stage. Research does give the novel shape but you find that you leave out 90% of what you've learnt because it's not relevant to the story.

ROBERT: I wanted to use a Pal's Battalion for DEAD MAN'S LAND because they were groups drawn from the same area and professions, which meant that the men took their friendships but they also brought any feuds with them too. Most Pal's Battalions are very well-documented so I thought that it would be easier and more respectful to make one up, although I did base it vaguely on a Salford Pal's Battalion. I'd also been interested in the Sherlock Holmes books and had always had an idea for using Doctor Watson in my own fiction. I also wanted to use a doctor rather than a detective for a World War I detective story because World War I was at the cutting edge of medicine and medical innovation because of the range of injuries that were being generated.


DO ANY OF YOU FEEL RESTRICTED BY THE GENRE LABEL?

DEAN: Not really. My books are thrillers with a science fiction cross-over. I've done other stuff as well and have other ideas for books in other genres, although I don't think I could do a romance novel.

ALI: I like chick lit so I'm happy to be labelled as a chick lit writer, although it is a term that's used in a derogatory way. I'm happy to be in a genre though so I don't care what it's called.

WENDY: Some genre terms are more appropriate than others but I never wrote THE PAINTED BRIDGE as specifically women's fiction. I think genre is really more of an issue for publishers and marketers.

ROBERT: I'd written 5 or 6 World War II books and got to a point where I wanted to do something with more modern technology so I did write a couple of contemporary-set novels about an FBI agent working in London and now I'm back to World War I.


WHAT KIND OF RESEARCH DO YOU DO FOR YOUR BOOKS AND HOW DO YOU BLEND REALITY INTO YOUR FICTION?

WENDY: Photography is a theme in my book and in 1859 they thought that it would be an objective way of examining people. Photography was only 20 years old at that point so it was a lot of fun to research it.

ROBERT: I had blood transfusions in DEAD MAN'S LAND and it was a very gruesome procedure because initially they couldn't type blood properly but as the War went on, they learnt about universal donors so it became easier but the process was still intricate.

ALI: THE FIRST LAST KISS starts in 1994 so there are phones and cameras and Molly is working our through technology (including a blog) about how to savour the moment.

DEAN: I use a F-15 fighter to get a character in APOCALYPSE to Miami in a hurry because they're supersonic planes. I'd wanted originally to be a fighter pilot but my eyesight wasn't up to it but I love writing books where you blend reality into the story and people can look up the science in my books and see that there's a basis in fact there.

ALI: I was the same age as Holly is at the start of THE FIRST LAST KISS in 1991 so the research was pretty easy. I wrote the novel in a linear way but then went back and carved it up into a non-linear structure.

ROBERT: I did have a doctor read my blood transfusion scenes but I generally don't show my writing to other people because I don't find it helpful unless I need input on a technical point.

WENDY: I've done less research for the novel I'm currently writing then I did for THE PAINTED BRIDGE because I've found that the story is more to the fore. I don't feel the need to get a second opinion on my writing while I'm working on it because even well-intentioned input can throw you. I think that as a writer you need to trust your instincts.

ROBERT: I do less research now because there are so many experts out there on-line. For example I found a blog about the real life experiences of a nurse in World War I which had been based on her letters and experiences.


WHAT DO YOUR WRITING DAYS LOOK LIKE?

DEAN: I'm a full-time writer so I treat it like a full-time job and do a 9am - 5pm day, Monday to Friday. I'm currently doing about 3,000 words a day because I've got a deadline at the end of the month.

ALI: I've got 2 young children so I squeeze my writing in while they're at nursery. I'm a massive procrastinator so I find that having a set period of time gives me a structure to write within. I have a writing shed in the garden where I have time to myself.

ROBERT: I from the morning to the early afternoon and then do something else but I do work on weekends sometimes.

WENDY: I need a lot of time to write.Getting the first draft is the hardest but I'm finding that I'm also busy trying to support THE PAINTED BRIDGE too.


ROB, CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCES OF USING DOCTOR WATSON AND THE ATTITUDE OF THE CONAN-DOYLE ESTATE?

ROBERT: Although the Sherlock Holmes books are out of copyright there's a strange situation with copyright in the USA so I didn't want a situation where I found myself caught up in a US court case for using the Watson character, particularly because the characters of Sherlock Homes, Moriarty and Doctor Watson have all be protected by the Conan-Doyle Estate. So I phoned them up and told them what I wanted to do with the Watson character and then sent them a 3 page pitch document summarising the novel. After 3 weeks they wrote back and told me that they'd endorse the book provided I complied with a couple of requirements and acknowledged them because there are certain things that they don't want doing with the characters.


HOW DO YOU HANDLE NEGATIVE REVIEWS?

DEAN: I do read negative reviews to see if I can learn anything about them and sometimes I do take on board comments about repeated mannerisms or whatever.

ALI: I only really care about my family and friends and that they're proud of me. I have read my negative reviews but you have to move on and keep believing in yourself.

ROBERT: Negative reviews make me miserable, but you can take positives from them. I don't tend to read them now because they're a blow to your self-esteem but you do have to learn how to deal with them.

WENDY: I felt beaten up by a negative review a newspaper gave to one of my non-fiction books but you have to develop a thick skin because there are haters out there who don't have anything constructive to say.

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 again and did come home with some excellent swag.

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