Today I am very pleased to welcome author Diana Jackson to my blog again.
Diana has written two historical novels in The Riduna Series and a memoir about her friend, Norman, who died aged 103.
This year, however, Diana has dipped her toe into the murky world of murder and mystery, with her latest novel, ‘Murder, Now and Then’, which has just been released in paperback.
Diana has now become a full-time author and has set up her own publishing imprint, Eventispress, with plans to launch new authors this year.
To celebrate the paperback launch of ‘Murder, Now and Then’, and to give some insight into Diana’s experience in the world of writing and publishing, I’ve put her in the hot seat.
So, let’s ask Diana some questions.
What inspired you to write a murder mystery?
I was researching for ‘Ancasta ~ Guide me Swiftly Home’ and in touch with the Channel Island Great War Study Group. I had an email from a lady in the group who asked, ‘did you know that a young lady from Jersey was murdered in Bedfordshire just after the end of WW1?’
Looking into it in more detail I realised that the murder took place less than three miles from where I live and so I cycled to look at her grave in Haynes churchyard. Curiosity and creativity sparked the novel. It was not a conscious decision, rather serendipity.
Can you tell us what the book is about and any themes explored?
A major theme is the complex way people handle the ‘cards life deals them,’ which is reflected in their relationships. I can’t say a great deal about this one without giving too much of the plot away. It’s a true to life drama in the sense that you get to know the characters in depth as the plot unravels – their weaknesses, strengths fears and vulnerabilities. It is important to me that you get to know ‘victims’ and ‘villains’ without prejudice.
Another major theme is family history – our inherent interest to delve into our family’s past, sometimes finding uncomfortable truths which for most are just that, but for my characters leads to involvement in a crime ring beyond their imaginings. This theme is not new, I know, but was vital to the plot and the outcome certainly takes the reader by surprise.
How much research was needed to bring the novel together in a realistic and vivid way for the reader?
The main research went into the 1919 plot which weaves as flashbacks in and out of the 2019 plot until you cannot ignore the fact that they are inextricably linked, and neither can the police. I have even quoted newspaper items from press releases about the original murder, although I have changed the names throughout. I researched in both the Bedford and Jersey archives.
I also read loads of crime novels and even visited Alnwick Poison Garden in Northumberland, which inspired rather than led my plot! My hubby has been looking suspiciously at food I prepare ever since.
The crime genre is a very crowded market and some readers are looking for something a little different. How do you think your novel stands out from the rest?
I believe murder in real life is more complex than the majority of the gripping novels we see in high street stores. This isn’t a criticism. We all need escapism and entertainment. ‘Murder, now and then’ entertains too, but I want the readers to feel they are living alongside ‘the neighbour next door’ for example. Are the people around us who we perceive them to be? It is not a novel of car chases and gun shoots – more a tragedy of human frailty.
I believe people who enjoyed my historical fiction would also enjoy ‘Murder, now and then’, since history and rich characterisation are both at the heart of all my writing to date, so I’m told. There’s a bit of romantic intrigue too.
Cover design. It’s always a tough one to get right when self-publishing. How did you go about finding the right design for you?
By chance a friend suggested I write a proposal for design students at North Herts College, which included specification, guidelines and deadlines. The students are creative but what they needed was experience to prepare for the workplace. This was a bit of blind faith on my part and I had to let go of any preconceived ideas regarding design. Two students won the college Facebook competition and so, with feedback from all my faithful Facebook followers who gave valuable input, I worked with each student in turn – to produce one cover for the Kindle version and the other for the paperback – although I may interchange them. This approach appealed to the ‘college tutor’ in me. I’m sure many in the industry would prefer a more conventional approach but it certainly stirred a buzz of publicity too.
A title of a book is just as important as the cover design. It needs to grab the potential reader’s attention. How did you approach this?
It was just one of those things that came to me. I’d bounced around with ideas for several weeks… Murder at Haynes Park Camp (sounds like a Girl Guides meeting) …Murder Revisited (I quite like this idea from a Facebook follower)…Murder at Pear Tree Farm ….too bland….until I came up with ‘Murder, now and then’ with its double meaning. It is set in 2019 with flashbacks to 1919 but it also sounded catchy, like an everyday phrase, the essence of the novel before it turns more sinister. At first the police are baffled because they cannot find any motive, weapon or clues to understand why the murder took place. They are almost, but not quite, caught ‘on the back foot’ as the lives of other characters are in deadly danger.
‘Murder, Now and Then’ combines a mix of events that take place in the past (the year 1919) and near future (2019). How did you go about balancing the crime and murder element with historical history?
The novel moves from historical facts, I hope, flowing seamlessly into my take of the events in 1919 which comes purely from my imagination. I have stressed that the novel is fiction. All original names have been changed although my characters are loosely based on the real people. I am not rewriting history, just inspired by it. There are hints of changes which might take place by 2019 but it certainly isn’t sci-fi. I feel that my structure worked well, in that I posted parallel chapters – a funeral in 2019 followed by the one in 1919 in italic typeface, for example.
Since becoming a full-time author, how have you found the transition from ‘normal day job’, to working at home each day?
I see myself on a Sabbatical. For how long that will be I do not know as yet. Having taught for the majority of my life it was a sobering experience going through redundancy but I was fortunate that our life was turned upside down in a positive way and I ended up living in Scotland for nine months. I was able to organise my writing day in my own way
6am – 8am social media, marketing and emails.
8.30 am to around 1pm – being creative or proof reading.
Early afternoon – out and about, socialising, shopping at the local shops.
By 3pm I was usually back behind my computer doing the IT tasks. I was learning to format for Kindle for example and I usually downed tools around 7.30pm
I will always look upon this time fondly since I was so fortunate to organise my day without interruption. Now we are back in Bedfordshire and my husband has (possibly) retired…..
I miss the buzz of colleagues and their friendship and support (although we get together when we can) but I don’t miss the stress, although publishing has other challenges.
You’ve set up your own publishing imprint Eventispress. How have you found the process?
I set up Eventispress on advice of many authors and, in fact, found it easier to interact with bookshops and distributers with my company hat on. I have had a couple of people do some work for me on the marketing side too. It has been a steep learning curve but I find publishing fascinating and I am excited that this side of my life has taken off on returning to Bedfordshire. I have published the novel of a fellow author on Kindle only this week – Colin Calvert’s thriller Born Again Bandits. Exciting times.
I see Eventispress as a working, but flexible cooperative. Each author can contribute skills and above all enthusiasm for theirs and each other’s projects. Collective, might better describe it. I am not open to submissions because I would rather work with people face to face and so I see it as a local project. It is early days but I now have two more authors, potentially, on board the project.
Like you, I was made redundant and decided to fulfil my goal of earning a living doing something I love. Obviously, everyone is different, and circumstances will differ as to whether that is a viable option for some, but what advice would you give to authors who might be thinking of working independently?
Oh Tania, it’s tough. I see the enthusiasm of ‘new’ authors come to me, full of dreams and hopes. In many ways I have to gently give them a reality check. Self-publishing is ‘damned’ hard work, if you’ll excuse the language. I could think of no other words. It can be soul destroying too, but it can also be so rewarding that you know you’ve finally found your ‘path in life.’ Whatever the criticisms, Amazon’s Kindle and Createspace, their paperback publishing arm, have opened up a low cost, now high quality option which is wonderful for authors like ourselves.
My advice is to find like-minded people – a local writers’ group, preferably, although an online forum would be OK as second best. Get to know people on Facebook and Twitter and don’t just advertise. They will be the folks that prop you up when times get difficult, and they probably will, but they will also celebrate your successes and wish you luck. They are fantastic people and kept me sane when I’ve felt lonely and disconnected during the last year. Share jokes with them. Share bits of your life. Be human and people will be there for you and share your joys and sorrows. Your partner may try to, but they don’t always want to understand. Celebrate your victories in style but keep learning. I could go on and on Tania, but thanks so much for giving me this opportunity to share.
Thanks to Diana for taking the time to talk about her book and her publishing journey. There is plenty for those considering self-publishing to think about.
You can find more about Diana and her writing on her two blogs:
@Riduna on Twitter
The official website: www.dianamaryjackson.co.uk
And her Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Diana-Jackson/e/B003557QH2/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_2
Other work by Diana Jackson: