For those who have not already met her, I’m delighted to introduce novelist Harriet Smart. I bumped into Harriet on Twitter and was interested in her passion for research and her take on self- (or should I say indie?) publishing. We have also been known to swap Tweets on less urgent matters like what’s on T.V. So here she is to share the sofa, all the way from Edinburgh.
Hi Harriet, to get us in the mood of the season, where did the name Fiction Witch come from – the top of your head, or somewhere more sinister?
I was trying to look for an interesting pseudonym for blogging purposes, something a bit attitudinal and sassy. I did blog for a while as FictionWitch writing rather searing book reviews but I decided to stop doing that and just use the name as my handle on Twitter. I imagine myself as a rather playful, possibly slightly saucy witch, with stripy stockings and high heels. It is quite fun to have a persona to hide behind sometimes!
Yes, that’s the beauty of Twitter! For those of us who haven’t met you before, can we have a quick bio, in particular how you came to write historical fiction?
I’m one of those people who had ideas novels running through their heads from an early age. I went off to university at St Andrews and read Art History which was fantastic, and by the time I had finished I had the embryo of my first novel A Garland of Vows as well as my degree. I had to do a dissertation in my final year and this involved a summer nosing about the archives of a big firm of Victorian church furnishers called Hardman, who are best known for the metal work they supplied to the Houses of Parliament. A summer spent reading Victorian letters is like being in a time machine and it got me in a very speculative frame of
mind – ideal for coming up with stories, but perhaps not quite the right frame
of mind for serious academic research. I therefor decided to take a punt and write that first novel in the 18 months after I finished university, looking at it as a sort of DIY post-graduate training in creating fiction. I ended up with 300K words covering 50 years, a voluminous family saga, which astonishingly someone wanted to publish. So that was how it all started.
Sounds like more fun than a lot of post-graduate courses I can think of. But then my fourth year dissertation (Political Influences in Livy?) probably had less potential for fiction!
I see you offer writing tips on your website. Have you ever taken a writing course yourself? Do you do any formal teaching?
I did do an MA in TV screenwriting about ten years ago which was a very interesting experience. I did it to get back in the groove after having my daughter and it was a very valuable experience as I learnt a lot about craft and structure. I have done a bit of teaching here and there, but mostly I would say my experience of ‘how you might do things’ has been channelled into the tools in our fiction writing software Writers Café.
My use of writing software starts and ends with Document Map! I’ve never used author software such as Writers Café. How does yours compare with other products on the market?
Writer’s Café is, I think, still the only fiction writing software on the market that has been designed from a time-served novelist. We made a conscious effort when putting it together to make it a tool kit rather than a system. What it is, is a set of really useful things that a writer can use to make their story better and we are always getting lovely feed back from people saying how much it has helped them.
Your first novel had a mainstream publisher – at what point did you decide to go your own way, and what were the biggest factors in your decision?
Since I was first published back in 1991 mainstream publishing has undergone several major contractions and now there just are not the same opportunities for mid-list writers of popular fiction. However, going it alone – indie publishing – has never been easier or more respectable, so it seemed a good moment to give it a try. I had been wanting for ages to bring back to life my out of print novels – which had been read and enjoyed by many people in the past – and finally with ebooks I’ve been able to do that without vast cost, which is great! It is now also possible to have a go at bringing out new work and seeing what sort of reception you get. One of the best things of course is the sense of creative freedom that taking the financial risk on yourself brings. I have a very clear vision of how I want The Northminster Mysteries to be, and I am able to pursue that without editorial people saying “oh don’t you think there should be a female view point
characters?” or “not sure this is quite write for this market.” One should
always be aware of the market – you would be daft not to be, but there is much
to be said for artistic instinct as well.
I must admit, the reasons for ‘going indie’ are getting more compelling all the time.
I really enjoyed The Butchered Man – any more Northminster mysteries in the pipeline?
Very definitely! I have Number 2, The Dead Songbird almost finished, so
hopefully that will come out some time next year.
In The Butchered Man it somehow took me a few chapters to twig that
Giles, the Chief Constable is as much the hero as Felix, the police surgeon.
How do you see them shaping up as a detective duo? And do you have a favourite?
The idea with Giles and Felix was that they should be co-leads. I suppose I was hoping to please the typical female crime fiction reader in supplying two gorgeous but different heroes to fantasize about. I am extremely fond of both of them. I would have both their portraits on the wall of my drawing room – and possibly a lock of Felix’s beautiful raven hair hidden in my desk.
Yes, I can see Felix might provide some rather nice eye-candy!
I see you are serialising Naked Angels on your website. It sounds
like is a work in progress –– do you feel it’s a positive way to develop the
story – any drawbacks so far?
Naked Angels is definitely a work in progress, yes! It’s the
closest to performance art that I think as a novelist I am going to get. I had
a wonderful time doing those first 51 episodes and the story completely changed
direction. It was very liberating to have such an open ended approach to story
telling – letting the characters really drive the action. I really want to continue with it – feel it could go on for years – and I do hope it finds an audience. There is certainly a taste for serial fiction – Alexander McCall Smith is a great example of how it can work.
Well Harriet, it’s been great hearing about your life and work. I think it’s time to put our feet up and swap memories of Pier Walks and Raisin Mondays.
So, what’s your poison?