A warm welcome to author Jane Riddell, who lives in Scotland. I’m delighted that Jane is able to tell us a little about her writing life and intriguing debut novel, Water’s Edge. First a little about the novel.
Water's Edge is a contemporary story in the genre of quiet women's fiction.
When Madalena invites her four children to Switzerland for a family gathering, she isn't prepared for the excess baggage of their lives they bring along - secrets they are compelled to keep and those that must be divulged; the compromises they make, and, ultimately, what can and can't be resolved - for Madalena, too, has things about her past that she would prefer not to reveal.
Set against a backdrop of mountains and lakes, Water's Edge is a woven tapestry of love, lies and family.
Water’s Edge is available from Amazon UK and Amazon US
Tell us a little about how you became a writer
I had been writing as a hobby for many years, but was never caught up enough in it to work on something for more than a couple of hours at a time. Although I had a paid job for most of these years, it was only part time so time wasn’t a limiting factor. When we decided to move to France for a couple of years, things changed. I knew I’d be unlikely to find work there because of my limited French, and reckoned that I would probably spend more time writing. Several months before we left Edinburgh, during a Saturday afternoon at the gym, I found myself on the treadmill, listening to Martha Reeves and the Vandellas singing Dancing in the Street, and thinking: I’ll have a go at becoming a serious writer.
When we arrived in France in 2006, I found I could write for longer chunks of time. While there I finished writing Chergui’s Child, revisited short stories and wrote the first draft of Water’s Edge. I also wrote a guide to English and French grammar, prompted by the experience of homeschooling our son. When we returned to Edinburgh three years later, I extended my career break to study for a Masters in Creative Writing. After completing this, I resigned from my job, realising I’d prefer to focus on my writing.
Did you have to do a lot of research for this novel?
No. When I visited Brunnen, I used a camcorder and a camera. So in addition to having a pictorial record, I could remember the ‘feel’ of the place. I conducted superficial research online, and read several books about Swiss culture.
Why did you choose this setting?
As a lover of travel I like to set my books in ‘foreign’ countries. After I’d finished writing Chergui’s Child, which is based in the south of France, I thought about having an alpine setting for my next one, and Switzerland came to mind. Shortly after, I spent a few days in Brunnen, on Lake Luzern. I’d been there as a teenager on my first family holiday abroad, and remembered this wonderful old hotel, the Waldstätterhof where we’d spent a night en route to Austria. It’s the sort of hotel where you enter to the sound of piano music emanating from the drawing room. It was only when I arrived in Brunnen, however, that I decided to make it the setting for Water’s Edge. I didn’t base the hotel in Water’s Edge on the Waldstätterhof because I wanted something less grand. However several scenes take place in it.
I think that at a subconscious level, the location was inspired by Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac although at the time of writing the first draft of Water’s Edge, I didn’t know that the hotel used in the film version was actually on Lake Luzern. (In the book, the protagonist, Edith Hope, is exiled to a hotel on Lake Geneva.) (Wonderful setting, Jane – we stayed in Luzern on holiday years ago!)
What is the most difficult part about starting a new book?
Leaving a finished book behind is difficult. I experience a sense of bereavement as I can no longer justify spending head time with the characters.
Devising a storyline can be challenging. Sometimes I have an idea which gradually develops. At other times I make a conscious decision to devise a plot. This happened with my ‘back boiler’ book, Via Piacenza. I was in Italy at the time and spent an afternoon on the beach in Positano, putting together a plot, which, surprise, surprise, is located in…Positano.
Do you think eBooks are the future? Or do you prefer print?
Apparently ebook sales have risen to about 22%, both in the UK and the US. If this trend continues, they might eventually overtake the sales of hard copies. I am sure, though, that there will always be people who prefer to buy a hard copy.
If I hadn’t been e-published, I don’t know if I’d have got round to purchasing an ebook reader. Once I knew this was happening, however, I felt almost duty bound to buy a Kindle, likening the situation to having invented a washing powder without owning a washing machine. Now that I am fairly competent using the Kindle, I do enjoy it, partly because of the potential saving in money and having a choice of reading. That said, there isn’t the pleasure of gazing at an attractive book cover, and instead of knowing which page you’re on, you only know what percentage of the book you’ve read which has taken a bit of adjusting to. (I think many of us feel the same!)
How do you promote your book and does it work?
Water’s Edge has only been out for several weeks, so it’s early days yet, both in terms of promoting and of knowing what is working. A fellow ThornBerry author told me that promotion can feel 'like shooting through a keyhole into a dark room, trying to hit something'. I think this is a wonderful simile.
To date, I have created an author’s website and made a promotional video. I’ve tweeted (in restrained fashion) and emailed people I met in France who have now returned to the States and Canada, in the hope of kickstarting sales in those countries.
I’ve been interviewed by our local, independent community newspaper and in various blogs. I’ve given several readings. Lastly, I’ve created an author’s page in free sites such as Authorsden and Amazon.
This feels like a lot of effort for someone who continually has to suppress the thought that self-promoting isn’t a ‘nice’ thing to do.
I know of about ten people who have bought the book, so far – mainly friends. Apart from that, I am in the dark. As sales figures aren't revealed to authors who aren't self-published, it’s hard to find evidence of new sales. In time, of course, I will receive royalties from the publisher, but not knowing how the book is selling is proving harder than anticipated: everyone appreciates feedback!
Do you have a favourite writing place?
In France, I rented a room in a complementary health centre, for two days a week. The building had received Feng Shui input, and the corridors and waiting areas were painted in a wonderfully relaxing rich, warm yellow. I loved working in my room there. I was always focused and productive, though I have to admit to taking siestas on the patients’ couch, from time to time…
I now rent office space at The Melting Pot in Edinburgh, for 50 hours per month (days and times to suit myself). This provides some interaction with others, which helps to compensate for isolation, the constant companion of many writers. I also write at home, but obviously there are more distractions, although I am unlikely to choose to do the dishes over writing or editing.
Do you find time for hobbies?
Yes. I am not the type of writer who works on their novel for 12 hours a day. I swim, play tennis, go to movies. I meet friends for lunch, do things with family. What has been sacrificed is attention to housework. Any aspirations of becoming a domestic goddess have been abandoned. (And we all echo that!)
What are your current writing plans?
For the last eight months or so, I have been rewriting Chergui’s Child. I’m now in the final stages of editing it. I have also nearly finished writing a guide to editing, based on a technique I use. ThornBerry Publishing have shown interest in it, so I am hopeful it will be published soon, probably initially in digital format. Once I finish Chergui’s Child, I have several novels in various stages of completion to which I can return, although I may decide to start a new one.
Any tips for new writers?
Technical books on writing are often maligned, but they have taught me a lot about the craft of writing. Reading a lot, and studying the novel for techniques used - what works, what doesn’t – is another way of learning.
Working with a mentor can be enormously enriching. Exchanging work with fellow readers is also helpful, although there are pitfalls: how do you know someone is giving an honest opinion? How do you know their personality isn’t warping their judgement? As well as choosing a reader who enjoys the genre in which you write, you also have to consider that person’s personality. For example, if you have a mentally fragile character, asking for a critique from someone whose belief system is that you ‘get on with your life’, is inviting a negative response.
Another tip is to have more than one piece of writing on the go. One morning you may not feel like working on your novel but can find enthusiasm for finishing the short story you began the week before. This is one advantage of blogging. When you’re not feeling particularly creative, you might still be able to blog about something that happened to you at the weekend, or a crazy idea buzzing around in your mind. That way you still exercise your writing muscle. A proviso, though: excessive blogging can be a form of procrastination. So can reading too many technical books….
Many thanks for such interesting and wise words, Jane!
An enthusiastic blogger, including penning letters from a Russian cat who aspires to be a writer, Jane is currently rewriting her second novel, Chergui's Child.
In addition to creative writing, she has a small editing business, Choice Words Editing, and holds a Masters in Creative Writing. Jane resides in Edinburgh with her partner and son. To maintain a semblance of sanity, she swims and drums, but not simultaneously.
You can find out more about Jane on her Quiet Fiction website and Choice Words Editing website, or her Papillon blog and Letters from Bakhtin blog.