Welcome to the Blog fellow writer Kirsty, who I first met when we accepted one of her short stories at Bridge House… and she has now gone on to bigger and better things … welcome and over to you Kirsty …
Hello, I’m Kirsty Ferry. I’m from the North East of England and I work at a local University. I fit my writing in around my day job, my family and my Open University course. I’m hoping to achieve a BA Hons in Literature in 2014.
Have you always wanted to be a published writer?
I would often look at (and still look at, if I’m honest!) books and stories and think, I could do that – I’d had one poem published in the My Weekly and a letter in Just 17 and thought I’d cracked it! I think after that vast amount of success, I sent one story off to a women’s magazine and took serious umbrage when it was rejected. My parents recently discovered that story lying around their house, and my dad gave it to me to see if it was worth resurrecting; I took one look at it and realised why it had been rejected. I then decided to let it die with dignity!
Many years after that foray into publishing, when my son was very young, writing had to be on a back burner, no question about it. It was only when I was made redundant from my full-time job at a High Street Bank that I picked writing back up – my cousin suggested I take a short creative writing course with the Open University, and from that I did two more, longer, creative writing courses with them. Luckily, I found a job, but as it was part-time, I still managed to make time for my courses. I credit the OU with giving me the confidence and skills to take my work to the next level and it was at the end of the first longer course in 2009 that I summoned up the courage to submit a story to the Belsay Hall/English Heritage National Creative Writing Competition. I was overjoyed to learn that David Almond, of Skellig fame, had chosen my story as the winner. I had a fabulous day at Belsay meeting him and got some great feedback and tips. Interestingly, the parts of the story I had reservations about, were the parts David said he found the best. I think I learned from that to ignore my inner editor and just go with the story.
After Belsay, I began submitting to – and being accepted by — various small publishers for anthologies. I entered a similar competition for English Heritage/Whitby Abbey and was chosen as one of the stories for their anthology; I have now had fiction published in magazines such as Peoples Friend and The Weekly News, along with several non-fiction articles in magazines such as Ghost Voices, Vintage Script and It’s Fate. I kept working on my novel, The Memory of Snow, in the background when I was starting to send work out seriously. I’d never particularly wanted to do a novel, but it sprang up from a short story and I found that I couldn’t let it drop until my characters had told their story.
Do you have an agent?
I don’t have an agent. I sent my manuscript off to a few agents and kept getting the same feedback – the story was great, it was well-written, but they didn’t think they could take a chance on an unknown author. My story is very local to the area where I live as well, so I think they thought it may have been quite a niche market. I can fully understand their reasoning and don’t blame them. However, I did enter the manuscript into several competitions and got short-listed and long-listed in those. The novel was also commended in the Northern Writers Awards and won a competition to be properly proof-read, so I knew it had ‘something’ about it. All the indications were that it needed to be ‘out there’ somehow and if an agent couldn’t help, I would do it myself.
My advice on agents would be to send your work off, but don’t be disheartened as they really can’t accept everyone’s work. Also, ensure you follow submission guidelines to the letter and pitch your book at the right agent for the genre! Nothing will guarantee failure more than poor research and shoddy presentation!
If you get the feeling your manuscript is good from the feedback though, be rational and think ‘How can I progress this myself? Is the best way forward now self-publishing?’ You might find that it is.
Do you belong to a writing group? Crit group? Have you had someone professionally critique your novel before submitting or publishing?
I’ve never really belonged to a writing group, but I did try a local one many years ago. That is a story in itself – I lasted for one meeting. It was dreadful! Great if you want to go along and be told your work is fantastic, but not so great if you want an honest opinion! Recently, though, I have been to a couple of more informal meetings in a small group a writer friend started up, but we haven’t really managed to make a regular thing of it, due to life getting in the way. It’s great when we do get together, though, as she has a lot of experience in the field and gives some good, honest, advice. We don’t get any writing done as we just talk our way through it, but sometimes that’s all you want to do; just to be able to share stuff with people who are happy to listen to you chunter on about writing and come home all fired up to start again. Oh, and we eat cake as well, which is always good.
As I mentioned before, The Memory of Snow won a competition to be proof-read. It was done by Charlie Wilson at The Book Specialist and I would completely recommend her. The turnaround was really quick and she did a fantastic job, also pointing out little edits that she thought might improve it. The only drawback is that services such as proof-reading can work out quite costly – so for my next novel, I’ve called in some beta-readers (e.g. honest friends!) and three or four of those have gone through the manuscript for me. It was interesting, as they all picked up different things, so I got a good, balanced overview of it.
Did you have your book accepted by a traditional publisher or choose self-publishing?
I chose self publishing as it seemed to be the best option for me. The book seemed to have had such positive things happen to it, that I felt it wanted to be read. I just decided I would put it on kindle, and if it sold a handful of copies, it would sell a handful of copies. It was better than it lingering on my hard drive for evermore.
What was the editing process like and how long did it take? Did you work with an editor?
The editing process was fine. I actually like editing, as all the words are there, the hard work is finished and editing is where you can really see the story taking shape. I’m really fortunate in that over the years I have met a lot of lovely people, both authors and people in the industry, who could give me advice on the process – one friend helped me with the formatting, one friend helped with the cover design, another one suggested ways of marketing it … I found a web link on uploading to kindle and followed the instructions. That worked beautifully and then I uploaded it onto FeedARead, which is a POD (print on demand) publisher, so paperbacks were produced as well. FeedARead distribute the book onto Amazon for you as well as selling it on their own site, but they do charge for that service. I have used Createspace for my non-fiction article collection, History and Mystery; Northern Hauntings Explored, which is owned by Amazon, and it is really easy to use. It also puts books on Amazon for you automatically and free of charge, so that is who I will be using for my next book, Refuge.
How much marketing have you had to do and how have book sales been?
I’ve done a fair bit of marketing. I’m not a pushy sort of person so it was a bit scary, stepping into the marketing world! I set up a website, www.rosethornpress.co.uk and posted links to the book and the website via social-networking. I also approached local magazines and tourist attractions who I thought would be interested in it, with it being local to the area; on the back of that, I have had some great reviews in the magazines and the Vindolanda Trust on Hadrian’s Wall have been selling the book at both their museum sites. I’ve also had postcards printed and I designed posters on Publisher and asked local coffee shops to display bits and pieces of marketing material for me.
We also visit the actual location of the book quite frequently – the story is centred on the site of the Brocolitia Mithraic Temple and Coventina’s Well on Hadrian’s Wall, and Ant, the chap who runs the coffee van at the Temple car park, has been great. He has taken loads of postcards and given them to tourists and to B&Bs in the area. I’ve also chatted to people at the site as well, and I know friends have done a fair bit of recommending for me too. One friend went for a trip to Hadrian’s Wall to visit the location, and she managed to sell a copy to a French couple she met at the visitor centre further along the road! I did a press release for the newsletter at work as well, and got lots of emails from colleagues I’d never met saying how much they’d enjoyed it. Memory of Snow is also the ‘recommended read’ for the March Book Club at work, so I’ve been invited along there to chat about it.
From what I understand, many new authors have to do a lot of their own marketing anyway, as small publishers just don’t have the budget. I guess if I have to do it, I’m best off taking charge of my own destiny and doing it my way. That way, it fits in with the other commitments in my life. Book sales have been pretty steady. I’ve sold some each month since publishing it. I’ll never be a millionaire, but it has sold many more than the original five or six I anticipated.
So Kirsty, tell us all about the novel …
The book is a paranormal, YA novel. It is called The Memory of Snow and is set on Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland. The book weaves fact and fiction together and lots of people ask me which parts are factual and which parts I have made up…but I’m not revealing that here! Living North magazine described it as a ‘haunting debut novel’ so what better way can I put it? Here’s the Amazon link and the blurb…it’s available on Kindle and in paperback. It’s also available on Smashwords and via my website, where you can see some photographs of the fabulous locations.
Three young women.
Three Guardians, separated by centuries.
Aemelia: the Christian daughter of a Roman Commandant.
Meggie: accused of witchcraft in the seventeenth century.
Liv: a twenty-first century teenager, intent on finding information for a project.
When horrors from the past threaten her, Liv discovers she is a Guardian of the mystical Coventina’s Well. She must work with the spirits who linger there, and use their combined power to banish evil from the sacred spring.
Set amongst the wild landscape of Northumberland, the Guardians must confront both the tragic past and the potential future in order to help each other survive.
What next? Tell us about work in progress and aspirations. Where do you see yourself in ten years time?
Work in progress … hmmm. I am hoping to release my next novel within the next couple of months. It is called Refuge and is a tale of vampires and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. It’s another YA paranormal novel. I hope the readers of Snow aren’t disappointed. A few have asked for a sequel but they will have to read this one instead as I don’t feel Snow can be extended! I’m also working on a collaborative novel with six writer friends, based on some Victorian photographs. That will hopefully be done to first draft stage very soon and then we can get started on the edits. I am also writing my third novel, but as usual, I have no idea where the story is going or how it will end until my characters tell me. It’s an interesting journey! It is slightly different, well, quite different, to my previous books and probably owes more to Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart than modern YA fiction. I don’t know. As I say, we will have to see how it progresses. I was trying to fight against the characters and reached a sticking point. I decided to let them have their way and it’s flowing much better now!
I’m also working on my Open University course as well and have another year and a half of study. I find that academic writing and fiction don’t always go together, so academia may to have to have the upper hand for the next few months to get me through the course. I’ll keep doing fiction on the side though, whenever I can. I’m also going to be a judge for the next Paws ‘n’ Claws book! It was great fun last time and I’m very much looking forward to the next one. There are some talented children out there.
In ten years I have no idea! I’d like us all to be happy and healthy and I’d like to have a few more books out there and a few more published stories and articles. Fingers crossed! I’m also hoping to be invited back to our town library and do some more talks. I did one at Christmas in relation to the Dickens 2012 celebrations and chatted about my haunted workplace. They said I could come back and read some of my fiction at another event, so that will be fantastic.
Any advice for writers who are trying to get their work published?
Just keep at it. David Almond told me that you shouldn’t write for the market; you should write what you want to write. If it’s good enough, the market will realise it wants it. But don’t be afraid to self-publish in the meantime. It’s perfectly above board and nothing like the vanity presses of old. You can do it very cheaply and have the satisfaction of seeing your work out there, being enjoyed, while you work on your next bestseller. I would advise subscribing to something like Writing Magazine or Writers Forum as well. They are very useful and the first one in particular has markets, calls for submission and competitions in every issue.
Tell us something random about you for the pure hell of it …
Something random? I have an unhealthy obsession with campervans. I love the idea of just pulling up somewhere, having a coffee, having a snack, having a nap, writing a bit and driving off again! I don’t possess a campervan. When I make a heap of money, I keep telling my husband I am going to buy a genuine old VW campervan!
Finally: can we post an extract of your novel?
Why certainly. I’m not sure which bit to give you, though. I dare hardly admit it, but the bits I enjoyed writing the most were the darkest bits. It’s sometimes scary what my mind translates onto the page. I think, therefore, that I will put a short extract up of one of my favourite bits, relating to one of my favourite characters in the book. I hope you enjoy it …
“Nicholson’s eyes flickered over Meggie again, but decided this one was different. He wanted to see the fear in her eyes as he pressed the staff against her thigh. He wanted to see her thin little face crumple and her lips tremble as he carried out the test.
‘Men, I am about to test the witch. You Sir,’ he nodded at John. ‘Reveal the witch’s face to me. Her body must be tested, but her face must be visible. I must see whether she moves her lips in a chant or a spell to produce the blood which might prove her to be human.’
John ripped the dress down from Meggie’s face. He held the fabric away from her, so her body was revealed and her face was free. Meggie gasped for air and opened her eyes. She was looking straight at Nicholson; to his great delight he saw her confusion turn into fear as she registered the point he held up to her eye level. This would be a joy. He curled the edges of his mouth into a sneer and held her gaze.
Mesmerised by his eyes and frozen by terror, Meggie did not see the swift move as he stabbed the staff into her thigh. She felt the cold wooden edge pushing against her skin. Her eyes opened wide and her mouth formed a silent ‘o’ as she realised she could not feel the pin stabbing her. She looked down, seeing no blood running out of her body.
‘She is a witch!’ screeched Nicholson. ‘She does not bleed. Look! She has failed the pricking. She bears a witch mark. We have heard foul curses stream out of her mouth in this pagan temple. I declare this woman to be a witch; a child of the Devil. Take her away! Deal with her as appropriate!’”
Copyright Kirsty Ferry extract reproduced with the permission of the author.
Fantastic, thanks Kirsty for being so open and honest about the process. I reviewed Kirsty’s debut on Amazon recently and would thoroughly recommend it. It goes to show there are ways of getting your work out there and I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing Kirsty all the very best with her writing and lots of future successes.
Oh and we hope she also gets her campervan. Could this be the quirk we all remember her for when she has her best seller? Arriving at TV studios for interviews by chauffeur-driven campervan?