Thursday, April 7, 2011
Interview with Kate Johnson
I started out by writing not-very-good stories when I was a teenager. There was quite a learning process for me, but I knew writing was what I wanted to do, so I persevered. I started to go online in my search for more information, more contacts, more opportunities, and eventually it paid off as one of the friends I’d made started selling her work to e-publishers, and recommended I try the same. While I was still trying to get my mainstream and paranormal romance published, I started writing erotic romance and unexpectedly did quite well with it! But it’s a slow process: I think we all would like to start with a bang and a huge book deal, and the reality, at least for me, was selling a few short stories here and there, building up to slightly bigger e-publishers, getting books in print, making a name for yourself. It was another five years before I sold my first book to a British publisher.
To plot or not to plot? How much of a planner are you?
I’m not much of a planner at all. I try to let stories percolate in my head for a good long while, get to know my characters and my world, let a few scenarios unfold. Otherwise I’m a bit of a lemming, just aiming myself at the end of the book and hurling myself off the cliff. I find that the better I know my characters, the more they write themselves, and I have room this way for unexpected things to happen. For instance, in the book I’m working on now, I decided someone should break into my hero’s flat to have a look around. And once he’d confronted the intruder, I realised there was going to be a showdown, and he ended up getting shot. I hadn’t really planned for that to happen, but once I’d started down that path it became inevitable!
How do you develop your characters?
It’s different for every one. Sometimes I have really clear influences on them and I know before I write just how the character is going to be. This was the case for Major Harker in The Untied Kingdom: I knew I was going to be writing a world-weary, put-upon man who had been a soldier for so long he’d forgotten what it was like to wear civvies, who had to put up with idiots every day, who was loyal quite literally to a fault, who had no concept of not doing the right thing, who had a massive chip on his shoulder about his humble beginnings and liked to annoy posh people, who was scruffy and tired and flawed and stubborn and brilliant. He pretty much turned up, fully-formed, and patiently waited for me to write about him.
On the other hand his heroine Eve was harder to pin down. I knew she’d been a teenage popstar who’d fallen on hard times, but her background and her outlook and the way she spoke and reacted were things that turned up when I needed them. I didn’t know that her father had died when she was young until another character asked her about her family, and I didn’t know she played the guitar to comfort herself when her mood was low. I got to know Eve better simply by writing her.
What is the hardest part of the writing process for you?
Probably edits. I know they’re there to make the book better, and my editor isn’t really a sadistic torturer, but up until I get that email I can still fool myself the book is perfect as it is!
Do you find time to have interests other than writing?
I sing, not very well, and I’ve recently taken up salsa dancing, but I don’t think the Strictly Come Dancing team have anything to fear from me! I’m otherwise quite averse to exercise, but I do like walking in the lovely fields and woods near my house, so I go out with my Demon Puppy for rambles in the mud occasionally.
What advice would you give a new writer?
Write. Write a lot, it’s the only way you’ll improve. Maybe you’ll get lucky and your first book will become a bestseller, but don’t expect fame and fortune immediately. And read. Read everything, whether it’s in your genre or not. And, honestly? Find a career that’s not as mental as this one!
What draws you to your particular genre?
It’s funny, but I actually never really set out to write romance. I wanted to write fantasy, but whenever I did, my characters kept falling in love. Eventually, I gave in to the inevitable and declared myself a romance writer, but I kept the fantasy and paranormal aspect. I’m honestly not sure what draws me to it, perhaps the realms of possibility that come with being able to write outside the boundaries of real life. And when I face the frustration of not being able to find the answer I want in response to a research query, I can of course just make it up. And I suppose I rather like the ego trip of creating entire worlds!
Do you enjoy writing sequels or series? If so, what is the special appeal for you?
Yes, I do. I always have, and I think the reason why I like it is a purely selfish one: when I’ve finished a book, I miss my characters. I want to know what happens next. What follows the happy ever after? Do they get married? What’s the ceremony like? What does she wear and what do they dance to? Will they move into his house or hers or buy a new one? What about children? And so on. Of course, I don’t necessarily put all these things into a sequel, but I think about them, and I like to revisit my characters, see how their relationship is developing. However, I do try to steer clear of just revisiting previous characters in related sequels just for the sake of it - you know, where the hero’s brother and his bride happen to turn up for a gratuitous scene or two, during which we’ll inevitably find out she’s pregnant and he’s got a promotion and everything is nauseatingly wonderful. I don’t need that. If they’re going to be there, they’re going to be part of the plot.
In what way has the RNA helped you or your career?
The RNA has kept me sane! Writing is such a solitary profession, but even with the Internet, with email loops and Facebook and Twitter and all the rest, I need to stay in contact with other people who also hear the voices in their heads. People who understand my frustrations when I don’t know how to fix my giant, gaping plot holes, or my elation when a scene goes right. My non-writing friends and family are sympathetic, but after a while I can see them thinking: It’s just a scene, what’s she so stressed about? Plus, of course, through the RNA and the friends I’ve made here, I’ve made some utterly invaluable contacts. I’m pretty sure I’d never have signed with Choc Lit were it not for several of my RNA friends having done the same.
Are you a specialist of one genre or do you have another identity?
I have a naughty alter-ego! I write contemporary and paranormal romance as Kate Johnson, but with my Cat Marsters hat on I write erotic romance. It makes a nice change sometimes, and it’s a lot of fun to let my hair down! In fact, Mad Bad & Dangerous, one of my erotic romances, just won an ebook award from EPIC, which I’m rather proud of.
Do you enjoy research and how do you set about it?
I do enjoy research, especially finding out something unexpected that takes me off in a new direction. Quite often I can be researching something for one book and find something so interesting it sends me off on a new tangent. Sometimes I can work that tangent in and sometimes not, in which case it often becomes the basis for a new book.
For instance, in The Untied Kingdom I was looking at old maps and views of London for an idea of what the city would look like if the Great Fire and the Blitz had never happened, and I came across a few pictures of Old London Bridge. It looked so wonderful that I knew I had to include it, so I researched further, and one little snippet caught my eye particularly: that the arches under the bridge were so narrow that the tide rushed through at incredible speeds, making the river terribly dangerous for anyone in a boat, and absolutely lethal for a swimmer. So I decided to throw my heroine into the water not far from the bridge, giving my hero a wonderful opportunity to be heroic!
My latest book is The Untied Kingdom, available now from Choc Lit. It’s a paranormal romance set in an alternate world - a version of England where everything has gone wrong: there’s no industry, no trade, no empire and no hope. The country is in a state of civil war and my hero is fighting on the losing side. And into this world of mud and blood and army boots falls my heroine, who belongs in our own world, and thinks she must have gone a bit mad when she wakes up to be told she’s a suspected spy.
The idea came from a ‘what if’ game I was playing with a Texan friend of mine. She’d just found out that the routine BCG injection we were all given at school in Britain was considered by the Americans to be a drug only given in third world countries. “Did you know you live in a third world country?” she asked. “Well, it’d explain the public transport,” I replied. We began just messing around with the idea, and then it turned into something a lot bigger!
Can you tell us something of your work in progress?
I’m currently finishing up some rewrites to the fifth book in my chick-noir series, the Sophie Green Mysteries. It’s going to be a bit different to the first four, the most obvious example being that instead of a first person narrative from Sophie, we also get to see the point of view of her long-suffering boyfriend, Luke. It’s also a lot darker and more dangerous, as Sophie has been framed for murder and is on the run from the police, from the secret services, and from a deranged killer. I have an inordinate amount of fun writing about deranged killers!
After that I have another couple of paranormal stories in mind, one set in a total fantasy universe, about a warlord and a slave girl with incredible powers, and the other in contemporary England, about ghosts and the aftermath of a suicide bomb. Oh, that all sounds terribly gloomy. I promise jokes a-plenty!
Thank you Kate, that was fascinating. If you want to know more about Kate, check out her website and blog.