by Connie Ward
What made you decide to become a fiction writer?
Ah, if only there were a lightbulb moment to tell you about! I’m afraid there was no conscious decision. I’ve just been writing almost as long as I’ve been speaking. It’s simply something I have to do, like breathing or hitting the gym. The stories and characters are in my head, and if I don’t get them out, I run the risk of being sectioned with a severe case of dissociative identity disorder! I’ve got great memories of my best buddy, Jules, and me spending many an uninteresting Geography class co-writing stories and passing unfinished sentences back and forth, trying to avoid the watchful gaze of the malodorous Mr. Brunt. It’s always felt like such a natural thing to do, but then we’re all storytellers in our own right. Some of us just get lucky and manage to be published.
What type of stories do you write? And why?
I write fast-paced stories with characters that I hope the reader wants to get to know. I like to mix character and plot-driven tales because that’s what comes naturally to me. I want the reader to be not only invested in the story but also very much in the people who are taking part in that story. I love writing strong female characters with flaws and women who are so much better than they ever think they are, but finally realize that by the end of the novel. I guess that comes from my belief in the inherent value of all humans: so many people weren’t lucky enough to have the love and nurture I had as a child, which empowered me to believe I could become whatever the hell I wanted. Instead, they’ve been down-trodden, abused, belittled, and made to believe that they’re nothing. That inflames my anger, and it’s probably why I’ve worked in the volunteer sector all my life. I enjoy helping people realize and fulfill their potential. So I love that I now get to put lesbians into any occupation I want to—marine, journalist, dragon, detective—and that I can put them through whatever fantastical situations I fancy, but they still get the girl and most importantly, Don’t F***ing Die! It’s a privilege to write fiction for our community, and it’s vitally important for lesbians, young and old, to have it available. Positive role models saving the girl and/or the world. It doesn’t get any better than that.
What do your family/friends think about your writing?
I’m very lucky in that everyone around me has always been supportive of my writing. My parents have always encouraged me to chase my dreams, whatever they were, and that’s never changed. My lady love has been instrumental in making this particular dream my reality, and I couldn’t have done it without her. My best buddy, Jules, loves it too and always believed I’d get there someday. Again, I’m fortunate to be surrounded by loving, positive, supportive, and accepting people, whereas other writers might have to remain anonymous for fear of the reactions of those close to them.
I really had to work on the storyline for Never Enough because it was a rebuild from another manuscript (see later), so I wracked my brains for the human-trafficking plot to make it believable for Elodie, our heroine and movie star, to be involved. But the whole plot, characters, and story arc for The Extractor series came to me when I woke up one morning. Sometimes the idea for a novel will come from a short story I’ve penned. I’ve got a dragons-and-goddesses novel that’s currently vying for attention with a love-across-the-ages novel, even though I’m only 10,000 words into Change in Time, book two of the Extractor series. It’s like the London underground in my head—it’s little wonder that I often forget to lock the windows and doors of our house when we leave!
How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?
As much as possible, I sit down every night to write for a few hours. Sometimes I get more words down than others, but on less productive nights, I still persevere. I’m working on a trilogy right now, so I have to do a certain amount of planning: I needed an overarching story arc for the series and individual arcs for each novel. With Never Enough, I did less planning. I had it in my head what was going to happen (mostly), and how, but I still had many moments whilst typing, and I’d go “You didn’t just say/do that!” It’s amazing how you can surprise yourself even though the dialogue and action are coming from your own head. I love that about writing. I love how your brain can pull a fast one and keep you guessing.
What makes Never Enough special to you?
The obvious answer to that is that it’s the first novel I’ve managed to get published. It was hard work. I’d written a novel that I submitted to Bold Strokes in 2014—it had around ten main characters, around twenty plots and sub-plots, and I’d written it Dickensesque style with an omniscient narrator who liked to head-hop! Little did I know how wrong I was to do so. I was “gently encouraged” to knock down the house and build a new one with just a couple of those characters. One of the great things that came out of that process was Therese Hunt. In the original manuscript, she was the sadistic sidekick to a male drug lord, but she became so much more in Never Enough. I loved watching her develop on the screen through my fingertips, and the feminist in me was ecstatic to find her emerging from beneath a dominant male and be “top dog,” even though she is quite the horrific creation. But I think it’s important to show the darker, shadow side of the female psyche. I was concerned that Therese might be too much for Bold Strokes as one of the main points of view, but I was so glad when, not only did she get left alone, but they wanted to see more of her in the book! That gave me the opportunity to sit back down and explore her further after my final draft. It also drove home the fact that I’d chosen the right publisher for my work: one that would allow me to really write what I wanted to.
How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?
The answer to this could be quite scary, particularly with characters like Therese and Nat in Never Enough! I think my voice comes out in the dialogue I write, but I don’t consciously write myself into my characters. I love watching people, observing their tics and habits, and listening to the many different ways people speak. It’s fascinating, and I sometimes note down things of interest that I might be able to use in characters further down the line. Mostly though, the characters come to me fully formed, having resided with my Id for a while! I might have to add backstory and the odd habit, but I already know who they are, how they navigate their lives, and what they’re doing in my head. Like anyone my age, I’ve met a lot of people, and I expect that I’ve absorbed my experience of them for later use. In Never Enough, I have put one real-life person in, a bit of a cameo if you will. It was a thank you for being the first person to believe in my writing from a commercial perspective and publish my words. It’s probably impossible not to write the people you know, but I tend to add aspects of different characters, rather than the whole kit and caboodle of anyone I know. More often than not, I might use an experience or a journey and then retell it through different characters.
Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most? Do you have a favorite of this author(s)?
I love to read all sorts of genres and authors, and so many authors over the centuries continue to inspire me. I loved the Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin, and it was one of the main reasons for my first visit to San Francisco. I love authors who have the ability to transport me immediately into their worlds. I enjoyed Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters. It was marvelous to see a lesbian author gain such recognition and have her work adapted for TV. It’s a concern that her follow-up projects weren’t as popular, which maybe points to the titillation factors of TTV for a straight male audience. Still, it probably entertained an awful lot of lesbians too!
I will say that my favorite lesbian author is Brey Willows. Her first novel is out in March 2017 (Fury’s Bridge), and it’s a fantastic read: lots of humor, sharp dialogue, and a truly intriguing premise. And I’m not being biased just because Brey happens to be my fiancé!
Do you have any suggestions for new writers?
Wow, where to start, and how long have I got? I had a fabulous English teacher at secondary school called Jack Crawford, and we’d have wonderful conversations about writing, authors, and the creative process. We had a particular lively debate about inspiration versus perspiration: I was convinced that anything worthwhile could only be written when I was inspired, whereas Mr. Crawford believed in sitting down and making it happen. We agreed to disagree, but I’d love to track him down, give him a copy of this book, and say “Bugger me, you were right!” That was a long-winded way of saying, “Sit your ass in the chair, and write.” Make time, because it won’t happen any other way than commitment, tears, and bloody fingers.
I’d also say, attend some writing classes. Discover the basics of point of view, deep third person, dialogue tags, and disembodied action. It’ll save you a whole heap of work in the editing process if you’re lucky enough that someone can see the value of your writing even if you’re not doing it quite right! I was co-delivering a writing retreat this month, and every single one of the writers (aside from the BSB insider!) was writing in first-person, present tense, and head-hopping the hell out of their characters. But they were great writers. The inspiration, creativity, and talent were there, but they were just lacking the right tools. Find out what they are and use them!
Make your manuscript the very best it can be. Edit, edit, and edit again. Maybe pay someone to do that for you. Don’t ever send off your first draft, replete with spelling mistakes and bad grammar!
Build your emotional resilience and don’t be precious about your words. Plenty of people know far more than you know about writing, editing, and publishing. Listen, and don’t be offended. You’ll learn how to improve your writing and your story-telling capabilities if you’re flexible and open. I hear Radclyffe still attends writing classes even with the considerable library of books she’s written. Writing is no different than life—you never stop learning, and you’re never the finished article. Strive to improve, and don’t ever rock back on your ass, thinking you’ve made it and that you can stop trying.
I guess my final suggestion would be, stay positive and persevere. Agatha Christie was rejected for five years, but her book sales are now worth over two billion dollars; twenty-eight agents passed on A Time Traveler’s Wife before a small publisher believed in Audrey Niffenegger (great name, by the way), which now has sales of over seven million and was adapted for the silver screen; and Margaret Mitchell received thirty-eight rejections before Gone with the Wind was finally accepted for publication. Stick it out, because if you give up, you’ll never know what might’ve happened.
When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
Tee hee…the clean version? I’ve got a super-busy work life, being a chief executive of a charity in addition to running a community-interest company with Brey. But when I do have non-writing time, I love to ride my motorbike, go for walks near water or in the countryside, or watch movies. I go to the gym regularly—it’s my safe place, where I can just concentrate on the physicality of working out. If I’m ever in turmoil or upset in any way, an hour in the gym pushes it all out of my body and mind.