Barry Smyth will be book signing in September. I’ll let you know the date and venue soon!
What is your book all about? Can you tell us a little more about its genre?
The story unfolds with the two main characters being released from prison after their care home atrocities i.e. former Matron, Elizabeth Waverly, and her accomplice, Norman Christie. They team up and see an opportunity to inherit two million pounds. But first they have to kill the main beneficiary, Elizabeth Carragher, with Elizabeth Waverly taking on her identity.
At the reading of the will they see their plans backfire when a second will is found and a long lost brother, Victor Carragher, turns up and claims it all. Salvaging what they can, they plan to kidnap the brother’s young precocious daughter, Helen, for half the inheritance.
Before the kidnap can be arranged Victor Carragher moves to Majorca with his daughter and buys a hotel. The killing couple follow him with Elizabeth Waverly still in disguise, and help Victor run the hotel. But unbeknown to them the hotel is haunted.
My plot for Sow And You Shall Reap was inspired by the true chilling revelations of the Parkfields nursing home exposé in Somerset during the year 2007; and from my tennis holidays at the hotel Font de Sa Cala in Majorca. The hotel kept guard dogs, way out of sight in kennels somewhere, but while we were playing you could hear them at feeding times. Honestly, everybody stopped playing and froze. It sounded like they’d caught something and were ripping it apart. So with that, coupled with an old rumour: locals used to say the former hotel owner was killed by his guard dogs, gave me the idea of a short story. You know how it is; from a short story carried on writing till it got to a word count of 96,000.
Can you sum the book up in one sentence?
To sum up the book in one sentence is a tough one, but I suppose it shows how cruelty, abuse and greed, installed into the early vulnerable life of the main protagonist, Elizabeth Waverly, with the help of a liberally wielded trouser belt, can manifest itself later like a cancer on her morals.
Have your characters or writing been inspired by friends/ family or by real-life experiences?
The evil character Matron Elizabeth Waverly is based upon my mother-in-law…No! I’m only joking. I’m not saying my mother-in-law is hard to get along with…yes, come to think of it, I am saying my mother-in-law is hard to get along with. No seriously, some scenes in my novel were inspired by real life experiences, the dogs for instance. Another one in particular is the scene when a character gets planted by a mechanical palm tree planter. This actually happened to an MD of an engineering subcontractor my company used a few years ago. He hired a mechanical tree planter for his large back garden and somehow got caught up. They found him buried up to his armpits, very dead. The accident was in all the local newspapers.
What is your favourite scene in your book? Can we have a snippet?
My favourite scene would be the nasty old lady going up the stairs in a stair lift with her yappy cocker spaniel on her lap and seeing Rupert, the rubber snake, threaded through the balustrades. Here’s a snippet:
Do you have an agent, or have you gone alone?
I don’t have an agent although I’ve tried to source one many times. I think the majority of agents these days, unless they can immediately place your work and earn a quick buck, will play safe and keep with their client list. I sent my manuscript to fifteen agents listed in the Writers’ Artists’ yearbook that handled my genre; and got back seven rejections. Never heard from the remainder.
I went to the London Book Fair this year and the HarperCollins seminar. At both venues I met many first time published writers who would never use an agent or publisher again.
They said they would definitely go the self-publishing route – more control over their work. Although there is a slight stigma/snobbery attached to self-publishing, this attitude, fortunately, is disappearing with many reputable self-publishing companies filling the gap for much needed aspiring talent out there.
Also many agents and publishers, although they’d strongly deny, would prefer to use writers with creative writing qualifications; Master’s degree etc. This solves a huge cost outlay in copy editing. A lot of publishers have reduced their work force in copy editing departments and rely on agents sourcing qualified writers; to cut out the typos with grammar and punctuation. This also includes dialogue, view point, narrative, exposition, prose, scene structure etc. If agents and publishers can be assured a manuscript is pretty well clean at submission stage; they just have to rely on story changes, if any; then more money can go on marketing and advertising.
To support this, if you tot up the last twelve or so winners of the most popular book awards i.e. Mann Booker, Richard and Judy. Orange Prize, Nokia, Times and Observer Literary prize etc; you’ll see many winners with creative writing qualifications. Nothing wrong with this; in fact creative writing has had a strong resurgence in recent years with Internet, University and college courses packed to the rafters; with the popularity of self-publishing as a knock on.
All this influenced my route into self-publishing. I’m using AuthorHouse self-publishing. The total cost with discounts £1,757. At the moment I’ve found them very helpful and co-operative through the setting up stages. My book, Sow And You Shall Reap, will be going into production on the 9th December this year.
What marketing have you been doing to help sales?
As well as paying AuthorHouse for a social media setup package i.e. for my finished book to be place in the AuthorHouse book store and on Google/Amazon Book Search Programmes including a WordPress Blog, a Facebook profile and page for my book, a MySpace profile, a Twitter account. The book will also appear on UK websites like Waterstones, Amazon, and Priceminister. Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million (United States) Chapters (Canada) Tower.com, Powells Books, and Amazon (International).
Readers will be able to order copies of my book at their local bookstore. Bookstores will have the option of carrying a running stock of my book.
This is what AuthorHouse have promised and what I’ve paid for. So we’ll have to wait and see.
I’m on http://www.facebook.com, who isn’t? under Barry Smythe. My sons persuaded me, and I’ve created an info/profile for my novel and shared it out.
I’ve done some footslogging of my own. Been to fifteen bookstores including Waterstones and handed out a synopsis and flyer for my book and got some good positive feedback from the store managers. A few stores wanted me to deal directly with their warehouse, but most, if they were happy with the synopsis said they would put it in their window set aside for local authors. I’ve also uploaded my finished manuscript on the HarperCollins Authonomy website at http://www.authonomy.com.
How long does it take you to write a book? Have your written other books?
At creative writing classes they told us to use index cards at the planning stages; and I found this invaluable. I would recommend this to anybody starting out, especially with a lengthy novel.
The Literary Consultancy based in London also assessed my manuscript at a cost of £530. I can recommend these assessments as they firmly bring you back down to earth. And using their assessment report I spent another four months tweaking the manuscript again.
I’ve also written some short stories and entered various Internet competitions, never winning mind you, including the Bridport Literary Festival and the Literary Consultancy competitions.
Mind you, I did win a book token as a runner-up for my short story, The Letter, in the London Borough of Sutton Library competition.
Which comes first for you – characters or plot?
When I start I spend time on the plot; from start to finish, continually roughing out then enlarging, bit by bit until I’ve got the basis of a synopsis, from beginning, middle and end. Then on to the characters. The characters grow with the plot, increasing many plot avenues as the story unfolds.
How did you get into writing? Did you always want to become a writer?
I never wanted to become a fiction writer although I’ve always been a constant reader of crime novels. I just sort of slipped into creative writing. I studied engineering at college and eventually became a member of the institute of quality assurance.
As well as playing tennis I write tennis articles for my local Surrey county magazine. I suppose this, coupled with a technical writing career, partly influenced my transition into creative writing.
Are you working on another book?
I am currently working on my second novel, working title, ANOTHER MOTH IN THE KILLING BOTTLE , using the same nasty protagonist, former care home Matron Elizabeth Waverly. I just couldn’t simply kill her off in the first book. She was far too valuable and we’ve been down a long road together. None of us would want to see Hannibal Lecter dead; be honest?
In this book she’s a prostitute in her late teens set in the year 1969. She’s been skimming off some of the client money and her pimp catches her out. A fight ensues and the client accidently gets killed. A school girl recognises Elizabeth. She witnesses the killing and puts it in her diary. A chase follows and the schoolgirl is killed; but the diary containing Elizabeth’s name goes missing.
What mistakes do you see new writers make?
I think most new writers like to style themselves on a favourite writer until they develop a style of their own. Also new writers tend to over concentrate on plot rather than characterization. The plot is their be-all and end-all. I personally think the hardest part for a new writer to grasp is choosing the right point of view and narrative. For me, understanding narrative and how to work it correctly in conjunction with the current point of view, is very important. Readers can go off the boil with a book if they feel cheated; the narrative has spoilt a surprise, or some things are kept from them, or they feel left out or alienated. If they can’t empathise with the main protagonist; all of which poor narrative can cause.
A common fault for new writers is they tend to lose ‘what’s at stake’ as they drift through the book. All those enticing subplot avenues lead them away from the real reason for writing the story.
What advice would you give aspiring authors?
Write for enjoyment; not so much to get an agent or be published, and most certainly not for money. Anyone can write and be self-published with your book networked to all the main book search sites. But, to write and get an agent? Then the agent has to find you a publisher? Then you hope to make lots of money out of it? Plus all that hanging around; waiting for that phone call, being given all those promises. One could end up being very disappointed. Know your limitations.
Always remember, few people have a natural talent for something. I love playing tennis but I’m never going to get to Wimbledon.
I think the same goes for writers; some are gifted, others have to learn the nuts and bolts of it and may still, after a number of years, never quite get there. But as long as you get a kick out of it; get that buzz when you fall through the hole, as Stephen King says; there’s nothing better.
Louise it’s been a pleasure talking to you and I’m grateful for allowing me some space on your excellent site.
Sow And You Shall Reap