Join me for a sit down with author Vickie Johnstone . . .
1 - When did you first start writing?
Wow, I’m not sure. I wish our brains were like computers and you could just do a print-out of memories, because I’m kind of bad with dates now. I guess the older I get, the harder it is to look back that far!! I was a 70s kid. I always had my head in a book, usually one starring animals or elves. I remember my first story being my own version of Miss Pepperpot’s Adventures – our teacher set us this as our homework. That was at Primary School (age 7-11, I think). I put all my classmates in it and the teacher read it out in class. I remember going as red as a beetroot and staring down at my desk with the blood thundering in my ears, and it seemed the longest, most awful time. But then everyone laughed and clapped, so it was awesome, although I was so shy that I couldn’t speak! Then again, I’m still like that in a way! I started writing poetry when I was 16. However, after leaving Uni, I was pretty unfocused writing-wise. I wrote quick poems and stories that I never finished. I didn’t complete a proper book until I was 32 – Kiwi in Cat City, so I was a little late!
2 - Do you read much? If yes, have you always loved reading?
Not as much as I used to. My job has always been as a layout sub editor, working on magazines. My reading time was usually during my train journey to and from work. Since last year I have been working from home, editing self-published books. So, I’m reading books for a living now! That’s where my reading time has gone. All my other spare time is more writing and marketing, and seeing friends.
3 - Who’s your favorite author? What’s your favorite book?
One of my faves is Fantastic Mr Fox. I love Roald Dahl’s stories. But it is hard to pick a favourite of anything, I find. So, other books I love are Hans Christian Andersen’s stories, The Magic Toyshop, A Room with a View, Crime and Punishment, Pride & Prejudice, Miss Wyoming, The Handmaiden’s Tale and The Book Thief. As a kid I loved The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe. I think CS Lewis was a genius. I cried when Aslan died and loved the idea that the girl finds a magic world at the back of a wardrobe. When I was little I kept looking in my cupboards trying to find it, and even under the bed. Alas, only dust! I loved The Folk of the Faraway Tree too; anything with talking animals and magic worlds that somehow you could stumble across if you were really lucky. I adored The Book Thief. It’s amazing. I didn’t want to finish it – every line was a joy. Wow, that sounds so cheesy!
4 - What writers have influenced you the most?
Erm, I guess it’s going to be the ones I read as a kid, so Roald Dahl, The Brothers Grimm, Enid Blyton (The Folk of the Faraway Tree was a fave), CS Lewis, Hans Christian Anderson and Jack London.
5 - Do you have a favorite fictional character? Either from a book or movie or a tv show?
Fantastic Mr Fox. Well, he’s a dude! Closely followed by Bugs Bunny and Top Cat for the same reasons. As a kid I wanted to marry them all, not realising that it would be crossing a boundary too far, them being animals and cartoons, and all. I also love Ripley from Aliens, Brenda Leigh Johnson from The Closer and Cagney from Cagney & Lacey. On top of that I’d add Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy.
6 - What are you working on right now? Can you tell us something about it?
Well, most of my books so far (if you ignore the poetry) are for middle-grade and YA readers, so I decided to write something different. My latest book is a zombie one and it is set in England. The central figure is female and kicks ass. I want her to be a strong heroine. Two others are male and female. It’s basically about what happens when the people of London suddenly start turning into zombies. Why? What’s causing it? Is it a government conspiracy, a virus or something else? The central figure, Marla, wants to find out.
7 - Is there anything in particular that you do to get in the mood to write, or to get in the ‘zone’? Any particular pre-writing routines?
Nope, none at all. I sit down at my laptop and hope something happens. My cat is normally trying to get on my lap and squeeze her head under the desk if that counts!
8 - Where do you do your writing?
Normally, I’m sitting on the sofa with my laptop, but I do all my other stuff – work, editing, writing – on a desk. For some reason I like the sofa when writing! However, I just read some articles saying it’s really bad to have your laptop stuck on your knees for the entire day, so I told myself off and I’ve bought something to rest it on. So, if anyone’s reading this who does the same… I’m telling you off!
9 - How do you approach your writing? i.e. - Do you do outlines? Character bios? Etc.?
I’m a ‘make it up as you go along’ type. I have mini-notebooks that I carry around and put notes in. So I might get an idea for a name or a book title, part of the plot or a scene, and scribble it down. I don’t do outlines or plan a book from A to Z, and I don’t do character planning or world building. I write a few lines on a character – name, age, eye colour, etc, but it’s very vague. I tend to keep things in my head. I have to daydream about the book and the people in it – it kind of puts itself together where I can see it, and then I’ve got it. I write chapters out of order. I usually start with the opening one, but then I might head anywhere next, even to the end. When I was writing 3 Heads & a Tail for NaNoWriMo, for example, I started with the idea that there would be three human characters and a dog. I knew the first chapter and the end scene, and that the dog would fancy another dog, and that the girl would be in a love triangle with the two guys. Then the rest of the plot emerged.
10 - Do you have any advice for other writers?
Just to keep writing and don’t give up. Write how you want, what you want, when you want. My worst habit was laziness. I’ve wasted a lot of my life not writing. Once I started doing it properly in 2011 and making time for it, I realised that I felt whole, fulfilled, like I’d found the meaning in my life (besides going out and having fun). I know, that sounds cheesy! So, my advice is to not be lazy and try to write something every day. Don’t edit as you write and don’t criticise it, just get it down. Editing is for another day. And that’s my other advice – look at other writers and see how they manage their time, and don’t publish without a professional editor seeing your book. And most importantly, have fun.
11 - Are you a morning person or evening person? Day or night?
Day. I’m getting old now, so I love my bed. I’ve even started to get up earlier at the weekends. There was a time when I’d be out all night from Friday, and never see mornings at the weekend, but I think it’s time to embrace daylight!
12 - Do you have any pets?
Oh, yes, a little black-and-white cat called Mogsy. She’s a darling and she’s 14. A house is not a home without a cat. I grew up with a house full of animals. Our place was like a mini-zoo!
13 - What’s your favorite ‘I need a break from writing’ activity?
I watch something. I don’t really do TV, so I watch films and box sets. I’m currently watching The 4400, but series 3 seems to be losing the plot a bit. Before that I was addicted to Castle. I also like to go out and see my friends. And I love the cinema. I used to do a lot of reading, but since I got into writing more, I have less free time for it.
14 - How do you approach writing sex scenes? They can range from mild to wild. Where are you on the mild to wild meter?
Ooh, well, most of my books are for kids, so that’s a no-no. I have a sex scene in my adult book 3 Heads & a Tail, but it deteriorated into comedy. I’m not sure I can write a serious one, which is a shame as sex sells, it seems! I have a mild scene in the zombie book, but it’s just heavy petting! I leave the sex scenes to the pros! Oh, that sounds wrong – I mean the writers who are good at it. Oh, that sounds even worse! Moving on…
15 - Do you write in one genre? Or more than one?
Loads: poetry, children’s books, YA, adult, comedy, horror, fantasy and drama.
16 - Are you self-published or with a publishing house?
17 - What are your thoughts on getting a literary agent?
I’m thinking about it. I’ve tried two, but they rejected me. I also tried Scholastic… alas, no go. And I tried Harper Collins back in 2003 or 2004 with Kiwi in Cat City. Rejected!
18 - What about marketing? How do you approach that area?
I approach that area like a bird looking at some food on a bird table. The potential result is pretty nice, but the way is paved with danger (cats) and competition (other birds), involves some effort (flying) and there might be something nasty left by another bird (oo-er). But, seriously, I find it hard. I’ve tried many different things. I try to do a little promo every day, because if I do nothing I have zero sales. No one will see my books. I’d say my sales are low, but we have to remember that before self-publishing, we had nothing. I’ve tried blog tours and small effective ads like those on ereadernews. I promote on Facebook and twitter. I have a blog where I put my writings and interviews with other writers, and other stuff that I hope is interesting. I used to do Sample Sundays. I think promoting in groups is a good idea. It’s all hard though. I feel like the Phantom Spammer of Old London Town.
19 - What about beta readers? Do you use them? How many do you have? Where do you find them?
Well, I never used to have them. I used to publish things that no one had ever read, which is really scary. For my last book, The Sea Inside, I had three beta readers and it was such a great decision. They all liked the book, which made me feel so relieved and gave me confidence to publish. And they all gave me some good advice. One person’s tips made me add a chapter in to explain something a little more.
20 - What’s your favorite food?
Ooh, do I have to choose? Cheese and white chocolate – the bad things. Pasta, lasagne, Quorn veggie stuff, Linda MaCartney veggie stuff, scrambled eggs, falafels, veggie fajitas, spinach, red peppers, mushrooms, strawberries…
21 - What’s your favorite color?
Blue – like the sea and sky – closely followed by purple.
22 - Is there a particular website or facebook page or blog that you, as a writer, find very helpful?
There are many Facebook writing groups that I like, including The Writers’ Tools, Books Untamed and Masterkoda. IndiesUnlimited is a great resource for independent writers too. It’s fab. They have tutorials and advice, plus articles and competitions. There are so many though, really – so many useful places for us with so much great information.
23 - What’s your favorite time of the year?
Summer. Spring I love because it’s the end of the cold – although that didn’t quite happen this year in the UK and she was late!! I love it because you see the appearance of flowers and little ducklings, and small white and pink blossom buds on the trees. It gets lighter and you just feel everyone’s mood lifting. But I love summer the most, because I love being warm. The best weather is warm with a cool breeze – cue ice cream and walks in the forest. Being on a beach by the sea in the summer is perfect. I’d love to live by the sea.
24 - What’s your most recent book about? And where can people buy it?
My most recent book is The Sea Inside. Themes include coming of age, time, family, the heroic quest, fate versus destiny, choice, etc.
In the book, the heroine, Jayne, wakes up in hospital following a terrible accident to find that she is paralysed below the waist. So she ends up reassessing her life and she has to adjust, which is tough on her, but she’s a fighter. A mysterious visitor offers her a gift that opens a portal to another realm where she can walk again, and she finds herself on a journey. It brings her to the mystical realm of Entyre beneath the sea. Her adventures bring her face to face with a terrifying witch, a cheeky insect and mystical creatures. While the threads of time keep flowing, Jayne must decide what is real, who to trust, and regain her inner strength in order to find herself and her true destiny. It is only available on Amazon at the moment, because it is locked into Prime until September. You can buy it as an ebook or paperback. The cover, which is amazing, is by Maja Druzic.
25 - As a writer, what do you feel is your strongest gift or talent or skill that you have, that helps you the most as a writer?
I’ve always worked as a layout sub editor, so that’s an advantage when it comes to editing and formatting, I guess. I daydream a lot, so maybe that helps!
26 - Please share some of your links with us - facebook author page, website, where people can find your books –
Kiwi Series website: Kiwiincatcity.com
FB author page: http://www.facebook.com/AuthorVickieJohnstone
FB Kiwi Series page: http://www.facebook.com/KiwiinCatCity
FB poetry page: http://www.facebook.com/KaleidoscopePoetry
FB Kiwi Series page: http://www.facebook.com/KiwiinCatCity
FB poetry page: http://www.facebook.com/KaleidoscopePoetry
FB editing service page: http://www.facebook.com/VickieJohnstoneEditing
Smashwords page: http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/vixie
Thank you for the opportunity! Happy reading and writing! J