On the 2nd September 2017, I was interviewed by Jason Montello of I Like eBooks – http://ilikeebooks.com/
Here are the questions and answers:-
- When did realize that you wanted to be an author?
There were a lot of things that happened in the months and even the year before I became a writer that all pointed to an obvious answer – becoming a writer, but it took me a long time to piece them together. I had a conversation where I suddenly blurted out that I wanted to be a writer, without any thought behind it. It was like listening to someone else saying the words and just observing what had been said. I’d been studying a lot in the years previous and had spent a lot of time on the computer. I didn’t even have a desk. The desktop computer was set up on an old cabinet which had doors stopping you from putting your legs underneath, so I sat sideways on a chair arm and worked. I did a lot of qualifications at once and they required a lot of written work, so for a few years my life had been dominated by writing. My work also required a lot of report writing too and was office based, so office based writing was part of my daily routine, but I’d never written anything creatively. It had always been part of a process or to achieve a goal. Then I got really sick and had to have a prolonged period of time off work to recover. The work based writing had stopped, but even at this point it still hadn’t occurred to me that the key to what I was really supposed to be doing with my life was writing. Getting sick is something of a wake-up call. I knew that my life needed to change, but when making a change you need to know what direction the change needs to go in, and I had no idea.
Like most people, I had a cellar full of boxes of packed away items that are waiting for the day that you’re ready to let go of them and I realised that about a third of them were full of things that I had written. Notes and procedures from previous jobs that I was never going to refer to again, but seeing them all lined up sparked the thought that writing had been a thread in my life. Devoid of a lot of other talents, this was showing signs of being worthy of some thought, but who has the time to write?
About a month or so later, I found I had an afternoon to myself and sat at an old second-hand computer that I had been given. The thought hadn’t left me; it was growing inside me. I just started writing. I had no idea where I was going with it; I had no structure or story. I just wanted to see what it felt like. A couple of days later, the computer crashed and that was that – no more computer. Everything on it was lost and it was binned.
Then came the dream. I always thought that when creatives said that they had dreams that told them what to do with their lives, it was all a bit cliché. After all, I very rarely remembered my dreams, but that’s exactly what happened. Somehow, I managed to piece together all the input of information that had been staring me in the face all along, and I woke with the greatest urge I’d ever felt – I had to write something, and there and then, but I had no computer. My daughter had been given a laptop. She was in the middle of her exams, but one afternoon she was hitting the books, so I borrowed it. I headed down to the bottom of the garden and wrote chapter 1 of Hidden. The rest is history. I’ve never looked back, nor stopped writing. I’d found my missing piece. I’d always had a piece of me missing. Something that I could never put my finger upon, but it was like having a hole inside me. Looking back, I now realise that changing jobs so regularly was me looking to fill that void. I’ve stopped looking now. Looking at what I’d written at my first go showed me immediately that I needed to become an author. It felt natural and just flowed. Today, I’m looking back at the things I’ve written and can’t believe how much has been waiting to hit the page, but you’ll find out soon.
- How long does it take for you to write one of your books?
I have a family and full time career, so my time is never my own for long. I run a secondary school library and that would be enough for most people, as my days are full and the work is always much more involved than the typical stereotype would suggest, so each book has taken a long time to write, but to varying degrees. I wrote Hidden and Trapped between 2010 and 2012, but then held back on releasing Trapped. I then went onto to writing The Awakening in 12 days. That is unfinished at the moment, although almost there, so it’s hard to say how long it takes to write a book. It’s mainly down to how much time you have to throw at it and distractions.
When writing a series, it’s tempting to bow to public demand and just churn the books out, because you have readers waiting for their next hit, but I wanted to make some changes to Trapped based on a storyline I wanted to run in the fourth book, so when I imposed the changes I ended up completely changing the outcome for one of the characters and building a whole new aspect to the story, as a whole. I know that it’s risky to do this as a new writer, but the story is much bigger than it ever would have been. Initiating these changes has taken me off in a direction I never could have imagined. Even I sometime look at my page and wonder where it all comes from. I’ve finally realised that a book takes as long as it needs to be written. We’re not really in charge, they are.
- How do you balance your work schedule when you’re busy writing?
Managing everything is why most writers give up. It’s really difficult. I always look at it this way – If I wanted to be an Olympic swimmer, I would have to swim every day and put in the commitment required to achieve that goal. Writing and being an author is no different, not if you want to be successful enough to make a living at it. So, I treat it like a second career. It is something that takes you away from your friends and social life, because you have commitments to followers, the business side of being an author and to the writing itself. All that is on top of life and the day job, which are enough in their own right. This is what you have to balance as an author. Especially when you put new work out there and have the business needs to attend to.
Planning is my biggest tool. That and I have a smart phone. I create the majority of my daily artworks, so I tend to do these when watching TV, or in down time. I do a lot of scheduling, because that makes efficient use of my time and means I have more time to actually write. It’s tricky and non-writers don’t always understand what it takes to be an author, but spending quality time with people and putting the writing down is just as important too. Recharging my batteries allows me to produce better quality work anyway, but I think all writers will admit that it’s tricky to get it right all the time.
- What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I would have to go with music. Finding a piece of music that draws on my emotions can have me writing some of my best work. I have heard a song on the radio, found it online and written a whole story or chapter within a couple of hours of listening to it. I have clearing music too. That’s music that I often turn into playlists which I share with my followers that I listen to and switches something in my brain. By the time I’ve finished listening to it, it’s time to write. Florence and the Machines is my clearing music and some Snow Patrol too.
- How do you come up with ideas for your books?
Ideas come from all over. Things I see, memories from my childhood. Songs that inspire an emotion, watching people interact. The trick is to put it all together to create a story. When I wrote Hidden, I had no idea how to write. I’d had no formal training on how to write creatively, but I knew what I liked to read and what drew me into a story. This was my starting point. I had heard that you should always write what you knew about, so I kind of took a memory from being a child and used that. I lived near an old mill and played in the grounds of the mill. That’s where the idea of the dare came from and children. I was never brave enough to go into the derelict mill, but that never stopped my imagination. Bronte and Riley get to do what I always wanted to do but was never brave enough to carry out. They get to go inside the mill. The rest is what’s locked up in my imagination.
More recently, I came up with an idea by walking past someone’s kitchen window. The pavement went up to the house’s side wall. This is a feature of living in a village in England. I was only walking past the house, but the owner was inside washing up their breakfast dishes and I felt close enough to them that I could have interacted with them. It was almost like I was encroaching on their space. The idea lead to a whole chapter which is coming up in book 3 – The Awakening, so I let you see how that turns out. There are no limits to stories other than the imagination of the writer.
- When did you write your first book?
The first thing I ever wrote was the first chapter of Hidden in the summer of 2010.
- What are your hobbies when you’re not writing?
When I’m not writing, I always have a camera in my hand. I like to get out and about and walk. I love to be out in the woods or walking near water. There’s something refreshing and revitalising about being out in the elements and it has a great influence on my work. I’ve managed to combine my love for photography with my writing by taking the pictures I use for my artworks. I use some stock photos occasionally, and this has led me into my new hobby of digital art. I’m just learning how to combine photography and art at the moment. If you follow my blog – Monday to Friday @ https://serinahartwell.info/ you can see where my hobby is taking me. I like to tell the Hidden Saga in pictures as well as words.
- What does your family and close friends think of your writing?
My family are proud of my work and very supportive. My daughter is my greatest critique. She isn’t afraid to tell me what she likes and doesn’t like. Trust a writer to give birth to a natural editor.
- What was one of the most interesting things that you learned about yourself when you published your first book?
I realised how much I could achieve when I was published. Who was I to be a writer? That’s what other people do. People who are good at English and have highflying lifestyles. I learnt that none of the stereotypes I’d grown up with were worth paying any attention to. I also learned that when I stopped saying no to myself, I could achieve anything and someone else thought that too.
- How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite?
So far I have written three books and started a fourth. Hidden (published), Trapped (wip), The Awakening (wip) and Stay (wip). It’s hard to determine which is my favourite, because they all have a piece of me in their making, but I suppose if I had to pick one I would lean towards The Awakening. Here, we learn about love and how complicated it is, as well as the immediate danger that is ever present. I enjoyed working with the dynamics of a love triangle and the writing just flowed with this book.
I also have another book which is on hold at the moment because I’m writing with another author, called Behind the Cold. That isn’t part of the saga and something completely different. That’s a vampire story from a bit of a different angle.
- What do you think makes a good story?
For me, a good story is born in good quality writing and storylines which emotionally pull at me. If I am not drawn into a story emotionally then I won’t go on to read the next book. I made a promise to my readers a long time ago that if I’m not appealing to all of their emotions then I’m not doing my job properly, because that is what I look for when reading. I like to be scared, fall in love, hate, feel the wind in my hair and feel all that the character is feeling. I need to connect, so that is how I write. I like stories with hidden meanings, so I like to take my readers in one direction to then reveal that what’s actually going on is something much bigger or less obvious. Some of the shortest chapters in my books appear to be a waste, but often they hold key pieces to the story for much further down the line. A lot of writers argue that too much description is unwarranted, but I love it and actually need it when I read. I fell in love with the writing of John Steinbeck because his descriptions made me feel like I was there.
- Where do you like to kick back and write your books?
A writer will write anywhere and I am no exception. When you need to write, you just get on with it, but I do have some places where I feel much more comfortable. I like to write in some odd places. My favourite is to write whilst travelling. I love to feel the rhythmic motion of the vehicle. It has a similar affect to me as music. It clears my head and allows the part of me that writes to take over. I wrote most of Hidden and Trapped in the back of the family car, travelling backwards and forwards between home and taking my daughter back to university, after a visit. It’s not always possible to do that, so other places I love are outside, in blazing sunshine and at my desk which looks out over the valley.
My blog is – https://serinahartwell.info/
My website is – http://www.serinahartwell.com/
I’m also a Goodreads Author –
This is my author page on Amazon – http://viewauthor.at/Serina_Hartwell
This is my photography. I use it as inspiration for my novels – Flickr – https://www.flickr.com/photos/serinahartwell/