Call Me Mummy… A Q&A with Tina Baker

Hi everyone and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Tina Baker, to discuss her debut novel Call Me Mummy.

I LOVED EVERYTHING about this novel – the characters, the plotting, the pacing. It didn’t feel like a debut novel, but it is. I was intrigued by the premise, so had a chat with Tina to discover more about her writing process.

Over to you, Tina…

1) Where did the idea come from and how did you begin to flesh it out?

I’d always wanted to write a novel but had never given myself the time. When my dad died, I finally decided to go for it, and I signed up foran MA in Creative Writing at City University. On the course, one bit of homework was to go somewhere you’d never been before. I went into a branch of Mothercare. As I’d failed to have a child, despite fertility treatment, I’d never set foot in a shop like that. I had a full-on meltdown. Very painful. That was the seed of the idea for Call Me Mummy.

It took two years after that to flesh out the idea into a story of the two women.

2) How did you create your main character Mummy? Did you enjoy writing her? Which other perspective did you most enjoy writing?

Sadly, some of Mummy is my worst impulses and it’s also based on my own mother, now deceased. She was abused by nuns, so the warped Catholicism came from her experience.

3) Call Me Mummy is your debut novel. How did you choose the title? What made you decide to tackle the subject you chose?

I’d always wanted to be a mother but failed. I’ve yearned for someone to call me Mummy, but it never happened. The cats haven’t even tried! Ialways wanted to write from the heart – tackling topics that meant something to me.

4) What was your research process like? Did any of the research surprise you at any point? Did you refer to it during the process of writing?

I didn’t have to do much research as I already had direct experience of feeling desperate for a child and fertility treatment that failed. I also know the locations in the book very well. I taught Zumba on the Andover Estate where Kim lives, and I taught fitness sessions at the Finsbury Park Mosque, where her friend Ayesha worships.

I did re-read press coverage of child abduction cases.

5) What does your writing process look like? Do you plot in detail? If not, why not?

Plotting – as in sitting down and having the structure before you start – feels totally alien to me. Some people have spreadsheets! Post-its on the wall! Colour-coded chapters! I have to lean into a story and feel that things happen organically. Sometimes I do know how I want it to end, but by the time I’ve got there, even that might change.

6) Lastly, do you use Scrivener or MS Word? Which do you prefer and why?

Word. I don’t know what Scrivener is without googling it. I’m not the most technical person. Head of Technology (he appointed himself) is my husband, Geoff.

Thank you for visiting the blog today, Tina. It has been a pleasure to interview you. I wish you all the best with your writing.

Bio: Tina was brought up in a caravan after her mother, a fairground traveller, fell pregnant by a window cleaner. After leaving the bright lights of Coalville, she came to London and worked as a journalist and broadcaster for thirty years. She’s probably best known as a television critic for the BBC and GMTV, but after so many hours watching soaps gave her a widescreen bum, she got off it, lost weight and won Celebrity Fit Club. When not writing she now works as a fitness instructor. She also rescues cats, whether they want to be rescued or not. Call Me Mummy is Tina’s first novel, partly inspired by her own unsuccessful attempts to have a child. Despite the grief and disappointment of that, she hasn’t stolen one. So far.

An Interview With… Jodie McNee

Hi everyone and this evening on the blog I’m delighted to welcome actress Jodie McNee. This is the first time I have interviewed an actress, and as I am a huge fan of Jodie’s work.

Having watched her as Angela in Criminal Justice as well as true crime dramas Anthony and Little Boy Blue – I was delighted when she agreed to come on the blog and answer some questions about her career highlights, what attracts her to a script and what she has been up to during lockdown.

Over to you, Jodie…

1) How did you first become to be involved in the industry? Was it something you always wanted to do? Did you have any other career plans?

I can’t remember what age it started, feels like I knew very early on that I loved it. I was such a shy child, but I just loved being on stage. I was really lucky because my mum and my teachers at school were so supportive and encouraged me to go into acting. I think I would’ve been a nurse if I hadn’t got into acting.

2) Your career has varied between television, film and theatre. Which of the three would you say is your favourite and why?

I love all three. Theatre is about a connection with the audience, and a sharing of ideas. Tv and film are very much about capturing truthful moments, I love being on a set and watching the other actors, witnessing their process. It’s all fascinating to me.

3) You played Jackie Carter in Little Boy Blue. How did you find the role and the research involved in preparing for the production?

Little Boy Blue was a privilege to be part of. It was a dramatisation of a real event, so it was a very delicate subject for Rhys’s loved ones and for the people of Liverpool, everyone involved felt a personal responsibility to tell the story truthfully and to do our absolute best.

Before we started I read up as much as I could about the case.
The director, producer and writer had been working together on the script for years, so it was intensely researched, all with the blessing of Rhys’s parents Mel and Steve.

4) When you read a script, what do you pay attention to in particular? Does the character leap off the page for you? What makes you think ‘Yes, I want to play this role!’?

I just have to connect to it, for me it’s a feeling rather than conscious thought, a gut feeling.

For example when I played Faustus last year, I read Chris Bush’s script and thought “I’ve got to play this part” because the writing was so wild, and clever I instantly fell in love with it.

It’s not always just the character that excites me, it can be the project as a whole, the subject or the writer or director that draws me in. It’s a collaborative process and that’s what I love most.

5) How did you find your current agent? Would you say the process is the same for a writer seeking representation? For example, a submission reel is the same as a sample of a manuscript?

You usually send your cv and showreel to the agent or if you’re in a show you can invite them along to see it.

6) How have you been coping during lockdown? As an actress, how has lockdown affected you?

I’ve been lucky enough to have some work during lockdown, which I am very grateful for because it’s been extremely difficult for so many in our industry, many freelancers have been overlooked and are struggling.

7) During the pandemic, what have you missed most about the day to day routine of your job?

I miss the collaboration and being part of a company.

8) Are you currently reading any books? Between fiction and non fiction, what is your favourite? Do you have a favourite genre?

I’m reading Women Who Run with Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I’m interested in lots of different genres.

9) During lockdown, what have you been watching on television? Do you have a favourite programme that you watch religiously?

I watched Schitts Creek three times over because I’m obsessed with Moira Rose. I also watch a LOT of Four In A Bed and I’m currently watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race religiously.

10) If you had to choose between Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury (Queen) or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

Freddie Mercury! He’s an icon and an incredible talent.

Thank you for visiting the blog Jodie. Thank you very much for taking the time out for me and for being so accommodating. It has been a pleasure to interview you! 🙂

CV:

TELEVISION:
Britannia – 3 seasons (Willa)
Anthony (Nurse Susan Parr)
Agatha And The Death Of X (PC O’Hannauer) Vera (Natalie Bell)
Little Boy Blue (WPC Carter)
Ripper Street (Myrtle Waters)
Criminal Justice 2 (Angela)
Poirot (Annie)
The Liverpool Nativity (Mary)
Shane (Nurse)

THEATRE:
Unprecedented: Fear Fatigue (Beatrice) Faustus:That Damned Woman (Faustus) Venice Preserved (Belvidera)
Anatomy Of A Suicide (Jo/Laura/Lola) The Night Watch (Kay)
The Oak Tree (Actress)
Our Country’s Good (Liz Morden)
Game (Carly)
Three Winters (Alisa)
Hamlet (Rosencrantz./Second Grave Digger) Hobsons Choice (Maggie Hobson) Twelfth Night (Viola)
The Empty Quarter (Holly)
A Life Of Galileo (Virginia)
Orpheus Descending (Carol CutrereWritten On The Heart (Mary Currer) Measure For Measure (Isabella)
This Happy Breed (Vi)
Seagull (Masha)
When We Are Married (Ruby)
Canary (Melanie/Nurse/Sue the miners wife)
Knives In Hens (Young Woman) When We Are Married (Ruby) A Taste Of Honey (Jo)
Double Portrait
King Lear (Cordelia)
The Frontline (Polish Jodie)
Cymbeline (Imogen)
Jenufa (Jenufa)
Mother Courgae And Her Children (Kattrin) The Changeling (Isabella)
The Burial At Thebes

FILM:
Official Secrets (Duty Solicitor)
Judy (Vivian)
Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool (Jessie)

The Physician (Agnes Cole)
Collider – Short (Melinda)
One Happy Moment – Short (Kasha)
A Picture Of Me (Sarah)

An Interview With… Karen Sullivan

Hi everyone, this evening on the blog I’m delighted to welcome publisher and Orenda Books founder Karen Sullivan.

Karen and I first met in Waterstones when Orenda came to Liverpool in 2017, and I was very grateful and pleased when she kindly accommodated an interview. Read on for how she got involved in the industry, what she looks for in submissions and her all important views on the crime/thriller market.

Over to you, Karen…

1) How did you first become involved in the publishing industry? Did you always want to work in publishing when you left school? Did you have any other career plans?

I always knew that I wanted to do something with books, and my first job was in publishing. I went on to write books (non-fiction) and then returned to publishing and eventually started Orenda Books. I remember reading when I was a teenager about a girl who got a job ‘reading the slush pile’ for a publishing company, and couldn’t believe that it was possible to have a job that involved simply reading!

2) How did Orenda first begin? What was your plan/vision for the company?

I founded Orenda Books in 2014, and we published our first books in 2015. I wanted to publish beautiful, unforgettable books … books that pushed the boundaries of their genres, fresh, exciting voices, gorgeous writing. I also really wanted (and still do) to demystify translated literature, and bring some superb international reads to English. Because I was an author, it was equally important to me to create a team spirit, and make the publishing process pleasurable for authors.

3) What attracts you to a submission? Is it the cover letter, the synopsis or the sample writing? How does an author leave you wanting more?

A bit of everything, really. A generic covering letter does not impress; however, someone who has taken the time to look at what we publish and to let me know where they think their book fits into our list, and what they like about the books we publish is a great starting point. A short synopsis, a killer ‘blurb’ (elevator pitch, if you like) and a full manuscript are essential. We don’t sign on the basis of a synopsis. I often start reading after the first chapter, which many authors find painful to write. Something different, strong writing, a compelling storyline that wants me to read on are all important.

4) When you take on a full manuscript, what is the editing process like with the author?

We go through a number of stages of editing, the first being the structural edits, which can be brutal. We often lose whole plot threads, characters and even points of view at this stage, and there can be a lot of additional writing required. I am absolutely fierce about this process. Every book we publish also effectively bears my name, and I won’t put anything out there that isn’t the best that it can be. After several months, often with a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and perhaps brainstorming solutions to problems, we’ll move onto copyediting, which can throw up more of the same! We work closely with the author at every stage.

5) How long does the publishing process take? Is it different with each book?

Yes, it’s different with every book, depending upon how much work is necessary. I would say, however, that the average book will take between eight and twelve months from submission to printed copies, and often longer. We can work much more quickly than big publishers, and we’ve turned around books that didn’t need many structural changes within six months. We need proofs about five months before publication, so the time is pretty much set in stone.

6) Do you have a view of the crime/thriller market at the moment? Is there anything that you haven’t seen in a book before?

There are always new twists and new ideas, and that’s what fascinates me – how a genre can continue to be so vibrant and diverse. I’m not one for ‘trendy’ plots or settings, and there has been, as there always is, a spate of similar books in different locations. I’m sure there is lots to come and many things I haven’t seen yet.

7) What would you do if you weren’t working in publishing? What keeps you motivated on a day to day basis?

I don’t even know! I have spent my entire career working in or with books, and reading is my ultimate hobby. I am motivated by doing something I love, with people that I love, in a community that I love, and that’s every reason to jump out of bed in the morning and get to work! I love the marketing aspect of the job, so perhaps that would be an alternative career! But oh … the books!

8) When you leave your desk on a Friday, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/the weekend, what do you do to relax?

I mainly read, cook or spend time with my family. Over lockdown, my habits changed completely. I never, ever watched TV, apart from the odd series, and now I am watching a few at the same time, with a long list of things I plan to watch in future. I have also become a bit obsessed with DIY, and have been updating the house over the past few months. But Friday night is pizza and poker night, and we have so much fun! It will be strange when everyone is ‘free’ again and I think I’ll miss this! Chances are that I’ll be travelling again, too, and that will be weird. Over the weekend, I usually work for at least one day … editing or tackling social media. And then just do the stuff we all have to do!

9) In lockdown, what are you currently reading? Are you going back to old favourites or reading new books?

LOADS of new books. I was seriously ill with Covid for several months, and picked up my kindle for the first time, reading book after book by friends in the community, proofs for upcoming books, anything. I think that I’ve read about 200 books in the past year, and loved every minute of it. I just finished reading Elizabeth Haynes’ You, Me and The Sea, which is so beautifully written and moving. Not crime, but I love reading widely. I’ve got Jenni Fagin’s Luckenbooth up next, and I recently finished Ashley Audrain’s The Push and Erin Kelly’s Watch Her Fall. Both absolutely BRILLIANT. I love translated fiction, and Yrsa Sigurdardottir is always a favourite!

10) In lockdown, what are you currently watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

As I mentioned, I never watched TV before and definitely didn’t have any favourite anything! I’m watching Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes at the moment, did a catch-up on Line of Duty recently, and my favourite spirit-lifter is Schitt’s Creek. There’s some amazing drama around. Thank goodness!

11) In lockdown, have you been missing live music? What is the best band or artist you last listened to or wish you had seen live?

We have a shared Spotify account in this house and I tend to be the first one kicked off! I like all types of music. When I’m working, I listen to the exquisite music of one of our authors, Thomas Enger, one of which was inspired by a visit to our family home on a lake in Canada. I can’t listen to anything with lyrics while I’m working, and I work A LOT, so it’s really just what’s on in the background. The best band? It HAS to be the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, with Val McDermid, Luca Veste, Stuart Neville, Chris Brookmyre, Mark Billingham and our brilliant Doug Johnstone on drums. I have seen an alarming percentage of their live performances, and I always get up and dance!

Thank you for your time this evening Karen. It has been a pleasure to interview you!

Bio: Karen Sullivan is founder and publisher of Orenda Books, a small independent publisher, based in London. Orenda publishes literary fiction, with a heavy emphasis on crime/thrillers, and about half the list in translation. Orenda won CWA Crime and Mystery Publisher of the Year in 2020, and has been shortlisted for Small Press of the Year in the 2021 British Book Awards. Karen was a Bookseller Rising Star in 2016. She is Canadian by birth, and lives in London with her family.

10 Questions With… Russel D McLean

Hi everyone, and this morning on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Glasgow based crime writer Russel D McLean.

Russel is the author of five novels and has been published, over the years, in a vast number of magazines and anthologies. I was delighted when he agreed to join me to discuss his writing journey into how he got published and more recently, what he has been up to during lockdown.

Over to you, Russel…

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? Was there a turning point with a book that made you go ‘Wow!’?

I don’t know that I had just one favourite author — I was an absolutely voracious reader. I would read almost anything and everything. A few stand outs though, from various ages, include a long fascination with the Alfred Hitchcock and Three Investigators books (Although not so much the later ones where they were mentored by a fictional film director… and I also far preferred them to the Hardy Boys, who I found pretty dull), an absolute love of Roald Dahl’s books, a slight addiction to the Target Doctor Who novelisations, Anthony Horowitz’s Diamond Brothers books (which later fed into my love of crime fiction)… and the one book I always recommended when I became a bookseller in later life, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. That one had the most lasting effect on me, I think, in the way it really created this world that was both logical and insane, and embraced imagination in a way that felt absolutely celebratory.
Wait… you asked for one, didn’t you…?

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

Yes, I guess I did. Mostly the creative writing side, though. I think it helped that I already read massively outside of the classes, of course.
I wasn’t so keen when I did a couple of years of undergrad English at uni; that more advanced English is more akin to criticism than it is to considering what it is to be a writer, and how to create a story. I read less when I was going English at uni than at any other time of my life. If you’re going to be a writer. you’re better taking something that perhaps speaks to the experience of people more than text — the practical art and skill of writing a novel is very different to the analysis of the novel (although knowing how people do that can be useful).

3) What is your writing process like, from idea generation right through to typing the end?

Varied is the best way to put it. Lots of people claim to be plotters or pantsers, but I’ve kind of done it differently from book to book. More recently, I’ve become much more of a plotter, not only because the books have become more complex, and also because I found new methods that worked for my brain and opened up my ideas of what plotting or planning a novel could be.
Back at the beginning, I kind of “winged” my first book, The Good Son, plotted out The Lost Sister, did a half and half process for Father Confessor (Now available in a revised version, because that half and half process didn’t work as well as it could have at the time, and it was the only book I wanted to have a mild redo of when the rights came back to me).
But most books start with an idea or a feeling or a scene for me. The Good Son didn’t fall into place until I could picture the opening sequence with McNee ready to kill a man and feel that anger in him. Ed’s Dead started with with me watching an old noir movie where two men are disposing of a woman’s body, and I kind of wanted to gender flip the idea a little– it became something else entirely, but that’s where it started.

Once I have that key scene or idea, the rest of the story slowly forms around it. These days, I use post it notes, three/four/five act structures and so forth to help me through the initial process.
I tend to write a fast first draft, and then its about going back and making sure the story is experienced rather than told– something that crystalised to me after reading Robert Olen Butler’s book From Where You Dream is that the most effective stories are told through sequences of sensations, emotions, action, rather than summary. The less filters between the experiences of the characters and the mind of the reader the better.

4) Can you briefly describe the editing process before submitting to agents?

For me, it’s about really looking hard at the manuscript with my reader hat on and honestly reporting back to myself: does this stand up to other published books? That’s the thing you need to get really good at doing, I think. Part of my day job has involved me reading slush piles or teaching writing etc, and the one thing that trips people up is that they can’t read their book with any kind of distance. They don’t see how it translates to a reader who doesn’t have access to your thoughts. It’s perhaps the hard thing about writing fiction — you need to convince someone you’ll never meet that this world and these people you have created are real. And you can’t be slapdash about that, and you can’t make assumptions that the reader will just “know what you mean”. You need to be exact and you need to be harsh. Because readers will always be even harsher.

I see a lot of people out there saying how no one can “teach” you how to write, and all writing advice should be ignored etc. I think this is both right and wrong at the same time. I do think that some people have an instinctive understanding of how storytelling works and how to manipulate language, but I also think that if you close yourself off to trying out new ideas, techniques and so forth, you limit your writing. So I read a lot of writing guides and I take what works for me, and discard what doesn’t. That’s what you need to do — find the things that work for you in order to help you write the best story possible. It might take trial and error, but it will be worth it. And even when you know what works for you, keep looking, keep learning and keep loving the process.

5) Once you got your agent, what was the editing process like before pitching to publishers?

I love my agent because he’s tough when he reads. There are three manuscripts down the years he told me just to stop right there, and he was right. One of them eventually matured into AND WHEN I DIE (one of my most sorely under-read books for reasons I’ve never understood, but one I’m pretty proud of). Others have become parts of other stories. But when we have a manuscript we both agree works, he’s really good at helping me get into the nitty gritty of it with a mix of line level and story questions that help me crystalise and hopefully anticipate (as much as you can) reactions before it goes out.

My first agent had an in house editor. But they also wanted me to write a different kind of book than I felt comfortable doing, which was why we eventually parted ways, but I loved that idea of an in house editor.

6) If you had to choose your favourite book of your own that you have written, which would it be and why?

Obvious, I’m most proud of THE GOOD SON because it was the first, but my absolute favourite is ED’S DEAD. Why? I adore Jen Carter as a character — she’s at once the most normal and the most messed up character I’ve ever written. That book also allowed me to get geeky, to dive into dark humour, and just kind of let go for a while.

7) Can you name one author that you admire, and why you like their style of writing?

Why do you keep limiting me to just one? But, hey, I’m a rulebreaker, so let me pick two!
If there is a writer who had an early and electric effect on me as a reader and writer, it would likely be Elmore Leonard. That ease of prose, that way he has of just letting the story unfold so comfortably, so that you can’t separate character and plot… oh, its perfection!

But I also wanted to pick a slightly newer name as well, as well as a UK based crime writer (because my bias is very much towards US crime writers!) and so someone newer who has impressed me greatly is Eva Dolan. When I started reading her Zigic and Ferriera books, I was really impressed with how she made the procedural feel dynamic and modern, dealing directly with issues that other crime writers had nodded towards but not dived into quite the way these books did. Not only that, but the books had real pace and the prose was spot on. If you haven’t read her, you really need to change that right now.

8) What are you currently reading? Have you found that your reading habits have changed throughout lockdown?

I’ve just finished SA Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland, which is deserving of every word of praise it gets. Writing car chases in prose is usually a pretty dull affair, but Cosby’s tale of a reluctant getaway driver is more thrilling than most action movie car chases, and on top of that it’s a cracker of a story, too, with a superb protagonist and a genuine, empathetic understanding of what it means to be stuck in an impossible situation.
And since I finished that, I’ve just started Sylvia Moreno-Garcia’s latest, Mexican Gothic. It’s been nominated for a Stoker award by the Horror Writer’s Association, and it looks fantastic. Horror is one of my secondary loves in fiction, particularly when done well. I’m just two chapters in, and I know this one’s going to be fantastic!

I’ve actually read more during lockdown, and that’s been deliberate. It’s easy, when you’re an editor, to get bogged down in the manuscripts you’re working on, but as Lockdown began I realised that was almost all I was reading. I missed reading for genuine thrills and pleasure, and so I resurrected my old #russelreads on Twitter, where I witter on about whatever I’ve just read, and set aside a certain amount of time each day to read books that called out to me from the TBR pile or whatever.

9) What are you currently watching on television? Have your television habits changed throughout lockdown?

We’ve just finished Call My Agent on Netflix, a brilliant French series about a group of film agents in Paris. It’s brilliantly funny, even if you know nothing about French cinema (although a few international actors crop up– Sigourney Weaver makes an incredible impression during a guest appearance in the final season). Up next? Well, we’ll see…We’re waiting for the next seasons of Lupin and Money Heist especially!

I think the main thing that’s changed through lockdown for us here is that we’re watching things faster, binging much more quickly, just because we aren’t getting out to the cinema or for a meal out. I’ve also taken to watching a lot of older films on Blu Ray from cult outfits like Arrow Video, Eureka Video and Powerhouse. Lots of seventies crime films that deserve rediscovery, and a surprising amount of horror films, like the Edgar Allen Poe adaptations by Roger Corman and Vincent Price…

10) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you pick and why?

In real life, none of the above, really. I did go through a brief Queen phase when I was younger, and Freddie had such an incredible voice; love or loathe Queen, you cannot deny his talent and his ability to really get a crowd going. And pre Do Ya Think I’m Sexy, Rod again has this amazing voice. And you know… I know nothing about AC/DC at all…
My record collection is a lot of jazz and blues (Classic and newer artists), a smattering of seventies soul and funk (Gill Scott Heron, Curtis Mayfield), and the likes of Tom Waits etc (making me a very cliched crime writer, that last one!)

But… but… if I can pick only one of the above… Let’s go for Freddie since at least I’ll be able to sing along with him (Some of the right notes, not necessarily in the right order!)

Thank you for your time today Russel and for visiting the blog, it has been a pleasure to interview you. Good luck with your writing! 🙂

Bio: Russel D McLean is the author of five novels featuring Scottish private Eye, J McNee, and two further standalone novels, the latest of which is the darkly comic thriller, Ed’s Dead.

He has written short stories for a number of magazines and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Maxim Jakubowski’s Book of Extraordinary Amateur Sleuth and Private Eye Stories. Russel worked as a bookseller for over a decade, before branching out into freelance editorial work. These days, he splits his time between working on his own writing and work as a developmental editor for various publishers and organisations.

He lives in Glasgow with his wife, and their three cats. And, yes, he really did once live in a flat which came with its very own cursed mask on the wall…

Find out more at russeldmcleanbooks.com, or follow him on Twitter @russeldmclean.

Ed’s Dead is available NOW from Saraband Books (UK) and here’s a note from THE Martina Cole, author of the DCI Kate Burrows series and various novels on gangland crime. MC: A really authentic and remarkable read! I loved it! Wow – with a testimonial like THAT, I will definitely be ordering on Amazon!!

Thank you again Russel! 🙂

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