Some of my most creative thoughts happen when on a dog walk, as do my best conversations with my dog-walking buddy. So I thought I’d invite some of my author friends along to join me and my girls and see if I can find out a little more about them and the book they’ve just released.
‘My girls’ are Poppy and Ruby
Joining me today in her walking boots is Heather Burnside who came to chat to me on the release of her first novel, Slur, (which I reviewed right here) and is now back with its sequel, A Gangster’s Grip. I should add here that we don’t just chat here we are often in contact between our interviews as well as linking up on social media and Heather and her blog are a great source of information for me as I find my way through this writing maze.
Heather Burnside was born and bred in Manchester, and is a qualified Member of the Institute of Credit Management. After taking a career break to raise a family, Heather decided against returning to her previous career in credit management. Instead she studied for a writing diploma, and had articles featured in several popular UK magazines before publishing her first Manchester based crime thriller, ‘Slur’. She has recently published the sequel, ‘A Gangster’s Grip’, which highlights the inter-gang rivalry of 90s Manchester. Heather has also published a multi-genre short story collection entitled, ‘Crime, Conflict & Consequences’. When not working on her books, she provides writing services for a broad range of clients.
Hi Heather, thanks for taking the time to talk to me today, I know you’re busy but I hope you’ve had a good journey down from Manchester and that you’re ready for a hike across the fields of sunny Cambridgeshire? (Okay so I know I told you the other day that the sun always shines in the Beautiful South…I might have been exaggerating a bit…today it’s all a bit grim out there 🙁 )
Thank you Georgia, it’s a pleasure and I’m looking forward to it, despite the rain.
I know you’ve been tempting us with posts such as the first chapter for us to read Heather but this is your chance to tell me all about A Gangster’s Grip and how you came to write a sequel to Slur? Was that always the plan?
I didn’t originally plan to write a sequel to ‘Slur’. In fact, my plan was to write something completely different after I had launched my debut novel. I had already started work on a disturbing psychological thriller and the plan was to release that after ‘Slur’. However, while I was writing ‘Slur’ I became very attached to the character of Rita. She isn’t the main protagonist in the first novel but she is the sort of person I admire; strong, feisty and one of those people who takes everything that life throws at them and comes back fighting. In ‘Slur’ I had already hinted at the fact that her father was a petty crook and her sister hung around with some dubious characters so I thought I could do a lot more with that and present a situation that would really challenge Rita.
In ‘A Gangster’s Grip’ Rita returns to Manchester after a few years away. It is 1991 and things have changed in certain areas of the city. Violent crime has escalated due to inter-gang rivalry, gun crime is becoming out of control and the police are having difficulty controlling the increasing drugs problem. It is against this backdrop that Rita returns to her parents’ home to find that her sister Jenny is in a relationship with the local bad boy, Leroy, and is expecting his child. Jenny’s involvement with Leroy places her in grave danger and Rita is desperate to convince Jenny of his involvement with drug-dealing gangs, and lure her away from him. But she runs up against resistance. For reasons initially unknown to Rita, Leroy has her parents as well as Jenny under his control, and Rita needs to find a way to save Jenny before it’s too late.
How have you found the process of writing a sequel? Having some experience of this did you have any problems with continuity?
With ‘Slur’ I kept a list of characters and their main characteristics, and also a list of place names so this was useful for the second book. I also re-read ‘Slur’ before publishing ‘A Gangster’s Grip’ to check for consistency. ‘A Gangster’s Grip’ has moved on five years so where Rita was 21 in ‘Slur’, she is 26 in ‘A Gangster’s Grip’. The same applies to the other main characters. I have therefore reflected this in their behaviour. In the first book Rita and her best friend Julie were young women who were focused on going out and having a good time until something tragic happens to change all that. In the second book they are both married and have responsibilities, and they have grown up a lot.
I know you’re an indie author Heather, and that you have your own Writing Services Business but we all need help at various stages of writing and I’d like to know more about the team you have behind you. Who helps you pull your books together until they’re ready to be published? And what changes did you make to how you went about things having gone through the process once?
It was definitely easier this time. With ‘Slur’ I didn’t know the ending until I was part way through the novel whereas with ‘A Gangster’s Grip’ I had everything mapped out, firstly in my head and then in a written outline. Things went much more smoothly as a result.
I had four brilliant beta readers, two from the UK and two from the US as I think it helps to get different perspectives. This was especially important for me in view of the subject matter in my second novel. It is quite gritty and hardcore but I didn’t want it to be so overboard that it alienated certain market sectors. My beta readers proved invaluable in making suggestions, and one of the things I changed as a result of their feedback was to reduce the amount of bad language.
I also have a great cover designer who I can’t praise enough – Chris Howard: firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s great at taking an initial concept and developing it into something really stunning and he understands just what I’m looking for. (I love the covers he produces Heather 🙂 Ed)
In terms of editing, proofreading and formatting – I do all that myself although one of my lovely author friends recommended some great editing software which I have found really useful. I don’t enjoy the formatting side of things but doing it myself cuts down on costs. Also, I was lucky to have a wonderful reviewer who pointed out a few proofreading errors that I had missed so I am really grateful to her for taking the trouble. It’s true what they say that even if you proofread for others, you can still miss mistakes in your own work because you’re just too close to it to spot the obvious.
In terms of preparing for publication, the approach was similar for both books. The difference lay in how I approached the writing side of things.
Your novels are set in the 1980’s which while I lived through them I remember practically nothing of – how challenging do you find getting the facts right? I always think I’d be checking every little thing to make sure that particular brand for example was around then.
‘A Gangster’s Grip’ has moved on five years so it’s set in 1991, but the same challenges apply. This is something that has come easier with this book than with the first one and, again, it’s something that one of my valued beta readers helped with. She pointed out that although the first book was set in the 80s, I didn’t have any of the characters smoking. As a non-smoker it hadn’t even occurred to me that people would have been smoking inside pubs and clubs at that time because it was before the smoking ban. I therefore made Rita a smoker who tends to light up when she is under stress. With ‘A Gangster’s Grip’ I found that I was automatically asking myself; what TV programmes would people be watching? what cars would they drive? what electrical equipment would they have? etc.
A few quick fire ones.
India or Iceland?
Probably Iceland although I would have to wrap up warm. I remember around 25 years ago somebody brought his holiday snaps of Iceland into work to show everyone. A lot of people were sniggering as beach holidays were more typical then and they thought he was a little eccentric. But I couldn’t understand why they thought it so funny – the pictures were incredible. It’s a fascinating place with all the geysers and hotsprings.
Multi Coloured Swap Shop or Tizwas ?
Tizwas. It was so off the wall and unpredictable and I’ve always liked Lenny Henry. As a comedian I think he’s underrated. He was doing a Vicky Pollard type character long before Little Britain.
Which character from any book would you most like to be? And why?
That’s a tricky one because I read a lot of thrillers and sagas so most of the characters I read about go through a lot of angst, to say the least. However, there is one character I came across recently who I admire. I wouldn’t necessarily like to have been in his situation but I admire the way he dealt with it – Mark Watney from the Martian. He’s so resilient, resourceful and upbeat. I think if I was stranded alone on Mars I would be lucky to survive a week let alone more than a year, but the way he handled the situation was brilliant.
Choose one thing that you would put into Room 101?
The programme directors at ITV. Why do they keep swapping scheduled programmes for sports? I switch the TV on expecting to watch Corrie or the X Factor and what do I find? Football! Groan.
As a thank you for being my guest today I’m going to become your Fairy Godmother and grant you 3 wishes – what would you spend them on? Choose wisely 🙂
OK, the first one is a selfish one. I want a limitless budget for book marketing and formatting so I can just concentrate on writing and have somebody else take care of the rest for me. (Oooh that would be lovely! Ed)
The second one would be a farm full of animals for my daughter. That way she would be as happy as a pig in the proverbial. She still has to finish her studies before she can collect the prize though. 🙂
The third one would be to pay all my son’s student debt off at the end of his medical degree (6 x £9k course fees plus six years’ maintenance loan) and reduce the hours that junior doctors have to work, to make things easier for him. I really don’t want him to go abroad just because junior doctors are so badly treated in the UK. Right, I’ll put my soap box away now before I get too carried away – promise. (And they wonder why we are short of home-grown doctors??)
Thanks for joining me Heather and I wish you every success for the sales of A Gangster’s Grip – I’ve already downloaded it onto my Kindle (other ereaders are available ;-)) and am looking forward to reading it! 🙂
Thank you Georgia. I hope you enjoy it.
And now those all important links!
You can find Heather here…
And get the books here…
(Heather tells me that Slur will be free for the 5 days following the publishing of this post)