We’re delighted to welcome author Valerie Holmes today as our first Guest on Mirren Jones’ Diary. Valerie is a well-established writer, having had over 30 titles published by Linford Romance/Mystery series, which are now finding their way into the eBook world. She writes both contemporary and historical novels. She is also an experienced creative writing tutor, working with The London School of Journalism and Writing Magazine.
MJ: Hello Valerie – it’s great to have you as our very first guest here – thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed.
VH: Thank you for asking me as a guest onto your blog. It is very kind of you both.
MJ: We’ve lots of questions for you Valerie, but let’s start with one about the very thing we’re engaged in right now – Guest Interviews. We’re hoping we meet your high standards on this with our interview because you’re very successful and well-versed in conducting fascinating Author interviews yourself – you’ve 19 on your Blog (starting in January 2013, at the rate of one per month) with well-known and award-winning authors such as Peter Lovesey and Jo Beverley.
VH: That is very generous of you to say so.
MJ: What is the particular appeal of these interviews for you personally, and how do you go about choosing authors for upcoming slots on your blog?
VH: When I decided to open a blog, I wanted it to be a place that would share inspiration and experience. I have been fortunate to meet some very experienced authors in my career to date, who have served their apprenticeship. Their careers and advice are inspirational and I hope that new writers who read my blog would find them so too.
MJ: How do you feel today about being on the opposite side as interviewee?
VH: It seems strange as I love asking questions and listening to the advice of those who have succeeded in their chosen genre.
MJ: Let’s move onto your novels and your writing next. Valerie – as we’ve said, you have a large number (over 30) of published novels in the genres of romance / historical mystery and you seem to have a bottomless pit of wonderful story ideas!
When did you first discover your talent for writing and how did it progress into where you are today?
VH: When my children were very young I started to experiment with creative writing. I won the Annual Ghost Story competition in Writing Magazine in 2002. This was my first breakthrough into print and won £1000. I then sold my first novella in 2003 and after a short break continued to sell over thirty more in the ten years since.
MJ: Why romance / history mystery – has it always been so? And do you have any aspirations to write in an additional (different) genre?
VH: I joined the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme, because they are fantastic at giving advice to authors who want to break into writing romantic fiction. I write adventures, some are more mystery and others reveal a love story. Both genres appeal to me as life rarely fits into strict categories, my writing does cross over.
I always have aspirations. Once my back-list has been converted to eBook format I shall be developing new work.
MJ: How do you keep the creative juices flowing?
VH: I play with ideas constantly. Historical settings, characters, places can trigger an idea, or for a change something contemporary might appeal. I swap from one thing to another as I find this keeps everything fresh.
MJ: Do you concentrate on writing only one book at a time or do you manage multiple projects? Also do you set yourself particular timescales for writing a book (eg one per year or more)?
VH: I am busy at the moment rewriting, polishing and presenting the titles in my back-list, so I am writing new short fiction in between working on the current title (‘The Valiant Fool’) but I did take time to write a new Pen Mystery. ‘Dead to Sin’ was the first and this will be followed by ‘Dead Man’s Pain’. I set my own deadlines, but these are more monthly targets and I fit my work and family life around each other in order to meet them.
MJ: Do you pitch your writing level at a target audience or simply use your own voice?
VH: If I am aiming a short story at a specific magazine or submitting a novella manuscript to my publisher then I have to work within what I know will be acceptable to their market. However, I always write within my own voice.
MJ: What are your views on the current trends in publishing and the advance of Indie authors / eBooks?
VH: I believe there is room in the market for all tastes. It is very hard to become published in a very competitive environment. You have to really be persistent and keep trying until you can break through. The introduction of eBook technology has made it easy for people to self publish. If their writing is of a high standard then this can provide an excellent opportunity to have their work show-cased, but there are so many, marketing is essential. I was thrilled when I sold my first mystery from eBook into print format.
MJ: Authors these days generally have Blogs and all manner of Social Media accounts to increase the size of their ‘Writer’s Platform’. You are active in the social media world with Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, as well as a WordPress Blog. What do you think are the benefits and drawbacks of all these?
VH: Time must be rationed when you start with social media. I need a lot of time to write and tutor, therefore, it took me quite a while to actually sign on to these sites. I have been on a steep learning curve with them all but I am now feeling as if I am starting to enjoy actually using them. They are excellent for reaching out and meeting people – like yourself.
MJ: You were the winner of the Annual Ghost Story competition in Writing Magazine in 2002 and you’ve been shortlisted twice for prizes awarded by the Romantic Novelists Association:
2006 – ‘Hannah of Harpham Hall’ – Romance Prize.
2011 – ‘Moving On’ – The Love Story of the Year.
Do you still have ambitions to win and how important do you think awards are for a novelist’s career progression?
VH: I began my writing career with winning a competition and still remember what a thrill that was. So I will always try. I do not think it can be anything but a positive move to be short-listed for an award, but mainly it is just great to know that someone rated your work at such a level. Basically, I love what I do and want to see my work evolve further in time. To me I am just beginning, so I suppose I am ambitious, but in a self-challenging way.
MJ: A few questions about reading next, Valerie. As writers we also read a lot, and are always interested in what other authors read too. Do you enjoy reading the same genre of novel as you enjoy writing?
VH: I read across genres.
MJ: What are the next five books on your ‘Must Read’ list?
VH: I do not have a list as such, mainly because I review books for the HNS, read for research, as well as my tutoring manuscripts. So along with my own work, I tend to read what I fancy depending on my work load. Recently, I have been reading novels by Nora Roberts/JD Robb, Peter Lovesey and Damien Dibben (YA). One book I am looking forward to reading is Bernard Cornwell’s ‘The Empty Throne’ – the 8th book in the Warrior Chronicles as he continues the story of Uhtred of Bebbanburg.
I enjoy love stories but also mystery and adventure.
MJ: Not all writers teach as well as write, but you do – having a significant role as a Creative Writing Tutor with several organisations. We’d like to ask you some questions about this next.
To what extent do you think it is possible to teach a model for creative writing?
VH: I do not really teach a creative writing model as such. I believe that as every individual is unique, a student needs to be met where they are in their ability. Everyone has an imagination, not everyone uses it to create fiction. Those that want to and are dedicated and determined can explore this as they learn the basic skills of creative writing. Constructive advice and encouragement can make the difference in seeing someone develop and grow as a writer.
MJ: In relative beginners which criteria do you use for critiquing their work?
VH: I literally treat every individual as that and my response will be different to each student.
MJ: Part of your work is to critique other authors’ writing. How easy do you find it to critique your own writing?
VH: I am too close to my own work, even if I leave it for a week or two, which is why it is read by my editor and proof reader before final polishing.
MJ: What encouragement and advice would you give to new writers who have a desire to succeed in what is now considered a very big pond with millions of little fish also trying to make a living as a writer?
VH: Be realistic about the difficulties in becoming a successful freelance writer. If you really want to do this then serve the apprenticeship, ride and learn from rejection. Read widely and take advice from those who are more experienced and successful. Be dedicated, determined, love what you do and never give up.
MJ: Finally, Valerie, we and all your other readers would love to know about your future plans: what you have ‘in the pipeline’ / planning stages and when we can expect your next release?
VH: In the summer I hope to release the eBook of ‘The Valiant Fool’, the second Penn Mystery: ‘Dead Man’s Pain’, and in the autumn the novel: ‘The Ebton Legacy’.
The large print edition of ‘Dead to Sin’ will be published in September 2014 and ‘Augusta’s Charm’ in December 2014.
MJ: Thank you so much Valerie for being our first Guest on Mirren Jones’ Diary! We’ve very much enjoyed constructing questions for you and hearing your interesting and informative answers. Good Luck with all your future work – we’ll look out for it!
Some of Valerie’s many published books
Where to connect with Valerie:
Website / blog: valerieholmesauthor.wordpress.com
Where to find Valerie’s books: