Confessions by Caro Land – author interview

To celebrate the publication of Caro Land’s second novel Confessions, author Caroline England talks to me about her writing inspiration and publication journey.

Confessions Caro LandCaroline, thank you so much for joining me and congratulations on the publication of Confessions – your second novel writing as Caro Land!

The hardest part of writing a book is often starting it in the first place. How long did it take to write your first manuscript?

I wrote my first manuscript when I was hiding in the novel closet! I had admitted to friends and family that I was writing a few poems and short stories, but I kept the novel writing to myself as I felt a bit of a fool trying to write one. At the time I was still working as a solicitor and I (naughtily) penned the first few lines of A Slight Diversion at my office desk. I’d had a dream the night before and thought the handsome fantasy guy would be a great character in a chick-lit up-and-down love story. Funnily enough, the novel was written from the POV of a female solicitor…

I really enjoyed writing the story and I finished the book fairly quickly. What I didn’t realise then was that it was too short – around 45,000 words – and that what I thought was a complete novel was actually just a first draft. Now I’m older and wiser I know that first drafts aren’t as brilliant as us writers think, and that it takes a lot of polishing until your plot, your vocabulary, your dialogue and characterisation positively gleams!

Writing the manuscript is the first step – how long did it take you to secure an agent?

Watching Horsepats Feed the RosesStill in the novel closet (but writing more) I was approached by ACHUKA books. The editor had read one of my published short stories and asked if I had another eleven for a collection. I was delighted to say yes, and my short story collection Watching Horsepats Feed the Roses was published. This gave me the self belief to come out of the novel closet and offer A Slight Diversion to ACHUKA, which they were delighted to publish too.

It was wonderful to have both digital publications out in the world, but what was even The Wife's Secretbetter was the confidence it gave me in my own writing ability, and I concentrated more seriously on the other first draft manuscripts of the psychological thrillers I had already written. Beneath the Skin [now called ‘The Wife’s Secret’] was the first of those and I started sending it out to literary agents. Though, like most authors, I had a lot of rejections (and a book deal that fell through), I eventually got lucky and found my agent through submitting a short story (again! The moral is to get those short stories out there!).

Getting published is every writer’s dream! Tell me about your book deal moment.

The offer from HarperCollins came through a few months after signing up with my agent. Fortunately I didn’t know a great deal about the process back then, so I wasn’t constantly fretting or looking out for emails. My agent didn’t tell me about any rejections, but waited until an offer was made. I had assumed that if an editor liked a manuscript, that would be a yes, but in fact any new novel needs the thumbs up from various departments such as marketing and sales. I was thrilled to be offered a digital deal initially, but the real pleasure was when the publishers confirmed the book would be in paperback too!

What is your latest book Confessions about?

My psychological thrillers Beneath the Skin, My Husband’s Lies and Betray Her (out in July 2020) are written under my Caroline England name. I have also written two legal dramas, and because they are a different genre, they have been published by a different publisher and under the pen name Caro Land.

The first, Convictions, was published this January, and it introduced my protagonist Natalie Bach, a feisty but fun solicitor who returns to her old job with a broken heart. Nat faces moral, personal & legal dilemmas. With the help of fellow solicitor, Gavin Savage, she gets to the bottom of several challenging legal cases and conundrums.

Convictions and Confessions 3

The follow up, Confessions, has just been published. Nat is facing more personal turmoil and legal challenges. While trying to make a difference, she walks the fine line between being a help and a hinderance.

Seconded to criminal law firm, Savage Solicitors, she finds herself out of her depth when she’s handed a complicated and tragic case of assisted suicide. Will she get to the bottom of what really happened?

With a heavy workload to juggle, can Nat untangle her own feelings from another very personal and troubling investigation?

“This book made me cry, at times, and hold my breath in anticipation but it also made me smile, a lot. Once again, a captivating story of love, loss, friendship and family with a fascinating insight into the daily lives of solicitors. I LOVED it!”

Where did you find the inspiration for your Natalie Bach series?

They say to write what you know. I was once a solicitor, so I thought it might be a good idea to write a series revolving around… well, a feisty feminist solicitor! The firm I worked for as a trainee was a criminal law practise, then I moved onto divorce and after that professional indemnity work, so I have plenty of experiences and cases to draw ideas from!

Us writers often spend time alone, but how are you finding lockdown?

Apart from having a houseful, I have to confess that not a lot has changed for me writing-wise. I’m usually home-alone during the day, so suddenly having four other people making demands (how very dare they!) can be disruptive, but I’m still wearing joggers and a hoodie and scribbling away at my desk. At this time of the year I usually venture outside for the Newcastle Noir, CrimeFest and Theakston Old Peculiar’s crime writing festivals, so I have missed appearing on panels, chatting to readers, seeing writer friends such as yourself and stalking celebs!

What’s coming next for you book-wise?

The UK standard paperback of my Caroline England psychological thriller Betray Her will be published on the 16th July. Here’s a quote by the author Sheryl Browne to give you a flavour of the story:

Betray HerBetray Her is exquisitely written. I identified with the narrator so profoundly through her grief at one point, I literally stopped breathing. Alternating between present and past, this is a cleverly woven story, full of passion and intrigue, sexual tension and desperate longing. Two girls, poles apart in their early upbringing, are drawn together at boarding school to form an unlikely friendship that endures into adulthood. But as we examine the friendship, going back to the musty halls of the boarding school, forward into the girls’ teenage years, on to the present, it’s clear that the friendship is not all that it seems. There are secrets under the surface, secrets that shaped who the women now are. There is jealousy and manipulation, co-dependency to a degree. Their relationship is tumultuous and, with a man in the mix who is married to one friend, but has a history with the other, there is a tinderbox of emotion simply waiting for a spark to ignite it, bringing us the final explosive conclusion. I was fascinated by this book, in awe of the writing. Mesmerising storytelling. A taut, tantalising thriller and one I would highly recommend.

Confessions 2

 

Thank you so much, Caroline, for answering my questions.

Confessions by Caro England is out now!

Guest post: My Writing Day by Sam Carrington

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts, where I take a peek into the writing life of published authors. Today, I welcome the lovely Sam Carrington, who talks us through a typical writing day. Over to you, Sam.

I feel privileged to be able to write full time – it’s something I could only have imagined a few years ago.

But, I should really add in a disclaimer here. Full time writer? That implies I spend around eight hours a day, at least five days a week writing, doesn’t it?

Er … *coughs to clear throat*

The reality is, I do not actually spend all those hours, every day, writing.

When I left my full-time employment, I suddenly found I had all this time. And when you think you have all that time, something weird happens. So many other things need doing. Cleaning the house, walking the dog, watching box sets on Netflix, Twitter, Facebook … you get the picture.

The hours spent fingers-to-keyboard tend to be more like two hours a day, not eight! But the other things can be as important. I do trawl Twitter and Facebook a lot. That’s because it’s where I can connect to readers and other authors – it’s networking. Therefore, it’s work.

I might spend time outside walking the dogs, I might watch TV – but I’ll be thinking about my novel, my plot and characters. They are forever in my head waiting to become words on the screen. Again, that means it’s work.

I don’t stress anymore that I’m ‘wasting time’ if I’m not writing. All the other things that I used to think of as distractions, are the things that allow my creative process to do its thing.

For the last few days, though, I’ve altered my routine slightly. Whereas the first thing I’d do every morning at 7 a.m. would be to check Twitter and Facebook, respond to comments, messages, and check in with what’s been going on (which could take a few hours), instead, I’ve been opening my manuscript first. Once I’ve hit my word count goal – which is 1000 words, then I open social media. It’s worked pretty well so far.

Of course, where I write also impacts on my productivity. I don’t have ‘my space’ yet, hopefully that is coming later this year. Currently I am sitting at the dining room table with my laptop and notebooks to write book three.

Sam Carrington Where I Write

Sam Carrington’s writing place – what a wonderful view!

I love having the view of rolling fields and Dartmoor beyond, it’s peaceful and inspirational. Looking out of the window gives me thinking time. Despite this, I do need a designated area that’s just mine. The fact that I’m so visible and in the middle of the lounge/diner, means I am forever getting disturbed and side-tracked by the kids or husband. The noise of the TV is annoying – and these things definitely prevent me writing as much as I could.

Only time will tell if the new room (without my fab view ☹) does have a positive impact on how productive I am!

For now, I’m off to write a thousand words…

Good luck, Sam! Thank you so much for giving us a snapshot of your day! Sam’s book Saving Sophie is available here, and her second novel Bad Sister will be out 30 November 2017 and is available for pre-order here.

 

How I Got My Literary Agent (Part two)

If you haven’t read my last post about my experiences of submitting manuscripts to literary agents, click here to read the back story.

If you have (and thank you!) then you might recall I’d written another manuscript (The Boy at the Window) based on a family who never left the house. This was from the point of view of an eight-year-old boy. The style was totally different to my previous work. I entered it into a few novel competitions, and I was longlisted for three of them! After writing three manuscripts, subbing one to death (if you’ve read it – you’ll see the irony), this was an amazing turnaround. This was something I could put in my covering letter! At last, I had something useful to say to agents when I submitted it!

The agent stats for this MS (The Boy at the Window) are:

  • Total submissions:                 16
  • Form Rejections:                     2
  • Personalised rejections:     3
  • Full MS Requests:                  7
  • No reply:                                      4

The full manuscript requests for this book, unfortunately, didn’t lead to representation; most said it needed work, but good luck in finding another agent.

To everyone who has ever entered competitions and not been placed, it says nothing about your talent as a writer. And don’t ever think that because an agent doesn’t respond within hours, days, weeks, months, after an initial submission that they’re not interested. One of my full requests was after three months. It’s a good sign that the agent is prioritising her clients, but also that she has a lot of submissions.

But, after all of these rejections, I had a new category:

Would see other work: 3

By the time one of these lovely agents replied asking for a full request, I had almost finished another manuscript that I’d been working on (they say when subbing one – begin another). I was within weeks of putting the final touches to 99 Red Balloons (after re-writing/editing it about twenty times, printing it off and editing, sending it to beta readers, then editing again, and printing the MS for a second time for rogue typos – it’s a long slog!).

Although this agent enjoyed The Boy at the Window, there was a lot of work to be done. She said to send over my next manuscript when it was finished. I replied that I had another that would soon be ready.

Of course, as a subbing writer, you’ve already done your research about the agents you are sending it to, but I checked her profile again. This was my dream agent. It was why I subbed to her in the first place.

In case she didn’t like it – a thought still ingrained from years of submissions to agents – I subbed to a few others too.

I received several nice personalised rejections, but seven full manuscript requests that led to FOUR offers of representation! It was such a surreal time.

One of these was from Caroline Hardman, my dream agent. Caroline had come back to me quickly after reading half of my book and said she’d love to represent me. I felt awful having to turn down the other agents who were great, but I knew Caroline was The One. Her and Joanna’s agency is so highly respected, plus Caroline’s originally from Manchester (I know that sounds strange, but it’s LOCAL to me!). Caroline ‘got’ my characters and the book.

So in June last year, I signed on the dotted line …

My debut novel 99 RED BALLOONS will be published 24th August 2017 (Avon HarperCollins) and is available for pre-order here.

How I Got My Literary Agent (Part one)

Apologies in advance for this long post. If you’re a writer seeking an agent, then you’ll understand that it’s a long ‘journey’ (sorry – that’s so X Factor). I’ve put this in two parts, so as not to lose your interest. And, actually, in some ways, it is a bit like X Factor.

In June 2016, I was lucky enough to be signed with a literary agency. I say lucky, but it took years of writing and rewriting several manuscripts to get that ‘lucky’ (one of my favourite quotes is: ‘The harder I work, the luckier I am’). If you’re reading this and have just started out writing, or have been writing for years getting nowhere, my message to you is DON’T GIVE UP!

I’d written short stories off and on since the late 1990s, and had enrolled on online writing course (which I still need to finish…). But life got in the way, as it always tends to do, until 2012 when I began writing A Novel. I’d had an idea for years, and managed to write about 65,000 words. I never thought I’d be able to write that many in the first place, so that was a huge personal achievement.

Meanwhile, part of an assignment for the writing course was to look up literary agencies. I had only a vague idea what these were. Previously, I had assumed a writer would simply send their manuscript to a publisher and wait The Long Wait for the postman to return it. But thankfully, it was easier (and cheaper) than that – no postage involved: it was sent to literary agents via email.

It was now 2014 and I made a list of a few agents who I thought might like my novel, sending them the first three chapters, or however many pages they wanted (some of them vary greatly), along with a cover letter. I’d researched online what to write in said cover letter – and was anxious about the tiniest things (kind regards or yours sincerelyMs, Miss, or Mrs?)

So I sent off my submission package and waited. And waited. And … yes, you guessed it … waited.

Zilch.

Tumbleweed. Lots of it.

They must be really busy, these agents, I thought. I’ll just send out some more batches.

A few batches later there was an email from one of Them. This is what it said:

 Thank you very much for your enquiry regarding your work.  We take on new clients very sparingly and in order to do so we have to feel that something is very special indeed.  Having considered your enquiry we’re afraid we are not confident we could find you a publisher so we regret that we’re unable to take the matter further.  We wish you the best of luck elsewhere.

It was my first rejection and it really hurt. I’d spent nearly two years writing this manuscript and they thought it wasn’t ‘special’. I soon learned that this agency wasn’t the only one to think that. The rejections just kept rolling in:

We’ve now had a chance to consider your work and I’m afraid we don’t feel that we are the right agency to represent it.

Thank you for sharing it with us though and we wish you the best of luck in finding representation elsewhere.

I learned from my writing group that these were ‘form rejections’. Agents are busy people. As well as ‘agenting’, they receive hundreds of manuscripts a WEEK. They don’t have time to tell us why they don’t connect with our work.

I kept re-writing The Book – changing the first few chapters, the ending, the middle – someone, somewhere just might like it.

But no, no they didn’t. The stats for this book are as follows:

  • Total submissions sent out: 27
  • Form rejections:                      16
  • Personal rejections (where the agent will give a few words why it wasn’t for them): 1
  • No reply:                                    10

I’d also entered it into several competitions – there was nothing going on there either. I had to face up to the fact that this book wasn’t going to be The One. But I loved writing. While looking after my children and working, it was something just for me.

In 2014 and 2015 I’d written two manuscripts as part of NaNoWriMo – where for thirty days in November, writers across the world unite in attempting to write 50,000 words in thirty days. I won’t lie – it was a hard slog. I came home from work one day with a migraine yet still typed three thousand words because the next day was the last and I couldn’t let myself down.

So I knew I could write more words. These two manuscripts, however, were shocking. Well, they might be okay, but I’m not going to read them for a long time as I’ve a feeling they’re really bad.

Between writing these, however, I’d written another book. I’d read an article about a family in New York who’d been kept from the outside world by their father. This wasn’t the one to hook an agent, but it was the one that had a unique-enough hook to get my foot in the door…

More in part two.

My debut novel 99 RED BALLOONS will be published 24th August 2017 (Avon HarperCollins) and is available for pre-order here.