I was recently fortunate enough to be asked to take part in a conversation with the wonderful Angela Marsons on the Liz Loves Books Blog. We had great fun sharing our experiences, and if you want to know about the ups and downs of becoming a writer – read on!
Angela’s book Silent Scream took the Amazon charts by storm, as have all her following books, and she’s a lovely lady!
Angie: Rachel, thank you so much for agreeing to answer some of my questions. I read your story at a particularly low point in my writing journey and found it incredibly inspirational. I know you faced rejection with your first book Only The Innocent but you managed to keep the faith and keep going. How did you do that? Was there someone in particular who consistently urged you to carry on?
Rachel: To be honest, I only approached a small number of agents – no more than six, if I remember correctly. I didn’t write Only the Innocent with any intention of being published, and it was support and encouragement from family that persuaded me to try to get a publishing deal. The rejections weren’t totally negative. In fact, one agent was terrific but felt that my book wasn’t what publishers were looking for at that time. So I just forgot about it for about six months. And then I saw that people were uploading to the Kindle and I decided to have a go – which were my words precisely. If it hadn’t been for my family believing that my book was a good read, I would never have self-published.
What about you? What was your route to such amazing success, and tell me a bit about the best and the worst bits of your story to date?
Angie: I started submitting relationship based books to publishers about 25 years ago and the response was always ‘we like it, we just don’t love it’. I had always wanted to write crime but thought the plotting and planning was a challenge too far. Eventually I had to write the story that I wanted to write expecting to fall at 10,000 words. Unbelievably I did finish and called it Silent Scream. Finally I managed to secure an agent who wasn’t able to sell the book to traditional publishers. We parted ways and that was the lowest point of my writing journey. The high point for me was when the editor I’d worked with at the agency submitted Silent Scream to the digital publishers Bookouture who signed me in a four book deal. I read your amazing story at that low point and it truly inspired me to keep going. Your incredible self-publishing success really helped give me hope. Have there been any similar low points where something you have read or seen resonated deeply with you?
Rachel: Because I had never planned to be a full time writer (although can’t imagine any other life now!) I never really suffered the lows that I know so many people have gone through. If I lost my agent now, I think that would be truly terrible and I hope and pray that she can put up with me for a good while longer. My low points come when I read the first draft of one of my own books and wonder if I will ever manage to knock it into shape, and then I hear of really famous, successful authors (and it would probably be unfair to name names) whose books have been edited and rewritten ten times over before being published. I was talking to a really excellent writer the other day whose book had been acquired by a top publisher, but it had been four years from when she was taken on by her agent until they had a book that was good enough to publish. That gives me hope when I read a first draft (which I am about to do today!). Often the issue is getting the characters right and credible. In my books I like to create dilemmas for my protagonists, and readers don’t always agree with the decisions they have made. But you have created such an amazing character in Kim Stone. Where did your inspiration for her come from, because I just love her.
Angie: I don’t think your agent is going anywhere and if they do, give me a call because I’ll take the job. Like you I like my characters to have an inner story going on that draws the reader in. I think, for me, that comes from writing character driven stories first. I actually want to know everything that makes my characters tick, even the minor ones. Although that means that I get to know them so well they become major characters instead.
The voice of Kim Stone had been rattling around in my head for a few years but she sounded quite brusque and rude. I knew how she sounded before I knew her back story. I didn’t dare commit her to paper as I thought no-one would like her. Once I decided to give her a voice in Silent Scream her character began to round itself out and although she still sounded brusque and rude, the reasons for that attitude became clearer in my mind. As did the passion for justice and the tenacity that helps soften her lack of social skills. I do love writing about her and even I never know what she’s going to do next. Your books also feature the same protagonist and I wonder if your DCI Tom Douglas has ever surprised you by doing something you didn’t plan and how do you keep the character fresh?
Rachel: I never intended to write a series, and I like to think that it isn’t really a series. When I wrote Only the Innocent somebody was killed in the first chapter – so I needed a policeman. I had started my second book without the police in sight, and then readers started to want to know more about Tom Douglas, so he’s become a fixture. But I never think of my books as being about Tom. They are about (and often told through the voice of) the victims and the perpetrators of the crimes. Tom and Becky – his DI – actually only feature in less than half of the chapters.
Tom does sometimes surprise me, though. In Kill Me Again he nearly loses it with somebody, and in Stranger Child he gets very emotional. I am going to stick with Tom, but I have some ideas for other thrillers where there are no police involved at all.
What about you – are you sticking with Kim Stone, or will you be exploring other major characters?
Angie: I’m definitely sticking with Kim for now. Luckily for me she seems to have a lot to say and I enjoy revealing something new about her character or past with each book.
Many reviews have asked for the rest of her team to get bigger parts in forthcoming books which is something I’m definitely looking to do. Only last night I was reading some of the reviews for Kill me Again – which are obviously phenomenal – which made me wonder how you feel about the not so favourable ones. At first I took them all very personally and it took quite a while to develop a thicker skin and not be incredibly hurt but at first it was pretty tough. Do you have a particular strategy for dealing with it?
Rachel: It’s really hard when you get the first bad one, isn’t it? But I don’t expect everybody to like my books, any more than I would expect people to share a taste in clothes. Sometimes people don’t agree with the actions taken by my protagonist but that’s fine, because I want people to think about what they would do under the same circumstances. I suppose I am disappointed when people feel that, because they haven’t agreed with the choices made, it means the book isn’t good. But I do read the bad reviews and try to see if I can learn something from them. If the majority were bad I think I would give up and crawl into a very small hole – but while people tell both of us how much they are enjoying or novels, I think the only sensible attitude to the bad ones is to take them on the chin.
Your reviews are amazing. But when you first started writing, did you give any thought to the reviews, or did you just have an overwhelming desire to tell the stories that you wanted to tell, without worrying whether people would love them or hate them?
Angie: I love this question. When I first started writing it was simply to tell the stories that were bursting out of me. I just had to get them down on paper. I didn’t worry about reviews because the idea of being published was such a far-fetched dream. When the publication of Silent Scream began to draw closer I found myself worrying about it quite a lot. Because I am a bit too sensitive sometimes I worried that they would make me want to just disappear and never write again – and with another three books to write that would have been a problem. Once I read my first few bad reviews I was quite philosophical about it and chose to concentrate on the good ones. I think some can be constructive and others are just a bit mean. But on a more positive note, what has been the highlight of your writing journey so far – the moment you wish you could relive?
Rachel: There have been so many highlights over the last four and a half years – getting Only the Innocent to number one, selling my first million ebooks, receiving my first tweet from a reader to say how much she had enjoyed my book. But I think the very best moment came as recently as last year. Amazon had done an analysis of sales on Kindle since its launch five years previously. I had been named the number one self-published author in that period, which was brilliant. But the thing that really blew me away was being named the 14th highest rated author across all authors – beating popular writers like Jeffrey Archer and Karin Slaughter. I was totally staggered by this result, so I think that has to be the high spot. What about you?
Angie: Those are some incredible moments and I’m chuckling as my own favourites are so similar. Reaching number one with Silent Scream was totally mind-blowing. I was like a shaken bottle of pop. Signing a print deal with Twenty7 books was unbelievable. Seeing my first book in paperback format and actually holding it in my hands was a truly emotional moment but I think my favourite moment is when my publisher first responded to the submission of Silent Scream with the response ‘We don’t like it, we love it.’
Oh Rachel, I could talk to you all day but I fear Liz may have to throw us off her blog so finally, may I ask if you can give your fans (and me obviously) any clue as to what you’re working on now?
Rachel: I agree – we could chat forever because life is just so exciting for us both right now. I’m working on the next Tom Douglas book, which I’m really enjoying. And I also have an idea for a stand-alone book that has been in my head for a while. It’s a risk – I don’t know if my readers will be happy if Tom isn’t around – but it’s a story that works better without the police (although there’s a lot of bad stuff going on!). That will have to wait until Tom’s next story is finished – but I can’t wait to start. It’s been great chatting to you, and perhaps you could sign off by telling all your fans what they can expect next from you. You seem to write much more quickly than me (although I never seem to stop working!).
Angie: I think your readers will be happy with whatever you write and I’m very excited to hear more about this stand alone book. Oh, how I wish I wrote as quickly as people might think. Luckily for me I had already written a few Kim Stone books prior to being signed so I had a couple in the bank but am now writing to schedule with Kim book 5 being published around November time. I still have three more Kim books to write to fulfil under my Bookouture contract so at the moment it’s still all about Kim. Thank you so much for taking the time to have this conversation with me and for answering some questions that I’ve wanted to ask you for a while.
Rachel: And thank you so much for the chat – and I can’t wait to read more of Kim Stone’s exploits!
Originally posted on Liz Loves Books – with thanks to Liz and Angela for agreeing to allow me to repost this conversation.