Today, we welcome Sally Quilford, whose latest novel, The Secret of Lakeham Abbey, the second in the Lakeham Abbey series, was published last month. (The first was Dark Marshes.) From the blurb, I see that both books are daaark. I hope to review both of them on the blog in coming weeks.
Sally is well known to we writers as an author of romantic intrigue fiction, and erstwhile competitions columnist in Writers Forum magazine. I knew that Sally has written a lot of books but I was gobsmacked to find 30 listed on Goodreads. A few years ago, I did one of Sally’s courses. I’ve never written so much, so fast, whilst teaching fulltime. Sally is also a quick worker, as you will see in her answers to my interview questions below:
- When you started creating ‘The Secret of Lakeham Abbey’, what elements came first? Did you, for instance, start with a scenario or a setting, or with particular characters?
I started with the setting. I’d already set one novel – The Dark Marshes – at Lakeham Abbey, and The Secret of Lakeham Abbey is a loose sequel to that. Readers of both will notice similar surnames turning up. But as with The Dark Marshes, the real story began with a voice. The story is told in epistolary form, and it wasn’t until I got Percy Sullivan’s voice (he is the teenage protagonist) that the other voices really came into focus. His particular style of ‘speaking’ set the tone for everyone else. It was the same with The Dark Marshes. The voice(s) that informed that were those of the twins Molly and Dolly, who speak as one.
I honestly feel that I have at least one more story to tell about Lakeham Abbey, which I believe is a character in its own right. I’m just unsure whether to send Percy there again, or jump forward in time to a more modern story to finish off the trilogy. But one day the right story will come to me.
- How long did it take you to write this book?
About a month, I think. I’d intended to enter it into a competition on Wattpad, for Carina, so I had to write it quickly in order to meet the rules of that competition. It didn’t get anywhere in that, so I polished it up and sent it to Crooked Cat. The rest, as they say, is history.
- ‘The Secret of Lakeham Abbey’ is about a character being convicted of murder and sentenced to execution. Did you feel uncomfortable, angry or emotional when writing? If so, in which parts?
I often cry when I’m writing and it’s usually a good sign. The first letter to Percy from Anne Pargeter, who is waiting to be executed set me off crying and I knew then that this was a story worth telling. I don’t know that I felt uncomfortable about writing about an execution, though some of the things I read as part of my research about executions going wrong, were very disturbing. However, I am not in favour of capital punishment, because of the dreadful mistakes that have been made, and I think I poured some of that into the story.
- Do you have a special time to write? How is your day structured? Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day? Do you write every day?
Structure? What’s that? No, honestly, I’m terribly disorganised about my writing and can only write when I have a compelling idea. But when I do have a story to tell, I can keep going for hours and have written as much as 7000 words in a day in order to meet a deadline.
- For you, what is the hardest thing about writing?
Not having a story to tell. My family is going through a difficult time at the moment, with my husband being very ill, and whilst writing is usually my escape from stress, I’m finding it hard to settle down and write anything because of my worries about him. I have plenty of ideas, but they come to nothing. So I’m a bit like a bottle of pop that’s been shaken up. I’m ready to explode. If I can explode onto the page, rather than having a meltdown in Tesco, it will be much better for me and anyone else in a five mile radius…
- Have you (or do you) suffer from the dreaded writer’s block? Any tips for overcoming it?
I suffer from times when the stories just won’t come, which I suppose is writers’ block. Normally I just write my way through it, even if what I write is absolute rubbish. As I’ve said, that’s not working at the moment, but I live in hope that when the time is right, the writing will be there waiting for me. So yes, I do believe in writers’ block, but I also think that sometimes we just need to recharge our batteries. We are not bottomless jars of ideas. We sometimes need to step back and let the jar fill up again, so I’d advise any new writer not to mistake just needing time to regroup for writers’ block. Just because you’ve nothing to say now doesn’t mean you’ll never have anything to say in the future.
- Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?
I’m a binge reader. I have weeks where I don’t touch any books, then weeks and weeks where I can devour two or three books in a week. I do find it hard to read others’ work when writing my own novels. I find myself aping the style of the author I’m reading, so I’m much better keeping away from other novels so that my voice and ideas remain my own. My favourite novelists are Agatha Christie, Nevil Shute, Lee Child, Stephen King, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Barbara Cartland (yes really – I love a bit of Barbara when I don’t want to have to think too much). But I read lots of different authors and genres and don’t like to narrow my options.
Thank you very, Sally.