Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland: June Considine

June Considine, who also writes under the pen name, Laura Elliot, has written sixteen novels, twelve for children, four for adults. Her novels, which include When the Bough Breaks, Fragile Lies, The Prodigal Sister and Stolen Child, have been translated into many languages. Her short stories have been broadcast on RTE and have appeared in a number of teenage anthologies. She has also worked as a freelance journalist and magazine editor.

Welcome, June. So when did the writing bug first take hold?

I began to write in my late twenties when I at last overcame the belief that only ‘other people’ could be writers. I worked as a journalist for ten years before I began to write fiction.

And your first publishing break?  

The first book I wrote was for children in the ten plus age group. It was fantasy – sadly, pre-Harry Potter. I sent it to two publishers. One publisher rejected it and the second publisher claimed to have no knowledge of ever receiving it. I suspect it slipped under the slush pile and died from underexposure. I was inexperienced enough to believe that two disappointments signalled the end of my career as a novelist and returned to journalism. About a year later I met someone at a reception and casually mentioned my lost manuscript. Unbeknownst to me she approached the publisher, whom she knew. He contacted me and asked  to see a copy of the manuscript  which I duly delivered that day.  The following afternoon he rang to tell me my book would be published.

Do you have an agent and do you think it necessary to have one?

Yes. I have an agent. Whether or not an agent is a necessity depends on what you want to do. Most UK publishers only work through agents so, in that case, a good agent is necessary. In Ireland it is still possible to engage directly with most publishers. For examining contracts and acting as a buffer between you and your editor when things are slightly fraught, it’s good to have an agent on your side.

What are your feelings on social media for authors?

Social media is extremely time-consuming. A lot of what we do seems to go out into a vast black hole and, apart from friends and colleagues, it’s hard to quantify who it’s reaching and its impact on sales. But, as writers, we can’t ignore it. We need an online presence – and the knowledge to use it effectively.

And do you also contribute to the marketing / PR of your work?

I contribute by publicising my work as much as I can with interviews, blogs, social media, newspaper features etc.

Did anyone inspire you to write, June?

No. I was born with the yearning.

How long does it take you to complete a book – do you write everyday?

About eighteen months. When I’m working on a book I try to write every day. I begin early and work until about four in the afternoon with a lunch and coffee break. If I’m on a flow I’ll work at night but, I find a regular routine is the most effective way to work. My books are defined as psychological thrillers. I didn’t set out to write in that genre but I’m drawn to exploring how certain events create an impact and how people respond to difficult situations.

What’s your opinion of the current state of publishing in general?

It’s tough…but it was never easy. So much depends on how your book is marketed. The front table display in a book shop is every writer’s dream but is not always attainable. You need promotion, especially if you are a newcomer or not in the elite household name circle. And you’re always competing with the next batch of books coming on steam. On the plus side, there’s the digital publishing revolution. This has opened up a whole new land of opportunity for writers to self-publish, particularly for authors whose books are rights reverted.

And on Indie publishing – would you consider it?

Indie publishing is massive. Some of it is really bad – but some is excellent. I attended the Historic Novel Conference in London last year where an award was presented for the most professional self-published novel. The shortlist was of an extremely high standard and the covers, design and presentation on a par with, and better, than many traditionally published books. I’d certainly consider self-publishing – but I’m slightly daunted by the idea of promoting my books online. I’m not a Luddite but my evolution from that status to techie is a slow progression.

Thoughts on literary competitions and awards?

Their importance can’t be denied. They establish reputations, open new doors in terms of exposure at literary festivals etc, and offer a writer a track record when it’s time to negotiate a new contract.

And if you’ve ever had any – how do you handle negative reviews?

I’ve had negative reviews. When my first book came out I had an appalling review in which my book was described as ‘risible’. I wanted to crawl under the carpet and stay there for a week. The next review for the same book described it as ‘brilliant’, Who was right? And does it matter? The only opinion I needed was from my readers and they obliged by making my book a best seller.  Amazon – with its one to five-star reviews – has added a whole new dimension to reviews. Unfortunately, you can’t send such reviews up in smoke or flitter them into the litter bin. The only thing to do with reviews, good, bad or indifferent, is to wear them lightly on your shoulders – unless, of course, you read a constructive one that resonates with your heart and points out a flaw in the structure of your novel that you were unwilling to acknowledge. Such reviews are invaluable.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Lots of advice – but, mainly, sit down and start your book. Let it flow, don’t worry about how it reads, spelling, grammar, style etc. Just get your idea down as fast as you can. The real work will start once that’s done. You will edit, change, agonise, sweat over the next stages – but you’ve written down the bones of your idea and given yourself the momentum to continue.

In relation to the ‘Write what you know’ advice that we hear so often? Agree or Disagree?

Agree – but don’t be afraid to plumb your imagination.

Is there a book by another writer that you wish you had written?

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

And six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?

Anita Shreve, Margaret Atwood, Nicola Sturgeon, Bruce Springsteen, Stephen Fry, A.A.Gill.

Finally, June, can you share with us what you are working on now?

I’ve just finished a novel, another psychological thriller about a couple who, having reared their family, decide to separate and seek what they believe will be the perfect divorce, one without acrimony or blame. But two things conspire to thwart them – the collapse of the Celtic Tiger and the arrival into their lives of a woman they both knew when they were teenagers. She’s a woman with a score to settle – and the book explores how the past catches up with them in ways they never expected.

Stay connected to June’s [and Laura Elliot’s] writings via Facebook and website links below…

Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Lissa Oliver

Author Lissa Oliver’s published books include Nero – The Last Caesar, Gala Day, Chantilly Dawns and a collection of short stories Tales Of The Turf & Other Worlds. She regularly facilitates creative writing classes, is a Director of the Irish Copyright Licensing Agency and is a long-serving Executive Officer of the Irish Writers’ Union. Lissa is also an award-winning freelance horseracing journalist and broadcaster. Based in Kildare, she writes for The Irish Field, International Thoroughbred, Racetrack, European Bloodstock News and European Trainer, among others. She has twice been a Finalist for the prestigious ‘Derby Awards’ in the UK and was named ‘2014 Person of the Year’ in Libya for services to the racing industry.

Welcome to the series, Lissa! Can you tell us when you first began to write?

The moment I could hold a pencil and form letters. Older relations tell me they never remember me not writing and my earliest primary school books are full of my little stories about all my teddies! I began my first serious adult novel at 16.

And your first time to be published?

I had a poem published in the Brownie magazine when I was 7, and things published in the kiddies’ section of Woman’s Realm around that same time, but I don’t think they count! An article published in an Australian horseracing magazine at 16 got me started, but it was a long wait – my full-time journalist career began when I was 40 and my first novel was published when I was 36.

So how did your ‘breakthrough’ opportunity come about?

After a few articles submitted here and there, another Australian horseracing publication accepted an article and begged for more. These were seen by other editors, who requested articles. This quickly snowballed and all English language (and one Chinese!) horseracing publications now commission me for articles on a permanent basis.

My novels were not so easy. I self-published the first two, then finally had number three published and that same publisher bought the rights of my second, previously self-published, novel. I’m currently writing my fourth novel for that publisher. I believe being well-known within my niche market of horseracing made a big difference in securing a publisher. As an unknown writer, they just couldn’t take a risk, regardless of the actual manuscript.

Being immersed in the world of horseracing then, is your writing genre specific?

My first novel was a fictionalised biography of the Roman Emperor Nero, simply because I love reading the first and second century Roman authors and had an interest in the Caesar family, of which Nero was the last. I have an idea for a second Roman novel, whenever I finally get the time!

Since then, however, all my work has centred on horseracing, as that is another of my consuming passions and my full-time ‘day job’ is as a horseracing journalist and broadcaster. It’s a unique world, due to the horse itself. Those involved work a seven-day week all year round and are out working in the yard from 6am, if not earlier in some cases, so it’s a case of being in bed by 9-10pm at the latest. From stable yard to racecourse to bed, that’s pretty much the existence of most, so it’s a little bubble of a world, separate to the outside world! That alone provides plenty of plot opportunities and the all-important “What If..?” trigger for a story. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a corrupt world, it’s very tightly policed, so the Dick Francis plots are all imagination and pretty much used up by now, so I look more to the psychological aspect for drama, rather than straight thriller.


Lissa Oliver 2

And in that context, do you agree that authors should write what they know?

Definitely agree! I couldn’t imagine not writing about the horseracing world at this point in my life! I don’t have to think about the details, they’re second nature. However, I did enjoy writing about first century Rome and would like to do so again. It took a lot of research, but I enjoyed that, and one could argue that, after successful research, I was writing about what I know! Ultimately, the reader has to believe in the world you have created and your story must be credible. Whether that comes through personal knowledge or research is entirely up to you.

Did anyone, famous or not, inspire you to write?

Probably my first English teacher at secondary school, Mrs Malenczk (Haling Manor, Croydon), who really saw something and encouraged me. I have always been a great reader and devour novels, but it was only Winston Graham’s books that I connected with on a practical basis. I’d already completed one novel by then, but recognised similarities in his method of handling time that reassured me I was doing it right. The minute I first read Interview With A Vampire by Anne Rice was the minute everything I’ve written since has been inspired by. I just aspire to write my own ‘Interview’ book one day. The whole technical aspect, craft, tools were inspirational, even without getting into plot, character or drama.

Sticking with the theme of inspiration, give us the names of six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?!

Goodness! Even the favourite beverage is a hard one! Just nosing out a pot of tea is a good room temperature pint of real ale! So sitting in a British pub with me somewhere are… well, do we want to relax and chat? Have an energetic debate? Or do I just sit and listen to my heroes?! There are 18 people already! Shall we just settle for Ernesto (Che) Guevara, Sir Peter O’Sullevan (racing commentator, writer), Marcus Otho (1st Century Roman Emperor), Nanny Ogg (fictional character from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld), George Fordham (Victorian jockey) and Andrew Eldritch (The Sisters Of Mercy rock band). Could my husband and daughter join us, too, please?!

Interesting group! And the more the merrier, Lissa! Now, tell us, do you write every day?

I do write every day, though not always on what I term ‘my own thing’. I get a few household chores out of the way first thing, unless a deadline defers chores to another day, then settle down on the laptop and will usually get a 1,500-word article done in a day. I often have 3,000-word features to do and they could take a day, too, depending on what else is being done at the same time. I have no structured day, I just write when I can and would keep on doing so until I’m made to stop! Generally, though, I begin at around 10am and just keep going.

The journalism is my full-time work, so I have to fit in the novels when I can. Even given all day, I couldn’t produce 1,500 words a day of fiction. My fiction writing process is 80% thought, 15% typing and 5% deleting. If I can get a page or two done in a day, I’m very happy. I’ll visualise it first (observe and listen to the characters in each scenario in my mind), then write ‘what I see’ as it happens.

How long does it take you to complete a book?

Ahh, four-five years and also nine months would both be correct answers! It takes me at least two years to get a novel created in my head, to get to know intimately the characters and then for them to suggest a plot to me. Only then do I begin writing. But I’ll get a first chapter written, which is crucial to engaging the reader, and I’ll edit it and edit it and could work on just that single chapter for a year. Then a second chapter, same process. When I type that final full stop of the third chapter, then I’m away. At that point, the characters have been introduced, the plot set up, and the reader engaged to the best of my ability. From then on, it’s up to the characters to take me on my journey, I just follow their progress and record it. From the fourth chapter on, I write at every available opportunity. I still edit meticulously as I go, but I can’t put it down or walk away, I have to keep going to the end. I’ve found with each book so far, from that point when I finally make a start, chapter four, it takes me nine months. Kind of appropriate, really…

Advice on handling negative reviews – if they arise? 

If you can take something from it, then it’s very helpful. However, I’m pleased to say I haven’t yet had a negative review. I tell myself it’s all down to personal taste, so when a reviewer dislikes something, I’ll take comfort from that!

Would you deem it necessary to have an agent, Lissa?

I don’t have an agent and they seem harder to get than a publisher! But here in Ireland I don’t think they’re necessary. The Irish Writers’ Union provides free contract advice to members and most Irish publishers accept unsolicited submissions. Many UK publishers only accept submissions via an agent, however.

Do you contribute to the marketing / PR of your work?

Yes, a great deal. I haven’t found that side of things too much different to self-publishing and going it alone. My publisher comes up with ideas and markets and so do I, we work together.

What are your feelings on social media for authors?

Social media is a great form of marketing and engaging with your audience. I’m not very good at it, as I don’t have the time, but even just a simple posting on Facebook that I’d completed a chapter resulted in umpteen requests to be included in the book! That certainly opens your eyes to the audience you’re reaching and how you can promote your work.

How do you view the current world of publishing, nationally and internationally?

I can’t comment internationally, but in Britain and Ireland for the last good few years 76% of publications each year have been non-fiction, including children’s books. As the vast majority of children’s books are fiction, this means even fewer published books are adult fiction. The weak fiction market has for many years deterred publishers from taking a risk on new authors, leading to a catch 22 situation. However, the digital era now provides authors with self-publication and eBook options that will hopefully bridge that gap between ‘unknown’ and ‘established’.

The eBook and self-publishing route, admittedly, can lead to a glut of very poorly written, proofed and edited books that just shouldn’t be out there; but ultimately the cream will rise to the top. The public now have a wider choice than that which fashion dictates and good reviews will boost a book’s sales, if it’s good enough. Mainstream publishers can only safely go with what’s in vogue, so book buyers are only offered what’s in vogue – another catch 22! Self-published titles offer the public a much greater range of choices, which can only be a good thing for both reader and writer.

What’s your opinion on the importance of literary awards?

Mixed. While literary awards can be influential, there are very few for the emerging writer, so of little help to a career. The successful authors scoop the awards, while it’s the struggling emerging author who could do with that non-existent boost! As to literary competitions, I suppose by entering as many as possible it can get your name noticed, if only by attending every award ceremony, even if you’re never a finalist. Mixing in the right circles could land you in the right place at the right time or gain a useful introduction. However, it’s very costly to be entering, and only three stories will ultimately win and those are purely down to the personal taste of the judge – yours could be fourth and you’ll never know, so it’s no reflection on the quality of your work. Plus, on a personal level, short story competitions tend to set limits of up to 1,500 words and I find it hard to complete a story in under 3,000 words! 80,000 is more my comfort zone!

The obligatory question – any advice for aspiring writers?

Enjoy what you are doing, writing should be a passion, a labour of love. Develop a thick skin and doggedness. Don’t ever give up, don’t take rejections personally, simply collect them as badges of honour. If you believe in your work and are proud of it, then persevere with it. The story alone isn’t enough, you won’t be forgiven for typos or poor editing, so do give your work the attention it deserves – edit, edit and edit again.

And finally, can you share with us what you are working on now?

A pretty complex psychological drama, which sometimes seems more than I can chew! I’m weaving a lot of threads, but so far inching them out without getting hopelessly tangled! The basic plot is that a successful racehorse trainer has just hired a new jockey, but odd little accidents and mishaps and even deaths are threatening their partnership. The trainer, a widower, has the added problem of an amoral teenage son who casts a sinister shadow over all that he does. I aim to have it finished by September, working title is ‘Sainte Bastien’.


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