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Fiona Cummins is an award-winning former Daily Mirror showbusiness journalist and a graduate of the Faber Academy Writing a Novel course. Rattle, her debut novel, which sold at auction across Europe, is published in the US by Kensington. It has also been optioned for a TV series with scripts penned by The Grudge screenwriter Stephen Susco. Fiona lives in Essex, England with her family.
INTERVIEW – FIONA CUMMINS
Compare your career as a journalist and your career now as a novelist.
In some ways, they’re two sides of the same coin. After 12 years on the Daily Mirror, I’m used to meeting deadlines and being edited. Both jobs shine a light on stories that have emotional resonance.
But publishing works so slowly compared to newspapers. In my old job, I’d write a news story and within a few hours it would have been sub-edited, laid out and printed. My first novel was published twenty one months after I signed my deal.
Tell us about the Faber Academy Writing A Novel course and why you decided to attend.
I heard SJ Watson (Before I Go To Sleep) talking about it on the radio and I loved the sound of it. It was expensive and I’d just left my job, so I was worried we couldn’t afford it, especially as I had no idea whether I could write a full-length manuscript. But it gave me permission to take myself seriously as a writer. I also learned the importance of finishing what you’ve started.
Do you feel like you know your own writing process now?
Not really. Every book has a different feel about it. Rattle took multiple drafts to get right while The Collector took one. My third novel – I literally finished it about two hours ago – is quite complex and will need some more work, I think. But I have approached each of them in the same way. I don’t plot, it’s much more of an organic process. I have a rough idea of the shape of the story and that’s it. I don’t tend to start writing until I know the first line, and often, the last.
In another interview you talked about talent.”Talent is all very well tenacity, self-belief, originality, and the ability to get the words on the page….” I love this definition of talent.
Describe your experience of tenacity and how this affects writers.
I think it’s about keeping the faith. Talent is important, but persistence is key. Novels are rejected for so many reasons, some of which have nothing to do with an ability to write well. An editor is unlikely to buy a book about a crime-fighting circus act if she bought one like it the week before. A literary agent might already have an author writing a novel about a crime-fighting circus act and wish to avoid a conflict of interest. The market may have seen several books featuring crime-fighting circus acts and have become saturated. The point is, we all need a healthy spoonful of good luck too, but if you give up, you won’t even get a chance to lick the spoon.
Describe your experience of self-belief before after publishing your books.
If you don’t believe in yourself, no-one else will. It takes a lot of discipline to sit in front of a computer and write every day, to keep writing and polishing and editing. What keeps us going? Faith that we can do it. But not blind faith. It’s important to listen too. If your manuscript has been rejected by multiple agents multiple times, perhaps it’s time to think very carefully about where you might be going wrong and the best way to fix it.
Describe your experience of originality and how it can benefit writers.
Publishers are always looking for fresh voices, for the Next Big Thing. I enjoy books that do things a little differently, that have a distinctive narrative voice or approach their stories from an interesting angle. I try to do this with my own writing too.
Have you ever wanted to quit writing?
Never. I’ve been frustrated when I can’t make my stupid brain match my vision for a book, I’ve been beset by self-doubt, I’ve ridden the emotional rollercoaster of rejection and disappointment but why would I ever want to quit the best job in the world? Someone is paying me to sit in bed, wearing my pajamas, drinking tea, eating biscuits and making stuff up. You’ll have to prise my laptop from my cold, dead fingers.
How important is it to “Keep going?”
This was a regular refrain throughout the Faber Academy course and weirdly, this had never occurred to me. I made the mistake of thinking that if the first chapter wasn’t right, the book wasn’t right. We were encouraged to keep writing. First drafts can be worked upon, and often, the end informs the beginning.
What are you working on now?
I have just finished my third novel. It is set on an ordinary street but some of the residents of The Avenue hide some very dark secrets indeed.
Author: Alec Birri
Narrator: Jonathan Keeble
Length: 6 hours 32 minutes
Publisher: Essential Music Limited⎮2018
Genre: Medical Thriller
Series: The Condition Trilogy, Book 1
Release date: Jan. 17, 2018
Synopsis: The first in a dystopian trilogy based on the author’s command of a top secret government unit.
What if all brain disorders were treatable? Few would lament the passing of dementia or autism, but what if the twisted mind of a sex offender or murderer could be cured too? Or how about a terrorist or maybe a political extremist? What if we could all be “corrected”?
It’s 1966, and RAF pilot Dan Stewart awakes from a coma following an aircraft accident into a world where nothing seems to make sense anymore. Not being able to recall the crash might be expected, but what about the rest of his life? And what’s stopping him from taking his medication? Is it brain damage that’s causing paranoia about the red pill, or is Dan right to think something sinister is going on?
His horrific injuries don’t make any sense either – a post-crash fire caused him to suffer almost 100% burns. How is it even possible to survive that? Are the hallucinations and strange dreams trying to tell him something? They are, and he’ll soon find out what, but not before his doctor’s sure the shock won’t kill him.
I loved this book. The writing combined with the excellent performance of narrator Jonathan Keeble made it great book. The Condition is a psychological medical thriller of its own kind. Author Alec Birri does an exceptional job of unraveling his plot, compelling point of view, and drawing headlong into the story. It seemed like one domino lead the next one, and so forth. Very entertaining with lots of suspense. Can’t wait to start book two!
What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?
Horses for courses. It’s just a different experience. Having said that, it would worry me if no one read at all.
How did you celebrate after finishing this novel?
Celebrate? I’m the original mister grumpy – the word doesn’t exist in my vocabulary! I carry on writing. There’s a running joke in the military, usually spouted by someone when morale is at its lowest: ‘Never mind, lads – the sooner this job is done, the sooner we can start another one.’ 😀
In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of writing a stand-alone novel vs. writing a series?
I think a series works better than a stand-alone when it comes to the business side of things, as the first can be given away, but that’s not how Condition started out – when it became too big for one novel I split it into two and then, as the words mounted, three books. I’m 25k into my current work, and have no idea if the word count will end up being 40k or even 400k. I write the story and stop when it’s told.
What bits of advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Seek out danger. Nothing like a near-death experience for freeing the imagination! Seriously though, get out of your comfort zone. There’s a good reason why the likes of Frederick Forsyth have visited war zones or risked crossing deserts just as hostile. No money to do that? Then hang out with your local ambulance crews, paramedics, police and get the experience second-hand. Anything that brings you into contact with the uncomfortable.
Alec Birri served thirty years with the UK Armed Forces. He commanded an operational unit that experimented in new military capabilities classified at the highest level (Top Secret Strap 3) and it is this that forms the basis of his novels. Although semi-autobiographical, for national security and personal liberty reasons, the events and individuals portrayed have to be fiction but are still nonetheless in keeping with his experiences.
*Is Revived your first book?
*How do feel about writing your first book?
I feel… satisfied. In the beginning this book was just something to keep me busy. It turned into so much more than that. I fell in love with writing and creating this world and these amazing characters. Now, I can’t imagine my life without it. It was 2 years ago this month that I began writing Revived. There has been a lot of sacrifice, rejection, and hard work to get to this point but I wouldn’t change a thing. I just finished my second round of editing which means I’m so close to seeing it in print and no other word describes how I feel better than satisfied.
*How do you personally benefit from writing?
Writing is a distraction, an outlet to channel my imagination and creativity. Writing has seen me at my worst, and at my best. There’s no judgement or expectation and I thrive when I’m in that safe place. Some days I question my sanity, I created these characters from scratch and now I speak about them as if they’re real. Nothing like a little crazy to keep things interesting! But mostly, I write because I love it.
*Have you ever cried while writing?
Yes I have. I’m a very emotional person so there are many different reasons I’ve cried while writing. A song from my writing playlist that fits perfectly with a scene can make me tear up. Out of frustration—this happens more than I like to admit. I’m so attached to these characters that killing one of them is absolutely gut wrenching and cry-worthy for sure.
*What is the Imagination to you?
The imagination to me is the ability to step outside of yourself, to challenge the rules society has demanded we follow and embrace our creative side. The imagination allows us to be free. It gives us the ability to dream.
*Tell us about who Swayzi is.
Swayzi is someone you’ll root for, she’s relatable, loveable, and so unaware of how amazing she is. When you first meet her, she’s in an impossible situation. She has been given 2 months to live and a huge part of her wants to give up. You start with her at her absolute lowest and follow her on a journey of discovering her self-worth. She finds love, experiences betrayal and heartbreak, but the most important and defining part of the book, well—you’ll have to read it to find out!
*What does she want the most?
Swayzi loves her family more than anything and would do anything to protect them. I would say their safety is her first priority. Beyond that, what she wants most is to shed all the insecurities, and doubt, and embrace her fate on her terms.
*Who are Daylan and Tyler?
Tyler is and always will be my favourite character to write. He is without a doubt the heart of this story. A quote from the book describes him best: “Tyler was glaringly human. He would hold my hand during the scary parts of a horror movie, not for me, but for him. He felt pain, I could see it written all over his face when I was sick. He was constantly digging himself a hole, never saying the right thing at the right time. He was simply imperfect, flawed even, but that’s what made him—him.”
Daylan is quite the opposite of Tyler. He is eloquent and knows exactly who he is and what he wants. He is the epitome of tall, dark and handsome and of course, very mysterious. Daylan has answers to questions Swayzi didn’t even know she had. Tyler may be the heart of this story, but Daylan drives it.
*When is the publication date for Revived?
Publication date is not official yet but it will be August or September. There’s a ton happening behind the scenes right now, cover design, release date, and some exciting extras that will be announced very soon. Keep an eye on my social media!
Jenna Morland is the author of Revived published by Oftomes Publishing, set to release in 2018. Jenna is a Canadian born author, song writer, and mother of two that lives under the Northern Lights. Slytherin to the core, Jenna’s ambition to write her debut novel happened somewhere between training for a triathlon and putting her kids to bed. But it was her determination to follow through that landed her a publishing deal. Growing up, her wild imagination thrived off of reading and her most desired hobby was to let a book completely consume her. Unlike most writers, Jenna never wrote in a diary. She dreaded English class and she never dreamt that one day she would write a novel. Until she did.
Jesikah Sundin is multi-award winning a sci-fi/fantasy writer mom of three nerdlets and devoted wife to a gamer geek. In addition to her family, she shares her home in Monroe, Washington with a red-footed tortoise and a collection of seatbelt purses. She is addicted to coffee, laughing, and Dr. Martens boots and shoes … Oh! And the forest is her happy place.
Other Interesting tidbits:
Jesikah owns Forest Tales Photography, and boasts a varied background in business administration and marketing, though her heart has always belonged to the arts and sciences. In college, she pursued a degree in geophysics and oceanography. And, as a teenager, she attended a performing arts school for musical theater and opera, performing in several theater productions, while also serving as editor-in-chief of her high school’s newspaper. She is married for over twenty years to her high school sweetheart and raising three awesomely geeky children. When not writing, she’s often found in her garden, hiking, gaming, baking, fangirling over all things Star Wars and Firefly, or attending various conventions in cosplay, notably Comicon and FaerieCon.
Were there any real life inspirations behind your writing?
I’m not sure if you mean “writing” as fellow writers who have inspired me or “writing” as in the stories I write. But, thankfully, the answer for both angles is similar.I read pretty much everything, from westerns to poetry to crime thrillers to the classics to everything in-between. Though, my main book diet is young adult science fiction and fantasy. My brain is author and story alphabet soup at this point. I’ve also lived in two vastly different states, in three vastly different geographical areas, and traveled all over North and parts of South America. These experiences make a great marinade for the imagination. Additionally, I spent my formative years immersed in the liberal arts (dance, opera, theater, competition choir) while studying for a degree in science (geophysics, oceanography, and ethnoscience). The combination? Weird, genre-mash-up stories, that blend the arts and sciences, and explore people, culture, geographies, and their relationship with the environments they find themselves in.
Tell us about the process of turning your book into an audiobook.
Well, it was all rather simple. Sunny did all the hard work and I got to enjoy the fruits of his labor with commentary. Usually I’d see a notice in my inbox that another chapter was ready for review. I’d squeal, plunk myself down in a comfortable spot, pull my book up, read along as I listened to the narration, and take notes of any discrepancies I found, or feedback on how I’d prefer something to be said (emotional notes). That’s pretty much it. A fun process on my end!
Was a possible audiobook recording something you were conscious of while writing?
Ha! No, actually. Never even crossed my mind. LEGACY was originally published in January 2014. It wasn’t until last year that I even considered an audiobook and only because I had so many potential readers comment on social media that they wished my book were in audio format. Anything for my readers 😉
How did you select your narrator?
It was an involved process that included far too many cups of coffee, sacrifices to the Audible gods, and sleepless night wondering if I’d ever find The One. And then I did, which was rather miraculous, as finding The One usually is. I honestly didn’t think I’d contract a voice actor because of the language difficulties narrating LEGACY would present (American and British English, Latin, French, and Japanese) and different point-of-view writing styles (cyberpunk and classical fantasy style). I’m pretty sure I cried oceans of grateful tears when Sunny sent in an audition.
Is there a particular part of this story that you feel is more resonating in the audiobook performance than in the book format?
Oh, the languages and dialects for sure. Sunny Patel’s lovely British accent breathed life into my New Eden Township characters. But I was floored when the written French and Japanese became real. I sort of melt into a puddle whenever I hear him speak Leaf and Oaklee’s lines in French or Fillion’s Japanese dialogue.
Fillion Nichols (born in Dublin, Ireland and raised in Seattle, Washington state) is a hacker in the Anime Tech Movement’s computer underground, even though he is part of the Corporate Elite. At age 17, he is fluent in Japanese, can hack most Smart devices, websites (including government sites), and holographic computer technology. He also writes encryption software algorithms, same as his life-long best friend, Mack. Fillion works the communications night shift at New Eden Enterprises for New Eden Biospherics & Research, the companies responsible for the experiment at New Eden Township.
At age 20, he’ll come into trust majority of a large legal Legacy, an inheritance he resents. But, as he states, it never matters what he wants. Ever. Fillion sees himself no different than a drone, something programmable. Something his father owns to manipulate and use at will. A fate he fears he’ll never escape.
His sister Lynden is 11 months younger than him. The media scrutinizes his every move. When he had attended Academy, he was bullied regularly. For this reason, Mack and Lynden are the only two people Fillion trusts.
He is known for his quick wit and sarcastic humor, analytical/philosophical thinking, rambling thoughts, deep emotions and convictions, guitar playing, and his fondness for whiskey and cigarettes.
WILLOW OAK WATSON
Willow Oak Watson, lovingly referred to as Oaklee by her father or the Daughter of Earth by the community, is nearly 16 years old when the story opens. She was born inside New Eden Township (Salton Sea, California), much the same as others from the second generation. At age 8, she apprenticed with Mistress Katie, the head village spinner and weaver, and became a master spinner and seamstress at age 14.
Her fingers prefer to stay busy, even if to twirl strands of hair when her hands are not otherwise occupied. Quite often, she perches high above her community in the branches of her beloved willow oak tree, humming a merry tune while pondering the world around her. When grieved by offense, she feels the injustice whipping inside of her with gale force winds, earning her the family nickname Hurricane Willow.
Her father, Joel Watson, was the Earth Element, one of four head Nobility positions within New Eden Township. Her mother, Claire Johnston, died from childbed fever when she was 8 years old. Willow has an older brother named Leaf (age 19) and a younger sister named Laurel (age 8).
Willow is best known for her atmospheric personality, poetic tendencies, quick wit, deep and thoughtful emotions, empathy, and her connection to nature.
Leaf Watson, titled the Son of Earth, was the first child born within the walls of New Eden Township. He is the eldest child in the Earth Element house at age 19 and among the oldest members of the second generation. Since a small boy, he has found great pleasure in watching living things grow and flourish. Unlike most from Nobility, he was pushed through a rigorous education, which included additional studies under the tutelage of the village Barrister.
Since age 15, Leaf has acted as First Representative for his father, Joel Watson, who was a head Noble inside New Eden Township. But an unthinkable situation changes everything. An invisible crown of power is bequeathed to Leaf as his father takes his final breaths. This family secret propels Leaf into a position that not only threatens his home but also his way of life. To Leaf, each day seems to unearth new secrets and present new challenges, an overwhelming situation, especially as he is now the legal guardian for his sisters, Willow Oak (age 15) and Laurel (age 8).
Leaf is known for his kind, steadfast, and astute personality, as well as his honorable and gentlemanly demeanor. He is reserved and dutiful, sometimes to the point of self-sacrifice. Although a peace-maker by nature, he would be willing to wage war in order to protect his family.
Author: Jesikah Sundin
Narrator: Sunil Patel
Length: 12 hours 30 minutes
Publisher: Forest Tales Publishing⎮2017
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: The Biodome Chronicles, Book 1
Release date: Dec. 11, 2017
She is from the past, locked inside a world within a world.
He is from the future, haunted by her death.
A sensible young nobleman and his fiery sister live in an experimental medieval village. Sealed inside this biodome since infancy, Leaf and Willow have been groomed by The Code to build a sustainable world, one devoid of Outsider interference. One that believes death will give way to life.
All is ideal until their father bequeaths a family secret with his dying breath, placing an invisible crown of power on Leaf’s head. Now everyone in their quiet town is suspect. Risking banishment, the siblings search for clues, leading them to Fillion Nichols, an Outsider with a shocking connection to their family. Their encounter launches Fillion into battle with his turbulent past as he rushes to decode the many secrets that bind their future together–a necessity if they are all to survive.
Cultures clash in an unforgettable quest for truth, unfolding a story rich in mystery, betrayal, and love.
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