Wednesday, 27 November 2013
Guest: Self Published author Sue Yockney
Q. Hi Sue. Could you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your writing?
I was born in London. After studying art at Central St Martins, I went on to qualify as a librarian, eventually becoming a School Library Advisor for Dorset. I currently live in Somerset. My interest in writing began with plays and, as a member of an amateur dramatic group, I wrote three murder mysteries. Since then, I have concentrated on short stories in a variety of genres. In 2012, I left my job to concentrate on my writing and two years later, I completed my debut novel, a dystopian duology, Happy Deathday and its sequel, Resurrection. I enjoy reading, films, contemporary jazz and travelling and have been to Alaska twice, New Zealand, Peru and driven the Dempster Highway, up to and beyond the Arctic Circle.
Happy Deathday is set in an underground breeding colony constructed to save the Human Race from extinction, by a gamma ray explosion that destroys the Earth’s ozone layer. The story is told by the two main protagonists, Jonathan and Sarah in a dual narrative. Both of them have had their eighteen years in the Colony and their Deathdays are fast approaching. One is born every day; one dies every day. That is the way of the Colony. Like Jonathan, Sarah has successfully completed her breeding programme, a soulless clinical procedure and is ready to re-join the Colony and prepare for her Deathday - a time of celebration when, the contribution each colonist has made to its mission, is fulfilled. It’s all they have. This is your destiny. That’s what they’ve always been told.
The novel starts with a seemingly innocuous accident, where Jonathan loses a week’s supply of the Supplement, he’s been required to take since he was nine years old and that he believes contains only vitamins and minerals. Without its influence, he begins to experience all the signs of puberty. He starts noticing things that he’s never noticed before, in particular Sarah. With his body no longer under his control, Jonathan struggles with his attraction to her and his growing sexual awareness. He also notices Zack, a Security Response Unit officer and two things become apparent. One that Zack is becoming an increasing threat to the Colony. And two, Zack has designs on Sarah. Fuelled by love, jealousy and the hormones his body’s been denied for years, Jonathan takes him on. The third main, ever present, character in the novels, is Time itself. It’s there at the beginning of each chapter, reminding us of how little of it, Jonathan and Sarah, have left.
The Happy Deathday duology is a crossover novel targeted at the 15+/ Adult age range and can best be described as, ‘Logan’s Run meets Lord of the Flies’.
Q. What inspired you to write this book?
Three things came together that sparked off the idea for the novel. The first, was a workshop that you ran, Kate, on the Science Fiction genre for the writing group I’m a member of. If you remember you set us a task at the end, to sketch out the plot for a science fiction story. This was when I came up with the idea of an underground breeding colony set up because of an impending global disaster. I hadn’t, at that stage, chosen what the disaster would be! At the same time, I heard something on the radio that grabbed my attention. It was concerning the fact that every year there is a date that is the anniversary of your future death, but you don’t know what that date is. You could call your deathday. I then went away and wrote a short story called Happy Deathday and entered it for the Yeovil Literary Prize 2010 and it was Highly Commended. This gave me an enormous boost of confidence and convinced me that I did, indeed, have a good idea that I could develop into a novel.
Q. What is it about dystopia that interests you?
I think it’s the idea that a society can be set up, often with logical and altruistic intent but it all goes horribly wrong because the human condition is not taken into consideration. They often start off as utopias but end in a dystopian nightmare. I’m fascinated by the way that humans adapt to these societies, in the first instance, but then their humanity leads them to revolt against the lack of freedom of expression.
Q. Which are your favourite dystopian novels?
I have been a Sci-fi fan since my teens and devoured everything I could get my hands on. The books that have had the biggest impact on me are the classics Brave New World (Huxley) 1984 (Orwell), We (Yevgeny Zamyatin), Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury) and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Philip K. Dick). I also really like The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood), The Road (Cormac McCarthy) and Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguru).
Q. Why did you decide to self-publish?
By the autumn of 2012, I had written Happy Deathday and, realising that there was too much material to fit into one novel, I decided that I had to make it a duology and wrote a plot outline and synopsis for the sequel, Resurrection. I then set about trying to find an agent. Three months later, I hadn’t been successful. Feeling discouraged, I stopped writing, thinking that this was the end of the road. It was my husband who encouraged me to go down the self-publishing route. I contacted an American, who has written a best seller on how to go about getting a book on Kindle and asked him a question that hadn’t been covered in his book. I told him that I was writing a two-part novel and asked him how much of a gap I should allow between publishing each title. His answer was, an unequivocal, ‘none’, they should be published simultaneously. He told me that people would be unlikely to buy the first part of a debut author’s duology because the second part might not materialise. So I forgot about agents and got down to finishing Resurrection. The idea of self-publishing paperback versions, came later.
Q. How did you find the self-publishing Process?
I think the expression, ‘steep learning curve’, covers it to a certain extent but not completely. There were times when the curve was, so steep, I needed grappling irons! It’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life but now I look back on it and feel proud of myself that I kept going despite the numerous potholes on the way. The problem I had was that I had to do every process twice, because I had two titles. I jokingly say that I could write a book about the whole experience but, I really could! Self-publishing has its pros and cons. The main pro is that it gives you freedom and control. But this comes at a price which is that you have to do everything yourself. One thing’s for sure, it will all be a lot easier next time…
Q. In mainstream publishing there is a whole team of people working together to produce a book, could you tell us a bit about how you handled the various aspects
1. Editing (both structural and line edits) & Copy Edits
In the writing and publishing of my novels, I discovered that three members of my family possessed skills that were to be invaluable to me. Several people read and commented on my novels and suggested edits. My sister, Jackie, was one of them. She turned out to have the most incredible eye for detail and spotted plot inconsistencies that nobody else did. She’s also hot on spelling and grammar. The novels have a complicated setting, structure and plot and my husband, Rob’s experience as a systems engineer was very useful in sorting out the technical side of the whole project.
2. Formatting and layout
Formatting needs to be different for all the publishing platforms e.g. Kindle and/or Smashwords for the ebooks and CreateSpace or Lulu for the paperbacks. I learnt to fear the might of Word formatting. It is the one single factor that can completely scupper the process. You have to strip your novel text down to the bones and work from a ‘clean’ version. I did this by putting it into Notepad and starting from there. There are lots of guides out there to help you along the way but, in the end, it’s just down to hard slog and gallons of tea!
3. Cover design
Now to the third talented member of my family, my son Justin, who is a freelance photographer based in Bristol. He was the obvious choice to do my author photos for me but he also agreed to tackle the cover designs. Like me, Justin has an arts background and studied sculpture at University of Northumbria. The great thing about the two of us is that we are both on the same wavelength. I only needed to outline the concept I wanted for the covers and he went away and produced exactly what I was thinking.
In self-publishing, pricing is a mine field and a moveable feast. You can set whatever price you want with the ebooks from Free, to as much as your customers will accept. If you are a famous author you’re ebook versions are at the top end. I went for the recommended starter price of $2.99 (£1.93). I can adjust it any time. With the paperbacks, you’re bound by production costs, so a minimum price is set based on the number of pages, colour content etc. Again you can change this whenever you want as long as it stays above that minimum setting.
5. Publicity and marketing
My nemesis! Like a lot of authors, all I want to do is write. But you have to get out there and market yourself. I think most authors, conventionally published and self-published, find this a challenge. I was always taught, as a child, that unless I had something sensible and worthwhile to say, I should remain silent. Well, that concept had to be thrown out the window! I’m learning as I go and seeking advice from other authors who I’ve found are very encouraging and supportive. I recently attended a Self-published Authors event at the Sherborne Literary Festival and met up with a great bunch of independent authors, only too willing to share advice and ideas with me. I suppose that’s what I am now - an independent author.
Thank you Sue, and good luck with Happy Deathday.
Available from Amazon.uk