Today I am delighted to be joined by English author and business woman Elizabeth Ducie. It is fascinating to learn all about her writing career. Thank you for taking the time to join me, Elizabeth. I think we first met some years ago at The Swanwick Writers' Summer School.
Please tell my readers a little about yourself?
I was a technical consultant for thirty plus years, working first for a multinational company and then as an independent. I’ve worked with governments, NGOs and companies in more than fifty countries around the world. Then I gave it all up to tell lies for a living!
What inspired you to become an author?
If we define an author as someone who writers fiction, as opposed to a writer who works with words of all types, then I started out as a writer. During my first career I must have written millions of words in the form of audit reports, training modules, text books and technical articles. In 2005, I started thinking about writing up some of my travel experiences. But I found I was better at embedding real incidents in fictional scenarios; so I started writing short stories and then progressed to novels. And I’ve been doing that ever since, with the odd sideways swerve back into creative non-fiction. I’ve even recently returned briefly to technical non-fiction as well.
What is the best thing about being an author?
The ability to please myself in the types of project I work on. As you can probably see from the previous answer, I am a bit of a grasshopper; I jump from project to project – and often work on more than one at the same time. And as an indie publisher, I find this is even more the case. I don’t work to anyone else’s deadlines; just the ones I set for myself.
What is your writing routine like?
I had to look up the definition of routine to remind myself! It’s a noun meaning “a sequence of actions regularly followed.” I’m not sure I ever do anything routinely. I’m an inveterate planner and keep coming up with ways to plan and organise my time; but each scheme only lasts for a short while before I find a better one, whether it’s a ToDo spreadsheet, a Mind Map flipchart, or post it notes stuck on the wall or in my diary.
But to answer the question: in a ‘normal’ year, I try to write, launch and market one full-length novel. I plan it in October, write the first draft in November during NaNoWriMo; edit from January to July; pre-launch and launch in August to September. So my writing routine would depend on the date. I’m very much a lark, so if I’m writing, it tends to be early in the day. And I can write quite quickly. I often knock-off my NaNoWriMo daily target before breakfast! I tend to do administration and marketing activities in the afternoon.
How much time do you spend on research?
When I was writing my international thrillers, I was calling on my own travel experiences, so much of it was already in my head. Now I’m writing cosy mysteries set in a fictional village close to my adopted home county of Devon, the research is all around me.
I’m not one of those writers who spends a huge amount of time on research. I tend to write my first draft, then identify anything I need to look up during the editing stage. Mind you, the technical project I mentioned earlier was the second edition of a traditionally-published pharmaceutical textbook I first wrote in 2002. And I’ve been out of the industry since 2012. So I needed to do a fair amount of research for that. So glad we have the internet!
How much of the book is planned out before you start writing it?
I always intend to plan, but it never really works out like that. For my previous series (the Suzanne Jones thrillers set in the international pharmaceutical industry), I would always know the closing scene at least. So I knew where I was going but not necessarily how I was going to get there. With my new novel, I didn’t know who the murderer was until I was well into the story. I saw Ann Cleeves speak at her latest book launch last week; and she does the same thing! But I have to admit it was hard work doing it that way, so I might plan the next one a bit better than that.
What do you think is most important when writing a book?
Plot every time. I try to make my characters three dimensional; they each have 6-page back stories on file. And my settings have been mentioned by readers as being realistic; especially when I was writing about Africa, Russia and Latin America. But as a reader, I need to be gripped by the plot; and my aim is to write page-turners for my readers. Someone wrote to me recently and said she stayed up until 4am reading my book. Job done!
What is your latest book about?
Murder at Mountjoy Manor is a cosy mystery set in the fictional village of Coombesford. Think Midsomer Murders set in Devon. I’ve taken Charlie, one of the Jones sisters from my thrillers, and moved her to Devon with her partner Annie and their young daughter, to run a pub in the village. The book opens with Charlie finding the body of the local squire at the bottom of the waterfall behind the pub. Then we go back a week and meet all the potential suspects as they go about their daily lives.
What inspired it?
When I finished the thrillers, I was planning to write a complex time-slip based around five locations in Russia and centred on the Romanovs. I took a year off fiction to work on my Business of Writing series and to plan the new novel. And also to get the Jones sisters out of my head after living with them for about five years.
Halfway through the year I realised three things: firstly, I was bored with the Russian idea and it was far too complicated anyway. Secondly, I wanted to write about living in a semi-rural community in Devon – without having to leave home first. And thirdly, Charlie Jones was too good a character to let go of after only three books. Plus, I wanted to have fun with my writing. So Coombesford was born.
Any new books or plans for the future?
Murder at Mountjoy Manor is coming out on 19th October. So I’m working through the pre-launch stage at the moment. I’m starting to plan the second in the series at the moment, in preparation for this year’s NaNoWriMo. So far, I know it’s going to be based around the agoraphobic farmer’s daughter who gets just one line in the first book.
I don’t know how long the Coombesford Chronicles series will be but I plan to bring out one a year, in October, using many of the same characters each time. I’m also planning on bringing out a series of books of short stories, Coombesford Calendars, each April. I publish a free short story for subscribers with my monthly newsletter and am using them to introduce and develop some of the minor characters from the village. Then, once a year, I will gather them together in a collection for sale.
What genres do you read most often?
I read huge quantities of crime and thrillers, both for research and for fun. I read Lee Child and James Patterson for tips on keep the reader turning the page; Cecilia Peartree’s Pitkirtly Mysteries for examples of how to keep the same characters fresh over time; Agatha Christie because I’ve only ever watched hers before; and Damien Boyd; M W Craven and A A Dhand because they tell such brilliant stories.
I also read a lot of fantasy: Tolkien (obviously), Raymond Feist, Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson… the list goes on. But I’ve never been tempted to try and write in that genre.
I don’t read a lot of literary fiction (remember I said I like page-turners?) but every autumn I attempt to read the Booker short list in the few weeks before the winner is announced. Last year I managed it for the first time; and was able to correctly predict the winner, much to my delight.
Is there anything else you would like my readers to know?
I have a terrible tendency to get involved in non-writing projects as well. I’m currently Director of Exeter Literary Festival; treasurer of one writing group and secretary of another; plus a trustee for a small local charity, Cancer Lifeline South West. I’m also editor of Chudleigh Phoenix, our town’s monthly electronic magazine
I’m working hard on learning to say no, before all my writing time gets eaten up with other commitments. But all in all, I’m having a blast! And that’s what counts.
Elizabeth Ducie gave up her globe-trotting lifestyle in 2012 to become a full-time writer. She calls herself an authorpreneur and has independently published four novels, three collections of short stories and The Business of Writing series on business skills for writers and indie publishers. Her latest novel, Murder at Mountjoy Manor, is on pre-order at the moment and will be published on 19th October.
Murder at Mountjoy Manor: http://elizabethducieauthor.co.uk/book/murder-at-mountjoy-manor/