Today’s author spotlight is has found Toni Allen! It was a little tough at first as she was outside recording the positioning of the celestial bodies, but once we pried her way from her charts, she was happy to chat! Without further ado, here’s…Toni!
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’ve worked for a long time as a counsellor and astrologer, my interest in human behavior leading me to help people work through their daily ups and downs. It’s a fascinating profession because I’ve been given insider information into private lives and situations that I would never personally experience. I’m also an avid photographer, taking great pleasure in country walks and photographing the wildlife and scenery. I live in the beautiful county of Surrey in the UK.
How did you get started on your writing journey?
When I was young I was very lucky to attend a school where the teacher read the classics to us, chapter by chapter as a story before home time. Heroes from Dickens, Dumas and Stevenson would fill my thoughts and when I started to write the excitement of their novels became something I emulated. I’ve written in earnest for many years, but earlier on I focused on non-fiction and it’s only in recent years that I’ve truly believed in my novels.
Are there any poets or writers who influence you? How so?
I’m a great fan of Dick Francis, loving the way he builds a story. He gets me so involved with his main character that when the hero is in danger by the end of the novel I’m terrified in case he gets killed. I know he won’t get killed, because his heroes never do, but the dramatic pace is so tight that I’m always on the edge of my seat. I don’t copy Dick Francis’ style, but I’ve learnt a lot from him about how to move a plot to a nail-biting conclusion.
Let’s talk about your novel! What is it about?
Visiting Lilly is book 1 in my Jake Talbot Investigates mystery series.
Visiting Lilly is about a young man who wants to visit an elderly woman, Lilly, in her residential care home. This seems innocent enough, but her relatives take active steps to ensure that twenty-seven year old Frankie goes nowhere near their grandmother. To Detective Inspector Jake Talbot from Surrey Constabulary, their actions appear extreme, so he starts to dig deeper. Frankie is an unusual character, presenting as being on the Asperger’s/autistic spectrum. When Frankie states that he’s been visiting Lilly in the past, when she was young and beautiful, Talbot believes he’s either insane, or has built some kind of time machine. As a down to earth cop, Talbot thinks it’s all bonkers, until the Ministry of Defence show an interest and questions arise over the unsolved disappearance of Frankie’s best friend ten years earlier.
How is the title significant?
Visiting Lilly has a double meaning. Once Frankie discovers that Lilly is still alive he wants to visit her, but visiting is also how he refers to seeing her when she was young and beautiful.
Where did inspiration for this come from?
Storylines often come to me in a single scene, a mere germ of an idea. This is what happened with Visiting Lilly. Two young men visit Lilly, but only one returns. Where is he? What happened? After this initial seed it took over six months of mulling on how to write the story for me to realise that it couldn’t be written from Frankie’s viewpoint and that I needed someone else to tell his story. That’s how I came to create DI Jake Talbot to investigate the mystery.
Tell us a little bit about the characters? What are they like and how did you come up with them?
Frankie is a misunderstood genius. His autistic behavior makes it difficult for some of the other
characters to relate to him, thus highlighting his vulnerability and innocence. However, he is incredibly astute and nobody’s fool.
Jake Talbot is wounded and verging on bitter from family tragedy, but he’s very good at observing this in himself and compensates by working hard and having a wry sense of humour. His sister, Anna, is mentally ill suffering from catatonia, which means he’s compassionate yet firm with Frankie. When working he’s thorough, likely to break the rules and takes are more risks than are entirely necessary.
Who do you think would like your story and what kind of readership are you aiming for?
From audience feedback I know that a fair amount of women enjoy my books and have taken my characters to their hearts. Readers are calling Visiting Lilly a page-turner, (several people have blamed me for lack of sleep because they couldn’t put it down!) and many are saying they enjoy the twists and turns in my plot. Hence I’d say that my desired readership is anyone who enjoys working out the puzzle of a good mystery, great characters and a sprinkling of dry humour.
What is the message you are trying to get across in your book?
In Visiting Lilly I’m exploring future technology and the possibility of what we may have already invented or is just around the corner. A hundred years ago the idea of today’s mobile phones would have been laughable, but now they sit in everyone’s pocket. I’m also raising awareness of autism and of how people who are perceived as different are often treated by others.
What is your writing process like?
I tend to do a lot of plotting in my head before I write anything down. Once I get started I make notes at the end of each chapter about what needs to happen next. At the beginning of each new writing session I read through at least a thousand words from my previous session, not only to get me back into the story, but to tidy up and ensure that my plot is working. As the story builds I start to create a board of post-it notes with things I need to remain aware of, which I refer back to during editing.
I also create a character profile for each character. I add to these as I write, copying in key speeches or physical descriptions. With Visiting Lilly I also drew a complex time-line so that I could remember how old each character was at any given point in time.
How do you go about editing your story?
I always start with several thorough read-throughs myself. I then ask a couple of people in my writing group to read through my manuscript with a strong critical eye and write comments. I then go through their comments and decide whether a) they didn’t understand my story – if not, why not? b) I really am terrible at spelling or they and the dictionary have got it wrong c) I should give up now because I’m a rubbish writer.
Once I’ve recovered my composure I go through and seriously consider each of their comments. For this I set emotions aside (I’ve already been through that phase!) and consider the piece of writing in front of me as work, a project to be perfected, not hours and hours of sweat and toil that I’m severely attached to.
When I was being published by Booktrope I was fortunate enough to have a professional editor who I would then hand my MS over to and we’d work closely tightening it up.
Where did you find your cover artist and what was the process like?
I’m trained in art and design, so for my two non-fiction books I designed my own covers. For each book I created several versions and took them along to the group I was teaching for their input. This was invaluable feedback as these people represented the audience I would be pitching my books to.
When publishing my fiction via Booktrope I worked alongside two cover designers. I learnt that with fiction one needs to depict the concept, not necessarily the detail of the story, something I was unaware of before. It was fun having someone else to bounce ideas backwards and forwards with, and helped me think outside the box.
How did you go about getting published?
I started off by self-publishing my non-fiction books for my students to use, and then focused on pitching my fiction. After many attempts to gain an agent, and failing because my books don’t slot neatly into one genre, I decided to explore opportunities that online publishers were offering. The hardest thing was writing a variety of different length synopses for various publishing houses. It’s time consuming, so you have to stay dedicated and not give up at the first rejection. When Booktrope accepted me as one of their authors I was thrilled to be a part of their start-up venture. It was an exciting and highly instructive experience, and I’m so sad to see them go, because I learnt so much about publishing during the process.
What was your self-publishing experience like?
I started self-publishing my non-fiction books when online self-publishing was in its infancy. Back then Createspace and Kindle Unlimited didn’t exist, and I chose to publish with one of the few companies that offered global distribution, which was Lulu. At the time they didn’t offer a formatting service, so my training in design came in extremely useful. I’ve continued to publish via Lulu as they’ve never let me down and their service is excellent.
What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?
The big pro of self-publishing is that you can get your work out there. The big problem with self-publishing is that you have to do the marketing all by yourself.
What were the surprises? Good or bad? If so, what were they?
I think one of the biggest surprises is that people email me to say that they’ve not only bought my books, but they’ve read them and thoroughly enjoyed them. That kind of surprise never ceases to spur me on. It makes me smile.
How do you go about promoting your book as a self-published author?
Any way I can! I’ve recently built a new website which will be my main platform. I’ve experimented with most social media concepts, and I’m currently focusing on the ones I feel most comfortable with, which are Twitter and Instagram. I connect with bloggers and offer author interviews, such as this one, and the rest of my promotion comes via any opportunity that presents itself.
Is there something about the whole process you wish someone had told you before? Good or bad?
You have to be thick-skinned. Self-publishing and book promotion is not for the faint-hearted. Mostly people are very helpful and polite, but you’re always going to come across the trolls, readers who genuinely hate your book and one star it, readers who loved your book but want to show how clever they are by saying, ‘Hey, I knew Fred was the murderer right from page two,’ and put fresh readers off purchasing by giving the plot away. All of these things do happen, and will happen at some point in your writing career. Whatever you do, don’t rise to the bait and try to deal with things as calmly as possible. Walk away from your desk; never react in the heat of the moment.
Do you have any advice for writers who want to self-publish?
Always get your work edited professionally. Ensure you offer your reader the smoothest experience possible. Spend time and effort (and money) on having a good cover created. Start to network and build your brand before you launch your book. Have fun!
What plans do you have for the future of your writing?
I’m currently in editing on the 3rd book in my Jake Talbot Investigates series, Finding Louisa. Meanwhile I’m busy outlining a novel for a new detective I’m creating, who will have a different slant and be a private investigator. I’m also going to chance my luck and enter a few poetry competitions, just for fun.
What are you social accounts if people want to connect with you?
Toni Allen Social Media
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Toni-Allen/e/B0045DUUNK
Links to my Books – Kindle Versions
READ AN EXCERPT FROM VISITING LILLY!
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