Today’s author spotlight is shining down on mystery author Barbara Speake. Barbara’s soft shoe and deeply rimmed hat hides her perfectly as she conducts her clandestine interviews. If you want to know not only who done it, but why, you will have to pick up her books! Without further ado, here’s…Barbara!
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born and brought up in Connecticut and completed my first degree in Psychology at the University of Connecticut and a Master’s degree at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio before I moved to England in 1972 following my marriage to an Englishman. Apart from a short period in New Zealand in the 1990’s, I have lived in the UK ever since. I had a career spanning four decades as a research psychologist and later a clinical psychologist and senior manager in the National Health Service. My husband and I have two adult children.
How did you get started on your writing journey?
I started my writing career through non-fiction during my academic career, co-authoring two books in the Human Horizon Series for Souvenir Press. In about 2001, I decided to try my hand at writing fiction.
Are there any poets or writers who influence you? How so?
I am an avid reader, especially of crime fiction, and I have enjoyed so many crime authors. Early on, I was influenced by PD James and remain a real fan of Michael Connelly. Both have influenced my choice of writing police procedurals.
Let’s talk about your novel! What is it about?
I have written five novels! They all take place in Connecticut, in the fictional city of Westford and feature both American and British characters. I started with a standalone novel, as I was influenced at the time of starting Secrets Only Sleep (2005) by the author, Minette Walters, who writes standalone novels. This book is about the murder of a bag lady. But then I decided to develop a series character, but still use the police station I had created, so went on to develop the Detective Annie Macpherson series.
My female Scottish detective is on a placement with the Westford police detectives and to date there are four books in the series: Primed by the Past (2011) which deals with stalking, Programmed to Kill (2012) about revenge for past events; Past Deception (2014) about kidnapping and Scared to Tell (2015) about working undercover to expose abuse in a residential setting. I describe my books as ‘whydunits’ as I am always interested in the motives behind the crimes…part of the occupational hazard of my training as a psychologist.
In addition to the five novels, I have recently published an e-book of collected short stories and flash fiction, entitled Shades of Crime: Dark and Light (2016).
How is the title significant?
Each title alludes to the essential dilemma in the respective book, which should become clear to the reader. I won’t give anything away…
Where did inspiration for this come from?
With all my novels, I am inspired by real life events, which can be fictionalised and by psychological themes, like: bereavement, psychopathy, stalking, relationship issues, trauma, abuse, depression, and exploitation of vulnerable people.
Tell us a little bit about the characters? What are they like and how did you come up with them?
I knew early on that I wanted police detectives as my main characters, as I have never been very interested in amateur sleuths, or private detectives. I also wanted to create a team of detectives so various personalities could be explored. I wanted my main series character to be female. Many years ago, while on holiday in Scotland, I had the chance to interview a former Scottish police officer and he really inspired my character. I decided that she would be a third generation cop with a fine family history of police work to uphold. I picked her surname from a shop in Huntly and later visited the Clan Macpherson Museum and read a lot of background, which has really helped me to make my main character very real to me. My readers really like the camaraderie and the more intense relationships which have developed throughout the series within the team of detectives.
Who do you think would like your story and what kind of readership are you aiming for?
Over the past eleven years I have met a lot of my readers and they really span the age range. I guess the preponderance is female readers but I also have many male readers. The men seem to like the pace of the books and the thriller elements. Women like to see the relationships developing and the crimes being solved! My books are often described as page turners.
What is the message you are trying to get across in your book?
I guess each of my books has its own message but perhaps across them all are messages about past events never staying hidden forever and about human reaction to vulnerability and abuse. Some of them leave the reader with a sense of moral ambiguity. I want to be entertaining but don’t shirk from tackling difficult issues in a way that is manageable for the reader. I hope my books are thought-provoking without being preachy.
What is your writing process like?
I spend a lot of pre-writing time planning my books and over time have developed both plot and character matrices to help me in the process. I like to have some idea of where I am heading before I start although I always find that, once I start writing, other things pop into my head that get added into the plot. When I am into the writing process I set myself a minimum word target per day and a monthly target. When I am really absorbed hours can go by…
How do you go about editing your story?
My first draft is as it comes but I always make sure, even with the first draft that the story works. Then my first full edit is usually to do with common mistakes I make and I have a whole list of these developed over time. They include things like: the overuse of certain words, passive voice, adverbs, punctuation and so on and I go through and fix those first. As a writer living in Britain, I use English spellings, but as my books take place in the US, I use American terminology when that is required.
If I have a number of crime scenes, I may do an edit just of those to make sure I have all the detail necessary and all is correct procedurally without being boring! I also may edit for the forensic evidence if that is important in a particular book. One thing I really check is the internal consistency in the book, ensuring that every scene is in there for a reason. Usually by edit number four, I am ready to send it to two editors I have used since the start: one looks at every aspect of the book from the story content to the grammar; the other American editor checks that I haven’t put British expressions in American mouths.
Where did you find your cover artist and what was the process like?
I have the great good fortune to be married to a qualified graphic designer, who is also a professional photographer so he designs all my covers and has developed a ‘branding’ for the books in terms of typeface and so on. I am very involved in the process. Luckily he has a stock of his own photographs taken over many years.
How did you go about getting published?
I have a well established link with a small independent publisher and am able to make use of ISBN’s from him. However, I do all the production and distribution of paperbacks myself using 4Edge Printers. My ebooks are done through Kindle Direct Publishing.
What was your self-publishing experience like?
I really enjoy being a self publisher and being in control of every aspect of my novels and short story collection. Given the long-term support I have had from my editors, my publisher, the printing company and my faithful readers, I have no complaints. The only problem is getting known!
What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?
I have already alluded to some of the pros and cons above. On the plus side is the complete creative control and working with professionals you know and trust at every stage of the process. I also like being able to set my own timetable for writing and production. I had to be extremely well organised during my professional career and I have carried those same attributes into my writing career. I like being the chief executive of myself. The cons are all to do with marketing and getting known.
I am not sure I would think of the process in terms of surprises. I have certainly learned a lot along the way: the importance of good editing and proofreading; making sure you tell a good story; the importance of networking and being prepared to ‘sell yourself.’
How do you go about promoting your book as a self-published author?
Over the last eleven or so years I have built up a mailing list of people who want to know about my new publications and I send progress reports a couple of times a year. Over the last few years I have been invited to give more and more presentations about writing crime fiction to various community groups and courses. By the end of 2016, I will have done some twenty-seven of these. The audiences have varied between a dozen to over a hundred and twenty and I have details of my mailing list if people want to sign up. The presentations also provide opportunities to sell paperbacks.
As far as ebooks are concerned I have taken advantage of KDP’s free promotion packages. I also attend either the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival or the Bristol CrimeFest each year, which also provides opportunities for networking and promoting your work. I have only once paid for a tweet package, but have used other free publicity packages when I have a free promotion on (eg Ask David.com). I have not used Facebook Ads.
Is there something about the whole process you wish someone had told you before? Good or bad?
Now that’s a hard one. I wish I had written down all the lessons I have learned as they are hard to recall now. In terms of my writing, I wish I had known that I would write a series and I would have started with that, rather than have a standalone novel first, as it makes the marketing slightly more difficult. I also think my writing has got better with each book. I guess that is inevitable as we learn with each project.
There are always highs and lows when you are a writer and a self publisher. The highs are getting the books written and feeling like, at the time, you have written the best book you could do. And nothing beats holding your own book in your hands. Positive feedback and good reviews are always good for the writer’s soul, but you also have to learn to live with the reader who doesn’t take to your books.
Do you have any advice for writers who want to self-publish?
My only advice is ‘Do it, but do it well.’ Remember that you are joining a band of fellow self publishers and what you do reflects on all of us. So be professional, use outside editors, get others to proofread, get your e-book formatting right. Make your publication indistinguishable from mainstream published books. And enjoy every stage…
What plans do you have for the future of your writing?
I am just about to start the fifth Detective Annie Macpherson novel. The plot has been going around in my head for weeks. It is time to get writing…
What are you social accounts if people want to connect with you?
I have a website at www.barbarafaganspeake.com and a Facebook writer’s page at: https://www.facebook.com/Barbara-Fagan-Speake-Writer-1017508311601634/?ref=hl
All of my books are available as ebooks through Amazon where I have an author’s page.
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