The Colin Ward Interview
From teacher and theatre specialist to a published author, Colin Ward talks to Pen2publishing about his debut novel, why self – publishing is a gift to upcoming writers and much more!
Tell us more about your book(s)
My debut novel, “To Die For” is a crime fiction set in Birmingham. It’s a classic serial killer story with twists and turns to keep the reader guessing all the way to the end. The book is the first in a planned trilogy introducing DI Mike Stone. I also have a poetry collection called “Ripples” which explores themes of mental health, justice, philosophy and so on. Last year, I published my longest play to date, “No Smoke”, which explores allegations of abuse – a hard-hitting drama based on the legal system and how it treats such cases.
What inspired you to write your book(s)?
Reading. I love stories. Having been a teacher, theatre specialist, and writer in many forms, I’d always considered writing something substantial. I completely lost my love for reading at university because I had been swamped with so much academic reading – self-indulgent, theoretical nonsense – that it had become a chore. It wasn’t until I stumbled on a crime fiction novel that a spark was relit. Having been a musician and composer, writing songs and musicals for years, I also had a love of poetry. Words, wordplay, meaning, rhythm, and etymology, all inspire me.
What was the biggest obstacle while writing?
Self-doubt can be crippling. Writing can be a very solitary art and it is easy to switch between excitement for a great idea to suddenly questioning if it is any good at all. Ideas can appear at any time – often at any time other than when you sit down to do the hard graft. I know I am often at my most creative between 11pm and 4am – that’s not conducive to healthy sleeping!
Where do the ideas come from?
Planning. Story. Research. I spend weeks, even months with big paper and pens, brainstorms, mind maps, sticky notes, hours and hours of research into whatever I need. I love to weave the plot twists, the characters’ histories, and the entire story arc before I finally sit down and hammer at the keyboard. I am often asked where my ideas come from, especially for “To Die For” because the victims are murdered in such a depraved way (no spoilers!). I would say they come from reading and watching lots of crime. I put a twist on ideas, come at them from another angle. Sometimes even just a forensic evidence question might spring an idea which leads to a whole murder, which leads to character, and all that comes with it.
In poetry, that is far more fluid, perhaps more emotionally driven. I carry notepads and pens with me all the time as it is very often that a mere line or rhyme might spring up at any time. Art, paintings, music – all have imaginative energy that inspire new ideas.
What drew you towards the genre you wrote on?
Simon Kernick’s “Deadline”. I don’t know why I picked the book up. One day, years after having bought it, I read chapter one on a whim. Then I read the next five or ten chapters in one go. Its pace captured me. Its action stunned me – I was excited, energised by it. The book hooked me, and soon enough I was ploughing through his entire collection. The genre was not surprising, as I have always loved crime drama – Cracker, A Touch of Frost, and all series like those. CSI drama’s and a general interest of science all pointed me towards crime fiction. After Simon Kernick, I moved onto Mark Billingham’s books, whose style I think is a major inspiration in my writing. It was a debut by Lisa Ballantyne – The Guilty One – which also opened up another way of writing with more interesting timelines, too
Do you ever get writers block? If so how do you get over it?
Yes, absolutely – but I also often suffer I call writer’s over-load: when my mind is simply bombarding so many ideas that none of them work. IN fact, I was discussing this recently with a fellow indie writer. Getting over writer’s block is hard. I believe you need to find the reason for it. I have been suffering this for nearly a year on my second novel, but I now know why, so I am taking steps to re-trigger my excitement for the story. For me, the most important thing to do when I get writer’s block is to walk away from the project for a while. I rarely get complete writer’s block – so I can continue on other projects, such as poetry, or working a short play, or a blogging. Writers have to find their own way out of a block, but as I said, it’s like anything else: if you don’t know what is causing the block, it is almost impossible to shift it. Often, the route back includes using music that helps to inspire the ideas.
When did you decide to self- publish?
This wasn’t a hard choice for me. I began my novel writing at a time when I had decided to step away from theatre for a while. One of the problems in theatre is that if you write a great play, you then need to get it produced. It can take so long to eventually see it become what it is, I didn’t want that for my novel – I wanted it to be released on my terms. I remember writing a blog “No More Waiting” about how so much of my work has had to wait for other people before getting out to the audience. Self-publishing had come along leaps and bounds, putting control back into the hands of the writer. So, instead of waiting for someone else to approve my book and publish it, I wanted to get it out into the world on my terms.
A lot of writers choose self-publishings nowadays. Do you think its a good choice?
Well, I wouldn’t have self-published four titles if I didn’t! It’s a good choice for some, but not all. It’s far easier to get your book out to the public, but it is important not to underestimate the challenges and the costs. For example, writing even the very best book ever will not sell it. Marketing is hard graft – you might even say that writing a book is 5% of the job done – 95% is everything else. You must make sure your book is the best it can be, which means getting it edited by a pro, and that costs money. Then you need feedback from readers, proofreaders, and so on. Very few writers sell very many of their books – so don’t plan on it being something you can earn a living from unless you absolutely fluke a massive writing deal.
What self-publishing allows is having control over every step of the journey, when they happen, and how they happen.
What was your biggest challenge while writing and self- publishing?
There is so much to learn about preparing your text after you have “written” it. I was fortunate enough to already understand the developmental process, having done this for years in theatre. But I meet so many new writers who look fearful of the idea that I say my books and stories will see no less than five or six full drafts, and countless corrections, readings, re-readings, and so on. A full-length novel will take a massive amount of work, easily well over a year or so – sometimes many years. You also need to get your book edited by someone else – a professional editor. Writers are absolutely not automatically skilled editors. And you should prepare to pay handsomely for a good editor. My biggest challenge was having to learn on such a steep curve how to manipulate the computer programs, formatting, cover design, and submitting onto platforms. I had to get advice from skilled designers on tiny issues to them, but what felt like massive hurdles.
And then…beyond that…getting people to even know your book exists. That is the hardest job of all.
What do you think are the common traps for aspiring writers?
Getting the wrong feedback.
If you want encouragement, ask friends and family to read your work. If you want feedback, ask people to tell you what they think of your writing. But if you want real, constructive feedback, you need to ask people whose expertise and job includes the skill of giving constructive and developmental feedback, and you need to ask better questions. Be specific with what you want from your feedback-reader: is it their view on your characterisation, use of dialogue, narrative structure, or so on? Don’t just ask for open “what you like/dislike” because that is “opinion” and that doesn’t always help.
Also – writing your “own story.” Unless you are already very famous and very interesting, I can assure you that no matter how fascinating you find yourself or your life…it’s not. You are better off writing a fictional character and story based on you, but one who is not actually you, so when – not “if”, when – people criticise it and suggest alterations, you don’t feel compelled to ignore them because you know what really happened. An interesting fiction is far better reading than a dull fact.
What advice would you give to upcoming writers?
Read. Read. Read. And read some more. Then, write. Write. And write some more. I might have only released my first novel in 2017, but I have been a writer for over twenty years, as well as a teacher, dramatist, and a creative in many arts. But the one thing that underpins all my writing is my understanding of story. Knowing how to build a story from even the simplest of ideas helps in so many ways. Getting your greatest idea will involve throwing away a lot of awful ideas first. But never fear having awful ideas. We need them as our necessary evils.
You can check him out here:
Twitter: @colinwardwriter @inasmanywords
Facebook: @inasmanywords https://www.facebook.com/inasmanywords/