Sunday, December 18, 2011

Support across the pond with Debbie Bennett

eBooks for Soldiers

Who, in your opinion, is the best author?
That’s a hard one. Like any question of that kind, the answer depends on what mood I’m in, why I’m reading – lots of factors. Who influenced me most as a writer would have to be Louise Cooper and Storm Constantine, and I’ve been lucky enough to meet and get drunk with both of them over the years. Louise is sadly no longer with us, but a very talented fantasy writer; her Time Master trilogy was hugely important to me as a reader and writer in my 20s. And Storm – all goth eyeliner, black hair and clothes I always wanted to wear myself but was never brave enough – her Wraeththu books still plunge me into other worlds I just don’t want to leave.

What three elements are essential to a great book?
Characterisation, first and foremost. If you don’t care about the people, why read the story? Then a plot is useful, otherwise I get bored. And finally a voice – a unique way of telling a story that gets inside you and won’t let you go.

Debbie Bennett
Who is responsible for propelling you down the path of writing?
My parents are and have always been great readers, and a weekly trip to the library was a routine in our house. I remember my dad bringing me home a Famous Five (Enid Blyton) book every Friday – I can’t have been more than 7, as that was the age of the youngest character. But once I hit 11 or 12 and had read Nancy Drew, Malcolm Saville and one or two other solidly middle-class book sets, there was nothing else for young readers. I read books like 1984 and Brave New World and then dived straight into John Wyndham and Robert Heinlein.
            So who is responsible for my starting to write? All the authors who never wrote YA fiction in the late 1970s (and the publishers who never published it). I started writing at 14 – the stories I wanted to read but weren’t available. A very bad teenage thriller with cardboard characters and no plot, but I finished it and wrote a sequel, followed by a post-apocalyptic science-fiction story. I still have them all somewhere to remind me how far I’ve come.

Aside from natural talent why do you want to be an author?
I wish I knew. God knows there must be easier careers, where you’re less dependent on other people’s approval or opinion. Where you don’t regularly expose your soul for public scrutiny. I write because I can’t imagine not writing. Because it defines me as a person – as much as the fact that I am a mother and a wife. I am a writer and writers write.

What's the best piece you've ever written?
The crime thriller I’m giving away as part of this promotion. Hamelin’s Child. It’s dark and powerful and takes the reader down roads they may not want to travel. And I have absolutely no idea where it came from; it’s the only thing I have ever written that I didn’t struggle with, that came naturally and completely. And I’m not sure what that says about me. But I’ve had some great reviews and I’m so pleased that many readers really do “get” it.

Are your family/friends supportive of your writing?
Don’t make me laugh! My immediate family just complain that “mum’s on the computer again” and when will tea be ready? Husband is supportive in a “whatever makes you happy” kind of way but he can’t empathise – in 21 years of marriage I have never known him read a book. Ever. But my dad was the one who bought me a kindle and without knowing it changed my life completely when it opened my eyes to indie ebook publishing.

Hamelin's Child
How would you describe your style of writing?
Close-up and in-your-face style.  I like to get right inside my character’s heads, make you feel what they are feeling and live what they are living. I have a habit of using italics for characters’ direct thoughts. It seems to work for me.

Do you feel the “real you” is in your writing or outside of it?
I think to write well – to convince your reader to come on your journey with you, you have to leave a piece of yourself in everything you write. I think it shows if you don’t. But curiously, by leaving bits of yourself behind, you can grow even more as a writer.

Is your writing based on life experience?
They say “write what you know” and while I know nothing about the sex trade, I do know my hard drugs. I’ve had some interesting experiences while working in law enforcement, but much of it can only come out disguised as fiction, courtesy of the Official Secrets Act. I’d tell you more – but then I’d have to kill you …

In such a competitive field how do you make yourself stand out?
As an indie, it’s hard. There are so many of us – all desperately scrabbling for crumbs of attention. I like to think that quality stands out, but until a reader knows your book exists, they can’t even make the decision to buy and read it. So I maintain a sporadic blog at, although I can never think of anything witty or entertaining to write in it. I’m not a tweeter, although I dabble occasionally, and I dislike it when people constantly promote their book and nothing else, so I try not to do that.
            But I’m lucky enough to know a fair few traditionally-published authors and I was invited to be a part of a UK ebook blog site at, set up by award-winning fantasy author Katherine Roberts. I think I’m one of only a few authors there who doesn’t have a traditional publishing background, but they let me stay and ramble in a post once a month!

How can your fans get hold of your material?
All my ebooks are, and hopefully will continue be published via all amazon sites (in kindle format) and also at smashwords (in most ereader formats plus PDF and HTML).

Do you have any advice or encouragement for newbies in writing?
Without stating the obvious – you need to write! Too many would-be authors are more in love with idea of “having written” than actually writing. I know because I’m probably one of them. Just do it. Forget writing for a market (because it will be gone before you are ready to send your baby out into the world), forget publishing (it’s not even on the horizon yet, trust me on that one), forget what your friends and family think (if my mother ever reads what I write, I’ll die of embarrassment) and just write. And when you’ve finished writing, write some more. And rewrite. Again. And again. And again. Until it is perfect.

Tongue in cheek questions:

If you had to go shopping at Midnight who would you take?
Clothes or food shopping? It’d have to be husband, to drive me home as I don’t drive at night anymore unless I have to. He’d also be good for carrying everything and making sure that if I was buying clothes that my bum didn’t look too big…

How long can you hold your breath?
Not as long as I used to be able to. I used to scuba dive as a teenager and had to swim a length underwater as part of the training. And when you’re playing the dead body for somebody else’s life-saving training, it helps to be able to play dead too.

What was the best gift you’ve ever GIVEN someone?
Enough love, cuddles and security to my teenage daughter for her to be the wonderful, stroppy, adorable, talented girl that she is. Corny but true!

Did you go through an awkward stage growing up?
Oh yes. Don’t get me started. I was the not-rich kid at the posh private school. I wasn’t poor by any means, but not in the same league as my school friends – I was just bright enough to get a scholarship. I didn’t fit in at school and I didn’t fit in at home where all my local friends went to the local school. It wasn’t until I went to university that I found the group I was comfortable with and finally felt like I was me.

When you’re sitting there staring off into space what are you thinking about? 
Probably what I dreamed about last night, whether there’s any bread in the house, what I’m going to cook for dinner and what my two main characters are doing, sitting on the 8 am London-Manchester train with a bag full of heroin. All at the same time.

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