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Author Interview and Giveaway: Ashley McCook

Hello! We are now on my 4th author interviews and I’m so glad to have Ashley McCook with us. She is the author of Demon’s Daughter, which she is willing to be given away, details later.

Ashley lives on the North Coast of Northern Ireland with her husband, 2 children and a menagerie of dogs, cats and fish. She loves writing, reading, watching movies and taking walks along the beach with her family. Her favourite authors of all time are Stephen King and Dean Koontz although she’ll pretty much try any kind of fiction that tickles my fancy! She enjoys most kinds of music from classical right through to heavy metal depending on the mood that she’s in and her favourite sound in the world is when her children are laughing together. – That is just so sweet.

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Q: When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?

A: I’ve always had quite an active imagination (!) and I don’t remember a time when I didn’t daydream stories – maybe that comes from being an only child? – but I suppose I didn’t really think about writing my stories down until I was about 11 or 12 years old. I used to go to the library with my mum every Saturday and on one occasion I chose a book by Susan Cooper, called ‘Seaward’. I got completely lost in that story, loved it so much in fact that I kept getting it re-issued over and over until finally one of the librarians told me I’d have to give it back! I don’t know if this makes sense to you but I ‘felt’ the story, every time I opened the book – it was like stepping out of reality and completely entering the world that the author had created – and I still get that feeling of complete immersion in the author’s vision every time I read a really well written novel. ‘Seaward’ made me want to write and although I’ll never be able to craft a story the way Susan Cooper does, I hope that readers can get lost in my stories and slip out of reality for a while.

Q: How long does it take you to write a book?

A: On average it takes me 6-8 months to write a first draft. Once I’ve got the main storyline down and I’m happy with the characters, then I put what I’ve written to the side for a while before re-reading and rewriting. By the end of the second draft, I’ve usually figured out the areas of the story that don’t ‘feel’ right and so I spend quite a few weeks obsessively re-writing these. Once draft 3 is done, I send it to some of my friends who have kindly agreed to be beta readers – their feedback generates the final re-writes. I would say that from first word to final re-write takes about 12-15 months. I don’t think I’m ever 100% happy with it but I could go on tweaking and re-writing forever!

Q: What is your work schedule when you’re writing?

A: I aim to write for at least 3 hours per day – Monday to Friday – with as much as I can fit in over the weekends. Sometimes it works out fairly easily and other days family life takes over! I don’t beat myself up if I can’t manage the three hours but I have to write at some stage every day or I get grumpy and frustrated. When I’m working on a final draft, I tend to set myself a deadline to finish, switch off my phone and ignore emails, Facebook, Twitter etc. etc. until I get done. Those are the days when family meals turn into burnt offerings!

Q: What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

A: Oooh! That’s a good question! I don’t know that I have any interesting ones (I’m incredibly boring!) but I do feel better if I’ve written a chapter out long hand, in pencil, before typing it into the computer. I also find it easier to concentrate when I have the dogs and cats lying at my feet – they kind of make me feel like I’m surrounded by a comfy furry bubble!

Q: How do books get published?

A: For me this was a long drawn out process because, while I really, really, really, wanted to be a writer and have other people read my stories, I never really felt like I was good enough to be published. Once I grew up and was still writing stories, I kind of hid it ‘cause I thought that if I admitted what I wanted to do and let anyone read it they’d laugh their heads off and tell me to wise up and get over myself – I’m just a mum of 2 from a wee seaside town in Northern Ireland for goodness sake!
I wrote a short story to entertain my daughter and she loved it so much that she asked me to write more about the central character – a sixteen year old nerd called ‘Emily’. I was in the middle of writing a novel about a fallen angel named ‘Sariel’ which wasn’t working and over-night had an idea that if Emily and Sariel could meet then it might make for an interesting story. ‘Demon’s Daughter’ was the result and was written over the course of about 6 months. My daughter read it and kept going back to read it again and again which just delighted me and then one of my friends asked to read it. She loved it, it got passed around a lot and finally, after the fiftieth person told me I should try and get published I started sending off query letters, synopsis, sample chapters etc. etc. to agents that I targeted from the ‘Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook’. I spent 1 ½ years on that and built up quite a thick folder of very positive responses – love the story, great characters, good writing style – but which all, inevitably, ended with the words ‘can’t take you on right now’. By the time June 2011 came I’d had a huge file full of rejections and had finished the second instalment of Emily’s story.
I took the summer of 2011 off and concentrated on having fun with my kids and then at the end of August I made a decision to take a massive leap of faith and get my story out there on my own via Kindle Direct Publishing. ‘Demon’s Daughter’ debuted on Kindle on 4th September, then on Smashwords a few weeks later. Over the next 3 months I had small but steady sales and people began asking for a paperback – the demand grew and, after a few weeks of telling myself that I couldn’t possibly do it, I created a publisher, ‘Crooked Halo Publications, bought myself 10 ISBNs from Nielsen, applied to Lightning Source, hired a Graphic Designer to redesign the cover and follow LSUK’s requirements for getting my book ready to be printed, and finally held a copy of my own book in paperback in January 2012.
I don’t believe for a second that my book is perfect – it’s not – or that I’m the next JK Rowling, I’m just incredibly proud and thankful to have achieved an ambition that’s been my goal since the age of 11. I have 3 more books coming out in the next 2 years and I’m working on another at the moment so I’m hoping that my ability to produce error-free final drafts will improve and my goal is just to entertain readers!

Q: Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

A: Hmmm. I got asked this at a reading recently and ended up sounding like someone who should be treated to a stay in a padded cell! I don’t know any other way to explain it than it’s like daydreaming – my imagination kind of takes over and before I know it there’s a character urging me to grab a pencil and follow her into her story. I know that sounds a bit like ‘the voices in my head tell me to do it’ but….well, yeah, the characters in my imagination are real to me while I’m writing about them. I’d love to say that I sit down and thrash out several ideas before coming around to the best one but no, I’m not that well organised! I just go where my imagination takes me!

Q: When did you write your first book and how old were you?

A: I actually wrote my first book while I was at school – probably about the age of 12. It was a kind of serial for my friends to read and was something gushy and romantic I think. It was probably fairly awful!

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

A: Read! And then read some more! I have about 60 books that I want to read on my TBR list on Goodreads and I’m working my way through them. I also love watching movies and just being with my family – we have family movie night on a Saturday night which is bliss! I think I’m going to read the ‘Hunger Games’ next so that I’m ready for the movie – although the book is ALWAYS better!

Q: What does your family think of your writing?

A: I’m very lucky to have a really supportive family – they put up with lots of burnt dinners or weird food combinations (if I get lost in writing and forget to go to the shop then I use whatever’s in the house) like ‘Burgonaise’ which is Spaghetti Bolognaise made with burgers…see what they have to deal with?! My daughter is a big reader like me and the right age to be one of my target audience so I tend to give her bits and pieces to read to see if I’m on the right track – she’s scarily honest! My husband and son are very much the ‘what do you mean you don’t think you’re good enough? Get out there and do it!’ kind of cheerleaders which I really need sometimes when I struggle under the crippling realisation of what a small fish I am in this huge pond!

Q: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

A: I always thought that when I wrote a book I would be one of those fantastically organised writers who plans everything out, knows what’s going to happen where and how many chapters the books will have etc. etc. I tried this approach several times and failed miserably – my characters just won’t play ball with me! They tend to take off and do things that I didn’t plan, go places I don’t know or meet people that I wasn’t expecting. I never, ever imagined that characters could become so real to you that they would take on a life of their own and dictate the story to you! It’s fascinating and, although it probably shows some kind of underlying mental problems, I thoroughly enjoy every surprise that gets thrown onto my page.

Q: How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?

A: To date I’ve written four books – ‘Shudder’, ‘Demon’s Daughter’, Demon’s Revenge’ and ‘Demon’s Blood’. ‘Demon’s Daughter’ is the only one that I’ve published so far but the others will be out over the course of the next 2 years.
I don’t know that I could choose a favourite – that’s like asking which of your children is your favourite, there’s no way you could do that!!

Q: Do you have any suggestions to help me become a better writer? If so, what are they?

A: Hmmm. Well, the obvious one is to read, read, read and then read some more as well as write, write, write and keep on writing! There used to be a big thing about writing for a certain market, researching it well and making sure you tailored your writing to the market. I’m not sure I could do that – I was a reader before I was a writer so I tend to write what I like to read whether that’s the ‘correct’ way to do things or not, I don’t know. I think the more you write, the more you figure out what works for you so just keep at it.
The other thing I would recommend is to find yourself some good, honest beta readers who won’t shy away from giving you their honest opinions – it might sting but it’ll improve your writing and toughen your skin a little.
Above all I think you should give yourself the chance to make mistakes and learn from them. I’ve made sooo many in the past 8 months and I could creep away back into my writing cave, lick my wounds and give it all up as a job that someone else can do better, or I can hold my head up high, admit to the mistakes and resolve to do better next time.
If you’ve written something that you LOVE reading with characters that you just can’t seem to get out of your head, and you’ve had a couple of honest folk tell you that it’s great too, then there will be others out there who will love what you’ve written as well so give it as much polish as you can and then go for it!

Q: Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?

A: I’ve been incredibly lucky to do readings in local schools and I’ve had emails from some of the children afterwards saying how much they enjoyed the story, telling me who their favourite characters are and asking when the next book is coming out. One of the questions I got asked at a recent reading was if there were any messages in my books or if I was trying to make any particular points. I had to be truthful – although I would love to say that there are messages of deep significance in my imagining a world where angels and demons live alongside humans and interact with vampires and werewolves on a daily basis – there isn’t! It’s just me, enjoying telling a story that I hope is entertaining!
I have to admit that I love hearing from readers – it makes me happy to know that someone enjoyed what I wrote or cements my intention to improve if someone doesn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped.
I got a call on the morning of World Book Day from a secretary at one of the schools that I’d read at to tell me that some of the children had come in dressed as characters from my book! I was so thrilled! How cool is that?! That completely made my day!

Q: Do you like to create books for adults?

A: Well, ‘Shudder’ is more adult-oriented than the Emily series and I’ll probably do more like ‘Shudder’ in the future but I’d have to say that I don’t find it as enjoyable as writing YA – maybe because I can really let my imagination have free rein? Or perhaps because my mental age is still around 17!

Q: What do you think makes a good story?

A: A good ‘what if?’ is always a good start; like in Harry Potter – What if you discovered that you were really a wizard? Or Narnia – What if you discovered another world in the back of your wardrobe? And then there have to be characters that I can either identify with or care about – Stephen King and Dean Koontz have always managed to create amazing characters that you really miss once you finish the book. I don’t need a huge amount of description but I like to know where my characters are and what they look like fairly clearly! I like to have a beginning that draws me into the story – it doesn’t have to be spectacularly exciting, just interesting enough to keep me reading; a middle that leaves me breathless with anticipation or in a blind panic for the characters’ lives; and I prefer stories that end well – I know that’s ridiculous but it’s just a personal preference. I like to end a story feeling happy, glad for the characters and maybe even shedding a few tears of joy; or if it’s a series, I want to be buzzing with ‘what’ll happen next?’ and ‘Wow! Can’t wait for the next book, when’s it out?’ I’ve read a few that ended on a downer and that just drives me insane! Like I say – personal preference. In short, I believe a good story should entertain you, take you away from reality for a few hours, or days (depending on how quickly you read) and should leave you glad that you spent your hard earned cash on the book.

Q: As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?

A: When I was small I wanted to be a pony but unfortunately that was beyond the ability of even my imagination! After the age of 11, I wanted to be a published author and when it came time to actually choosing a possible career path I thought about going into historical restoration. In the end I just didn’t get the necessary grades to take that path and I worked at a number of jobs – waitress, PA, office worker, bookseller, bookshop manager and finally stay-at-home mum. Writing has always been a passion, but it has stayed very much in the shadows until now – it seemed like an impossible dream. I’m very lucky to be able to write and see my books published now – very lucky indeed.

Q: While working fulltime, how do you find time to do all the research for your books?

A: Well, I’m in the very fortunate position of being at home for my children and while they’re both at school I have the time to write. There’s the washing, ironing, cooking cleaning, school runs etc. etc. too and yes, sometimes the ironing forms a mountain before I get to it but thankfully I have a family who understand and don’t complain very often!

Q: For an aspiring writer what do you feel are do’s and don’t’s for getting their material published?

A: I suppose the best advice I can give is to produce as good work as you possibly can; research the paths available to you for publishing your work – be yourself and do what’s right for you; make sure you know what you’re getting into – I was incredibly naïve about what’s involved with self-publishing and so I’m on a fairly steep learning curve! Above all – don’t expect to put your work out there and become an instant gazillionaire! It doesn’t work that way so aim for a marathon and not a sprint. If you’re uncertain about your work and want to ‘try it out’ then there are loads of sites where you can post your work and get feedback on it, as well as doing the same for other writers – Miss Literati is one that comes to mind.

Q: How old were you when you decided to become a writer? If it was later in life, what gave you the final push?

A: I’ve been serious about writing since the age of about 11 and I write every day but I didn’t actually take the plunge and think about getting published until 2009. I think what held me back were doubt and fear – I didn’t believe that someone like me could possibly manage to get a book published and I was afraid of failure. In the end there were two things that gave me the final push I needed – people I didn’t know were borrowing my work (printed out on A5 paper and stuck into little binders!) and really enjoying it AND my family were telling me that it was time to stop hiding in my cave like a hermit and at least attempt it. I finally decided that it would be better to have a go than to always wish I had.

Q: What do you consider invaluable resources for an aspiring writer?

A: In terms of interacting and meeting other writers and readers then I thoroughly recommend Goodreads – there are groups for everyone and all have fantastic and topical discussions that aren’t just fun to read and participate in but are also really informative about what readers are looking for and what other writers are doing. You can usually find a load of really good ideas about publishing, marketing etc. just floating around the groups. I haven’t joined very many – I’ve been really picky because I just don’t have the time to keep up with them all! – and I only get on maybe once or twice per week when I’m in the middle of a draft but it’s a fantastic way to hear what’s going on the publishing world – and to find great new books to read!
I’m on Twitter and Facebook too although I have to say I’m fairly useless at the whole marketing aspect of both – why would I want to spam my friends on either with more about my book?! I suppose that’s the completely wrong way to look at it! Lol
There are also loads and loads of blogs out there with masses of information about writing, publishing, marketing etc. etc. etc. The problem is that there are so many! I tend to find blogs through the groups on Goodreads, to be honest – people that I interact with on there seem to know what they’re talking about so I dip in and out of theirs. I started one as well but it’s not very good yet – I’m much better writing about imaginary stuff than reality I’m afraid so I’m in awe of really great bloggers!
There are also quite a few books that can help you make decisions about where you’re going to go with your writing and how to go about it if you decide to try the traditional publishing route. I borrowed most of the ‘self-help’ books from the library but purchased ‘The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook’, ‘The Freelance Writer’s Handbook’ by Andrew Crofts and ‘Writer’s Market’. I found everything I read useful to some extent and the lists of agents, publishers etc. are invaluable if that’s the route that you decide to take.

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GIVEAWAY

  Ashley is cheerfully giving away five (5) E-book copies of

                                              Demon’s Daughter.

This is an International Giveaway.

Starts on March 13 and ends on March 23.

A little peek about the book:

   Emily Carson is an average sixteen year-old nerd living in a small town with no real ambitions beyond acing her exams, dealing with her brother Seth’s questionable taste in girls and curing school hottie Adam Farlow’s questionable eye-sight(the only possible explanation for his lack of interest).

And then her dad shows up.

Discovering that your dad is a demon certainly makes life much more interesting, but even demon lords have enemies and Emily and Seth soon find themselves the new targets for every vampire, demon, were and angel in town.

Having fallen angel Sariel as a body guyard should help but discovering that they share a special gift brings Emily and her tempting angel more life-threatening problems than a maths loving teenager should ever have to deal with.

Interested and would like to have a copy of Demon’s Daughter? Here’s how you can join:

1st: Follow my blog. Quid Habes Quod Scripsi

2nd: Follow me on twitter and tweet about the giveaway

It’s so simple, yes? I’d be giving away the books to the first five people to comment on the box below that they’ve followed my blog and have tweeted about the giveaway. Don’t forget to include your email address on the comment. Now go, enter the giveaway fun and enjoy the book! 🙂