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Saturday, 18 August 2012

Author in the chair - Vivian Mayne.

The Curse of Fin Milton
Vivian Mayne

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Set in modern day London and Cornwall, England, this enchanting ghost story follows the quest of a young man who carries a curse that condemns him to a life without the woman he cares for most in the world. His quest to lift the curse threatens the lives of all those he cares for.

The couple first meet as children, but were predestined to suffer a supernatural romance as a consequence of a curse cast in days gone by.

Aided by a beautiful and dangerous ally who herself has mystic gifts he has to ward off paranormal forces as he seeks to unshackle the restraints of the curse. The two lovers are constantly at the mercy of a ruthless family whose interests would be threatened if the the curse were lifted.

 Tell us the background for The Curse of Fin Milton about?
Set in modern day London and Cornwall, England, this paranormal romance follows the quest of a young man, Fin Milton, who carries a curse that condemns him to a life without the woman he cares for most in the world unless he can lift it. Fin has supernatural abilities and has never been able to lead a normal life. Initially he is unaware that he has been living with the curse or that it would be his destiny to be torn away from his lover every ten years.

Aided by a beautiful and mystically gifted daughter of a local family with a history of criminality and violence, Fin has to ward off paranormal forces as he seeks to unshackle the restraints of the curse that keeps the two lovers apart.

What inspired you to write The Curse of Fin Milton?
I had a dream about astral planing (where your conscious mind is separated from its body) and went to a party at this grand house in Surrey and met a lovely guy (I used this in the book, albeit briefly, with the party at Eel Pie Island).

Then, I fell in love and it was like being hit by a train. It was unreciprocated, which was hard, but I had to get on with it. I began to think I was cursed because I could not explain why I felt the way I did about him, it made no sense. However, I drew from this experience and wondered to what extreme could I take this theme: what if someone was cursed to love someone they couldn’t be with? With this premise on board, the story snowballed and I started writing it from Fin’s perspective. It then became his story and it really grew legs, taking on a life of its own.

Describe what you were aiming for with The Curse of Fin Milton?
I wanted plenty of conflict to keep the reader hooked with lots of punchy dialogue, helping to establish the personalities. I wanted to create a hidden world where good people live normal lives with concealed extraordinary abilities, and where bad people with similar powers never get caught. Hence the talisman/cloak (hiding in the shadow of Etherea) and the overseers: the Sentries from Etherea – who are like the cosmic police. It then all tallied with a cold act of revenge and the design of a curse. I created family trees, which are still growing and will intersect more in Book 2.

There are a lot of characters. How did you deal with all the personalities? Did you write plan for each one?
Yes, I did a lot of research on the different personalities. I have a Facebook page where it will have a list of all the characters and their attributes, relationships, powers etc. I spent over ten years working on this and it evolved. I enjoyed it so much, I had a plan for each character. I wanted to create something big so that it felt multi-dimensional, more real. I am doing the same for the sequel and there are new characters. In the print edition there are family trees. These are currently on my Facebook page. 

The book is set mainly in Cornwall. Why that part of England?
Cornwall is somewhere I always thought was paranormal, with magic and witchcraft aplenty, it is a great place to let your imagination go wild. I grew up here. I wanted to base it in here because I love it so much. I invented all the characters (none are based on anyone I know), drawing on my own personal feelings and experiences. It helped to create a fantasy cast so that I could visualise the characters, even though it was only the look I was after, not the personality, which I created myself.

What kind of music do you find inspirational while you write?
I found musical inspiration listening to James Morrison – the lyrics of Better Man & Get to You is a big influence on Fin; David Gray – Please Forgive Me; The Doors – LA Woman; Coldplay – The Scientist & Shiver; Dido – White Flag; James Blunt – High and Goodbye My Lover; Vangelis – soundtrack theme of The Bounty; to name a few.

Vivian Mayne 
Was there a character you struggled with?
Yes, funnily enough it was Fin Milton, but it wasn’t a struggle as such, it was more about making him manly. I think it is fair to say women writing about male characters can sometimes make them sound camp or too feminine (because most women don’t think like men) so I had to revisit the personality of Fin many times, weeding out the flowery bits and making him more selfish and manly – not that I think to be a man means you have to be selfish of course. It helped having a couple of men to read it and give their opinions and it made a big difference. While Fin is affected by the curse, I wanted to make him scatty, mixed up and unpredictable, so by the time the curse is lifted, a brand new personality emerges in the last two chapters. I am happy with Fin’s development and hope that others like him too.

I did like his opening chapter, when he wandered down the road drunk! That was a typical male who’s worse for wear. So how many unpublished books do you have lurking under your bed?
Only the one: The Curse of Fin Milton, but I am working on the second book in the series, The Flame and The Moth, which is currently “in production”. I am hoping to have this ready later this year for editing, and then I may write a third but I am not sure at present. It all depends how much closure I get with Book 2. I may start something new next time.

How did you find your publisher? How do they treat you?
I am unpublished in the traditional sense. I self-published on Amazon [after hiring an editor] and on www.lulu.com/gb where I have created a hardback version for global distribution. This is available through Lulu and will be on Amazon within a month.

How did you find the publishing process on Luly?
I found Lulu a very good way of finding free distribution. If you can do the artwork it cuts down the expense of it. It suited me because I didn’t have to hire anyone to help with the production. Print on demand is better now than it ever has been. I published through Blurb as well, in the early stages, and even if you do it for yourself, it is a quick inexpensive way of seeing your book in print without being published. I would recommend it definitely. 

Why self-publish?
I decided to self publish because I wanted to get my book out there, and it has never been easier if you can do it yourself. Having said that I have had to learn the hard way with typesetting an ebook. The software is improving as it becomes more in demand, but it is still quite tricky and time consuming. Without the print on demand services and Kindle making itself available to anyone, I would still be printing out submissions and trying to find a literary agent which can become soul destroying after a while. I offer inexpensive typesetting and book cover design on a freelance basis, and can be contacted by email – maynedesign@gmail.com

Does that mean you designed your own book cover?
Yes, I designed the cover and this is about the tenth incarnation of it. The latest cover came about working with feedback from my editor and some of his colleagues. So having it critiqued is essential, although everyone has their own opinion about what they envisage. The cover is the first point of sale so I hope it attracts readers. I designed a new cover for my editor’s book last week, How To Write A Book or Novel – AnInsider’s Guide to Getting Published by Jonathan Veale, this is on Amazon and is a very good source of information for authors.

How do your juggle a writing schedule?
When I am not being a graphic designer, a mother, a housewife, a daughter and a friend—I write. I think it is a case of having to, it is something I get totally absorbed in and I love it. Sometimes I have to make time but it is fair to say I am thinking about it constantly.

What's the best/worst part of being a writer?
The best part is being able to be terribly excited and passionate about my story and my characters. It is like being a mother and the story is my child. The worst part is not having enough time to satisfy my appetite for writing. The dream is to be published then I will be able to do it full time. At the same time, I adopt the attitude that if it is meant to be, then it will happen. If it doesn’t, then I have had a great time playing in my sand box.

What is the most productive time of the day for you to write?
Anytime. I am self-employed and work from home, so it can be from 7.30am in the morning or late at night—it is random. Sometimes I find myself writing because I simply have to. A laptop makes this very easy.

Do you start your projects writing with paper and pen or is it all on the computer.
I start making notes, writing in a journal and then do as much research as I can. I live in my location, so I spend a lot of time experiencing the place and knowing it well enough so when I come to write about it I feel confident. I have taken loads of photographs of locations, where I have based my story like Penberth, The Lizard and St. Ives. This really helps me visualise. I lived in London and spent a lot of time in Camden and the house in Sussex is based on a friend’s house. It helped to create a complex piece having research notes. A lot of the houses exist. I am working in the same manner with the next one, especially when it comes to the plot and family trees. The writing is done on either my imac or my powerbook if I am writing in bed. I use Word.

What other authors/books do you draw inspiration from?
I read many Anne Rice novels when I was younger and loved how she created a world where her immortal characters live, over a long period of time, centuries even. I love anything that takes me away from the normal humdrum life. The more fantastic the better.

Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials was brilliant even though I didn’t like the ending, it became too religious, but the first two books were amazing.

I love the fast pace of Anthony Horowitz’ novels The Power of Five, although directed at a teen audience, I really admired how fast the pace was and it is the story, the conflicts and the characters that grabbed me.
I love Diane Wynne Jones’ books because of her incredible imagination—Howl’s Moving Castle is so different to the film.

I draw inspiration from intellectual dialogue: in films, theatre plays, TV, books—everywhere. I am a huge movie fan and love being visually entertained, especially with stories that are pure escapism. I cried at how creatively stunning Avatar was on the Imax. I was more impressed with that than the actual story. I think this must be my inner artist.

Do you set yourself goals when you sit down to write such as word count?
I like to achieve to write at least a scene. I try and find time every day to write, if I manage to write 5,000 words, I am very pleased. If I don’t, it doesn’t pressure me too much. Some days I write more than I do on others. A lot of it depends on how quiet the house is. The more time I have to myself the more I write.

Did you have to make any cuts?
I had to shave off over 25,000 words with The Curse of Fin Milton. I call these ‘words’ my deleted scenes but keeping them slowed the plot and some of it (although it pained me to remove it) needed to come out.  

It was a shame as I had a large chapter on Fin and Ellie meeting at 20 years and some of it is quite funny including a food fight with lobsters and a tussle in the rain with lots of mud, so it was hard lopping this out because it gives you an insight into Fin’s sense of humour. Still you never know, if I am lucky enough to get published, maybe I can have a special edition where it goes back in. Being my first novel I was advised to keep it to 75,000 -85,000 words.

What are you working on now that you can talk about?
I am working on the sequel to The Curse of Fin Milton, which is called The Flame and The Moth. It continues on from the events of the first book with Fin and Ellie. It has familiar faces and introduces new characters, one of which proves to be a new protagonist for Fin. The Moth (without giving too much away) is a very dangerous man with a cloak, hiding him from Etherea.

How do/did you deal with rejection letters?
I figured that, in the main, the 30 or so rejections came from my manuscript being non-edited. I realise now this makes a lot of difference, but I haven’t submitted any since because I am now self-published. After I employed an editor to help with my bad use of adverbs, dialogue tags and lack of commas, it made me feel a lot more optimistic. I am in a strange position whereby I would love to be published in the traditional sense, yet I have taken it upon myself to self-publish because I wanted to get the story “out there”. Unfortunately for me, many literary agents and publishers will not touch self-published authors until they have some decent sales, so I will have to wait and see if anyone finds my novel interesting enough to invest in it. Fingers crossed it will take off. Either way I am working on the next one and not worrying about it. If it happens, it happens.

Do you have a critique partner?
My son is my sounding board. Although he is only 17, he tells me if it is too dark, too silly or if it is good or not. He has been very supportive as a critique. I think to the best part of my ability, self-belief helps. A while back, I emailed the first 3 chapters to Jane Johnson, a published Cornish author and editor, who thought it grabbed her attention and she encouraged me to keep working on it. Feedback like this is invaluable.

You mentioned an editor before, can you reveal him (authors are crying out for good editors!) and is he well-priced?
My editor is Jonathan Veale. I read a twitter-linked blog for the Guardian by Anthony Horowitz about the importance of publishing and having an editor. I have had no luck with literary agents, and I decided to self-publish but sales were slow, so I thought I would search for someone to help me. Jonathan’s website leapt out, I emailed to enquire about using his talents to edit my book and he responded quickly, and worked with me on grammar and dialogue tags. I didn’t pay for a full-blown edit.

His website is www.WriteAway.co.uk. It has been a learning curve, a very welcome one, and hopefully, will lead to more people reading my novel and hopefully the next one as well.

Click for my review of The Curse of Fin Milton.

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