My guest in The Author Hot Seat today is Geraldine Evans. Geraldine writes what I call police thrillers, but she also dabbles (very successfully) in historical fiction. As I don’t know her books at all, I’m going to hand over to the author straight away, as we have a very full interview ahead 🙂
J. Tell us a little about what you write, and since it’s something that interests me, which genre you would describe it as.
G. I mostly write mysteries, what I call British Cozies. My largest series (fifteen so far) is the Rafferty & Llewellyn procedural series. My main man, DI Joe Rafferty, is an ‘Ordinary Joe’, a working-class guy, with a council-house upbringing, and from a family not averse to a little back street shenanigans on the edge of the law. I’ve partnered him with more moral than an Easter Sunday Pope, Welsh Methodist DS Dafyd Llewellyn, who thinks the law should apply to everyone—even the mother of his immediate boss, who has an eye for a suspect ‘bargain’ that’s more unerring than Dead-Eyed Dick.
My other writing arm is in Biographical Historical fiction. Only one of these so far: Reluctant Queen, which tells the story of Mary Rose Tudor, Henry VIII’s little sister.
I also write short non-fiction, mostly New Age stuff. I’ve long had an interest in palmistry and astrology and, with my business hat on, thought I might as well see if I could make this interest bring in a few shekels.
My latest New Age book is Get the RIGHT Guy—which is a palmistry pointer for lovers. This book shows readers what to look out for in a new partner’s palm so you have advance warning of troublesome areas like unfaithfulness, gambling, and so on.
J. Which piece of writing have you been proudest of? I don’t necessarily mean published work. Something you wrote at school perhaps, a poem for mothers’ day, a paper for a debating society? This is just me being nosy J
G. School’s too fuzzy a memory on a far horizon for me to remember much! So I’ll have to go with my more recent work.
It’s hard to choose, Jane. I’m proud of the characters in my Rafferty series; I think they give a realistic depiction of a working-class copper and his slightly dodgy relatives and the ducking and diving he has to go in for to keep his career head above water. In a mystery world (in England at any rate) so often populated by middle-class detectives, I was keen to draw a character, in Joe Rafferty, who bears more resemblance to the average copper. It was, until recently, mostly a career to draw the working-classes: you didn’t need ‘O’ Levels, ‘A’ Levels or GCSE passes. As long as you could make a reasonable fist of the police entrance tests, you were in, with the potential to advance beyond uniformed street coppering if you had the ambition.
But I’m also proud of my first Bio Historical, Reluctant Queen. I was still working full-time at the day job when I wrote that (as with almost all of my other books) and when I look back and think of all the research, all the working into the early morning stints, I don’t know how I did it. What luxury, when I start my second bio historical, to have all day and all evening to get that research done (as long as I manage to ignore email, social media, marketing essentials and so on).
J. Which authors’ influence can we see in your writing, and whose writing do you most admire?
G. For the mysteries, I admire writers who can spring a few funnies along with the serious stuff. Writers like the late Reg Hill and his Dalziel and Pascoe series. Andy Dalziel is such a fabulous character you can practically smell him. And so witty—his dialogue is to die for. When it comes to dialogue, I try to emulate Reg Hill’s wit and work on my hopefully funny lines until they’re as perfect as a mere human can get them. I also always have a funny sub-plot with Rafferty’s family causing him problems as usual.
Another favourite is Ruth Dudley Edwards and her Baroness ‘Jack’ Troutbeck novels and Janet Evanovich; her granny character is great, just how – now that I’m fast approaching such ‘maturity’ – that I want to see older characters depicted. That lady’s got some fire in her belly and has no way given up on life. She gives us all hope that there might be something better in our futures than rocking chairs, knitting and acquiring a cat.
For Historicals, I admire Sharon Penman. She has such skills that she really draws you into the period and the lives of the characters. She’s one of the few authors whose books make me slow down as I near the end as I don’t want them to finish. My favourite of hers is The Sunne in Splendour about Edward IV and his brothers set during the 1400s in an England during the so-called Wars of the Roses.
J. Has it been a problem fitting your work into an Amazon category, or do you feel your book is at home with the other books it’s listed with?
G. There’s not an existing neat category for my mysteries. They’re police procedurals, but with Rafferty’s family, there’s a lot of ‘Cozy’ about them, too. But there’s no ‘Cozy Procedural’ slot. I tend to put a few in one slot and a few in another so they’re scattered through several almost-right categories on the theory that one or more of them will hit a particular reader’s sweet spot. I then keep my fingers crossed that if a reader likes one they’ll take the trouble to seek out more of the same.
And for my Biographical Historical, I wish they had a Tudor England Bio Fiction slot (or Tudor England anything). For this one, Amazon, in their wisdom, has also placed it in non-fiction history which is totally inappropriate when it’s a biographical novel. Their decision earned me an irate review from someone expecting ‘proper’ history! Not my fault, Madam!
J. It isn’t easy trying to get your book noticed. How do you deal with promotion?
G. Similarly to my Amazon categories, I have a scatter-gun approach; if Bookbub’s flavour of the month and if I can afford it, I’ll promote with them. I’ve only been able to find the cash for one promotion with them so far as they’re very expensive, but when I have the money I’ll definitely go with them again.
I have also tried setting Dead Before Morning, the first in my Rafferty series at permanently free. Though again, Amazon puts obstacles in your path; no matter how many times I tell them about Dead Before Morning being free on the other main retailers’ sites, I still can’t get them to price it at free on Amazon US (or Canada or Australia, my other main selling sites).
But I’m reluctant to go back into Amazon’s Select programme because to get five guaranteed free days from them you have to tie your book up with them exclusively for ninety days and take it down from the other retailers. Not something likely to build readers at other sites. Besides, like other authors, I’m wary of putting all my writing eggs in the one basket. Who knows what the future might bring?
J. Reviews are usually cited as the open sesame to success. Without reviews your book will sink unnoticed. Have you had much success with getting reviews? Do you even agree with the statement?
G. I’m not entirely convinced that reviews are a guaranteed avenue to success, as I look at the first page of best sellers in a given category and there are usually a number of books up there amongst the ones with hundreds of reviews that have few reviews or even none at all.
But, because several of the biggest promo sites demand a certain number of reviews and an average of 4 stars or above, you have to try to get those reviews in. It’s not something I’m very good at, I’m afraid. Every so often I’ll make an effort and send requests out. But I’m just as likely to forget to do it and launch my latest novel with no fanfare at all.
I know it’s also a good idea to try to get some sort of relationship established with the biggest book bloggers, but I’ve never managed a lot of that, either. I’m not much of a natural marketer or networker. And then, everything to do with being an indie takes so much time that it’s ages since I’ve actually been able to just sit down and write.
As for the reviews themselves, I’ve had some lovely ones and some stinkers. I think I’m going to have to re-write the descriptions of my mysteries to make abundantly clear exactly what style of books they are, so no one blunders into buying one with the notion they’re straight mysteries and then discovers how ‘Cozy’ they are.
J. How do you feel about your writing now you feel confident enough to publish? Which aspects do you think are your weak points? What do you enjoy writing most?
G. I was always confident enough to publish as an indie, as I’d been traditionally-published for years. But there just wasn’t the opportunity before Amazon came along with their Kindle, so in spite of my gripes about their unilateral decision-making, I’ll always be grateful to them. And as I said, I came from a traditional published background. Eighteen plus years and seventeen published books of mid-list nose to grindstone while working the day job, for very little financial reward. No one who didn’t love words, writing and creating stories would stand it.
It was only when I took the decision to turn indie in 2010, managed to get the rights back in all but one of my books and turned them into digital, that I actually started to earn a full-time income from my writing. Until then, they’d been languishing, unloved and unsold on my publisher’s backlist. Now my backlist is earning me a living instead of gathering dust.
Weak points? Hmm. None of us like to think we have weak points, but I suppose mine is that I’ve mostly been a ‘seat of pants’ writer. This mode of writing tends to involve the author in a lot more work and a lot more drafts, which makes it pretty stupid. I now try to have at least a basic plan down on paper before I start. But I still have to restrain myself and my inclination to hare off into the unknown and figure things out as I go along.
I don’t do this with my bio historical(s). With these, it’s essential to get your time-line in place for your characters, the events in their lives and the events in the greater world and then fit your depiction of the life around them.
For my Rafferty books, I love getting Rafferty into sticky family situations and figuring out how the hell to get him out of them. I also enjoy trying to create a crafty twist in the tail of both the main plot and the sub-plot. Not that I always manage it.
J. Finally, you have the stage. Sell us your writing. Tell us why it’s different, special, and worth reading. Or just tell us why you are passionate about it, why you love your characters, and carry us away
with your enthusiasm.
G. If you enjoy mysteries with characters who seem like real people; who have families who are not your usual middle-class ‘suits’ and who are not straight, piano-playing, horse-riding British stereotypes, you might enjoy my characters. They’re working-class human beings without the fancy schools, clothes or lifestyles of more educated sections of society (or British crime detectives).
Have you got a bossy mother? So has Joe Rafferty. Has your mother a tendency to match-make? So does Ma Rafferty. Gives unasked for advice? Ditto. Generally feels she would make a better job of running your life than you do? Ditto again.
Rafferty’s ‘Ma’, Kitty Rafferty, is a Catholic, Irish-born widow who had to bring up her six children alone after her builder husband plunged to his death one morning after a birthday celebration too far the night before. Because of her financial struggles (and maybe, too, because she just enjoys a bargain), she’s fond of the ‘back of the lorry’ sort and could be called something of an amateur ‘fence’ to her neighbourhood friends.
Between his Ma, his five siblings and assorted cousins, Rafferty has his work cut out in steering his life and career through the family-created mire. No Sherlock Holmes or Lord Peter Wimsey, him!
If you like some fun in your mysteries, my books should suit you down to the ground. And if you like your novels filled with characters that seem real, you might like them even more. There’s Cousin Nigel Blythe, whose background is every bit as ‘common’ as Rafferty’s, but he has such delusions of grandeur that he’s even changed his name from Jerry Kelly (‘so common’). Nigel and Rafferty have a love/hate relationship. They only tolerate one another because as an estate agent (real estate broker) and police officer, respectively, they’re regarded as pariahs by most of their relatives, so sometimes socialise and commiserate together (Nigel doesn’t appear if I remember rightly, until book six, Dying For You, when Rafferty, feeling like a sad, lonely git after his sergeant’s marriage, joins a dating agency after borrowing his look-alike cousin, Nigel’s, identity.
Rafferty feels the borrowed ID will save him from potential embarrassment via his colleagues and explanations to his nose-poking, match-making Ma who is sure to be offended that he should pay good money when she could do such a better job on the finding a partner front.
Once Rafferty/Nigel is signed up the fun and the murders start when he finds himself in the unwelcome role of chief suspect charged with investigating his ‘Nigel Blythe’ self, which goes down like Prohibition at New Year’s Eve with the real Nigel.
My Biographical Historical, Reluctant Queen, is fiction, but it also shows the actual events in my main character’s life. Mary Rose Tudor, although little heard of in history books, had an interesting life. She was infamous English King Henry VIII’s little sister and his favourite sibling. Her granddaughter was the much better-known Lady Jane Grey who was executed at the age of sixteen after her father (Mary Rose’s son-in-law) had tried to use her to usurp the throne from her cousin Mary (Henry VIII’s daughter by his first queen whom Henry had declared illegitimate).
King Henry, although only twenty-three at the beginning of the story and still on his first marriage, was in loco parentis to Mary Rose. King since just before his eighteenth birthday, he’d speedily become used to having his own way. And his own way with his much-loved sister was to favour his current preference for an alliance with France instead of the Spain of his wife. So, in spite of Mary Rose’s abhorrence for the match, in spite of her love for his friend, Charles Brandon and her long-standing betrothal to the nephew of her brother’s queen, Henry married his little sister to the aged and sickly French monarch, Louis XII.
But Henry wasn’t the only Tudor with rich, red blood in his veins. Mary Rose also liked her own way. So, once her aged husband, Louis died, she ignored what she suspected were the wishes of the mighty monarchs, her brother Henry and Francis, the new French king, took her life in her own hands and made a fateful decision that would impact on her entire future. Mary Rose really was a daring, liberated lady for her time.
Jane, thank you for the opportunity to guest on The Hot Spot. It’s always a treat for an author to stand their books in the spotlight. I suppose we all hope it’ll encourage those twin imps ‘fame’ and
’fortune’ to find us. Yoo, hoo, F and F! Here I am!
It’s been fun!
Thanks for such a detailed look into your work, Geraldine. If you want more information, a link to Geraldine’s website, or a purchase link you’ll find it among this lot. Sorry if it looks like a telephone directory—there’s probably a way of condensing it but I’ve no idea how.
B & N: http://qurl.com/7hbb4
RELUCTANT QUEEN Paperback on Barnes & Noble: http://qurl.com/myf6z