Sheila’s an hilarious woman. She’s the kind of person you could easily spend an afternoon with and wonder where the time went. She’s a best selling crime/thriller author with an impressive 10 novels under her belt, and a fan-base which stretches from her works’ local setting in Hougton-Le-Spring, all the way to death threats from Down Under (from her fans in Australia, who apparently really don’t want her to hurt their favourite character.)
“There’s a lot of luck in getting your work published, but it all depends who you’ve got behind you. There are some fabulous people who’ll do anything for you in this business, it’s beyond belief, but there are also some turds.”
We’re sat in the corner of the National Glass Centre’s cafe, in conversation with the Houghton-Le-Spring crime writer, and it actually feels like a conversation. She’s on our level, we’re on her’s. And it’s so humbling to meet someone who’s as down to Earth as the people gathered to meet her.
“I don’t plan,” says Sheila. “I’ll have a title in mind, and a blank screen. And I never know where it’s going to end up.” But that’s what makes writing so exciting for Sheila. “To me, writing a novel is like reading a novel. I always get surprised, and I never know what will happen from chapter to chapter.” No planning? No structure?! Stick that in your Writing 101! “Because I want to know what happens, that’ll compel me to write.”
She doesn’t even keep a log of events/characters. “It’s all in my head. I didn’t have an imaginary friend as a child, I had a dozen.” But keeping such a rich world in her head at all times has its drawbacks too. “I need to write one novel at a time.”
Whilst Sheila admits she doesn’t get chance to read as much as she’d like, she says it’s a very important part of being a novelist. However – and here’s what really surprised me – she doesn’t read any crime novels. “My favourite book is ‘The Strand’ by Stephen King. I’d recommend it to everyone.”
“Don’t bother writing if you’re just chasing a path to fame and a big pay check,” says Sheila, “you need to be invested. If you really, really want to do it, for the love of it, do it.”
Sheila still values the old system of publishing; getting on board with a publisher and having them (to some extent) promote the book for you. But she advises you should “start by seeking an agent first. Most publishers won’t look at anything without an agent’s backing.” But she also values self-publishing. “I know of many people who’ve become successful through publishing work themselves, and then being picked up by an agent.”
“There’s more opportunity for emerging writers now than there’s ever been.”
It’s been a whirlwind of a journey for Sheila, since she began writing novels in 2004. 12 years and 10 novels later, it’s fascinating to learn some advice from one of the local greats. But there are still some twists and turns in store Sheila had one of her biggest dreams-come-true: Her debut novel ‘Run for Home’ was adapted for the stage and showcased at the Greater Manchester Fringe last year. Sheila says she’ll never forget the experience of her. “Seeing my characters come to life in-front of me was truly amazing.”
For any emerging novelists reading this, I’d thoroughly recommend you meet as many writers as you can. If there’s a meeting, or a book signing, go and say “hi”. Ask questions. Make connections. Because they may turn out to be thoroughly lovely people, like Sheila, and they may well start you on the right path. “There’s a lot of luck in getting your work published, but it all depends who you’ve got behind you.”
And, as always,
Stay productive, stay awesome!
Executive Producer, 99% Perspiration