A hearty warm welcome to multi-genre UK-based author, Cheryl Burman whom I have the pleasure of chatting to today. She is here to tell us a bit about the life of being an author.
What draws you to your favourite genre to read; and do you write in the same genre?
I guess I should say fantasy plus historical, women’s literary fiction. However, I’m easily confused about genre, so for me it’s more: give me a good book! What defines that for me is richness of writing, depth of character, and the ability to carry me away with emotion (not sentiment). I cried at the end of The Mirror and the Light, with the beauty of the language Mantel used totally transporting me inside Cromwell’s head. I died myself. I’ve recently read Maggie O’Farrell’s The Hand That First Held Mine (categorised as women’s literary and historical fiction) and loved the complexity of her characters and the settings as much as the brilliant twist in the story. Do I write like that? I aspire to.
Did you follow the independent published route or traditional one? List two perks of your chosen route, and one issue you wish you’d done differently.
A ubiquitous question. When I wrote the first book of Guardians, I knew nothing about the publishing world. I tossed the book out at agents and was miffed when I got either no reply or a short thank you but no thank you. So I published it, and the other two books, myself, tossed them up on Amazon and was miffed when hardly any sold. People who did read them genuinely loved them, but that wasn’t enough. Then I co-authored an historical novel set in Australia, and myself and my co-author determined we wanted the book traditionally published. Three years later, many queries, re-writes and close-but-not-yes responses, we are still waiting. Traditional publishing is so competitive, and the querying process is very, very draining. For a long time, I thought: all this energy I’m spending on researching agents and preparing submissions could be spent on other things like learning about publishing platforms and marketing. I therefore decided to self-publish Keepers, but this time to learn from earlier mistakes. The result: I now have a book out there which is loved by many people, and I’m even selling some! The big perk for me is that I’m in control of my own destiny – titles, covers, distribution, timing are all up to me and me alone, for good or bad! It can be just as exhausting as querying (the technology you have to learn) but it feels to me much more productive. And I’m having fun with it.
Which author’s work has had the biggest influence on your writing? How would you feel if they read your book?
My hero author, and the person I’ve tried hardest to learn from, is Margaret Atwood. If she read my book I would be over the moon. I’d expect her to be kind, because she strikes me as a kind person, but I would love to hear from her how the book could be made much much better. I have this heavenly vision of me, notebook in hand, scribbling madly. Loved her Masterclass on Writing and would highly recommend it.
What person, event or creative idea inspired your most recently published book?
Keepers is inspired by snippets of family history, but as there are still people living who remember those bits of history, I can’t say more than that. What’s true and not true, will remain a guessing game!
Keepers is widely available. Check out Cheryl’s book page on her website for details.
What’s the trickiest thing about being an author? How have you overcome it?
Not sure tricky is the right word, but having the discipline to simply plough on, to open the docx each day and keep typing can at times be difficult. It’s so easy to become distracted, by fun things like completing author interviews! I may or may not have overcome this by myself, but I’ve found working with other writers is a major motivator. With my local writing group, I’m honour bound to produce something each fortnight, but on the novel front both my IRL novel group and my Zoom-based group have kept me going on my current project. The latter meets weekly, so the chapters have racked up very quickly.
What kind of a writer are you? Early bird / night owl? Turtle writer (one book a year) / prolific writer (multiple books a year)?
My routine generally is to do ‘morning things’ as Stephen King calls them, including walking the dog and errands, and settle to the computer late morning, then go on until early evening. As for output, I’m not even a one book a year person, so I guess a slow old turtle would describe me. To be fair, I have a lot of other interests, and I also edit my own work which takes time to do properly. I’ve recently concluded an online self-editing course which has been really useful (and another motivator to get my current draft one finished!) Grateful I don’t have to work as well!
Would you prefer to travel back in time, or have a peek at the future? Which era would you program into the DeLorean and why?
The future, definitely. I suffer dreadfully from FOMO (fear of missing out) not knowing how the world is going to be in fifty (I’m quite old!) or 100 years from now. Some days I despair, other days I think we could just make it, but I suspect there will be rough times first. I don’t say this to my grandchildren.
You’ve been enlisted as a new joiner on a tall ship destined for a round-the-world voyage. Which of your 5 favourite books would you bring along?
Lord of the Rings; The Robber Bride; Once Upon a River (Diane Setterfield); Wolf Hall (all of them please, or is that cheating?); and The Night Circus.
What’s your favourite way to enjoy a story—eBook, paperback, or audiobook? What make this your favourite medium?
Paperback or hardback. I’ve never listened to an audiobook which is a shocking confession, and while I don’t mind my kindle, it’s just not the same. How do you turn down the corners of the pages to mark your place? (Although my husband has cured me of that habit by printing bookmarks for all my books, and leaving piles of them around.)
What’s your most recent publication, and what are you working on in the near future?
Keepers was published in April this year. A romance set in 1950s Australia, the story revolves around Raine, whose family has moved from the country to the city for medical treatment for her father. Raine’s not impressed with having to move from her country home, but when she meets Cockney immigrants Teddy and Alf, life becomes even more complicated.
Lots of projects in the air right now! My current novel is set in the Forest of Dean, where I live, and specifically along the River Severn which the Romans knew as a goddess, Sabrina. Hester is a farm girl who talks to Sabrina and would love to embrace the river nymphs who call to her to join them. Aaron is one of the wise folk, skilled in herbs, and a little magic. When Hester persuades Aaron to teach her what he knows, he’s reluctant. He’s been there before. I’m loving this story, and hope to have it out in spring 2022. I’m also thinking of putting together a small collection of short stories with myths, fairytales and nursery rhymes at their core. Several have been written, but many need a good edit first. And in the summer, while Hester is being ‘mulled over’, I’ve promised my granddaughter that I’ll finish the prequel to Guardians and she can read it for me for further plot suggestions etc. She’s already re-writing the end of the trilogy, to make it longer, so I need to distract her from that!
Fantastic chatting with you! Thanks, Cheryl.
I originally hail from Australia, but now live in the Forest of Dean, UK with my husband and border collie. I’m the author of the fantasy trilogy, Guardians of the Forest. Keepers, released in April 2021, is my first novel for grown-ups. My flash fiction, short stories and bits of my novels have won various prizes, including being longlisted for the Historical Writers Association Short Story competition 2020 and shortlisted for the Flash500 Opening Novel Chapter competition 2020. I’m currently working on a magical realism novel set in the Forest of Dean and inspired by a real woman who was tried for being a witch – in 1906. Under my other name of Cheryl Mayo, I’m active in the Forest of Dean Local History Society, the chair of Dean Writers Circle and a founder of Dean Scribblers, which encourages the creative writing spark in young people in the community. I’m married with two grown children and a border collie, Sammy, who is the author of his own popular book, Sammy’s Walks.