I’m thrilled to be welcoming Eirin Thompson to the blog today! And not just because her lovely post has saved me a job! (Am frantically trying to press on with NaNoWriMo but I’ve only reached the dizzy heights of …30,000 words. So, way off being a ‘winner’!)
Eirin is an amazingly prolific writer. Open any issue of The People’s Friend magazine and I guarantee, you will see at least a couple of her stories in there, PLUS she writes novels and I’m in awe of anyone who can do both. Her latest novel is ‘Closing In‘, described as a ‘page-turning festive thriller’.
Eirin is one of those people that I feel I know – from our many ‘virtual interactions’ (not least, all the comments she’s made on this blog) – but we’ve actually never met. I asked her to give us some background to her writing career and also, for an insight into how she juggles those two very different styles of writing. Over to Eirin…
“There’s something about Christmastime that seems to put many of us in the mood for (fictional) crime. Just think how often we see star-studded television and film adaptations of Agatha Christie stories during the festive season, for example.
And there is no better opportunity than the Christmas holidays to lose oneself in a crime novel – with no work in the morning and a fridge full of food, it’s just you and your book, for hours if you wish. Bliss.
I suspect many writers first got the writing bug thanks to one significant book. For me, it was ‘Mary Plain to the Rescue’ by Gwynedd Rae – a random choice from the school book club monthly catalogue, but oh, what a lucky one. It was my first Christmas crime novel; I was six years old.
Mary Plain is a Swiss, orphaned bear cub who leaves her extended family in the bear pits in Berne to come and live in England with her guardian, whom she calls the Owl Man (because he wears glasses). She is, by turns, vulnerable, charming, mischievous, resourceful and defiant.
The crime in ‘Mary Plain to the Rescue’ is not a murder, understandably, in a book series aimed at six- to nine-year-olds, but it is a kidnapping, and a menacing, unsettling one at that. Mary’s courage, ingenuity and tenacity prove too much for her captors, however, and she does indeed rescue herself and human companion, Otto.
I feel quite sure that this was the book that set me on my writing journey, because it was my first experience of feeling that I was sharing something magical with the author. Rae did not talk down to her young readers – she seemed to write on the assumption that we were intelligent and would grasp her dry wit and generally keep up. She provided a masterful narrative voice that scooped you up and carried you along, with the promise of lots of fun along the way.
I loved her for it and I now believe that, even though I was only six, that is where I began to think like a writer.
At school, I was a mediocre scholar. I regularly received praise for what was described as my Creative Writing, and I was vaguely aware that I somehow seemed to know how to write well instinctively, but no-one suggested that writing would ever be something I could do as a job.
Nevertheless, after working in casual roles and travelling a bit for a few years, I got myself onto a credible newspaper journalism course, then found a job as that kind of writer: a local weekly newspaper journalist. And I loved it!
Many years later, after I’d taken time at home with my children (during which time I’d also thrown myself into an Open University degree in Literature), I daringly applied to do a Masters degree in Creative Writing. I didn’t really expect to be accepted, but I was, and, for the first time, I was surrounded by people who wrote, or expected to write, fiction, drama and poetry as a job!
Nobody was more surprised than I was when the tutor who marked my end-of-course assignment – the first 20,000 words of a novel – told me to finish it and he would speak to a certain literary agent on my behalf. This led to representation and a two-book deal for my two darkish comedy-dramas, some nice reviews in the press and a considerable sense of achievement.
What I did not know was that publishing can be pretty ruthless. My books did not sell enough copies for my contract to be renewed. As far as I understood, this meant I was no longer a writer. Needing an income and with local weekly newspapers scaling back as the internet stole their readers, I retrained in another field and worked there, happily enough for some years.
When off work after surgery, I was given some popular women’s magazines to read. I was intrigued by their fiction content and wondered who produced this – did magazines have their own writers providing short stories and serials? Or a trusted list of authors with whom they dealt?
I sent off three stories, not very hopefully. Had I not heard back, or received a ‘No’, I think I would have assumed that such unsolicited work was not welcome, or that my style or content was incompatible with what editors were looking for.
But one story was accepted, which gave me a huge thrill and encouraged me to try more.
Things didn’t happen quickly. With a full-time job, three full-on young people, a husband and a home, my life was busy and taking time to write seemed something of an indulgence. But I continued to submit work when I could, and while lots of my stories were rejected, some were accepted. This meant publication, often with bespoke artwork, and payment!
The more ‘Yeses’ I got, the more it made me want to write. Success is the greatest encouragement. A change in job meant I had two months’ holiday in the summer. I wrote most of a new novel, which became ‘I Know I Saw Her’ – this time in the mystery/suspense genre (it is a crime novel, but not a police procedural). My former agent loved it. My former publisher loved it. I got a new two-book deal.
I am now in the ecstatic position of writing fiction full-time, working in blocks of time on novels and short stories for the wonderful ‘womags’. It’s a bit of a juggling act. My method is to write one ‘act’ of a novel, then let that settle while I concentrate on short stories, then write the next ‘act’, and so on. (I have written a total of seven novels – four published, one that didn’t make it, one for older children about which I’m hopeful and one that I’ve just sent to my agent: they were all structured in three acts and I would recommend this.) I don’t know how long it will last – my publisher could drop me, or the magazines for which I write might have a change in leadership or policy around fiction – but for now I have the joyful feeling that I am finally doing what I was meant to do … from the age of six.
Things came full circle recently, when my Christmas crime novel, ‘Closing In’, with author name E.D. Thompson, was published. It is a contemporary story, which focuses on Caroline Maxwell, a well-seasoned local newspaper journalist. She has a good life, with a somewhat unorthodox extended family circle which includes her ex-husband’s new, younger wife and kids.
Caroline enjoys the Christmas buzz that goes with her job – visiting a craft sale, a tree festival and a carol concert, as well as interviewing the winner of a new car in a big prize raffle. She is also looking forward to having her beloved daughter, Tabby, home for the holidays.
But Caroline’s life has not always been so good. She has a past which she has put firmly behind her. Or, at least, she believed she had, until, while Christmas shopping, she spots a figure from her previous life – a man capable of launching a wrecking ball into her carefully-constructed world smashing apart everything she holds dear. Somehow, she must stop him. The question is: how far is each prepared to go?
My primary aim, with all my writing, is to entertain, just as I was entertained by Mary Plain all those years ago. In the case of ‘Closing In’, I hope a few of you will do me the honour of snuggling down this December with Caroline, me and our twisty Christmas crime tale.”
Thanks for a fascinating post, Eirin! And I’m sure you’ve got us all in the mood for some Christmas reading over the holidays!