Today I'm delighted to welcome author Karen E Coles to the blog. Karen is the author of the Mesmeris trilogy, the third book of which Wormwood was published recently. Before we launch into the interview here's what Karen has to say for herself:
I was born in the lovely village of Taplow, Buckinghamshire, and now live in south west Wales. My family are rather nomadic, so I lived in quite a few different places in-between the two. After studying Fine Art, I went on to become an exhibiting artist and occasional art tutor for adults. I imagined I would always be a painter - until I tried writing. I hope I’ll be able to write for the rest of my life.
Welcome to the blog, Karen. It’s a pleasure to have you here.
Thank you so much for asking me, Christina. I’ve never done a Q & A before so am a little over-excited. I may babble.
Congratulations on the publication of Wormwood, the third book in the Mesmeris trilogy. Can you tell the readers what the story is about?
Thank you, Christina. Wormwood is the culmination of the Mesmeris story, the final showdown.
The story focuses on Pearl and Spicer as they struggle to keep Pearl’s small son safe from cult leader, Papa. Pearl is in love with the father of her child, elite cult member, Art. She believes he’s essentially good underneath his ruthless exterior. Spicer disagrees. We finally discover who’s right. We also get an insight into Papa’s life and what made him the evil person he is which was immense fun to write and frightened my dad when he read it J
It sounds amazing! Let's backtrack a little to chat about your novel Mesmeris, the first novel in the series. What inspired that story and what's the book about?
I’ve always had an interest in strange religious cults and in the way the leaders manage to manipulate their devotees. The fact that people can be desensitized to such an extent that they lose all compassion, all sense of right and wrong, both horrifies and fascinates me. It’s a tragedy for those involved and anyone who comes into contact with them, and especially anyone who loves them.
Music is a huge inspiration as far as tone/atmosphere goes and I have several different tracks that put me in the head of different characters. Death In Vegas’s track Soul Auctioneer is basically the soundtrack of the whole trilogy.
As for the story, it’s about a young girl, Pearl, who falls in love with Jack, a member of violent religious cult, Mesmeris. He hasn’t quite been desensitized enough not to care, and the story is her struggle to save him from ruthless sect leader, Papa.
I've just bought Mesmeris and am even more keen to read it after that. I’d like to turn now to Infixion, the second novel in the Mesmeris series. How does Infixion pick up the story and what was the inspiration behind it?
It’s hard to say where it picks up without giving away the ending of Mesmeris, but I’ll do my best. Infixion is told from two points of view – that of Pearl, and also a new character, Spicer, a young police officer. Spicer’s sister has been murdered by Mesmeris. Wanting revenge, he decides to infiltrate the cult. Pearl, meanwhile, tries to move away from her past. Not an easy thing to do, where Mesmeris are concerned.
Love the sound of that, too! Let's turn now to your characters, which of those do you love the best and who scares you to the core?
Oh, that’s SUCH a hard question. I love them all – except Papa. I suppose the nicest person in the books is Pearl’s father, Luke. He’s like my dad – just lovely.
Papa should scare me most, but I think it may be Jack’s ‘brother’, Leo, a nasty, vicious, unpredictable and volatile character. I loved writing him so much J
Ooh, I do love a good villian! Getting back to the series overall, how long did it take you to write each book?
Because of my haphazard method, it takes me ages to write each one. Mesmeris took 3 years, Infixion 18 months, Wormwood 2yrs 2 months. I’m hoping current WIP will be quicker, but on past experience . . .
Your Mesmeris books have striking covers. Who is responsible for the artwork and how much input did you have into the final designs?
My daughter, Ally, did the artwork on the first two covers, Mesmeris and Infixion, and Jennie Rawlings of Serifim Book Covers did a fabulous job of adapting them. Jennie then designed the Wormwood one. They’re both immensely talented artists and I’m very grateful for all their hard work. I had loads of input with both designers, which was lovely. They had both read the books and understood the themes and. I think, captured the atmosphere perfectly. I absolutely adore the covers. They’re so much better than anything I’d imagined.
I so agree with what you said about Jennie Rawlings -she's a genius! As the artistic brain behind Three Hares Publishing she designed the beautiful cover for my book, Minty. But getting back to you and your books, how much research do you do before tackling a new novel?
I tend to do research as I go along rather than before I start. All of my books are character led, so I initially concentrate on their human story, which is universal really. The research comes in when it comes to making sure the details/description etc are authentic. I tend to find most (not all!)police procedurals a bit dull, so I’ve tried to limit that element as much as possible. I still had to do a lot of research, of course, but suspect I used less than 10% of it in the actual story. As the Mesmeris books are very much imagination rather than reality, it wasn’t an onerous task. The historical novel I’m writing at the moment is a different kettle of fish (sorry about the cliché – one of my favourites). I’m having to spend a LOT more time on research than I’d envisaged. Great fun though.
And what about your actual writing process? Can you outline that for us, please?
My writing process is shambolic, especially the 1st draft (my least favourite part of the writing process). I write loads and loads of different scenes/chapters and lots of different versions of each. I don’t write in a linear fashion, but just whatever I fancy writing at the time. I discard a LOT, then fit all the best bits, all the bits I really love, together. It’s rather like doing a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces don’t quite fit together. It’s a very wasteful writing method and I wouldn’t recommend it. I’ve really tried with each book to do it properly – plot outline, etc etc – but it just doesn’t work for me. I like writing endings best, and in my current WIP I started at the end & worked backwards. My favourite part is polishing the novel at the end. Tweaking sentences, finding more effective verbs etc. Love, love, love doing that.
What advantages and challenges are there in crafting a trilogy?
I suppose the advantage is that you know the characters and get to live inside their heads as you write each book, which is lovely. The biggest challenge for me was that I was restricted in what I could write by what had gone before, which meant working within a fairly rigid framework. I didn’t enjoy that aspect at all. Making sure all the facts fitted together was the worst bit for me. I’m so disorganised that ensuring continuity was a bit of a nightmare. I imagine it would be a lot easier if you planned the whole over-arching story before starting, but I had written Mesmeris as a one-off, never intending to write a sequel. I don’t think I would write a series again for that reason. One-offs for me from now on.
As well as being an author you’re a successful artist. Why the change of direction?
We moved with my hubby’s job to a house in a valley on the north side of a mountain, surrounded by other mountains. I hated it. It was incredibly dark, even on the sunniest days. At first, I tried to keep painting, even setting up an easel in the garden, but it was hopeless. I gave up, became very quickly bored and lonely (I’d moved away from all my friends), so I invented imaginary ones. I hadn’t written anything since university, and never any fiction, so it was a revelation. The most exciting thing I’ve ever done was to start writing and find that the characters became real. Fantastic!
Have you found your artistic skills helpful when creating works of fiction?
I think so. I visualise my scenes when writing, and would love to see them on screen one day. That’s my dream.
If you were only allowed to concentrate on either art or fiction for the rest of your life, which would it be?
Oh, definitely fiction. I haven’t picked up a paintbrush since I started writing. I just wish I’d written all my life like most successful writers seem to have done. I did try once, in my early twenties. Hubby and I wrote one page each. Mine was toe-curlingly bad and that was that. I just assumed I couldn’t write.
What tips can you give to a writer who wants to create a page-turning novel?
I’m not sure I’m qualified to give advice really but I would say to cut anything that bores you. If it bores you when you’re writing, it’s guaranteed to bore a reader too. Cut any unnecessary detail, and only use the writing that excites you, scares you, makes you cry, or moves you in some way. Writing and reading are, for me anyway, emotional experiences. That’s what I aim for in my books.
What tips can you give to someone who seeks publication?
I’m definitely not qualified to answer this, since I’m now self-published, but I would firstly aim to get a good agent if you can. Choose carefully if anyone offers to represent you. Check the deals they have negotiated for their existing clients, and also check how much contact you can expect from them. For instance, I think that regular updates on submissions are important. If you can’t get an agent, there are some small presses that take unsolicited submissions but again, be wary and definitely don’t go for any who ask for money to publish your book. There’s always self-publishing, which works incredibly well for some writers, especially those good at promotion etc (unlike me!). It’s not ideal, and there’s no six-figure deal, but it’s better than the book sitting on your hard drive.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
Write what you want to read. Oh, and also not to censor yourself, but to write whatever you want to.
If you had to choose one writing guide to recommend, which would it be?
I’m finding James Scott Bell’s Voice: The Secret Power of Great Writing particularly useful. The exercises are brilliant. He doesn’t tell you to write a certain way, but just suggests exercises that will fire up your imagination. I’ve read a few of his (Thank you, Christina, for the recommendations) and they’re all excellent.
My pleasure, Karen. Now, what’s next for Karen E Coles?
The next book is set in lovely south west Wales and was inspired by a local murder that took place in the 19th century – mwahaha!
We're almost done but, before we go, let's round things off by mixing it up a bit. Yes, it's the quick-fire round! Ready? Steady? Go!
Chocolate fudge cake or fresh fruit salad?
Fresh fruit salad every time. I love fruit & not keen on chocolate (I know! Something wrong with me, obviously)
Tweet or post on your wall?
Tweet – definitely. I love twitter but haven’t quite got the hang of Facebook.
Longing for adventure or happy with peace and quiet?
A bit of both, I think, like most people. I’m very easily bored but do like stillness too. I seem to have been practising mindfulness (or, in my case, mindlessness) for years without realising. If I’m somewhere peaceful, I just listen to birdsong and think of nothing else. Bliss. Not for too long though. I have itchy feet and am impossibly curious, especially about nature.
London or Swansea?
London. It’s my favourite city and where I’m from. In our family, we always say the Thames is in our blood.
Leo Tolstoy or Jackie Collins?
Oh, yikes! Ashamed to say I haven’t read either, but going to say I’d prefer Tolstoy to Collins because I’m a snob – ha ha!
Spooky graveyard or deserted moonlit beach?
That’s a tough one. They both sound fab. Um...I’ll go for the graveyard, I think.
Builders tea or café latte?
Tea, but prefer Darjeeling to builders tea. Not a fan of latte.
Complete the sentence: If only I could…
get rid of my fear of dogs so I could go for long walks in the country again.
Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions so fully and informatively, Karen. Despite your fears you didn't babble at all! I wish you continued success with your books and a long and successful writing future.
Thank you, Christina, and I wish the same for you. Thank you also for allowing me the opportunity to natter on – and on – and on about writing – my favourite subject. I’ve had a lovely time.