As an aspiring writer, I have been lucky enough to strike up some inspiring friendships since starting my blog. Today’s post features one such friend – Glasgow born author, Linda Huber.
Linda has kindly taken some time out from her hectic schedule on the eve of the release of her second novel The Cold Cold Sea to have a virtual coffee and a chat with me about her writing process and to answer some questions about what life is like living the dream as a published author.
Linda grew up in Glasgow, Scotland, where she trained as a physiotherapist. She spent ten years working with neurological patients, firstly in Glasgow and then in Switzerland. During this time she learned that different people have different ways of dealing with stressful events in their lives, and this knowledge still helps her today, in her writing.
Linda now lives in Arbon, Switzerland, where she works as a language teacher in a medieval castle on the banks of beautiful Lake Constance.
Her debut novel The Paradise Trees was published in 2013 and she has also had over 50 short stories and articles published in magazines.
Hi Linda, thanks for taking some time out today to be interviewed for my blog.
You previously trained and had a career as a medical professional. I was wondering how you came to write, and at what point did you decide to take a gamble by giving up on a more conventional career path in pursuit of life as an author?
I wrote my first story aged 7, for my Writer’s Badge in the Brownies, and I’ve never really stopped! I started writing novels in my teens, but until recently this was ‘just a hobby’. Over the years I’ve had around 50 short stories published in various magazines, and then in 2012 Legend Press in London accepted my first book. By this time I had changed my physiotherapy career for one teaching English, and I still do this – it’s what puts food on the table!
I’m currently reading your novel, The Paradise Trees, which is shaping up rather nicely as a spine tingling tale of murderous intent. You also tackle heart-wrenching issues around how best to care for an elderly relative in your sub-plot. How do you go about doing your research?
As far as I can I use my own experience. Everyone who has elderly parents or grandparents will know what my characters are going through – should we put our demented father in a home where he would be professionally cared for, or would it be better to keep him at home, and sacrifice part of our own freedom to do so… a dilemma faced by thousands of families every week.
In The Cold Cold Sea, a lot of the action takes place in a school, so I could draw on my own experience there too. Medical issues I can deal with thanks to my physiotherapy career. For other themes, for instance police procedure, I have a small army of unfortunates who regularly get ‘What would happen if…’ emails!
When you started writing The Paradise Trees and The Cold Cold Sea, to what extent had you formulated the story and characters in your head before starting to write, and how different was the final version from any initial plans you had for the story?
The stories were complete in my head when I started, and although both underwent small changes in the plot they ended more or less as I’d planned. I always think about my characters first, get them fixed in my mind as people. For The Paradise Trees I made notes about each chapter first, but The Cold Cold Sea almost wrote itself. My editor then suggested minor changes to both, and we worked together over this – she has the experience to know what works best in the market.
As an aspiring author myself, I’m constantly hearing about how hard it is to get that “big break” with a publisher. Did you employ an agent to assist you in navigating these choppy waters, or did you contact publishers directly with your first drafts?
I tried approaching both agents and publishers with my work. They say it’s more difficult to find an agent than a publisher and this is certainly true for me – I have a publisher but no agent. The big publishers don’t accept un-agented writers but there are an increasing number of small firms which do, and luckily for me Legend Press is one of them. The downside is there’s a lot of ‘legalese’ to wade through which I have no idea about, but the Society of Authors is very helpful there.
Many authors complain about the tedious nature of the editing process both pre and post exchanging of contracts with a publisher. How do you find the editing process? To what extent do you retain control over the final cut?
I LOVE editing! It’s so fascinating to see how changing just a couple of words here and there can improve a text…
There are different stages: first of all the editor might suggest more ‘global’ changes, like ‘character x should find the letter before the murder and not after’. Then comes the line edit, where the text is examined and all excess adverbs, wrong commas, repetitions etc. are eradicated. The author and the editor collaborate and make changes together here. Then the book goes to the proofreader who checks everything through again. I think it’s important for me as writer to remember that my editor is suggesting changes that will increase the book’s appeal. Having said that, if there’s anything I feel strongly about, she always listens.
We first “met” through social media, and with the advent of kindles (etc.), the literary landscape has changed immeasurably over the last few years. Do you see this as a positive or negative development for authors, and why?
I think it’s both, and I think we have to embrace change, deal with it, and use the new technology, social media etc. We aren’t going to return to the days when books were written by hand with feather pens etc, and there’s no point moaning about changes we don’t like – we should enjoy the many advantages! It’s easy now for writers to be in contact both with each other and with their readers – it’s a different kind of contact, but it’s still a positive thing.
Describe your writing routine. How do you go about consulting with friends/family/strangers for feedback?
Apart from a mug of coffee, I don’t really have a routine. I sit down and write – if it goes well, I carry on with the new section, if it doesn’t; I edit yesterday’s work. If I get stuck I go on with something else; I always have 2 or 3 books on the go at any one time. I find people are very willing to help out, but the fact that I send them Swiss choc might have something to do with this…
What’s been the highlight for you as an author so far?
‘Meeting’ famous writers like Ann Cleeves on social media. That’s been such a ‘wow’ thing! I love Twitter!
And the low-light? Any funny moments?
The worst part is I have less actual writing time now. ‘They’ reckon 1 hour writing to 15 minutes social media – I’m still trying to achieve this. But as I live in Switzerland, social media is my main way of being in contact with writers and readers in the UK, so it’s time well spent and enjoyable too. My funniest moment was when a reader on social media – I won’t say where – mistook me for Elizabeth George (who’s about ten trillion times more well-known than I am), and ranted on about something she didn’t agree with in E.G’s latest book! I corrected her very gently and she vanished. I’ve often wondered if she ever caught up with the real Elizabeth George!
What’s your own favourite author/book/genre?
Crime. Ruth Rendell, Val McDermid, Elizabeth George and Mary Higgins Clark.
What advice would you give an aspiring author?
Never give up. If you’re in any doubt about your work, use a critique service. Submit to multiple agents/publishers, and comply with their guidelines.
What are your plans for the future?
I hope there’ll be more books – I’m working on two at the moment. One is virtually ‘finished’, so – we’ll see!
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions Linda, and best wishes for the big launch of The Cold Cold Sea tomorrow!