This week I'd like to extend a warm Coffee House welcome to, Karen Charlton. Karen is a hybrid - author, editor and the driving force behind Famelton Writing Services. She’s a Northern lass like me and has a wicked sense of humour. So, please make yourself at home, Karen. We don’t stand on ceremony here. Hang up your coat and kick off your shoes. Feel free to sprawl on the sofas or pull up a chair by the stove.
1 - First things first. Let’s get the domestics out of the way. Kettle’s just boiled and the cakes are fresh out of the oven. The chef has excelled today and you’re spoilt for choice. So, Karen, name your fancy, or in this case the hot beverage and accompanying delicacy of your choice.
K -Thanks Babs, I’ll have a cup of Earl Grey tea, if that is OK with you? And a largish slice of Victoria sponge cake. (Please don’t tell my Slimming World leader.) And please don’t think I’m posh totty because I drink Earl Grey. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. This particular Northern lass hails from the back-street terraces of industrial Sheffield. I played on the banks of a polluted river next to a railway line and used an outside toilet for the first five years of my life. No, definitely not posh.
I began drinking Earl Grey about eleven years ago during a family holiday to the USA. We ran out of our normal teabags and the only thing we could buy was Earl Grey. Hubby decided to stick to beer and coffee for the rest of the trip, but I became quite partial to the perfumed brew and I still drink it today.
2 – Don't worry, my lips are sealed regarding the cake. I won't tell a soul! Now, let’s get to know a little bit more about how you ended up here on my sofa. Are you a full time writer or do you have an additional occupation that drags you away from the keyboard? If you moonlight as something particularly exciting we want to hear about it...we really do!
K -It was always my dream to be a full time writer, Babs. Unfortunately I had to serve a long stretch as one of Her Majesty’s secondary school teachers before I was finally freed on unconditional bail with a redundancy cheque this summer. I am now in the wonderful position of being able to devote my time to ‘all things literary’ and I love it.
At the moment, Famelton Writing Services is dominating all my waking hours; the company has really taken off since its launch in February. Apart from writing manuscript assessments, editing and proof reading for our clients, I also do all the company financial administration and most of the marketing. We’re running a competition at the moment and offering free manuscript assessments for prizes. Maybe some of your readers will want to check it out?
Famelton Writing Services
In addition to this, I have just received back the publishing rights to my first two novels and I am about to self-publish them, which is very exciting. I also have two half-written novels, both of whom are begging for completion…
3 – Sounds like you're going to enjoy being very busy indeed. How did you get into writing, Karen? Perhaps you’re lucky enough to be a member of a writer’s group. Or maybe you just fell into it by accident.
K - I wanted to be a writer since I was eight years old when I used to scribble down stories in old exercise books. Unfortunately, real life got in the way of literary ambition and I just never got around to writing that ‘bestseller.’
Then one day we had the most amazing piece of good luck. My husband and I had always shared a mutual interest in genealogy and In August 2004 we made a fascinating discovery. When we shook our family tree, a convict fell out. But Jamie Charlton’s conviction was dodgy – even by the questionable standards of the Regency justice system.
It was like winning the jackpot; we had our very own miscarriage of justice to explore. I also quickly realised that the perfect plot for a historical novel had just landed in my lap and ‘Catching the Eagle’ was born. The more we unearthed about this incredible story, the stronger became my conviction that if I didn’t write this up as a novel, I would never fulfil my ambition to become a writer.
4 – What was the first thing you had published and how did you go about it? Did you run the gauntlet of the query letter? Enter a competition or decide to self-publish?
K - I’ve had some poetry and theatre reviews published in local newspapers but ‘Catching the Eagle’ was the first novel I had published. I went down the traditional route and submitted to agents and publishers. My manuscript was finally bought by Knox Robinson Publishers of Historical fiction.
KRP sent me an email which requested the full manuscript for consideration. I had already gone to bed when my husband spotted it in my inbox. This threw him into a terrible dilemma; did he leave it till the morning to tell me? Or should he risk a barrage of abuse and wake me up? Snoozing is a favourite hobby of mine and I tend to be rather unpleasant when disturbed.
Eventually, the brave man decided to go with the latter course of action. He came upstairs, shook me roughly on the shoulder and hissed in my ear: ‘Don’t shout at me. You need to come downstairs and see a message on the computer.’
Half-asleep, I grumbled (but didn’t shout) and padded downstairs in my slippers and nightie to read the email. We were ecstatic. It was only a request to see the full manuscript – not an offer of publication - but I had got a toe in the door of a publishing house, albeit a baby toe. Too excited to go back to sleep, we stayed up for hours drinking tea in the kitchen and I did some very dodgy teaching at school the next day and needed matchsticks to hold up my eyelids.
5 – From your experience do you have any tips for those not yet published?
K - I used to advise people not to ‘give up’ with the traditional publishing route. However, now that I’ve been privy to the inside workings of the publishing industry for the last three years, I would say: ‘Don’t dismiss self-publishing.’
There is a lot to be said for being in control of your own novels and quite frankly, unless you are lucky enough to secure a deal with one of the big five publishing houses, the financial rewards from traditional publishing are pathetic and touting your novels around the country can prove a very expensive hobby. This is why so many published authors seek additional sources of revenue: editing, public speaking, teaching creative writing classes etc. The happiest and most commercially successful authors I know are nearly all self-published. Crazy world, isn’t it?
6 – I love to genre hop, how about you, Karen? Do you write in a specific genre? Which is your favourite and why?
K - As far as fiction is concerned, Babs, I am firmly rooted in the Regency era and the historical fiction genre. There is something very attractive about this time period with its white muslin dresses, highwaymen, dashing scarlet uniforms and that intriguing whiff of decadence and scandal.
However, last year I tried my hand at a piece of non-fiction. After the book launch of ‘Catching the Eagle’, the interest in the background to the novel took me by surprise. Newspapers, radio and even a TV station all wanted to know how we had discovered our unusual skeleton in the closet. Genealogy groups, libraries and local historical societies invited me to talk about the subject, an experience I thoroughly enjoyed.
I soon realised that there might also be a wider audience for this extraordinary story and decided to write a complementary factual book, called ‘Seeking Our Eagle,’ which mapped our full genealogical experience and my creative journey into fiction. ‘Seeking our Eagle’ was my own self-published little adventure. Its success means that I am comfortable and confident about self-publishing my other two novels once I regain their publishing rights in December.
7 – Is there a particular genre or type of scene that you would avoid and if so why?
K - I’m sorry to say this, Babs, but that would be horror stories and anything containing vampires or zombies.
8 – As a child which was your favourite book? Were you read to as a child and did that develop your love of books? Do you have a favourite book and author now? What are you reading now?
K - Although I was an avid fan of Enid Blyton and C. S. Lewis the first book to have a major impact on me was ‘The Hobbit’ by J.R. R. Tolkien. I was about nine years old and our class teacher read it aloud to us. The ending of this story made me cry and desperately want more. This was an unforgettable incident; I had no idea how powerful literature could be before then. Needless to say, I became a huge fan of Tolkien, read The Lord of the Rings trilogy several times in my late teens and twenties and I just can’t get enough of the Peter Jackson films.
9 – Karen, can you tell us a little about the book you've brought with you: 'The Missing Heiress.’
K - ‘The Missing Heiress’, my second novel, is pure fiction and is set in your neck of the woods, Babs: Northumberland. It‘s a Regency whodunit revolving around the mystery of a beautiful heiress who vanishes from a locked bedchamber. Helen Carnaby is just weeks away from inheriting a fortune when she disappears and the local constabulary are baffled. Fearing for her safety, her worried uncle sends out for help from Bow Street magistrates’ court in London.
Convinced at first that this is just a simple case of a young woman who has eloped with her lover, Detective Stephen Lavender and his Constable, Edward Woods, are alarmed to discover a sinister world of madness, violence and secrets lurking behind the heavy oak door of the ancient pele tower at Linn Hagh.
Hindered by Helen's uncooperative siblings, distracted by gypsies, rebellious farmers, highwaymen and an attractive and feisty Spanish senora, Helen Carnaby's disappearance is to prove one of the most perplexing mysteries of Lavender's career.
12 – Pick one of your characters and sell him/her to us in twenty words or less.
K - Stephen Lavender is thinking women’s crumpet: intelligent, respected, sensitive, devoted to his job – and single.
13 – While I top up your Earl Grey would you like to read a short excerpt from your book?
It was at this point, when the man from the hackney carriage decided to step forward and join his colleagues in the middle of the fray.
‘Is there anything I can do to help, Constable Woods?’ he asked. The bemused spectators regarded him curiously. One or two of them started with alarm and scurried away, but few in the mob recognised him these days.
Woods beamed in delight.
‘Detective Lavender!’ He shook his hand vigorously. ‘Well met, sir! It’s been too long.’
‘I agree. So, what do we have here?’
‘We ‘ave been searching’ for this thieving trollop since yesterday.’ Woods sighed and jerked his thumb at the unconscious drunk on the street. ‘It’s claimed she stole money from a rich merchant a few nights ago - while ‘e slept in their bed in a bawdy house…’
‘I think I know where the money is, sir!’ the young officer interrupted. He was squatting beside the woman. ‘I ‘eard the paper rustle when she moved.’
‘Where, lad? Where?’
Constable Brown pointed nervously to the woman’s ample breasts. ‘I believe it’s down there – between her habit-shirt and the bosom of her gown.’
‘Well, get it!’
The young man blushed. His hand trembled above the two wobbling mounds of female flesh and the gaping cleavage.
‘Go on, son!’ someone jeered in the crowd. ‘Yer’ give ‘er a good fumble, officer!’
There were howls of laughter.
‘Oh, for Gawd’s sake!’ Woods snapped. He stepped forward, stooped low and thrust his hand down the bodice of the unconscious girl. He had a good rummage around.
The crowd loved it.
‘Try the other end!’
‘Don’t forget ‘er placket!’
‘I’m glad to see that you’ve not lost your touch with the ladies.’ Lavender grinned.
Undeterred by the irony of his colleague or the raucous leering of the mob, Woods’ ruddy face was a picture of studied concentration. When he finally pulled back his hand from the woman’s stained underclothes, he held up a crisp banknote: a one hundred pound note. The crowd around Lavender emitted a sharp, collective intake of breath and the laughter subsided.
‘That lush will get more than a whipping fer being drunk and disorderly,’ Lavender heard someone whisper…
14- As someone who has read and thoroughly enjoyed 'The Missing Heiress' I can certainly recommend it, so you’d best let everyone know where they can find it, Karen.
15– And finally if you’ve been paying attention to previous posts we’re playing a little game that I hope all my guests will contribute to. Can you give me 100 words of your choosing to follow on from this first line supplied by Kristen Stone? Your last line will be picked up by the next guest... and so on:
“There was a noise behind her. Her heart-rate increased as she ran to the door, pulled it closed… ”
‘Thanks, lass,’ said a gruff male voice. ‘I was bloody nithered wi’ that draught.’
She breathed a huge sigh of relief and with hand on heart, fought to control her trembling.
Peter, the aged footman, limped painfully into the pool of moonlight streaming through the arched gothic window. He fumbled with his tinderbox and the warm blush of lantern light spread into the dusty corners of the castle kitchen. His gnarled fingers lifted the swaying lamp up to her face.
‘Why lass, tha’ looks like tha’s seen a ghost. Tha’s not been bothered by the old Grey Woman, has tha’?’
‘The – the what?’
To keep up with the story so far click Here
Thanks so much for dropping in, Karen. I wish you continued success with Famelton Writing Services and in your self publishing venture.