Once upon a time, not that long ago, I worked with several other writers. One of them moved to London (not me), and another left to pursue a job in the hallowed halls of academia (also not me). L.M. is the latter, and I’m very excited to be able to interview her about her first book, Greythorne. Thanks for dropping by, L.M. 🙂
Your debut, Greythorne, just came out with Momentum Books. Tell us about it.
Greythorne is a Gothic horror/suspense novel for readers aged 14+. I like to think of it as Jane Eyre meets Frankenstein, with a little bit of Rebecca thrown in there too. This is the blurb:
How did Lucy Greythorne die?
From the moment Nell Featherstone arrives at Greythorne Manor as a governess to eight-year-old Sophie, she finds herself haunted by the fate of the mistress of the house, and entranced by the child’s father, the enigmatic Professor Nathaniel Greythorne.
When a violent storm reveals Lucy’s body is not in her grave, Nell becomes suspicious about the Professor’s research. But what she discovers in his laboratory will turn all her ideas about life and death, morality and creation on their head.
Enthralled by a man walking a fine line between passion and madness, Nell must make an impossible choice between life, death and life after death, where any mistake could be her last.
What drew you to the Gothic horror genre?
Greythorne is actually a bit of an anomaly for me, because in the past I’ve always written young adult fantasy. I was inspired by classic horror and adventure stories – not just the obvious ones like Dracula and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, but also Jane Eyre, Moonfleet and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The Woman in Black was also a big influence. I’ve always had a fascination with the nineteenth century, and particularly women’s stories, because it was time of great social change and options were starting to open up for women in a way they hadn’t before.
I think the attraction of horror/mystery as a genre is the way it lets you explore fear and psychology as an author. I’m not into gore – there isn’t much actual violence in Greythorne – but I’m fascinated by the idea of moral choices and I like putting characters into situations where their deepest values are challenged. I’m also really interested in the idea of ‘normality’ and the line between sanity and madness.
What is your favourite part of the writing process?
My favourite part is also the part I hate the most – writing the first draft. Greythorne was a NaNoWriMo book – it was the first time I’d done NaNo and I found the discipline it gave me really helpful. I’ve just started doing it again for my next novel and I’m remembering how much I both love and hate the process. I love it because it’s really exciting watching a story unfold before you – seeing the characters develop in unexpected ways and it going places you never envisaged. But I hate it because I can’t help feeling I don’t know what I’m doing – I have a vague idea about the beginning and the end but the middle is a big blank at the moment and that’s a bit scary.
I also actually really enjoyed the final copy-edit, which is probably not something many authors say. The manuscript was on its fifth draft by then and the copy-editor I worked with was fantastic – she picked up stuff I’d completely missed and I know the book was substantially improved as a result.
If you could live and write anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I visited Venice a few years ago and I think it’s still top of my list. There’s such a wealth of inspiration there for artists and writers – you’re surrounded by this overwhelming richness of history, architecture, art, music and culture, and there’s always something going on.
Failing that, I’d be happy with a little study with a nice view of some greenery. Actually, time rather than place is the real luxury as far as I’m concerned – I currently fit my writing in around full-time work, so if I had the opportunity to write full-time or even just one or two full days a week I don’t think the place would matter much.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just started my next novel, which is tentatively titled The Dark Before the Dawn. I’m sticking with the Gothic theme, but this time it’s set in Australia in the mid-1860s. In traditional Gothic style, there is a strong sense of isolation, usually with the protagonist being stuck in a haunted house or similar, but in Australian Gothic the isolation is very much about the landscape and being stuck in a country far removed from ‘civilisation’. I don’t have much yet, but this is the rough outline of the story. I’m really looking forward to exploring ideas of madness and isolation, as well as drawing on Australian folklore and the rich tradition of bushrangers, ghosts and hauntings in southern New South Wales. I’ve never written anything set in Australia before so this is a new challenge.
Elizabeth King is on her way home to her family’s property near Goulburn after spending the winter with her wealthy aunt in Sydney Town. But the routine journey takes an unexpected turn when her coach is waylaid by bushrangers – Frederick Black and his gang, including his sister Sarah. The only survivor, Elizabeth is forced to accompany Frederick and Sarah, but soon a shocking crime leaves Frederick dead and the girls on the run from the law. They decide to make for the Victorian goldfields, but in the rugged hills and isolated valleys of the Southern Highlands something is waiting…
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Just write the bloody thing. Ultimately there’s no substitute for just turning up day after day after day and getting words down even when you feel like you’ve got nothing left, because you can always fix bad writing later, but you can’t edit a blank page. I’ve been to quite a few writers’ groups made up of people who like to talk a lot about writing – and how hard it is to find time to do it – but don’t actually write much. If you really want to, you can make the time. I wrote Greythorne for an hour a day in the early morning before work, and as I’m not a morning person it was a real struggle. But it was also amazing how fast it came along when I plugged away at it every day. Find a time of day that works for you and just write for an hour (actually write, don’t play on the internet) and you’ll have a finished manuscript before you know it.
The other thing I’d say is learn technique. For many years I had a lot of inspiration but didn’t really have the discipline or understand the mechanics of getting it all down on paper. Learn about things like plot, structure, dialogue and setting, and start to use those tools deliberately. And then learn how to edit, because your first draft will be pretty rubbish. I finished the first draft of Greythorne in three months, but it took another nine months and three drafts before it was ready to even think about submitting to a publisher.
The final piece of advice I have relates to the business of writing. When you get a contract you suddenly have to go from being this isolated, creative soul to being a tough, logical businessperson. Join professional associations, get a mentor, attend seminars, do whatever it takes to prepare yourself for that – learn the basics of accounting/tax issues for small businesses, marketing (because you’ll probably have to do most of it yourself, regardless of which publisher you’re with) and how to negotiate contracts. Most writers don’t even think about the business side until it bashes them over the head, so get across it early. If, like me, you don’t have an agent, you’ll need to work out how to handle all this stuff and where to go for help.
If you could have lunch with any one writer, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
C.S. Lewis, because I’m in awe of both his intellect and his prose. The Chronicles of Narnia are obviously his best-known books, but I also love his work for adults, a lot of which is non-fiction and revolves around discussions of theology. He had the great gift of being able to discuss complex topics in a way that was simple but not simplistic – the mark of a great communicator – and he also had an incredible imagination and was really just a damn good storyteller.
Pick one of the following:
Chocolate or vanilla? Vanilla
Rain or shine? Shine
Introvert or extrovert? Introvert
Beach or mountains? Beach
Cats or dogs? Dogs
Plotter or pantser? Somewhere in between…but probably pantser.
About L.M. Merrington
L.M. Merrington was born in Melbourne, Australia. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in media and communications and Chinese, and a PhD in international relations, and has worked as a freelance journalist, editor, strategic analyst and communications manager. She lives in Canberra with her husband Tristan. Greythorne is her first novel.
Greythorne‘s book launch is on Friday 27 November, 6pm at Paperchain Bookstore in Manuka, Canberra. Click here for the Facebook event.
Cassandra Page is an urban fantasy author whose fourth book, Lucid Dreaming, released this week …so she is currently hiding under her doona, eating chocolate.