Bea Hutchings In conversation with… Stephanie Austin, local author of a series of crime novels set in and around Ashburton:
I recently had the pleasure of meeting up with Stephanie, who lives in Torquay with her husband Martin, and asking her about her prolific writing career.
One of the first questions I asked, and one which many readers ask her is:
When did you first start writing your novels?
"I’m a late starter. I’ve always been a secret scribbler, but I didn’t start to write seriously until I retired.
"I’d always wanted to write a crime novel and thought ‘it’s now or never.’
"I’d been inspired by various experiences when I was working as an antiques trader.
"I was lucky enough to get an agent and publisher very quickly and my first book, ‘Dead in Devon’, was published in 2019.
"Book five, ‘A Devon Night’s Death’, comes out in February and I’m now working on book six. It’s been a very steep learning curve.
"All my books are set in and around Ashburton and have the same heroine, Juno Browne.
Many writers seem to have a preferred method for writing their books. Do you begin a new story with plot or character?
"Neither it’s how they both combine to create a story. Plot is a series of events, the stuff that happens.
"But it doesn’t matter how original or ingenious the plot, it won’t grip the readers unless they sympathise with the protagonist.
"They must care about the person the stuff is happening to in order to understand why this person reacts to what’s happening in the way they do, what spurs them to act.
"At the same time, you can create the most sympathetic of characters, someone the readers can really relate to, but he or she won’t hold their interest if nothing exciting or curious is happening to them.
"A good story is a combination, it’s about how you bring character and plot together."
You must have a favourite character?
"No. I don’t do favourites. I couldn’t tell you what my favourite colour is. Characters just walk into my head.
"I say, ‘thank you very much’ and then try to work out what their back story is. What were they doing before they arrived on the page. That’s important."
So, it seems to me that you must be incredibly focused and have an amazing work schedule?
"I don’t really have a schedule. When I’m writing a book, I have to put the hours in, but I try to pace myself so that I can lead a reasonably normal life.
"Sitting at a computer all day isn’t healthy.
"If I don’t make time for fresh air and exercise, I find this pale, pudgy person staring at me from the mirror, and I don’t like her much.
"I tend to wake up around 4am when I’m working on a book. A lot of things get sorted out in my head in the early hours."
Writing can set off all sorts of feelings. How do you deal with the emotional impact on yourself as you are writing the story?
"This is an interesting one. There’s a lovely feeling that accompanies knowing that you’ve written something right, and at the end of a book I can get quite emotional, for Juno’s sake, because she’s always left to carry on, bless her.
"But I think all writers need a sense of inner detachment to protect themselves from the rigours of writing, of losing the plot, of not knowing how things will end, of realising that a big chunk of what you’ve written won’t fit and you must throw it away.
"You must hang in there, reassure yourself that you will sort things out and realise that even the most famous writers suffer from self-doubt."
Thank you, Stephanie. One final question: What advice would you give to a new writer starting out?
"Write for love, not money, and learn to punctuate."
Stephanie Austin's works are available from all good bookshops, and online. Also available as ebooks and audio books. Website: stephanieaustin.co.uk.
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