Andrea Baker is an English writer with a story to tell. This is the first interview we have done together, and I have to say that it’s a fascinating look into the mind of a writer. You will be seeing a lot more of Andrea in the future as she takes a trip around radio shows, blogs and E-zines on a brand new promotional tour. Her book series is called “Words Apart,” and the first volume, “Leah,” is on sale right now over on Amazon. Highly rated, highly credited and written by an award-nominated author… Enjoy…
Nightmare’s are just dreams aren’t they?
They can’t hurt you, not really…
They’re trying to tell her the truth and won’t stop until she understands.
Nineteen-year-old Leah struggles to cope with normal life after the recent loss of her mother. Her heart-broken father decides to uproot them to Little Virginia for a fresh start, so they can bury the past behind them. At once, Leah is captivated by the castle ruins near her new doorstep, and whilst exploring, she comes across a mysterious stranger.
Recurring nightmares long thought dead reawaken, and new strains appear in her relationship with her father.
But as Leah attempts to piece together the connection between them, she will find herself thrown into dark and dangerous worlds beyond her wildest dreams…
Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Andrea. Who do you have in mind when you write?
You’re very welcome. My mind is fully engrossed in the character I am writing – I tend to write predominantly in the first person, so in my mind, I am thinking how that character will feel, respond, act in the situation, essentially being that character.
Have you always aspired to be a writer?
I have always written, and even made up my own stories long before I could write them down properly. I would make them up in my head and play scenes from my favourite books during playtime. I progressed from there to following their stories after the end of the book—I suppose we’d now call it fan-fiction—imagining what would happen from that point onwards. From a very small child, I dreamed of being able to create the stories I myself enjoyed in books.
Tell me about how you became a writer—what was the first step for you?
The first steps were those continuations of the journey of my favourite characters, and then I’d have long storylines in my head that I would play with for days. When I graduated from university, however, I convinced myself it was time to “grow up,” so I stopped writing anything down, although I’d still have the “daydreams”. It was this particular story, Leah’s story, that brought me back to physically writing again, as it refused to go away – I’d first got the idea when pregnant with my daughter, and it just kept creeping back into my consciousness time and time again, but I struggled with the last piece of the puzzle—the best location for it to be set. That sounds so bizarre now, but at the time it was a struggle. I couldn’t identify the “right” location. Then, one day I was driving home from work through Kenilworth, a town I know very well. There was a storm, and lightning lit the sky behind the castle. As the cliché goes, it all fell into place then. I realised that Kenilworth, the town I knew and loved, was the ideal location. I went home that night and started putting the words down on paper. Six weeks and thirty thousand words later, all writing in a couple of short hours at night after work when my daughter was asleep, the bones of the story were written.
Do you have a distinctive “voice” as a writer?
I don’t think so – I’m far more comfortable writing in the first person, so I almost become the main character. As a result, my voice changes with the nature of the character.
Do you think anyone can learn to be an effective writer, or is it an unnamed spiritual gift?
I believe that writing well is something we can all learn, not something that is inherent in our abilities – and it is also something we continue to learn and as a result improve. However, I also believe that the imagination that it takes to create the story is something you are born with and cannot be forced or learnt. Particularly with writing fantasy as you need the ability to detach yourself both from the reality around you and the rules of the real world in order to make the worlds you are creating believable and take your reader into that world with you.
Was there a point at which you felt this would be a career?
No – much as I would like it to be my career, that is a huge achievement, and being realistic, one that only a select handful ever really achieve. My ambitions right now are to sell copies of the book and find that people enjoy it and want to read the next one. I’d love to be a career writer, and if I let my mind go off on its own accord, I seem to have limitless ideas, but I also have a home, mortgage and family to look after, so I have a day-job too.
Is there a book you’re most proud of?
I’m proud of the series – what Worlds Apart is turning out to be. I was very proud of Book One when it was finished and had been edited. Book Two is even better, or what I’ve written of it so far is.
Writing is so internal, in the head. How did you release the pressure before you began writing?
Music plays a big part in my writing – I have a playlist that is specific to each book, and I listen to it while writing. It gets to the point where I can hear a certain track, and my mind immediately goes to a certain scene in the book. That has interesting consequences if the song occurs out of context! One of my clients has an open plan office, and a member of staff has Suppermassive Black Hole (Muse) as a ring tone. That’s funny because that is on Book One playlist, and I have to control my mind going back to that point in the story…
My life also needs to be on track. If there is too much stress and pressure from the real world, I can’t switch off and then can’t write. Thankfully, I have a wonderful husband who understands that side of me and knows that there are times when I really do need to get that scene out on paper before I can do anything else.
On average, how long does it take for you to write your ideas down before you start writing a book?
I tend to be write straight off. My writing is actually very visual in that I can picture the scenes in my head as I write. As a result, it all goes down on paper first as I try to keep up with the images in my mind, rather than plotting things out. The most that tends to be written down initially are any key names, but once the story starts to take shape, I then make notes so that it stays on track, and I don’t leave gaping holes in terms of consistency.
What would you say is the “defining” factor in your writing? What makes it yours?
I think the combination of location and music is unique – both are very important to me, and music is a feature in the book and continues to be so in other guises in the series. The language and imagery is also as I see it, which could be very different to how someone else would see things, and that’s what makes a book unique to the author. I’ve read fan-fiction and books that are co-authored, and I think it is very obvious where the author changes as the tone and imagery change more than you would perhaps expect it to.
How do you guard your time to do what’s most important?
I can’t write when the pressures of the real world are too great, so there’s been times when I haven’t written a word in weeks, even months as a result. But my daughter is ten, and she will always come first, so I guard my time with her first and foremost, whatever the cost. My family comes first, then the job that pays the bills. Writing is a passion and gets done late at night or at weekends, but I have to be strict with myself during the day to makes sure nothing gets neglected.
What are some of the more common distractions you struggle with, and what ways have you found to overcome them?
The pressures of work are hard to deal with. I recently started my own consulting company with the plan that it would give me more control over my time, so that I could dedicate some time to writing, without taking it from my daughter. However, the desire to make it successful meant that I found myself working instead of writing in the evenings and at weekends. I’ve started to take back control over that, but I wouldn’t say I’ve quite managed to overcome it yet! Reviews are also a distraction because I have a tendency to want to go back and change it if there is criticism, but of course to do that would ruin the book in the end.
What kind of review do you take to heart?
All of them – I love reading what people think of my work, good and bad, although I’d be lying if I said the latter didn’t hurt. Writing is extremely personal. Even if it isn’t a circumstance you’ve been in yourself, you invest a lot of emotion into what you write. What you have to accept though is that not everyone will like what you write– there will always be those who dislike the genre or hate fantasy, and I have to accept that. You just can’t please everyone, but it is much easier to say that then to live it. It does get to me though when people write a review when they obviously haven’t read the book. There was one review that referred to it as a “local Twilight” – I’m not sure where they get that though as Leah has no vampires in it at all – paranormal creatures, yes, but I’m afraid no vegetarian sparkly vampires…
How do you decide what your next book will be about?
It isn’t a conscious decision – Worlds Apart is a series, so there is still a fair way to go with it. However, there are two other items I am working on in terms of longer term, and they are of a completely different genre. The first, and one that I’ve promised to write eventually, is based on my grandfather’s life growing up in the war, losing his own father before the war, and the way his whole family struggled and starved as a result. His whole outlook on life changed completely when they were evacuated to Warwickshire, and there is quite a story there to tell. The other is far more personal to me, and is currently a journal that I’m writing as a type of catharsis. It is very personal and quite emotive for me, so I’m not sure I’d ever be strong enough, or detached from the subject enough, to put that forward for publication.
Was there a link between your childhood and your vocation as a writer?
I was always encouraged to read—I could read before I started school—and because I was so advanced, I struggled to read as the teachers expected me to, spelling the letters out to create a word at a time. In the end, my mom had to take my older sister’s books into the classroom and get me to read them in front of the teacher to convince them that I could actually read. I think starting reading that early gave my childhood imagination food to grow and develop and led me to creating my own stories. Also the dedication of my parents, taking me to the library religiously every Saturday to take out all the family library cards’ capacity in books, which I’d then devour in the week – my average was 12-14 books each week!
As a writer, however, you have the opportunity to self-reflect, to revisit experiences. How does that feel?
It is often refreshing to revisit those times, especially as an adult, and understand with hindsight what they really mean and how they shape you as a person. That often helps with being able to put things behind you and leaving them in the past where they belong. I do invest a lot emotionally in my characters though, which has its disadvantages. There is a scene in the book where Leah is attacked by her father, and I had nightmares for weeks about it, although the final published scene is actually a lot lighter than I had originally intended.
What motivates you to tackle the issues others may avoid, such as nature and spirituality?
I’ve always loved people and understanding why people react to the same situation differently. To me writing is part of that same understanding of what makes people who they are, and you can take a character into a situation and learn how they react and how it changes them. It’s fascinating and a real insight into what makes people behave the way that they do!
When you start a new book, do you know how a book will end as you’re writing it? Or does its direction unfold during the writing, research and/or creative process?
It definitely unfolds as I write. In fact, Worlds Apart was supposed to be only three books as it is working its way through the story; however, it could end up longer than that because the story has changed. I often in fact joke that the characters make a decision that take you off in a completely different direction – but in a sense that’s right, because people don’t do what you want them to and neither will a realistic character. Sometimes, the journey has to wind and twist before they get to where they need to be in the story. Having said that though, the essence of the story, and how it will end, remain the same. It’s just taking longer than planned.
How do your books speak to people, both inside and outside the reading world?
When I set out writing the series, I wanted it to be something my daughter would read and be comfortable reading when she was older – and as a parent I would be happy with her reading it. When it was launched, I said to other parents at her school that there wasn’t anything in it the children shouldn’t read, but that it was written for slightly older children and recommended they read it first, to make sure they were comfortable with when their child should read it. As it turns out though, I’m told that there are layers in it that adults appreciate, whereas a child will take it at face value – for example, a child will read one scene as her Dad being angry and not be scared by it. But almost all the adults I know who have read it have pinpointed that as a scene depicting abuse, as they see the complexities that are written into previous scenes. It therefore speaks to both adults and children as a result, which is wonderful, especially as I have lots of the Mums nagging me to get Book Two finished so they can find out what happens next. The children love the fantasy elements as their imaginations can run away with it, the adults appreciate the more complex nature of the relationships in the book. Having both audiences appreciate it is a wonderful feeling, but I can’t claim it was deliberate move on my part to write it that way.
How do you see your role in impacting and influencing society?
I didn’t set out to influence society. I write because I have a story bursting to get out of my mind, and I hope that readers will enjoy it once it is finished. But I do have strongly held beliefs about certain things, and these do come out in my work. In terms of the various facets within Leah, if what I have written helps a girl understand the difference between a positive, healthy relationship and an abusive or damaging one, and why it’s not acceptable to be treated badly by a boy or her parents, then that is a real bonus.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you like to do?
I can’t imagine not being a writer now. It is too integral a part of me. If I don’t allow my mind to wander to that place where I go to write, it seems to affect my well-being in all aspects of my life. The dream of course would be to make a living from it; but that is a dream, and a reality many never reach.
Do you look at yourself as an “envelope pusher” with your writing?
No, not an envelope pusher as such, but I’m not afraid to tackle issues like domestic violence either. It’s important, especially when writing fantasy, that there is still some semblance of reality there. The characters need to be believable; and therefore, to create the journey the character goes on, there has to be a catalyst. For that, I ask myself what would cause such a change or journey – and write what is necessary to make it believable. Leah does go on quite a journey through the series, and what she encounters, and the decisions she makes have a much older audience later in the series, but that is part of her journey and needs to be written as such. Having said that, I will make sure it is clear at what age group each book is aimed, so that parents know what their children are reading.
What are some pieces of advice that you would give someone on writing well?
Never believe you are the best at what you do or that you know better than anyone else. We are all human and can all make mistakes. Write and keep writing, and refine what you have written, but not to the extent that it never sees the light of day. I’m part of an online writing community, and I regularly see popular authors torn to shreds about grammatical errors or mistakes in their books – and to me it just seems like sour grapes because not one person is perfect! It is also important to remember all languages and their localisms have different rules, therefore what “sounds” wrong to you may be right for someone else’s situation. Most of all, never stop refining your craft, as there is always something else to learn.
Young writers often make foolish mistakes. What is a mistake to avoid?
The first blush of youth often makes us quite arrogant, discounting what others say and do because it feels wrong or old fashioned. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your work or idea can’t be improved—it always can be—and your idea of how it should work is no better or more valid then someone else’s. Write your own idea as well as you can, and remember that good editing is just as vital as getting the story down in the first place!
What obstacles and opportunities do you see for writers in the years ahead?
The biggest obstacle is being seen and heard. One of my favourite recent quotations related to writing is something J K Rowling said at the final premiere for the Harry Potter films – “No story lives unless someone is prepared to listen”. That is as true today as it was 200 years ago – you can have written the most fantastic original story in the world, but if it isn’t available to readers and enjoyed by them, then it doesn’t matter and will not be recognised. Two hundred years ago, literacy was the issue in that stories were told rather than written down, and if written, very few were literate enough to be able to read them. Now there is a plethora of books, good and bad, available to be downloaded, so the issue is now visibility rather than ability. Having said that, blaming electronic publishing for all the ills in the industry is actually a fallacy.
Could you talk about one work of creative art that has powerfully impacted you as a person?
Actually, it’s really difficult to identify a single piece. The written word has always been my favourite medium, and I read voraciously as a child – usually completing ten or more books in a single week, with Saturday visits to the library becoming a routine for us. Fantasy, crime, literary fiction all were chosen based on those few short paragraphs at the back of the book, and to this day I don’t have a preferred genre. One series sticks out in my mind though, and that is the Anne of the Island series by Lucy Maude Montgomery. Although old-fashioned, even when I was a child, it was written so eloquently, with such vivid characters that I was and still am hooked, and I believe it not only shaped my own personality, but it is also the reason why I am so fascinated by behaviour and what makes people tick.
What relationship do you see between imagination and creativity, and the real world?
There needs to be an anchor – if you’re writing in the real world then everything needs to fit and happen as it would in reality, but even with fantasy there needs to be anchors—hooks to which a reader can associate—that help them jump that gap between the real world and the one you have created. If it isn’t there, if something isn’t believable, then you risk losing the reader altogether, and they won’t finish or enjoy your book.
For a writer, it is easy to become an elitist. Have you ever, or do you still, struggle with pride as an author?
I’d say my problem is more the opposite, as I tend to be hyper-critical of my own work and abilities, but I’ve seen a few authors that bad-mouth and criticise others. In my day-job there is a saying: “Never judge a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes”. I try to apply that to everything I do – I’m far from perfect, so what right do I have to expect others to be something I am not?
With all your success, how do you stay humble?
As a mother, you see your child struggling with learning how to do the most basic of things because we all have to start to learn sometime, whether it be walking, reading, writing, making and keeping friends, dealing with different situations, it is a journey that doesn’t stop. Just because you’ve mastered the basics, there are still so many experiences and situations you’ve yet to encounter, and therefore still so much to learn. Life is a journey, and we are all at different stages of it. Just because you’ve mastered one thing, doesn’t make you more able than someone else.