Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. Those of you who are not a member won’t be aware that the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit it is via membership or an invite to the tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation with all sorts of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers. Over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, I shall be chatting with my guest about their work in progress, or latest book release.
Today I’m welcoming time slip and cozy crime author Elizabeth Ducie to the tearoom. Thank you so much for joining me, Elizabeth. I hope you drink is to your liking.
Thank you for your invite to this wonderful tearoom, Paula. The champagne is lovely, thank you.
Now we have our refreshments, please can I start by asking you when you first begun your writing journey and what drew you to your chosen genre?
I had been a technical writer for many years when I decided to let my creative side out to play, back in 2006. During a thirty year career in international pharmaceutical manufacturing, I had worked in more than fifty countries; seen huge political change; and had a whole host of anecdotes I wanted to write about. So I thought my chosen genre was creative non-fiction or life writing. But I found to my surprise that I was happier, and better, putting real incidents into fictional settings. But what did survive was my intention to write about places more than anything else. With all four of my novels and with many of my short stories, I have started with a location, then peopled it, then gave them a story to tell.
How many unfinished projects do you have on your computer?
In terms of novels, there’s only the one on the computer, although there are several more buzzing around in my head. But I have over 200 short stories, flash fiction, and other pieces of writing on file that I would like to find a home for at some point. I never throw any words away—ever!
Tell us a little about latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?
This really follows on from the previous answer. I’ve always been a bit of a grasshopper, jumping from place to place, writing-wise. There are actually four projects in the pipeline for 2021. After four novels set in far away places, I have now decided to bring my writing ‘home’ and am working on a cosy murder mystery set in a fictional village just a couple of miles up the road from where I live. Think Midsomer Murders in South Devon. It’s been through beta reader stage and should have been published for this Christmas, but I had major surgery in August which threw my whole schedule out of kilter. I now hope to finish it for the spring.
But for years, I’ve been toying with returning to my original idea and having another go at life writing. I have collected loads of notes from holidays and other trips with members of my family; and would like to put together a series of short, humorous travel books. Similarly, all those short stories and pieces of flash fiction I mentioned previously are completely wasted sitting in a file somewhere; so I’m considering putting out a series of short fiction books as well.
As an indie publisher with a decade of experience, the production process is pretty slick now, so although I know I won’t get everything done, I’ve got a fair shot at increasing my published portfolio considerably this year.
And finally, after eight years away from the world of pharma, I am about to sign a contract to co-author the second edition of a text book originally published in 2002. That will take me temporarily out of indie publishing and back into the traditional route, which is going to be an interesting experience.
Do you write a synopsis first or write the first chapter?
When I was studying for my MA in Creative Writing (as a very mature student in 2010/1) I took a module of writing screen treatments. And although I’ve never written any plays or screenplays, the technique is very useful for novels as well. It involves describing each individual scene in a short paragraph, working on the principal of what will be seen. So no thoughts or feelings; just actions. It’s great for developing the ‘show, don’t tell’ aspects of the story; but also ensures that every scene moves the story on in some way. I usually start with the first draft of the treatment, and then refine it as I go along. It helps me record other aspects like POV and timescale all in one place.
Were any of your characters inspired by real people?
Several of them, yes. Gorgito, the eponymous hero of my debut novel, is based on someone I used to work for in Russia. His goal was to build an ice rink in an area where facilities were poor and skaters could only practise in the winter. Unfortunately, he died before he could achieve it; so I thought I would build it for him – at least on paper.
In Counterfeit, the conversation with the health minister about whether or not he could afford the luxury of concern over quality of the drugs was based on a true conversation I had with a real politician. And the struggle by local authorities to beat the criminal gangs was based on the campaign by the very courageous head of the Nigerian FDA in the 1980s and 1990s, Dora Akunyili. She risked everything after her sister died through taking fake insulin; I wanted to pay tribute to her.
What did you learn when writing your book? In writing it, how much research did you do?
Each of my novels has involved an element of time slip. The contemporary threads were relatively straight-forward, as I had visited and worked in all the countries involved. But the historical threads were different and require a lot of research. In Gorgito’s Ice Rink, the back story covered Russia from 1949 to 1970. I did a lot of background reading to begin with. Then I discovered Just Send Me Word by Orlando Figes, the history of Lev and Svetlana, an old couple in Moscow, based on the 1200+ letters they wrote during the time he was in the Pechora Labour Camp in the 1940s and 1950s. It not only gave me a huge amount of background information about Stalin’s Russia, but also suggested a major plot twist that shaped the rest of the book.
In Deception!, the antagonist’s back story takes place in southern Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. I had finished the first draft and was doing some additional research when I realised one of the countries I had used was in the middle of a civil war at the time—and I had neglected to even mention it! While it wasn’t a major part of the story, I couldn’t afford to just wipe it out of history altogether.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
As I said earlier, I’m a bit of a grasshopper. My work schedule tends to be quite variable. But I try to regulate my writing as much as possible, so I don’t find other things to do instead. For novels and creative non-fiction books, the first draft is written during November (I have completed NaNoWriMo for the past eight years.) so I write around 2K words per day, always first thing in the morning. With a background in production management, I work best under pressure and have always been an advocate of the Just In Time principle.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Elizabeth Ducie is a pseudonym made up of my middle name and my maiden name. When I started writing creatively, I was still working in pharmaceuticals and my technical books were published under my married name (Kate McCormick). I didn’t want there to be any confusion; and I also wanted the freedom to write and publish things without having to worry about what my bosses thought about them. It can be confusing at times; all my social media accounts are in my pseudonym, but people who know me well call me Kate in the discussions. And when I am emailing people, I can never remember which persona I am supposed to be inhabiting at the time. Not sure I would go down the same route if I had my time over again.
How do you select the names of your characters? & do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?
Since many of my characters come from other countries and other cultures, I research to make sure they are authentic. But I try to keep them simple. Years ago, my aunt told me she was put off reading my works by the difficulty of pronouncing the characters’ names in her head when she read them. And I try to avoid duplication of initial letters as much as possible. I have noticed recently that when I am writing British or American characters, I have a habit of using names with ie or y on the end: Charlie, Annie, Suzy etc. That can get irritating and as I am starting to write more ‘home-based’ pieces, that’s a habit I need to break.
I have a huge template for discovery which I complete for all the main characters when I start writing the book. It runs to about 6 pages and covers background, likes and dislikes, character strengths and weaknesses etc. I’m not sure I always get all the details right in the final book, but it helps me get to know them well. And it helps with consistency when I am writing a series.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
The first novel took me about seven years, as I was learning my trade and also trying to decide whether to go down the indie route or not. But these days, I tend to work on an annual cycle: first draft during November; editing and formatting January to August; launch and promotion September and October.
Thank you for joining me in the tearoom, Elizabeth. To find out more about her writing and books check out the links below.
Elizabeth’s books: http://elizabethducieauthor.co.uk/my-books/
If you want to find out more about Clubhouse Members’ Books, don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops, too.