THIS is my dog Tilly, a lovely Lurcher…
And THAT below is my recent interview by B’S WRITING PLACE:
(Originally published on 2023/11/07 here)
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Los Angeles, California in a family that valued education. I loved to read. I was also an artist and I studied art, English literature and psychology at university. Later, I also studied folklore and mythology at UCLA. Stories were the baseline for everything for me. When I came to the UK in 2009, it was to teach at an American School in London and this was where the urge to write became very strong. I’d say this was where I knew I had to get another degree in Creative Writing and learn the craft of writing so I could do the writing I loved best, fiction. I was writing on trains, in cafes, everywhere I could when I wasn’t earning a living.
What is your favorite genre?
Why and when did you begin writing?
I was always writing stories. The earliest I remember was when I was six. I understood that in writing stories I could use my imagination. Art and writing were both important places for me to be free. In all kinds of ways. In writing, as well as reading, I discover myself and others, and what it is to be human.
Who influences your writing the most?
GOOD FICTION WRITERS. I’m always happy to discover more great writers, which is why I keep reading fiction, deeply. At the moment, I’m loving the prose of Joanna Cannon (The Trouble With Goats and Sheep) and I do enjoy good books about writing like Susan Griffin’s Out of Silence, Sound. Out of Nothing, Something. If I had to pick 3 of my very top top favorite books to read, the transformational experience of reading I’d most wish I could conjure up, they would be A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin, and Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver.
Where do you get inspiration from?
Dreams, curiosities, places I visit and a host of great WHAT IF questions. But the things I’ve spent a lot of time working on, writing for publication, are things that have been working on ME for a long time, determined to get my attention, HAUNTED me. Characters with stories to tell really pester me until I find a way to get those stories down.
Do your personal experiences, or culture influence your writing?
I believe that all writing is autobiographical in some way. But I can’t ever hope to capture that if I know it in advance. It’s after I’ve got it down that I notice my own experience or culture in it, like a spice in the soup. It isn’t a journalistic account of events, it’s the essence of an experience, something I’ve felt strongly enough that I can portray it through another point of view.
If you had to recommend one book to someone, what would it be?
We are all so different and read for different reasons. I can’t imagine blindly hitting the bullseye of what someone else would find fabulous, but I’ve mentioned my favourite 3 and if you’d like to know what I think is a great story with amazing characters, try those. And I’m also a believer in not wasting your time. Life is too short to slog through books you think you should like, but actually don’t. If the first 10 pages aren’t pulling you on to the next chapter, stop reading and search for the book that is calling you.
If you could meet any author in the world, who would it be?
What does ‘a day in the life of an author’ look like for you?
Good Breakfast. In the writing seat by 8 AM. I’m either working on a chapter in my novel(s) or rewriting (very different process). It takes years for me to finish a novel, but eventually, I hope to get on to the next one, which requires long periods of research (different process again). At 10 AM I’m out of my chair and having coffee, usually with my husband, and am back in the chair by 10:30. Then I write until 12:30 or 1 PM. I do life stuff after that, and some reading in the afternoon. But I try to do the writing in the mornings when my mind is fresh. When I’m writing, time flies. I honestly look forward to doing it every day. I can’t always make that work, and it’s actually good for the writing if I miss two or even three days a week, because of other things, but it is the most grounding, wonderful thing to do. I’m so glad I found my writing life. It takes a while. I know it can be torture when things aren’t going well, but when they are, when you find your process and know it is improving your writing, there’s just nothing else like it.
Do you have any rituals/routines you do before you write?
First is the spark of an idea. Then lots of research. (I write mostly historical fiction) Then backstories on the main characters and visuals on them (pictures). A timeline. When is the story taking place? Over how much time? Then research the place (often a character in itself), then start drawing out maps of how the main characters are connected, what is the inciting incident? What are the conflicts? I do think it is helpful to have a basic handle on how plot and character works in scenes (Read Robert McKee) Start writing scenes that feel important, just let it flow out of you. Later, almost the last stage, I do an outline, to keep chapters and scenes straight in my mind and be sure the stakes are high enough and the values of the scenes are turning. If you invest too much time in scenes that aren’t really doing anything you can have a hard time getting the courage to throw them out if they aren’t carrying their weight. After a first good draft, it’s time to put it away for a while and work on a different project (usually another novel) So, this means taking 6-9 months away from that project. That gives you a really fresh eye when you come back. Do another draft. If you feel like parts of it might be good, then it’s time to get a professional opinion. Get a good editor to give an overall report on the novel, the high points and the low points and general advice. Find them on Reedsy or other places you trust. Plan to pay the going rate and find out what that is. I’d say about £700 for a good professional report on what you need to work on. It can change everything. A line edit is extremely valuable if you really need help on exactly where you are telling too much and not showing, exactly where the prose is failing to deliver or a scene isn’t working. That’s incredibly valuable because it is teaching you about your own writing. That’s also why it’s typically around £2000 or more. It’s nice to get feedback from people in writing groups, but people are all over the place in terms of their commitment to writing and their talents and it adds more time you have to also read other people’s work and try to give your advice which may or may not be good for them. I recommend getting the money together for professional editorial help. Shop carefully and get recommendations. It can help a lot. I also don’t think just because you have the writing degree ( I do) that you know all there is to know about your own writing and how to fix it. Professional editors can help you improve. They can be objective, where it is difficult to see your own work clearly when you are writing.
Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, what do you do when you get writer’s block?
I think of writer’s block as not some disease but occasionally being overwhelmed by all the voices telling you that you can’t do this, that it’s a waste of your time, and that you’re not good enough. Fear of public embarrassment can be crippling. My advice is write for yourself. Don’t try to earn your living with writing. It’s truly against the odds in a huge way. You might get there one day if you find a process that works for you, an audience that wants to read your work, and a lot of good luck and persistence. But you can’t even get to stage one if you listen to the critical voices in your head. Be the scribe for your characters. Let their voices be free on the page and delight you. Make your writing place into a palace of freedom to encourage those voices to come out. Then curate them, collect them, and nourish them so they grow into stories, novels, poems or whatever they want to be. When you can’t get past the blank page, it is because the voices of your mother or father, or uncle or brother or teacher or someone who you respect a whole lot, but who has no faith in your skill with words, is standing behind you (in your head) ready to pounce on every word you write with a wry comment, discouraging you. And your own ego is in with that lot too. The part of you that needs to believe you are the next BIG THING in literature. Needs to PROVE to everyone you’re an author. There are a thousand reasons why that isn’t likely. But the fact is that literature, the world of books, and readers NEED a lot of streams of writing to make the huge ocean of writing that is our culture’s stories. You can be part of that, if you will put in the time and work and remember one very important thing. If you don’t read literature you will never write literature. If you don’t read good stories, you’ll never write good stories.
If you are trying to become FAMOUS or RICH by writing, you honestly have a better chance practicing your free throws and becoming a basketball star. Writing is not a way to make a mark in the world. It is a hard path, one with great difficulties and setbacks. And THAT you have to get used to. The rewards are most often seen on a personal level not a public one. And no matter what kinds of similarities you might see or hear about, no two paths to successful writing are the same. You cannot follow a recipe to becoming a writer. You have to feel your way through to your own best practices.
Pitch your book/series to someone who has never read it before under 3 sentences.
I’ve written three novellas which are on Amazon, the short summaries are there along with reviews. They are be ordered at bookstores too, but since your readers are mostly online, I suggest they start with Amazon to see if they want to read them. They can even read a few pages to see if the prose makes them want to read on. I’m currently editing 3 historical novels and working on the pitches with editors. Pitches are for agents and publishers. I don’t choose a book based on 3 sentences and so, I’d rather not do that here.
What were some parts of your book you edited out? In the novellas, much of the writing came to me as it is. Very little editing with the first novella, A Cornish Odyssey, a bit more with A Chinese Odyssey, and a bit more with A Paris Odyssey. A LOT with these three novels.
Any projects you’re working on that readers should be anticipating? I’m going through a long process of trying to find the right agent for my novels, but I hope I’m nearly there. Once I do, it will be another long process of finding the right publishing home for each novel. Years. Keep checking my name, Axel Forrester, and website. That will keep readers updated on publication.
Any projects planned for the near future? After getting my three novels in the publication process (Three Steps of the Sun, Wings, and Swan Diaries) I hope to start a new novel I’m thinking about.
How do you manage to meet deadlines?
With lots of planning. Patience. Enjoy the process. Be realistic, and give a lot of time padding to deadlines. Good communication with whomever is giving you the deadline. No one asks you to write new material on a deadline. That’s not realistic. What they are usually asking for is editing material you’ve already written. That has creative aspects too, but generally, you have some idea how long it will take and then you add more time. It’s a process that involves you giving material to another editor and getting it back with corrections. A back and forth process.
What’s the most bizarre book you’ve ever read?
The one I’m reading now is pretty out there, in a good way. Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan.
Most memorable book you’ve ever read?
A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin. One of the few books I’ve read more than once or twice. The writing always inspires me.
What’s a book that made you cry?
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Are you a cat or a dog person? Both, but I get allergic these days to cats. I love having dogs.
What’s your MBTI(Myers Briggs type)?
If you weren’t an author, what would you be?
What’s your go to drink?
A mocha with oat milk.
What is your most important advice for aspiring writers?
Ask yourself if you’re willing to put in the time, money and sweat to learn the craft of writing. If not, you may have the wrong idea of what being a writer is. If you like it enough to keep coming back to it, then keep at it and savor the personal rewards. That may be all you get. If you don’t like it enough to keep at it, drop it and find what makes you happy at least some of the time. We’re here to experience life and find ways to be joyful in it. Don’t waste time being miserable.
To her readers, Axel would like to say, “METAPHORS BE WITH YOU!”
Happy reading everyone!