What is your genre? Why did you choose it?
I write fantasy of manners. I didn’t actually realise that’s what I was doing until I came across the term online, after The Last Prince was written. So I didn’t consciously choose it. But I love high political intrigue—I’m a great fan of Yes, Minister, and I wanted to write something where three people talking in a room could be absorbing and important and dramatic.
There are two strands to my fiction. One is contemporary and humorous, like The Last Prince (I am working on a sequel right now). The other is a collection of dark historical stories starring a young priest, Father Neri. Both are set in the fictional principality of Santa Teresa. I publish the contemporary stuff as Kirsty McCluskey and the historicals as Kirsty Jane, to underline the difference a bit.
Do you work on more than one manuscript at a time?
No, not at first draft stage. I tend to write in very intense bouts, close together. I can do other things alongside that, like reviewing or a bit of light copy-editing, but I can’t give serious attention to more than one piece of fiction.
I have a wonderful group of writer friends—we congregate on Facebook and support each other through writing, submitting and life in general. We’ll often beta read for each other, too. So it’s not a formal thing, but I get a great deal of help and I try to be helpful in return. I’m also a member of the collective litblog Vulpes Libris [http://vulpeslibris.wordpress.com], and the same applies there. My friends in the Romantic Novelists’ Association (I am an associate member, as a reviewer) have been brilliant too. I am very fortunate in those around me.
Can you remember your first reading book?
I think it was the Ladybird Three Billy Goats Gruff.
Do you nibble on snacks while writing? If so, what is your chosen treat?
I don’t nibble so much as scoff. Chocolate and/or cheese.
Tidy desk or a bombsite? Describe your writing area with us.
We’ve just moved, so right now I have a lovely neat study all set up. Give it a few days and it will be an utter bombsite with books and mugs and chocolate wrappers all over it.
Are you published in the traditional manner or self published? Share your journey.
I started off trying to write chick lit, which I loved––but I was terrible at it. Rounds and rounds of submissions, but always the inevitable (and understandable) “no thanks”. It was the same with The Last Prince, but for different reasons. I made the mistake of sending out far too early, before I had a real understanding of where it might fit and how it needed to be pitched. At the same time, I was becoming much more involved in reviewing and writing about theology, which is a passion of mine. I could deal with one writing-submitting-waiting process, but not two. I filed The Last Prince (which was then called A Beautiful Friendship) away and resolved to leave it.
But the urge to write fiction didn’t leave me. I started writing a novelette about a troubled prince and his Jesuit confessor, Father Neri, and I decided early in the process that this would be for self-publishing. I was excited at the possibility of seeing the process through myself, although I knew it would be hard work, and just as nervewracking as submitting to agents. But I really enjoyed the work, and the contrast with my other writing life. The Royal Confessor was published in April 2014, and I started thinking about a sequel right away. Later on, when the sequel was drafted and waiting for revision (it should appear in early 2015), a writer friend read The Last Prince and convinced me to publish it, too. I didn’t take much convincing. Self-pub is very addictive!
Who would you say have been the three most influential authors in your reading/writing life?
Elizabeth Taylor. James Thurber. Rowan Williams.
What advice would you like to share with other writers/authors with regard to preparing a manuscript?
Work however it suits you. There’s a lot of advice out there about how to finish a book, and it’s generally good sense for the majority: don’t edit as you go, for example, because then it’s very easy to lose impetus and stop writing altogether. But I do it all “wrong” from certain perspectives: I write relatively little per day and edit as I go, I don’t even try to plan anything any more, and I have trusted beta readers who get to see my first draft in development (which is another thing lots of people will tell you not to do, also for good reason: bad or unhelpful responses can kill your enthusiasm and confidence at a vulnerable stage). Listen to the rules and think about them, because they come from a good place, and surround yourself with trustworthy people, if you can. Swapping experience and support with other writers is one of the very best ways to learn how to manage your writing life, and it keeps you sane. But when it comes down to it, do what you need to do to get the book written, and don’t compare yourself to others in that respect.
If the movie rights to your novels are purchased, who would you like to play your main characters?
Ooh, that’s tricky. For The Last Prince, I’d love Julian Rhind-Tutt to play Prince Bertrand (Bertie). Kelly Macdonald could be good as his partner-in-crime Jennie, the chippy Scot from good socialist stock who ends up embroiled in a very modern abdication scandal. As for the dashing Captain Leclerc…well, it has to be a young Claude Rains. Does anybody have a time machine?
I was on my way to the supermarket, when … Do you have a tale to tell relating to an everyday, boring event?
The way to the supermarket was just fine. The problem arose on the way back. I took a wrong turning (on foot) and got completely lost. We’ve just moved to Milton Keynes and, while our area is lovely, there aren’t really any obvious landmarks. I had to call my husband at work and get him to figure out where I was using Google Maps. That was quite a conversation. (“I’m on a bridleway.” “What can you see?” “Er, a hedge.” “Is there a cricket pavilion on your left?” “I can’t tell, there’s a hedge in the way.”)
I have a smartphone now, so I can find out where the hell I am.
LOL! I do so understand … I have a smartphone for similar reasons!
THE LAST PRINCE
A jewel of an island with great weather and no income tax, Santa Teresa is heaven for some. For its near-absolute ruler, Prince Bertrand, it’s hell. Bertie gave up his career, his freedom and the love of his life to take the throne after his father’s sudden death. Heartbroken and resentful, he’s resolved to abdicate. But it’s not so easy to quit when you’re born and bred for the job.
Jennie McTavish is an ordinary woman with an extraordinary talent. A chippy Fife lass with a taste for revolution, she’s blazing a trail as the first female, civilian rider at Santa Teresa’s prestigious cavalry school. In the face of hostility, mistrust and isolation, she’s staying strong…but only just.
When Bertie meets Jennie, Santa Teresa will never be the same again.
The Last Prince is available to pre-order on Amazon (publication date 1 December). For more detail, character bios and a free excerpt, visit http://santateresatales.wordpress.com.
For more about Kirsty’s reviews and non-fiction writing and the Father Neri stories, see http://kirstyjane.wordpress.com.