I don’t know how many times I have said this but I will say it again. One of the greatest pleasures I enjoy doing in life is interviewing fellow authors. Today I have the pleasure in talking to a lady who is extremely talented in the great art of writing. Her name is Betsy Reavley and she is the author of many a fine read, such as Beneath the Watery Moon, Carrion and a thriller called, The Quiet Ones. Each and every one of these books is just as great as the other. If you don’t believe me just have a look at the many five star reviews she has amassed from her multitude of fans. One of the five star reviews is from me for her latest offering to the reading world; The Optician’s Wife.
Personally I loved it, and by going off what other people have to say they all have loved it too. However, there is no need for me to tell you about it when you can hear about it from the lady herself. So Betsy let’s get straight into it and let me ask you the first question about, The Optician’s Wife.
What I loved the most about this novel was how the plotline of the story took shape. Now, not to give anything away, I loved how the story of a young couple moved along with some shocking murders in the city of Cambridge. This all happened sometime in the eighties. Suddenly we were at present day, albeit only a year past. However the story still moved backwards and forwards to the eighties. Personally I think this was a touch of class and really gave the story a great deal of character that kept me guessing not only what had happened during this time as well as trying to guess what was going to happen in the present. However what I would like to know is, did you have the idea for this change before you started to write or did it just come to you as you were writing? Or put this another way. Did you plan this novel first or did you just get straight into the writing.
Also if you did have some sort of plot worked out first, did you use something like Scrivener or have you sticky notes plastered all over your desk?
I never plot. Ever. I don’t use Scrivener or have sticky notes. I’m not a process person. I’m far too chaotic to work in that way.
This was the first book I’ve written that I kept any notes on – the simple things like eye colour, date of birth and date of each murder. I didn’t want to get lost in the details because I find they slow me down, but because the story jumps about in time I needed to keep on top of what happened when.
Plot, Characters and settings are said to be the three basic ingredients of good story telling. Now we have mentioned the plot and I would like to ask you about the character of Deborah. She’s a great character but one thing that I thought was strange was that at the beginning of the story she is a plain Jane to say the least and let’s face it somewhat boring in her attitude to life. Now my question is. In every writers handbook about characters I’m sure it states somewhere that the author should make the characters as interesting as possible. Ok now Deborah does indeed become a great character and as the story moves on she becomes more interesting as the pages are turned. However, was it not a bit of a risk breaking this rule and making her the opposite of interesting at the start?
I wanted Deborah to be real. Not everyone in life is beautiful and smart and popular. It was important to the plot that she was introduced to the reader as an unremarkable girl. The book would not have worked otherwise. I always try to keep my characters based in reality and there have been a number of great books that don’t follow the rules in the writer’s handbook. I have a rebellious nature and I think the rules are there to be broken.
I'm so pleased that someone breaks the rules every now and again and I've often said a good author will know when a rule can be broken. Anyhow that's a different matter for now.
As we know The Optician’s Wife is set in Cambridge Now I know at one point in your life you lived in Cambridge and I would imagine you have used your knowledge of the area in the book to describe some of the settings. I also understand that you have lived in other places like La Provence, as well as Tuscany and other places. Do you think because you have lived in these places and no doubt seen different ways of life and how other people think. The question is, because you have lived in foreign lands, has it helped you to develop as a writer?
Possibly. I was young when I lived in the South of France and Tuscany and my parents did move house and area a lot. I myself have moved 9 times in 9 years. Clearly I have inherited nomadic genes from somewhere and I suppose that has an impact on how I write.
Wow, that's some going. Nine times in nine years that will take some beating. Anyhow, The Worm in the Bottle is a collection of you poetry. Obviously this is another side to your writing passion that intrigues me. Tell me a little more about your love for this art.
As a small child, like many authors, I wrote stories but as a teenager, struggling to make sense of the big wide world, I found poetry. It helped me to express myself and I believe taught me a lot about the English language.
Out of all the books you have written, what’s your favourite? Oh and tell me what you love; or hate about the characters in these books?
This might not be my most popular book, and it has had a fair share of diabolical reviews, but Beneath the Watery Moon is my most personal piece of work. It breaks all the rules and allowed me to delve into horror, a genre I have always enjoyed reading. I wanted to write something that explored mental illness, since I am Bi Polar. Having said that, I don’t think it’s my place to try and educate anyone and I hate it when fiction and authors preach. That said, I think authors have the right to their own opinion. We are not politicians and therefore should be able to say what we think and feel about life.
There you go again breaking the rules! So Betsey tell me. How much, if any, has your own personal character gone into any of these characters?
A number of the female protagonists in my stories have elements of my personality in them. But I won’t tell you which. That would spoil the fun.
Now for everyone that hasn’t read any of your books. What would they gain from reading them?
Good question. I honestly don’t know. It’s fiction. It’s meant to entertain. That’s it. I hope I manage to do that.
How long did the book take to write and was it more difficult than anticipated and if so why?
It took four months before I had the final, polished version ready to be published. I’ve already started work on my next book, which I hope to see published towards the end of this year.
What do you think is the most frustrating thing about being a writer?
I’m a mother to two young daughters aged eight and three. I’m happily married. We have a dog and I co founded a publisher, Bloodhound Books. I struggle to find time and peace in which to write!
What is the greatest challenge you have ever had about writing a book?
After my first book, which was never going to be anything more than a cult novel if I was lucky, I tried to write something more commercial. I found that very difficult. When I stopped trying to write to please other people then I got back to being a better writer, and a happier one.
When writing The Optician’s Wife I sent it to a very respected name in the industry, to get their take on it. That person, who I won’t name, told me to get rid of the eighties setting in the beginning of the book, make Deborah entirely likeable and basically change the entire story.
After a few sleepless nights worrying about what to do, I decided to stick with it and follow my instincts. Given the wonderful response I’ve had so far I’m glad I did. Of course you can’t please all the people all the time, and no doubt a portion of readers won’t enjoy the book, but that’s what makes life interesting. If we all agreed all the time the world would be a very dull place.
What do you enjoy most about your writing. Is it the plotting or perhaps the research or is it simply sitting in front of your computer and typing away.
I plot as I go. The characters come to life in my head and the story takes off on its own. I often compare writing to acting. It’s as if I become the character when I’m writing them and they dictate where the story goes.
I hate doing research. I find it very frustrating but appreciate it is vital.
What I love is sitting in front of my computer, with my dog at my feet and a large coffee, just writing.
Personally, what do reviews mean to you as an author?
They mean a lot. But what’s interesting about this business is that everything comes down to personal opinion. It’s the same for the submission process, editing, agents; it’s all just one persons opinion. Love a book, hate a book – it’s all down to what one person thinks. When you realise that it makes reading reviews easier.
What was the best or worst review you have ever had, and what was you reaction to it?
The worst review I ever had was this –
‘This book starts off as a reasonably well written piece and continues to be so for about two thirds of its length. It then turns into a graphic and sick torture W@nk fest (sorry but this describes it to a tee). I skipped to the end in despair. The author seems to think that writing chapter after chapter of disgustingly violent and sexual torture on a young woman is somehow neccesary to the story . I'm not squeemish but this drivel is so sick that I think the author should seek psychiatric advice. It's like the author had a stroke halfway through writing this book or let a retarded sex criminal finish the book for them.’
It made me laugh my head off! Clearly they didn’t like or understand the book. Fair enough!
The best was probably this one –
‘A stunning piece of writing- I shall be keeping a close eye out for this author.’
I see what you mean when you said it comes down to personal opinion as chalk and cheese comes into mind. Anyhow, this moves nicely into the next question. When you are reading books by other authors, what do you feel you want from that book? In other words, what do think makes a good book?
I look for something dark that shocks me and hopefully makes me see the world in a different light, if only for a moment.
What would you say was the most satisfying or perhaps proudest moment of your writing career?
That’s easy. My first ever five star review and when The Quiet Ones went into the UK top 100.
Has there ever been a moment in time that sticks out as being a turning point in your writing life?
Deciding to leave my publisher and start a company of my own. That was a turning point for not only my career but my entire family. My husband and I now run Bloodhound Books full time and make a comfortable living. We always dreamed of working together for ourselves and that has become a reality. We are very lucky.
What do you think is a good secret to great writing?
Write what you know and write what you would like to read. I think it’s that simple.
Would you like any of your books to be made into films? If the answer is a yes and there had to be many changes that altered the story or the feel of the novel, would you still be happy to do this?
I would love all or any of my books to be made into films! I’m no shrinking violet so I’d want to keep some control over the story. I’d be happy to accept changes if they worked better on the screen but I wouldn’t want any of my novels taken apart so that I didn’t recognise them anymore.
My brother works in the film industry and is a very talented director. Maybe one day he’ll direct a film based on a book I’ve written. I’d love to work with him.
Betsy, the only thing left for me to say is thank you very much for some fantastic and honest answers. You most certainly are an author who breaks all the rules and for that we are thankful.
The Optician's Wife is out now, it's brilliant and I'm sure it's going to be a massive success. And to those who haven't bought it yet, please do yourself a favour and do so. You won't be disappointed I promise.
Take care all and once again a great big thank you to Betsy Reavley.