Friday, 22 August 2014

Interview with Author Karen Perkins

It's been a little while since I've done one of these, but after so long in the making I'm delighted to welcome my good friend and fellow author (and fellow Hot Boxer) Karen Perkins to the Unknown Templar blog spot.

JPD: So first of all, every writer experiences that moment in their life when they make that decision to become a writer. How did it come about for you?

KP: For me it happened naturally. I used to do a lot of sailing and had a very active life, regularly travelling round the country and even into Europe to compete. Then an injury put paid to that and I was stuck at home. My way of coping was to read – a lot – then one day I picked up a pen and started to write. When I filled one notebook, I bought another, then another, and only then realised I was writing a book – Dead Reckoning. If I’d have thought about it beforehand I’d probably have never reached the end – and it took a number of rewrites and a great deal of editing before it was ready to be published, but it was the start of my new life – especially when it was long-listed in the prestigious Mslexia novel competition – and I haven’t looked back since.

JPD: What was the first book you ever wrote? And how young were you?

KP: I can vaguely remember writing a book about horses when I was at primary school. I probably still have it somewhere, I should dig it out really – or maybe not . . .

JPD: You definitely should! Speaking of which, you’ve released several books, both in eBook and in paperback, in recent years. What can you tell us about your books?

KP: Dead Reckoning was my first book, although it’s the second book in the Valkyrie Series of Caribbean pirate adventures, with a bit of romance, suspense and plenty of action thrown in. The Valkyrie Series is very much character-orientated and after I wrote Dead Reckoning, one of the main characters, Gabriella, stayed in my head and insisted that I wrote her backstory, which became the novella Ill Wind, and is a good introduction to the series.

Settling down to write Ready About, which will be another full-size novel continuing on from Dead Reckoning and is narrated by Gabriella and Henry Sharpe (who also appears in Dead Reckoning and Ill Wind), Sharpe insisted on telling me how he became a pirate before he would let me move Ready About forward. I think he’s satisfied with Look Sharpe! (book 3) as Ready About is now flowing smoothly and should be ready early in 2015.

I took a break from my pirates after Dead Reckoning and Ill Wind were published to try my hand at something else (I do like a challenge . . .), and wrote Thores-Cross – a Yorkshire Ghost Story. It’s set locally to me in Yorkshire, and at one of my favourite places in the world, where I spent an extremely happy childhood learning to sail. Why I set a horror story in a place so dear to me, I’m not quite sure, but I loved finding out about the history of the area, and thoroughly enjoyed writing the character of Jennet.

JPD: The Valkyrie series, in particular, seems to have captured the imagination of readers and has even been a bestseller in its category. How have you enjoyed the experience of being an indie author and achieving such good results?

KP: It’s been simply amazing. Because of the injury I sustained sailing, travelling has been a problem for me and I knew I would find it difficult to pursue a traditional publishing deal – who would want to take on a new, unknown author who couldn’t even get to London to meet them? So after a lot of consideration I decided to self-publish to show that my physical limitations did not limit me as a writer. My aim was to build a good sales record with positive independent reviews and then approach agents. However, I’m a bit of a control freak (as I suspect most writers are – after all, we create our own worlds and characters, then tell them what to do) and I very much appreciate having the final say over every aspect of my book – although I would not manage without Cecelia, my cover designer, and Louise who bravely edits for me. I enjoy self-publishing so much, I haven’t submitted to a single agent since I started and have no intention of doing so.

JPD: One thing that has always fascinated me is pirates. In fact, the first book I ever wrote was about pirates - I was seven years old and a little rebellious :-). What inspired you to write about them?

KP: It was natural for me – aged 11 I was sailing around Thruscross Reservoir in a Mirror dinghy flying a skull and crossbones at the top of my mast! Also, the seventeenth-century Caribbean fascinates me – all those nationalities descending on one small area in the search of freedom; and enslaving two continents in the process. Added to that, pirate ships were the most democratic societies on the planet in those days – as well as one of the most brutal (slavers take that ‘crown’) – and that dichotomy intrigues me.

Although I can’t sail anymore, writing about pirates allows me to indulge my passion for those stunning and incredibly complicated ships, and I have a deep admiration for all the men – and women – who took to the sea and entrusted their lives to their crewmates and wooden, wind-driven vessels.

JPD: On top of that, you’ve also released a book called Thores-Cross, a paranormal/historical novel. What can you tell us about that?

KP: One result of the injury I sustained was isolation – from having an extremely physical hobby and a promising career as a financial advisor, regularly driving around the country, I was suddenly stuck at home. Yet I had telephones, computers, books and the TV, and I started to think about how isolation would affect somebody who was truly cut off. What if somebody who lived in a small, remote village in the Yorkshire Moors became isolated within the community she lived? How would she deal with that? How would it change her, embitter her?

The resultant character was Jennet, a fifteen-year-old orphaned girl, living in a tiny community in the middle of nowhere. She’s seduced by an older, married and influential man, yet she’s the one who is ostracised when the affair becomes known – after all, nothing happens in a Yorkshire village without everybody knowing about it eventually, even now.

It seems to me the past is never wholly in the past and continues to affect our present and the decisions we make. I took this a little further with a haunting; Jennet’s hatred and desire for revenge existing after her brutal death, and the ancestors of the man who wronged her paying the price for centuries.

JPD: Any plans for a series? Or at least any more books in the paranormal/history genre?

KP: Yes, I’ve also written an associated short story, Cursed – Jennet’s still haunting me! – and it’s quite possible there will be more if she insists.

Apart from the short stories, the further books in the Yorkshire Ghost Series will be stand-alone novels. I’m currently researching and plotting Knight of Betrayal, which focuses on the four knights - Hugh de Morville, Reginald fitz Urse, William de Tracey and Richard le Bret - who broke the sanctuary of Canterbury Cathedral to murder the Archbishop, Thomas Becket in 1170. They fled to Knaresborough Castle – just down the road from me – yet very little is written about them after the murder, and what has been set down contradicts every other account. In Knight of Betrayal I want to examine the extreme level of their medieval sense of guilt and dishonour, which has horrific repercussions nearly a millennium later.

There are a number of other books planned for the series as well, all focusing on local places, people and legends, exploring the way Yorkshire men and women lived through the ages and the major historical events, industries and traditions that have shaped today’s Yorkshire – with a few nightmares thrown in . . .

JPD: The Becket one in particular sounds fantastic! You’re clearly interested in more than one genre. How easy is it for you to switch from one to the other?

KP: I wouldn’t say ‘easy’, writing any book is not an easy undertaking, but it is something I very much enjoy. When I take on a project, I completely immerse myself in it – some would say too much – and I need to take a break from my characters, their world – and their horrors. Yet I can’t take a break from writing – it’s part of me now, and I’m never more than an arm’s length away from paper and pen.  So my way of taking a break from writing about pirates is by writing about ghosts. Then I take a break from writing about Yorkshire by writing about the Caribbean. I have some ideas for books in other genres too – a contemporary political thriller and a mystery/crime series, as well as some children’s books.

JPD: What authors inspire you?

KP: Wide and varied. I’ve always been a booklover – apparently I was a very easy child, if my mother couldn’t find me, she could be pretty sure I’d be sitting in a corner somewhere with my nose in a book. Some of my favourite authors are Stephen King, Barbara Erskine, CJ Sansom, Ken Follett, Robert Harris, Philippa Gregory, Conn Iggulden and Phil Rickman, but this is by no means an exhaustive list and I am also enjoying finding many new self-published authors, and have found some wonderful and original books, in particular J.K. Accinni’s Species Intervention #6609 Series and M.A. McRae’s  Shuki Series, which are both extremely profound and shocking in the way they reflect some of the depths to which human nature can plunge.  My only regret is that I’m now struggling to find enough time to read for pleasure, something I certainly did not anticipate when I started writing!

JPD: How about movies?

KP: Again, a wide range – mainly thriller, action & adventure and well-done historicals, but my guilty pleasure is really bad disaster movies – the more ridiculous and implausible the better.

JPD: Great taste! One thing that fascinates me about you, Karen, is that you’re also an editor and run a very respectable company, LionheART Publishing House. How long have you been an editor?

KP: I started LionheART Publishing House two years ago with my then partner, Peter Mutanda, a poet and theatre director, and it has grown tremendously in that time. It’s now a full publishing services company, offering editing, formatting, book covers and trailers, and promotion services, and is still expanding. I’ve been joined by Cecelia Morgan, who is a very talented graphic designer and creates amazing book covers as well as videos and promotional images; Louise Burke, who is a close friend and helps me with the editing; and Elisabeth Storrs, a bestselling author and Amazon expert who can greatly increase a book’s visibility on Amazon, which is key to us as Indie authors. All three have helped me enormously in my own writing career and I’m very grateful that they’re able to help my clients too. Helping a new book into the world is a great privilege and I’m very lucky to have found others who feel the same, and very grateful to my clients who trust me with their books.

JPD: Personally, I’m far better at making editorial comments on the work of other people than I am my own. How difficult is it trying to write creatively when you’re so used to concentrating on grammar et cetera?

KP: Extremely difficult. I have to completely remove my ‘editing hat’ to write – if I get too caught up in the grammar and punctuation, the story just would not get written. It helps me that I write in longhand, and I pen the complete first draft first before typing it up so that I’m not tempted to start editing before it’s finished.

JPD: Similarly, how do you go about editing a book you’ve written? Or do you prefer to take more of a back step and let others concentrate on that?

KP: When I type up my manuscript, I get a sense of the flow of the book – if I’m engrossed, that chapter’s good, if I’m not it needs rewriting. Then I edit it as I would anybody else’s book – with plenty of detailed notes and checklists.

The biggest problem with self-editing, though, is that however hard I try, I just can’t be 100 per cent objective about my own books – they’re far too dear to me, as are the characters. It’s also very easy to edit the intent – I know what I meant when I wrote it, and that’s often what I read rather than the actual words. As the author, I’ve done a great deal of research that isn’t included within the final manuscript, and also know a lot more about the characters than is pertinent to the story, and I need somebody to edit for me to make sure everything is clear and nothing is omitted – as well as pick up on my little quirks as a writer (as an editor I hate too many exclamation marks, but as a writer I love them!). Louise Burke has very bravely stepped up – it isn’t easy to edit another editor’s work – and she keeps me honest as well as saving me embarrassment.

JPD: How does the writing process work for you? Do you like to plan things out before you begin or do you like to let things evolve?

KP: A bit of both. I start out by researching the time, place and way of life of my characters, then set out a plan. It’s very general at this stage, and covers the main points of the plot as well as notes on motivation and progression of the characters’ journeys. I also sketch out my main characters – both in notes and an image. When I start writing, I expand on each section of the plan as I go, then make detailed chapter notes (usually only two or three chapters in advance). It’s a compromise really, I do need to have the plan in place to make sure I keep the plot and subplots tight, but if I plan in too much detail too far ahead, my characters can rebel and do things I wasn’t expecting. Frustratingly, they’re usually right.

JPD: You’ve recently become a participant in a brand new project called the Hot Box, a box set of eight thriller novels by eight best-selling authors that also includes yours truly. How excited are you to be part of such a project?

KP: Very much so. It’s a great honour for Dead Reckoning to be included in a set with such great books and authors (and I’m not just saying that as it’s you J) and I’m over the moon to have been asked to join you. It’s done my confidence a power of good and I’ve learned a great deal from you all. It’s also extremely exciting to see it do so well and to be at that #1 spot in Historical Thrillers for so long. It’s definitely whetted my appetite for more . . .

JPD: Thanks! Given the evolving success of the Valkyrie Series and your own experiences as an indie author, what can we expect from you in the future?

KP: More, of everything – I’m only just getting started . . .

JPD: Karen, it's been great getting to know you over the past few months and a real pleasure talking to you.

For more on Karen, check out her website at and her Amazon pages in the UK and US

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