Monday, July 24, 2023

Sneaky peek at interview with Kelly Miller

My next book review and author interview is with award-winning author Kelly Miller who pens Austenesque Regency romances. I read her new offering, The Darcy Secret, and I hadn't realised how much fun can be had by taking a beloved classic like Pride and Prejudice and giving it a new twist – it was so enjoyable!

Our interview goes live on the 1st August but please take a look at Kelly's links below to find out more:




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Saturday, July 15, 2023

Author interview with Francis O'Keefe

This month’s author interview is with the brilliant Alan Russell Spade, who writes as Francis O’Keefe, although his Twitter handle is @SnapeyWapey, so he’s always been Snapey to me! I did ask which he’d prefer me to use in this interview, thinking perhaps I shouldn’t use his nickname, but he didn’t mind so Snapey it is! So let’s meet him:

‘I was first published in nineteen ninety-seven for a poetry anthology. After working as a graphic designer and registered nurse, I fell into ill health and retired early. My declining health allowed me to return to writing again.’

I’m saddened to hear about his health, but the NHS’s loss is the writing world’s gain. He’s created a tweetable teaser too (tweet here):

‘A couple’s relationship of desire and insults leads them to implement a plan using his knowledge of hypnosis and remote assassination. Leaving them with status, luxury and money from the deceased husband.’

Who wouldn’t fancy reading that!? Snapey writes dark, gothic and medical stories and has published nine books so far, both traditionally and indie-published. I wondered what inspired him to become a writer?

‘I couldn’t find many books in modern literature that appealed to me when I worked as a bank librarian, so I decided if given a chance, I would change that.’

Okay, I need a moment here – what a career! And bank librarian’s not a term I’ve come across before (I mean, how many books does a bank need to warrant a librarian 🤣?), so I’m guessing that means bank staff, as in relief cover? ‘It does’. Thank goodness, I’m not losing my marbles after all! But he’s also mentioned graphic designer, nurse, writer – which is his favourite?

‘Well, I think a writer, really. Despite the jokes, I do tend to have many personal issues. So, for me, it’s cheaper than therapy!’ (I feel I shouldn’t be laughing, but I do love his humour!) ‘Medicine still fascinates me (I turned down a secondment placement to train to be a doctor), so it features heavily in my books.’

Crikey, there seems no end to his talents! Mind you, isn’t it brilliant when a writer has real-world experience of a complex subject and embeds it in their books? He is also known for penning dark stories with untraditional heroes, so are his plots complex?

‘Some (mainly medical) are very complex, which has caused some readers headaches, but I think the audience should be encouraged to think about ethical subjects as well as enjoy a read. There are many twists and turns in all nine (so far) and a few hidden jokes! I adore dark tales with no hero or villain; everyone is human and fallible.’

Too true! It’s interesting he mentions jokes as he’s very funny on Twitter, so I did wonder whether he uses humour in his novels?

‘That is awfully kind of you to say, thank you. Comedy is one of my favourite hobbies, and if I wasn’t so shy, I might have pursued it.

Shy? Wow, that certainly doesn’t come across on his socials! Does he have a daily writing routine?

‘When working on a manuscript, I like to work daily, and I have specific places I visit with my dog on daily walks. These destinations help to inspire me.’

Aw, I’ve seen photos of his pets online (the cuddling one below is adorable!), but as an animal lover, I need to know more!

‘Well, my cat was adopted from a family friend after he lost his owner. He is a huge Bengal cat called Brandon (or Colonel Brandon when he is at the vet, haha.) 

He sleeps in the window quite often and enjoys laughing at tourists! Eli is my chihuahua and rather new; he is a teacup one, so he is tiny. He enjoys sticking his tongue up my nose and in my eyes, despite how uncomfortable I find it!’

Now that I need to see 🤣🤣 What’s the hardest part of writing and/or getting published?

‘As I am disabled, it is problematic to afford to publicise. I proofread, edit, write, typeset, upload and design the covers. As money is short, they rarely see the light of day though.’

Oh dear, it breaks my heart how writers are perceived as rolling in money. It’s so rarely the case, which is why we need to support them! (Okay, getting off my soapbox now 😁). 

As he’s mentioned it a couple of times, I asked about his health. He was hospitalised when we were pulling this interview together, and it sounded quite serious, so I asked how he was doing?

‘Well, this time it was a bit different. I was overdosed by my doctor on my medication.’ OMG! ‘I had seven syringe drivers, cannulas all over me, and many central lines. I was in an induced coma for four days, developed pneumonia and had four dialysis cycles. So, a bit unusual, even for me haha!’

And he’s back to humour again, which is a great coping mechanism, but I have to be honest, this is worse than I’d imagined. It’s a good job we’re not doing this face-to-face because I want to give him a big hug! Did
he end up in the hospital where he used to work?

‘Yes, I was in the same hospital, but I was on different wards to the ones where I worked. The nurses kept asking me if I still had my PIN as I improved so I could help them!’

So he must be a great nurse too - such talent! But his poor health does make life difficult, as I realised when he reacted to a recent tweet with the following response:

‘Oh, I see; treat all people with disabilities like freaks and keep them as a sideshow. I am epileptic, and it rules my life most of the time due to my fear of seizures and how they are filmed and put on YouTube for entertainment. I could never have done that; well done!’

It was the first angry tweet I’d seen from Snapey and I wondered whether he often uses his platform to challenge the perceptions of others?

‘It was rare for me to lay myself so bare; however, the “gentleman’s” comments were so abhorrent, I simply had to. Unfortunately many encounter ableism daily, especially if they have a visible disability. My collection of them are invisible until there are attacks.’

Jeez, what a situation to have to live with daily. I've seen a lot of love for him on Twitter though, followers who seem to be genuine friends now and I wondered if he’d ever met any in real life?

‘I would never rule it out, but sadly, no, well, apart from entering their windows at night when I’m a bit peckish, haha.’

😄 So, moving on to his new book, Ignorant Assassin, can he give us a synopsis?

‘A couple that could rival Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton for fiery desire and insults decide to implement a plan of devilish proportions to liberate her.

They devise a scheme where he promises to use his skills in remote assassination and hypnosis to dispose of the husband yet keep her societal status, her husband’s fortune and emancipate her from the deceased musician.’

And here’s a tweetable version for you (tweet here):

‘A couple’s relationship of desire and insults allows them to implement a plan using his knowledge of hypnosis and remote assassination. Leaving them with status, luxury and money from the deceased husband. But is it that simple?’

He kindly gave an extract, too, so you can see his writing style first-hand:

‘"Get used to wearing black Esme." His choice of words stunned her and made her question them.

"Oh, Simon, don't be such a drama queen. You have no intention of killing yourself any more than I do. Besides, he does everything I ask; you can live the opulent lifestyle with me until he returns."

There was a cruel glint in his callous, cerulean blue eyes that spoke volumes. The part-time life with Esme was not enough.

"Not for me, for him. If you won't divorce him and are frightened of losing your societal position, I know people." Esme spun around from the mirror that she had been wiping the spot of mascara from. She guessed there had been too much Champagne last night, and he was still intoxicated.

"Don't talk such nonsense, now get ready. I'm getting hungry; I eat at eight or nine, as you know. There is live music tonight, and I wish to hear it. Now, put an end to this idle chatter." Simon was discontented with her reply and seized her by her shoulder as she defiantly ignored his comment.

"I mean it; you can have everything you have now, fame, fortune and despite your treatment--me too." He snarled at her, although she showed no outward indication of fear of his increasingly threatening behaviour.

"Don't talk like that, it's foolish, and you have no intention any more than I do." Unimpressed with being dismissed so effortlessly, Simon searched Peter's wardrobe and found an ensemble elegant enough for the surroundings of the jazz restaurant. A dark Saville Row suit and shirt--he flapped them violently to show his distaste for Esme's reaction to his solution.

"And you can stop that now, or I will go alone; your behaviour is that of a child and an imbecile. I thought more of you!"

"But not enough to divorce your cash cow!" He sneered.’

Oohh, what a taster! What research did he need to complete for this story?

‘I studied the use of remote assassination and the cases the federal agencies used. All the stages are correct and thoroughly researched.’

Now that’s impressive, although I bet his internet searches flagged him up to a few agencies! Is research an element of writing he likes or loathes?

‘I’m slightly odd that way; I enjoy it. I like to ensure all the facts are based in reality before tweaking them. I don’t like lying to readers.’

That’s admirable; just my sort of author! I end our chat addressing the elephant in the room - Alan Rickman. Snapey has the most amazing selection of AR gifs and artwork, many not commonly available, so I have to know, is he a mega fan, or is there another reason for the gifs – perhaps they’re twins separated at birth???

‘Haha, it had to be said, yes, a fan for over thirty years now. He has such amazing wisdom and wit and, yet, was terribly humble. I sadly never met him and was devastated to hear of our loss.’

He was certainly taken too young, that’s for sure. His AR artwork is amazing too. Does he use this skill for his book covers too?

‘Ah, that is where my graphic history comes back to haunt me. The ones I have completed aren’t great covers, but to me, they tell an element of the story and often have a hidden meaning.’

And if that’s not a teaser to read a book and spot the hidden meaning, I don’t know what is! So let’s support this lovely author, and do follow him on his socials, as he’ll definitely have you giggling. Please click on his links below to find out more:


Twitter: @snapeywapey

Facebook: Francis Okeefe

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Saturday, July 8, 2023

Sneaky peeky at interview with Francis O'Keefe

My next author interview is with with Alan Russell Spade, who writes as Francis O’Keefe. He's had a diverse career, from graphic designer to registered nurse and he brings this wealth of knowledge to his writing. We discuss the health issues that forced him into early retirement but brought him back to writing, his pets, and so much more (including his love of Alan Rickman!).

Find out more at his links below and our interview will go live on the 15th July.


Twitter: @snapeywapey

Facebook: Francis Okeefe

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Saturday, July 1, 2023

Author interview with Valeriya Salt

This month’s author interview is with Valeriya Salt who had her first short story published seven years ago. She writes in many genres: from sci-fi and historical fantasy to paranormal and thrillers but she’s quite adventurous and likes to mix it up to create new “hybrids”. So let’s meet her:

‘I’m a multi-genre author from Sheffield (UK). I studied history and earned my Master’s degree in Art Expertise at St. Petersburg University of Culture and Arts. Born in Belarus, I’d lived for many years in Crimea and Russia before settling down in the north of England.
My short stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in anthologies and magazines, including The Copperfield Review, The Chamber Magazine, Bewildering Stories, Strange Fiction ‘Zine SF&F, The Pine Cone Review, Tall Tale TV (podcast), etc, and won an Honourable Mention in the Writers of the Future Contest.’

Not bad, considering she has a day job too! She has created a tweetable introduction too (tweet here):
‘Valeriya Salt is a multi-genre author from the UK. She writes fiction & non-fiction, blending genres & forms. So far, she released a sci-fi/thriller novella AURORA ISLAND & a dark thriller novel DIVE BEYOND ETERNITY.’ 

I wondered whether she was bilingual and (because I can’t begin to imagine how anyone masters more than one language!) does she think/ research/ write in English or her native tongue?

‘Half of my family is Belarusian and another half – ethnic Russian, so I’m a Russian-speaking Belarusian (complicated, I know). I’m not bilingual, although I started to learn English as a second language at the age of 5-6 and continued to learn (together with French) at school and then at university. I’d also worked for a few years in an international crewing company with offices all over the world before coming to the UK.
As for my writing, since I came to the UK, I’ve been always writing in English for the English-speaking market. The same goes with research for my books (unless I need something really specific that I can’t find in English). I wouldn’t venture to translate my own works into Russian. I do believe that it should be done by a professional editor-translator with years of experience in English-Russian translations.’ 

I’m so impressed by anyone who speaks more than one language! So far she’s indie published a novella and a full-length novel. What inspired her to become a writer? 

‘I started to write relatively early, in my early teens, but I’d never seen it as a serious career. In fact, I never really wanted to be a writer. I guess I’ve just gradually gotten into it. The more I wrote, the more I liked it.’

Does she have a daily writing routine? 

‘I usually write when I’m off my day job and during weekends. So it’s not really a daily routine as such. I prefer to write in the early afternoon rather than early morning or late night. I don’t set a certain page/word-goal, just write as much as I can in one sitting.’

I’ve a lot of admiration for people working whilst trying to establish an audience – it involves a lot of juggling! What part of the writing process does she enjoy the most?

‘I love creating new characters and worlds, incorporating places I lived in or visited into my writing.’

That sounds like fun! What’s been the hardest part of writing/ getting published?

‘The hardest part of writing is editing. I hate to go over the same manuscript again and again. I prefer to brainstorm brand new ideas and put them on paper. 

The hardest part of getting published is querying. I spent almost two years trying to find a good home for my novel DIVE BEYOND ETERNITY. The publishing business is extremely competitive and slow.’

Aw, editing, writers seem to fall into the love or hate camp for this part of the process! I wondered what Valeriya would say to her younger writing self?

‘Please, don’t rush to get published. Invest your time and efforts in finding good beta-readers, then edit, edit, edit… Also, research publishers. Don’t go with the first offer. Not all of them are good for you and your works.’

Okay, that’s an interesting answer but I need to unpick it. First of all, beta readers – how did she recruit them and how much does she listen to their advice?

‘I don’t have many beta-readers as I prefer quality over quantity. I have just a few, but they’re very reliable and thorough. I’ve found most of them on Twitter or in special Facebook groups, dedicated to beta-reading and manuscripts’ critique. I also swap manuscripts with my fellow authors. 

I try to keep a healthy balance between readers’ advice and my own opinion. Hence, I always try to “recruit” at least 3-4 readers, not just 1. More than 5 opinions (especially if they differ) make my head spin, and I start to hesitate about what to leave and what to remove.’ 

I can imagine! The second question relates to researching publishers - it sounds like she’s had a bad experience. Was it a vanity publisher? 

‘No, they didn’t charge me any money for publishing. They were just a “cowboy” publisher as I called them. They printed books rather than published them with very little editing, formatting, and no marketing plan, hoping that they might be lucky one day and sign an author with many sales.’ 

Oh dear, that’s disappointing, particularly after believing you’ve secured a publishing deal. Having been through all of this, what common traps does she feel are waiting for aspiring writers?

‘Rushing to publish work with either vanity publishers, who demand money from authors, or self-publishing without serious editing/proofreading and marketing plan. I learned the hard way. 

Before meeting my current publisher, I’d worked with a small indie press (my ‘cowboy’ publisher) who were all about quantity not quality. As a result, their books were ridden with typos, grammatical errors, the formatting and typesetting was bad too. The book covers look generic. They expected authors to pay to the third parties for promotion. Basically, they just printed (not published) books and put them on Amazon. 

I wasted over two years with them. At least, I’ve learned how the real publishing business should work.’

What a positive way of looking back on a difficult experience but oh dear, what a disappointment. Having been through all this, does she have any tips for writers just embarking on their journey?

 ‘My advice for new authors would be:

  • Don’t rush to publish your work with any publisher, do thorough research. There are lots of sites, listing vanity publishers. Google a publisher first, see if anything “fishy” comes out.

  • Submission process. Do they charge for reading your material? If yes, run! I’m a bit cautious if a publisher asks for a full manuscript. Usually, serious publishers ask for a synopsis and the first 3-5 chapters or 10,000 words, etc. Not the whole book. Also, how quickly they reply to authors. On one hand, you don’t want to wait for 1-2 years to hear back from them (especially, if it’s a “no”), on the other hand, if a publisher replies on the same/next day (like it happened to me with my previous “cowboy” publisher), clearly, they haven’t even read your submission.

  • Publisher’s official site. Does it look professional? Does it promote their published books or just recruit new authors, promising high royalties and quick turnaround time?

  • Quality of book covers. Do they look aesthetically pleasing? Do you like them? Or do they look generic?

  • Publishing/editorial team. Do they have any experience/background in editing, publishing, distributing books?

  • Editing/formatting/covers’ design/etc. Do they charge for any of these services? If yes, run! In general, it’s good to know how many rounds of editing and proofreading a publisher is going to do for your book. The more the better. Also, it’s good to know whether they have in-house editors or they subcontract editing/proofreading to a third party. Serious publishers always have an editor in their team.

  • Promotion, marketing, sales. Where and how they’re going to publish and promote your book. Amazon? Other online platforms? Or do they have contracts with bookstores, etc? There’s nothing wrong with Amazon, but it’s a good sign if a publisher works with a few different platforms/retailers. The same goes for marketing. The wider audience of readers they have, the better.

  • Author’s copies. Do they provide them for free?

They are probably the main points I’d recommend keeping in mind, looking for a publisher or signing a publishing contract. There’re many good sources for authors on this topic. For example: publishes an annual digest/booklet (free to download) with the list of legitimate indie presses where new authors can send their works.’

Gosh, what fabulous advice, thanks Valeriya! How long does it take her to write a book and does she have any in the works just now?

‘The time depends on the length and the genre. It takes me about six months to write a 25,000-word novella (including editing) and over two years to write and edit a novel. I have one sci-fi/ thriller novel, THE SEEDS OF SKY, which is waiting to be published.’

Does she read reviews of her books and how does she deal with them?

‘I do read them all. Of course, great reviews make me happy. Bad reviews upset me, but not for too long. I prefer to focus on why a reader gave me a bad review rather than on the negativity of it. I try to learn from readers’ feedback (both good and bad) to improve my writing.’

So now we move onto Valeriya’s books. Do we need to read them in a specific order?

‘Not really, as both of my stories (AURORA ISLAND and DIVE BEYOND ETERNITY) are standalone books. I’m currently working on the sequel to DIVE BEYOND ETERNITY. However, I can’t tell now when it’ll be finished and published.’

Ooh, a sequel, that sounds like fun. I asked for a brief synopsis of “Dive Beyond Eternity”? 

‘“Dive Beyond Eternity” is a dark sci-fi thriller, set in the present day UK. It tells the story of Zara Rose, a World War II naval historian, investigating a mysterious German U-Boat, discovered in the North Sea and carrying a deadly secret—a Nazi super weapon able to split time and space, creating a labyrinth of multiple realities.’

This sounds amazing! At what point did she realise there was more story to be told?

‘When I finished it and started to query agents and publishers, I realised that there was some “breathing space” for the plot, and my characters still had some intriguing stories to tell. I’m not sure now whether it’ll grow into a series or even a third book. I’ve only just written a couple of the first chapters and still playing around with ideas.’

It sounds like she’s at the part she enjoys the most then! Before finishing, I asked if there was anything else she’d like to share with you? 

‘Thank you very much for reading this interview. I hope it’ll help you to discover your new favourite author 🙂’

Well said!  If you’d like to find out more about Valeriya please visit her links below:

Twitter: @LSalt1

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