Shining the spotlight on Vivienne Tuffnell

SHINING THE SPOTLIGHT

Welcome to Shining the Spotlight. We have decided to resurrect this series of interviews with writers, editors and publishers. Today we have Vivienne Tuffnell, author of Away With The Fairies.

 

 

 

 

Waves
Vivienne Tuffnell

Please take a seat and prepare yourself.

That sounds ominous. At least you didn’t say, “assume the position” too.
Vivienne Tuffnell

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I’m in my forties (never ask a lady her age) and I live in Darkest Norfolk with my husband and our adult daughter. Oh and with about fifty thousand bees as well.
Vivienne Tuffnell

You are a beekeeper or are the bees incidental?

Yes, I am a beekeeper. I studied it at school; but about 5 years ago now, husband and I woke up one morning and said, “Why don’t we keep bees?” and it went from there. Currently he’s the active beekeeper as I’ve had some nasty health issues that have meant my bee-keeping has been from the side lines.
Vivienne Tuffnell

So how did you get from keeping bees to writing a book?

I began writing long before then. I think my first writing was a fan fiction of a Superman comic my father bought back from the US when I was about 3. It didn’t go terribly well as I couldn’t really read or write at the time and while I hijacked my father’s typewriter, it didn’t magically transform the words in my head onto the paper. Disappointing! I started writing properly some years later while still in primary school, completing my first novel when I was ten.
Vivienne Tuffnell

Did that first novel see the light of day?

No. I burned it. My brother found it, teased me mercilessly and in a fit of despair and misery I set fire to it in the bin. I discovered the first chapter though recently when my father sent me some books from the attic. It wasn’t bad for ten.
Vivienne Tuffnell

Having brothers is a terrible thing. What happened next in the world of writing?

I got a highly commended in a national children’s writing contest. I was very into Sci Fi at the time but ran out of time to copy out the story from my school exercise book, so I cut it short. I think it might have got higher if I hadn’t shortened it.
Vivienne Tuffnell

What genres do you like to read and do you write in those genres?

I like to read literary fiction, and I think that’s roughly where my books fit, though with a metaphysical edge. I read almost anything, though, if it catches my interest. Only think I don’t read (unless a gun is put to my head) is romance. Can’t stand romance at all.
Vivienne Tuffnell

How many books have you written and which of those are published?

(counts on fingers) Excluding things I don’t ever want to see the light of day (hidden in old trunks etc,) I have three novels currently available but another six written. I am working on four other novels as well. I have also a love of the short story both to read and to write and have two little collections on sale of those.
Vivienne Tuffnell

Have you self-published these?

Yes. I went through several years of submissions and even had an agent but despite excellent feedback, no one in the publishing world was willing to take a chance on a new unknown. It’s a common story
Vivienne Tuffnell

How did you find the process of acquiring an agent?

Horrible. Quite soul destroying in all honesty. And the agent I had turned out to be less use than a chocolate fire guard and a lot less tasty.
Vivienne Tuffnell

Why, what happened?

I wish I knew! Initially very keen etc he lost interest when the book he was hawking on my behalf failed to find a home quickly enough. I think he thought he had a perfect home for it but when that connection proved false, he didn’t have either the energy to get further or the decency to bother telling me.

Vivienne Tuffnell

So you went on to ride the self-publishing wave?

Yes, of course, it didn’t really exist when I was cut loose by the inaction of my agent. So it was a few years before I got started.
Vivienne Tuffnell

What editing process did you utilise?

A friend.  Someone who said that he would do it all for me, be my publisher etc. I made the mistake of being too trusting.
Vivienne Tuffnell

As you may know, one of the biggest issues with self-published authors is the ability to publish a novel without any kind of editing beforehand. So the novel is released with errors, poor cover art etc

yup. The other problem now is the plethora of services claiming to offer all those services for a fee. It can be difficult to assess quite which are worth it.
Vivienne Tuffnell

How did you address these issues for your own work?

I’m trained in literature so have a good understanding of the process of plot etc. I also am lucky enough to have a friend who worked as an editor with a small publisher for some years who is good to work with. I trust her expertise and intuition.
Vivienne Tuffnell

Would you say that having an editor is a MUST or just desirable?

I think that having a person with skills to be able to work alongside a writer is vital but as much as anything, that editor needs to be in harmony with the writer. So, a must. But finding the right person is tricky. I think that an editor needs to be able to see an author’s work without imposing constantly how they themselves would write something. They need to be quite in tune with the spirit of a piece as well as with the aims of the author.
Vivienne Tuffnell

When writing, do you have a process?

I used to have a process.  An idea would come to me, often fully formed and complete, and I’d just start writing while the idea, the daemon of the novel if you will, rode me hard. I had a long gap when I didn’t write at all, you see. My first round of submissions back in the 90’s ended with being asked to revise a MS. One of the Big Five asked me to make various changed to a novel. I sat down to begin the process and about ten minutes in, I got up to go to the bathroom and it was as if I’d been hit on the head with a half brick. I staggered through to the bedroom where my husband was changing, and collapsed screaming in pain. I was rushed to hospital with a suspected brain hemorrhage. When I was recovered, I finished the revisions, sent the book back to the publishers. They had a committee meeting and then decided not to go for it. After that experience I decided that the stress had put too much on me and i stopped writing altogether. Then in 2003, following a house move, I found images and action had begun to stir in my head and the only way of stopping them was to write. So I did. 105k words later, after 17 days of non stop writing, I had a complete novel. Subsequent works were done the same sort of way, but less frenetic, over a few months.
Vivienne Tuffnell

You wrote 105k words in just over two weeks?

yes. Longhand. I got blisters. I also did my day job and ran a home
Vivienne Tuffnell

And did you try and query traditional publishers after that?

Yes, I got a lot of excellent feedback on that novel and the others that followed but never an offer of publication

for which I am profoundly grateful now. I felt deadlocked and it made me feel very depressed and frustrated. We had to move again and start a new life somewhere else and find new jobs. I made one last attempt to get a deal, then gave up. I started blogging. I needed some outlet for words. I found I was struggling to write fiction, though, and it was much,much slower than it had been and it felt as if I were blocked.

Vivienne Tuffnell

How did you get over that block?

I haven’t. The block has a name now, he’s called Dexter and he’s a parathyroid tumor in my neck. I was diagnosed late last year with Hyperparathyroidism. It’s a nasty sneaky illness and it can kill you, but slowly and not before stealing all your joy in life first. Physical health issues can have mental and emotional health effects too and that’s what Dexter has done to me. One of the symptoms is mental fogginess and memory problems. It’s hard enough to write a novel but it’s much harder when you can’t remember what you’ve already written or delve into the deep unconscious processes that inspire stories.
Vivienne Tuffnell

Indeed. So where are you now in all that process?

Waiting for surgery. I’m hoping that I get a smaller scar than the 10 inch one that you used to get before surgery became more refined. It’s been liberating to realise that so many things that have been making life difficult and unpleasant for a good 6 years are down to something other than just me being a wimp.
Vivienne Tuffnell

In the mean-time, hows the writing going? Are you close to publishing anything at the moment?

I’m limping away at a couple of projects but I and my editor are close to having a new novel ready (by Easter, I think) to release.
Vivienne Tuffnell

What is this novel called and what’s it about?

It’s called Square Peg. The initial blurb is this. “Chloe is a square peg in an increasingly uncomfortable round hole. Brought up by her wildly unconventional grandmother, she’s a true free spirit and has never learned to pull her punches. She’s just married trainee Church of England clergyman Clifford, and is living at the theological college and trying to figure out what’s going on around her. She’s had very little connection with formal religion, and has a talent for stepping on all sorts of emotional land-mines with the wives of the other ordinands. That would probably be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that her grandmother has inconsiderately died, and left her a house full of exotic souvenirs of her days as a travelling doctor, instructions to track down her father and sister, and what everyone else regards as a really bad attitude. She’s also lost her job, her temper, but not the will to live. Chloe’s life begins to unravel in ways she could never have imagined as she tries to understand her own background by setting out to find out what became of her sister and father. But trying to integrate her uncompromising approach to life brings her into escalating conflict with the other women of the college, leaving her isolated and friendless. In Clifford’s final year of training, Chloe meets the arty, anarchic Isobel and together they concoct a plan whereby the irrepressible Isobel becomes the mole amid the college wives and they start to undermine and sabotage the status quo with a series of practical jokes and psychological warfare that has terrible consequences for Chloe when things go horribly wrong.”
Vivienne Tuffnell

What advice would you give to aspiring authors out there?

Believe in yourself but also listen to those you can trust to help hone your skills. Don’t limit yourself and don’t get bogged down in worries about book sales. Oh and blog. Don’t be in a rush to publish or let anyone rush you into it. That was the mistake I made, initially. Take your time and don’t let anyone push you to do anything before you are ready, whether you go indie or go traditional.
Vivienne Tuffnell

Thank you Vivienne

Vivienne Tuffnell

You can check her out on:

Author Page: Vivienne Tuffnell

Blog: Zen and the art of tightrope walking

Twitter: @guineapig66