A big warm welcome to this week’s author, Pat McDonald, in the latest of the interviews in the Author Spotlight series.
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Pat McDonald is now a full time novelist currently writing within the crime fiction genre. She spent most of her career as a Researcher, Project Manager and Programme Manager within the National Health Service and the Criminal Justice system. As a Researcher she has interviewed thousands of people, although only claims one person who refused to speak to her and one person who died before they could! Her resultant interest in ‘people’ together with a lifelong love of ‘watching the world go by’ deepened her love of character led fiction. Most of her first Trilogy was written in a café within a garden centre. She claims to be a ‘free flow’ writer who never plans her books, “they just flow as I sit and write.”
Working in an old Mental Asylum developed her sense of humour and love of quirky characters, as well as a fascination for the paranormal. In order to maintain her sense of humour after her recent brain tumour operation and convalescence she turned her hand to writing humour. Her recently published A Penny for Them was her way of coping. She lives in the Midlands, UK with an overgrown garden and dusty book cases.
Pat McDonald Contacts and Books
Why do you write?
Most writers will tell you that writing is painful and a difficult exercise which they have to work hard at. For me it is as natural as sleeping and eating, and because I enjoy it so much I have to remember to sleep or eat and force myself to stop and take breaks, which can be as equally painful. Why do I write? Because I have a need to, and always have, having written and published poetry in my early days, academic books and papers during my working life, I have always yearned to write fiction. These three stages of my life I have published in the name I had at the time and now as Pat McDonald I am the Crime writer, although I am not strictly set to write in that genre. ‘Breaking Free’ saw me combine paranormal, historical, romance, and crime to produce, I hope, a ghostly consequence. Looking back at the short stories I wrote at fifteen years I could see they were mostly ghostly historical tales. However, more recently I seem to fall naturally into humour and will continue with this, and tap into my Mental Illness work experience perhaps branching out more into paranormal, horror and psychological thrillers.
What are you currently working on?
I began a new crime novel taking another character who dropped out of The Blue Woods trilogy and who disappeared into the witness protection programme. Another odd ball character Bartholomew Bridges changed his name to Cyrus Bartholomew and took over Time and Tide, a Clock Maker’s shop in a small seaside town called Wainthorpe where things hardly ever happen until their first murder occurs of his next door neighbour and raises his fears, the ex- Crime Scene Officer and Private Investigator’s skills lend a helping hand to the SCI on the case.
This book is nearing completion and I like to overlap books so have begun the next in the ‘Penny’ series: The Penny Drops to find out if Benjamin Matthews/Pollock will be reunited with his wife Rebecah and twins in United Arab Emirates. Another series of misfortunes always seem to intervene!
From where did you draw your inspiration to write your latest book?
Taking my latest book published A Penny for Them came out of my need to raise my spirits during a difficult time, to keep my sense of humour and a philosophical look at life and how things can influence it. It was also an experiment in writing from the male perspective and in the first person – as one humour writer friend said “You speak fluent bloke” which was quite a complement! It kept me sane and it kept me laughing and I have to admit the inspiration came from two sources: Aaron David is a wonderful humour writer whom I met (virtually) through social media and have read just about all his work. His book ‘The tale of the ancient Marina’ was probably the greatest influence. Also Ian Hutson ‘The cat wore electric goggles’ which incidentally was the phrase I wrote long hand as an example of my hand writing for the Occupational Therapist after working long and hard on being able to write and type again. She said, “I can’t see anything wrong with that.” I said, “You haven’t read it then?” These two people influenced me the most.
Which writers had the most influence on your decision to write?
As a child I read everything I could get my hands on; so much so that as a member of the junior section of my local library I was allowed to move up to the adult section before the age limit (with supervision) which opened my world up to the classics like Dickens, Bronte, Jane Austen, Emma Orczy, Alexandre Dumas, Thomas Hardy. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett) was imprinted on my memory, as was Little Women (Louisa May Alcott). Interestingly a newspaper article about my poems likened me to Thomas Hardy, more because they were mostly about grave yards than any literary likeness. I didn’t consciously decide to write, I just did it as a natural consequence from the love of reading.
What was the last book you read?
I read a lot of books and always review the author and confess to reading more than one book at a time; mostly in my defence because I am a book collector and love to read hard copy, but get given so many opportunities from new authors, I got one of those free kindles for my PC, so tend to have one of each available to read. I have just read ‘Jammed Up’ by Steven Hayward, wonderful follow up although prequel to ‘Mickey Take’, a magnificent style and only just come to writing having retired from his career. What excites me about the books and authors around is being drawn into reading genre I wouldn’t normally read. I discovered ‘The Gift’ a series of books by J P McLean a Canadian author who can’t write them fast enough for me.
Do you suffer from writers’ block?
I don’t get writer’s block, I have the opposite of it although when asked this before couldn’t come up with a suitable word to describe it. (Writer’s gush, writer’s rush….) I will say that I thought I had it once, which was when I found myself in the café at my local garden centre. Looking around I immediately had an idea for the next chapter in my book ‘Getting Even’ and scribbled it down whilst, drinking coffee, in the tiniest note book I found in my handbag. I wrote the whole of my trilogy (almost) sitting in that café. After that I realised if I needed inspiration I could get it from writing in public places. It actually taught me to write anywhere, in long hand, and I confess I am a bit of a diva; it has to be with gel pens in Bryn Parry note books! I wrote on the aeroplane flying out to Dubai, at the beach in Fujairah on the Indian Ocean, and just about anywhere I go. Changing writing habits and venues is what I recommend for anyone who has writer’s block.
Biggest frustration as a self-published author?
I don’t believe it is any different from being with a publisher. When I published with a large publisher in my academic life I went through the same process as now, only the promoting was different and of course you got an advance on contract etc. Publishers these days only want certainties, those people who are proven to sell books, in order to take a risk sign you up. The field has evened out and changed quite considerably since those times, whether you are with a publisher or not you still have the same hoops to go through, and promoting your work is the same in each case – unless of course you are established and have a large audience. Building your audience is hard work and time consuming, but I get to meet a lot of people and some delightful friends. There isn’t any way around it but not everyone has the time or the inclination. I enjoy helping as many new authors as I can, we’re all in the same position is the way I see it, so I plug as many as I can.
Reviews for books are vital. Any tips on getting more reviews?
This one is a bit of a difficult one for me. The short answer is I wish I knew. You see I read and review a lot of books, but not many people seem to think I need that too. I won’t buy reviews, just in the same way I won’t buy followers. I recently gave someone a copy of two of my books because this lady loves reading and for no other reason. I do wonder how someone can release a book on a given day and suddenly have 448 reviews! The thing is you can’t make people give you a review and I also have strong feelings about giving work away. Indie authors price their hard written work at 99p or $0.99 which I find incredible when people complain if someone prices it at £4.18 but would pay £5.99 for a barista coffee and then give a tip! One thing I don’t understand is why people give bad reviews; it is after all their opinion. If I don’t like a book I don’t review it. It’s about encouraging people to write. When I do get a good review and you know someone has enjoyed it, it will spur me on to be the best I can be. We writers suffer alike from self-doubt.
Do you use social media? If so, do you like using it?
Yes I use it because it is the accepted way of promoting your work, but also now because I have met some really lovely people. For me and I think for a lot of people it is a way of keeping in touch. I don’t just mean family, obviously that is true, but as a writer you can get awfully isolated. I have just spent the last eighteen months as a virtual recluse, without social media I think I would have struggled. Not being able to drive (you get your licence withdrawn with any brain operation) I was virtually housebound. Yet social media allowed me to travel the world see sights I wouldn’t normally see. Of course there is a downside to it and I have seen some sights that I cannot un-see! Unfortunately not all people using social media are nice people and I try to avoid the low flying nuts! By and large I do love it. Without it I would never have met (virtually) by two humour chums who poked fun at me continuously throughout the horrors of 2015 and who wouldn’t let me lose my sense of humour. Of course Aaron David and Ian Hutson are completely crazy! I had more support from the people I meet through social media than from people I actually know; says it all really.
Who is your biggest fan?
My biggest fans are probably Miss Holly and Snoopy because they know exactly which cupboard I keep the dog chews in, that is where they make for when they visit. I would love to say Stephen King, but he would probably deny knowing me! Fans – no, friends yes.
Many people have a bucket list. What is #1 on yours?
I am a great list maker, you know the sort of thing, birthdays, Christmas cards, shopping – but I don’t actually have a list of ‘things’ I want. Over time aspirations change, only last year I wanted to live long enough to publish my two unfinished books – done that! Now I have two more unfinished books, so it’s the same as last year, but then I don’t really write books to have them published; I write books because I enjoy writing them. So number one on my list would be to carry on enjoying what I’m doing; if I don’t then maybe I will stop….well maybe.
Any special message for your readers?
I would just like to say to those people who like writing there are no rules about writing, nothing to learn except to be true to your story, tell it like you want to; it is your story, not theirs, so it has to be what you want it to be otherwise it wouldn’t be your story, it would be their story.
Wow! What a great interview Pat and a huge thank you for those insights into you and your writing. On a personal note, a big thank you too for the support you have shown me as a new author.
I’m sure I will be joined by many others in wishing you continuing good health.
Please check out Pat’s books on Amazon. The links are shown above.
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