Ask Alison

Which one of your books is your favourite?

Oh man, this is so difficult. Always, always my most recent book is my favorite because I strive to make each book better than the last and don't stop until I've achieved that. Besides that, I would say:

Why did you decide to set a series in New Orleans?

This is a great question. I wanted to write a US-based series in a place that I could set stories with characters that were as far away as possible from the ones I already had written – uptight English policemen and slightly ditzy female clergy. I thought the New Orleans history and culture would give me plenty to work with. As a writer, writing the series really stretches me creatively and is super fun. I wanted the New Orleans characters to be irreverent and quirky while my heroine is a little “vanilla” when she arrives, growing in character and personality as she mixes into the world of New Orleans.

What did you think was strange when you first moved to the US but now really like?

Hugging! Everyone hugged me when I arrived. Everyone. People I'd just met, people in the street, it was relentless. We are more liberal with our hugs in the UK now, but back in 1996, the only people you hugged was family. LOL. I didn't know what to make of it. I remember thinking after I'd been here a couple of months that while I didn't have any friends yet, I had hugged a lot of people! Yes, definitely hugging. Now, of course, I hug everyone. 🙂

Can you download the starter library to your Kindle?


How to make a good authentic Yorkshire pud?

You want Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsey's Yorkshire Pudding recipe. You can find them online. The secret is to have a very hot oven 425 degrees or thereabouts. And the fat must be very hot before you pour the batter in.

Is Alison Golden your real name?

It is my real name by marriage and it is a great name so I adopted it immediately! Back in the day, we lived on a street called Treasure Island Drive and I can't tell you how many people -mailpeople, delivery and cab drivers – told us that we were meant for great things.

Where do you get ideas for your characters and their names?

Annabelle came to me one Christmas after a church service as I stayed on a farm in a village close to my parents.
I wanted to write something on Jersey, a detective, and the character just came to me, his backstory and the other characters, as I wrote. I wanted Graham to be a sympathetic character because he could easily have been cold and unlikeable. I wanted to show a growth story arc.
That is often how my ideas come – as I write, ideas pop into my head. It's a mix of planning and spontaneity.
I wanted Diana to be very different, more like the heroine I would imagine myself to be as a young girl, saving the world kind of thing. As a child, I was an insomniac and would re-imagine the day's news stories but with me in them rescuing everyone.
And Roxy I wanted to be as different as could be from my other series and also to include some alternative themes like social media, music, and food.
They just all popped into my head from nowhere. Or rather, I had probably held some idea in my head for a long time unconsciously and they jumped out when given the chance.
All my characters are parts of me, and some of them are quite similar. I think Mike, Peter, and Graham are similar for example, as are Diana, Annabelle and Roxy. At least they seem so to me, anyway.
Often, I just put pen to paper and see what comes out. I work out what I was trying to say later when I edit.
As for names, they either pop into my head unbidden and they are exactly right, or I really struggle.
For place names, I look up ancient names and sometimes combine the first part of a name with the second of another. I do that with last names too, sometimes.
I try not to repeat a name across my books, and definitely not in a series, but I've had a few duplicates here and there. I didn't realize for a long time that Annabelle's best friend and the name of her church were the same! I keep a spreadsheet now.

When you start writing a new book do you know the whole plot before you start? Or is it mostly made up as you go along?

It is a little bit of both and varies from book to book.

I am not a huge planner. I have a rough idea of where I'm going usually, but I have the best ideas as I am writing. It's like one idea sparks another sparks another.

I usually start with a feeling that I want the reader to end with and might have a murderer in mind.

Other times I change the murderer when I get to the end.

With my most recent book, Witches at the Wedding, I did a lot of research into witch hunts and created a whole family tree for the character who I had in mind for the murderer.

Ultimately most of that doesn't make it into the book, but it is essential to start sparking ideas and giving me a starting point.

Once I have that, I start writing and everything falls into place as I go back and forth, revising many times, building out characters and plotlines, red herrings and such.

I'm going to miss Reverend Annabelle. This has to be hard to say goodbye and end a series. How do you determine when to close a series when you love the characters as much as we do?

I want the series to go out on a high. Quality is the highest value for me.

I don't want the series to fade or get stale and for readers to say that it is past it's best. For me, that would be like sending out invitations to my child's birthday party and no one coming.

So I want the series to end before we get to that point.

The other criteria is at the end of a natural story arc – especially the personal story arc.

Annabelle was originally penciled as a 6 book series and I extended it to 8 and maybe we'll visit her again as a one off, short story, something like that, in the future.

Are any of your books appropriate for girls aged 12-14? I'm looking for a new author/series for my granddaughter.

When I'm asked this question, I usually suggest Annabelle but with the proviso that the book be reviewed by a related adult first. This is because different people have different criteria for acceptable reading material and I don't have insight into that.

So that would be my suggestion. Annabelle is the lightest of my series, but there's still murder in the books of course. 🙂

Plenty of early teen girls do read my books though.

I hope that helps!

How do you determine which book/series to write?

Originally I just came up with the ideas. Just sort of “ping!” 🙂 I wanted them to be quite distinct from one another, no overlap, no crossover characters.

I usually write rotating between the series in order, but recently I've focused more to satisfy reader demand. I've asked readers to vote on what I should write next, and other times my decision is guided by sales (which also indicates reader demand.)

My next book will be an Annabelle because readers are asking me for that. Then I'll start writing in rotation again as switching between series keeps me freshest.

As an introvert, how did you handle moving to the US? And how difficult was it for you when you had twins?

I think being an introvert was a huge help when I moved to the US. I am happy spending large amounts of time on my own which was just as well as I had no family, friends, or work when I first moved here.

Evenings and weekends, of course, my husband was at home, but the weekdays were my own to explore and crucially learn to drive on the right.

After a while, I signed up for university classes and I was soon very busy with that, but being an introvert helped the transition.

When I had twins though, it was different. I didn't like spending all day at home with them at all. We would all go stir crazy and get very unhappy.

So I joined the local twins club and that became my family until the boys started school. I went to all the events and ran the walking club – we were quite a sight on our local trail – and eventually on the Board. Then I was involved in their schools.

Having twins really brought me out of myself and I have made lifelong friendships through being their mum.

Do you have any tips on how to begin a puzzle?

I start with the edges, then pick out something discernible or bold to work on – like pieces with red in them, or faces. Once I've got as far as I can, I pick out pieces with another color. I also sort my pieces by type – like innies and outies, odd shapes, that kind of thing.

I do the sky or grass – difficult pieces – last. I also have a special jigsaw table that I can close up if I wish so I can take my time if I wish (no clearing away for dinner or to make room.)

The key thing when doing jigsaws (or anything) is to keep at it, taking breaks as necessary.

How do you pick the narrators for audio books?

Selecting a narrator is similar to holding auditions for a play or other acting work. Some narrators prefer to known as voice actors.

There are a few databases of narrators and I either post a request to audition on those, or do some research and invite a few to audition that I am particularly interested in.

From there I make my choice of narrator, negotiate terms, and provide the book manuscript so they can do the work.

They have all the gear to do the job and will typically send in the work in chunks for review.

I, or someone I nominate, will listen to the recording, give feedback if any is necessary, and the recording is returned for completion.

I then submit the audio file to Amazon.

My Annabelle narrator stopped doing narration and I have identified a new one. I will be rerecording those at some point, and also have Graham on my list.

Do you still have an English accent?

I do still have an English accent and I'll make it very pronounced if I ever need to complain about anything. Works every time!

I didn't move to the US until I was an adult but after 25 years, I do have a bit of an American twang when I leave the US but by the time I've landed at Heathrow, it has usually left me and I'm pure RP (received pronuniciation – old BBC English) with a hint of North London from then on.

Do you garden?

I would love to garden. Right now, I have to outsource it to a gardener, but when I do it myself it is so much prettier and I am so proud of my plant children. During the summer I had cancer treatment, our deck looked lovely because I spent so much time out there poking around with the flowers. One day I'll get to it. My book children take all my time right now.

How did your education affect your career? Did any of your teachers encourage you to become a writer? Were you a good reader/writer in school?

I was always good at English at school even when I was little. I could just do it and didn't have any anxieties about it.

In middle school, my teachers left me alone because I didn't need support and that, and my good scores, helped me pick up on the fact that this was my best subject. It was just easy.

I had ideas of being a writer. I read furiously and although my parents didn't read books themselves nor did they read to me when I was a preschooler, they did take me to the library when I could read by myself.

I loved getting new books. I was a real daydreamer, and read way beyond the class books that we were given in primary and middle school. Some of the stories I write now are based on the ones I dreamed up in my head fifty years ago.

No one encouraged me to be a writer. I had one English teacher in middle school who told me I was good at it.

I won a scholarship to an English private high school for academically gifted girls, but there was no creative writing and English classes revolved around assigned texts in accordance with the high school curriculum set by the government at the time. The first books I was assigned were Hard Times, Julius Caesar, Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, and 1984. I was 13. What a list of dreary books!

Unfortunately not having autonomy over my choice of texts killed my love of reading and writing. I didn't read a book for fun again until I was 25. I didn't write creatively at all. When I took my English Literature “A” Level (similar to AP in US,) I hadn't even read most of the books in their entirety. Goodness knows, how I passed.

Instead, I went to work which I found suited me. I enjoyed the independence, earning money, praise for my work, and opportunities to advance.

I spent my 20s establishing a career in the computer industry. I was hardworking and understood people. I managed major accounts for a computer company selling huge contracts – organizing, liaising, identifying needs, and finding experts to meet them. I could get jobs just by writing a good letter. Other co-workers would get me to read their proposals. Later on, I backpacked my way around the globe solo for a year.

I moved to the US in my 30s and went to university. I did a degree in Organization Behavior. Enjoyed it and graduated valedictorian. No interest in English Literature, still.

Fast forward to being a mom. I would tell stories about life with twin boys and people would tell me to write a book. Nah. 

I wrote a piece about my boys in my mothers' club newsletter. It was so fun to write and wow, people loved it.

I wrote a blog about volunteering for a school rummage sale because I wanted people to know how hard and dirty the job was. It went viral and we raised over $35,000 for the school in two days. Perhaps my blog had a little something to do with that. And again, wow, people who had never noticed me knew who I was. I started to write, eventually for money.

I found my way back to the path that perhaps I was meant to take but boy, it took a long time and a lot of traveling down different paths. I didn't start writing fiction until I was 50.

But you know, there wasn't the opportunity back in the day to publish like there is now. And perhaps I needed to learn business skills because I certainly need them now and I see writers struggling financially because they don't understand marketing or even the importance.

And perhaps I needed time to really observe and experience people so I could write about them. Perhaps it was all necessary, if a long and winding road.

Have you always been generous? Who role modeled this wonderful spirit for you?

Aw, that's so sweet of you to say so.

I'm not sure where I got it from. I do remember my kids were very ill in the PICU for separate reasons three months apart when they were three years old. The preschool we attended organized a wonderful rota of meals. Everyone was so lovely, checking in and showing concern, and it made me feel so cared for and not alone in a country where I was still very new and where I had no family to lean on. Since that time, I have learned that being generous makes me feel on top of the world and I always get back way more than I give. Generosity is one of my three core values, the other two being freedom to spend my time as I wish, and quality in everything including books, friendships, and kitchen cabinets! 

Do you have any books or short stories from when you first started writing that have never been published? Do you think you may possibly publish  them at some point?

I don't have anything that I have abandoned. I do have blog postings that are unrelated to my fiction that are now unpublished from the web. They are about my early life as a mom, a sort of chronicle. I flirt with re-sharing them now and again.

And I have several drafts of stories that will see the light of day when I have developed and polished them.

But nothing stuffed in a drawer to be left there. It is my intention that everything I write is, or will be, worked on until it is ready for publication.

How has being a cancer survivor affected your writing? Has being a cancer survivor affected your outlook and/or writing process? Some cancer survivors I know want to talk about it and others don’t ever want it mentioned. 

I think I fall into the middle of the two camps you mention. I don't mind talking about my cancer experience, but it doesn't jump to my mind much. It's been four years and my life continues now pretty much as it did before my diagnosis.

I don't think my cancer affects what I write about. I don't find myself thinking about it when I write my characters unlike some other experiences in my life that inform my stories. I definitely don't have the urge to write cancer into my books. 

But I'm happy to share my experience when people, usually those just diagnosed, seek me out. I always make time for them. It was my promise when I finished treatment.

I think where having cancer has made a difference is my awareness of the fragility of life, of appreciating simply waking to the possibilities of a new day. This is not new to me, I've always been pretty grateful, but it is more intensified.

I am so thankful for my good fortune.

And so my writing has been affected in that I revel more in being able to do it, and in the response of people to it. It is quite amazing to me. And precious.

I spend a lot of time and energy protecting my brain and body so that I can write for a long time to come. I exercise, eat well, try to keep the pounds from piling on, take breaks.

And I try to get less stressed about writing and what people will think of me and it. And about the normal challenges of life.

I want to be a good example for people who have cancer. Each experience is different but I like to show that my life isn't over, I still do all the things, I am still optimistic and believe I have a long and lovely life ahead of me.

Thanks again for your question. I like being able to explain.

How strange does your search engine history look when doing research for a book?

Omgosh, horrendous. If the FBI came for me, I'd be arrested. Making bombs, methods of killing, poisonous plants, and on. Sometimes I think about sharing my history with readers just for interest, but then I would be giving my plots away.

How did you first start writing? How do you organize your thoughts for a book?

I was good at writing at school. I wrote for a living for a while when my kids were little – newsletters, blogs, and such – for myself and other people, non-fiction. Then the young me ganged up with the old me and I just had a thought to try my hand at fiction. I am not very organized at all. I usually have a beginning and end in mind, then I fill in the middle. I either spot a theme that has appeared organically during the story or I tease one out from what I've written, perhaps developing it. Occasionally I'll have one before I start. I revise and revise and revise, running the scenes through different tools that I use to ensure I have the components in place, but most of it is intuitive. If I like my story and it entertains me, I'm good. I don't normally have the story in place until the 5th or 6th revision. Then the last few read throughs are for editing.

Your covers are always so unique and interesting. When you plan a book, do you plot and choose covers before you write or after you've put forth the complete story, do you choose the cover accordingly?

It varies. I usually have a first draft minimum before I commission a cover so that I know what to include in the illlustration (Annabelle and Roxy). Diana covers are more conceptual so they are commissioned way ahead of time. For Graham, I wait a long time before I commission the cover illustration. I will have written the entire story and done several revisions of it before I even contact the artist. Partly because it is so expensive to have the illustration done and I don't want to scrap anything and do over, also because the story elements brought out in the cover are quite detailed and the finer points of the story often don't appear until the 4th or 5th draft. I don't think about the title until the book is finished or almost, and until then, I can't get the final cover done until that is decided. Often I ask Richard (illustrator) to add items in at the last minute.

Have you ever stepped out of your comfort zone to put forth a story?

Many times. Writing fiction after non-fiction was a huge leap. Adding the Roxy series was particularly challenging wondering whether my existing readership would take to it. Writing about terrorism and waterboarding in Exposed. Seeing if I could write about a missing child sensitively (Broken Doll), writing about forensics in a coherent fashion – (latter Grahams.) Could I make readers laugh (or at least smile). In fact, every new book requires me to step out of my comfort zone. I always want to grow as a writer. With every new book, I want to write the best book I've ever written and I want my readers to like my latest books as much as previous ones – all of this requires me to step out of my comfort zone. It can be frightening to be a writer. I had to push myself, especially at the beginning.

Do you ever get writers block? If so, what do you do to get back in sync?

Yes, I experience writer's block. Writer's block is about fear and stepping outside of one's comfort zone. See above. The way I overcome it is to write every single day. I might only write one word but I work on my work-in-progress daily – including weekends, birthdays, holidays. My goal is progress, nothing else.

How do you choose names for your characters? Are there any names you would never use?

Good question. As I write, sometimes names pop into my head as being perfect for the person – so out of nowhere. If not, I'll look around me for something that fits. Maybe a name in my email inbox, books on my shelf, Twitter. Know that I'm mixing first names and last names. I would never lift an entire name. I also have a list of location-specific names: names that are common in New Orleans/Roxy, or old English names for Cornwall/Annabelle. Also, specially in England, there is a sort of “code” around names. Janice, Jim, Barnwell, David for instance, are names all chosen to depict certain characteristics. I have a spreadsheet with all the names, first and last, in all my books. I try to not duplicate any names, certainly across a certain series, although I once made a big mistake that I'm having to live with. Names are a specialist topic!

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer/author?

I wanted to be a writer when I was around 12. I was motivated by what I was reading in my mother's weekly magazines and felt I could do better. Of course, I forgot all about that, but did start writing again (non-fiction) after reading a “My Turn” piece in my mother's club newsletter. I felt I had a lot of tales to tell. After a few years, I got the fiction bug after reading a successful author and wondering if I could do as well. I was confident of my writing abilities and curious to see if I could make a living at it, so in I plunged just to see where it might take me.

How do you research the area before you decide to include a particular area in one of your books?

If I don't have direct experience (I usually do), I use the internet. I watch videos, read online especially travel blogs. I also have books/get them from the library. It is amazing what you can find online. I wanted to use Vancouver's Skytrain in Exposed and the character was coming from a particular part of Vancouver (poor area to match the character) to a sports stadium. I found a video someone had taken while sitting in the back seat of the train between the stations I was using in my book. I watched it for about an hour so I could describe the scene of my character making the same journey.

What is your inspiration for writing?

Welp, let's see. I usually start with a small idea. Or an emotion I want my readers to feel at the end of a book. Sometimes there is a news story, current or from the past, that sparks my interest. Or an experience I have had that I want to explore. I go about my day and usually something pops out that I want to develop and like a puzzle the feeling comes together with a plot idea and the character's developing story. I don't outline except in the very broadest sense – outcome I have in mind, death or other conflict, maybe a second death. Sometimes when I'm really stuck, I'll close my eyes and touch type until something pops out. I also journal to see what comes up out of my subconscious. I find revising my basic drafts is the best inspiration for stubborn issues. The best ideas come to me that way and it is so exciting when that happens! I've learned to sit down and revise my WIP even if I have a problem with the story that doesn't have a solution yet. With persistence, the solution makes itself known. I go over my work many times, each time making my scenes stronger. And I have done this enough now to know that it will come together if I keep at it. Writing is mostly hard graft.

Do you try to keep a schedule for when you are writing or just when inspiration hits?

I didn't keep a schedule in the beginning, but I would take a long time to get a book out and I didn't enjoy the process. I find it is much easier to show up at the keyboard every day and just sit there writing down anything and everything until an idea of story comes together. I now have refined my process and know roughly how long it will take to get a book in a certain series done. When I start, I work on it every day even if it is just a few words, until it is ready for public consumption. The first drafts take a long time, but then I get quicker and quicker as it all comes together. I become hyperfocused and a bit scary (or so my kids tell me) as I get closer to finishing. To use a sports analogy: there's the pre season training (the early light work), the season (pulling it all together, writing lots of words, hard graft,) the playoffs (finalizing it all and publishing, intense,) and the off season (the two weeks or so I take off before I start again.)

What favorite places have you visited ? Where do you want to visit and haven’t yet ?

Ooh, let's see. I love Australia. The outback is such a huge desolate place. Raw nature. I love England – the villages, the green fields, the pubs, the lovely hikes you can go on, walking from B&B to B&B. Scotland is amazing too. Again wild, raw nature. Also, Sweden, Finland, Norway. I used to work there. The people are lovely and there is something about cold outside, warm inside, and the hospitality, that resonated with me. It is surprising I've ended up living in Silicon Valley, but I guess I like my urban/suburban living too.

Since this pandemic is all over the world do you think you will write stories with your characters wearing masks and doing social distancing?

I made the decision right at the beginning that I would ignore the pandemic in my stories. I try to make my stories as timeless as possible so they don't date, and mostly avoid using details that will tie them to a certain point in time. And I'm sure people who read my kind of work don't and won't want to be reminded of lockdown.

Does your cat try to steal treats when you bake them just like Biscuit did in Murder at the Mansion?

Star is not interested in anything remotely baked. She is strictly a carnivore. In fact, I had to check with some kitty friends that this was cat behavior. A friends assured me her cat ate pastries, in fact she would eat anything, and had to be put on a diet.

Were you an English major in college, or did you take writing classes to prepare you for a writing career?

I went to university part-time as a mature student in my thirties. I did a degree in Organizational Behavior. I did not take writing classes when I started, but I do now. It would seem I do things back-to-front.

What is your criteria for a co-author – what skills must they have and how much of the work do they do?

They must be pleasant to work with, willing to take a lot of direction and be prepared to leave their ego at the door, have good ideas, work collaboratively, be interested in developing as a writer. We typically work on the outline and first draft together and then they leave the project while I take over sole responsibility for developing it into the finished product.

Are your characters completely imaginary, or are they based on real people in your life?

Annabelle is a composite of a vicar I know, and a couple of other people including me. Diana is my younger self, in part. Really though, I typically come up with a type of character that I want for the story – quiet, loud, obnoxious, suspicious, for example – and then they just flow from there. I have people-watched my entire life and know how certain personality types react in certain situations so it is second nature to devise characters that act true to life without having a particular person in mind. It's one of the easiest parts of the process for me and my favorite. 🙂

What is your favorite tea to drink while writing and do you have a favorite go-to tea for relaxing?

As an English person, of course I love black tea with milk. Nothing fancy, just a good strong mass market brand like Yorkshire Tea or Typhoo. When I'm in the US, it doesn't taste the same so I usually drink hot water with lemon in the morning and peppermint or green tea during the day. I always start my day with a cup of PG Tips, though. I drink it while reviewing my numbers for the previous day, catching up with the news, and writing a few emails.

Do you read other authors' books in your spare time? If so, is it while you're in the writing process for a new book–or just in between books?

I read them all the time but more so when I'm taking a break or towards the end of the editing process of my own books – when the creative part of my brain isn't so in demand. I love it when I find a book that totally absorbs me and I have to read it before I do anything else. I nearly always read mysteries. That is where my heart is.

What, if any, effect has the environment or culture of the US had on your writing–themes, settings, characters, plots and/or your writing life itself–that you think might be different if you had taken up the craft while living in Great Britain?

Hmm, good question. I think there is a fundamental issue that if I hadn't lived in the US, I may never have picked up writing at all. I live in Silicon Valley and have a techie husband. Without him and the tech influences, I don't know that I would have ever considered the idea of writing as an income-generating activity, had the tech support to do it, or even been aware of the possibilities. I would also say that living in the US has helped me understand the fondness for, and interest in British culture and consequently the choice to set two of my series there. However, I also wanted to try my hand at a series based in the US (I have lived here for over 20 years!) and that became the Roxy Reinhardt series. I'm sure I would never have attempted that had I not lived in the US. I wouldn't have had the experience to draw upon.

When you begin writing your story, do you consider other stories that you've read, and what you liked, didn't like, what worked or didn't work for you? Or, do you just start writing?

I am something of a pantser, or what I prefer to call “a discovery writer.” That's someone who simply sits down and sees where the characters want to go. I usually have a beginning in my head before I start, and an approximate point of where I want to end up in the character's story arcs, but often not the details and the story in between. The twists in my plots and the whodunit come to me as I write and I often don't know who the murderer is until the end. I am as much in the dark as the reader! I don't consider other books I've read at all, although I do know people who reverse engineer books they've liked and then write according to that structure. I usually give myself a point of craft to practice with each book. I tend to write a first or second draft as I describe above and then run it through a series of story structure questions to make sure it is sound, perhaps add anything in that is necessary, but mostly I am an intuitive writer. Once the story is complete in my head, it is done, and nothing will shake me from that belief. I hope that helps you understand my process. It is a bit messy, honestly. I wish it were different but there it is. 🙂

Have you ever written under a pseudonym? Why or why not?

No, I've never written under a pseudonym. There is nothing in my books that cause me to separate who I am from my books. I also pride myself on the relationship I have with my readers and using a pseudonym would make it difficult to be authentic. Lastly, because my name is on the front I make damn sure the books are as good as I can make them. Quality is one of my fundamental values.

Why a cat not a dog in Murder at the Mansion? I’m just curious why a person picks one animal over another especially in a story.

I chose a cat because churches in England traditionally have cats as mousers. I also know about cats as I have had several. Later in the Annabelle series, dogs do appeat.. And Diana in the Diana Hunter series has a dog that she adores. So I think I spread it around a bit. 😉

I have dreamed of being a writer forever! I am so afraid to try. How did you get started and what is your advice for me?

I just started. I had been writing newsletters, then blog posts, then I tried a non-fiction book based on my blog posts. And then I just decided to write fiction. I was terrified, literally shaking for days when I published my first few books, but I just put one step in front of the other. So I think the first thing to understand that it *is* terrifying. I don't think there's any way around that. That's why so few people write and publish books and why authors are admired. Writing books is hard. I would also protect yourself against the naysayers who may be legion or just one person, but you will likely have at least one in your life, and if you publish, you will have more. I like to remember some advice I got decades ago: the people who will criticize are those who would never take such a risk in the first place. You might like to read the War of Art by Steven Pressfield. And you could listen to The Worried Writer podcast by Sarah Painter. I found both of them helpful. My other advice is to just write what you want and not listen to anyone else. There are a lot of people who say to write every day or write so many thousands of words a day or give some other prescription and I think that is rubbish. You do you, however, you show up. If you need craft advice, there is a lot available online for free. I hope that will get you started. It all starts with one word and sometimes when I'm not feeling it, that is my day’s goal. Just write one word and go from there.

Is there anything about the UK that you miss?

I miss the countryside. I love the serenity and green colors of the English countryside and the ability to walk in such surroundings. I miss the sharp, cold weather too although I admit living in it all the time isn't so much fun. I miss the humility of the people. And the sight and experience of the historical buildings.

What prompted you in choosing three entirely varied characters? Delightful sweets-loving Annabelle caring for her flock; Don’t-mess-with-me bad-ass Diana, and mild, patient Inspector Graham. All three are just wonderful.

Aw, thank you. I wrote the series (and now Roxy, too) to be very different from one another on purpose because I wanted the challenge but also because I was new at fiction and I wasn’t too sure what type of character would most resonate with readers. I expected that two of the first three series would probably die a quiet death and one would stand out. I thought I would quietly drop the unsuccessful series and just pursue the one that did the best. To my surprise that didn’t happen and all three, now four, main characters have rabid fans and I found myself writing books in all of the series. It wasn’t at all what I expected but was a delightful gift. Now I want to know what happens to the characters as much as anyone!

What is your criteria for a co-author – what skills must they have and how much of the work do they do?

They must be pleasant to work with, willing to take a lot of direction and be prepared to leave their ego at the door, have good ideas, work collaboratively, be interested in developing as a writer. We typically work on the outline and first draft together and then they leave the project while I take over sole responsibility for developing it into the finished product.

Are your characters completely imaginary, or are they based on real people in your life?

Annabelle is a composite of a vicar I know, and a couple of other people including me. Diana is my younger self, in part. Really though, I typically come up with a type of character that I want for the story – quiet, loud, obnoxious, suspicious, for example – and then they just flow from there. I have people-watched my entire life and know how certain personality types react in certain situations so it is second nature to devise characters that act true to life without having a particular person in mind. It's one of the easiest parts of the process for me and my favorite. 🙂

Do you read other authors' books in your spare time? If so, is it while you're in the writing process for a new book–or just in between books?

I read them all the time but more so when I'm taking a break or towards the end of the editing process of my own books – when the creative part of my brain isn't so in demand. I love it when I find a book that totally absorbs me and I have to read it before I do anything else. I nearly always read mysteries. That is where my heart is.

Are you writing another Diana Hunter book?

I have two Diana books written in draft form sitting on the hard drive of my computer waiting for me to finish them. So yes, there will be more Diana. I’m not sure when though. I try to meet as many readers needs as possible and currently most readers are writing to me clamoring for another Graham and another Annabelle. Sometimes, I wonder if I should take a poll on what I should write next. Actually, that’s not a bad idea…

How do you come up with ideas for new characters and make them so engaging? When you wrote the first Annabelle book did you know that in the future she would have a love interest or did you decide this later on?

The characters just pop out of my head. I find people fascinating. We are all so different and difficult to fathom, doing seemingly totally illogical things at times. I love crafting the characters from birth, imagining their lives before they are lived out in the books, and they are like real people to me. Seeing where they go, how they develop and overcome their difficulties or demons is so exciting, I can barely stand it. As I am writing, I get inside their heads and think about how they would react to any given situation. This must be based on experiences I’ve had personally or observed in others in the past but it isn’t a conscious process. I don’t think, “X responded to this situation in a Y manner,” I just know how X would react. Honestly, when I first wrote Annabelle, I had no idea what I was doing or how things would develop. I just wanted to write a story about her and see if anyone would read it. I wanted readers to like her, empathize with her, and see little bits of themselves in her. The whole love interest thing took on a life of its own as the series has progressed.

When you write a book do you decide the length the book will be beforehand, or do you just let it flow to whatever length it comes to when you have finished writing it? Also do you purposely write some short books and some longer books in order to appeal to different readers?

I like the first draft to be 40-45,000 words. After that, I write until I’m done, adding in details and finessing the plot. Despite just letting things flow, the most recent are coming out to be 55,000 words almost on the dot. I wrote shorter books at the beginning of the series to allow readers to experience the characters quickly, easily, and relatively inexpensively (freely even, if you are a subscriber to my list.)

Was it hard to adjust to being in the States?

Hmm, yes and no. At the time it didn’t seem so difficult. I was in my thirties and had traveled a lot. I’m also an introvert so being on my own a lot, without friends and family, wasn’t too difficult for me. What I did find difficult was being catapulted back into the life stage of a young adult. In the UK, I had a mortgage, career, car, finances of my own, and I gave all that up when I moved to the US to be with my husband. I had to open a bank account, get a social security number, go through a residency process, learn how to drive on the right. It felt strange. I went to university to study because for a while I couldn’t work, but it was when my sons were born, three and half years after I arrived, that I really settled. With their birth, I was once again catapulted into yet another world—that of a mother of twins, and preemies at that—and there I found lots of other women like me grappling with the challenges and joys of multiple babies.

What kind of cancer did you have and how long has it been gone? Were you a health nut before or after the cancer and is that what has helped you heal through it all?

I had Stage 2 breast cancer. It was diagnosed in May 2017 via a routine mammogram. I ended treatment in December 2017. I will be monitored closely by my doctors for another two and half years and then considered as having the same risk of the cancer recurring as the general population. I have always been interested in health and fitness and wrote for a health-related blog prior to writing fiction. I even have a book out about how to eat healthy when those around you don’t. Being strong and healthy prior to the cancer (and relatively young!) meant that I was able to withstand the rigors of chemotherapy and radiation pretty well with no significant long-term side-effects, but I don’t find writing very conducive to a healthy life—too much sitting staring at a screen while indoors. I have made moving outside in all weather a priority this year. I now exercise before I get down to writing as I found that doing it the other way around doesn’t work. I eat super healthy but let it all hang out on holidays and my birthday.

When out, do you take note of things you see or hear that would be interesting tid-bits to include in a book? Do you find yourself weaving such things into the story lines?

Yes, I am always alert to my surroundings. I’ll make note of news stories that spark my interest, relationships, even sayings that people use. I keep this information in a file and peruse the file from time to time to refresh my memory. I rarely deliberately design a story around this information, though. I just let these points of interest settle into my subconscious and they will come out in some form in a story almost by accident. I write very intuitively, sometimes even closing my eyes and assuming a character as I place my fingers on the keyboard. I do this especially when I’m stuck. I also journal by hand if I find myself unsure as to a certain scene, plot twist or character interaction.

Which country do you find to be a slower pace? Which country do you find to be easier to be comfortable?

Ooooh, tricky. Some things are easier in the US, some in the UK. It depends what they are and I am lucky to be able to pick and choose what I get from where. I love the British countryside and to me, it is like sinking into a comfy sofa. But I love the convenience of things in the US. I prefer the weather in California, but the green fields (that only come about because of rain) in the UK. I am fortunate to spend several months a year in both countries, so I get the best of both worlds. I am very comfortable in both places, but the UK will always be home.

Please tell our readers about your life in America with your husband and children.

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve lived in the US for 22 years. My husband is American while my sons and I have dual US/UK citizenship. I work at home. I visit the UK at least once a year and going forward will spend part of the year there rather than simply making flying visits. One of my twin sons is a freshman at college. We are adjusting. My other son is taking a gap year and will go away to college next Fall. We go out to eat, to the movies, escape rooms. Like most mums, whatever my boys like to do I’ll follow along for as long as they’ll let me while carrying the coats.

Do you have any hobbies?

Hah! I try. I’m something of a workaholic, although I’m getting better. The closest thing to a hobby for me is reading. I try to take two days off a week to read. I like spending other free time with my family. I walk everyday, alone or with friends. I’m also trying to get into making handmade cards. My sister-in-law makes them and I’m always so impressed. I’m hoping that by the time you read this, I’ll have made my first batch of homemade holiday cards.

All of your series have been co-written with different authors. Can you tell us about your experiences working with your co-writers? Did you write literally together? Correspond? Meet at set times? Make continual phone calls? Tackle different elements?

Gosh, that is a difficult question to answer concisely. It varies from book to book, writer to writer. Everything is done via email. I don’t like the telephone and avoid it wherever possible. We constantly send manuscripts back and forth with new sections written and many comments in the margins. We typically work together on the first draft and then I take it from there. I also write books by myself if the writer isn’t available. We will write the parts that depend on our individual specialist knowledge like a geography or historical facts. I often write the children. Every book partnership is different, but however we get to the end of the early draft, I always take over to see the project through to the end. I add pacing, color, description, details. I will reorganize scenes, add red herrings, and clues. I’ll amend the plot and change the murderer if I think the story isn’t working. I write whatever is necessary to bring the story to a point that satisfies me. My standards are very high. I write 7-9 drafts of every book. I enjoy working with other writers. We put our egos aside and learn a lot from each other. I am very grateful to them. I am a better writer because of them.

Have you written in other genres? Is there some type of writing that you’d like to tackle?

I have written non-fiction. I wrote a book on strategies for eating a paleo diet when others around you don’t. It is called The Modern No-Nonsense Guide to Paleo and you can still get it on Amazon. As far as my fiction is concerned, I imagine writing more thrillers, perhaps some chick lit, and literary fiction, but my biggest goal is to write a series set in the 1940’s.

The Diana Hunter series has lead you away from cozies deeper into suspense. Is this where your work is headed, or do you foresee doing more cozies?

Yes and yes. The recent publication of Exposed, #5 in the series, made me realize that I want to branch out beyond the confines of the cozy mystery genre and this year I have been working to reorient my brand as an author to allow for that. In the future, I want to be able to write in other genres if I choose, although I can’t imagine writing anything too gritty. There are definitely more cozies coming, too. I have more books planned in all my series and also a new cozy series in development.

Annabelle’s life-long best friend is a Catholic nun. Are you religious? How have you gained information on the duties of the two women?

I was christened and confirmed into the Church of England. I also went to school at a time when we sung hymns and said prayers at morning assembly. Those experiences gaves me an understanding of the way the Anglican Church works. I still attend church when I’m home in England. I don’t have much experience of Catholicism but I have friends who do. (I often tap my friends for information.) And of course, there is always Google.

Detective Inspector Graham is a man in his 30s, Diana Hunter is a very young woman, and the Rev. Annabelle Dixon is a vicar. Are any part of them from your conscious personality?

No doubt, although I didn’t consciously write them that way. It is what I know. Like Annabelle, I can be a bit scatterbrained but with thought and effort can work my way out of most muddled situations to a successful conclusion. When I was Diana’s age, I was very much like her although I think my British manners made me a little less smart mouthed. Also like Diana, I am very driven and I have to consciously force myself to slow down. I’m introverted and hyper-focused like she is. Graham is more like someone I know.

Two of your series are based in England, although neither are based in your hometown; another series is based in Vancouver, although you live in San Francisco. Can you tell us why you chose these locales and how you did your research on them?

The Annabelle series is set in Cornwall, England. I spent idyllic farm holidays there as a child, the kind where you bring the cows in for milking and drink the milk while still warm, ride tractors, and visit the cat’s new kittens. I wanted a serene, beautiful setting for the series and Cornwall was the place that jumped into my mind. The Inspector Graham series is set on Jersey, an island off the coast of Britain. I wanted another small town setting for the series, but wanted to differentiate it from the Annabelle series so chose an island. I also am interested in military history and Jersey has the unusual distinction of being a British territory occupied by the Germans in WWII, a backstory I thought I could incorporate in the stories. The Diana Hunter series is set in Canada because I wanted to distinguish it from other thrillers that typically use CIA/MI5 centric stories.

If you had a million dollars, what would be the first thing you would buy?

A home in the British countryside which is my favorite place on earth. I would also fly only first class.

When you walk into a book store, where do you head first?

The tables in the middle of the store.

Where’s your favorite place to read?

My bed or the sofa or the lounger on my deck. Sunshine makes it even better.

If you could have personally witnessed one event in history, what would it be?

Man walking on the moon.

If you could be any age again for a week, which would you choose and why?

My late thirties because I had little ones and I loved the life.

What’s your favourite rainy day movie?

Anything my sons will watch with me. We’ve watched all the Harry Potter movies, Hidden Figures, The Full Monty, Secrets and Lies, The Orient Express, Black Panther.

What’s the best vacation you ever had?

Probably the most recent one to Seattle with my family. We had such fun and found a great balance making our activities meet everyone’s disparate preferences, not always easy with four adults. I also loved taking my 6-year-old sons to the UK for the first time and again for their first British Christmas.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?

I hang out with my friends, usually meeting for lunch or going on hikes. I go to the movies and have dinner with my husband. We also like to watch British TV dramas. I watch HGTV and comedies and go to escape rooms with my sons. I’m a bit of a neat freak and can’t concentrate if I have a messy house so I tidy up a lot. I visit the UK a fair amount and hope to travel more now that the boys are grown.

Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?

I hear from them every day. They are wonderful. Readers feedback is the lifeblood of the author. I hope they never stop contacting me. “When is the next Annabelle/Inspector Graham/Diana coming out?” is probably the most common theme. Some give me story ideas or ask me questions, or comment on something I’ve written in my newsletter.

What character would you most like to be stuck in an elevator with?

Sherlock Holmes. I think he would be interesting and quite ingenious in terms of helping me escape. I would hate to be stuck in an elevator. One of my worst nightmares.

Name the five biggest distractions from your writing.

Sleep, exercise, housework, friends and family, travel, my cat, email, food, book marketing. I have a lot of distractions to contend with!

What is the most useful tool you use as a writer?

I write in Word and use Evernote to get down my ideas. I also use Boomerang to pause my inbox so I don’t keep checking it.

What are your writing goals for the next year?

Three books. Maybe a new series. wink

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I used to have a terrible habit of having my characters nod a lot. I would have to search for the word “nod” in my early drafts and delete most of the references. I also don’t have a daily word count goals like many writers. My mantra and daily goal is “just one word.” This means I’ve hit my goal by the time the kettle has boiled in the morning and that gets me moving. Then I write as much as I can each day.

What does your writing process look like?

A mess. LOL. I usually spend days writing an outline, then dump everything I can think of down on paper. I usually hit a wall at that point and like to leave things to stew in my brain. Later, I’ll organize my brain dump, then start writing in a more organized fashion. I’ll go over my drafts several times, filling in holes and developing characters or the plot until I’m satisfied.

How has your writing career changed since you started?

I started out with an idea about publishing books that were not graphic in nature. Those are not the kind of books I want to read or write and I figured that there must be other readers like me. I decided to write cozy mysteries as a result and presented myself as a cozy mystery writer. However, I have found that moniker to be too limiting and not representative of all the series that I write. I write in cozy mystery, traditional British detective, and finally crime thriller genres. In the future, I feel the need to not limit myself by genre, I want to leave things open so that I can write in whatever genre takes my fancy, but I don’t expect the policy of writing clean books to change.

What writers inspire you?

J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith; Agatha Christie; Enid Blyton; Kate Atkinson.

Tell us about the main character from one of your books.

Meet Reverend Annabelle Dixon… Annabelle is not your typical vicar. Charming, slightly gauche, very tall, this thirty-something vicar has been appointed to the pastoral St. Mary’s Church, in the picturesque village of Upton St. Mary, Cornwall, England. Annabelle is beloved by her parishioners for dispensing holy wisdom with humor and charm, and her passion and dedication to her calling are matched only by her weakness for cakes and sweets. She spends her days zipping her Mini Cooper around the country lanes, often seeking out new cafes and bakeries, while attempting to win the finicky affection of her church cat, Biscuit, dispensing pastoral wisdom, and solving the occasional murder.

Describe one of your books in 140 characters or less.

A charming bed and breakfast. A diabolical murder. A guest with a secret to hide… A secret that just might be worth killing for. ~The Case of the Screaming Beauty

What makes you unique as a writer?

Hmm, I would say my characters and their authenticity. They are not caricatures and I strive for them to be layered, flawed, and human. My goal is for my readers to identify with them, like them, and understand them.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I was about thirteen. I would read short stories in my mother’s magazines and just thought, “I can do better than that.” I forgot all about it until I turned fifty and suddenly the idea came into my head to write fiction after years of writing non-fiction.

Where do you find inspiration for your characters?

In everyday people, their behavior, their trials and tribulations. I have always been acutely sensitive to how humans interact since I was a child and the characters just pop out from decades of observation.

How do you develop your writing ideas?

I write them out. I use Evernote and keep jotting down ideas as they come to me. I will take some time before I start writing the book proper to flesh them out and then with each revision, I keep developing them further.

Where do your ideas come from?

Everywhere. Observing people and their interactions with each other and individual behavior. The news. Activities that I do or come across. Sometimes I have conversations with my characters and see in which direction they’d like to go. Everything is grist for the mill and can generate an idea.

How much influence do you have on the production of the cover and do you have the final say?

I have almost complete influence over the production of covers and the work doesn't stop until I am happy with them. I use two cover designers plus illustrators who produce the artwork for the Inspector Graham and Annabelle covers. hen I develop the initial design concept for a set of covers, I typically contact three designers with a brief to see what they come up with. I consult with various people as to which of the three concepts they prefer, but make the final decision myself. Likewise with the illustrations. Once the template is set, it is relatively easy to come up with a concept for each book cover and brief the illustrators and cover designers accordingly. If you look closely at the Inspector Graham and Annabelle covers, you will see there are story elements contained within them. The Diana covers are more of a mood concept. I am not particularly gifted in design but I know what I like when I see it. Consequently, I hire designers I trust to guide me until it all comes together. We go back and forth, building on ideas, or in my case sometimes backtracking, and eventually we get to point where, bingo, it works. You can learn more about the Inspector Graham covers and see the original artwork here –>

Have you ever taken a gun course so to be better able to understand how your characters would react?

I have shot a gun many times. When I lived in England, for several years I would hoist myself out of bed every Sunday morning during the season and shoot clays on farmland near my home. I was terrible at it and would end up with bruised shoulder oftentimes. I've had much better luck with smaller guns. When I moved to the US, but before I decided to write fiction, I trained in how to use a handgun. I grew up in the Charlie's Angels era — the first incarnation — and the idea of women and guns has always fascinated me. So I already knew how to fire a gun when I started writing. I also like archery and each time we go back to England, my family visit a range to shoot clays or arrows. While I don't write technically about the use of a gun in my books (although Exposed is a little more detailed,) I'm keen to train further and will attend some live-fire rifle and pistol training sessions specifically for writers next year.

Do you ever find your characters taking on a life of their own and going off in directions they want to go instead of where you want them to go?

LOL, yes. My characters often surprise me. Two of them turned out to be murderers when I thought they were innocent and of course, the ones I had thought were the murderers were not. I also have a character who has insisted on coming to the fore when I thought they would stay less prominent. I have recently found out that this character's background is very different from the one I understood it to be. They have also surprised me with some of their decision making. It's been great fun learning more about them. I can't tell you which characters these are because that would give the game away, but I can say that the murderer surprises occurred in the Inspector Graham series, and the character that has evolved in a way I wasn't expecting will feature in a book to be published soon.

Do you ever just not feel like writing and what do you do to get motivated again?

Often! Writing is hard on the brain. Combine that with the idea of a book being a big project, a writer with a tendency toward perfectionism, and the loneliness of the profession, and it is very easy to procrastinate. To deal with it, I don't do what many writers do and set myself a word count goal, I do the opposite: I set myself a goal that I can achieve effortlessly. My goal is always to write just one word. That's it. I tell myself first thing in the morning to write just one word and once I've got the first one down, many more follow. Once a momentum is built, it all comes a lot easier. I stop when the words stop and move to another task, coming back to writing again after that task is completed using the “one word” mantra. This morning before I wrote this email, before I had a cup of tea, but after I'd put on a load of laundry and set the kettle to boil, I told myself to write just one word and ended up writing a paragraph. As I go through the day, I naturally build up the number of words I write in a burst, but I never force it and I always start with the “one word” concept. It is a useful procrastination buster for any project.

Which books did you read as a kid that most influenced your writing today?

I very quickly devoured the Famous Five books by Enid Blyton as a child. I was insatiable and from there bounced through the Secret Seven and Malory Towers series, also by Blyton. I moved on to Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys series, then after a chance find at a rummage sale, started to plough through Agatha Christie books. I liked her Miss Marple the best, but also enjoyed Poirot and the others. As an adult, I have continued to enjoy mystery genre the most. I'm sure it is a personality type/brain thing. I liked the ensemble pieces of Famous Five and Secret Seven which I think you can see play out in the Inspector Graham series. There is perhaps a little Poirot in the Graham character. Nancy Drew and Miss Marple inform Annabelle and Diana; characters with a depth that you wouldn't, at first glance, expect. Unlike many mystery readers, I don't like to guess the murderer and enjoy letting a book unfold, but reading Dickens and Austen in high school gave me an appreciation for literature, and I like to include some literary twists in my books where I can.

Which of your characters do you identify most closely with?

I think I am a mixture of Annabelle and Diana. I can be klutzy, forgetful, a little ditzy, and funny. But ultimately I am organized, fair, and honest. I like to think that I can get people on my side. I can also be stubborn and act against my best interests at times, like Diana. I can be a perfectionist and argumentative. My kids might tell you I nag, although I prefer to call it “coaching.” 🙂 I can get caught up in pursuing my goals and need to be reminded to stop and take a breath. I try to read an hour in the middle of each day in order to slow myself down. Diana should try that.

How many books do you write at once?

I used to have two or three on the go at once, but I've slowed down and now focus on just one. That doesn't mean I only have one unfinished book, though. Currently I have seven in various forms.

Do you eat oysters?

No, but my husband loves them.

What does a basic lunch look like for Alison?

I don't typically eat until 3 or 4pm, I find my brain gets foggy if I do. Mid-afternoon I usually have a snack (nuts!) to tide me over until dinnertime at 6pm. I do drink a lot of tea and occasionally will have lunch with a friend, preferably a salad.

Do you like jelly beans?

Not much. I don't eat any sugar.

What is your writing process on a first draft? Do you plot it or just write?

I'd love to pants it (just write) but I've learned the hard way that mysteries are hard to write like that. Now I do a detailed outline. 95% of a book is plotted before I start.

Where is your favorite place to write?

At my desk at home. Sometimes I move to the dining room for a change. For final drafts, I walk around my bedroom or, if the weather is warm, outside on the deck.

How do you take your coffee?

I don't drink coffee very often but when I do, it's a decaf full fat latte.

Do you have any pets?

Yes, an orange (ginger) tabby named Star. Unlike most ginger tabbies, she's a girl, and she's very persistent and nuts.

Chaos in Cambridge by Alison Golden
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