Welcome, Sheila Norton…
*offers Sheila a cup of tea*
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I live near Chelmsford in Essex with my husband of nearly 45 years. We have three married daughters and six little grandchildren. I worked as a medical secretary before retiring early to concentrate on my writing. I’ve been writing since childhood but my first publications were short stories for children when my three daughters were small. I then won two first prizes in the ‘Writers’ News’ short story competitions and went on to have over 100 stories published in women’s magazines.
My first novel was published by Piatkus Books in 2003. I then had a further seven books published by Piatkus – all under my own name except for the last three which my editor wanted me to publish under a new name as they made up a series – the ‘Tales From’ series, written as Olivia Ryan. Since then I’ve been self-publishing with Amazon (Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace). As well as re-publishing my back list, I’ve self-published a further series of three books (the Sisters Series), and more recently, two books largely set in the 1960s – ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Ticket to Ride’. And my newest book is a story with grandparents as the leading characters and is called ‘A Grand Thing’. All these are written under my own name.
What was the first story you wrote?
It was a short story for Brownies, which was published in ‘The Brownie’ magazine. But my first novel was the more significant ‘first’! ‘The Trouble With Ally’ was a rom com about a woman who was just turning 50 and had all kinds of ordinary but hilarious problems going on in her life.
Were you inspired by someone or something?
Yes. I’d made previous attempts at a novel but nothing had worked so I stuck with short stories … until the ‘chick lit’ era and ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ made me realise that all the rom com books seemed to be about women in their 20s and 30s. I was about 50 myself at the time and felt sure a book featuring the life of an ordinary working mum of my kind of age could be just as funny. After 18 months of submissions, my Piatkus editor agreed – and I finally achieved my lifetime ambition.
Why do you write?
Simple answer: because it’s what I’ve always loved doing. I’d be doing it even if I had nothing published. It’s more than a hobby, but I can’t call it work because ‘work’ sounds like something you have to do. When I had a full-time job I wrote in the evenings – it was my relaxation.
Can you tell us about your newest book?
‘A Grand Thing’ is available from Amazon as a paperback (£7.99) or Kindle edition (£1.99). The four main characters are all grandparents who help to care for their grandchildren. They get to know each other through the children and eventually support each other through some difficult times. The main narrator is Kate, whose son and two daughters drive her mad by arguing about whose children she looks after the most. The other three characters – Bob, who struggles with arthritis and a possible crush on Kate; Jackie, a young and reluctant grandmother; and Pam, who seems inexplicably angry and hostile – also narrate chapters of their own.
How did you come up with the story?
It’s the result of another observation I’ve made about the contemporary fiction market – very few books seem to have grandparents as the main characters. I’ve acquired six grandkids in less than six years, and they’re a wonderful part of my life. Most of my friends either have grandchildren or other young relatives – and as older people buy the most books I felt sure lots of people would enjoy this kind of story. But basically it’s a family story, so I hope mums, dads, aunts, uncles – anyone who loves family life will enjoy it. I hasten to add that my own daughters are much nicer and less selfish than Kate’s children in the book! But my experience as ‘Nanny’ obviously helped in writing it.
What genre best fits for the book?
Contemporary women’s fiction (family life).
What are some of the benefits and challenges to writing?
Benefits: I have never been bored in my entire life! Writing takes you out of yourself if you’re feeling troubled, sad, or cross, and is always there, like a friend, waiting for you to come back to. As a hobby, it’s something you can do no matter what age you are, where you live, if you’re on your own, hard-up or disabled. If you’re lucky enough to be paid for it, it’s the icing on the cake. To be paid (however much or little) for doing what you enjoy is a privilege I never take for granted.
Challenges: Not many writers can make their entire living from it, so you need either a day job or a pension or some other means of income. Sometimes it’s hard to be motivated and find the time, when you have a busy job and/or children to look after. If you don’t have a day job, writing can be socially isolating so you need to find ways to prevent this. It’s also necessary to come to terms with rejection and criticism. Learning to take these on the chin is part of becoming a real writer.
Do you attend a writing group?
Because I worked at a busy job until I’d had six novels published, I never joined a writing group of any kind – I needed all my spare time for actual writing! But I did join the Romantic Novelists’ Association after I was first published, and have become an active member of the Chelmsford chapter. We’re a friendly group who meet once a month for support and friendship. Apart from this, I prefer to mix with other people socially – friends and family who aren’t writers – as I don’t want my life to become completely focused on writing. It might not bore me, but it would bore everyone around me!
Do you have someone to critique your work?
Yes, I’m very lucky in that my three daughters are very gifted in areas which benefit me as an author! One is a freelance copywriting and marketing consultant, one is a publicity and PR consultant (specialising in children’s books), and the third is an editor and writer in the health industry. I never publish or submit anything until at least two of them have read and edited it – and I’ve had all sorts of help with promotion and marketing too.
Are you working on something new at the moment?
Two new things! I’m working with my agent on the editing of a third book set partly in the 1960s (and partly in the present day). And I also have a brand new contract with one of the leading publishers for something completely different and exciting, which is planned for release towards the end of this year.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Don’t do it unless you love it. No other reason makes sense. But if you do want to write, do it, don’t put it off – you can make time if you’re determined enough. Don’t give up if you meet rejection after rejection – that’s par for the course. If you choose to self-publish, be professional, and above all, realistic. Few of us become millionaires!
What is your writing routine?
Since retiring from the day job, I don’t have a routine. I simply write whenever I can, whenever nothing else is calling for my time. I enjoy the freedom, and it makes up for all the years of fitting in my writing around children and working for the NHS!
Do you have an editing process?
Nothing special. Just – read the book through as many times as possible, be prepared to cut out anything that doesn’t work, and don’t be surprised to keep finding silly mistakes even on the third or fourth read!
What do you enjoy the most/least about writing?
Most enjoy: that feeling when the story takes off, the characters seem to come alive and do things you hadn’t even planned, and the whole process actually feels like magic.
Least enjoy: writing a plan or a synopsis. I never stick to them, as the story always takes unexpected turns as I write it.
How important is it for you to share your writing?
I’d say it’s pretty important – a lot of the pleasure comes from anticipating other people (hopefully) enjoying what I write. But if nobody ever read what I wrote, I think I’d still do it, for my own enjoyment.
Where can people go to read your work?
All my books are currently on Amazon.
Where can people find you on the internet?
My website : www.sheilanorton.co.uk
My blog: http://sheilanorton.blogspot.co.uk
My Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/SheilaNortonAuthor
My Twitter ‘handle’: @NortonSheilaann
Is there anything else you would like to share with your readers?
I love hearing from readers. As an avid reader myself, I make a point of posting a good review if I’ve read something I particularly enjoyed, because I know what a difference it makes to an author to get feedback from readers. I also always reply to any messages sent through my website. To keep up to date with news about my writing, go to my website and fill in the ‘reply’ form, asking to be added to the mailing list for my email newsletter, which is only sent out a few times each year. I never pass on email addresses to any third party.
Thank you so much, Suzan, for giving me this opportunity – I’ve enjoyed being a guest on your blog! And thank you, Sheila, I have enjoyed it too x