An Interview With… Beverley Lee

From as far back as she can remember, Beverley Lee has always been held captive by the written word. Her earliest memories are of books and how they made her feel. She spent most of her formative years with her nose between the pages, or at the local library, devouring books, and losing herself in the worlds of fantasy and adventure. She was that child who would always try to find Narnia at the back of any available wardrobe. Even now the smell of paper in a bookshop makes her feel like she is eight again.

Her writing journey began at the age of seven, when she created terrible, but enthusiastically written, cliché ridden pony stories, complete with illustrations, for her long suffering teacher. But she can’t remember a time when she didn’t make up stories in her head, even when there was no chance to write them down.

The closest thing to magic that she knows is creating characters and new worlds that never existed before. She loves the way the images and voices take form, and the way they take on a life of their own as the words spill out. Beverley is very much drawn to the darker side of fiction and the shadowy place between light and darkness where nothing is quite as it seems. She loves flawed characters – they have a depth and a tantalising wealth of possibility.

Inspiration comes in many forms – a snippet of conversation, a stranger on the street, a song lyric fleetingly heard. Life is inspiration. The very best story is the one you have to tell.

She is a people watcher, a dreamer, a lover of nature and simple things. She collects feathers, picks up seashells and likes to run her fingers over old stone. There’s history there. Stories just waiting to be discovered.

The best way to grow is to support other people and she is passionate about helping other writers as they begin their journey.

What was your first book and when did you write it?

My first published book was The Making of Gabriel Davenport, although I’d written many other stories in serial form when I dabbled in vampire fan fiction when the internet was new and shiny. I started writing Gabriel in 2014 and penned a few thousand words, then abandoned it until early 2015, when I pulled it from my files and started playing with it again. Originally, Gabriel was a girl, but as soon as I changed the gender of the baby the whole story started to flow. It took me three months to get that first draft down, and six drafts more to get it to a point where I felt confident to let it fly. It was published in April 2016.

The Gabriel Davenport series is a trilogy. Did you know it would be a trilogy straight away or did it evolve into one? More generally, do you normally plan your stories before you write them, or you start with a general concept and see where it goes while writing?

It was only ever going to be a standalone, that one book everyone is supposed to have in them. It wasn’t until Moth and Teal came on the scene that I realised that there was much more of the story to tell. Moth, in particular, blazed onto the page and demanded that I write the sequel. And as soon as I started writing Shadows it was clear that this would be a trilogy.

I never plan/plot everything. I always have a beginning, the end, and a few key points I want to hit, but I let my characters lead me on their own paths. I trust them to make their own story. Sometimes this is seamless, and others it takes thousands of words to actually find what they’re trying to tell me, words that never make it into the final book, but which give me a deeper insight into their characters and what makes them who they are.

You are a very loved indie author and you do a lot to support other independent authors. Can you tell us something about your beginning in the indie world

The most important thing for me was getting The Making of Gabriel Davenport out there. I wanted people to read my story and to connect with my characters. At first I tried going down the traditional publishing route. I entered all of the pitch days on Twitter that I could, honing my book into an impossibly measly 140 characters, and hoping that someone would see the potential. I did get a few nibbles, but after consideration, they didn’t feel *right* and I’m a huge believer in gut instinct. I tried sending off the first three chapters to a host of agents and small presses, all with no success. I became one of those writers with a stack of emails that went unanswered. I’d given myself until the end of 2015 but I think I knew deep down that I’d have to try another way, as I had it professionally edited in December of that year. But I’ll be honest, the thought of actually going down the *other* route scared me silly!

Back then I knew virtually nothing about self-publishing apart from the fact that you could do it through Amazon, so I had to learn everything. I spent hours going through the pros and cons of buying my own ISBNs (which I did), which book trim size was best for my genre, costing, what colour page to use. I lost myself in the forest of ‘how to self-publish’ websites.  I bugged all of my friends that had done it before for advice and their list of pitfalls.

I learned that having a solid social media platform is incredibly important. I’d had a pretty consistent Twitter presence during Gabriel’s creation, and it would probably have never got past the first ten thousand words without the support of my writing challenge group. Having people around you that really understand what you’re going through, who you can rant at when nothing seems to make sense, and share those highs when everything is rolling along beautifully, is worth more than gold. I discovered Instagram in September 2015, and through the #bookstagram community quickly found another support network of amazing writers and readers. Here people seemed to get me even more than on Twitter. They were genuinely interested in the progress of my book. As the time drew closer to publication they were the ones who shouted out my book baby, giving me the confidence to push it even further. They are my first readers, my first reviewers, and for that I’ll always be very, very grateful.

Some things I couldn’t do myself. Formatting and I just do not get along. I ended up outsourcing this, partly because I didn’t have the time or the patience to mess around with it. I’m a firm believer that even after countless revisions and beta readers’ eagle eyes, that a professional editor is a must. They *see* things you don’t even think about. I thought my finished draft was pretty tight when it went to my editor, but she found places where my enthusiasm for over explaining took the reader out of the story, and after changing what she’d highlighted, I could see the difference. I lost a lot of what I held close in some of these changes, but I learned so much.

It has all been a huge education, and even now I’m only just scratching the surface of how to market properly. I’ve learned to give myself more space at the end of the process. It was such a fine line between success and disaster with Gabriel. I didn’t receive my books from Create Space (now KDP) until the day of launch, or my business cards – both because I didn’t appreciate how long it would take to get errors corrected and then sent back. I ended up paying a lot to have both get to me on time, a cost I didn’t have to pocket if I’d allowed myself more leeway. Each time I publish I learn; and as the bar always seems to be changing it’s a bit like walking a tightrope in the dark!

It’s not enough to have a well written and captivating story. You have to get it in front of the eyes of possible purchasers who won’t blindly scroll past it. They want an immediate impulse buy – something to grab their attention in the few seconds that they give to each book. Categories. Keywords. Algorithms. Words that Hemingway never had to deal with, but a must for a modern writer to understand.

Would I consider being published traditionally? Quite possibly. But it would have to feel *right*.

There are so many pros and cons for each, and each book, each writer, is different.

Many horror creatures are tied to religion (vampires, ghosts, possessions, demons, devils). Do you find this to put a limit to horror creativity as a genre?

Not particularly. As a writer you have a choice when creating your characters and your worlds. You can wander down the well documented pathway others have used so well, or you can take layers of these horror entities and skin them until you have what is right for your story. They say that there is no such thing as an original story anymore, but I tend to disagree. No two writers create exactly the same book, and it’s in the subtle ways that they shift and mould these much loved creatures into fresh and exciting story fodder that really matters.

Does writing energise or exhaust you?

Both. If I’m writing and really in the flow, and the words are spilling out faster than I can type them, that is the most exhilarating feeling. When a character takes hold and becomes the thing you think about constantly even when you’re not writing, it’s like a burning itch that never lets go.

But the days when the words refuse to come and it’s a slog to churn out even a few pages, those are the kinds of days when you start to question yourself, and the exhaustion sets in. Also, when I’m editing I find it incredibly tiring as I’m literally picking apart each sentence one by one.

Do you have a writing space and more generally a writing routine?

I’m lucky enough to have a study which is where I always write. Just being here sets me into writing mode, a little bit like going into any workplace.

I would love to say that I have a definite routine and that I’m very organised, but alas that is not true, and I don’t have a specific time of day to write. I’m very much character led as I’m working, which means I plan a little bit and then hand it over to my characters to give me their approval. If they stall and the words are hard work, I know I’m thinking along the wrong lines. Once I get the threads starting to weave together I’ll usually go for a certain number of words a day to keep myself accountable. Sometimes those words can be penned very quickly and others I’ll still be sitting in front of my screen five hours later. I’m a huge scribbler of random phrases and thoughts though – I have notebooks full of them, most not very legible.

I don’t have a specific number of hours. It can be as little as one or as many as seven, depending on where I am in the story and that dreaded word sure to strike fear into any writer’s heart – deadlines!

Is the Gabriel Davenport trilogy set somewhere specific in England?

Meadowford Bridge and Westport Quay are fictional settings but there’s little pieces of places I have visited in each. If I had to pinpoint where the trilogy was set I would say somewhere in the south west of England, in between the coast and rolling moorland. Westport Quay is actually an amalgamation of a quaint little English fishing town and the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Noah’s church in The Making of Gabriel Davenport is based on the church in the next village to me, complete with lychgate, although I renamed it as St. Jude’s for the irony of the patron saint of hopeless causes. The winding hill Olivia drives along in the storm is also a real life location, a switchback road a mile away from where I live.

Did you start by writing novel or you “evolved” into it after writing a lot of short stories?

I evolved. I’ve always written story in some form and I think a lot of writers start out in the shorter style as they cut their writing teeth and try to find their voice. I’ve had a couple of short stories published in anthologies. As I mentioned above, I also wrote a lot of fan fiction, and the seeds of characters that would grow to be Gabriel and Clove were born there.

Do you have a formal writing instruction (for example, a degree in creative writing)? Do you think that a formal instruction helps writing?

I don’t have any formal writing qualifications. And I don’t think it is necessarily a must. Yes, formal instruction can teach you an incredible amount about writing and styles, but I know a few people who have taken such a course and said that it stilted their fledgling confidence as a writer as everything they submitted was picked apart. And I don’t think that it can make a writer out of someone who doesn’t feel the craft in their bones.

Have you ever killed a character you didn’t want to?

Yes. In The Purity of Crimson the story demanded that I killed a character I thought had huge potential. I was very sad to lose him, as in a short time he had wheedled himself into my affections with his thoughts and actions.

How do you choose your characters’ names and how important are the names of the characters in your stories?

They are incredibly important. If I have a character and the name feels wrong they appear very out of kilter. Sometimes I’ll limp along with the wrong name but I’m always on the lookout for something to click. And that’s exactly what happens. I’ll see a name and know immediately that it’s the right one.

I’m quite fortunate that names seem to come quite easily to me. I don’t remember struggling with many for my trilogy. But my new book, The Ruin of Delicate Things, due to be published next year, had a few false starts with names for minor characters. It was a great relief when the right one made itself known and I could use Find and Replace!

Was horror a prominent genre on your bookshelf growing up or has it surfaced as an adult?

My love of horror and all things dark didn’t really surface until I was in my early twenties. Although I still remember reading my first Stephen King, Cujo, as an impressionable teen, and being both horrified and fascinated. But my real push into the genre was discovering Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. The way she writes her vampires as emotional and sensual beings really resonated with me. My own vampires carry those characteristics – they experience human feelings, but it’s still the need for blood that drives them and over rules any morose thinking on ‘taking lives’. Savage sensuality, with heightened perceptions and the tortured need for blood. What’s not to like?

Is there anything you find bad for the horror genre? (For example, stigmas of being horror writers, people who thinks that horror just means slash & gore…?)

Horror is very much a maligned genre. People do tend to think that it is only slash and gore, and have no idea of the richness and the variety it can offer. They also tend to think that it’s something that will petrify them, and although that can be the case, there’s so much subtlety out there in the horror genre, words which won’t necessarily terrify, but will stay with the reader long after they turn the last page. Some sense of dread, like spider web across their skin when they find themselves in the dark.

And I’ve had so many amazed reactions when I say I write horror. ‘You don’t look like you write horror.’

The horror community has such a large and welcoming heart. There’s a long way to go before we can change long held preconceptions, but it’s up to us to pave the way for the next generation.

A lot of good horror movements have arisen as a direct result of the sociopolitical climate. Considering the current state of the world, where do you see horror going in the next few years?

(We asked Beverley this question before the COVID-19 outbreak.)

There’s been a wonderful influx of new writers into the horror fold over the last few years. From all walks of life. Diverse, intelligent writers with their own stories to tell, driven by how they view their world and fuelled by their backgrounds and experiences. I think we’ll see a break away from some of what is considered horror, with more emphasis on cosmic horror, body horror and cross overs into noir. And, of course, the horror of a post-apocalyptic world, with the political climate and the environment. It’s a very sobering thought that this last one might be more fact than fiction.

If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?

You know, I’m not sure I’d want to erase any. Yes, there are so many that are used time and time again; the dead coming back from the grave to gain their revenge, the group of teenagers camping in a dark wood, the old abandoned house with a creepy history.

But any of these clichés can be fresh and exciting. It’s how the writer delivers the story that’s important. What little twists can they add to make a reader gasp? What underlying subtleties can prowl until *that* ending?

There’s always room for brilliantly executed stories, no matter how many times they’ve been done.

Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?

Although I have a tendency to mentally torture my characters, I don’t think I could ever fictionally torture a child. I have children. I have grandchildren, and it crosses a fine line for me where I’m sure any words would be snared in far too many awful scenarios.

Does horror fiction perpetuate its own ghettoization?  For example, Julia Armfield’s collection Salt Slow has a cover that most horror fans would walk past in a book shop, and is one that probably is not marketed as horror; so does the genre’s obsession with horrific covers cause more harm than good? And how important is the cover when it comes down to selling the book?

I had to look this one up! And yes, that cover definitely doesn’t say horror. It’s an interesting choice by the publisher because the cover doesn’t define any genre, but maybe that’s what they were going for.

As an indie author, I can absolutely say that the cover is of great importance. Apparently, the attention span of a prospective reader is about 0.7 seconds as they’re scrolling through Amazon, and it’s the cover alone that will make them pause and take a second look.

And that cover has so many fine elements. Font choice. Colour. The actual image and what it portrays. How the text is set on the page so it leads the reader’s eye in the right way.

But there are many covers in the horror genre now that are not particularly horrific. Paul Trembay’s A Head Full of Ghosts (UK edition) being a prime example of a cover that will make you look twice, but isn’t gory in any sense of the word.

There’s been a shift recently from what is considered the norm for horror covers, and this freshness, I hope, will bring new readers into our wonderful, shadowy fold.

All my books and where to find them are listed on my website https://beverleylee.com/ where you can download a free short story, a dark and twisted fairy tale, by signing up to my mailing list.

My favourite place to hang out is on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/theconstantvoice/

But you can also find me on –

Twitter – https://twitter.com/constantvoice

Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14969899.Beverley_Lee

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/beverleyleeauthor/

Pinterest – https://www.pinterest.co.uk/theconstantvoice/

Bookbub – https://www.bookbub.com/profile/beverley-lee

In a nutshell, the Gabriel Davenport series is about a boy hunted by darkness, thrown into a world of buried secrets and terrifying new realities. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s about love and loyalty, and the courage to face impossible situations with your head held high. It’s about who you call family, whether that be human or vampire, and what you will sacrifice to save them.

It has vampires and demons, witches and ghosts, mythology and creatures raised from the dead, but it will make you question everything you thought you knew about them.

It’s a banquet of horror and darkest fantasy, all wrapped up in a black ribbon, and waiting on your doorstep 😉

And there’s a new project, scheduled for release early in 2020. The Ruin of Delicate Things – a story of loss and grief, revenge and introspection, all set against a background of a haunted house and a still, dark lake.

The best way to support us is by purchasing one of our back issues. All issues are ‘pay what you want’, and all money goes directly towards paying operational costs.

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