Interview With Author Carolyn McCrae

Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

I am Carolyn McCrae. Recently retired, I live near the coast in Kent (South East England). I have been writing for nearly 20 years. In that time I have written ten books and published eight. I am able to call myself a ‘Prize-winning Author’ since, despite the many errors that I now know exist in the book, my first title The Last Dance won the David St John Thomas prize for Self-published Fiction in 2007.

My books don’t fit into a particular genre: a three volume family saga, a ‘coming of age’ story, ‘detective’ stories, ‘murder mysteries’ and an ‘alternate history’. They are very different but they all seem to involve difficult relationships within dysfunctional families.

What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

All my books are entirely fiction but the plots depend on historical events and (in some cases) real historical characters for solution. These are very wide ranging: from (fictional) agents at the fall of the Berlin Wall (Second Strand) to the (non-fictional) poet who died at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War (Hostage to Fortune), from the (fictional) family of plantation owners in Barbados (Highly Unsuitable Girl) to the (also fictional) prominent English politician’s illegitimate daughter (Her Parents’ Daughter), and from the (definitely non-fictional) Emperor of the French, Napoleon Bonaparte (A Set of Lies) to the (fictional) Svengali character who controlled much that an (also fictional) outwardly respectable English family did through various (unfortunately non-fictional) conflicts of the Twentieth Century (The Iniquities Trilogy: The Last Dance, Walking Alone and Runaways).

My books are set firmly in time and place with historical and geographical references thoroughly researched (not simply on Wikipedia) and portrayed as accurately as the plots allow.

What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

Plot holes: Unexplained (and inexplicable) actions that suit the plot but that do not make any sense. I go to great lengths to be ‘not-guilty’ of this.

Inconsistencies: I’m afraid, however many times scripts are read and however carefully edited I am guilty of these. Example: In The Last Dance I had two characters, half-brothers called Carl and Charles. Although it was Carl who had spent a summer travelling around Spain and Portugal it was ‘Charles’ who wrote the postcard.

Straightforward stupid errors: In the first edition of Her Parents Daughter I had a character refer to Facebook – in 1976! When I was contacted by a reader about this I explained it by saying it was a deliberate error as part of a competition… I don’t think I got away with it and it was changed for a very hastily run second edition.

Typos: Never, ever, allow spelling errors or repeated words to get through the editing process. Don’t even think about trusting spell checkers or editing software!

Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

Titles: short enough not to take up too much space on social media sites but sufficiently distinctive not to confuse search engines. It should include an element of relevance to some aspect of the plot.

Covers: striking but not too intricate with not much text so that it is clear when seen as a thumbnail rather than a full book cover.

How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

Negative feedback prior to publication, if given constructively, is always useful and can improve the finished book. If given maliciously, however, or if I disagree feeling the comment is ill-informed or shows misunderstanding, it is simply ignored. An author must really trust their own judgement.

There is no such thing as a ‘bad review‘. Even super-critical ones may tempt someone to buy the book or borrow it from a library. At least it has been noticed!

The worst thing is being completely ignored by everyone and having no reviews whatsoever.

What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

The most surprising is that always, every time, in every book, at some time something I initially planned for a character does not happen because the character does not want it to happen. So many times I have set out to write a conversation where X says ‘Y’ to Z to progress the plot as previously planned out but Z responds in a way I didn’t plan and X responds to that response in a way I seem to have no control over so I have to go back and re-plot.

Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

I really enjoy the writing process and would not do it if it were a chore.

I also enjoy the research side of things – learning about (inter alia) little-known Austrian revolutions, the English Secret Service in the 18th century, the English Civil Service in the early Twentieth century and the art of Egon Schiele has been fascinating and I do gain ‘personal satisfaction’ from integrating the fruits of my research into the plots of my books.

I take the view that ‘you can’t please all the people all of the time’ so I have to write for myself. If I am happy with the end product then hopefully my readers will too – especially if one of those readers happens to be someone on the lookout for the next television mini-series. (One can but hope!)

What are your plans for future books?

I have three projects on the go at the moment (I never seem to concentrate on one at a time – well I am a Gemini).

I am rewriting the three books of the Trilogy into one volume: Iniquities – which should have seen the light of day (at least as an e-book) months ago. I keep thinking it’s almost ready to go but then decide to read through it ‘just one more time’.

And whether Triumph of Hope or The Boy in the Blue Suit will ever see the light of day is open to question.

Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

I was an extra in several successful Bollywood movies in the 1960s and, apart from eating the best curries ever and learning how to eat a mango (naked under a shower) once pushed the famous actor/director (Shammi Kapoor) into a swimming pool.

I used to race Formula Ford cars and was overtaken three times by the (then future) world champion Ayrton Senna.

I’ve been married four times. Despite great temptation neither my current husband nor any of my ex-husbands will find themselves reflected in any characters in any of my books.


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