Please introduce yourself and your books
Hi, I’m PJ Skinner. I write the Sam Harris Adventure Series which follows the misadventures of a female geologist in the 1980s and 1990s, as she wrestles with new cultures and old prejudices.
What is the real-life story behind your books?
I have worked as an exploration geologist for over thirty years, mostly in Africa and South America. My experiences in these remote, and often dangerous sites form the backbone of the series and inform the adventures that Sam gets into. I use fictional countries so that I can be free to write about real experiences without fear of them being recognised or ascribed to specific events. I try to place them in recognisable historical time to make them relevant.
What inspires/inspired your creativity?
The inability to talk about my job with people who don’t work in the industry. I felt like I had a lot to say but no one to tell. Sam Harris is my alter ego. I love watching how she reacts to things that happened to me or people I know. The ability to create a world that people enjoy as fiction from a reality that no-one seemed interested in fascinates me.
How do you deal with creative block?
If I don’t want to write, I don’t bother trying. I do something else. Forcing it might create a block and I don’t see the point of that.
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
I think the mistakes can only be related to the purpose of the book. If you are writing a family memoir, perhaps don’t talk about Uncle Joe’s secret affair. If you are writing a Christian romance, don’t have people at it like rabbits. It’s very subjective.
Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
I have been persuaded to go with genre tropes for my covers. I love my original covers but they didn’t tell people the genre clearly enough. My sales have improved a lot since I changed them. I chose the title of the book first but I will change it if it doesn’t fit any more.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
Bad reviews exasperate me if they don’t explain why they hated my book. Reviews are not really for authors but if someone writes a carefully thought-out review, I sometimes reach out and ask if they would like to beta read. My best Beta readers are people who wrote critical reviews for me.
How has your creative process improved over time?
I do courses and read writing blogs constantly. I also have some very good editors. This constant learning process has improved my writing and my ability to create tension and thrill my readers. Since I do not write about explosions and violent death and graphic sex, I have to convince the reader that they have experienced these things without all the gory detail. My books are character led which is not common in the Action Adventure category. Most of my bad reviews are from people who don’t like real people in their books and prefer ciphers. I try hard to make it clear in my blurbs exactly what to expect but I still get people who wont like it, reading it anyway.
What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?
The best thing about writing is finishing a book and getting nice reviews, the worst is having to start a new one, and the most surprising is to find that I have written six books already. I find that amazing.
Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
I love imagining how my readers will react to things in my books. I would write for ten people if I thought they got something out of it. My satisfaction comes from them enjoying my writing.
What are your plans for future books?
The seventh book in the Sam Harris Series will be the last. Always leave them wanting more; I plan to write a couple of stand-alone books next. Rebel Green, is the first, about a British family who go to live in Ireland during the troubles.
Tell us some quirky facts about yourself
I’m one of seven children and a serial auntie. I’m a sports fanatic and love rugby best. I can see the Thames from my window. I fit the cliché of the introverted hermit better than I’d like to.