Interview With Author Sheila Johnson

# Please introduce yourself and your book(s)

Hello, my name is Sheila Johnson. Brought up on a farm in the south east of England, I wanted to write from an early age. Apart from creating a couple of issues of a newspaper while still at school, my first main foray into writing was as a poet. I still write poetry and enter competitions from time to time.

I have a diploma in journalism, deciding to study journalism as a second career after finding and writing a front page article for my local newspaper along with an in-house journalist. On qualifying, I freelanced for Gloucestershire Media for a couple of years. Since then, I have written travel, history and charity articles for both national and international newspapers and magazines and interviewed some well-known personalities, including Cricketer, Jonty Rhodes, and Rugby player, Lesley Vanikolo.

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

I published my first book in 2016 under my maiden name of Sheila Donald. It is a novella, called Alpha Male, a romance based around an Alpha Course. Quiet, shy church going beauty meets sexy, good looking newspaper journalist. This book was self-published. I am happy with the cover of this book, which I chose myself. Alpha Male can be found in book or kindle form on Amazon UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/Alpha-Male-Sheila-Donald-ebook/dp/B01FVBEZIU/ or https://www.amazon.com/Alpha-Male-Sheila-Donald-ebook/dp/B01FVBEZIU/ in the US.

I published my second book, historical romance, Waireka (sweet waters) with Ambassador International in 2018, again under my maiden name. This was a full-length novel based upon my family history. Being part Kiwi, when visiting New Zealand for the third time a few years earlier, I was given a family history book written by a distant relative, also a Donald. The book contained the story of my great uncle’s trip from Scotland in 1850 as one of the first early pioneers. He became a farmer and an important member of the local community in the Wairarapa area of the north island of New Zealand. The story was so fascinating that I knew at once it was one I had to tell in fictional form. My story is told from the viewpoint of a young nursemaid, Eliza. I have changed many of the names and circumstances, but I loved writing it and learning all about the early New Zealand pioneers, their bravery and resilience. Waireka can be found on Amazon in book or kindle form at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07DP8KBD9/ in the UK or https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07DP8KBD9/ in the US.

In addition I have contributed to three anthologies – Stones Before the Ocean, Edited by Daniel Paul Gilbert, in which I have two poems included; Merry Christmas Everyone, Edited by Wendy H Jones, Amy Robinson and Jane Clamp, in which I have a piece of prose and a poem included; and recently, When this is all over, Edited by Jan Moran Neil and Adrian Spalding, a charity anthology about the pandemic, in which I have a poem included. Please visit my website at www.journojohnson.com for more details.

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

It’s a difficult decision for an author to choose between self-publishing and being published, they both demand a great deal of self-promotion. However, if I had my time again, I would not have chosen an American publisher for Waireka, either self-publishing or finding a British or New Zealand publisher would have been preferable.

# Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

I think one of the most important things in launching a book is the cover and the blurb on the back. I know that it is these two factors that influence my decision in buying a book and therefore will influence others too. It is important to make the cover attractive, appropriate and stand out from the crowd, and it is a crowded market. Titles too are important. I now wish that I had been advised to use a subtitle in my book, Waireka. I do give the meaning of the Maori word in the book, but that’s too late. I will have already lost the casual browser well before they open the book.

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

I think I found it harder having had a contract to take 250 copies of my book, Waireka on publication, especially as the publisher did very little to promote the book except to give away a few review copies. I objected to that more than the bad reviews I received from some of these reviewers.

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

I guess, like most writers, I write what I personally enjoy to read, which in my case, is a mix of biographies/life stories, romance and historical romances. Crime for me would have to be the cosy type, more Agatha Christie or M.C. Beaton than Ian Rankin or Lee Child.

# How has your creation process improved over time?

I have just completed a postgraduate certificate at my local university of Gloucestershire in Creative and Critical Writing and graduate in the autumn of 2021. Not only has this course given me a focus during lockdown, but it has also improved my writing with regular workshop input from lecturers and other MA students. Grammar and punctuation have been meticulously studied and rectified.

# What are your plans for future books?

Now my university course has finished, I would like to continue to write my memoirs which I began as part of my assignment submission. I am also interested in writing another historical romance. I have Irish relations too and have considered telling their story next. Alternatively, I love interviewing people and telling their stories, particularly if they are unusual, so that would also be something I would consider in the future.

# Tell us some quirky facts about yourself.

Our family is very international and I love studying genealogy. We are even adding to that genealogy in this generation, with one son being married to an American and the other son has a Portuguese partner, a language I’m currently trying to get to grips with.