Sheila Norton lives near Chelmsford, Essex, and has been a full-time author since retiring from her previous work as a medical secretary.
She has been writing all her life, her first publications being short stories for children. After twice winning first prize in the Writers’ News short story competitions in the 1990s, her stories were regularly published in women’s magazines.
Her first novel, The Trouble With Ally was published in 2003, and she went on to have a further seven books published, including three under the pseudonym of Olivia Ryan, before beginning to self-publish her novels on Amazon.
Her latest book YESTERDAY is a novel set in the 1960s, being published in 2014 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the ‘Mods and Rockers’ riots in 1964, which form the background of the book.
For more information please go to http://www.sheilanorton.co.uk.
1.What got you into writing? I’ve been writing since I was a child – it was always my hobby. My big break was winning two first prizes in short story competitions in the mid 1990s. This gave me the confidence to submit stories to women’s magazines and over the years I’ve had over 100 published. The first of my novels, ‘The Trouble with Ally’, was published in 2003.
2.What is a usual writing day like for you? I don’t have a fixed routine. When I was working at my day job, my writing was always done in the evenings, but now I’m retired, I’m fortunate to be able to write whenever I want to. That means pretty much whenever I’m not busy doing anything else! If I have chores to do (including routine emails/social media etc) I’ll normally get them out of the way during the morning and write for the whole afternoon. But if I’m seeing family or friends I’ll often take a whole day off, and occasionally I’ll write all day if there’s nothing else I need to do. I like being free of time constraints; I had enough of that when I was at work!
3.Do you get writers block? If so, how do you overcome it? Of course, there are times when the plot seems to stall and it feels like wading through treacle. But I never think of it as ‘writer’s block’ because I don’t believe in waiting for inspiration to strike – I think you just have to sit down and get on with it, writing what feels like rubbish if necessary. Eventually you get back into your stride and the rubbish can be deleted or edited in due course, but you can’t edit a blank screen.
4.Are you a plotter/planner when it comes to writing a story? No. I have a rough outline, and notes about the characters – their ages and appearances etc – but that’s normally all. I like the element of excitement in finding out what happens to my characters as I write their stories. I’ve been known to change my mind about which man a heroine ended up with, as the book progressed – and have killed someone off without realising I was going to do it!
5.What was the publishing process like for you,& any advise to aspiring authors? My first eight books were published by a traditional publisher. I was taken on directly by the editor without having an agent – which rarely happened even then, and is almost impossible now. It was a great privilege and a fantastic experience. I’m now self-publishing with Amazon. With the advent of ebooks, self-publishing has become more ‘respectable’, and at the same time easier and more profitable. I enjoy being in complete control of what happens to my work – but without being published by Piatkus first, it would have been hard to make a name for myself and stand out from the crowd on Amazon. I’d advise aspiring authors to write whatever they enjoy writing – and make it as perfect as they possibly can before submitting to agents or self-publishing. And be prepared for the rejections! I had plenty before my first book was accepted.
6.What has been your highlight since becoming a published author? Nothing could ever quite match up to the moment of receiving the first email from Piatkus in 2002 telling me my first book had been accepted! But seeing my novels on the shelves of shops in different parts of the country was always a thrill too. And so was uploading my first self-published ebook edition to Amazon!
7.Can you share a little of your most recent book with us? And any other books of yours, if you wish. The following extract is the opening of my new book, YESTERDAY, which is set in 1964 during the troubles between the Mods and the Rockers. It opens forty years later with my heroine, Cathy, now a middle-aged journalist being forced to look back and remember the pain and heartbreak she suffered back then as a teenager.
‘Mods and rockers!’ Andy shouts at me down the phone, so enthusiastically that I blink in surprise. ‘Rampaging idiots on bikes and scooters, terrorising quiet seaside resorts, beating the shit out of each other, scaring old ladies and little kids. That’s what I need, OK?’
‘Right.’ I blink again. ‘I’ll see if I can …’
‘Find someone who lived through it, yeah? Someone who was there – actually there, taking part. I don’t care which side they were on. I just want a good story. Right?’
‘Andy. I lived through it. You seem to forget I’m approaching my dotage.’
‘You were … actually around in the sixties? Christ, Cath – yes, I s’pose you must have been. You’re wearing well!’ he jokes.
He doesn’t mean to be offensive. He’s only about thirty. I’ve got children almost as old as him. Come to think of it, I’ve probably got knickers almost as old as him, although they sure as hell don’t fit me anymore. Andy’s the editor of one of the magazines I write for as a freelance – one of the best, in fact, with one of the biggest circulations: Xtra, the supplement to one of the tabloid Sunday newspapers – you know the one. Sensationalist, but somehow managing to style itself as a middle-class, middle-of-the-road, man-of-the-people publication. I haven’t done anything for them for months, and I just decided, today, to give him a call to see if I could write anything topical – I don’t know, perhaps interviewing some local Essex environmentalists who are protesting about the plans for the new runway at Stansted – when he sprung this Sixties thing on me. You could call it serendipity. Or you could call it a dilemma.
‘Well,’ he’s saying now, sounding like an excited schoolboy at Christmas, ‘that’s even better! You’ve got the background already – if you can remember that far back!’
‘Very funny. I remember it all too well, thanks, Andy.’ I hesitate. ‘How soon do you need this story? Only … I’m not sure …’
‘I’m thinking Easter – to coincide with the fortieth anniversary, get it? It was Easter 1964, apparently, when it all kicked off.’
‘I know,’ I say, wearily. ‘I was there.’
8.Apart from writing, what do you do in your spare time? My family is the most important part of my life – we have three daughters/sons in law, and six gorgeous little grandchildren. I’ll always stop writing in order to see any of them! I’m also an avid reader, and enjoy photography, swimming, travel, music and seeing my friends.
9.If you could trade places with any other person for a week, famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional, who would it be & why? It would have to be a very successful author whose work I admire. Perhaps JoJo Moyes, because like me she lives in Essex and has three children (but is about twenty years younger than me!)and has written some fantastic books, particularly ‘Me Before You’, which made me cry! I’d like to try out her life for a week – but only a week, because I’d want to get back into my own. I’m happy with it.
10.Do you have anything that you want to say to your readers? Just – thank you so much for reading my books. And please get in touch via my website to let me know whether you enjoy them – especially the new book, YESTERDAY, because it’s so different from my previous novels. We authors crave feedback!