Today I am talking with Sherron Mayes. Writing as S.D. Mayes, Sherron worked as a journalist for nearly twenty years before turning her hand to fiction. Inspired by the bizarre but factual events of Hitler’s obsession with the supernatural, along with her mother’s terrifying wartime memories, Letters to the Pianist is her first historical suspense novel. Originally from the West Country, she currently lives in Berkshire, United Kingdom.
Could you tell us about yourself?
I’m a former journalist, now turned author. I run a busy Air bnb and live in a small village by the river called Caversham, which is near Reading. I have a nineteen-year-old daughter, called Isabel, and one spoilt black and white moggie, who loves to plonk across over my laptop. As you can imagine, I save manuscripts regularly.
When did you first decide to write and what got you started?
I always wanted to write since I was fourteen. Every time I wrote a friend a letter, they would say – “you should be a writer!” – but it was only in my mid-twenties that I had the courage to dip my toe into the fast paced life of journalism. Writing human interest stories for national newspapers and magazines enabled me to really understand SHOW not TELL that us writers need to apply to storytelling. Because otherwise the editor would scream down the phone “where’s the anecdotes? Describe properly!” Everything we wrote had to take a reader on a journey emotionally.
Do you plot your stories or do you write and see where it takes you?
I definitely start with an outline of a plot, so I know the basic characters and the journey they might go on – enough to write a basic synopsis. But things always change and get fleshed out along the way. I always end up moving chapters around, or splitting some in half as things develop.
Do you have any inspirations for you writing? Other authors / people / events?
I always get inspired when I read a good novel. Certain phrases, plot twists or a writing style that I enjoy, always makes me want to crack on and get writing myself.
Could you tell us about your novel ‘Letters to the Pianist’?
The story is a complex one, so it’s probably best if I just add the blurb from the book cover.
In war torn London, 1941, fourteen-year-old Ruth Goldberg and her two younger siblings, Gabi and Hannah, survive the terrifying bombing of their family home. They believe their parents are dead, their bodies buried underneath the burnt remains – but unbeknownst to them, their father, Joe, survives and is taken to hospital with amnesia. Four years on, Ruth stumbles across a newspaper photo of a celebrated pianist and is struck by the resemblance to her father. Desperate for evidence she sends him a letter, and as the pianist’s dormant memories emerge, his past unravels, revealing his true identity – as her beloved father, Joe. Ruth sets out to meet him, only to find herself plunged into an aristocratic world of sinister dark secrets. Can she help him escape and find a way to stay alive?
“… a gripping and multi-layered plotline, authentic characterisation, which had me fall in love with Joe by the conclusion. Fascinatingly informative on the strength of Fascist sympathizers in wartime London society. This book is a five star read.”
— The Daily Mail
Which character from your novel would you most like to have dinner with?
I’d love to spent time with Joe/Edward as he’s handsome and charismatic but also a bit of a tortured soul. And he has so many secrets, which I’d like to tease out of him over several glasses of champagne.
Who would be in your dream cast if a movie was made of your novel?
Michael Fassbender would play the troubled, Joe/Eddie Alicia Vikander would be Edward’s aristocratic wife, the beautiful debutante Connie Douglas-Scott Charles Dance would make a brilliant Henry Douglas-Scott, who is Edward’s bombastic millionaire father-in-law.
What are you currently working on? How long before release?
I’m currently working on what is called ‘domestic noir’ – a thriller with a working title of ‘The Lodger’ – about a single mum who takes in a lodger who she thinks is the soul mate she’s been looking for, but then it all goes horribly wrong. I’m hoping it could be released next year but then I’m only 12,000 words into it, so it might be 2020.
When you have finished writing the book – what do you do next? By that I mean, do you edit the book yourself? Do you design your own book cover? Do you prepare a project plan to market your book?
I work as an editor myself going through author’s manuscripts, so I definitely edit myself initially – but I’ve learnt how easy it is to miss obvious mistakes with your own manuscript. So after polishing the MS, I give it to around eight beta readers and then work on their feedback on the storyline. Then it will get handed to a proof reader who I know has an eagle eye and then it will be edited again. I’ll then hand it over to a literary agent and hope they will get me a publishing deal.
With Letters to the Pianist, my publishers designed the cover and I certainly don’t have the skills for that. In my experience with agents, they always suggest changes, so the amendments can go on for a while.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Yes, I would say to definitely give your story to beta readers. Even Stephen King uses six or seven on every story. It’s crucial to let other eyes see what you’ve written as we can get too close to our own work and not always see obvious holes in the plot or mistakes. If someone is completely new to writing, I would also recommend finding a good editor before they send it to an agent or publisher. You only have one chance to make a good impression, and rushing something through usually ends up working against you.
How important do you think social media is for an author?
Social media is incredibly important. Whether you like it or not, most people are online these days, and it’s important to have a presence on twitter and on Facebook in order to publicise your book and yourself.
What do you feel are the greatest challenges facing any writer at the present time?
The market is saturated with books and it’s difficult to make yours stand out, which is why social media and good reviews are crucial. The rejection with agents and publishers can be hard to take and you need a thick skin and a lot of determination. It’s certainly very hard to earn a standalone income from books unless you’re selling millions. So you have to love the craft for what it is rather than just trying to earn a load of moolah.
Which is your favourite genre to read and why?
Suspense/thrillers Which authors and novels would you recommend? ‘I let you go’ by Claire Mackintosh ‘Girl on the Train’ by Paul Hawkins ‘Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading, ‘Before I Let you in’ by Jenny Blackhurst and I’m a third of the way through.
If you could invite three people from history to a dinner party. Who would you invite and why?
Marilyn Monroe because she fascinates me and I want to know all the gossip about her lovers and what happened around her mysterious death; Albert Einstein, because he fascinates me and was such an amazing inventor; Carl Jung, because I love his philosophy of the Unus Mundus which is how we are all linked by one energy. It’s also admirable how he stood up to Freud when in simple terms, Freud thought the penis was at the centre of every issue. I’d like to ask them all a ton of questions over risotto, avocado salad and apple crumble and cream.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing, marketing, or being involved with your book business? Do you have any hobbies?
I’m fairly boring. I love cooking for friends, going for long walks by the river, going out for dinner, watching movies and reading a great book. I also love to travel when I have the money. Recently I had a great 5 day adventure in Italy with my daughter for her birthday, which was fun as when they become teens they shun you like a bad disease.
Any fun facts about you that you would like to share?
I’m generally someone who works from home 6 days a week, so when I do go out I tend to drink too much, reveal too many secrets, and giggle a lot. So I’m entertaining or annoying depending on how the night pans out.
It was really lovely to talk to you today Sherron so thanks for taking the time to be here.
Sherron’s book Letters to the Pianist is celebrating one year since publication and as a birthday gift, readers have the opportunity to buy it at a discounted price of £0.99/$0.99 for two days only from today.
Good luck Sherron and thanks again.
You can find Sherron’s book Letters to the Pianist on Amazon and catchup with her on her website or on social media.