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  • Writer's pictureJessica M. Simpkiss

Interview with The IndieView

It was surreal to be standing in the middle of it all; to hear the waves lapping at Bosta Beach, to feel the crunch of the grass underfoot, to see the loch where Scottish lore says the water horse hides.

Jessica M. Simpkiss – 12 January 2019

When the death of his estranged mother calls Lachlan McGinley home to the remote and desolate Isle of Lewis after a twenty-year absence, he is forced to face the ghosts he left behind; some real, some imagined and some straight from Scottish lore.But twenty years may not have been long enough for the locals to let go of their suspicions. As Lachlan begins to retrace the steps that led to a childhood friend’s death, he finds himself caught in a web of lies and secrets whose roots are intertwined with his own identity. A secreted childhood love affair, an indignant mother, and a seer who seems to know more about Lachlan than he knows about himself all lend a hand in leading him to the reality he thought he believed and then to the truth that lay beyond it.The Spaewife’s Secret is full of twists and turns, riddles and lies, reality and myth that play pivotal roles in Lachlan’s search for the truth; who, or what killed his best friend, Arden Scott, twenty years ago in the hills behind Bosta Beach.

About the bookWhat is the book about?The Spaewife’s Secret is part mystery, part thriller, part urban fantasy. At its core, it’s a murder mystery/who done it story. Lachlan McGinley is forced to leave the Isle of Lewis after being committed when he insists that a creature from Scottish folklore killed his best friend in the hills behind Bosta Beach. The chapters alternate between the adult, present-day version of the character and his younger self. The stories parallel and play off one another as they build toward the same climax; the truth about who or what killed Arden Scott?

When did you start writing the book?I started writing the book in February 2018.

How long did it take you to write it?I finished the first draft of the book in early July and had the final version ready to send out with queries at the beginning of August.

Where did you get the idea from?I did not set out to write a novel-length work. I was planning on working on a collection of short stories, retelling and updating some tales from Scottish mythology and folklore. After researching the tale of the kelpie, which plays a pivotal role in The Spaewife’s Secret, I felt there was enough of a premise to develop the idea from a short story into something longer.I was fortunate enough to visit the Isle of Lewis in March and spent a week walking through the hillsides and getting to know the landscape that would become my story. I was about eight chapters in when I landed in Scotland for the second time and had done all my research up to that point through the internet, google maps, etc. It was surreal to be standing in the middle of it all; to hear the waves lapping at Bosta Beach, to feel the crunch of the grass underfoot, to see the loch where Scottish lore says the water horse hides. It was the trip of a lifetime.

Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?I struggled with outlining in the beginning. Had I outlined properly, I could have written the book faster than I did. I had an idea of how I wanted the story to end, but as I got closer to the end, it became less and less clear. I spent a lot of my editing time going back and forth, adding little things to make the ending make sense. I learned my lesson and will never start another writing project without a detailed outline and a definite conclusion.

What came easily?Ironically, writing a character in the opposite gender came exceptionally naturally to me. It wasn’t something I had ever done before because I assumed it would feel unnatural, but I couldn’t image the story turning out as well as it did, had it been written from a female character’s point of view.

Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?The character’s in The Spaewife’s Secret are entirely fictitious. They are amalgamations of the characters from books and movies I love. For example, Isla’s physical appearance is loosely based on Eleanor Tomlinson’s character Demelza from the Poldark television series.

We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?I have odd reading habits. Sometimes, I’m reading several different books at one time, stretching myself thin between reading all of them and my own work. Other times, I can’t get through a few pages without feeling unenchanted by the words in front of me. As for influences, I would say that after reading Tracey Chevalier’s Girl with the Pearl Earring, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I go back to that book time and time again. It’s my go-to book if I feel like reading, but don’t have something I’m overly engrossed in. There is something captivating in the simplistic nature of the story.I also have a soft spot for authors Peter May and Paula Hawkins and their nontraditional approach to writing. Until I read Girl on a Train, I don’t think I’d ever read another book that flipflopped between characters and chapters. Peter May goes does something similar in his Lewis Trilogy. The Spaewife’s Secret follows in a similar vein, as the chapters alternate between a childhood and adult version of the same character.Currently, I’m very into obscure memories that I’m reading as research for another project I’m working on. I’m currently in the middle of Gypsy Boy by Mikey Walsh and have The Yellow of the Broom by Betsy Whyte waiting patiently in the wings.

Do you have a target reader? I don’t feel that I have a target reader, other than anyone that loves reading.

About WritingDo you have a writing process? If so, can you please describe it?It’s nothing formal, but most nights, I put my six-year-old to bed at 8 pm and spend the next hour or so writing. Sometimes I get some good stuff and sometimes its crap, but I try and write something every night.

Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences? YES!!! I learned my lesson the hard way on this one. I did loose outlines for The Spaewife’s Secret, and it ended up being a mess at the end, leaving major plot holes I spent almost a month fixing.For the project I’m currently working on, I wrote the last chapter first almost like a short story independent of the book itself, then I worked backward from there, outlining chapter by chapter. After I wrote a few chapters, I would readdress my outline and make updates and changes as needed.

Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?Not really. I have found that editing can stifle my creative flow and allows me to get caught up on little things. I try to get the first draft down in its entirety before going back to edit.

Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?I do listen as a write. I have a great station I’ve cultivated with everything from classical piano jaunts like Debussy’s Clair de Lune or Opus 37 from Dustin O’Halloran (literally just came into the rotation as I’m writing this) to ethereal, moody tunes from Amber Run, SYML and Lord Huron.

About Publishing

Did you submit your work to Agents?This go around, I only submitted to small publishers. I was very nervous about sending my work out into the publishing world, and somehow agents seemed scarier than small publishers. In retrospect, I wish I’d done both, if anything, just to test the waters.

What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?It was more of a gradual process. Being my first book, I wasn’t very confident with my work or that anyone would want to publish it for me. I went back and forth with publishing it myself, but in the end, I wanted to know that someone had enough confidence in the book (other than myself and my mom) to put their name on it.

Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?My publisher did the cover for me. I was able to select the photo that was used which I feel follows the feel of the book, so I was happy about that.

Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?I’m just winging it over here. I’ve learned a lot already from being on social media and joining different writing and reading groups and networking with other authors. I’m hoping to hook up with a larger publisher or agency for future projects so that some of the marketing is handled through them. There’s a lot of good stuff out there right now; it’s hard to break through.

Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors? Write, every day. Just write something, even if it’s bad, just write. Eventually, something good will come out.

About You

Where did you grow up?I identify my childhood with Earlysville, Virginia which is just outside Charlottesville and UVA. We lived in a small house on a lake that backed up to woods and farm pastures on the other side. We were never inside. We swam in the lake during the summer and played in the woods all winter. It was a fantastic place to grow up.

Where do you live now?Now, I call Virginia Beach home.

What would you like readers to know about you?I pour my heart and soul into my work; hopefully, it shows on the other end.

What are you working on now?Right now, I’m editing my second book, Bone in the Blood, which follows the tangled lives of three different woman who are all affected in different ways by the Catholic Church’s answer to unwed mothers in 1950s Ireland. I hope to be releasing this book in late spring or early summer 2019.I’m also in the beginning stages of research for a third book, tentatively entitled Gypsy Witch.End of Interview:For more from Jessica, visit her website and follow her on Twitter.Get your copy of The Spaewife’s Secret from Amazon US or Amazon UK.

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