1. When did you start putting pen to paper?
Since that would be around 1947, make that chalk to personal slate board. Yes, really: there were chronic shortages of just about everything. It took until Sept 1979 to write anything apart from teaching material. The day the kids went back to school I sat in the garden with an A4 pad and pencil and started on the usual autobiographical thing to make sense of my 3 years in Africa before I forgot it. Two days and 10,000 words later I realised I needed a typewriter. Fortunately I’d learned to type by then. In 1984 I got one of the first Amstrads produced because I’d long since finished and given up on the autobiography and was getting short stories and serials published.
2. What’s your literary poison – prose, poetry, etc.?
Short stories at first, then serials and a bit of TV work. Now, features – mainly travel , humour and health related.
3. Who is your favorite fictional hero?
Moses. I know a lot of people still think he was/is real – but what a guy! Set adrift in a basket, on the Nile no less. Brought up as an Egyptian prince but finds out he isn’t. With a bit of help from ten plagues, Angels of Death and a dry day on the Red Sea, and in spite of poor navigational skills, he then gets his people to follow him round in circles in the desert for 40 years because of a voice from a burning bush. (I’ve seen a cutting from the ‘original’ bush, beside which a thoughtful monk has placed a fire extinguisher). Then our hero dies before he reaches the Promised Land (seen that too) and leaves them all that smiting to do to get it. You couldn’t make it up: but they did, didn’t they?
4. Which famous writer can you most identify with?
Could I squeeze in 3 – more for admiration of rather than identifying with?
Jane Austen – she never had to bother with Creative Writing classes.
Evelyn Waugh – frightful snob, but such a wonderful style.
T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) – lost his entire MS of ‘The Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ on a train, and didn’t have a carbon copy. Imagine that! Wrote it all again, using mainly his old pocket Letters, diaries. When the original turned up fairly recently in someone’s attic, the re-write was declared by all to be far superior. That’s 3 great lessons for all writers: Back up. Revise. Never Despair.
5. What are your current projects? (*Include books, novellas, short stories, poems, blogs, awards or anything of interest.)
Making more use of social media, blogging etc to get reviews and sell latest paperback/ebook, ‘Travelling Light – Short Stories and Travel Writing to take you away from it all’. Knocking out whatever features I think will sell to my usual in-flight magazine markets. (Don’t ask, the money’s awful.) An ebook on the resurgence of witchcraft in post-colonial Africa and today’s UK and its effects on human development in both. This is very slow going because it is so fascinating. It may never make it into print unless I get the hang of self-publishing fast, but it will have been worth it anyway just for the insights.
6. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book or writing piece?
The odd minor typo that always seems to get through, but otherwise, I just don’t have time. When it’s gone, that’s it.
7. Do you have any advice for other writers?
As point 4. For fiction, just do it. For features, check everything. For both find a friendly proof-reader, or a writing group to run it past.
8. What were your grades like in English class? (A, B, anything less than this is shameful 😉
I always loved English and used to get small prizes now and then. (It was a small school.)
9. How much research do you do for your writing?
Whatever it takes, but it does depend on what they’re paying. Thank heavens for Wiki to see what’s around – it’s always my first call now, but I always check against other sources. Cultivate your inner s— detector, and leave out most of it.
10. Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand?
I still can’t go straight onto the computer for any new project whatever its length without scribbled notes in pencil on anything handy, and at least 5 attempts at a good first para.
11. What is the best advice you’ve been given?
Never start by filling the kettle – start when it’s coming to the boil.
If you introduce a gun, it has to go off. Try to keep your children down to 3 and your grandchildren down to 9.
12. What book do you think everyone should read?
I don’t think there is one that everyone should read – they’d only get upset.
13. two part question: Do you play an musical instrument? And what instrument would you like to learn to play?
I resisted all attempts to get me to learn any instrument and have never, ever, regretted it. But I’m so glad other people have taken the trouble to give so much pleasure.
14. What process did (or are you going) you go through to get your book published?
Did: Mainstream publishers for ‘How to Turn Your Holidays into Popular Fiction’ and first novel ‘Tiger Country’ in the days before Amazon etc.
Small start-up independent POD/ebook publishers for 2nd novel ‘The Wine is Red’ and ‘Travelling Light’ anthology. I didn’t have to pay them, as I was a chosen guinea-pig for the first and won a comp for publication from a proposal for the second, so I guess I’ve been pretty lucky. Next – would like to go it alone, but I’m not a techie type and have seen the struggle it is, even with help. Just have to see. The whole ghastly process seems to be getting more writer-friendly, but with a downside that will inevitably mean less content quality control even than there is now.
15. Who would you like to change places with… i.e. live someone else’s life for a week?
The Emperor, sorry, President, of China, so that I could lock up or if necessary shoot anyone responsible for the poaching and trade in ivory and tiger parts. I may not last the week, but at least I would have tried.
16. If you weren’t a writer, what would be your ideal profession?
Teaching children in Africa that protecting their continent’s wildlife is essential for their own future, and that limiting their own child-bearing potential is essential for both.
17. (2 part question) Bill Murray or Chevy Chase? And Michael Palin or John Cleese?
Don’t know enough about the first 2, but def Michael Palin.
18. What’s your most rewarding literary accomplishment to date (one that just blew your mind!)
Running an on-board writers’ group while lecturing on a free 31-day cruise along the West African coast before they shut most of it down. Once in a lifetime chance. I loved every mad minute. 2. Similar pre-pirate Indian ocean cruises were wonderful too, but were only two weeks each.
19. What quote do you live by?
It’s later than you think. I’m a terrible time-keeper and have awful anxiety dreams about missing trains and boats and planes.
20. What would be your ideal writer profession ambition (or have you achieved it already) ? (famous Pulitzer prize winning author, successful self-published author as a day job, etc.)
Every writer’s got to know her own limitations. I’ve probably reached mine, but wouldn’t mind rocketing sales and rave reviews for all my books, and a few more ‘talking cruises’ would be nice, if only the Indian Ocean would sort itself out.
21. Would you like to ask me a question?
Do you think quality control matters in the new world of self-publishing, and if so, what measures do you think would help introduce some effective quality control into the system?
I do. If a writer chooses to self-publish then they need learn the craft, put the money and effort into professional editing and cover work… make the whole book package (for the readers benefit) as best they can. If their book is falling under high standards then they should revise it till it meets the expectation of both reader and writer. I’m glad I took the time with my book… I care deeply about what my readers think and happy my book is being enjoyed by many.
Thanks again Kate, for interviewing with me and holding court at a wonderfully engaging writers group!
Anyone interested in interviewing with me here, send me a message at Lmontanino@gmail.com