Today, I will be introducing you to one of my favourite people, Deborah Jay. I have reviewed both of her books here on my site, and am happy to have her visit with me. Deborah Jay is the author (so far, of course!) of two marvelous books, the most recent of which is Desprite Measures. Her earlier book, The Prince’s Man is, as Deborah so eloquently puts it, Think James Bond meets Lord of the Rings. She is also the author of Desprite Measures, the first in The Caledonian Sprite Series a fantasy set in the area of Inverness, Scotland – and the holder of my own, personal “Best Cover Ever!” award!
But that isn’t all – Deborah also writes under the name Debby Lush, offering two must-have non-fiction books for the aspiring dressage competitor: The Successful Dressage Competitor: Everything You Need to Know about Competing in Dressage and The Building Blocks of Training: A Step-By-Step Guide to the Gymnastic Development of the Equine Athlete.
This fascinating woman is incredibly interesting. Have a read of our interview and I am sure you will agree!
One of the things I get a kick out of when I read about you is your love of science fiction and fantasy “from birth.” So what was your favorite TV show, and how do your memories from that show help you write today?
Without doubt, Gerry Anderson’s UFO. It combined all my favourite elements – aliens, space travel and secrecy. For those who haven’t come across it, the premise was of an alien invasion by an advanced but dying race, visiting earth to harvest organs for transplant. Sometimes they’d take just the organs, sometimes whole people. The governments of the world wanted the whole thing kept secret, so the headquarters of SHADO (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation) were beneath a film studio – a great place to disguise strange comings and goings.
The space travel was only as far as Moonbase, but this was just a few years post the real moon landings, so a functioning lunar base was an exciting prospect.
Although I’ve moved into writing fantasy these days, my first love was science fiction, and for me this series had it all. The clandestine side in particular shows up in both my novels so far – the need to keep secrets from the general population is a theme that I like to play with, as it’s one I don’t really approve of!
Many writers take up the pen from a very early age. When did you first start writing stories?
I started writing stories down as soon as I mastered a reasonable ability to wield a pen. I remember dreaming them up and telling them verbally even before that. I tackled my first novel at age 9, and then wrote and sketched a comic book series for several editions. Sadly my artistic talents are minimal, so after a bit I went back to straightforward writing.
I grew up in an era before computers (makes me feel ancient!) so keyboard skills were not taught in general education, but with the idea that I wanted to be a writer I taught myself to touch type when I was 11 years old, although my first few manuscripts were written longhand as I didn’t own a typewriter.
Let’s stay young (we all like that, right?) When you were a child you read voraciously. So tell me who were your favorite authors of the day and how do they influence you today?
Early on I read lots of space stories, borrowing extensively from the library. Probably my first series love would be E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s LENSMAN series – lots of action, subterfuge, space travel and heroic but vulnerable characters. I moved on to the SF ‘classics’ – Frank Herbert’s DUNE, which blew me away with its scope, Asimov’s FOUNDATION TRILOGY where I developed my abiding love for secrets within secrets, and his ROBOT series for their mix of futuristic setting and detective work. Love, love, love THE 3 LAWS OF ROBOTICS, and was thrilled years later when the positronic brain showed up in Star Trek TNG, with Data and his daughter, Lal.
Heinlein’s novels also featured in there, along with WINDHAVEN (by Lisa Tuttle and guess who? One George R R Martin, years before he was famous!) and Anne Mccaffrey’s Dragon series, which started to blur the lines between SF and fantasy for me. And then I found Marion Zimmer Bradley’s DARKOVER series. Sigh. Oh, to write like that.
So how did I end up writing fantasy? That started with Ursula Le Guin’s A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, which enthralled me with its exploration of the human psyche right along with magic and mystery.
If there is any direct influence from these authors, I think it comes out in my sheer love of entertaining story telling, with multiple plot strands and complicated characters undergoing life-changing experiences.
Your first fantasy, The Prince’s Man is what I would call a true “Sword and Sorcery” novel. When did you first focus on the storyline, and how long did it take you to write the book? And another quick question: With oodles of 5-star reviews out there, is there anything you would do differently in the book now that it has been out there for a while?
It’s a long story, that begins some fifteen years ago. I wrote a work of fantasy for a publisher looking specifically for novellas. As luck would have it, the company folded just after I’d submitted my work. However, I was quite taken with the land and society I’d created, so I adapted an idea I’d had for a spy story in an SF setting, and put it into this fantasy world. I was amazed at how well it worked!
It probably took me a couple of years to write The Prince’s Man, and at least another to polish it. I’d entered the first chapter in a UK Arts Board competition and it won! The prize was a residential writing course, and the tutors were very encouraging, so I submitted it to an agent in the US and she took it on.
It went to all the big publishers, but all I got were encouraging negatives. While this was ongoing, I was building my writing credits, becoming a regular contributor to UK and US equestrian magazines, and when Prince’s Man failed to sell, I decided to have a go at non-fiction instead. This was more successful, and (as you’ll see further down) I have 2 non-fiction hardbacks in print.
At this point I still wanted a traditional deal with a fiction publishing house, so I tried again, this time writing my urban fantasy, Desprite Measures. This one was ready to query in 18 months, but by this time I’d started to become aware of the whole indie publishing scene, and after a couple of failed attempts to sell DM, I decided to go it alone. I spent a year researching and platform building before launching The Prince’s Man, including another spruce up because the manuscript was by now ten years old and my writing skills had moved on.
The Prince’s Man launched successfully to great reviews and an Amazon Top 100 ranking for more than 6 months – a huge thrill and the start of a new career.
Would I do anything different?
Yes. I wouldn’t use names starting with the same letters! My two main characters are Rustam and Risada. The gods are Chel and Charin, and Rustam’s surname is Chalice, while two of the kingdoms are Tyloc and Tyr-en.
Too late to change now, but I won’t make that mistake again.
Tell me about your writing ‘lifestyle’ if you would. Do you have a particular time you write, and do you hold to a fixed schedule or write when the “mood hits?”
I’m a night owl. It’s a hang over from Uni days – I write late at night when I’ve done everything else and the world is dark and quiet, so no interruptions. I do settle to my keyboard pretty much every night, though there’s so much other stuff, like blogging, answering emails, etc. (not to mention running my daytime business), so I can’t always guarantee to work on the current novel; that comes when I have a burning need to commit words to screen.
I do try to produce a minimum of 2500 words per week, but a sitting may produce 300 words or 2000+, I really don’t go in for daily word count goals. I’d love to be more disciplined, but I’ve tried that and my creativity dries up, so it’s a no go.
“Desprite Measures” is actually the first of your books that I read, and I adored it. I know that some authors base their characters on personality traits of people they know. Were you thinking about any particular individuals while you wrote, and what were the things about them that drew your attention? And no, no names! 😉
Desprite Measures actually draws more on relationships I’ve experienced rather than individual personalities. I’m a bit of a disaster area in the relationship department, so I like exploring that area with my characters. Some of the real life situations I’ve got tangled up in would be way too far fetched for a novel…
Speaking of Desprite Measures, I love the setting of the story! Are the areas you describe places you have visited before? What do you like the most about the locations that you fold into your stories?
Pretty much all the places in Desprite Measures are real, and all locations I love and visit as often as I can – I have a page on my website devoted to photographs of these beautiful spots, all of them less than twenty miles from Inverness (Knock Knock – Leiah interrupting! Click on Inverness to go to Deborah’s Photo Page! We now return you to your regularly scheduled interview!). It’s such an awesome environment around there, wild and deserted and magical, yet so easy to get to. I’m can’t get enough of mountains and waterfalls, and the Scottish Highlands have them in abundance.
I have always heard the “old saw” that “Writers should write what they know.” What is your opinion? Should a writer only write about places they have seen themselves, or occupations they are familiar with? Of course, with books like The Prince’s Man that doesn’t really apply, but did you base the location upon locations you were familiar with?
Absolutely not. If we only wrote about what we know, we’d suffer a drought of great books! Research is one way – for Desprite Measures I researched Cassie’s occupation as a personal trainer by sitting in on some private gym sessions and asking a whole heap of questions.
Places are easy to research too, although it’s probably easier to write colourfully about locations you’ve actually visited.
In The Prince’s Man, you’ll find lots of little facts about horses and horse care; something I’m well able to supply with authority, as a way of weaving in personal knowledge to enhance the tale. Of course the setting is entirely fictional, so I mix up places I know with totally imaginary places designed to fit the story – there are enough real details for authenticity, but in fantasy, imagination can be all you need.
I read that you have a degree in animal sciences and have studied coaching psychology. Do you use that training when you are developing your characters?
I’m a qualified sports coach – I’ve actually picked up the coaching psychology as I’ve gone along, because its useful, and because I find it fascinating. These days we focus a lot more on the mental side of preparing competitors because it can make all the difference between winning and losing at the elite level. For sure I find it extremely useful when developing my characters – I just wish I had time to study it more,
Let’s talk about Debby for a moment. Many of your readers may not know this, but in our iteration of the space-time continuum, you are known as Debby Lush. Debby is a professional rider, trainer, judge and author of two books: The Building Blocks of Training and The Successful Dressage Competitor, published by J A Allen. How do Deborah and Debby work out their schedules?
We micro-manage time! Without a closely planned schedule, neither Debby nor Deborah would be able to fulfill the requirements of both jobs.
I’ve become very adept at prioritizing, planning and scheduling; it’s the only way I can fit it all in. Just as well I only have animals to care for, not children!
On the other hand, I realized recently that I was in serious danger of not having any life outside of the two careers, so I’ve eased back on the self-imposed pressure, and allowed myself a little free time when I don’t feel guilty about not working!
Indie authors are real people with real jobs. Does your ‘real life’ interfere with Deborah’s life, and how do you work around it? Do you have encouragement for other authors who are also working people?
It does and it doesn’t. I’m fortunate in that both aspects of my work are self-employed so I set my own schedules, although earning enough money to live on right now sometimes cuts into my writing, as that’s future income, not immediate.
Being an author is a compulsion – if it’s something you just have to do, you will find a way to fit it into your life. My advice on that is to find what works for you – we are all so different, leading such different lives, trying to copy someone else’s routine is unlikely to work. Be an individual – you will find a way.
Finally, the Summer Olympics in 2016 are set for Beautiful Brazil! Will you be competing? And if not, who do you expect to attend, and win, the dressage event? A horse loving girl wants to know!
I was fortunate enough to be an official at London 2012, so this time I’d like to attend as a spectator again (I went to both Athens and Hong Kong). I’d love to compete but I don’t have a horse of that quality.
As to who will win – well, the Brits of course!
Please check out Deb’s links here!
Leiah here! I think you will agree that Deborah is an extremely interesting and talented person! I want to Thank You, Deborah, for visiting with us today!
Let’s all give Deborah a ‘virtual round of applause’ and I, for one, will be watching closely for her next book!