Today I’m chatting to Elizabeth Ducie about her writing and inspirations. The second novel featuring her heroine Suzanne Jones, Deception! was published in August 2017.
Tell us a little about your writing life to date.
I spent more than 30 years as a technical writer, producing audit reports, training programs, magazine articles and text books related to the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals. During that time, I worked in more than fifty different countries and in the process gathered a huge collection of memories and anecdotes. In 2006, I decided I wanted to write creatively rather than factually and started producing short stories and working on my debut novel. In 2012, I gave up the day job to concentrate on writing full-time. I now split my writing time between fiction and a non-fiction series of books on simple business skills for writers.
Where did your inspiration for the character of Suzanne Jones come from?
In 2004, I was working on a project for the Commonwealth Secretariat, aimed at improving the regulation of pharmaceutical manufacture and purchasing across seven countries in Southern Africa. There was so much money being spent on importing drugs from Europe and the US, which the countries could ill-afford; and at the same time, there was a lot of poor quality drugs coming in from less-regulated regions. Yet, Africa has lots of factories of its own. We were trying to reduce the level of imports and increase the level of safe drugs manufactured in house. Several of the incidents from that project found their way into Book 1 of the Suzanne Jones series, Counterfeit! So, the original inspiration was for the location and the events, rather than the character.
Although I tend to write about diverse geographic locations (Russia, Southern Africa, Latin America) I always have a Brit as the main protagonist. And so far, they have been females working in the pharmaceutical industry. So, I guess there’s a fair bit of me in each of them.
Do you plan out an entire plot for your thrillers before you begin writing, or does a story evolve as you write?
A bit of both, really. I always know what the ending is going to be (sometimes before the beginning) and I loosely plot out the story. But it will evolve during the first draft and even more so during the editing stages.
What advice would you give to new writers?
To be a writer, you must write. Write every day, even if it’s just a few words. Use writing triggers or morning pages (5 minutes of free-writing) to get going. And don’t worry if the first draft is garbage. You can always edit garbage. You can’t edit a blank page.
Meet up with other writers, either through face-to-face events like writers’ groups, or online. There are loads of FB groups, for example. Team up with others at the same stage as yourselves, for mutual support and brainstorming. But also learn what you can from the more experienced writers around. The writerly community is hugely supportive and generous.
Tell people you are a writer; it makes it real. But don’t be surprised when every second person says: I always thought I should write a book. Everyone thinks that at some point; but only writers do it.
Personal writing choice: pen or keyboard?
It depends on circumstances. When I am travelling, I often make notes which I later turn into blog posts. These tend to be done in my notebook, in pencil. I also use a hard copy diary, for which I only ever use pencil – life’s too changeable to use a pen in my diary. I have a huge collection of coloured pens and use these for plotting, which I do with Mind Maps on flipchart paper. But for ‘real’ writing, I tend to use the keyboard.
What is the best part of being an author? And the worst?
The best part of being an author is when someone tells you they have read your book and enjoyed it. Especially if they then go on to talk about the characters as though they are real people. And the fact that I can sit in my dressing gown until lunchtime if I’m on a roll with a piece of work. (But I guess that’s more about being self-employed than being an author.)
The worst part of being an author? Well. I sat and stared out of the window for several minutes trying to think of an answer to that question. But I’m sorry; I can’t think of anything to say!
Excellent – that’s brilliant! And who are your writing heroes?
I read a lot of fantasy, although I’ve never written any – yet. I have great admiration for writers who can create hugely complex worlds and present them in a readable fashion: Stephen King in the Dark Tower series; Robert Jordan and Brent Sanderson in the Wheel of Time series; and J R R Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings. I also love well-written prose, so Stephen King gets another mention, as does Paul Auster and Anne Tyler. And for keeping this committed fiction reader enthralled with his non-fiction nature writing, I must mention Robert Macfarlane.
If you had to be stranded on a desert island with three fictional characters, who would you choose, and why?
Sam Ganges from The Lord of the Rings is such a dependable friend and practical with it; so he would be first on my list. Second would be Jo March from Little Women as she’s such a strong, feisty woman, and we could talk about writing. And if I may, I’d like to add to the list one of my own characters: Charlie Jones. As I said previously, Suzanne Jones is the character who is closest to the real me. But Charlie’s the one I’d secretly like to be!
Wine gums or chocolate as your preferred snack of choice when immersed in writing?
Chocolate, every time. Any kind of chocolate, really, but as a former Brummie, I have to admit to a soft spot for Cadbury’s.
The final book in the Suzanne Jones series, Corruption!, is coming out in the Autumn. I completed the first draft at the end of January and it’s currently undergoing a structural edit. There’s still quite a bit of work to do, but I’m happy with progress.
But this year is mainly going to be about my Business of Writing series: Business Start-Up; Finance Matters; and Improving Effectiveness. As a scientist and a Director of my own consultancy for more than twenty years, I am very comfortable with the idea that I am running a small business and need to have systems in place. However, many writers are not. So, I wrote The Business of Writing to provide a simple road map to what they need to do. The first edition, which came out in 2014, was purely UK focused. Now I’m rewriting it for a more international audience. And adding a fourth title: Independent Publishing. Then producing a work book to accompany the series. I will be teaching courses on these topics at this year’s Writers’ Summer School in Swanwick in August. So, everything’s got to be in place by then. It’s going to be a busy few months. Which is just brilliant.
Good luck with it all, Elizabeth, and thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions!
I was born and brought up in Birmingham. As a teenager, I won a holiday to France, Spain and Portugal for writing essays and poetry in a newspaper competition. Despite this promising start in the literary world, I took scientific qualifications and spent more than thirty years as a manufacturing consultant, technical writer and small business owner, publishing a number of pharmaceutical text books and editing a technical journal along the way.
I returned to creative writing in 2006 and since then, I have written short stories and poetry for competitions—and have had a few wins, several honourable mentions and some short-listing. I am also published in several anthologies.
Under the Chudleigh Phoenix Publications imprint, I have published one solo collection of short stories and co-authored another two with my friend, Sharon Cook. I also write and lecture on business skills for writers running their own small business.
My debut novel, Gorgito’s Ice Rink, was published in 2014. My second novel, Counterfeit!, was published in 2016. It is the first in a series of thrillers set in the sometimes murky world of international pharmaceuticals. The second part of the series, Deception!, was published in summer 2017. I am currently working on the final part, Corruption!, which is due out in summer 2018.
I am the editor of the Chudleigh Phoenix Community Magazine, a monthly online newsletter. I am a member of the Chudleigh Writers’ Circle, ExeterWriters, West of England Authors and ALLi (The Alliance of Independent Authors). I spend far too much time on Facebook and Twitter, but have met some wonderful members of the writing community as a result.