From paranormal and psychological crime thrillers, to autobiographies and non-fiction, she’s done it all. So who is the real Joy Mutter?
For the Hostile series you created a rather unusual entity as its villain – where did this idea come from?
I’m always on the lookout for new ideas. My overactive imagination kicked into overdrive when I noticed a strange, alien-looking face looking back at me from the surface of one of my abstract floor tiles in my bathroom. I intended to write only one book in the Hostile series, but there are now four, with the potential to write a fifth. It’s funny to think I’ve written four books all centring around the odd-looking tile in my bathroom. Although it might appear The Hostile series would be suitable for children, it contains mature themes. Saying that, I was reading adult books, such as Hesse’s Steppenwolf, and Kerouac’s On the Road, before I was twelve. I was even summoned for a scolding by my school’s headmistress after Valley of the Dolls was found in my possession. I was eventually expelled from that stuffy school, which worked out better for me.
Your books sometimes include a lot of blood and gore – do you worry that this might put some readers off your books?
I can be squeamish and turn off any television programme where there’s too much violence, especially torture scenes. I’m still traumatised after watching the drawn-out execution scene in Braveheart. My squeamishness hasn’t prevented me from writing violent scenes in my books, as violent as many other authors have written. There’s never anything in my books that I couldn’t handle reading. As I am an extremely sensitive person, I’m my own benchmark as to how far I can push the boundaries. I usually have my tongue firmly planted in my cheek whenever I write my more extreme scenes, such as the Nurse Bell scene in The Trouble With Liam. If readers don’t understand my dark humour then they might be offended, but causing offence is never my intention. Those readers who understand me usually enjoy even my most extreme books, like The Trouble With Liam, and The Hostile series.
I have more problems trying to tame the sex in my books rather than the violence. I’ve always been extremely broad-minded. It’s a constant struggle to keep any sex scenes subdued enough to escape a reader backlash. I’m not a hearts and flowers kind of woman in life or in my writing style. My books’ sex scenes can be explicit, sometimes extreme. One of my two WIPs is a thriller in the Trouble Trilogy. It deals with a sex-addicted police family liaison officer, two blackmailing sexual deviants, and several other deeply immoral characters, so you can tell I’ll have a challenging editing process ahead of me. Wish me luck.
You’ve said elsewhere that living alone allowed you the time to write, so do you think your writing career might not have happened if this had not been the case.
I started writing my first three books in 2007 when I was in a relationship. I was also working full-time, so writing was a lower priority for me than it is now. I developed a chronic back condition in 2011 and was medically discharged from my job. Not wanting to claim disability benefit, I made the bold, some might say foolhardy decision, to sell my home in Kent and buy a much cheaper property in the north of England where I knew nobody. To survive, I also cashed in my private pension and have been living solely on that money and the money from buying a cheaper property. Fingers crossed I survive financially until 2020 when I’ll receive the State pension. I’d probably have written a book or two by now if I’d remained in a relationship. Now single and living alone, I’m currently writing my fourteenth and fifteenth books, which I’d never have had the time to do if I’d remained in a relationship. There’s a slim chance I might have been as prolific if I’d been in a relationship with an author as devoted to writing as I am and willing to share the chores.
Thinking back to when you started writing, what advice would you give to someone starting out now as an indie author?
Don’t. Just kidding. In 2015, I made the error of publishing four of my books at once because I was so excited. Knowing what I know now, I should have staggered their release dates, but I was fairly clueless back then. Most of what I’ve learned since 2015 about self-publication has come from trial and error. Talking to other authors in book groups on social media or in real life has helped. Even if a new indie author diligently involves themselves in social media and pays for the occasional book advert, most of the millions of other talented indie authors are doing the same. It’s nigh impossible to be heard above the din of other authors.
New authors should expect to be disappointed in the response to their first book. If their debut book flies, that’s a bonus and they’ve been extremely lucky. Nobody will love their book as much as the author does. Some might hate it and let the author and the public know they do. Most worthwhile authors are sensitive creatures, so it’s hard not to be badly hurt by idiots, sorry – one-star reviewers. Every author eventually learns to brush off negative reviews. They learn to comfort themselves by reading a few of their five-star reviews. Never give up. Try to write something every day. Don’t aspire to write. Write, and keep writing because you love it. If you don’t love it, please stop as you’ll probably never produce anything worth reading.
Do you believe in writer’s block and if so, what do you do about it?
I luckily have never suffered from any serious writer’s block. The Trouble With Liam took me a year to write, which is about three times as long as any of my other books. It took longer because I had some medical problems which made me feel less like writing. Although I have certain chronic ailments, I’m happy to be back to my usual writing pattern. I usually write my way out of any writing blockage. It helps to walk away from my laptop and return to it another day. The problem is often easily solvable when viewed with fresh eyes.
New ideas always seem to pop up as I write, which is why I never plan how my fiction books will turn out. My one non-fiction book, Living with Postcards, had to be planned. My autobiographical Mug Trilogy had already been planned for me because it’s my life’s story. Apart from these four books, I’ve been as interested to discover how the story will progress and end as the reader. A large part of why I continue writing is not knowing what will happen in my books. It sometimes feels as though someone else is writing them with my body acting as the conduit, especially in The Hostile series.
Do you write to please your readers or to please yourself?
I write primarily for my own pleasure. If I didn’t get a buzz from the entire writing process, my books would end up dry and joyless. It’s a wonderful bonus when readers say they’ve enjoyed the finished products. As every author knows, not all readers will appreciate a book, but I no longer allow a negative review from a reader who’s not on my wavelength to stop me writing.
What do you think about the many social media groups (such as Facebook), and do you think it’s important for writers to subscribe to them?
Since publishing my first books in 2015, I’ve belonged to a wide range of book groups on Facebook, Google + and Goodreads. Instagram and Twitter are also important. They’re all useful tools to publicise books free, for useful information, and for receiving and giving welcome support. My priority is always my current WIP, so I don’t haunt social media as much as I probably should. I usually check in at least once a day to all my social media sites and guess most authors do much the same. I’d probably have sold hardly any books if I’d shunned social media. An author friend of mine has shunned using social media for promotion and her sales are virtually static.
Have you taken any courses to help with the writing process, or to help tackle the many technical aspects of being an indie author?
I’ve attended about half a dozen group and one-to-one writing workshops held by authors since 2015. They didn’t change my life or writing style but were interesting. I enjoy gaining inspiration from talks given by various authors, like Val McDermid, Rachel Abbott, David Mark, for instance when they come to give talks at my local library. I’ve given a couple of author talks myself at the library and at a theatre.
In my first two or three years as a published author, I attended a couple of local writing groups which helped at the time, especially as I made three good friends there. If it wasn’t for the encouragement of my friend, Diane, at the first writing group, I might never have had the courage to self-publish. She pointed me in the right direction, and I took it from there. I appreciate these women authors as they are the only people who I see socially. My family all live hundreds of miles away from me, so it’s wonderful to occasionally meet up with Diane, Helen and Kath. I stopped attending the writing groups because they became less valuable to me. Fortunately, I kept the three friends. I’d relish meeting more authors socially, maybe in a less formal setting than a writing group, like a restaurant or pub for instance, not that I’m a big drinker.
In terms of your writing, how is the ‘Trouble’ series different from the others?
Only book one, The Trouble with Liam, has been published in this trilogy of thrillers, so I don’t know how the other two books will pan out. I have a fairly good idea, though, as I’ve written 32 chapters of The Trouble with Russell, and 35 chapters of The Trouble with Trouble. I can already see there is more sex than in any of my other books because of the subject matter and storylines. It can’t be avoided but I will have to modify The Trouble With Trouble or risk destroying everything I’ve been striving for since 2007 when I started writing my first book.
Do you have many unpublished novels/stories?
I’ve written a large chunk of a book so extreme it will probably never be published, that’s if I decide to finish it. It’s probably fortunate I’m too busy writing other books but I might finish it one day. It would raise a few eyebrows if it was ever discovered in a folder on my laptop after my ashes have been sprinkled in the sea at Anne Port Bay in Jersey.
How many hours a day do you write, and do you stick to a set schedule?
I usually write or edit my WIP from eleven in the morning until six in the evening, seven days a week. If I’m particularly inspired, I’ll carry on writing through until midnight and beyond. I’ve felt particularly inspired recently while writing The Trouble With Trouble and have produced more words than usual. I’m aware much of what I’ve written will be censored and cut in the editing process, but the first draft has flowed unrestrained.
Enid Blyton used to write 10,000 words per day. Do you think this sort of word-count is a useful target for writers?
Hooray for Enid, but I would become too drained if I wrote 10,000 words a day. I prefer quality over quantity. Two thousand words or so is what I like to achieve. On particularly inspired days, I’ve written about five thousand words. With a body of work behind me, I’ve stopped counting. I don’t beat myself up if I’ve written none. Writing books is my passion, so it’s no hardship to devote most of my waking hours to it. I occasionally take a few days off from writing to let my brain refuel.
How much of yourself do you put into your books?
My first three books, The Mug Trilogy, were third-person autobiographies which expunged my desire to be subjective in my following books. My wise mother was correct when she said to me, ‘Your three autobiographies have cleaned out the pipes so your fiction can now flow freely.’
As with any author, readers who know me can easily spot where I’ve used many of my experiences in my thrillers or short stories. There’s a scene in one of my books where a man enters a dovecot and kills two fan-tailed pigeons. It’s shocking in the book, but real life can be as bad if not worse. I remember the day in my childhood when my father, now deceased, shot all the fan-tailed pigeons in the large dovecot in our garden. He said they were costing too much to feed. I’m a sixty-four-year-old divorced mother to an adult daughter. I’ve led a full, sometimes unconventional life, so there are countless experiences for me to draw on.
How do you approach creating covers for your books?
I was a professional graphic designer for print for over twenty years before becoming an author. I’ve used these skills to design and lay out all my books after doing the same for many other books for publishers such as Hodder Headline and Pinters. Designing, laying out, and publishing my own books is such a pleasure. I’m not an illustrator or wealthy, so usually use online royalty-free images and adapt them to make them unique. Having designed all my own covers, interiors, and publicity material, I haven’t paid anything to produce all thirteen books, except for the narration of my audiobook editions.
While on the subject of not paying for author services, I’ve edited seven books by other authors and have always edited my own books. I’ve received no complaints about poorly editing and some reviewers have congratulated me on the lack of typos in my books. I know for a fact my books have less typos than many professionally edited books. I have an annoying habit of marking errors on my Kindle whenever I read other authors’ books. I could tell some tales about when I’ve been asked to rescue a couple of authors who’ve paid hundreds of pounds to so-called professional editors for editing their books who’ve missed as many as 450 errors in them. 450 errors was the worst case I came across, but I know of other similar horror stories.
What prompted you to make your books available in audio format, and what issues did this raise?
I love listening to audiobooks while I’m sunbathing, on long journeys, or cooking my evening meal. I thought it would be fun to have audiobook editions of some of my books for listeners to enjoy. Some people prefer audiobooks to other formats, so it made sense to satisfy their need. Visually impaired people also deserve to be entertained. Nine of my thirteen books have audiobook versions, all available on Audible, iTunes, and Amazon.
As a devout indie author, I decided to narrate Her demonic Angel, and Book 1 of The Hostile series myself. As the narrator, it meant I paid nothing to produce the audiobook on ACX. It was an exhausting, long-winded process, especially the sound editing. It also prevented me from writing my WIP, so I decided to pay professional narrators to work on the next seven audiobooks. I’m a relatively unknown author, so I’m aware it’s unlikely I’ll ever recover the hundreds of pounds I’ve paid my narrators for each audiobook. I’m perfectly fine with that.
Alexander Doddy narrated books two to four in the Hostile series plus Random Bullets. Tracey Norman narrated Potholes and Magic Carpets, A Slice of the Seventies, and The Trouble with Liam. I thoroughly enjoyed working with such highly talented narrators and hope to work with them again in the future. I earn more from my audiobooks than from my Kindles and paperbacks, but that’s not saying much.
Have you ever written a character or real person with an actor in mind?
I’ve never had any actor of either sex in mind while writing a book because I wouldn’t want any character in the book to become contaminated by the traits of a well-known actor. I’m too busy thinking about the protagonists in my WIP to waste my energy allocating an actor to them. If a producer was ever wise enough to make a film or television series of The Hostile quartet, for instance, I’d want to have some say with the casting. Until that time, it’s not a priority.