Brought up in a Shropshire village, AJ Griffiths-Jones has done plenty of globe-trotting but it was her interest in Victorian villains that prompted her first non-fiction book…
How much time do you typically spend writing each book, and is this different for your research-based books, like Prisoner 4374?
Each book takes me between 3-6 months depending on the genre. However, ‘Prisoner 4374’ took ten years to research & finally write as I was living overseas for a long time and was unable to access the necessary files.
Has travelling and living in other countries contributed to what and how you write?
Yes, definitely. I like to draw on my experiences and the different people I’ve met. ‘The Expats’ is based in Shanghai and contains a lot of funny characters and occurrences that really happened. We had such a great time in China and I really wanted that to shine through in the book.
Thinking back to when you started writing, what are common mistakes new writers make?
I think a major issue is underestimating the time you need to allow to learn how to market your work effectively. It’s all very well getting the book finished, but then you need to find your audience, create eye-catching advertisements and find your way around social media. It’s also important to plan out your ideas for follow-up books, as when you pitch a manuscript to a publisher they will inevitably as what’s coming up next.
Do you believe in writer’s block and if so, what do you do about it?
I’m very lucky in that I’ve never suffered from writer’s block. I actually have the opposite problem and have dozens of ideas running through my head and have to carry a notebook around to scribble down the best ones. I usually work on two completely different books at the same time, so this could be a reason why I’m able to write continuously, alternating them every other day.
Do you write to please your readers or to please yourself?
Hopefully both, but I have to be totally immersed in a topic and the characters in order to be able to create a decent book. I have a wild imagination which enables me to be multi-genre author, switching between historical true crime, fictional mysteries, thrillers and non-fiction.
Do members of your family read your work, or assist with the editing process?
All of my family members are very supportive in different ways & a couple of them are my BETA readers who critique my final manuscripts before I send them to the publisher. However, my husband and father only read newspapers and haven’t yet opened one of my books! Maybe one day they’ll surprise me.
How do you approach creating book covers?
My Aunty Sylvia is an artist and has created the covers for four of my mystery books, whilst my cousin Antony created the cover for ‘Prisoner 4374’. For ‘Black Sparrow’ my crime thriller, I had the image of a cage and feathers in my mind and the brilliant artist at Creativia created a brilliant design that fitted perfectly with the brief.
Have you used advertising, such as through Facebook or Instagram, to promote your books?
I use Facebook and Twitter every day and occasionally post on Instagram. I don’t consider myself to be very tech savvy, but I generally get good feedback and it definitely helps sales.
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?
I think it’s very important to choose groups that suit your work. There are many genre specific book groups on Facebook and readers are always looking for something new. Authors have a much better chance of garnering new readers if they join relatable sites but it’s also very important to read work from other authors and give them support too by posting up reviews etc.
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 haven’t taken any writing courses because from a very early age people have read and loved my work. That might sound a bit blasé but to be honest I believe that if it’s not broke don’t fix it!
Apart from Dr Cream, have you ever used real people or real experiences to create characters/plots?
There are little bits of people I know or have met in all my characters! I tell my friends ‘Watch out or you might end up in my next book!’ Seriously though, I think it helps to have real life experiences in your book, it makes you empathetic towards the characters and readers will pick up on that.
Has any specific work or life experience prompted or helped in the creation of characters or events in your books?
After finishing ‘Prisoner 4374’, I wasn’t sure what to write next and was juggling a few ideas. At that time, I’d not long returned to the U.K. and was enjoying spending time with my Grandma every Friday. She started telling me funny stories about the people in a village where she’d lived and the crazy secrets they held. Hence ‘The Villagers’ became my next project.
In terms of your writing style and technique, how is your most recent book ‘Black Sparrow’ different from the others?
I really wanted to challenge myself and had never tackled a crime thriller before. The idea grew from seeing two identical suitcases on an airport carousel and I wondered what would happen if they were picked up by the wrong passengers. I knew that I could write in the first person, as that’s what had made ‘Prisoner 4374’ so popular, and by giving each character in the story their own chapter through which to ‘speak’ I thought it would put a twist on the tale. Hopefully it worked!
Do you have many unpublished novels/stories?
My desk drawers are full of notebooks with unpublished stories and outline plots. Some of them are from as far back as my teens and reading them reminds me of how far I’ve come in my writing.
How many hours a day do you write, and do you stick to a set schedule?
I’m very rigid in my schedule and try to write 6-8 hours a day. Typically, I start at 10am and stop at 1pm for a lunchtime walk and something to eat. I’ll then write from 2pm until 5pm. This is usually Monday to Friday every week. If I’m working on crime or doing research, I will work through the night, from 10pm to 6am, then go for a swim before catching a few hours sleep. I don’t write when I’m on holiday as that’s the time to give my brain a rest.
What aspect of writing have you most improved in over time? What resources helped you most in this area?
I’m just finding my feet in crime fiction and find that reading through old cases give me inspiration for plots and characters. I also read through my reader’s reviews thoroughly and try to take the comments on board in order to progress.
If you were to write in a different genre to your current books, which genres or styles do you find the most interesting?
I’m passionate about cooking and would love to publish a series of recipe books. I’m also in awe of horror writers and would like to attempt something really spooky. I have a real interest in history and the paranormal so perhaps a ghost story based on a tragic event would suit.
What is the best investment you ever made in your writing?
Researching ‘Prisoner 4374’ cost me a small fortune, but by purchasing original documents, photographs and a first edition book of Doctor Cream’s trial, I was able to create something very unique and wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again. I think my book collection has also become a wonderful investment for future work too, as I have very old medical books, maps and almost every recommended work on ‘Jack the Ripper.’ This should stand me in good stead for work on my suspect book which will be forthcoming in the next few years.
How much of yourself do you put into your books?
That’s a difficult question to answer really. When I’m writing I absorb myself totally in the characters and their lives, giving everything I’ve got until I write ‘The End.’ I don’t base characters upon my own personality, but I do draw from life experience and emotions.
How critical are you when you read the work or other authors?
To be honest I’m a very critical reader but that’s not just since I’ve become a published author. I love reading and will tackle any genre except romance. I love the classics but can also be found reading books about the First World War and the Vikings. When reading fiction I like the stories to grab my attention by the third or fourth chapter and struggle to continue if it hasn’t done that. If I find an author I love, I’m a very faithful fan and will purchase every book they’ve written.
Have you ever written a character with an actor in mind?
When I have an idea for a story, I create a mood board with different pictures and notes connected to it and as I’m writing I see the plot develop as though it were a film. Therefore, I usually imagine someone famous as the main character and build the other characters around them. This didn’t work for ‘Prisoner 4374’ as I had Cream’s photo on my desk ‘watching me’ every night as I typed. It was only after finished that I thought Kit Harrington (from ‘Game of Thrones’) would be perfect to play the lead should it ever be made into the film. He has the same dark eyes and pale complexion as the doctor and would easily be able to pull off Cream’s charismatic charm.
You can find out more about AJ’s books on Amazon and on her Facebook Author Page.
A lovely interview, Colin. I could never work through the night. I have never been able to do that. These books sound intriguing.
Thanks Robbie. AJ’s ‘Prisoner 4374’ is particularly fascinating and well worth a read.