Fantasy and sci-fi author Claire Buss explains how she juggles Peppa Pig and creative play with her kids to make time for writing, marketing and everything else…
As you write in several genres, do you start each new book with a specific genre or style in mind, or does it evolve naturally?
I don’t write to genre. I’m a discovery writer so most of the time I don’t have a clue where the story is going or what the characters are going to do lol. I am a lover of fantasy and science fiction to read so that definitely influences my inspiration. I do plan to write more books in my humorous fantasy world of Roshaven so I will follow the same writing style in those books, I think that consistency is very important for the reader.
Like many authors, you sometimes use slang and made-up words in dialogue. Is it hard to keep track of these, or do you keep lists/spreadsheets?
I do have spreadsheets for both my main series. The one for the Gaia books covers the names for my future tech, the social media handles I use in the sweeps and has character profiles broken down so I can remember things like the pet name Jed uses for Kira etc. I also have a dialogue spreadsheet for my unique characters in the Roshaven novels because Jenni speaks with a strong Cockney accent and her mother has a part Caribbean, part Cajun vibe in her speech. Again, it’s really important that all the dialogue is consistent, and readers can enjoy these quirks.
JK Rowling famously planned her seven-book Harry Potter series. How do you approach writing a series, such as your ‘Gaia Collection’?
I wrote the first book, The Gaia Effect, initially as a standalone novel. I wrote the first chapter for a writing competition and was thrilled to make it through as a finalist but then horrified to find out I was supposed to hand in the rest of the book within the next three months. I didn’t have a ‘rest of book’! That was my biggest baptism of fire into the business of writing because not only did I have to write the rest of the book, I had to edit it as well and I’d never done either before. I released a book of short stories and wrote The Rose Thief, my humorous fantasy novel, before I decided to go back to Gaia and write a second book. I knew when I started writing The Gaia Project that there would be a third book and I knew I didn’t want to write anymore after that.
I released The Gaia Project and The Gaia Solution within a year of each other but there was a two-year gap between books one and two. I did not plan either novel, instead I wrote first drafts during NaNoWriMo, let them rest for a couple of months and then began the editing process. When I’m writing I just write continuously, from the beginning to the end, I don’t jump around and if I get to a scene I can’t work out there and then, I write what I want to happen in caps. I usually find that when I get to the last few chapters, I have the ending figured out and that often gets written in note form to complete the first draft and I go back and fully write those scenes when I work on the second draft.
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 attended the Pen to Print Writing Workshops at Barking Learning Centre completing the beginner and advanced series of workshops which were a great help in building my confidence to write and share my work. I have taken several Reedsy training courses on various aspects of self-publishing and listen to podcasts from experts like Joanna Penn and Mark Dawson which have been invaluable. I hope to do more courses in the future, it’s important to keep learning and developing especially in an environment where things are always changing.
Have you ever used real people or real experiences to create characters/plots?
I think it’s very difficult to not use real people or real experiences as a writer because you are constantly being inspired by events around you. I have been inspired by actual events in my local area to write a murder mystery story but even then I veered off to a different ending. The old adage ‘write what you know’ does ring true for me. I feel I need to have an understanding of the theme of my story in order to write believable dialogue and realistic characters and I can’t tackle something I know nothing about.
As a stay-at-home-mum, do you find it difficult to make time to write, and do you have any routines that help with this?
It is a constant battle to find time to write. I cannot work towards a set routine because every day is different when you have young children, you’re never quite sure what is going to happen. If my kids have a bad night’s sleep, then so do I and I can’t get up at 5am to write for an hour. If I try to sit down on the couch with my laptop, my youngest sees this as permission to crawl all over me. It’s also hard to marshal my thoughts when Peppa Pig is on in the background and the kids are playing.
The other side to all of that is that I want to be an interactive parent and play with my kids, read stories, paint and make things, go to the park etc and all of that eats into potential writing time. As an indie author you need to spend just as much time marketing and promoting your books as you do writing and editing them so I often find I spend all evening, seven days a week working. It is a hard balance but because I enjoy writing so much and I enjoy the marketing and the interaction, I don’t mind. Yes, I’m tired but then so is any parent. As long as my kids are happy, it doesn’t really matter if I met my word count that day or not. I am learning to become more of a flexible writer and try to make the most of those odd moments through the day when I can write or edit. I have also been dabbling with scheduling my marketing and blog posts which has definitely freed up some of my time. My creativeness is such that I don’t do well when I’m forced to write, I will produce more work if I can write when I’m inspired to do so.
How do you approach cover design, editing and formatting?
At the moment, I don’t make a huge income from my writing so I had to make a choice on where I would spend my money. I opted for cover design and I use a wonderful cover artist called Ian Bristow for my books. I believe every penny is well spent. As soon as I can afford to do so, I shall employ an editor as well but unfortunately, it’s just not something I can stretch to at the moment. I have been very fortunate with my beta reader team in that it includes a couple of editors who are generous enough to do a partial editing pass on my books. I have learned the hard way how to format my books as an indie author and now feel I’ve got a handle on the print size and page layout. I use a style sheet that another editor friend of mine set up for me which has been invaluable. There’s an assumption that places like KDP will do all of that legwork for you but they don’t. They literally print exactly what you give them so if you haven’t made sure it’s the right size and format beforehand then it’s on you.
As well as novels, you also write short stories. Do these ever transform into longer works?
The only short story that expanded to a novella has been The Interspecies Poker Tournament, a Roshaven book. My short stories tend to have been written as short stories and are usually extensions of a flash fiction prompt, so they have already been transformed. I have recently written a pirate-themed short story which opened up a new world for me which I shall definitely be coming back to.
What is the best advice you’ve ever had as a writer, and what advice would you give to people just starting out?
Finish the book. Then, when you release it into the wild, forget about it and move on to the next. And I don’t mean ignore it and not promote it or talk about it anymore. I mean, don’t let that book define your creativity. Find the next story and the next and the next. Expand your imagination and enjoy writing. Writing is such a personal endeavour you cannot help but pour your heart and soul into your work, but you also need to learn how to let it go so that you can give your full attention to the next project. Being an indie author is hard work because nobody else is going to do that editing or promoting or researching or learning or writing or sometimes even make that cup of tea. Never give up, never surrender!