Years ago, I discovered a book called Tom’s Daughters on a writing website and it was so good that I bought a version when it was self-published. It was the first e-book I ever purchased and remains one of the best I’ve read. I still remember the characters like they were real people. So when I heard that the author, Alison Boulton, was publishing a second novel – I jumped at the chance to do an interview.
KO: What did you learn about self-publishing from your first book? How are things different this time around?
AB: An acquaintance suggested that he helped me self-publish Tom’s Daughters as an e-book to see if he could ‘make us both a fortune.’ I was happy to accept this as it hadn’t been picked up despite being sent to numerous agents. I wasn’t comfortable negotiating the formatting and the technical stuff required to put in on Amazon for Kindle. He also did the cover from a photo I provided and set up a website. I think the deal was that he got 25% of revenues. The downside was that when sales were slow he lost interest and I got frustrated nagging for information and at not having control to update accounts myself.
This time round I wanted control from the beginning, and I also wanted a book that I could hold in my hand. I’ll put it on Kindle later, of course, but having the paperback makes publication and being a writer feel much more real. I think other people’s reactions have been more positive too.
KO: Where do you get your story inspiration from?
AB: For me a story starts with an image or a couple of images that are linked in some way. With Tom’s Daughters I wanted to write about sisters, but there was also the picture of a young woman with a small child in North London. The issue of the mysterious father was hovering in the background.
With Chasing Sunflowers it was again the image of a child, this time a boy, painting sunflowers for his mother. It was clear they were in Amsterdam where I also lived for a few years, and that the mother was lonely.
I then have to sit and try and work out the bones of a plot. Sometimes I write random scenes or conversations. Chasing Sunflowers was written first as a short story, but then it slowly grew into a novel, changing and developing in the process. The actual ending was the last thing to become clear.
KO: What kind of writer are you? Do you plot everything out before writing or does it evolve throughout the process? Do you force yourself to write every day? How long does it take to write a novel?
AB: The writing definitely evolves, but there has to be a certain amount of plotting too, plus a timeline of events. It always takes me a while at the beginning to sort dates out – how old was that character when this happened, etc.? And some thought must go into how the threads of the story entwine and unfold to keep the reader interested. There should, I think, always be some sort of denouement at the end. And I don’t really like sad endings, so I haven’t written one yet!
And it takes me ages to finish a novel, maybe even two or three years, because other stuff – like teaching and running our holiday complex – get in the way. I have to earn a living, unfortunately. I’m hoping the next one, currently called The Red Balloon, will be quicker though. And I do try to at least look at it every day but I don’t always succeed.
KO: Tell us about Chasing Sunflowers. Who is your audience?
AB: Chasing Sunflowers is the story of Kate, who moves to Amsterdam with her husband and young son. Lost and lonely in a new city, she develops a passion for the paintings of Vincent van Gogh. Her decision to study them leads her to artist Rudy de Jong and following in Vincent’s footsteps, she makes a trip to Arles which transforms her life.
So, it’s a book about a woman who steps outside her own life, and how the experience changes her. There’s quite a lot about Amsterdam, the south of France and Vincent van Gogh too.
My first audience is me, since it was me I told the story to first and I liked it. So after that people a bit like me, I suppose; usually female, maybe over 25, though my daughters who are 20 and 22 enjoyed it too.
KO: What are your favorite books?
AB: I mostly read books about ‘real’ people and characters in plausible situations. I’m not a fan of Magic Realism or Fantasy novels. I hate anything sensationalist, badly written or too soppy. I love Ian McEwan, AS Byatt, Anne Tyler, and Doris Lessing amongst many others. Some of Lessing’s writing is futuristic, but then I love the prophetic nature of her work. Also EM Forster; I always say Howards End is my favourite book. I don’t know if it’s really true but it’s definitely up there.
KO: Alison, thanks so much for sharing and best of luck with the new book.