7 Questions With Bestselling Author Lissa Oliver
Lissa Oliver is a Kildare-based novelist in Ireland. Her first published novel was “Nero – The Last Caesar”, based on first century factual biographies of the Roman Emperor Nero. She has three horseracing-themed thrillers published by Maverick House, “Chantilly Dawns”, a No.1 Bestseller on Amazon in March 2019, “Sainte Bastien” and the Silver Dagger nominee “Gala Day”.
Lissa is also an award-winning journalist, specialising in the field of welfare for the horseracing industry, for both equine and participant health and wellbeing, her works published by the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association and Irish Racehorse Trainers Association, among others. As well as being current Chair of the Irish Writers Union, she is on the Board of the Irish Copyright Licensing Agency, Board of the Irish Writers Centre, and is a tutor in creative writing and transformative community education. Away from writing, she loves hanging out with her pets and going to punk rock gigs with her family.
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Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Neither! Not even a plantster. I begin with a character and follow their lead. Characters move into my head and live with me for long enough to become intimate friends. When I know every strength, weakness and fear I will use those to think of a situation and “what if..?” to create a plot.
I’ll write the first chapter to introduce them and give them a nudge to send them on their way, then follow along behind and observe their actions and reactions. Characters often behave unexpectedly and send the plot in a direction I hadn’t intended. It’s their story, not mine.
How does a day in your author life look?
I pretty much have to be torn away from my writing, so if I’m not actually working on articles on my laptop then I’m writing my book. I’ve taken to writing my current novel-in-progress “Grey Motive” on an android tablet, just to get me off the laptop and give my family a break from “tap tap tap”!
I tend to do housework and see to pets first thing in the morning, before settling down to write. I’ll stop to walk the dog several times a day and to rescue burning dinner, as I’ve a tendency to carry on writing while dinner cooks! The smoke detector alarm is known as the “dinner’s ready” bell!
I’ll continue working on the tablet if we’re watching TV or I’m not involved in family pursuits. I write on trains, buses, in press rooms at work, at the races, it’s not 9-5, it’s my way of life. I even have Word on my phone.
What were some major setbacks of this profession?
Rejection slips from publishers. Every author collects them, you have to view them as a badge of honour. Keep collecting them until you get an offer of a contract. That won’t happen unless you keep submitting your work. A rejection slip isn’t a reflection on your work, it just means your work doesn’t fit that publisher’s current market. You only need one door to open, even if 100 were slammed in your face, so never be deterred.
What’s your definition of the first draft?
I’m a bit of a freak of nature among writers because my first draft is my finished novel. I get the impression from most writers that a first draft is usually just the story set down roughly, a bit unpolished. I work differently. My first draft is upstairs in my head.
I watch it unfold a step at a time and write what I visualise in my mind. It’s slow, but I tweak and edit as I go and I only write one draft. When I type the final full stop, it goes straight to my publisher. An editor is assigned, but I never have to rewrite.
The editing process at my publisher’s takes around three days and the book is ready for publication within a week of me finishing my first and only draft. I have heard of authors taking a year with their editor, but they probably get their first draft written much quicker. I average nine months per book, but Sainte Bastien was very complex and it took me 14 months to write.
Tell us how you’d spend your time if you went on a date/adventure/meeting with your favorite fictional character.
Ooh! What a lovely question! An evening with Louis from “Interview With The Vampire” by Anne Rice sounds idyllic, but in reality he wouldn’t make a comfortable dinner date. I’d also love to hang out with Duke and Earl from “Gil’s All Fright Diner” by A. Lee Martinez, but in truth I’d be constantly worrying for them.
Of my own creations, I have to confess to being madly in love with Marcel Dessaint, the jockey from “Chantilly Dawns”, and my ideal date with him would just be a day at the races, watching him ride and hearing his opinions. That would be bliss on paper, but in practice I actually think cheeky Pete Allen from “Gala Day” would be much more fun and entertaining, a better day out altogether, but only for a day!
What are some common stereotypes related to the genre(s) you’re writing in?
I think the same stereotypes afflict all genres, it’s basically just another term for cardboard characters and lack of depth. A common mistake is when the bad guy is just bad, without any motivation or obvious goal. They behave badly because it’s their role.
In reality, people behave badly because of an inner or outer pressure, because they’ve been hurt, because of love, because of ambition, the list is endless, and the job of the author is to always ask “why?”. Just thinking in terms of Hero and Villain can lead to stereotyping. The actual terms are Protagonist and Antagonist, which already gives an author more flexibility and opportunity to play around with character and a reader’s perception.
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