by Catherine H. Armstrong
Yesterday our blog featured a book review of the debut novel by Tina Seskis, One Step Too Far – a gripping story about one woman’s loss and her journey toward redemption. As a reader (and maybe even more as a mother), I loved the story so much that I contacted the author and asked for a Q&A interview for this blog. She graciously accepted and I’ve had more fun these last few days with the back and forth e-mails with this amazing author.
Tina’s book officially hit the bookshelves this past Monday and is currently on-order at the Rochester Public Library. It is also available at amazon.com in traditional and e-book formats. While you wait for your opportunity to get your hands on a copy of this wonderful story, I hope you enjoy this Q&A with the author, Tina Seskis.
Q: I read somewhere that you never intended to be a writer and have your work published. What changed for you and why did you take that first big leap?
A: During one of my many career breaks(!) I decided to take a couple of months out and have a go at everything I ever wanted to do (my husband is very long-suffering), so for fun I joined a writing group, acting classes (my drama teacher said I had no potential by the way), took up yoga and tennis again, joined a choir, you get the picture. But the two hours’ writing class was the absolute highlight of my week, although funnily enough I didn’t write at all outside of that. And then 3 years ago we were on holiday in Venice and out of nowhere I got the idea for One Step Too Far’s big “twist” and I thought, that would make a great novel, so when I got home I started writing it down on my laptop, in between working and being a mother.
Q: I understand that there is a backstory behind the writing of “One Step Too Far.” Can you tell us a little about it?
A: Around the same time I’d been getting worried about my mum, who had started having pains in her legs and inexplicably losing mobility (the doctors thought she had Vitamin D deficiency), and she was getting a bit depressed about it, so to give her something else to think about I’d send her chapters to read. So often I’d be writing in front of the telly and then propped up in bed at two in the morning so I’d have something to send her the next day. Sadly my mum died a few days after I finished the first draft, just two months later, of cancer as it turned out.
Q: How difficult was it for you to find someone willing to take a chance on you and see this book published? Did you find the process easy? Grueling? Exactly as you expected?
A: I didn’t get someone to take a chance. I sent the book out to agents in the days after my mum died (I had all this nervous energy before the funeral that I didn’t know what to do with) and the only response I got was a couple of standard rejection letters. Then I forgot about the book for a year, until a friend of mine recommended me to The Literary Consultancy, and I paid them to read my manuscript to tell me whether it was any good or not – because if it was rubbish I didn’t want to waste time trying to get it published, it would just have remained something private that I’d written for my mum. And TLC liked it so much they became the match-maker between myself and agents, and six or seven agents were personally offered it, one after the other, and in the meantime I wrote my second book – and then two and a half years later I still hadn’t got an agent for either book, let alone a publisher, and I looked at the publishing model and how much it had changed and decided I could do it myself. So in January of this year I set up my own publishing company and had just two goals – make the book as good as it could be, and get it out to as many people as possible online to try to drive word of mouth. And here it is now.
Q: Are any of the characters in One Step Too Far based upon people in your real life? If so, can you talk about that a little bit? Maybe give examples?
A: It sounds corny but Ben is based on my husband, he’s infuriatingly too good to be true too, and without giving too much away the very final ending is the one my mum wanted. Many of the characters are mixes of people I’ve come across, especially the housemates, the people from advertising and the father, and some of the scenarios really happened to me (think the parachuting scene and I’m ashamed to say the lemon tart, but in my defense I was very young). But no, no-one else is real. I’ve always been fascinated by people, and I ALWAYS read the newspaper articles entitled things like “My husband left me for a man who used to be a woman,” so I tried to make all the characters believable because they were based on truth (and without doubt truth is stranger than fiction).
Q: If you could go back and change any one thing about your novel, what would it be and why?
A: Well obviously my own personal circumstances, but regarding the novel I got so much brilliantly candid feedback over the years and I was still changing it right at final typesetting proof stage. A friend’s husband told me about a month ago he didn’t like the way Angel’s story ended, and I realized I didn’t either – so I changed it! A lot of reviewers online said one aspect of the ending was a bit callous and I agreed with them so I changed that a little too. And then lots of people said the end was rushed but I didn’t agree so I ignored that comment! I was also told that I HAD to have the novel copy-edited and I did try to get a couple of people to do it, but I didn’t like having my words messed with, so against all advice (and to save money!) I did all the copy-editing and proof-reading myself (I’d never thought of myself as a control freak before…). The only thing I’d forgotten about until too late is that I wrote a couple of chapters from Emily’s perspective once the mystery was revealed that I took out and I can’t even remember why now, so if there’s the chance to do a reprint I might look at putting those back in.
Q: As a reader, there were so many twists and turns to the book that literally made my jaw drop open while reading. I’m wondering whether – as the writer – did you “know” those twists and turns were going to happen (i.e. did you have an outline that you were following) or did they just sort of develop and take you, as the writer, by surprise as well?
A: I knew the big twist, but how I was going to get there I didn’t really know, I just got the ideas as I wrote them, which made some of the chapter endings a bit of a surprise to me too. And what with the pace I was writing at I didn’t have too much time for plot development. A few months ago I read Stephen King’s quite brilliant book On Writing and it seems like that’s how he does it too, so that made me feel a bit better.
Q: Can you tell us a little about “how” you write. That is to say, do you have specific habits that you follow when you’re writing?
A: One Step Too Far I literally wrote anywhere and everywhere. If I didn’t have my laptop with me and found myself waiting for a bus or in the hospital I’d just start writing long-hand to carry on the story. If I was writing watching the telly I’d often find something someone said would go into the book. I’d write whilst hanging out with my friends in the garden with our children. I don’t have a desk – just a shelf with our Mac on where I do all my “work,” but I never use that to write. These days I write on an ipad with a wireless keyboard, as it turns on instantly and the story is always where I just left it, and I can follow the sunshine (when we get it!) around the house and sit where I fancy, often with my dog curled up next to me.
Q: Are there any books or authors in your own life who have influenced your writing? If so, in what way(s)?
A: I was obsessed with Agatha Christie as a child and she’s probably my biggest influence in terms of how I write, as I love twists – I read that she never knew who the murderer was until the end and I thought no wonder I could never guess. When I was younger I also devoured the likes of Jilly Cooper and Harold Robbins for the brilliance of their page-turning ability. But throughout my life I have always loved books that are really well-written – Salman Rushdie is probably my favourite modern author for his genius with words. And I’m embarrassed to say that lately I’ve hardly read at all.
Q: Besides the love of a story well-told, is there anything you’d like your readers to take away from this book? Any deep message or theme that you hope will resonate with them?
A: I think the novel is ultimately a story about love and redemption. I’d just like people to be a bit kinder to each other, and understand that everyone has their problems and insecurities, and be more forgiving of them. As I’m finding out, people can be very quick to judge!
Q: Do you have any future projects in the works and, if so, can you tell us a little about them?
A: I’ve already written my second novel, A Serpentine Affair, which I’m enormously fond of, and which I will be dedicating to my six best friends from University in the hope that they won’t hate me forever!! I got stuck on my third novel (working title Collision, as it’s the coming together of the story of a character from each of the first two novels) in November, and after a bit of a miserable Christmas on 2nd January I decided to give writing a break and have a go at getting One Step Too Far out there, as otherwise our finances dictated I’d have had to go and get another job in marketing…
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with reader? Anything specific you’d like them to know about you, your writing, this book, etc?
A: I can’t think of anything else for now! Thank you for being the hosts of my first ever Q and A, and to Cathie for her feedback and support in the process.
From the Friends of the Rochester Public Library – and myself, personally – we send our deepest appreciation to Tina Seskis for her time. We wish her great success on this new novel and I am personally looking forward to reading much more from her in the future! ~ CHA