For those who regularly frequent the Bull’s Head in Fishbourne, author Christopher Joyce is a familiar name and face on a Friday evening. Until recently, he lived in Fishbourne with his partner when the ideal home in Chichester town centre appeared on the market and was too good an opportunity to miss. I met with him on a windy Wednesday evening for an interesting talk about the life of an author, how it came to be and how self-publishing really does appear to be the way forward for most of those who want to write for a living these days.
We began by talking about CHINDI, Chichester’s group for Independent Authors, and some of the work they do supporting writers in the area. I was unaware of them (you can visit their site here: https://www.chindi-authors.co.uk/) but they firmly believe, as does Christopher, that the self-publishing route is every bit as valid and respectable for the modern writer. Perhaps even more so, as he argues some of the benefits include more autonomy over your work. He told me that, on Amazon, a third of titles sold are now self-published and many of these are via its Kindle platform. Authors can maintain artistic control with no pressure to write for the market a publisher wants them to, they can retain the look and feel, illustrations and content they want, they can take their tales along the direction they see ahead rather than jumping on the next literary bandwagon to suit a large publisher’s marketing capabilities. Also, and this is very attractive, authors can control their revenue stream. More of the profit goes back to the writer. Importantly, they can interact directly with their fan base selling through websites and chatting over social media platforms such as twitter. They do have to do more of their own marketing and publicity but perhaps this is a small price to pay when you have so much more freedom.
Anyone who has every tried to get a book deal or an agent will be able to tell you that nailing jelly to a wall is easier. Publishers rarely offer advances that a person could live off, let alone sums in six figures, and royalties can actually be very slight. The first few months of sales are the only ones of note for most books. They want titles that fit the current trends such as vampire stories did a few years ago. Also, such as strong local angle as Christopher’s book series The Creatures of Chichester has would be at risk of dilution at the hands of a major publishing corporation. But it’s their charm and settings in familiar places that really make the titles stand out, for me anyway, and for a growing number of readers of all ages.
Despite the books’ very definite sense of place within the walls of Chichester, the idea for the stories came to Christopher whilst on holiday in Cape Verde. He awoke from a dream where he had received a prize and congratulations from the mayor for writing children’s books set in the city. This was his cue to start coming up with ideas for books that would appeal and the first creatures that sprang to mind were the (in)famous peregrine falcons that live around the cathedral spire. He has given them Posh and Becks celebrity status, as you will discover from the books. And from them came ideas for the dogs from the butcher’s shop Penfold’s, the mice from the Italian restaurant and the spiders who live in North Street. There are three books in the series so far, with The One About the Curious Cloud being the most recent, which published in September this year. Three more titles are planned and each one, Christopher feels, gets better and better. He is most pleased with the latest book and told me he really thinks he is very much getting that hang of that ‘show don’t tell’ in his writing following advice early on from a proof reader of his first book. Suggesting key things that are happening rather than spoon-feeding the reader keeps them engaged and adds to the experience of coming along with the writer on a story-telling journey, rather than being passively told but being left at the door, so to speak. And any good quality literature, whether aimed at children or adults, achieves this elegantly. There are some particularly nice examples of this in Chapter 5 of Curious Cloud.
Christopher’s writing week is generally spread across 2-3 days with writing in the mornings and publicity/marketing activities in the afternoon. This includes organising school visits, which he enjoys doing. Many schools encourage authors to visit and conduct workshops on creative writing. He has already visited St. Richard’s, North Mundham and Parklands with hopefully more in the pipeline. More information on this side of his activities can be found on his website (http://www.creaturesofchichester.com/school-visits.html). He is very generous with his time and advice and will happily discuss his own experiences of self-publishing and writing.
The books themselves take around 3 months to write but the editing, typesetting and proofing stages will take approximately this length of time too. Inputting illustrations and producing proofs has been a good learning curve and Christopher has learned much about the technical side of producing images for print production, along with the skills of writing. He now finds that his garden design business is increasingly taking a back seat to make way for the books as their success grows.
He often gets asked whether he misses the old house at the top of Salt Hill Road and in particular, garden he worked so hard on for the seven years living there. He told me he really doesn’t. It was wonderful at the time but he has handed it over to new owners who are keen gardeners themselves to make it their own. You only ever look after a garden, it’s never entirely yours because it grows, changes and develops. Whilst the garden is now part of the past, however, the village of Fishbourne isn’t and Christopher returns most Friday evenings along with his partner to the Bull’s Head. He tells me he likes the community feel Fishbourne has and has made so many friends here, returning to catch up with them is a natural thing to do.
As well as socialising with us, I asked Christopher what he sees himself doing in future in addition to completing the last three books in The Creatures of Chichester series. He told me he would like to write a thriller or a mystery. The way could be paved for writing for adults too, as he enjoys the darker themes some of his current books take. Watch this space…