Monday 7 March 2016

Q&A with Debbie Viggiano, author of Secrets

Hi, Debbie! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your books?

Hello, Sophie! For more years than I care to remember, I was a legal secretary. I’d always wanted to write a book and was madly encouraged after winning a short story competition in the local rag. However, there never seemed any spare time to actually sit down and get on with it! I realised the only way to achieve this goal was to wait until the entire household was asleep! So, night after night I’d burn the midnight candle writing my first novel, Stockings and Cellulite. It went to Number thirty-eight in the whole of Amazon’s UK chart. I nearly fainted! After that I was like a woman possessed, albeit a very knackered one!

I wrote two more full-length novels, Flings and Arrows and Lipstick and Lies, before swerving off and changing genre with a rather meaty family drama, The Ex Factor. I wish I’d written under another name because it wasn’t so well received. Readers thought they were getting something light-hearted and humorous, and instead they were immersed in this stressful, messy, psychological furore. I actually think it’s my best bit of writing!

After that I went back to my previous formula and wrote The Perfect Marriage, and I’ve just published my sixth novel, Secrets.

In between the full-length novels, I’ve written Lily’s Pink Cloud – a fairy-tale, Mixed Emotions – a book of shorties, and 100. The latter is a charity book written after being diagnosed in 2013 with Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia. It hopefully offers support and encouragement to anybody suddenly thrust into a life-changing situation. Happily, I am now in major molecular remission.

I live with my Italian husband, a rescued puppy from Crete, and a very disgruntled cat. Occasionally my children return home from uni bringing much joy…apart from their gifts of dirty laundry.

Describe your writing style in five words…

I’ve never suffered writer’s block in my life, until you asked me this question! I ended up turning to readers, via Facebook, to describe my style. I picked five words that I think best sum it up: Heartwarming and witty relationship romance.

Your newest book, Secrets, was published on Valentine’s Day. Can you tell us a bit about the story?

Janey Richardson thought she had it all – the perfect job, a drop-dead gorgeous boyfriend, a cutesy cottage love nest, and a socking great diamond on her left hand. But things aren’t always as they seem, as Janey is about to discover when an unexpected stranger turns up revealing a secret that shatters her world. There’s only one thing for it. She’s going to have to disappear.

Garth Davis thought he had it all too, until a secret is revealed that turns his world upside-down. He is left with one burning question, but he’s going to have to take a five-thousand-mile journey to find the answer.

When Janey’s and Garth’s worlds collide, a thaw takes place in Janey’s heart. But is Garth ‘The One’? Making the right decision isn’t easy – especially when Janey’s own past rushes back to meet her.

I had a lot of fun researching for Secrets. A good chunk of the book is set in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. I took a lot of flights over a short period of time! Canada is a fabulous country.

I love the cover for Secrets – do you have a favourite of all your covers?

Absolutely, and it is Secrets! Previously I chose copyright-free photographs which my lovely son did a bit of jiggery pokery to and, voilĂ , a book cover! However, I thought it was time to up my game and be more professional. Cathy of Avalon Graphics was recommended by another author friend, and I think she’s done a cracking job!

How much planning do you do for each book before beginning the first draft?

Quite a bit. Ideas usually form when I’m out walking my pooch, Molly Muddles. Thoughts swirl about in my head as we stride through woods or stomp across open countryside come rain, wind or shine. Once home, I’ll bash everything out in a Word document. My hands fly over the keys adding other bits as characters start to come forward, waving their arms for attention, revealing their names and problems. Before long there is a definite beginning, middle and end. I think about individual chapters while out on further walks. It’s easy to concentrate when the only noise is that of birds singing or cows mooing. Nothing is worse for fragmenting thoughts than a ringing telephone or the demands by others upon your time.

To what extent do you ‘become’ your characters when writing them?

I don’t think I’ve ever ‘become’ a character other than in The Ex Factor. Usually I mentally stand back and listen to my characters as they ‘show’ me their life and what’s going on in their personal world. However, maybe it’s because The Ex Factor is a different genre that ‘becoming’ each character happened to me.

Opening the pages, the reader will see each character has a chance to tell the reader why they are behaving as they are, irrespective of whether their actions are morally right or wrong. Consequently, when writing each character’s view of the drama, I found myself seeing through their eyes, hearing with their ears, and truly feeling the words and actions of others that, in real life, leave marks on hearts and scars on minds. I felt each character’s frustration, anger…and tears. In fact I often cried as I was writing it. The whole experience was draining. I’m in no hurry to repeat the process!

How much, if at all, do you base your characters on yourself and people you know?

*Laughs* There is a phrase writers have jokingly shared: “Careful what you say, or you might end up in my novel.” Generally, I do not base my characters on either myself or people I know. However, I think we’ve all met a woman like Annie Worthington from The Ex Factor. I’ve had so many women email me asking if I’d ever met their husband’s ex!

Two of my previous novels feature a blended family where everybody is happy and life is sweet. In reality, many second-time-around relationships with children from previous partnerships are a minefield. I spent time researching on step-parent forums. Many people told of huge difficulties which have pushed a high proportion of second marriages to breaking point. The novel was a work of fiction. The dramas within were not. The overriding message from the forum was a plea to ex partners: “Please, stop and think. Do not allow personal grievances to impact upon others, least of all your children. Point scoring bears no winners.” Otherwise, look and see what can happen.

Having self-published several books now, can you tell us a bit about how the self-publishing experience has been for you?

I started off arming myself with The Writers’ & Artists’ book and approached every appropriate literary agent. I had three close encounters which had me dancing with joy. I followed requests to re-write large swathes of the novel, followed by invitations to resubmit. Ultimately it was rejected. I nearly put the whole thing in the bin. Instead I re-wrote it yet again and went to Matador.

Back then, the term ‘vanity publishing’ rang true for me. I had some spare cash and wanted to see all that monumental effort go into a finished product – simply for me! Since then, of course, Amazon have come along and offered indie writers the opportunity to do this for peanuts…providing you only deal with them. I have no complaints. They approached Matador with a marketing strategy for Stockings and Cellulite and suddenly the book rocketed up the chart. I felt like I’d won the lottery when the first royalty was paid. I’ve left the novel with Matador because it’s gained a lot of reviews which, if I came away, would be lost. So instead it’s priced very cheaply to assist in driving the sales of the other novels.

Since those early days, I have joined several on-line writing groups. I think writers are always happy to help each other and share tips and strategies. I now go to the lovely Maureen Vincent-Northram for proof reading services, the absolutely brilliant Rebecca Emin deals with formatting for Kindle and CreateSpace paperbacks, and finally the talented Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics assists with the cover jacket. It really is very, very affordable. Also, dealing solely with Amazon means the author achieves seventy percent royalties. But for me, whilst I appreciate my writing being financially rewarding, the fact remains that ultimately I write for pleasure. It’s a joy to write, and nothing is more delightful than a reader getting in touch and saying they love what I write.

If you were to spend 24 hours living in another fictional world, which book would you enter, what character would you be and how would you spend your time?

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I’d be the very young and excitable Lucy. I particularly loved reading how the character Aslan responded to and influenced her. She seemed to have such a special relationship with him who, we all know, is a Christ figure. I’d spend every moment in Aslan’s company soaking up his aura and wisdom!

You have to narrow your book collection down to three books: a favourite book, the last book you bought and a book you’ve been meaning to read for ages. (Sorry!) Which books would you be left with?

Oooh, that’s a tough question! Okay, I’m going to say my favourite is Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree. There is a lot of sentiment behind this answer. Firstly, as a child I was an avid reader of her books. This particular one filled me with a huge yearning to find such a tree and disappear into an alternative fabulous other-world. Secondly, I have many happy memories of sitting in my old rocking chair with my (then) little boy on lap, reading those long ago words and seeing him so enthralled. Enid Blyton had a brilliant knack of crafting simple sentences that painted a strong picture. It was exactly the same for my daughter when she came along. It’s a book that’s decades old but held the test of time very well.

The last book I bought was Milly Johnson’s Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower CafĂ©. She’s one of my favourite authors. It’s also a book I’ve been meaning to read for ages because it remains unread. This is purely because I recently moved house and all my books – including my Kindle – remain packed in boxes waiting for a custom-built bookcase to be delivered! So, Milly, if you are by any chance reading this, I am hugely looking forward to getting stuck into the tale of Connie and her love-rat husband, Jimmy Diamond!

Quick Fire:

Twitter or Facebook? – Facebook.

Author who inspired you the most? Catherine Alliott.

Novels or short stories? Novels.

Biggest form of writing procrastination? I don’t have one – writing time is too precious!

Reading or writing? Definitely writing!

Thank you so much for chatting, Sophie. I’d like to sign off inviting the reader to follow my blog, Tweet @DebbieViggiano or look me up on Facebook!


Thank you, Debbie!

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