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Michelle Birbeck
Interview Date: Fri 10 Jun 2011
Biography: I’m 28 and have been writing and reading my whole life. My earliest memory of books was when I was five and decided to try and teach my fish how to read, by putting my Beatrix Potter books in the fish tank with them. Since then my love of books has grown, and now I’m writing my own, and looking forward to seeing them on my shelves, though they won’t be going anywhere near the fish tank. Of course, when I’m not writing, I’m out and about on my motorbike, or sat with my head in a book.

Twitter: @michellebirbeck

1. You’ve been a writer for most of your life. Your website states that you only recently returned to writing and you’ve been rewarded with that return. What made you go from writing short stories to wanting to get them published?

I’m not really sure. I started writing again after leaving work to look after my husband, and when I finished writing The Last Keeper I went on to write more in the same series, but it wasn’t until I’d finished three of them that I sort of sat down and went ‘what do I do now?’ Fortunately a friend of my family has had their work published, so I went and asked what he thought I should do. After that it was a case of finding the right people to send the work to and hoping that one of them liked it enough to take it on.

2. Your earlier works were part of events linked with charities and these have either been published online or as e-books. Would you say that having that early experience with the digital publishing industry helped you?

It has been a fantastic journey writing for charities. I’ve not only met a lot of wonderful people who are willing to offer advice and such, but it has also given me practice in genres that I wouldn’t normally write in and styles that I wouldn’t normally have considered. It has certainly broadened my horizons. However, it has also shown me just how much work goes into creating the digital media. It isn’t just a case of write it and get it out there, it all needs formatting and resizing, as well as a hundred other things that, though not writing specific, are just as important as the actual writing itself.

3. You’ve gone from short stories being published on the internet to being published by a business venture (Pocket Novels). What made you decide to go with a start-up venture rather than go with an established or independent publisher?

NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month. It all started there. I’d been trying to get my book published for a while and found that one of the things I was lacking was publications to my name. Although they are not needed, they make publishers sit up and take a bit more notice. So I was looking around for charities and magazines and the like when I stumbled upon Pocket Novels advertising in the NaNoWriMo forums. I didn’t get accepted the first time with them, but they were kind enough to send me the work back with where they thought it needed improving, and I went away, redid it, sent it back in, and received my first ever acceptance from them.

4. Your website has a gothic “vampiric” feel to it. Is this what readers can expect from “Consequences” and the “Last Keeper” series?

Oh yes. One of my biggest inspirations in literature is Richard Laymon. I’ve read all of his work, all horrors, and loved each and every one of them. Horror and gothic novels are what I grew up on, and, hopefully, my own work now reflects that.

5. Dark fantasy and science fiction have always been seen as niche markets by the publishing industry but dark fantasy, especially vampire stories, have surged forwards in terms of success. Are you looking to replicate the success of other writers in this genre.

Yes and no. What I was going for with The Last Keeper was something new and different, which hopefully I’ve achieved. Of course it would be nice to have millions of people reading my work, but at the same time that is a very scary thought. However, at the end of the day the reason that I wanted to publish the work was so that people could read it, meet the characters, and feel what they feel. Anything on top of that is a bonus.

6. You’re a user of Twitter and you have just under one thousand followers on Twitter. Would you say that, by using Twitter, you’ve been able to market your upcoming book and connect with your readers in a way that conventional publishing may not have afforded you?

Absolutely! I would say that any writer, especially new ones, who are not on twitter need to get out there and get on it. I have connected with so many people through it, more than I ever through possible. Some of them are writers themselves, book readers, reviewers, as well as editors and critics. They are such a wonderful group of people and always willing to offer advice, and it is well worth getting on there and talking to people about your books.

7. Much of your feed on Twitter is all about your writing and it’s very personal. We know when you are going to write. Do you stick to a schedule with your writing or do you have moments of inspiration where you have to write down in a flourish?

Ha! Schedule! No. Big no. I write when the mood takes me, read when it doesn’t. Moments of inspiration come at all times of the day, however, and if I happen to be in front of my computer, then I will sit down and write. If not, then I always have a notepad and pen with me.

8a. How do you feel about the rise of e-books and the number of people who have had success by publishing their works digitally first?

I have mixed feelings about ebooks. On the one hand I think that they are a wonderful thing, especially for those who can’t necessarily afford paperbacks, and absolutely for those who want books from another country but can’t afford the postage. However, I am not overly fond of them. If I can, I would still rather have a paperback or hardback in my hands.

8b. Would you have considered publishing your works even if the technology didn’t exist for people to be able to read using a handheld device?

Yes. One of the dreams I had when I first started trying to get published was to have my book in my hand with my name on it. Then to put that book on my bookshelves where everyone can see it.

9. How are you going to market your book? Will you be focusing on the digital market, for example, by using social media and digital tools, or will you be more conventional and focus on bookstores?

A bit of both. With Consequences I have a lot of freedom where marketing is concerned, whereas with The Last Keeper I have help from the publishers. Basically, though, if there is an avenue open to me for marketing, then I’ll be taking it.

10. Finally, let’s talk about your upcoming works. Your first book is called “Consequences” and is being published by Pocket Novels. Give us a brief summary of this story and why people should read it.

If blood and guts and horror is your thing, then Consequences is for you. It is not for the faint of heart, at all. It centres around Celia, the morning after her fiancé proposes to her:

Celia is used to dealing with the occasional psycho in her line of work. She’s reasoned with them, talked to them, but she’s never been held at the mercy of one before. After the best night of her life having to fight to survive is the last thing she expects, but it’s exactly what life throws at her. And might just be what death throws at her, too.

11. Even before “Consequences” was published, The Writer’s Coffee Shop has agreed to publish your longer works, the “Last Keeper” series. You’ve been a member of that community for some time and published short stories there. Did that digital experience help you know what the industry wanted?

It not so much gave me an idea what the industry wanted, but built my confidence. It gave me a chance to connect directly with readers and talk to them, listen to what they thought of my writing, and hear their thoughts and opinions. The online communities have been fantastic for both connecting with readers and building confidence.

12. There’s a lot of mystery surrounded the “Last Keeper” series. Can you give us any hints or clues about what it will involve and why readers might be interested in this?

We’re still in editing with it at the moment, so summaries and things are still in the works, but I can tell you a little bit about it. I should start by saying that I absolutely love all of my characters, each and every one of them holds a place in my heart, but by god have tortured the hell out of them. Nothing is ever easy for any of them. If they want something, then they are going to go through hell and back to get it, and even then it isn’t a sure thing.

The book is based on the premise that the vampires are always portrayed as stronger than us humans, faster, deadlier, so what’s stopping them from taking over? That would be where the Keepers come in. Immortal beings here for one purpose and one only; to keep the balance of peace between all the races. But the vampires, the most violent of all the races, wouldn’t just sit back and let them, and every race has its weakness. The Last Keeper tells the story of Serenity Cardea, last of the Keepers, last to stand between the vampires and the rest of the world. It tells the story of her weakness, and how she must fight to stay alive, because once a Keeper’s weakness has been realised they can be killed. And when there are no more, the vampires will do what they’ve always wanted to do: exterminate and enslave.

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