Vickie Johnstone lives in London, UK, where she works as a freelance sub-editor on magazines and an editor on indie books. She has a thing about fluffy cats and also loves reading, writing, films, the sea, rock music, art, nature, Milky Bar, Baileys and travelling.
Vickie has self-published the following books:
Kaleidoscope (poetry); Travelling Light (poetry); Life’s Rhythms (haiku); 3 Heads and a Tail (comedy romance); Kiwi in Cat City (magical cat series for middle grade readers); Kiwi and the Missing Magic; Kiwi and the Living Nightmare; Kiwi and the Serpent of the Isle; Kiwi in the Realm of Ra; Kiwi’s Christmas Tail; Day of the Living Pizza (comedy detective series for middle grade readers), and Day of the Pesky Shadow.
The Kiwi Series contains superb illustrations by Nikki McBroom.
What inspires you to write?
What inspires me? All sorts.
I write poetry, so anything can inspire me here – a walk in the forest, birdsong, a spider web, a drink of chocolate… anything. One day the moon was really full and shining really brightly with a halo of mist – I hurried home to write about it. The only problem is that sometimes I think of something in the shower or when I’m about to go to sleep – just a line or two – and it’s lost because I don’t write it down. My memory isn’t the best!
3 Heads & a Tail, a comedy starring three people and a dog, was inspired by the challenge of NaNoWriMo – writing a book of 50k in 30 days. I named the dog after my first pet, called Glen, and made him a Labrador – my favourite breed as I always thought Guide Dogs were amazing. I’m not sure what inspired his character – I made that up as I went along! I wanted to humanise him a bit – he’s a little grumpy too, and swears like a trooper. I wrote this book so fast that my imagination took over from any structure I wanted to enforce. It was a seat-of-the-pants job. I didn’t know what would come out.
The Kiwi Series was inspired by a little black cat I used to have called Kiwi. I wrote a poem about her when she was alive. She died in 2000. In 2002, I was made redundant from my job. Sitting at home with nothing to do, I went through some old notebooks and poetry books that I’d written. I found the Kiwi poem. For some reason I started thinking about a story about cats – a world full of cats. I called them catizens and started writing Kiwi in Cat City. Various characters popped up in my head and the plot of a catnapping. I had a whale of a time writing this book. I wrote it in four weeks.
Reviews of my books inspire me and other writers. The first two reviews for Kiwi in Cat City were good and I was soooo happy. I can’t tell you how much. I was so happy, I cried. This inspired me to write more because I assumed the book was garbage because a publisher had rejected it long ago. It made me hope that maybe I can do this. I’ve written ten books since then.
I can honestly say that other indie writers inspired me to write the books that I’ve written since 2011. There is a great community of them online. They rock.
Tell us about your writing process
I don’t really have a process, I think! For example, I’ve been working so hard since Christmas that I haven’t written anything – but that has to change soon as I’m dying to write!!
In 2011, on the advice of an indie author, I started keeping a notebook with me at all times. I scribble poems in there and ideas for books, or characters. When I’m writing a book, I scribble down keywords for things I’ve thought of, so I don’t forget. I’ve put rough plot lines down too.
I write on my laptop. I used to write freehand, but this changed in 2011. I think of that time as the year I started writing properly and taking it seriously. I don’t use any software. Just Word.
With NaNoWriMo, my process changed. For that, I had to sit down every day and write something, and think on the spot – I had no plan. This changed the way I looked at writing.
With poetry, I write them fast. I see something in my head – an image or a character or just a feeling about something – and I write. Most are written in five or ten minutes. Most don’t rhyme either. Prompt words really help to get me thinking. I started writing haiku in 2010. I love it, but I have to count the syllables on my fingers. Again, most are little flashes of inspiration in a few minutes.
Most of the time, I just get an idea. I can’t start writing until I see the scenes rolling in my head. That goes into the question below though, so I’ll shut up now!
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
Lol, yes! I can’t write until I have the characters in my head and I can see them. I don’t talk to them – although I used to talk to my cat Kiwi, if that counts! I talk through them instead. I have to see the scenes playing. I think of them and try to imagine them. The best thing is if you’re walking down the street and you suddenly see all this stuff in your imagination – that’s so cool. When everything goes quiet and there’s nothing up there, I’m thinking uh oh! But NaNoWriMo taught me that even if there’s nothing going on – no inspiration, so to speak – if you sit down and get out your laptop, something will come. It might not be great, but it will come!
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I’ve always written since I was really young and always had my nose in a book. But I never actually finished a book until 2002 – Kiwi in Cat City. I did write a couple as a teenager, but I’ve no idea what happened to them. I probably binned them! Kiwi was my first proper book. I sent it to one big publisher, who rejected it, saying they’d received far too many submissions of children’s books. They made no comment on the book, so I assumed it was rubbish. I gave up. I put it in a drawer and forgot about it. No one read it, and I went back to writing poetry and stuff I never finished.
Around January 2011, my boyfriend read an article about an author who had self-published on Amazon Kindle. When he told me, a little light bulb flashed in my brain – could I do that? It seemed the only way I would ever be published and I started getting really excited about it. My dream from when I was young was to publish a book. What I wanted was for my story to be read and get some feedback. Just to see it in the public eye would be enough.
I self-published Kiwi in Cat City and a book of poetry, called Kaleidoscope, in the first couple of months of 2011. I’ve written ten books since then because the fact that I can publish them and they can be read, and maybe inspire happiness in someone (I know that sounds corny!), drives me forward. They don’t have to sit in a dusty drawer.
I would advise new authors to look at Amazon Kindle and Smashwords. The Smashwords Style and Marketing guides are great. You can also self-publish a paperback on Createspace – it looks hard, but once you find out about it, it isn’t. There are many author groups on Facebook and LinkedIn that you can check out, and really, they will teach you everything. Set up on twitter and make a blog. You can put everything about you and your books on your blog. You need one! I’m currently doing my first blog tour, which is fun – recommended too! There is so much to learn and there is so much on offer – these things above are just the tip of the iceberg. Also, don’t forget to have fun And get a good editor. Don’t pay a publisher for anything – that’s vanity publishing. You can do it yourself. All you need is to learn how to format, create a cover and find an editor. You just need Word and PhotoShop.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
It’s expanding. It’s getting bigger and the playing field has been levelled. I think this is the best time to be a writer. Everyone can self-publish a book. There are no limits. I find marketing very difficult. Getting your books and name noticed is hard. You need to build up a following and a good reputation – that’s hard. After all, only the readers can say whether your book is good. Finding your readers is a big challenge. I’d like to see more ‘middle men’ – those offering services to help with marketing and promotion. Also, I hope that everyone starts to take self-published books more seriously. We have to offer the best books we can produce. I think perceptions are changing. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in future. Oh, and I hope the vanity publishers disappear!
What do you use?
What genres do you write:: Poetry, children’s books (middle grade), comedy and general fiction
What formats are your books in: Both eBook and Print