A writer like you: Louisa Dwyer
Meet Louisa Dwyer, a fantasy author, business owner, and fanatical reader.
When she is not working on the final edit of the second novel in her Firebird Trilogy series, she is helping to run both online and offline book groups and working her way through her ever-expanding 'To-be-read' list. Her first novel, The Firebird's Trail, was published in May 2018 and she describes being able to hold her own book in her hands as one of the proudest moments of her life. Although she writes Fantasy epic and romance, Louisa reads across all genres of fiction and particularly loves crime and historical fiction. Her favourite contemporary authors are Linda Castillo, David Rosenfelt, Susannah Gregory and Lisa Jewell. However, her first love is of ancient literature and drama and the ancient epics and drama of Greece and Rome are the chief inspiration for her writing.
If you’ve had a hard time getting back into writing, Louisa’s story (not to mention her writing mantra) will inspire you to start now. You’ll also love reading about how she gets ideas and her experiences with self-publishing.
Let’s dive into the interview, shall we?
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I always had stories on the go in my head growing up, some of which are endless sagas that I still add to now. I also love telling stories- both from memory and imagination. I remember once spending a five hour road trip telling my version of Homer's Odyssey without drawing breath to my hapless fellow passengers—I think they were too polite to complain... I have nice friends! In my late teens I started to write things down- quotations, ideas, diary entries and short stories and have been writing, one way or another, ever since. I co-founded a quirky little writers group at university called Writers' Block which got me into poetry in a big way. I guess it helped us all to release some of that teen-angst that we carried at the time but it was also a great way to meet an amazing bunch of eclectic people. I still love poetry and enjoy teaching it as part of my day-job as a Private Tutor.
However, as an adult, it wasn't until my thirties, in the aftermath of leaving classroom teaching which had been my career for the previous 10 years, that I had time to really be creative again. I had started teaching a lot of Classics and English Literature to my new students, all of whom I worked with one-to-one. I found that I now had the luxury of being able to really delve into the books they were studying. Instead of always feeling the pressure of getting more than 200 pupils through an exam, I was concentrating on just 12-15 students of all ages, working on bringing out their passion for the written word and drama in a way that was, and still is, amazingly rewarding.
What inspired the Firebird Trilogy?
One day, the central story of the Firebird Trilogy just came to me. I've often had these sorts of sagas running in my head but they tend to work themselves to a finish and then I forget about them. Not this time... I got really obsessed with my characters and their lives and sort of zoned out from the world, retreating into my garage where I sat, listening to music, smoking, (I've since given up!) and seeing where their loves and losses took me. I fell in love with more than a few of them. A week later, I had conceived a whole world and culture. I lost sleep because I couldn't stop refining it and adding to it. It made me incredibly happy and all those close to me commented on the difference they saw. Once I knew how the story ended I just couldn't let it go I felt compelled to write it down. And so I did!
What was your writing process like for the first book in the trilogy?
For the first book, The Firebird's Trail, I wrote like a woman possessed. I made sure that I got 1,000 words down each day and edited as I went. I had the first draft of 95,000 words completed in three months. Looking back, I realise that this made for a consistent style and sense of the world I wanted to create, but a narrative riddled with mistakes. I had no one prepared to act as an editor the first time around and I still cringe when I see some of the errors that made it into the published edition.
So it sounds like you decided to self-publish. Could you tell us more about that?
I was too scared to go down the literary agent route—I admit that a very real fear of rejection stopped me. I was almost equally daunted by the complicated process of self-publishing—I knew that I would never have the patience for type-setting etc. But I had saved the money that I would have spent on cigarettes and decided to use it to pay someone else to get it on to Amazon. I used a company called Goldwind, who I would recommend to anyone in terms of cover design, formatting ebooks and paperbacks, (though their proof-reading isn't the best.)
I was also really keen to include a map of the 'Upper Face' in which my trilogy takes place, but as I don't have an artistic bone in my body, this was a problem. Fortunately, my very talented ex-colleague and friend, Mike Taylor is an exceptionally multi-talented artist and he was prepared to work with me through three versions of my world until we came up with the final copy which you see here and at the front of my book. I have a framed copy of the second draft on my wall and I remain totally in awe of anyone with artistic ability enough to bring someone else's ideas to life. You're the best, Mike!
How did you feel when you decided to publish it for the world to see?
When it came to actually going live with The Firebird's Trail I found that I was suddenly full of fear and misgivings. How would it be received by the people who read it? What if no one did? And could I handle bad reviews? I suddenly wasn't sure if I wanted to share my book if it meant I could get hurt. Anyone else who has written a novel knows that it becomes like the writer's baby and how protective and vulnerable it can make you in the face criticism. After quite a lot of soul-searching it was my very excellent husband who pointed out that:
1) He had enjoyed the book so why wouldn't at least some other people
2) I should remember how much pleasure the writing had given me and focus on it all as a creative venture rather than sales and reviews.
These two pieces of wisdom have become my mantra.
How did it go?
Not bad. I sold enough to break even and got some lovely reviews as well as one horrible message from a guy who was most certainly not a fan... The former were wonderful and the latter was, predictably, awful. I also got to know a whole load of other authors and I have found that the vast majority of the writing community is a fantastically supportive and friendly bunch. Some of them have become close friends and I have had the pleasure following their own writing journeys. I have copies with the local libraries which feels great as I LOVE libraries—free books—what's not to love? I was also invited to be a guest author at a local Primary School for World Book Day which was a fantastic experience. A parent actually took the time to write to me to let me know that I had inspired her very Dyslexic son to sit down and write his own stories. That was probably the best thing to date about having written a novel.
What’s next for you?
I'm on my final edit of the second book in the trilogy: Firebird in Flight. This one has taken much longer to write, partly because of work and family, partly because writing the middle segment of a trilogy is fraught with difficulties. How do you ensure you are linking the first and third books effectively? What if it is too different/similar to the first? Have I achieved a consistent writing style? Are there continuity errors? I also want to incorporate a bit more artwork in the second book so I am working with Mike to create 'Kingdom Seals' which will be used at the start of chapters to indicate the location of the action in that episode. I suppose the proof will be in the pudding. Hopefully it will be out by the summer and won’t disappoint.
Tell us something we don’t know about you.
It sounds completely ridiculous, but the night before it started coming together I had a dream about Ian McShane as the ruler of a tribal culture and to this day I still picture the Forest King in my books as looking like him!
My oldest possession is a rainbow rubber that I bought with my pocket money at the age of four at a school trip to see a performance of—you guessed it- —The Firebird! For some reason I always kept the thing and it's sitting in the drawer of my desk where I'm sitting right now.
Any advice on how to build an author platform?
I haven't invested nearly enough time in building an author platform. I have a Facebook page and a Twitter Account (@louisadwyerfir1) for the book but I think most of the followers are just other authors looking for followers rather than readers. Word of mouth and chatting one-to-one with other authors seems to be the best way of getting people to read your book.
To free the writer today, let’s remember Louisa’s mantra. Let’s focus more on the pleasure writing gives us more than sales and reviews.
Keep freeing that writer,