I’ve known Serena now for a number of years as a member and keen supporter of the Ottery Writers’ group. She’s a prolific writer of excellent short stories and I was privileged to have worked with her when putting together and publishing the Between Stops Anthology last year. Her debut novel, Father of Lies has been a long and considered time in the making and offers a thrilling journey for a young woman of the cloth when she is pulled into a terrifying mystery that leads from a rural English church all the way to the Vatican.
With the opportunity to put some questions to Serena I couldn’t wait to delve into what makes a writer such as herself tick.
Firstly, how would you describe Father of Lies as in terms of genre?
How I hate having to fit stories into genres. They are so often hybrids, and Father of Lies is no exception. I believe ‘supernatural thriller’ would sum it up best. It begins as a sort of literary early Hammer film, but evolves into something resembling a Dan Brown conspiracy novel, though without all the chasing around.
Father of Lies is a hugely imaginative concept, what first gave you the inspiration to write it?
It began as a writing exercise, with no story in mind. I came up with a very loose plot, so I knew where the ending had to take place, but most of the twists and turns came from the ether. I kept finding things I could use, and they were as much a surprise to me as to the reader. I won’t say I was led, but it certainly felt like it at times. I’d write a section based on an article, something I’d possibly filed away years before, only to find I’d made references previously that tied in with it. I was quite near the end when I found the link that told me how I was going to reach the final chapter, and was amazed that the book had already seemed to mould itself to that resolution. My muse had obviously been working overtime whilst I’d typed on in oblivion.
I’m assuming you were an imaginative child; what were you like at school and what outlets did you use to express yourself when you were younger?
I was an only child, and used to make up stories, living incredible adventures in my head. I was also a lover of movies from a very early age. In fact I believe films and books were my chief joys. I was shy and lacked confidence – something I still struggle with today – but not in my fantasy world. In my teens, I would often regale my classmates in the lunch hour with detailed accounts of films I’d seen -– mostly x-rated material that I’d sneaked in to see. Later, I made up stories for some of the girls, featuring themselves and their latest crush, not just the romantic stuff but with loads of adventure thrown in. Some of these would be spread over break periods. I’ve always run the stories like films in my head.
Did you always write?
Not seriously. This is where the confidence issue came in. I wrote but never believed it could be a serious career move. I do have a pile of ideas filed away though, that might still see the light of day.
When did you decide to start taking your writing seriously?
Possibly in my thirties, when I worked for London Cannon Films. I came into contact with creative people and dared to dream again. Nothing gets the imagination working like being in a creative atmosphere with the right people. When writers get together, for instance, it’s as though they call into existence an invisible cloud of ideas. I also won a short story-writing course with The London School of Journalism, which was a tremendous boost to my self-belief.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment, promoting Father of Lies is taking up quite a lot of time, but I have already started its sequel, Set in Time, and am toying with ideas for the third [book] in the trilogy. There are others on the back burner, but Set in Time will have to take precedence.
Do you have any hints for us what could be coming after that?
I’ve probably answered that, but don’t expect me to stick to just one genre. I have the beginnings of a couple of crime novels and, if I live long enough, I’d like to write my own vampire novel.
How do you feel about publishing your first novel and what do you feel about writing and publishing in the current times?
There is a tremendous sense of achievement and almost disbelief – ‘Did I really write that?’ The first euphoria is quickly dowsed when the difficulty of bringing your book to the attention of the book-buying public becomes apparent. It’s a problem that all writers face and is very sobering. Valuable time is spent trying all manner of means to raise awareness, especially if finances are limited, time that should be spent on the next novel. With the surge in self-publishing, there is the difficulty of rising above a tidal wave of books, churned out, in some cases, by people barely able to string a sentence together – and don’t get me started on the subject of grammar.
Finally, do you think that the process of writing, editing and publishing Father of Lies has changed you as a writer? Will your approach be different in future?
I hope so. The process has taught me so much, both about my writing skills and the tenacity needed to get a novel ‘out there’. Writing is a constant learning process, uncovering things you didn’t know about yourself, how to convey your story in the most desirable way and even how to listen to your characters on the page. They, I feel, often know a lot more about your novel than you do.
It’s been a privilege speaking with Serena as well as interesting reading and reviewing her work. Father of Lies is available to buy in paperback and Kindle format from Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0993160085.
For further information about Serena and her writing:
Or follow Serena on twitter via @serenacairns