Deirdra: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?
Anna: Pretty much as soon as I realised that book were written by people, I knew I wanted to be one of those people. I asked my mother what a lady who wrote books was called, and she said "an authoress" and since then I always told people that when I grew up I wanted to be an authoress.
Deirdra: What is your writing and educational background?
Anna: Despite being convinced that I would never make it as a writer, I never really wanted to do anything else and didn't have any kind of career plan. So I did English Literature at University (because they didn't offer a degree in English language) and since then I've been a shop assistant, waitress, estate agent, and for the last twelve years a charity administrator. I still want to be a professional writer, but the bills have to be paid.
Deirdra: What makes you passionate about writing?
Anna: I love everything about it, it's just so much fun. I find it very powerful to be able to use language to evoke mood or convey an idea, or simply entertain.
Deirdra: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?
Anna:Better than expected, because I decided to write for the LDS market first, seeing it (mistakenly) as an "easy way in" to establishing a writing career. I was a brand new member of the church when I wrote my first LDS novel and sent it to Covenant. It wasn't suitable, but the editor liked my writing style and suggested a story I might write. I did, and Haven was published by Covenant in 2000. So I only had one rejection letter, and that was a very nice and complimentary letter.
Deirdra: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?
Anna: After the sequel to Haven was published the following year, the third in the series was turned down. So I wrote something else, and that was turned down too. Then I tried historical fiction, only to have that turned down. I tried sending these manuscripts to other publishers, who also rejected them. So from one rejection letter I ended up with a boxful, and even gave up writing for a while. Then one day I read my historical fiction novel again (having not looked at it for a year) and liked it. I decided to try again, and Easterfield was published in 2008. I still think it's the best thing I have ever written, even though it was my least successful book.
Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like?
Anna: Terrible. I have three children and two other jobs, so I snatch a few minutes with my laptop whenever I can - in the school car park waiting for the children to come out of school, at my daughter's riding lesson, and most weeks I'm to be found typing away in our meetinghouse while my eldest daughter is at mutual. I also tend to write late at night, but luckily that seems to be the time I write best.
Deirdra: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is good enough to write a book about it?
Anna: All sorts of places! My first two books were the suggestion of my editor at Covenant. Easterfield was because I realised that lots of the historical classic novels I loved were set around the time the gospel was restored, and wondered what would happen if a gospel element were introduced. My forthcoming book, Honeymoon Heist, is one I've had on the back burner for about ten years so I don't remember where the idea came from, and the one I'm working on at the moment is the idea of a friend who is working on it with me.
I believe any idea can be good enough to write a book about because however minor the issue at the heart of the novel, properly handled and explored it can be fascinating. One of my favourite writers is Marian Keyes and in her books there's very little "action" or "plot" as such, and yet they are compelling.
Deirdra: Can you tell us about your new book coming out in February?
Anna: It's called Honeymoon Heist and I think it's really about an ordinary couple exploring their new relationship. The book opens with their marriage, and later it fills in some of the background - their past mistakes and issues and their differing personalities. Although they do get caught up in a very dangerous situation with a whole load of ruthless bad guys, I still see the central theme as being their learning how to be together and understand and rely on each other. It's supposed to be quite comic in places, and it's set on the Spanish island of Majorca with the final scene at the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Deirdra: What do you hope readers will get from your books?
Anna: Entertainment, enjoyment and escapism. I generally try to avoid giving any major moral messages. I don't want to preach to people, I just want them to be able to relax with a book and have a good feeling when they close it.
Deirdra: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sit down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline first?
Anna: It varies. Usually I have a rough idea of what I want to say, and may be a chapter or two ahead in my mind, but I often just let it happen. I've just started a book where I actually have no clue. I have a character moving to a town, and meeting a boy with a fascinating secret, but I don't know what that secret is yet. (No, he's not a vampire.)
I am currently writing a fantasy novel with two friends. Ryan came up with the framework of the original story, and Phil has also had a lot of input on the details. I write a chapter, email it to them, then we meet up over a takeaway meal at my house and they tell me what will happen in the next chapter, and what needs to be improved in the last. It's a lot of fun!
Deirdra: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer's block? If so, how do you deal with it?
Anna: All the time! I have two techniques. The first is just to plough through - write anything just to get past it, and go back and fix it later. The second is to work on another part of the story, or even another book, until the block unblocks. That almost never works, so I try to go with the first option if at all possible.
Deirdra: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when you are writing?
Anna: I need music all the time, silence really bothers me. I can't do anything in silence, not even cooking the tea in the kitchen. My family know it's teatime when I turn the radio off so that we can have quiet for the blessing. But I have to be careful about the music I choose when I'm writing or it affects the mood of the story. I love rock music, and I'm listening to Muse and Magnum at the moment as I write my fantasy novel, which is a good fit, but I will have to choose something lighter if I move onto another story I'm working on.
Deirdra: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?
Anna: Anything. In the past I've used song lyrics and even entire albums, photographs, the suggestions of others, memories, and personal experiences. For one book I'm working on (Finders Keepers) I invited all my girlfriends to come round and tell me about their worst dating experiences so that I could use them in the book. We had a chocolate fountain and a lot of laughs, and if I ever finish the book it's going to be very funny and all the incidents in it - including the proposal in a hearse - will be true!
Deirdra: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
Anna: Valerie Holladay, that first Covenant editor; Kerry Blair, a writer I very much admire and who gave me lots of great advice; a whole bunch of fellow authors who are really supportive (see www.vformation.blogspot.com for a list); and my husband for believing in me and not belittling my efforts.
Deirdra: What’s your secret to making the characters in your books come to life? Anna: I confess, I tend to pick bits and pieces of people I know, although I have never based an entire character on one person. I do enjoy making their words reflect their outlook on life, and thinking about how they would dress or what actor would best portray them if it were ever filmed. I particularly liked writing the character of Rodney Hewlett inHoneymoon Heist, he's quite complex. I think at the beginning of the book the reader will be asking "Why did Claire marry such a boring geek?" and by the end of it will be thinking how lucky she is to have him.
Deirdra: What authors do you admire, and why?
Anna: Kerry Blair, Stephanie Black and several other LDS authors because they have really made LDS fiction as good as anything out there in the national market. Stephenie Meyer because she has achieved what we all dream of, and yet I'm not jealous at all because I love her books and I've had a lot of pleasure from them. JK Rowling, ditto. Bill Bryson, because the differences between UK and US culture fascinate me, and he is encapsulates them with such humour.
Deirdra: What is your favourite snack to have while you are writing? Anna: I was about to say doughnuts, because they are my favourite snacks at any time, but actually it's quite difficult to type when you're covered in jam and sugar. I think probably I would snack after I've done my writing for the day, because I need both hands free to type.
Deirdra: Besides writing what other talents or hobbies do you have?
Anna: None. Seriously. I can't sing a note, don't play an instrument, can't dance, and although I used to have some artistic talent it seems to have waned in recent years. But that's OK. If I could only pick one talent I'd pick writing anyway. As for hobbies, I love science fiction programmes and films, and dabble in cross-stitch.
Deirdra: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?
Anna: Much as I'd like to say "go for it!" it does trouble me that there is such a poor standard of writing these days. I get the occasional email from people along the lines of "i want 2 B a riter how do i go about doing this ambishun". So I think it's important to get the basics first - learn to construct a proper sentence, spell and use punctuation effectively. Then extend your vocabulary and learn to use words to their full advantage. The easiest way to do all of this is to read a lot. Writing is a skill and like any other it has to be learned, but the good news is that's it's really fun and easy to learn by reading the works of those who are masters of it and emulating them. I have a good friend who didn't have a very good education, has dyslexia couldn't write particularly well, but she discovered some books she loved and two years on from suddenly becoming a voracious reader she's just won a short story competition.
Deirdra: What are you working on now?
Anna: Emon and the Empire is an epic fantasy novel which I hope to finish soon. I'll then move on to Finders Keeperswhich is a comedy about four women in competition to find the perfect guy. Finally Exogenesis is about ... well, I don't really know yet, I'm looking forward to finding out. I also have two other books being considered for publication,Christmas at Haven, the last in the Haven series, and Landscape in Oils which is about a New York cop who goes on an exchange programme to Wales to get over the death of his wife.
Deirdra: Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?
Anna: Wonderful Amazon! Easterfield is available for Kindle and still on sale in LDS bookstores. Honeymoon Heistshould be available in LDS bookstores and other stores depending on where you live.
Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?
Anna: Buy my book! Sorry, couldn't resist. What I'd really like to say is that I love hearing from readers, so do get in touch to let me know what you thought of any of my books you've read, even if you hated them - it might help me improve next time. My Facebook page (search for Anna Jones Buttimore) includes daily updates on my work in progress and some of my short stories and fan fiction, or you can reach me through my website (www.annajonesbuttimore.com) or blog (www.buttimoresbooks.blogspot.com).