Joanne Phillips

A Writers Journey



Superstar Interview – Terry Tyler and The House of York

This weekend I’m really excited to welcome Terry Tyler to the blog! Terry has agreed to let me interview her following the release of her latest novel, The House of York. (You can read my review of Terry’s book at the end of the post.) This is an intriguing book, not least of all because it uses – albeit loosely – the characters and plot line from a major historical event. It’s not a historical novel, however – this is bang up-to-date contemporary fiction, and is currently riding high in the charts. Let’s find out a bit more about why and how Terry did it …

The House of York

So, Terry, The House of York, which I loved so much, is a contemporary novel with more than a passing link to historical events. What gave you the idea for linking it to the Wars of the Roses in this way, and can you think of any other novels that have taken up this idea? I can’t.

“What, you mean apart from my earlier novels, Kings and Queens and Last Child, that mirror the Tudor period?!  Aha, you unwittingly provided such a book-plugging opportunity, Jo 😉

But seriously…. I have to admit that the idea stemmed from Susan Howatch’s wonderful Cashelmara (a 19th century retelling of the story of Edwards I and II), and The Wheel of Fortune (The Black Prince, Richard II and Henry IV).  I first read these books about 25 years ago and, thus, my interest in the Plantagenets began, as I wanted to find out the real stories behind her novels.  I’ve had a bit of a thing for the Wars of the Roses since reading Phillipa Gregory’s The Red Queen (about Margaret Beaufort, a fascinating woman; she inspired Megan in The House of York).  But these three of my books are, essentially, just contemporary dramas; no historical knowledge necessary!  For my two test readers, I have one history lover and one who knows nothing about it and cares even less, to get a good balance.”

I thought the combination of different first person viewpoints was masterful – and this is something a lot of writers find it very hard to pull off. What advice can you give to other novelists who would like to try this technique but have been warned off, or put off, by reports that readers don’t like it/find it confusing?

“Only use this structure if you feel confident doing so.  I think to pull it off successfully you have to become the person you’re writing; I remember when I was writing the prissy Jenny (Jane Seymour) in Kings and Queens, I suddenly realised I was sitting like she might, with a Jenny-type expression on my face!  The ‘voice’ has to change: the vocabulary, the mood, everything.  You need to be aware of the differences in how men and women think, the ways in which people express themselves according to levels of education, and the effect of upbringing, experience and social class on their attitudes.  Having read The House of York, you may have noticed how bookish, middle class Megan ‘speaks’ very differently from working class single mum Lisa!  Several times I had to stop and think, no, that word is in Megan’s and my vocabulary, but it wouldn’t be in Lisa’s.

This structure might not be within every writer’s repertoire (as, indeed, some styles are outside mine) and, as you say, it won’t appeal to every reader, but I can only write the book I want to write.  Again, it was Susan Howatch who gave me the idea.  If done well (and I would never flatter myself that I have her skill!), it gives the reader knowledge that the other characters do not possess.  Often, this can give the story a new and surprising perspective; perhaps Person C isn’t quite as confident/cold/sincere as Persons A and B might have led you to believe…”

You’ve now published an astonishing eleven books on Amazon, and I get the feeling you’re only just getting into your stride. I’m sure I’m not the only person who wants to know the following:

            Where do you get your energy from???

            How do you keep the tone and voice of each novel so fresh?

            How do you find time to write, edit and publish quality novels and still have … a life?

“Jo, I just love writing, I can’t imagine not doing so!  I wrote nine (or it might be ten, I can’t remember) novels back in the 1990s, before Amazon self-publishing.  As for energy and time, you ought to see the state of my house!!!  I don’t go out to work and don’t have children, which immediately gives me more hours in the day than many people.  I don’t cook much, only watch television after 9pm when I’m done with everything else for the day, and rarely go out in the evenings.  In fact, I don’t go out much at all; my husband is a homebird so I’ve got used to that, and he’s very laid back; being creative himself, he understands that I need time to write.  It’s just what I do, I suppose.  Two years ago, I actually spent Christmas afternoon editing Kings and Queens.  We don’t really do Christmas, either!

As for the tone and voice being fresh – thank you, it’s something I always worry about.  A lot!  If this is so, I think maybe it’s by not doing the ‘expected’ … for instance, in Dream On, the reader first meets Janice, a mum with a wannabe rockstar boyfriend, Dave, who she suspects is still in love with his beautiful ex.  Okay, so everyone likes and sympathises with Janice; she is no wimp, and is someone many women can relate to.  Then along comes Ariel, the beautiful ex – and, surprise surprise, she’s not a self-obsessed, conniving bitch, but a really great girl!  Quite a lot of the reviews said ‘I was surprised to find myself liking Ariel’.  And in What It Takes, I took a risk by making my main character not very likable at all.  I try to do the unguessable with plot twists; I am not sure if I will be able to beat the one at the end of The House of York, though, what do you think? :)”

Your books are, I think, only available on Amazon in ebook format. Do you intend to branch out to other eretailers, and if not why? And what about paperback?

“Other retailers: I haven’t got any plans to do so, partly out of laziness but mostly because people who do publish across many sites say that the lion’s share of their sales still come from Amazon.

Paperbacks: yes, I keep saying I will, but it doesn’t happen … I sway between ‘I really ought to’ and ‘but perhaps it’s not worth it, everyone says nearly all their sales come from ebooks’.  I’m not one of those who are desperate to see my name on a paperback, although yes, I suppose it would be nice to be able to give books to friends who don’t use ereaders (not to mention seeing them in book shops, I imagine that’s quite a kick!), but I prefer reading on Kindle myself, anyway.  It’s the words on the page that matter, not the medium.  I think the truth about me and paperbacks is simply this: I haven’t got round to it :)”

Finally, you are the Twitter queen – 64.7K followers – count them! I’m guessing this has taken a fair amount of time and effort to build, but in terms of reader engagement and book promotion, do you feel that Twitter is the place to be, even for those of us with a more modest following? What other forms of promotion have you tried, and what would you recommend to other writers just starting out?

“I’m not very astute about all this stuff, to be honest; I could do more, and better.   Different things work for different people.  I’ve never heard good reports from anyone who’s paid for advertising or promotion via book marketers.  I enjoy Twitter, otherwise I wouldn’t use it so much, but these days the market is so overflowing that just tweeting your book and retweeting a few others is unlikely to produce sales, unless your readership is already established.  You have to invest a bit more time in it; network with others who write your type of book, get involved with the bloggers who promote and review them, add as friends and interact with likely readers.  Be generous, don’t only promote your own stuff, but be sincere too; don’t rave about books you haven’t read or didn’t like.  Oh, and getting into 5* review swaps with other writers is a seriously bad idea; it’s already put the whole Amazon reviewing system into disrepute.

I’ve been using Twitter for over four years, and after 10k followers it just grew of its own accord; I don’t actively pursue them.  If you’re active on the site, you appear in lots of ‘who to follow’ lists.  The best promotion tool is, of course, a really good book; competition is much, much stronger these days, and if your book is only mediocre, readers will not review it or buy another one, however many tweets and Facebook posts you do, however sharp your marketing skills.  One of the biggest problem non-traditionally-published writers face is getting someone to try their book in the first place; with jam-packed Kindles everywhere, if I knew the answer to that one I expect I’d sell a lot more than I do!  I think you’d be a better person to consult about that, Jo, than me.

Many, many thanks for inviting me onto your blog, and may your own success continue :)”

Thanks for coming on, Terry – it’s been really interesting finding out all about your process and I always love picking your brains about writing and publishing. I’m sure readers will carry on enjoying your books for a long time to come. Guys, you can connect with and find out more about Terry and her books below, and carry on down the page to read my review of The House of York. 

Terry Tyler


Amazon UK


Book Review Blog

I was intrigued by the blurb for The House of York – love and loss, murderous intent, abduction, a compelling saga – and having read quite a few of Terry’s previous books I knew I was in safe hands before I started reading. What I wasn’t prepared for was just how astonishingly good this book actually is. Very few authors could carry off multiple first person viewpoints, but Terry Tyler not only carries it off, she makes it into an art form.

The story pivots around Lisa, widowed single mum who falls for wealthy businessman Elias York and finds herself plunged headlong into his complicated family life where nothing is as it seems. Throughout the book we meet other key characters, such as Elias’s sister Megan (my personal favourite), and his brothers Gabriel and Richard. Each section has its own distinct voice, and each chapter will have you riveted to your seat, eager to find out more.

Tyler is the master of the unnerving story line, and this book is no exception – just when you think you know where it’s heading, you are thrust down another ally, and it is the twists and turns as well as the incredibly well-drawn characters that make this book a joy. At times, while reading The House of York, I lost myself completely and the world of the York family became entirely real to me. I did not want this book to end, and I know it’s one I will read again in the future. Highly recommended, five stars.

And then you emerge, blinking, into the light …

Keeping Sam finally went off to the proofreader today, after many, many edits and sleepless nights, and I finally emerged from a mound of paper and looked around. There was my seven-year-old daughter glaring at me balefully from her midden of a bedroom; there was my poor neglected husband (who had a car crash last week – barely registering a flicker on my radar, so immersed was I in the world of Keeping Sam). There were messages from my friends on Facebook and Twitter who I have been neglecting so badly lately, and countless emails I’ve failed to answer, some of them dating back to September. I’m so ashamed!!! My face is burning even as I type this. You know who you are – that is, if you haven’t already turned your back on me for being so crap at keeping in touch, keeping up, keeping things going, and so you’re not even reading this blog post anyway because you’ve already gone over to the dark side …

Well, the good news is, I’ve cleared the decks and I’m catching up, albeit slowly. It’s half term this week, and the lovely little girl who has been creating havoc in that bedroom of hers deserves a bit of attention first. I’ll be answering emails, writing some planned blog posts, and getting sorted with all my commitments. If I’ve promised to do something for you and you haven’t heard from me in the next two weeks then please get in touch to give me a nudge – I’ll be eternally grateful, and not cross in the least. Meanwhile, hands up who’s looking forward to seeing the new cover designs next week? Is that only my hand? Well, I’ve got both hands up so that’s okay then 🙂

Why I’ve Been Been Writing Non-Fiction – And Welcome To My New Pseudonym

Sometimes I get a bit burnt out writing fiction. Earlier this year, bogged down with my Masters and feeling pretty drained, I decided to rekindle my love of writing non-fiction. In the early days of Elance, back when my daughter was first born, I carved out a bit of a niche ghostwriting ebooks, and I loved it. Non-fiction is so undemanding emotionally, for one thing! And so easy to plot – plotting is structure, mind-maps work beautifully, information is king. Over the years of blogging I’ve developed a voice for non-fiction, too, and as soon as I started it was like sinking into a hot bath … ahhh

But there was a problem – I’m a fiction author. Joanne Phillips writes fiction, and it’s already confusing enough that I write contemporary women’s fiction and cozy mysteries! So, I decided to use a pseudonym. In fact, two pseudonyms! I love and feel a real affinity for the self-help market, and I decided to start there. Here are my first three titles – click on the covers to find out more – and read on for a special request.

Productivity cover 3D

Declutter cover 3d

Mindfulness 3d 2

So, why two pseudonyms, you might ask? My research took me to a very specific Kindle non-fiction ebook model, and this is the route I wanted to go down – establishing an author name for a particular type of topic. Tamsyn Day loves to write a certain kind of book, while Sam Lockwood is more business-orientated.

Will Joanne Phillips write any non-fiction? She certainly will! I’m planning a series of writing books, and possibly a book about self-publishing although the market is pretty crowded. (Plus I tell you everything you could need on the blog anyway.) 🙂

A favour – Would anyone consider reading and reviewing one of these titles? Reviews really help visibility, particularly for non-fiction, and I’ll be happy to send you a free review copy in exchange for an honest review. Or you might just want to buy a copy! There’s more information on the Facebook Page here. It would be great to get a few Likes of this page – you can get news of new books here too.

So, what do you think? Who else loves writing non-fiction? Are you surprised?

PS: This post was supposed to go out yesterday – remember my mention of ‘news’ in the Keeping Sam post? I had internet problems – thankfully all sorted now 🙂

Why I’m Going To Be Treating Working From Home Like A Regular Job From Now On

I had a realization recently. It’s this: I think I’m superwoman. I have a LOT of projects on the go, all of the time, and I work hard. I really do. But the hours I work don’t meet the expectations I have in terms of the amount I need to get done! It’s crazy – I have, like, stacks of stuff to do, and I fully intend doing it all (and somehow I usually do … in the end), but it’s just so stressful. I seem to think I can fit 60 hours of work each week into a few hours during the day while my daughter’s at school – and that’s only when I’m not meeting a friend for coffee, or visiting family, or hanging the washing out, or listening to The Archers or the play on Radio 4 …

washing on line

It has to change. I figure I get 25 hours a week to work – from 9.00 in the morning, after the school run, to half two when I have to leave again for pick-up. Take out half an hour for lunch, this equals five hours a day, times five days. It’s not enough – but it’s a start. Sure I can have the odd morning off – if I make up the time elsewhere – but if it’s more than one morning, one afternoon, or an entire day, my whole week is out of whack. 25 hours a week is a good, solid part-time job, and it’s only school hours, after all. And that’s the key – I have to treat this as an actual job. I have to ‘go to work’, sit down at my desk, I have to focus – not slip off to do the washing, meet a friend for coffee, go for a walk around the garden, chat on the phone to family/friends. I have to act like it matters, because the truth is, it does matter!

I get stressed when I don’t get through the work I set myself, and then everyone suffers. Miserable Jo = grumpy wife, distracted mummy, inconsistent friend. But it’s unrealistic to expect me to get through all the work I have in a few hours a week. There needs to be some discipline – or a serious adjustment of expectations.

I don’t want to adjust my expectations – I want to get stuff done, and feel happy about it. So, I’ve interviewed myself for this job and I’ve decided to take me on. I have the necessary skills. I have the required determination. I expect a certain level of commitment – and I expect me to put in the hours – but hey, I’m a reasonable boss. I’m going to give me a good employment package. I keep 100% of the profits generated by my writing and other work activities. And I get 35 days holiday a year, plus bank holidays – the same as my hubby gets from the University. I’ve even made myself a holiday sheet to keep track of it. And I’m providing a beautiful working environment in a gorgeous little office in a converted barn in a peaceful rural location.

Come on, Jo! You’ve got the perfect job. Look after it, or your employer might decide to let you go!

Does anyone else feel like this about working from home? What do you do to make sure you stick to regular hours, or find time to get stuff done?

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