I was fortunate enough to meet Lee Murray earlier this year at UnCONventional – a Sci Fi / Fantasy convention in Auckland, and to be a part of her ‘Great New Zealand Book Race‘. It is an honor to get to interview her here on my blog!
Please tell me a little about yourself.
I’m 47 (eek!) next week, so I’m a latecomer to writing. I’m married to David, with two teenage children. To date I’ve run 21 marathons, heaps of half-marathons and an ultra. I’m one half Chinese, and all New Zealander. I can speak French, but I’m a hopeless cook, worse cleaner, and only an annual ironer.
When did you know you wanted to be an author? What changed?
I’ve always scribbled, and I had it in the back of my mind that some day I’d write a book, but it was about five years ago, after my son started school, that I decided that some day had arrived.
What do you love most about writing?
You mean, apart from being able to wear my dressing gown to work? I love that when you call yourself a writer, even at my age, it’s okay to have imaginary friends. I love waking up wondering how my characters are going to surprise me today. I love meeting other writers and being inspired by their stories. I love seeing my books on shelves at the library or the bookstore. But mostly, I love the response I get from readers, like this note I received from Bradley (aged 8) after he read Battle of the Birds:
“It was awesome. When you read it you’re, like, what happens next? It really does make you think about how it would feel for you if it happened to you. For me it would feel very, very awesome. It’s super-entertaining. Unputdownable.”
I think you’ll agree, it’s hard to beat a response like that.
What do you find most frustrating?
That it’s almost impossible for emerging New Zealand writers – many with wonderful evocative New Zealand stories – to get published. What does this mean for the future of New Zealand literature? My friend, writer Tommy Kapai Wilson, says ‘if you want to grow free range kids, you need to feed them backyard stories,’ and I think he has a point.
What have you published so far and how did you go about getting published?
I’ve published numerous magazine and journal articles, short fiction, and a couple of novels: Battle of the Birds (Taramea) www.battleofthebirds.info (junior) and A Dash of Reality (Oceanbooks) www.adashoftreality.info (women). I’m currently writing a collection of short fiction, as well as a science fiction thriller. I’m also thrilled to be editing a small collection of writing by New Zealand secondary school students.
Getting published is a hard because the industry is changing rapidly and many larger mainstream publishers have closed the doors to untried authors. Steps I took to get my book in front of a publisher two years ago, probably wouldn’t work now. My suggestion is to look for opportunities to improve your writing (enter competitions, write books reviews, attend workshops and conferences, join a writing collective) and to network whenever you can with others in the industry. You might just stumble across the contact or titbit which could help to launch your career.
Are there any pitfalls to avoid or advice you’d give to others wanting to go down this path?
Pitfalls – Millionaire writers like TV’s Richard Castle are rare; it pays to keep this in mind.
Advice – Hmm. Since the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomena, I’ve noticed writers trying to jump on that bandwagon. This seems to be true for whatever the next-best-thing is perceived to be: witches, vampires zombies and so on. But my advice is to write what resonates for you, the story you feel most compelled to tell, even if that story might not be particularly commercial.
Some years ago a dear friend of mine, Florence, popped out and was never seen again. No one knows what happened to her, including her husband and three children. Sadly, unexplained disappearances like this aren’t as unusual as you might think. Florence’s disappearance inspired me to write a novel (Misplaced) which explored how those left behind – in this case a seventeen-year-old boy – might cope under those circumstances. While Misplaced doesn’t include a single vampire, it was important to me to write it – perhaps as a legacy to Florence. Whether Misplaced resonates for a publisher remains to be seen, but it’s a story I feel proud to have written.
What kind of things do you read?
I started out studying science and management, so I used to read a lot of nonfiction; scientific articles and reports for work. I still read non-fiction when researching my stories, but my passion is fiction. Any good fiction. I like YA, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, crime, novels, short fiction, even the occasional graphic novel. Right now, on my bedside table I have Michael Hick’s omnibus In her Name, Lyn McConchie’s Questing Road and some copies of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine to dip into. Print or ebook… I just can’t be without something to read. It’d be like not brushing my teeth.
How much influence do you feel your reading has on your writing?
I’ve been lucky enough to meet a lot of writers now, and I’ve discovered that all the successful writers are also readers, so reading must be important for finding your genre, your style, and the kind of stories you like to write. But quantifying exactly how much influence my reading has on my writing is difficult. Most of my stories need a measure of inspiration, a good dollop of hard work, and a sprinkle of good luck.
What advice would you give young writers just starting out?
- Read, read, read, and if you have any time left over, read some more.
- Write something every day.
- Join a writers’ group where you can give and receive constructive critique.
- Grow a thick skin.
Thank you to Lee for her generosity in giving up her time to answer these questions! I look forward to reading more of her work in the future (and can highly recommend Battle of the Birds – was a great read).
Remember to comment to be in the draw to win a paperback copy of ‘The Silver Hawk’!