Monday 22 April 2013

Author Interview ~ M.J Lawless

M.J Lawless is the author of  The Crystal Fragments Trilogy,  Orfeo and The Long Last Summer. She regularly joins in on an Amazon UK forum thread that Willow started and has agreed to do an interview for the blog.

What got you interested in writing and when did you start?

I’ve enjoyed writing since I was at school and although I’d written short stories as a teenager, I decided to pursue a career in journalism after my education. Last year, however, I thought I’d try my hand at writing some of my own material, publishing something different to the types of article I have to write for a living and which would give me more pleasure.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
This one’s really hard to answer! There are lots of writers I like, and some of the new adult and new romance writers are really impressive (I find myself returning to Colleen Hoover, for example, for lots of reasons). As for a mentor, however, that’s very difficult to answer. I think, like a lot of current romance/erotica writers, I was inspired a little by the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, but I wouldn’t consider E. L. James a mentor - an inspiration, certainly, but not a mentor. If If there was a writer I’d love to write like, it would be Haruki Murakami (who has written some very romantic novels, but is not really a romance writer although he is a great author).
What do you do when you come down with a case of the infamous ʺwriter's blockʺ?
Until recently, I would have said I don’t suffer from writer’s block. I have to write regularly for a living and while there may be days when I don’t feel like tapping away on a keyboard, most of the time I set aside a few hours each day to work on something. However, producing articles that follow a brief is very different to creative writing and I’ve found the latter can be emotionally exhausting. When I started writing novels, I would be eager to start the next one but, having just finished The Long Last Summer, I put so much of myself into that it’s meant I want to take a longer break before beginning another title. That’s not so much writer’s block, I think, as the need for a “writer’s lull”.
Is Writing a full time job for you? If not what do you do?
Writing is a full time job, although not writing fiction. Most of the stuff I do is fairly humdrum (and I can say that because I write fiction under a pseudonym!), being articles for business magazines in the main part. I’d like very much to do more health and lifestyle stuff, but for the moment writing about businesses helps pay the mortgage!
When you are not writing what do you enjoy doing?
I love going out into the country and enjoying walks by the sea when I get the chance, and we live not very far from Bristol so I love going out in the city as well. I’m a bit of a culture junky, and will go to the theatre and cinema whenever I can. I also love spending time with my family - my husband has to travel a fair amount (which is unfortunate when I can’t go with him), but my boys are a source of constant pleasure.
What's your favourite book at the moment?
Ironically, since I’ve decided to write novels I’ve had less time to read! I try to keep up with some romance authors for pleasure, as well as other books of very varied types. Perhaps the novel I’ve got the most out of recently is Tabitha McGowan’s The Tied Man, because it took a very different direction to what I was expecting at the beginning.
What is your favourite movie at the moment?
I love loads of movies, so making a choice is very hard. I’ve left this question till last to answer because I kept writing down one title and then discarding it. The one I’ve decided on is perhaps the film that gave me the most pleasure in 2012 and hasn’t been surpassed (yet) in 2013 - Moonrise Kingdom by Wes Anderson. It’s a very touching and funny story about first love, and I have a weird crush thing for Bill Murray.
What is your favourite song at the moment?
Though not quite as hard to answer as the favourite movie question, there are lots. But the one I listen to whenever I switch on my phone is by a Norwegian band, Royksopp, and is called “Happy Up Here”. It makes me smile whenever I hear it without fail.
Who is your favourite book boyfriend?
Is it a bad thing to say that I’m a bit of a tramp and book boyfriends come and go? Oh dear, that makes me sound very promiscuous, but I think some of your readers will understand. Actually, it did occur to me that over the years there has been one who has been very constant ever since I read about him as a teenager (and I can’t remember most of the heroes I read at that time!) Heathcliff out of Wuthering Heights ruined me - I’ve been looking for surly, passionate, impossible men ever since! While not a book boyfriend, I must also admit to having a crush that’s remained pretty constant for Christian Bale. I’m not sure I’m willing to explain all the reasons why, but he was the image I had in mind when I was writing the character of Daniel in The Crystal Fragments.
Crystal Fragments Trilogy: (TRC review can be found here)

Where did you get the idea for the Crystal Fragments trilogy?
I’ll come clean immediately with one thing. Like a lot of erotica/romance authors, I read Fifty Shades and thought, I could do something like that. At the same time, better or for worse, I had to spend a fair bit of time with high-fliers when I was working full time as a journalist (most of whom are as attractive as a wet blanket!), and I wanted to do something that was a little more “realistic” - ignoring the fact that Kris encounters a misanthropic self-made millionaire in the Scottish islands trying to escape it all. Okay, so a lot of the trilogy is anything but realistic, but when dealing with the fact that sometimes very wealthy men have to do morally suspect things to make their wealth I think I managed to represent that. In the end, The Crystal Fragments Trilogy is escapist fantasy, but it also has a moral point to it: in achieving his vast wealth, Daniel has begun to lose his soul and Kris is a way for him to find it again.
What is your favourite thing about Daniel?
I’ll get the obvious stuff out of the way: Tall (check). Dark (check). Handsome (check). Oh, wait a minute, he has also been in a terrible car accident, so his natural good looks have, for many people, been damaged, although Kris finds this more appealing (and I must admit to having a thing for scars - not too many, but the odd one is something I find very sexy). One thing that some readers picked up on, for better or for worse, is that in the first book in particular Daniel is not a very pleasant man: yes, arrogance is part of the drive of these books, but to begin with Daniel takes this too far - he is a bit of a brute. Actually, for me this is a sign that he has lost his moral compass: because he can buy anything he wants (or so he thinks) everything is for sale. Early on, however, we realise that this brittle exterior covers the real wound he received when he lost his wife, that he is suffering from emotional scars much worse than anything physical he has endured. By the end of the trilogy, however, he is quieter and braver in the face of apparently insurmountable odds, someone who no longer needs to force people to do what he wants but instead redeems himself by trying to do everything he can for the woman he loves.
What is your favourite thing about Kris?
As with Daniel, I tried to create a character who had some complexity. In some ways, the easier question to answer is what I don’t like about her - she does some pretty stupid things, especially in the second part of the trilogy! In her own way, she’s as much a lost soul as Daniel, but what I intended from the start is the fact that Kris wants much more from her life, and I’m not just talking about the material things. By the end of the trilogy, I wanted her to gain the confidence that comes not from simply being loved but also by doing things - such as fulfilling her dreams of being an artist - for herself. She doesn’t behave as dramatically as Daniel in some ways, but I wanted her to be a woman who finds her backbone and is not intimidated by men who are much more powerful than her.
What's your favourite scene of the books and Why?
This is such a difficult question! I have lots for different reasons. For example, I found the remote control sex toy scene very funny to write, though not all readers liked this, and some of the scenes in Lisbon were a real pleasure in that I was remembering places I’d been. I think if I had to pick a single scene, however, the one that stands out for me is when Kris picks Daniel up from the jail outside San Francisco. I had a very, very vivid image of what Daniel would look like at that moment - roughened up by his experiences inside prison (and I still have hot flushes when he springs to mind), and determined to start showing his opponents that he is still a force to be dealt with. At the same time, however, Kris, clearly pregnant at this time and tougher because of what she has had to endure, also takes more of a leading role, taking him away to a private place to show her love for him. It’s much less dramatic than many of the other scenes, but at this point I wanted to try and show that in the end it is these two people being together that is more important than anything else.
Your books are very descriptive about places, is that because you only write about places you have lots of experience of?
In The Crystal Fragments, the main locations are London, Lisbon and San Francisco. I lived in London for a while and I also spent some time in my early twenties in San Francisco (where I had the very glamorous job of being, effectively, a tea lady! I think they had a fancier title, like “food vending administrator” or something). As for Lisbon, that is one of my favourite places in the world, and I’ve spent many very enjoyable holidays there. Actually, another important setting is New York, but careful readers will notice that I tend to allude to that in passing, mainly because I have only visited the Big Apple once for a brief vacation. Maybe I need to go again and for longer for research on a future novel!
The Long Last Summer: (TRC review can be found here)
You can tell that this book was based on something personal to you, Did you find it more difficult to write because of this?
Yes, this was much more difficult in many ways. The Long Last Summer is a book I’ve been carrying around inside my head for a couple of years now, being a heavily-fictionalised account of three separate groups of people I know (some of them from my husband’s family, some of them from my own) which I brought together into one novel. Actually, the story behind Jake would have been even harder to write as biography in that it was not his father who died but his mother (though this was a few years after Mark’s illness), but I found it difficult to put myself in the position of a single father rather than a single mother. In addition, I was drawing on some personal experiences of a relative of mine who had an affair at about the time of the events in the book and was dealt with very badly by her family, so much so that she left the UK to get away from the rest of her family. Bringing together those stories into one and concentrating them on the character of Kitty meant that I felt for her very deeply as I was writing the novel.
What was the hardest part of writing the book?
Without giving any spoilers, the hardest part was writing the final two chapters. I’m not sure it’s a good thing for an author to admit to crying at her own work (“the writing is just so terrible!”) but I shed a few tears while finishing those two chapters.
What was your favourite thing about writing this book?
My favourite parts were most of the chapters dealing with Jake and Mark. There were a few tough ones (for example the one where Mark is being bullied at school), but I really enjoyed those where I described the simple pleasures they got up to, travelling in the fields around their home and engaging in all sorts of summer games. The sweetness of those parts probably makes some of the other chapters even harder to bear, but for me the whole book is a bittersweet novel.
The book is written from four points of view, which was your favourite to write from and why?
Mark’s, without a doubt. I tried to inject much of the humour into many of the chapters that are from Mark’s point of view. In some respects while he was based on a real person he was also a blank canvas because the memories other people have of him tend to be very idealised. I tried to give Mark greater depth by drawing on a lot of experiences with my own children - I must admit that some of the dialogue in the novel when they are playing or arguing would be very familiar to my own two boys (and I would guess that a lot of mothers would recognise something similar). In addition, being a very lapsed Catholic, it was also fun to put some of the thoughts I had on religion, and just how peculiar it all seemed when growing up, into Mark’s perspective.
Is there a message the book that you want readers to grasp?
All of the characters in the book are very normal people - and they make plenty of mistakes that, if the circumstances of Mark’s illness were not so severe, would be part of the daily part of life. If anything, it’s about learning to forgive those mistakes rather than becoming uptight and self-righteous. As Kitty says near the end of the book, too many of them have forgotten that showing a little bit of mercy, pity, peace and love to each other is what makes us human.
Future projects:
The Long Last Summer was very different from The Crystal Fragments series, what type of book(s) are you going to do next?
Although I intend to take something of a break from fiction writing for a while, there are three projects I want to do over the next year. I mentioned before that I’ve long wanted to write a book set in Japan, and so the next novel, Empire of the Senses, will be an erotic romance of two former lovers meeting up in Kyoto and throwing themselves into an intense, sexual affair at the expense of everything else they are meant to do. While this will have an HEA, it will probably be quite dark in some of its themes, so I fancy taking a change of direction and try my hand at a romantic comedy about a gentleman thief who seduces more mature women but finds himself having unintended feelings to a younger private investigator hired to track him down: I’ve sketched a plot outline for this and it will be called Baffled, but I’ll only probably start writing it in the autumn.
These will be fantasies or romances with quite a strong erotic theme. At some time in the future, though, I would also like to return to the story of the Doyle and Donahue family, taking them from events alluded to in The Long Last Summer dealing with Michael’s family and the Easter Uprising to the adulthood of Jake and his own trials and tribulations in the world.
Thank you so much M.J for taking the time to talk to us.

M. J. Lawless's book Orfeo will be available as a free download on Amazon from April 26 until April 30.
You can find M.J's Facebook page here: