An Interview with Trevor Belshaw
Trevor Belshaw, the newest Authors Reach recruit, writes for both children and adults. His first book with Authors Reach will be a ghost story called Sad Lisa.
When did you first decide you wanted to become an author?
I’ve dreamed of being an author since childhood. The problem was finding the time to become one, as work and family life always had to come first. I made a few half-hearted attempts during the 1990s, but it wasn’t until the financial crash of 2009 – when I suddenly found my one-man-band computer repair business was no longer receiving phone calls – that I realised I had spare hours in the day that needed to be filled.
I joined an online writer’s group called Writelink, where new writers like me could mix with seasoned authors and receive sound advice and gentle, but firm, criticism on the articles and stories I uploaded. Many of the people I met on the site are still good friends of mine, including my fabulous long-time editor, Maureen Vincent-Northam.
The biggest thing I learned from Writelink was that writing is a craft and like all crafts, it has to be learned. Skills have to be honed, rules broken, rebroken and finally accepted. No one, however talented, can produce a publishable book without learning the basics.
Show, don’t tell, was the mantra at that time and the rule was drilled into me, though that particular rule seems to be on the wane as writers like Dan Brown and JKR repeatedly break it with huge success. I stick by it, personally. I’d much sooner the reader discovered the secret by reading between the lines than by hitting them over the head with a club that has been branded with the words – this is a huge clue.
Why do you write? What drives you to do it?
I don’t think I’m a driven author. I keep seeing statements by other writers saying they couldn’t live without writing but I can, and did for five years after the sudden, unexpected death of my wife. During that time I produced nothing and I can’t say I missed the daily writer’s chair incarceration that much. However, when I am involved in a writing project, I do immerse myself completely and can easily spend six or seven hours, super-glued to my keyboard.
In March 2020, I received an injury at work that resulted in a few days in hospital and months of recuperation. I soon became heartily sick of turgid, daytime television and even my huge music collection couldn’t sustain me. When I found myself involved in lengthy, sometimes heated conversations with my rescue cat, Mia, I finally decided that something had to be done or the authorities would be carting me off to the funny farm.
After a long but fruitful telephone conversation with my aforementioned editor, Maureen, and
realising that after five years away from the writer’s chair I was almost certainly incapable of
turning out anything other than short snatches of prose, we hatched a plan that would make use of an idea that had been stuck in my head since 2015. So, I wrote and emailed in one chapter of Unspoken on a daily basis. Maureen would edit the chapter, send it back and then listen to me, (she seldom got a word in), drone on about the next stage of the plot. Family Saga was a new genre for me and I needed reassurance that what I was producing was worth reading.
The process worked so well that after a few days I was turning out 3000, sometimes 4000, words a day. I guess I had a lot to say after such an enforced layoff. I can’t thank Maureen enough for her patience and fortitude. When Unspoken was written, I was unsure where to go next. A sequel had been discussed with Maureen and I did begin to write it but, half a dozen chapters in, I began to suffer once again from the writer’s curse and the repeated message bouncing off the walls of my seemingly empty head. ‘Who could possibly want to read this nonsense?’ So, I had a break for a couple of months.
Then, as happens quite a lot with me, I woke up one morning with an entire story in my head. Although it wasn’t the sequel to Unspoken that I assumed would be my next project, the story did involve two or three of the characters from that book. So, writing in another new genre, Murder at the Mill, an amateur sleuth mystery set in 1939, was born. Once again, I immersed myself in the beautiful sea of words and didn’t come up to breathe until 'The End' had been typed.
What is your writing schedule like and how do you plan your books?
When I am involved in a project, I do throw myself in at the deep end as I have just described. I still work a couple of days a week so whilst my writing time isn’t limited too much, I do have to put a few hours aside for the mundane, everyday things that we all have to do.
On writing days, I try to hit the chair for 2 PM and I tend to say there, (coffee refills aside), for the next five or six hours. Regarding planning – I can’t say I do much of that. I tend to fly by the seat of my pants and let the characters take me wherever they want to go. Murder at the Mill, my latest story, was supposed to be a 35,000-word novella but ended up being a 95,000-word full-blown novel.
When I begin a project, I do have start and finishing points in mind, but everything that happens in between is discovered along the way. I know a lot of authors write out detailed chapter by chapter event lists and that works well for them. I’d find that too much of a process. I like to be surprised by events, not have them forced on my characters.
Which three words would you use to describe your writing?
Easy to read.
What inspires your writing and your choice of genre?
Just a kernel of an idea usually. I change genres at the drop of a hat and although the thought of writing in a new genre can be daunting, it’s exciting as well. There are usually certain structures and rule sets that a writer has to learn before writing in a certain genre. For instance, cosy crime cannot have detailed descriptions of a murder victim’s injuries, the clues must be pertinent and genuine.
All of my plots are worked out in that strange dimension that lies between sleep and wakefulness. I can go to bed with a simple, one line idea and wake up with most of the story in my head. The characters then take over and change everything I thought I was going to write. As for inspiration, it’s usually a snippet of overheard conversation or an everyday situation that my mind immediately blows out of all proportion.
The plot of Unspoken, for instance, came directly from an old lady I was delivering medicine to, jokingly telling me that if I knew what she’d done in the past, my hair would stand on end. ‘I may look like a sweet, innocent old grandmother, but believe me, I‘ve had my moments.’
The character Tracy, from Tracy’s Hot Mail came directly from a group of teenage girls I sat
behind on the bus one morning on my way to work. Their conversations were, let’s say,
What power does writing hold for you?
The freedom to create a new world for your readers. The right to invent characters that you know people will either love or loathe. The scope to create situations that will test your character’s moral, mental, and physical abilities to the limits. The capacity to move your readers to tears or make them laugh out loud.
It is a precious gift and should be always treated as such. Your reader is trusting you to take them away from the drudgery of their daily lives to somewhere more exciting. If you can make them feel part of the story, you have succeeded in your task.
What are you currently writing, if anything?
My next project will be the first I have produced under the Author’s Reach banner. Again, it’s a completely new genre for me, (I do like to live dangerously). This time it’s a Victorian ghost story inspired by the old Cat Stevens song, 'Sad Lisa'. I have already made a start but I have yet to fully immerse myself into the depths.
Once that is complete, I hope to write a follow on to Murder at the Mill. This one will be titled something like, Death at the Lychgate... Murder in the Mausoleum… Death in the Graveyard… you get my drift.