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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

When Doing Something Wrong, Goes Right: Author Interview with T E Kinsey

What made you decide to write your first novel?
I’ve dabbled with writing fiction all my adult life, so I actually don’t remember what made me decide to write – it was too long ago. What made me decide to finish writing a novel was the knowledge that thanks to the miracles of the modern world I would be able to get it out there for people to read.

I grew up knowing for absolute certain that getting a book published was impossible, it just wasn’t the sort of thing that people like me were able to do. But by the time I wrote the first Lady Hardcastle stories in 2014, self-publishing was properly established and properly respectable. It was entirely without risk and was an excellent way to find readers on my own terms.

How long did it take you to write your first book? 
The first book was originally a collection of four “episodes” (they were longer than short stories but shorter than novellas and four of them filled a book). They took me six months to write.

How many rewrites did you do on it?
I didn’t rewrite anything except for little tweaks here and there for style before I published. The second book was more of the same. It wasn’t until I signed with Thomas & Mercer at the beginning of 2016 that I thought of rewriting them, but then only to turn the “short” stories into novels (we did some cunning stuff to weave stories together to make a single narrative).

Are you active with any writing critique groups? 
I’m afraid I’m too self-conscious to join a writing group and don’t show work-in-progress to anyone, but I do read mostly thrillers and mysteries.

When I asked you about doing an interview, you said you did everything wrong. However, you’re now published your fifth book. So, you must be doing something right.  
When I say I did everything wrong, I genuinely mean it. I didn’t do any marketing. Or promotion (beyond the few tools offered by KDP). I didn’t hire an editor. I didn’t seek anyone’s advice at all. I just wrote what it entertained me to write, hit the Publish button and got on with writing the next thing. I’m pretty sure this isn’t the preferred path to success.

Did you ever want to give up on writing and getting it published?
I was never in a position to have to think about giving up on getting the books published because I never tried. Self-publishing was always Plan A. I didn’t approach any agents (I have a publisher now and they’ve bought six books from me… but I still don’t have an agent). I didn’t approach any publishers, either. I wrote my books for fun and let them do their own thing once they were out in the wild.

What was that process like? 
The original version of A Quiet Life in the Country (the “four episodes” one) was published in October 2014. The Spirit Is Willing (four more episodes) followed it in July 2015. They started doing properly well in August and September that year and that’s when they were spotted by a commissioning editor at Thomas & Mercer (an Amazon Publishing imprint). 

She contacted me at the end of November and by the middle of December, we’d signed a three-book deal: re-writes of the first two books to turn them into novels, and a third book which was already underway. These became A Quiet Life in the Country, In the Market for Murder, and Death Around the Bend.

So, for me, the “process” was “writing for fun while getting on with enjoying my day job, then suddenly receiving an email from a publisher out of the blue”. Like I said – I didn’t do anything right. 

What is the hardest part of writing for you? 
This is going to sound smug and awful, but I don’t actually find any of it hard. That’s not to say I think I’m brilliant at it, I just don’t find any of it bothersome or unpleasant. The bit I didn’t intuitively understand was plot structure, so I went out of my way to study that, but it turns out it’s not magic at all. 

Again, I’m probably doing it wrong. I follow lots of authors on Twitter and “struggle” seems to be a common theme whenever they talk about what they’re up to. I’m convinced I’m missing something.

Why did you choose the early 1900’s for your mysteries? 
The Lady Hardcastle series has to be set in the 1900s. The characters came before the books – they were developed for another project – and they only work if they live their lives before World War I. The original intention was to explore the relationship between employer and servant when there was only one of each and they were in a situation where they relied on each other for survival. Would the class barrier break down? So, they had to be Victorian or Edwardian and they had to be women (social taboos mean that Englishmen can never show affection for each other, no matter how close their friendship). 

I never did anything with that original idea, but when I came to write a murder mystery, I had a ready-made detective and sidekick, complete with a historical setting. 

Wouldn’t research be easier if you did contemporary novels?

Research is never a burden. I was a magazine journalist before I was a mystery writer, and I was a history student before that. Research is kind of what I do. There’s a sense, too, in which writing contemporary fiction needs just as much work if you want to make it feel “right,” don’t you think? 

What does your editor remind you to do most often?
Honestly? She reminds me to send her more photographs. Somehow, I got into the habit of photographing birds and wildlife in the garden and I often attach a photo to my emails. As for the writing, she tries to remind me to talk about the characters’ clothes more often and was instrumental in breaking my habit of writing long, rambling, multi-clause sentences. I’m still working on that one.

What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?
I probably go to the wrong parties, but I’m not sure anyone ever properly “encouraged” me beyond telling me they enjoy what I do. That’s not to say that I’ve been discouraged, but nothing sticks in my mind.

Give me an example of how you learned to go beyond writing rejection.
Here’s the thing. Because I did it all wrong, I’ve never had to send my work to anyone for approval, so it’s never been rejected. I feel like I might be missing out on some important right of passage, but my wonky way of doing things means I haven’t had that experience.

What has surprised you the most in writing/publishing?
The biggest surprise was finding that writing full time really was as satisfying as I always hoped it would be. There’s always a fear, I think, that when a long-cherished daydream comes true, it won’t live up to expectations.

I anticipated bitter disappointment, but it turned out to be every bit as wonderful as I’d hoped. As Willy Wonka said, “And Charlie, don't forget about what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he ever wanted. He lived happily ever after.”

What do you know now about writing you wished you had known sooner?
Honestly? Nothing. Learning to write is a lifelong thing and I’m content to let each new piece of knowledge and skill arrive at its own pace. Every time I try to pin one down as an example, I think, “No, but I couldn’t have understood that until I’d learned this…” I’m a work in progress. One brick at a time.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received or could give?

I once read an article by Alan Bennett. He was talking about writing poetry, but it stuck in my mind as a piece of solid wisdom. “Half the job of learning to write is getting to know the sound of your own voice.” 

Find your voice. Get comfortable with it. Change it if you feel you have to, but eventually, you have to learn to love it. Then relax. Write like you want to write, not how you think other people want you to write.

Are there any other points about writing you would like to add? 

Plan. It’s a personal choice, of course, but I do heartily recommend it. 

I see so many posts from people “struggling to wrangle this confusing jumble of ideas into a decent first draft”. I’ve listened to crime authors on panels at festivals saying things like, “I was three-quarters of the way through when I realized I was telling the story from the wrong point of view,” or, "the first draft was rubbish so I threw it away and rewrote it completely.”

I’m not sure I’ve ever got any of my books right the first time, but I try my hardest to make all my big mistakes at the planning stage. I’d rather throw out a four-page planning document that took me a week to write than a 300-page novel that took six months. 

When it comes to the actual writing, I’m free just to tell the story. It’s a story that I know works because I’ve already plotted it out. It has beats and plot points in all the right places because I put them there, ready to go. All I have to do is write.

It’s not as restrictive as people think, either. New ideas come along all the time, and the “yeah, well, I just go with the flow” method allows that. But so does the “plan it all out in advance” method. If I have a new idea, I know where I can put it, and I know what else has to be changed to accommodate it – it’s all there in the plan. 

Tell me about your latest book.
My latest book was just released on Kindle and as a digital audiobook from 
paperback and physical audiobook will be out on 15 May. It’s the fifth in the Lady Hardcastle Mysteries series and it’s called The Burning Issue of the Day. Emily and Flo are called upon by the local branch of the WSPU – the suffragettes – to prove the innocence of one of their members who has been arrested for the murder of a journalist in an arson attack. Adventures ensue.

Meanwhile, I’ve just submitted the final draft of the sixth book in the series. Our heroines go on a seaside holiday to Weston-Super-Mare but end up investigating the goings-on among their oddly suspicious fellow hotel guests. That’ll be out in the autumn.

For those who want to learn about your writing and what’s coming up next, how can they do that? 
I try my best to keep up a reasonable flow of news and information on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. There’s also some helpful stuff on my own website. And then there’s my Amazon author page, with handy links to all the books.


  1. Thanks for sharing your journey! I agree with you a writer must find his/her voice and go with it.

  2. Thanks for sharing your journey. I agree with you a writer must find his/her voice and go with it.