How you doin'?
Is Monday treating you well?
I hope so!
Well, you can tell Monday to take a break for a minute - you have something important to do!
Anna A. Armstrong writes uplifting, cosy mysteries. Set in rural villages, they overflow with friendship, warm family relationships, delicious food, beautiful gardens and romance as well as the odd murder to spice things up. At the heart of her stories are her colourful characters who have their own varied foibles. There is nothing like a spot of murder for revealing who people are and what makes them tick.
Growing up in home counties England, Anna was surrounded with dogs and horses as well as the wide variety of people who make up village life. Her observation skills were further honed by studying Anthropology at university. Much to her family’s embarrassment, she often can’t resist pulling out a pad and sketching random strangers in a restaurant.
When not indulging her love of travelling, Anna divides her time between the quintessentially English village of Burford in the Cotswolds and the rugged Isle of Man, the jewel of the Irish Sea. She is passionate about food, her garden, her three dachshunds, family and latterly trick riding, just in case running off to the circus becomes an option!
Coffee, Tea or Cacou? How on earth is this a warmup question? This is probably one of the most profound questions of life. So it has to be coffee first thing, (for me 4.30am) but not just any old coffee; I make a combination of normal and frighteningly strong ground.
Then we have the question of tea – which is a world of its own. During the day I drink an unparalleled amount of Rooibos but then I succumb to the occasional cup of camomile (preferably with bee pollen). If possible, the tea comes from Fortnum and Mason in London.
Hangover cure confession. I have never had a hangover, but that’s another story.
When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t making up stories in my head but I only became a published writer at 58.
Where do you get the ideas for your books?
Rather than struggling for inspiration, I can’t stop my mind being full of wonderful characters all longing for me to share their stories with the world.
What is your writer schedule like?
I only physically write for very short lengths of time but they are very structured and concentrated
– which means I am up at 4.30 and start once I have had my coffee, looked for my pencil etc. I write for an hour or two. If I am reviewing or plotting rather than actually writing, I go to a café later in the morning. Like all of you writers out there my mind spends most of the day exploring stories while I am running errands or walking the dogs, so my notebook is always at hand.
What do you like to do when not writing?
I love the normal things, spending time with family and friends as well as walking the dogs in the countryside. I have a passion for riding horses. I mainly ride sidesaddle but recently I have taken up trick riding. Interesting fact, if you ask me to take a train, I start getting worried about times and platforms but ask me to hang upside down on a cantering horse and I’m totally calm – go figure!
What was one of the most surprising things you learnt in creating your books?
That it doesn’t matter how slowly you go as long as you keep at it. Historically I was always very intimidated meeting other would-be writers at conferences and courses. I would cower as they told me their daily word count. I simply cannot operate like that but I can undertake to consistently write for an hour or two a day, every day.
Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
This is an extremely interesting question. You need to have a certain amount of confidence to believe in your work enough or you would never be brave enough to publish. But ultimately I see a big ego as the death nell of a writer. There is very little room for an ego if you are working with an editor as you need to be able to receive and act on their criticism. More importantly, you are not writing for your own self but as a servant of the reader. (P.S. If you are like me and not naturally full of confidence, Fiona Ferris in ‘The Chic Author’ has some excellent affirmations for writers.)
Do you hear from your readers much? What kind of things do they say?
Probably the most enjoyable part of publishing is being contacted by people who love and are as invested in my characters as I am. They want to chat about them in much the same way as we might have a good natured gossip about a much loved neighbour.
I have also had several extremely heart warming and humbling communications with readers who are going through really tough times (cancer, unemployment and being a full time carer for ill husband); because my books are total escapism they have found a safe place in a chaotic world.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Courses early on and professional criticism once I had actually written something. I can highly recommend the online writing courses run by Oxford Continuing Education. A course, apart from giving you ‘know how’ basics, gets you into the discipline of writing daily as well getting used to being criticism in a safe way.
Once you have the beginning of your novel, you really do need someone who is going to be honest about it and who knows the market. Jericho Writers offer an expensive but professional service which will give you a lot of feedback on your opening chunk.
‘Don’t get it right, get it written.’
Definitely! An editor and author who I worked with, told me how much she regretted writing under own name. I have been surprised by how helpful it is psychologically to use a pseudonym – it is a bit like putting on a professional suit.
What is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything?
I had nearly a decade in my thirties battling lymphatic cancer which gave me a great selection of wigs and a lot of time to think. Obviously of the greatest importance is the quality of your relationships, with others, with yourself and with whoever you perceive as ‘a Higher Power’, but I think the frivolities of life matter. It is easier to look death in the face if you are wearing a stunning lipstick.
Best Way To Market Your Books?
This is one where perhaps you all know more about it than I do. Fiona Ferris in ‘The Chic Author’ has a very good chapter on marketing. She points out that marketing has to part of your life – it has to be ‘a fit’. For me I have found Instagram to be fun and effective.
What do you have coming up next?
Privately I have two grand-children on the way, professionally I am about three quarters of the way through another cozy crime but this time it is historical (1920s) rather than contemporary.