Zara Stoneley

ZaraStoneley Author pic

I split my time between Cheshire, where I’m surrounded by horses, dogs, cats and amazing countryside, and Barcelona where it’s tapas, beach and fabulous architecture.

My most recent books are a little bit rom-com, a little bit chick-lit, a dash of bonkbuster scandal, and a lot of fun – think Bridget Jones meets Riders (Jilly Cooper)! They’re fun romps through the Cheshire countryside and combine some of my greatest loves – horses, dogs, hot men and strong women (and not forgetting champagne and fast cars)!

I write for Harper Collins (HarperImpulse) and Accent Press (Xcite).

1. What got you into writing / what made you sit down and actually start something? I’ve written stories for as long as I can remember (I submitted my first novel when I was 16), writing just followed on naturally from reading for me. But I got my first publishing contract after entering a competition three years ago. I’d written the first three chapters for my entry, then had 2 months to write the rest!

I studied Computer Science at University, and then worked as an IT consultant for many years, so my life has changed a lot recently!

2. What is a usual writing day like for you, how is it structured? 

As soon as my son leaves for school, the laptop comes out. I spend an hour or so with a cup of coffee checking through emails and social media, then I have a quick recap over what I’ve written the previous day, editing as I go, then start writing the new stuff.

If I’m in full flow it can quite often get to 2pm before I realise the time and stop for lunch – and to stretch as I’ve stiffened up! If I’m at a stage where I need to do more thinking then it’s much healthier for me as I’ll be moving around, or go for a walk.

I’ll have a quick break and chat to my son when he gets home, do some surfing on the internet (I call it research!), and make the dinner. Then I often find that around 9pm I hit my peak and end up writing until after midnight.

I aim to write 10-12,000 words a week, although on days when I’m planning my word count might be zero!

3. Do you get writers block? If so, how do you overcome it?

I try not to call it writers block. In most jobs you need thinking time, and writing is no different. There are times when a story stalls, and you need to take a step back. I always examine the characters, because it’s them that drive the story. For each character I need to know their GMC – goal, motivation and conflict and their character arc. Quite often I’ll hit the ‘sticky middle’ of the story because I’ve not got to the real root of one of the main characters, I don’t understand exactly what is driving them, what they want or their internal or external conflicts.

I think it’s important, as a writer, not to put pressure on yourself to be constantly churning words out – it’s what is going on in the background that’s important! Understand what you’re trying to achieve in the story and the words will start to flow again.

4. Are you a plotter or panster when it comes to writing a story?

A bit of both. I used to plot in very great detail before I started to write. Now I tend to spend more time on developing the characters and let them drive the story – although I do always know the start and ending! I have an overall outline, then plan in chunks – a few chapters at a time, write those and then work on the next part. And before I start writing each day I’ll jot down a bit about each scene, it reduces the gazing-into-space time!

5. Are you traditionally or self-published, and what was the publishingprocess like for you? Any advice to aspiring authors?

Both, although the majority of my work is traditionally published.

My first book was published as a result of entering a competition – so I wrote it specifically with that publishers requirements in mind, and researched their target market and current list. It taught me an important lesson about writing a book that will sell, rather than just what you want to write. I think it’s one point that can get forgotten – quite often when a publisher or agent rejects a book, it isn’t because the author can’t write, or it’s a terrible story – it’s more a case that it isn’t one they feel they can sell at that particular point in time.

After being contracted for 2 novels, and commissioned to write some novellas, I then decided to self-publish. This was another big lesson! I loved my publisher, but didn’t feel that the book I wanted to write was suitable to submit to them, but I did believe it would sell (and I was right – ‘Good Enough to Share’ hit an Amazon #1 spot in the UK, and #2 in the US). So I self-published, and in the process really developed my own ‘voice’. Writing the story for myself rather than anybody else removed self-imposed restrictions about what I thought people wanted, and my writing developed a lot.

I was then lucky enough to be signed by HarperCollins. Initially I wrote a couple of erotic novels, but my editor then suggested I write a more mainstream ‘bonkbuster’, with horses (as most of my stories had them in any way!), hot men, and the countryside – and Stable Mates, then Country Affairs were born. They were a complete departure from my previous books (well still a little bit racy), but they’re funny – which came from writing about the people, places and animals I know and love.

So, my advice? Know the market when you submit to a publisher or agent, develop your own unique voice (which can be lost when you’re struggling to write what you think is needed), and write what you know and love. Love your characters and their story, and the reader will too.

6. What has been your highlight since becoming a published author?

Seeing Stable Mates stocked in a local shop, and having a quote from Fiona Walker on the cover – I adore her books.

7. Can you share a little of your most recent book with us? And any other books of yours, if you wish.

This excerpt is from Country Affairs –

‘Oh, bugger.’ Lottie gazed at the table before reaching for the nearest Pimm’s jug and pouring herself another large glassful.

‘What’s up?’ Pip peered over her shoulder and then started to giggle.

The artistically arranged cucumber sandwiches were now parted like the Red Sea, except this was green, and through them could be seen Bertie’s black nose and doleful eyes, a triangle of crust-free bread still protruding from his gentle mouth, a crumb bouncing on the end of one of his whiskers, as he raised and lowered his eyebrows in silent apology.

‘Oh shit, what do I do now?’

Bertie, the larger of Elizabeth’s Labradors, belched, and lifted his head from the table, backing off, his tail doing a slow, solemn wag.

Lottie pushed two mismatched triangles of bread together and poked a sliver of cucumber back inside. ‘Do you think they’ll notice?’

‘You’ll have to say they’re the latest in deconstructed food. Nobody will dare question it in case they look silly. They’ll think they missed a critical episode of Bake Off.’

‘Really?’

‘No, not really. A deconstructed sandwich is a loaf of bread and a cucumber, and it doesn’t generally have teeth marks in it.’

‘Told you that you should have had a barbie.’ Todd appeared to have made a miraculous recovery and, despite the absence of runs, had built up an appetite.

‘Bugger off, Todd, or there’ll be chestnuts roasting on an open fire.’ He laughed. ‘Go and support your team and don’t you dare tell anybody.’

‘I’ll go and distract them, shall I?’ Pip, who wasn’t into catering of any kind unless it only involved a packet, scissors and a bowl, headed out of the pavilion. ‘Come on, Crocodile Dundee, come and help me.’ She linked an arm through his and Todd obligingly went outside, cracking jokes about Englishmen and the Ashes whilst simultaneously attempting to flatter Sam by adding the odd comment about football, which clearly he knew nothing about.

‘He’s such a card, isn’t he Pip? I hope all your bits are okay, babe?’

‘Not so sure, always willing to let a lady check them out.’

Pip rolled her eyes as Sam giggled. ‘His bits will be fine, but I’m not sure about Lottie’s.’

Sam looked alarmed. ‘She wasn’t playing was she? Did I miss her?’

‘This is more of a catering disaster. Will you go and help her out? I really don’t do fancy food.’

Sam went and Todd sulked for a second or too before deciding that teasing Pip could be just as entertaining.

***

‘Men don’t like green stuff anyway, babe.’ Sam had found a bin bag and was hastily shovelling the most deconstructed parts of ‘tea’ out of sight, before rearranging the remainder, which involved shoving vases of flowers into the middle of platters to make them look full.

Lottie was impressed. ‘That’s brilliant.’

Sam grinned, happy that she could be of use. ‘Well, at all these posh things we go to they don’t give you enough food to feed a mouse. It’s all just in silly little bits on massive plates. And we’re all having a big nosh-up later anyway, aren’t we – at your auction thing?’ She paused. ‘Should he be doing that?’

Lottie turned around to find that Bertie, unobserved, had taken the opportunity to move on to the cakes and now had a rather large chocolate muffin, complete with wrapper held carefully between his jaws. He rocked back on his haunches, watching them watching him, then with careful deliberation he tried to swallow. Labradors could swallow most things, but this was a new experience. Brown crumbs shot out to both sides, as brown drool ran from his jaws and he valiantly tried not to choke on the paper.

‘Bless.’

‘What do you mean, bless?’ Lottie decided it was time to step in, although she wasn’t sure if it was to try and rescue the cake or the dog. Bertie clamped his mouth shut, determined not to give up any more of his prize. ‘Help me get him out of the back. Quick before anybody sees him.’ Smuggling a big black dog out of a cricket pavilion when half the village are on the front steps, and the other half milling around with drinks was, Lottie decided, not her brightest idea.

They had got to the doorway, Sam pushing him from behind and Lottie at his collar, when Bertie realised that he was soon to be banished from the remnants of his party. He dug his heels in, leaning his portly body back, so that he landed squarely on the toes of Sam’s very high-heeled shoes. With a giggle she sat down abruptly. Lottie, taken unawares by the Labradors change of tactics, lost her grip on the dog’s collar and found herself going in the opposite direction, landing outside on the grass at the feet of Mick.

‘You could tempt him out with food, babe.’ Bertie turned around and gave Sam’s cleavage an appreciative snuffle, smothering it in chocolate dribble, his mouth still full of cake.

‘I’m not sure that will work, I think he’s totally stuffed.’ And so was she, Lottie decided.

‘I’ll put him in the Landrover shall I, treasure?’

At the sound of his voice, Lottie glanced up, into those deep, dark eyes and had never been so pleased to see the farrier in her life. ‘Oh, please.’ What she really meant was please, please, please, but instead she struggled to her feet and wrapped her arms round her saviour’s neck, giving him the type of affectionate kiss that Bertie had just bestowed on Sam. ‘You always rescue me, don’t you?’

***

8. What audience is your book targeted for, and what genre does it come under?

Anybody who loves a bit of sexy, scandalous, fun! I think this review probably gives you a good idea – ‘Stoneley has done a fabulous job of writing a story that will keep you guessing right til the very end (nothing the residents in Tippermere do is ever straightforward) and will also have you laughing til your sides hurt. Not to mention those scenes that will tug at your heart strings.
If your looking for a book that welcomes you in and treats you like life long friends then this is the book for you because that is exactly how this feels.
I’d hesitate to put it into one specific genre, it is contemporary fiction with romance, a chick-lit vibe, a good dose of humour and a dash of scandal.

9. Apart from writing, what do you do in your spare time? Horse ride, read, cook and soak up the sun in Barcelona! And I’m getting married at the end of June, so a lot of time has been spent on planning the big event [Symbol

10. What tip would you give to new authors when trying to build a fan-base / get followers and market their books?(What to do and what not to do.)

Be yourself, but be professional – social networking is just that, sociable. People want to get to know you, not just hear about your books.

Look for people with similar interests and chat.

Support other people – if somebody retweets for you then return the favour.

If somebody follows/friends you, don’t send an automated ‘buy my book’ message.

Design a website that reflects you and your books – building a brand is important.

Don’t spend too long chatting – the only way to build a fan base is by consistently producing good books. It’s important to find the balance that works for you.

Do ask questions and seek opinions – people like to help.

Don’t retaliate to criticism – bad reviews are pants, but everybody is entitled to an opinion, and a lot of it is down to personal taste.

Do share the highlights with people as well as the struggles.

11. How much of your books are realistic / based on true experiences/ people?

Stable Mates and Country Affairs are firmly set in Cheshire where I’ve lived for many years, and I do hope they come across as realistic!

But Tippermere and Kitterly Heath are not based on any one place, I’ve pulled together the best bits from several villages in the county. And the characters and animals have, in  part, been inspired by real life – but are very definitely fictional, as are the events.

I think as a writer I observe and then cherry pick – the characters and story are an amalgamation of my observations and experiences (sometimes exaggerated to make them funnier, sadder or just more interesting), but the sights, smells and emotions are drawn from real life. And I really have had horses just like Merlin and Flash!

Thanks so much for featuring me on your blog Sophia. 

If anybody wants to chat, they can find me here :

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