Updated: Jan 13
Shelley Wilson is a genre-straddling author of adult self-help and YA fiction. She lives in the West Midlands with her three children, runs a content writing business, and tries to escape in her camper van at every opportunity.
Image provided by Shelley Wilson
When did you first decide you wanted to become an author?
I’ve been writing stories since I could hold a crayon, but I don’t think I gave any serious thought to becoming an author until I was in Secondary school. Our academic year was the first GCSE guinea pigs, and part of our English coursework was to create a children’s book and illustrate it.
Creating a ‘book’ was amazing and one of my favourite memories from school. Interestingly,that story was about toys who came to life when their owner wasn’t around – hmm if only I’d approached Disney when I was sixteen then the Toy Story fame could have been mine! I also had a fabulous English teacher who was very encouraging, and after she read one of my short stories out in class I was hooked!
Why do you write? What drives you to do it?
Writing is like breathing. I can’t imagine not having a story to work on or being able to develop characters and arcs. I write because I love it. As a young adult (YA) fantasy and supernatural writer, I get to invent new worlds and realms.
Building an audience over the years has also helped me find another motivator. When I receive positive feedback from my readers it spurs me on to keep writing, keep inventing these strange and wonderful places, and keep investing my time and creativity in my characters. I started writing for myself, but now I write for other people too.
What is your writing schedule like and how do you plan your books?
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I signed a publishing contract at the end of 2017 with an American publisher on a ten-book deal. As a multi-genre author, I divide my time between my YA novels and my non-fiction self-help titles. Writing two books a year has become a rhythm – one fiction and one non-fiction. 2020 has been a bit different as I’ve only managed to write one fiction novel. Hopefully, these strange times will pass quickly and I’ll get back on track.
There is a production schedule I follow with my publisher, so I always know the title and genre of the next book I need to produce. I’ve recently submitted my latest YA novel, Blood Born, a vampire duology. The next book on my production list is a non-fiction title.
I always begin with a brainstorming session when starting a new book. This exercise gives me additional ideas and a chapter breakdown. I then plot the book from start to finish. With non-fiction I have to allow for an element of research, although this can also apply to my fiction. One of my YA novels due for release shortly is a Viking novel, and that required a great deal of research before I could start writing.
Plotting is always done using a notepad and pen, but I type my manuscript directly to my computer. I’ll write my first draft in a continuous stream and only edit once I have the entire story out of my head and down on paper.
What inspires your writing and your choice of genre/audience?
I’m a single mum to three adult children (22, 19, and 18) but when I published my first YA novel in 2015 they were my target audience. Part of me wrote for them, but if I’m honest, I chose to write YA because I’m an avid reader of that genre. YA fantasy, horror, supernatural, and dystopian are my favourite.
After I divorced my abusive husband I needed to find an escape, I tried reading romance andcrime novels, but I couldn’t relate to the stories. I was devouring self-help titles at the time but longed to read a fictional novel. I stumbled across the teen section of my local Waterstones and picked up a book called Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. I was smitten. The book was a coming-of-age story involving werewolves, and it won me over. When I was reading YA, it was like I wiped out a large portion of my life and went back to being a teenager again – simpler times!
The fact that YA novels are fast-paced, action packed, and deal with every topic under the sun is also a great attraction. I might be 48 years old, but I know I’m not the only grey-haired ‘not-so-young adult’ out there!
Do you base your settings and characters on real places and people?
Image provided by Shelley Wilson
My main characters are always female and always pretty bad-ass in some way. They’re not based on people I’ve met, but more on who I wished I’d been at 16. They are strong and confident in ways I never understood. My daughter is 18 and has more self-awareness than I ever did at her age.
I love using real places in my novels. My Viking novel is set in Bamburgh in Northumberland. Nottingham was the base for my award-winning Hood Academy novel, and Whitby is the setting for my vampire series. These are all places I love and have visited many times. I recently took my camper van to Whitby for a week and was taking pictures of benches and the dark alleys that appear in the book, instead of the usual landmarks. I got a few funny looks, haha.
Do you have a favourite book, place, or character from your own work?
There’s a special place in my heart for all of my books, but especially Hood Academy which presented me with an opportunity to attend a book award ceremony in Los Angeles when it was up for Best YA Novel of the Year.
I am, however, most excited to share Edith’s story in The Last Princess, my Viking novel. History is a passion of mine, especially Viking and Tudor history. Researching this novel was great fun and I got to stand on the beach in Northumberland where my character stands in the book. The story came to life for me more than any of the other books I’ve written. It’s also my first attempt at historical fiction so the challenge made the entire project memorable.
Edith is a strong female protagonist who stands up for herself and what she believes in. She’s fiercely loyal, caring, and intelligent and was great fun to write. I don’t have a release date from my publisher yet but if it doesn’t come out in 2021 then it will be made all the more special if it’s released around my 50th birthday the following year. Watch this space!
Which three words would you use to describe your writing?
Great question! My writing style is descriptive and entertaining. I also love to try new things and find unusual angles. In Hood Academy, I took the classic Little Red Riding Hood and made her a werewolf assassin! If I were to share three words for that particular book, it would be family, loyalty, and adventure.
What are you currently writing, if anything
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As I mentioned earlier, my latest YA novel, Blood Born, has just been submitted to my publisher. As with all my titles, it will be at least two years before this is published. I’m about to start on my next project which is a non-fiction title called Behind Closed Doors. It’s part memoir, part self-help as I share my journey through domestic abuse and how my children and I not only survived but thrived. It’s going to be a tough task, but I also feel like it’s the right time to tell the story.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned as a writer?
That people like what I write! I live in my head most of the time, and I see my stories playing out like a movie in my head. It always amazes me when a reader tells me what they think a character looks like, or how a setting makes them feel and it’s precisely how I imagined it myself.
When I self-published my first book back in 2014, I never dreamed that six years later I would have written sixteen books with a publishing contract for more. I guess I’m surprised at my own resilience, determination, and focus on coming up with stories, but I’m equally grateful for the opportunity.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Don’t put it off. If you want to write then write. Get your initial ideas down on paper and work out the logistics later. Far too many people wait until they’re ‘ready’, but the truth is, you’re never ready. I evolve and grow as a writer every day, but I still kick myself that I left it until my 40s to take myself seriously. Oh, and read! Read, read, and read some more.