Author Q&A: Kathleen McGurl

Today, I'm thrilled to be welcoming the fantastic Kathleen McGurl to Becca's Books for one of my author Q&As. Kathleen McGurl is one of my favourite authors. I've been in love with her novels since I read my first, The Emerald Comb, and adored Kathleen's most recent release, The Daughters of Red Hill Hall. If ever I'm looking for a gripping novel that slips seamlessly back and forth in time, then Kathleen McGurl is my go-to author.

Without further ado, I'd like to welcome Kathleen to the blog so that we can get this Q&A under-way!
First of all, could you introduce yourself to readers? Tell us a little bit about you and the books that you write.
Thanks so much for inviting me onto your blog, Becca!

I live in Bournemouth with my husband and younger son - the older one is away at university. I have a full time job working in IT for John Lewis, which I've done for more years than I care to remember. I'm lucky enough to be able to work from home, which frees up more time for writing! I began writing about 13 years ago, starting with short stories for women's magazines and then progressing to novels 3-4 years ago.

In which genre/genres do you write?
 I write dual timeline novels, where a historical mystery is resolved in the present day. I always loved reading this kind of novel so it made sense for me to try writing them myself.

Tell us about your most recent book, and where can we find it?
My most recent is The Daughters of Red Hill Hall, which was published on 14th April 2016. It's available as an eBook from Amazon and all other eBook retailers. In 1838, two young women are found shot in the cellars of Red Hill Hall. In 2015 the pair of ruby duelling pistols they were shot with turn up in a museum, and start Gemma on the search to discover what really happened all those years ago, while wrestling with her own problems at the same time...

Are there any particular themes which you try to incorporate within your books?
I am fascinated by how the past influences the present, and often incorporate that theme. But I usually have some other theme as well, which helps tie the story lines together. So far I've looked at identity, constancy, jealousy and the work-in-progress is on the theme of maternal sacrifice...

How do you hope to make readers feel while reading your books?
Ooh, what a good question! I think it varies at different points of the book. I want to make them smile, cry, feel intrigued... but above all I want them to enjoy the book, keep turning the pages and put it down at the end feeling satisfied. 

If you had to choose three words to describe your most recent book, what would they be?
Mystery, murder, betrayal...

When it comes to creating your characters, are they completely fictional or do you gather ideas from the people you know in real life?
I think like most writers I am inspired by people I know, but then mix up their characteristics and add more from my imagination, to get to the character I need. There is certainly more than a bit of myself in Katie from The Emerald Comb, and the husbands in both The Emerald Comb and The Pearl Locket are rugby fans, just like my own dearest hubby.

How do you choose the settings of your books?
I'm not sure, really! I plot in advance and then the plot kind of dictates the setting, eg for The Daughters of Red Hill Hall I knew I needed a large country house, which has become a hotel in the contemporary story The location of the country house could have been anywhere really, but it made sense to set it in an area (Dorset) I know well.

Have you visited any of the areas which you've written about?
Ha ha, yes, I live in the house I wrote about in The Pearl Locket! Well, it was slightly different in the book, but it's essentially my house. In the novel I don't name the town, but it is closely based on Bournemouth. Bridhampton, in The Daughters of Red Hill Hall, is fictional but based on Bridport.

Who are some of your favourite authors?
As I said earlier I love dual timeline novels, so my favourite authors are those writing in this genre. Kate Morton and Katherine Webb are two I think stand out, whose books I always buy as soon as they are published. I also adore Carol Hedges Victorian crime mysteries - her writing style is simply beautiful.

Do you like to plan strategically, or do you let the characters lead the way?
I plan. I open a spreadsheet, list the chapter numbers and write a couple of sentences about what will happen in each chapter, before I begin writing. I do this for two reasons - firstly I'm short of time for writing and this helps me make the most of the time I get, and secondly structure is essential for dual timeline novels, so I need an overall plan in place to ensure the two stories interweave properly. Having said that, there's still room for my characters to surprise me at times, and I am happy to replan half way through if need be!

If you could sit down and have lunch with any author, who would you choose and why?
You know, I think it'd have to be JK Rowling, as she comes across as such a very decent, lovely human being. I suspect we'd talk about politics and human rights as much as writing. I love all her books, and am really enjoying her new Robert Galbraith mysteries.

Is there a particular part of the writing process which you enjoy more than others?
I prefer first-drafting to editing, and like writing the first 20,000 words and the last 20,000 best! The middle is a sludge that just has to be waded through.

When it comes to the cover of a book, how important do you feel they are?
  Massively important. The cover is a kind of shorthand for what's inside. Readers know the kind of book they like, and will gravitate towards others with similar covers, hoping to find what they enjoy inside. An unusual, eye-catching 'different' cover might also draw people in, but not every cover can do this!

How do you keep track of your writing progress? Do you use daily word goals? Do you aim to get a set number of chapters written?
If I'm sitting down to write on a work-day evening, I'll try to do 500 words or more. On a weekend day I'll aim for 1500. I try for about 5000 a week, and usually fail. On my planning spreadsheet I note down the words written in each chapter, with a column for the rolling total, so I know exactly where I'm at.

Tell us the top three books you've read so far in 2016.
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey - a very sensitive look at dementia from the point of view of the patient. Cleverly done and brilliant. The Lake House by Kate Morton - one of my favourite writers and this book did not disappoint, although there was a twist at the end I thought was unnecessary and contrived. The Heiress of Linn Hagh by Karen Charlton - a Regency detective story. I really enjoy Karen's books - should have included her above in the favourite authors section!

When did your love of writing first begin to blossom?
I always enjoyed writing as a child - when the homework was to write a story I'd be grinning while my classmates were groaning. I knew that one day I wanted to write a book, and I was just waiting until I had the time. It took till my late thirties to realise that if I wanted to write, I just needed to sit down and actually DO it, prioritising writing over everything else.

How did you celebrate your most recent publication day?
With a glass or two of Pinot Grigio of course!

What are your thoughts on the book blogging community?
I think the network of bookbloggers is amazing. You all give up so much time to read, review and blog about books. All that tweeting of blog posts keeps the books in the public eye. The detailed, early reviews are worth their weight in gold - they can be mined for quotes, and they help readers choose books on Amazon.

  Which, if any, other genre would you like to try and write in?
Maybe I'd try pure historical, but at the moment I love dual timeline so much I don't want to write anything else!

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far in your writing career?
It'd have to be getting that first, marvellous, two-book deal from Carina UK. That was such a happy moment!

Are you working on anything at the moment?
Yes, I am writing a novel set mostly in Ireland. The historical sections are around the time of the Irish potato famine. The research for it has been quite an eye-opener - I knew the basics of what had happened but the suffering endured by so many at that time is hard to comprehend.

What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
Keep writing, keep trying. I think it was Joe Konrath who said, "There's a word for a writer who never gives up: Published."

What do you class as a successful writing day?
A day in which 1000 words or more are written, and when my dreams are full of great ideas for what's coming up in my novel plan!

Writing in an apartment in New York City or writing in a cottage in the English countryside?
Oh, no-brainer, English countryside every time, preferably with a mountain nearby to climb when the sun's shining...

Writing with a cup of tea or writing with a cup of coffee?
Either, but can I have a glass of wine instead please?

Writing with a sandwich or writing with a cupcake?
I never thought I liked cupcakes until my son made some with edible glitter last weekend. So, either, again!

Writing with music or writing in silence?
Silence, but having said that, usually the TV is on in the next room.

Writing outside in the sunshine or writing inside as the snow falls?
Inside in the winter. If the sun's shining I tend to feel I should be outside making the most of it. When it stops snowing I'll go out anyway!

And lastly, if someone told you that they wanted to be a writer, what would you tell them?
I'd say, do it because you love it. Never do it just because you want the money, as there are far easier ways of earning a living. But if you're compelled to write, sit down and write, and good luck!

About the Author
Kathleen McGurl lives in Bournemouth with her husband and sons. She always wanted to write, and for many years was waiting until she had the time. Eventually she came to the bitter realisation that no one would pay her for a year off work to write a book, so she sat down and started to write one anyway. Since then she has published several novels with Carina UK and self-published another. She has also sold dozens of short stories to women's magazines, and written three How To books for writers. She works full time in the IT industry and when she's not writing, she's often out running, slowly.

You can find Kathleen McGurl on Facebook | Twitter