Fiona Snyckers’s new book, the Cat that got the Cream, comes out this week. She kindly agreed to answer some questions about the book and writing in general.
Here’s the blurb:
Halloween fever has Bluebell Island in its grip.
Among the bats, pumpkins, and witches’ hats, no one expects to find a dead body – especially not one that has been stabbed by a sword.
Fay Penrose feels compelled to investigate further. Between trying to identify a killer and rescue a stray cat in the local woods, she hardly has time to keep up with her pumpkin pie baking.
There’s also the little matter of who serves the best clotted cream in the village. Will this be the one mystery that defeats Fay, or will cream always rise to the top?
You write in a variety of genres, can you tell me what you enjoy about each?
I would get bored writing in just one genre, although I find myself incorporating some kind of mystery into most of my plots. I find YA a fun opportunity to live out the dreams of my own youth. Murder mysteries are challenging because you have to hit certain tropes and do it in an original and compelling manner. I enjoy creeping myself out with thrillers – working through some of my worst fears on the page. I have only once felt the urge to write a literary novel, and that was driven by a compelling need to respond to JM Coetzee’s Disgrace. Contemporary women’s fiction is also something I have dabbled in and will return to in the future.
You also write short stories and have judged various short story competitions, what do you like about that medium vs longer form?
I admire the short story form and have huge respect for those who are comfortable in that medium. Long-form has always worked better for me. Occasionally I will get an idea that is self-contained and doesn’t have the legs to support a whole novel. In that case, it might get turned into a short story.
Can you offer any tips for aspiring writers who want to write short stories?
Read the masters of the short-story form to familiarise yourself with their techniques. Enter writing competitions and submit your work to journals (preferably those that don’t charge for submission). Use trusted beta readers to comment on the development of your craft.
You were one of the authors commissioned by the Shuttleworth Foundation to write mobile phone stories, can you tell us a bit about that experience?
It was back in 2010 when the idea of distributing serialised fiction to teen readers in disadvantaged communities via mobile platforms was just taking off. What I loved about it was getting real-time feedback from the readers as each new episode of the story was released. Now organisations like FundZA are keeping the initiative alive. They have serialised three of my Trinity novels.
What are some of the new methods of storytelling that you currently find intriguing?
I love the trend towards domestic thrillers. It used to be that you couldn’t write a thriller unless the fate of the entire world was at stake, and only one white man could save us all. Now thrillers are being written on a smaller, more intimate scale by a diverse variety of voices, which is great.
What are some of the themes you love exploring in your writing?
The different paths to human happiness. Solitariness vs connection. The ways we try to exert control over our own lives. Race and gender issues. Questions of identity.
The obligatory question: where do you find ideas for new stories :)?
There are always plots buzzing around in my head. These tend to be inspired by other people’s anecdotes, something I saw on TV, something I read, or even a social media post.
How did you get your start in publishing?
I was rejected more times than I can count, both by publishers and by agents. Then I started getting more promising rejections – for instance where an editor would ask to see what else I’d written, or tell me to try again. I finally hit pay-dirt with the manuscript for Trinity Rising. Both Jonathan Ball Publishers and Kwela Books bid for it, with JBP winning in a two-book deal. But my rejections didn’t end there. A lot of writers think that they only have to get one publishing deal to say goodbye to rejections forever. This was not the case for me. I got my latest slew of rejections as recently as last year and am bracing for the next lot when I start querying international agents for my current thriller.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I dictate a lot of my work, so I go for a long walk and speak into a Dictaphone as I go. If I’m working at my laptop, a mug of tea and a couple of cats are a must.
What would you like to see change in the global publishing industry?
I’d like to see publishers more willing to take risks rather than churning out the same tried and tested formulae.
What’s next for you?
I have two traditionally published books out this year, so I have quite a few commitments to literary festivals and interviews going into 2020. The next self-published series I’ll release in the coming months is a YA time-travel adventure that I’m having a lot of fun with. Then I’ll start the brutal process of querying agents for the thriller I am hoping to place overseas.
Here’s an extract from the Cat that got the Cream
The car screeched to a halt diagonally opposite the Cracked Spine and a figure jumped out of the driver’s side. The person was thickly bundled in a jacket and overcoat, with a watch cap pulled low over their forehead. Fay couldn’t be sure if she was looking at a man or a woman. As the figure circled around the car to pop the trunk, some instinct had Fay scrabbling for her phone. Her gloved fingers made her clumsy and she almost dropped it.
With an exclamation of annoyance, she tore off the gloves and flung them aside. Then she activated her camera, zoomed in on the figure, and began to take photographs.
The figure froze and looked around. Fay ducked behind the low wall. They couldn’t possibly have heard the click of her phone. She was too far away.
As she watched, the figure turned back to the car. He or she scooped something large and heavy out of the trunk, using both arms. The object was long and cylindrical and had been wrapped up in a rug. The way the item folded in the person’s grasp made Fay start forward with a shout.
The person hesitated – their face turned in Fay’s direction. Then he or she dumped the rug-covered object on the side of the road, hopped back in the car, and drove off with a squeal of tires.