When Cathie Hartigan introduced me to author Elizabeth Ducie, I was really quite delighted: Elizabeth’s debut novel, Gorgito’s Ice Rink, caught my eye over a year ago, although it has since sadly languished unread on my kindle. I’ll be putting that right in December.
But today, I’m delighted to welcome Elizabeth Ducie to Being Anne to tell me more about herself and her writing, and about her latest release Counterfeit!, the first in a series of thrillers set in the sometimes murky world of international pharmaceuticals. Published in July 2016, Counterfeit! came third in the Literature Works 2015 First Page Writing Prize, and introduces three main characters, all strong females, who will feature in future books in the series.
Fake medicine kills. No-one is safe. Regulator Suzanne Jones’ mission to stop counterfeiting in Africa becomes personal. But her investigations bring danger ever closer. In Uganda a factory burns; Suzanne’s friend goes missing; and in Swaziland and Zambia, children die. Who is supplying the fake drugs? What is the Eastern European connection? Can Suzanne stop the counterfeiters before more people die?
Elizabeth, welcome to Being Anne. Would you like to introduce yourself?
Hello Anne, and thank you for inviting me on to your site. I am lover of words who spent many years writing non-fiction and technical material; then one day I woke up and decided I’d like to change direction. I now write fiction more or less full time.
You were kind enough to offer me a choice on which of your two novels to review, and I chose your first novel Gorgito’s Ice Rink: so, let’s focus on the second, Counterfeit!, which looks a very different book. Why did you decide to go down the thriller route? Where did the idea come from?
I worked internationally for more than twenty years and many of my ideas come from the countries I have visited and the people I have met. My industry was pharmaceutical manufacturing, one that is full of controversy, and a perfect setting for crime and corruption.
The thriller market is a crowded one – what do you feel makes your book stand out?
As I said, location is an important factor in my writing and I am writing about places I have spent time in, not just as a tourist, but as a worker. I also know the pharmaceutical industry very well. So I guess it’s back to the old adage of ‘writing about what you know.’ Many people have said they can feel themselves at the locations which I describe, and enjoy the fact that they are learning about new places while reading a gripping story.
I see you’re planning that this will be a series. With Suzanne Jones as the common factor? Tell me more about her…
Well, I’ve called it the Suzanne Jones series, and she will be the focal character in all the books, of which I have three planned at the moment. But in fact, she’s only one of three central characters, all strong females, who will feature in all the books to a varying degree.
At the beginning of Counterfeit!, Suzanne is a government regulator, seconded to a non-governmental organisation that has been set up to fight the growing problem of counterfeit medicines, especially in the developing world. She has seen a lot of the same things I saw, and has many of the same sorts of conversations that I used to (although I was never a regulator and she is very definitely not me). So that’s where she is at the start of the series. How she ends up remains to be seen.
And I see you’ve now given up that other life to focus on writing. Your website is excellent, with a wealth of information on everything you’ve written before – from prize-winning short stories and flash fiction through books on business skills to one on organising summer parties. Was it all always leading up to writing novels?
Yes, I think it probably was. I gave up the day job at a relatively advanced age to write fiction. I began with short stories and still write quite a few of those; I love flash fiction and have had some success in competitions with that particular form, but my main focus at present is in writing novels. My first novel took seven years to produce; Counterfeit! took about eighteen months. The next two in the series are both due out next year, Deception! in May and Corruption! in November. So I’m definitely getting more productive.
The series on business skills for authors is a totally different part of my writing life and I am in the process of disentangling this from my fiction. The Business of Writing grew out of a series of workshops at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, turned into a blog, and from there into ebooks, very much UK-focussed. I am currently doing a major rewrite to both update the material and give them a more international focus. They will be relaunched early in 2017, under my real name, rather than a pen name. So I’m thinking a lot about branding and marketing at the moment. But it’s fair to say that this is very much secondary to my fiction writing.
Some people just sit at the keyboard and write – I see you completed an MA in Creative Writing. How did it help? Would you recommend it to others?
I said earlier that my first novel took seven years to publish. At the time I started the MA, I had been working on it for four years and had only written (rewritten, edited and written once again) about six chapters. I was beginning to suspect I was unable to sustain such a huge piece of writing. So my main aim in doing the MA was to give myself the discipline and structure to see if I could actually finish the thing. And that worked. I learned how to write a story-board; I used parts of my manuscript for each assignment; and by the time I completed the MA, I had finally finished the first draft.
It was also a way of stimulating the creative side of this very scientific, highly left-brained individual. I struggled sometimes with essays where I had to give an opinion—I had always been very fact-oriented—but on the whole it worked. And it certainly helped me to become a better reader, introducing me to all sorts of authors I had never come across before.
But it’s certainly not a route I would recommend for authors in general. In my opinion, creative writing is not an academic subject and an MA is not the place to learn either the craft of writing or the industry of publishing. For that, I have found short courses, conferences and online webinars to be much more effective.
I also see that you’re part of a couple of writing groups. Is that support important to you?
Yes, participating in writing groups is very definitely an important support mechanism. I belong to a number of such groups, and each one is different and provides varying benefits. I am a founder member of Chudleigh Writers’ Circle; this is a small group, a complete mix of professional writers and hobbyists. We take it in turns to run our monthly workshops, so there’s always something fun and unusual going on. I am also a member of Exeter Writers, which is primarily made up of published writers; that is my go-to place for advice on matters relating to publication. There are a small group of us from the MA course who meet monthly for critiquing sessions, although it’s often just an excuse for lunch with the girls! And a recent group I have joined is the West of England Authors. But in that case, the focus is on marketing and promotion of our books, rather than on the writing per se.
And that’s before I start talking about all the online groups. There are so many opportunities out here for networking, it’s amazing we writers ever get anything done, isn’t it?
How do you write? What does a typical writing day look like?
I am very much a lark rather than an owl. I write in the mornings and use the afternoons for marketing, promotion or non-writerly activities. If I’m at first draft stage, I work to a word count and once I’ve reached my target, I will tend to stop. I rarely reread the previous day’s work before I start writing, and am quite comfortable with the fact that the first draft is probably garbage. I plot quite extensively during the early stages, too, so roughly know what’s going to happen when I sit down to write a scene.
Once I get to the editing stage, I spend more time per day on the manuscript and, as publication approaches, it becomes a full-time project.
I am lucky enough to have a lovely writing room in the garden and on warm days, it’s wonderful to be able to write with the doors and windows wide open. But if it’s cold and wet, I prefer to stay in the house and will write at the table in the lounge while life, accompanied by my husband’s loud music, goes on around me.
What writers do you particularly admire? If someone said “your writing reminds me of…”, who would you really like them to mention?
I read a lot of fantasy, although I am unable to write it. I particularly admire the late Robert Jordan for his plotting abilities; JRR Tolkien for the poetry of his ideas; and Stephen King for the clarity of his prose – plus his straightforward approach to writing as recommended in On Writing. I love Alison Morton’s Roma Nova books. But I obviously also read a lot of crime and thriller books: my current favourites are Ian Rankin, Damien Boyd and James Patterson. I first conceived the idea for the Suzanne Jones series after reading Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club books. I would be delighted if someone else recognised that too.
Elizabeth, it’s been really lovely to meet you – I’m very much looking forward to catching up with your writing.
When Elizabeth Ducie had been working in the international pharmaceutical industry for nearly thirty years, she decided she’d like to take a break from technical writing—text books, articles and training modules—and write about some of her travel experiences instead. She took some courses in Creative Writing and discovered to her surprise that she was happier, and more successful, writing fiction than memoirs or life-writing. In 2012, she gave up the day job to write full-time. She has published three collections of short stories and appears in a number of anthologies. Her debut novel Gorgito’s Ice Rink was runner up in the 2015 Writers’ Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year Awards. Her latest novel, Counterfeit! came third in the 2015 Literature Works First Page Writing Prize. She also lectures and writes on business skills for authors.