Author Spotlight Interview: Jacky Gray
Today’s interview is with prolific multi-genre author Jacky Gray. We learned a lot about her writing style, things that interest her and the obstacles she has faced in her publication journey. It was lovely getting to know more about Jacky’s novels, and life outside of writing!
HG: How would you describe yourself to somebody who isn’t familiar with your writing yet?
JAG: I write the kind of stories I enjoy reading, so they’re completely character-led with bags of (very British) humour, adventure and a dirty great dollop of romance. My prose takes few prisoners, assuming the reader is fully invested and paying attention. I always imagine my readers are way more intelligent than me and don’t like to be spoon-fed lots of unnecessary detail. Lee Child and Stephen King are my role models in this – every word has to earn its place on the page.
HG: Excellent. You write YA romantic adventure, both Medieval and Contemporary. Could you give us an overview of each series you’ve written?
JAG: The first 3 series fit together to make a 13-book tale, each with a slightly different feel.
Nature’s Tribe: Prequel to the Hengist series, telling how Archer’s medieval-alternate-world came about. It follows the adventures of Senna (a medieval midwife living at the start of witch-hunts) and some of her friends. The third book is mostly about her daughter, Lyrelie, with events leading up to the black-death. By the fourth, a whole host of women share their experiences in a post-plague dystopian world. Grown up stories, but quite sweet/clean.
Hengist has five different protagonists sharing their world, featuring Archery/Jousting, Time Travel, White Horse Puzzles, Stonehenge and Renegade Gypsy bands. Boy’s own adventures.
Colour of Light tells the love story that began in Rory as she and Archer fight those who would keep them apart as they learn the skills necessary to prevent her world from destroying his.
Bryant Rockwell: Three disparate girls face all manner of pickles in their efforts to navigate high school and find the boy of their dreams. Lashings of girl-power.
Calamity Chicks: Each tale begins in junior school, where unsavoury events have significant impact on the girls, coming back to bite them in later life. Edgy topics make them not YA, but I had the best fun reliving my childhood and hope you do too.
I also write as Rowanna (Ro) Green, more adult topics, not for the faint-hearted.
Hostage: A trilogy featuring Ginny, whose life is turned upside down because of her uncle’s high-security business. Her cousin Carrie is dragged into the second book, and it needs a crack SAS team to rescue them from life-threatening situations. For fans of edgy military thrillers.
Jeopardy: Short, saucy stories featuring girls in trouble in the 80s when men were men and girls did as they were told (or pretended to!) These naughty teasers are hot and whimsical with addictive twists. For fans of naughty shorts with a hint of (safe) non-con.
Jukebox Musicals: Quirky, offbeat novellas based on musicals featuring hits of a single band (Journey/City Boy). For fans of Mamma Mia, Rock of Ages & We Will Rock You.
HG: Thank you for that! Who would you recommend the Nature’s Tribe series to? The Hengist series? Colour of Light? Bryant Rockwell? Calamity Chicks?
JAG: Nature’s Tribe – Fans of Historical Adventure with Romance and a Mystery twist.
Hengist – Fans of YA Historical Adventure with male protagonists.
Colour of Light – Fans of NA Adventure switching between modern day and medieval magic.
Bryant Rockwell – Fans of Contemporary YA (set in UK high school) with humour & romance.
Calamity Chicks – Fans of Retro coming-of-age stories with sassy heroines in sticky scrapes.
HG: That’s really helpful. What feeling do you hope readers are left with when they finish one of your novels?
JAG: That they enjoyed spending time with the characters and would like to spend some more. That they could identify with at least one person, and the adventures felt so real it was like the character was sat on the sofa next to them.
HG: What can you tell us about any projects you have in the works?
JAG: So, lesson not learnt, this latest series is another new genre. A bunch of thirty somethings (think Friends, Big Bang Theory) in modern-day UK are forced in close proximity by the pandemic, and spend a bunch of time playing Dungeons and Dragons. But the personas they become on these adventures have exactly the qualities they need when they are accidentally thrown back in time and each have their own quest to fix something from their past.
Working title is Time Doctors – Five books outlined so far, but with the elements of Stranger Things and Dr Who, I have a feeling this one could run and run.
HG: Oh, that sounds awesome. Switching gears, could you tell us a bit about your publishing journey? How did you know you were ready to take on the “author” title?
JAG: First story written at 18, lost, re-written in mid-30s, finally published (as Ro) in 2014 as Fox Among Wolves. Second story was included in a trilogy, then re-vamped and released this year as Tina’s Torment. From mid- to late-30s I wrote dozens of short stories, many of which were published in 2018 in the Jeopardy series. After this was the first three Bryant Rockwell stories, but halfway through the fourth, in 2002 (age 42) I watched Kevin Hicks shoot 100 arrows through a piece of rope the size of a man’s head in 5 minutes and my character Archer was born. I struggled to finish the story due to technical aspects, and completed the Bryant Rockwell stories. But when I tried to sell them, a Waterstones’ bookseller suggested writing for teenage boys instead of girls – hence Archer, followed by four more Hengist stories in just over a year. When I published the first three in 2010/11 (and toured the country selling paperbacks at various shops and festivals), I finally started to feel like a writer. After that, the addiction took over and there are now over 30 titles available on Amazon (all in Kindle Unlimited).
HG: What a journey! What have been the challenges you’ve faced in your publishing career?
JAG: Because I wrote stories I enjoyed reading, it never occurred how drastically different they were – all sharing similar aspects of adventure, humour and romance. It didn’t become clear until I had half a dozen series all in different genres, by which time I’d spread myself too thinly. Another massive challenge is writing British characters – too many vociferous critics complain about having to translate into American. I notice far fewer complaints with the historical stuff.
HG: Ah, gotcha. Is there anything you’d do differently? Advice to aspiring authors?
JAG: Stick to one genre and build up your fan base before diversifying. I was surprised by how few readers are prepared to read outside their favourite genre. And avoid publishing under pseudonyms – so much harder to maintain two sets of everything.
HG: Good points. Tell us a little bit about your actual writing process. Are you a plotter or pantser? Do you set a word count goal?
JAG: I’m a planter – a bit of each. I started off as pure pantser – the characters took me by the hand on page one and narrated their stories which played out in my head like movies. Archer took 18 days from start to finish, because I’d already got to know him as a 26-year-old in the original story called Colour of Light, most of which ended up as the final story, Catalyst.
The intervening series were a bit of both and the latest series have been outlined in terms of series, story and character arcs so I have an overall idea of how things will progress.
I never have a specific word count in mind, so it varies from book to book – the story takes as long as it takes to tell. But I always follow Stephen King’s golden rule and cull at least 10% of every first draft to get rid of all the boring bids and “padding words.”
HG: How does your process differ when you’re writing Medieval vs Contemporary?
JAG: The only truly contemporary ones (Bryant Rockwell and Hostage, as Ro) were a lot quicker to write as they didn’t need quite so much research into the customs, equipment and language of the time – and being an ex-maths teacher helped when writing about high school. Apart from that, it’s pretty much the same because so much of the stories revolve around relationships and how my poor characters get themselves out of proper pickles.
HG: That makes sense. What inspires your writing? Do your books require a lot of research before writing?
JAG: Some originated in dreams in the early days, but since I got the bug, it’s like all these stories are in my head waiting to be told. So many stories, so little time. *sighs*
I spend an inordinate amount of research because I like to get my facts straight. Often I’ll write <tech,tech,tech> when I’m in the zone and then go back and research the bejaysus out of it.
The military thriller stuff needed a lot of research in Hostage and Catalyst, and in the 70s/80s series (Calamity Chicks & Jeopardy) I made the language and technology era-appropriate.
HG: Time well spent. What do you enjoy doing when not writing?
JAG: Reading, listening to music, dancing, watching movies and TV shows – current binge-watches are Big Bang Theory, iZombie (3rd time round), Better Call Saul and Rings of Power. I’m avidly awaiting the latest Strictly Come Dancing (like America’s Dancing with the Stars).
I grow my own: raspberries, gooseberries, apples, pears, plums, tomatoes and chili peppers, and prefer to cook from fresh – especially soups and cakes in the colder months.
Oh, and walking – my daily target is 4.5 miles, and I do 15 mins free weights every day.
HG: Wow! I’m inspired. What was your last 5-star read?
JAG: Eminence by Keith A Pearson – if you fancy a British Jack Reacher (with a bit of Time Travel magic), Clement is your man. Keith has cornered the market in endearing, credible (British) characters and his dry wit and quirky observations are a pleasure to read.
HG: Oh, great! So, if you could ask your author idol one question, what would it be?
JAG: Lee Child – Who suggested making Jack Reacher American? For a chap brought up in Coventry, England (where I’ve lived for the last four decades), it was a stellar decision.
HG: Love that question. For fun, before we wrap up, let’s do a fast five! First one…coffee or tea?
JAG: Tea – duh!
HG: Bonfire or fireplace?
JAG: Bonfire – I’ve jumped over several at various pagan ceremonies 😉
HG: Tropical beach or rustic mountains?
JAG: Rustic mountains – I climbed my favourite one (Cadair Idris in my beloved Wales) three times in the past 2 months.
HG: Impressive! Are you a morning bird or night owl?
JAG: Night Owl.
HG: eBook or paperback?
JAG: eBook – as my eyesight diminishes, the text size increases.
HG: I hear ya on that. For readers that want to find out more about your stories and keep up with you, where should they go to connect or learn more?
JAG: My website, has info about all the series, and the blog includes regular articles every month. The previous set focused on all things 70s, and we’re just about to move into the 80s. Also on Facebook.
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