I was drawn to Mel Sherratt because of our similar backgrounds. We were both let go from our jobs and decided to pursue our careers as Writers.
When I reached out to Mel on Goodreads, she was one of the warmest and genuine people I have met. After having an inspiring conversation with her, I decided to push my luck and requested an interview for my blog writeofmind. She said yes!
1) You have become a successful Writer. Was this your first choice of profession?
Mel: It wasn’t my choice of profession because I live in a city, population of 240,000, where jobs are hard to come by and certainly anything to do with writing. I went straight from high school to working in the Post Office serving behind the counter. From then, I went into banking for nine years and afterwards took a total leap into the unknown by starting to work as a housing officer for my local authority. But every night, weekend and spare day, I would be writing – whether that be short stories (which were always rejected) or later, novels. I was actively looking for an agent and then a publishing deal. So you could say that it was my first choice of vocation, if that doesn’t sound too conceited. I wrote for years without ever being published and I wouldn’t give up until I was.
2) When did you know you wanted to write?
Mel: From as early as I can remember, I tried to get published but I took it seriously when I sat down in 1999 (yes, that isn’t a typo) and wrote my first book. Before that I dabbled with the first three chapters over and over, afraid to go any further, I suppose in case I couldn’t do it. But one day, I just carried on and a few months later I was at 100,000 words and writing The End. It was far from The End, mind you, but at least I had something to work with.
3) At what point in your career did you consider yourself a writer?
Mel: Because I was turned down by publishers, and then self-published, it took me a while to think that maybe I was a good enough writer to make a career of things. I’ve self-published six books, having four number one bestsellers, and it wasn’t until two years later when I was invited to talk on two panels at London Book Fair April 2013 that afterwards, having talked through my author journey, I realised just how far I had come.
4) You landed a literary agent (not easy to do when you self-publish) and then signed with Thomas & Mercer. What was the time line for these two events?
Mel: Well, I actually had two agents before the one I have now. I was signed up in 2004 by my first agent, when I was writing women’s fiction. After two and a half years, and umpteen rewrites on the same book, which was never sent to any publishers, she retired! I was devastated as you can imagine – getting an agent was a must back then before social media took off and I didn’t write anything for a year, convincing myself that she had let me go because I wasn’t good enough. While I was working on this book with her, I’d written two more so I sent them out and got my second agent. These books were then rejected because they were a cross between women’s fiction and crime.
So I wrote a police procedural novel, TAUNTING THE DEAD, to see if anyone would like that. I had masses of wonderful feedback but most of it boiled down to it was too similar to other authors. I felt like I couldn’t win. So I decided, with the blessing of my agent, to self-publish TAUNTING THE DEAD. When that started to go well, I felt passionate about the earlier books I’d written and wanted to see how they would do, going through Amazon KDP again (by this time I had written three in a series, THE ESTATE.) So I made the decision to part company with my agent and self-publish them over six months, one every two months. When they began to hit the bestseller lists, I had five agents come directly to me. I chose my agent, Madeleine Milburn, because she has the same energy as me, treats me as an equal and was happy for me to self-publish alongside her trying to get me a traditional deal. Before she emailed me, she did her research plus read all of my books and I really liked that. My writing is dark and gritty so it was paramount that she loved my style. I signed with Madeleine in December 2012, worked with her on a new book and she sold it in April 2013. Sorry, there’s no other way to shorten all of that!
5) How did you feel when you were told Thomas & Mercer wanted to sign you?
Mel: I might write, dark, raw and gritty scenes but I admit to shedding a tear. At the time, I was being interviewed for an article over the phone. I came off the call, and checked my emails and was so glad I had finished that interview as there was an email from Madeleine, who had been trying to ring me, saying we had an offer in. I didn’t believe it for ages afterwards. It seemed surreal after working towards it for so long.
6) Aspiring writers, like me, often struggle with that annoying little demon, “Self-doubt.” Have you put that demon to sleep or does he still occasionally keep you up at night?
Mel: I don’t think I’ll ever put that demon to sleep. He constantly keeps me awake at night and to be honest, I think that’s a good thing. I hope I never become complacent enough to think that anything I write is just good enough. I’m still learning with every new book I write. But yes, that little monkey gets to me all the time.
7) I was told by someone becoming a successful writer was like hitting the lottery. I totally disagree and I have you, Ania Ahlborn and John Pye (just to name a few) as proof. How did you deal with negativity before being published?
Mel: You know that little monkey we just talked about? Well, he got to me then too. But, with the help of my husband and friends, I got through the down times (and there have been lots) picked myself up and got on with the writing. It was really hard, and on many occasions I wanted to give up. But I just couldn’t and before long, another idea or character would pop into my head and I’d be away again.
8) Where do you get the ideas for your stories?
Mel: Two places really. One is from the media – local and national news bulletins, newspapers and magazines. The other is from song lyrics. I’ll hear a line from a song, or a title of a track and it will start off a chain of thought. My books have multiple characters and plots so I have to think of lots of ideas for each one.
9) You have a new book being released in January 2014. Can you tell us a little about it?
Mel: Yes, it’s called WATCHING OVER YOU and it’s a psychological thriller. Following the death of her husband and unborn child, Charley Belington sells the family home and bravely starts life over again. On moving into a new flat, she is befriended by her landlady, Ella, who seems like the perfect friend and confidante.
But, unbeknown to Charley, Ella is fighting her own dark and dirty demons as the fallout from a horrific childhood sends her spiralling down into madness—and unspeakable obsessions.
As Ella’s mind splinters, her increasingly bizarre attentions make Charley uneasy. But with every step Charley tries to take to distance herself, Ella moves in a tightening lockstep with her, closer and closer and closer…
Sounds eerily good Mel, can’t wait to read!
10) What is the best thing an aspiring writer can do for their career?
Mel: Do your own thing. There is plenty of advice, often conflicting, on everything to do with writing, whether it is how to write a book, draft a book, edit a book, publish a book, work with an agent, work without an agent, self-publish or not self-publish, but you need to find out what works best for you. Just have a go and find your own way. And don’t give up, unless you really don’t find this fun anymore.
A big thank you to my friend, Mel Sherratt~
Mel Sherratt has been a self-described “meddler of words” ever since she can remember. After winning her first writing competition at the age of 11, she has rarely been without a pen in her hand or her nose in a book. Since successfully self-publishing Taunting the Dead and seeing it soar to the rank of number one best-selling police procedural in the Amazon Kindle store in 2012, Mel has gone on to publish three more books in the critically acclaimed The Estate Series.
Mel has written feature articles for The Guardian, the Writers and Artists website, and Writers Forum Magazine, to name just a few, and regularly speaks at conferences, event and talks. She lives in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, with her husband and her terrier, Dexter (named after the TV serial killer, with some help from her Twitter fans), and makes liberal use of her hometown as a backdrop for her writing. Her self-published book “Taunting the Dead” has been re-published by Thomas & Mercer . Represented by Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency,her website is www.writerofmurderandmayhem.com and you can find her on Twitter at @writermels