Maria Savva lives and works in London. She is a lawyer, although not currently practising law. She writes novels and short stories in multiple genres.
Time to chat with Maria!
What is your latest book?
My latest book is Haunted. It’s my fifth novel, a psychological thriller/paranormal suspense novel. I hadn’t written a novel this dark before, so it’s new territory for me, but it seems to be quite a popular one so far. At least three readers have told me that they’ve been unable to put it down and have read it in one sitting. That’s a massive compliment. I always envy people who can read so fast. I was moving more towards the paranormal genre with my novel, The Dream, which includes an element of time travel and also a ghost. If Haunted does prove to be popular, I may consider writing more dark fiction, although having said that, I promised myself I would write a happy novel next because Haunted was so difficult to write, emotionally.
Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?
I never know the ending of a book until I get there. Even if I plan an ending, it never turns out that way. With Haunted, for example, I started off knowing I wanted to write a book about how crime affects innocent victims’ families, but also how it affects the perpetrator. I started off writing it intending to show three different crimes and have them linked in some way. The original title was 3 Crimes. I began writing Nigel’s story and it took on a life of its own. The story developed and became a novel.
As for the title, I go through three or four titles while I’m writing the book, and then reflect on the story at the end and pick a title that suits the finished story. Haunted was called Aftermath for a while, but I settled on Haunted because of the paranormal element and I think it fits.
Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?
I usually (maybe because I am mad) write the first draft with a pen and paper. I then edit the story as I am typing it up on the computer. I go through at least 10 edits before I am happy with the finished product. I find on each reread there are things that jump out at you that you had completely missed on the previous reading. It’s so important for writers to make sure they read and reread the book until they are happy with it. You usually know when you are nearly finished editing when you look and feel like a zombie, and could quite happily throw your computer out of the window. Who said writing was easy?
Do you have any advice for first-time authors?
Heaps and heaps of advice. In fact I could probably write a book about it. In my 15 or so years as a writer I have made every mistake known to man. I could help authors avoid some of those. However, making mistakes is a good thing as it’s the only way you learn. The most important advice I can think of off the top of my head is DO NOT publish your book without getting it professionally edited. When you are starting out as an author you simply do not have the tools to edit the book yourself. Furthermore, it is much more difficult to spot errors in your own work than it is to spot it in the work of others.
Even after editing, make sure you have as many beta readers as possible, preferably people who will give you an honest opinion of the book.
Do you write anything besides novels? Care to share?
I write short stories, poems when I am inspired, and song lyrics. I have published a few short story collections, and some of my other short stories appear in the BestsellerBound Short Story Anthologies. I haven’t done much with my poetry, probably because I don’t see myself as knowledgeable enough about poetry and feel like a bit of a fraud. I did once enter a poem into a competition and never heard back, so I took this to mean I’m right about me being a crap poet. Who knows, I may find some more confidence later on and publish a few of them. As for the song lyrics, I’ve always written them with the intention of adding music to them at a later date, but have never done that either. Maybe because if I tried, it would shatter the illusion that I have of myself as a fantastic song writer, and would make me realise that I am not destined to be the next big thing in music. I always like to have an unrealistic dream to fall back on.
Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?
I was born to tell stories, you can ask my long-suffering younger sister about that. I used to keep her up until the middle of the night telling stories that I would make up. Reading was an addiction for me when I was young and due to this love of the written word, I always had a dream that I would one day write that bestselling novel. I wanted to emulate what my heroes had done. As a child, I used to watch films that were based on novels and fantasise about my own novels being made into films. Writing is now an addiction, and like any drug it’s a hard habit to break. I started writing my first novel in 1997, but before that I always wrote short stories, poems, song lyrics. My earliest writing would have been a comic series that I made up where my main character was a monster named Shag (that was long before the meaning of that word became a bit rude – or at least, I didn’t know it was rude). I used to draw pictures for the comic and write the stories. That was back in the ‘70s, unfortunately, I never kept any of those. When I was in my pre-teens and teens, I used to ‘write’ songs, although this was more me and my Casio organ, and me making up the lyrics as I went along. I wrote short stories at school and always enjoyed creative writing. I suppose I was bound to end up in some kind of job that involved the written word. I studied Law which involves a lot of reading.
If you were to write a non-fiction book, what might it be about?
Maybe I would write my memoirs. But I won’t do that until I’m at least in my sixties or older. I think it’s always good to have a lot of life experience under your belt before tackling writing an autobiography, unless it’s something written about a specific important event or something about you and your life that is different to other people’s lives. I quite like reading memoirs as I think we can learn a lot from each other, and unfortunately people don’t listen much to other people anymore because everyone has busy lives. Sitting down and reading an autobiography is like paying attention to one person and listening to what they have to say about what they’ve learned and experienced.
Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?
I like author Darcia Helle’s tip best, she says: ‘Don’t read reviews’. I have heard that advice from others before as well, and you know, it makes a lot of sense. Reviews are after all one person’s opinion. Not everyone is going to like our writing, let’s face it, not everyone is going to like us as people. That’s life. I think the quandary is that reviews are needed in order for an author to gain a following – good and bad reviews- so we tend to obsess over them a bit too much. A tip for handling a negative review is to ignore it. I have a hard time with this but am finding it easier to restrain myself lately. Of course we love our books, but we need to take a step back. The worst thing an author can do is think that his or her own book is perfect. You need to be open to criticism; that is part of growing and becoming a better writer. I have always listened to every negative comment, and after crying for a few days I have asked myself how I can use that to make my next book even better. I will continue to do the same thing.
Writing is a learning process; I am learning new things every day. Contained in most negative reviews will be lovely gifts from the reviewer as to how we can improve ourselves as writers. If we ignore that we are doing ourselves a disservice. Remember, reviewers read a lot of books, other people will probably be thinking the same things about your book; don’t shoot the messenger. Sometimes you should take note of the things said in a review and use it to help you. Of course there are the nasty 1 star reviews written by nasty people. You can pretty much ignore those. Another tip is to go to your favourite author’s Amazon page and take a look at the reviews. There will be 1 star and 5 star reviews, which just proves that what some people love other people hate. I also heard recently that there is a saying that one third of the audience will hate you, one third will love you, and one third will be indifferent. So if you’re only attracting negative reviews, you just haven’t found your target audience yet. And remember, it’s impossible to please everyone, and no one should try to do that.
We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?
I actually think that with independently published books you can certainly judge how much effort has gone into a book by looking at the cover. If someone is passionate about their work they will take time to make sure that the cover is something that adequately reflects the book’s content. For example, I design my own covers and put a lot of effort into making sure that it is something I would like to look at, something that would attract me to the book. I often purchase a book based on the fact that I like the cover and for no other reason. Usually, if it’s a good cover, it’s also a good book. I suppose it’s a matter of personal taste. All art is subjective, but if the author has designed their own cover and you like that, chances are you are also going to like the book; they both come from the same artistic spring. I’ve noticed that most big name publishers don’t put a lot of effort into book covers; that’s probably because they know the book is going to sell due to the hype and adverts. As an artist, I appreciate that book covers are a great way to showcase art. I used my own art work for the covers of Haunted, Pieces of a Rainbow, and The Dream; those were inspired by the books. I also took the photograph that is now the cover of Coincidences (second edition). For my other books I have used photographs from Morguefile.com, and have used iPhoto to play around with the original photos and adjust them to suit the book. For example, the photo of the swan on my cover for Fusion was originally in colour, I think, and was not at an angle, but I played around with it to try to get the swan to look a bit more intimidating, as one of the stories is a bit of a horror story involving swans.
What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?
Favourite: Cheesecake or chocolate, or better still: chocolate cheesecake.
Least favourite: Broad beans
What music soothes your soul?
Heavy metal/rock. I remember once walking out of Metallica concert and saying that I wished life was a Metallica concert… I always get a great vibe when I’m at rock/heavy metal festivals and gigs.
What’s your favorite film of all times? Favorite book?
I have lots of favourite films and books, but if I had to choose one of each, it would be:
Favourite film: Shirley Valentine
Favourite book: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?
Listen more, be kind, smile more
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