Carol Westron talks to Mia Emilie
Mia Emilie (aka Dr Mia Dormer) has always wanted to be a writer and achieved this by following an academic route, which she tells us about in this interview.
Mia’s debut novel, A Hidden Life, was published earlier this year.
(To read a review of the book see page 22 of this issue).
A Hidden Life is the first novel in The Watchers a trilogy and the second book, Unhistoric Acts, will be published in 2020.
Mia lives in South West England with her family, a rascally dog and a huge collection of books.
Carol: Tell us about your early life and first jobs. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
Mia: I remember the first time I knew I wanted to be a writer, I was nine years old and reading and falling in love with stories by Agatha Christie and Elyne Mitchell and thinking – ‘I want to do this, I want to write stories that make people feel like I do right now.’ But unfortunately, as I grew older, it seemed to be a career no-one supported in any practical way. When I was taking my GCSES at the end of the 80s and told my career advisor that I wanted to be a writer she told me to ‘get a real job’. There was no real education route back then to learn about writing and I got overtaken by life, bills and mortgage. I continued to write short stories and travel articles throughout those years, but never published. I had various jobs including live in horse groom, bar tending and a twenty-year career in administration and event managing before taking the huge step to go to university as a mature student to study creative writing. Thankfully creative writing had suddenly become an academic choice in the mid-2000s and I took full advantage of it. To do this, I rented my house out to others, gave up my job and moved into a rented house-share in Southsea. I attended University of Portsmouth, got a degree, then West Dean near Chichester and got my MA in Creative Writing before going to University of Exeter for my PhD. Finally, I felt I was fulfilling my childhood dream of becoming a writer.
Carol: You recently achieved your PhD in Creative Writing from Exeter University. Tell us about your studies and how you think it helped your writing career.
Mia: I have to say that the Masters at West Dean was the best learning experience I’ve had. It taught me so much about the bare bones of writing that without it I couldn’t have done the PhD which built on the MA in terms of learning and refining my creative process. For the PhD I had to have a unique theory about an aspect of Creative Writing and write a thesis about it, but I also had to write a novel demonstrating and proving my theory. My PhD was awarded on my theory/thesis and novel A Hidden Life as two symbiotic components – each proving and supporting the other. I actually wanted to use the trilogy for the PhD but was constrained by word count so concentrated purely on the first novel – which thankfully proved the theory on its own. I can honestly say that without my studies the novel/s wouldn’t have come to pass. Additionally, my studies gave me the confidence, knowledge and support to pursue/fulfil my dream of being a full-time writer.
Carol: Congratulations on the publication of your debut novel, A Hidden Life, which is set in Elizabethan England. Give us some more details about the book.
Mia: The story centres around the real, mysterious death of Lady Amy Dudley (aka Robsart) in 1560, a story that’s fascinated me since childhood. Lady Dudley’s strange fate impacted British politics and royalty and remains controversial today. The novel’s protagonist is Sam Banks, a local sheriff, ex royal spy and death doctor, who is dragged into the investigation and soon uncovers a plot by the sinister Watchers that threatens his queen and country. The novel features real people as well as fictional and has lots of true historical events/facts woven through it. This includes the startling evidence from the newly uncovered coroner’s report which drastically altered many theories on Amy Dudley’s death. It’s fast paced with murder, mystery and thriller elements alongside the historical core. There’s quite a lot of fighting and quite a few deaths in Sam’s pursuit of the truth.
Carol: A Hidden Life is the first book in a trilogy that has an exciting and unusual premise linking the three books. Tell us about this and your plans for the trilogy and how you came up with the idea.
Mia: The unusual premise for the trilogy is that it’s three different detectives in three different time eras trying to solve the mysterious death of Amy Dudley. There’s no time travel! Each book features a different detective from a different time era investigating Amy Dudley’s death. Usually with a series of books the characters remain the same throughout, so this is a big departure and a massive ask of the reader to stick with the plot rather than the characters. Each detective advances the investigation in their own way and for their own, very different reasons. And, of course, The Watchers are present in each novel with their own agenda. The trilogy premise was born from my PhD theoryabout detective fiction. My intention is to publish the next two books by mid 2021and then edit my thesis for the wider, reading market rather than just as an academic text and independently publish that as well.
Carol: I understand that you found the publication of A Hidden Life a bumpier journey than you had anticipated. What advice would you give to first-time, Indie authors?
Mia: Don’t do it all yourself. That was a mistake I made at the beginning. I tried to be editor and cover designer as well as author. As an Indie author there’s professional help out there. I was lucky enough to meet and become friends with Chris Hammacott who is an Indie herself but also a very talented graphic designer. Chris designed the beautifully sinister cover of A Hidden Life and gave me wonderful advice and support on the best way to be an Indie. I found my editor, Andy Chapman, through a website called Reedsy where professionals in the book industry will tender for the work you need/want doing. I would also say surround yourself with the support from others. Mystery People has been a brilliant support and knowing there’s a community of like-minded writers and readers out there is very reassuring. Join the Alliance of Independent Authors, they’re excellent for advice and forum support on all aspects of Indie writing and publishing. Just as important I think is to find and join local writing groups, I’m very lucky to have been welcomed into Havant Writers who have been so warm and friendly as well as supportive, it’s a joy and inspiration to be surrounded by like-minded, talented, helpful and truly friendly writers.
Carol: You are involved with organising, appearing at and promoting several exciting conferences, including the International Agatha Christie Conference, which you have helped organise for several years. What do you think is the chief value of these conferences for both writers and academics?
Mia: Writing is a very solitary job or hobby which can be hard on mental health and engineer the dreaded writer’s block, but these events, like BookFest in Portsmouth next year or conferences like Capital Crime, Captivating Criminality and International Agatha Christie Conference can be an excellent way to meet with likeminded people and get yourself out of the solitary writing room for a few days. The events can be inspirational and lead to wonderful friendships and collaborations between academics and writers. I’ve made so many friends through these conferences (including you) and the experiences I’ve had from them have been life changing for me. Without attending the very first Agatha Christie Conference I would never have met one of my best friends and become the co-organiser of the conference which is now in its fifth year. BookFest earlier this year put me on the road to becoming a better Indie author, and through it I’ve met so many wonderful writers and academics, who have made my writing so much better and have now become my friends. I would say the chief value any writer or academic can get from these events is being part of a community, one that continues to be supportive after the event is over.
Carol: Tell us a bit about your hobbies and how you like to spend your non-writing time.
Mia: I have a big rascally hound who needs lots of walks so that’s a big part of my non-writing time and I find the walks a great help when I’m trying to plot and think the writing through. Other than that, I love to spend time with my family and friends, read books (of which I have many) and watch films. I’m hoping to take up horse riding again now we’ve moved back to the South Coast. I’m going to be teaching creative writing in the evenings at a local college from January so that’s going to take a good chunk of my non-writing time.
Carol: What are your writing and conference plans for the next year?
Mia: I’m planning on publishing the second novel, Unhistoric Acts, in May/June next year so getting the first draft finished by Christmas is the main plan and then after it’s published getting on with the third instalment –
Unvisited Tombs. I’m planning to attend Portsmouth BookFest events through February and March and I’m looking forward to being part of an exciting panel discussing Belief and Superstition in Detective Fiction at Mystery Fest on March 7th. I’m running a creative writing workshop at Golden Age of Crime conference in Chester at the beginning of April and of course, planning the 5th International Agatha Christie Conference for 2020. I’m also hoping to attend next year’s Crimefest in Bristol and Bloody Scotland in Stirling. So, it’s going to be a busy year, focussing on writing with lots of lovely conferences and teaching in-between.
Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative
Writing teacher. She is the moderator
for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames. Her crime novels are set both in contemporary
and Victorian times. The Terminal Velocity of Cats the first in her Scene of Crimes novels,
was published July 2013. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To
read the interview click on the link below.