Please give a warm Big Book Little Book welcome to.
Married for over thirty years, Lyn and Terry Walker bicker their way through an enforced early retirement in the house where they raised their two sons, resentfully supporting and depending on each other. Injured in a road traffic accident some years previously, Lyn takes comfort in her role of ‘Nana’ while husband Terry, unfit for work after two heart attacks, bitterly resents his loss of status as a skilled working man. But an anonymous letter triggers an investigation into their disability benefit entitlement by the Department for Work and Pensions, and the Walkers’ income is cut in half as a consequence. Worse, they are told they must repay over of fifty thousand pounds.
They seek help from the ‘Solent Welfare Rights Project’, where Terry’s case is allocated to awkward young trainee Sally Archer and office comedian, Toby Novak, while Lyn’s caseworkers are political activist Martin Connolly and veteran adviser, Hilary Carrington. The team will need all of their experience and ingenuity if they are to win the Walkers’ cases – but can they possibly succeed?
Topical and controversial, Severe Discomfort presents a sympathetic, claimant’s-eye view of the complex Social Security system and the tea-fuelled world of a cash-strapped independent advice project, with its eclectic workforce, peeling paintwork, second-hand furniture and eternal optimism.
Read the opening chapters and order the book at: http://www.completelynovel.com/books/severe-discomfort–1
What or who inspired you to become a writer?
I wanted to give a voice to some of the people I’d seen in crisis during my work as a benefits adviser: I’d written a lot of serious reports about the Social Security system, but nothing to capture the imagination of someone not already involved with that line of work. Of course, I can’t write about real clients or their cases, but ‘Lyn’ and ‘Terry’ can be found in the waiting rooms of Citizens Advice Bureaux and Law Centres the length and breadth of the country every day of the working week.
What is your writing process?
‘Severe Discomfort’ started as odd episodes written during my husband’s weekly evening at the pub with his chums! These were stitched together, reviewed, distilled and rewritten, during the damp days of last summer until I had the finished story. I wrote something most days, and often spent all day writing! I’m currently redrafting a story with more ‘cases’ from the Solent Welfare Rights Centre, which I started immediately on finishing ‘Severe Discomfort’ and its sequel. That’s been happening spasmodically, but I’ll be more systematic about that when the nights draw in and the weather stops me gardening again.
What prompted you to self publish?
Impatience! The benefits at issue in ‘Severe Discomfort’ are being phased out over the next few year; the argument over whether this is right or wrong is happening right now and I want my book to play a part in that debate.
Tell us a bit about your self-publishing journey – just how did you do it?
Impulsively! I didn’t really want to use Amazon – they were getting panned for their tax affairs at the time and so hardly seemed a suitable vehicle for this project – and I couldn’t afford to squander hundreds of pounds on a glitzy ‘vanity publishing’ package. Trawling the Internet, I stumbled on CompletelyNovel’s website and really liked the friendly, co-operative feel of it, the eco-friendly ‘print-on-demand’ scheme for producing proper paperback books, and the quick, helpful responses I received to my queries.
Can you tell us about the challenges and the achievements you have experienced in your writing and self-publishing journey?
My biggest challenge is that I’m quite shy and not comfortable self-promoting, so I tend to apologise when asking people to read or review my books: it’s a lot easier now I’ve decided to donate any profits to Stoke-on-Trent CAB and I’m lobbying for a good cause. I’m genuinely proud of finishing ‘Severe Discomfort’ and its sequel, as I’m not great at completing projects. I’m also chuffed to have done quite a decent job of the cover and typesetting, thanks to CompletelyNovel’s online toolkit.
We hear a lot about collaboration in self-publishing – do you work with other people (editors, marketers, publicists etc) when publishing your works?
I’m sure I should, but apart from involving a trusted friend as proofreader, it’s been largely a solo project so far.
How do you get feedback on your work? How valuable is it to read the comments and reviews of others?
I tried the first draft out on close friends and family, and had some really helpful suggestions for edits from them. When I promoted the paperback through a campaigning organisation for disabled people, I got a couple of super reviews on Amazon and a request to make the book available as an ebook for better accessibility.
Best of all, I’ve had praise for my writing from people I really respect and who I can trust not to flatter me. One friend even declared that reading the book had made him ‘a better person’, which was extremely touching.
Have you considered traditional publishing?
I did try to interest several literary agents in ‘Severe Discomfort’ in the autumn of 2012 but as it didn’t fit neatly into any genre, and was quite open about its political nature, I wasn’t especially surprised to be rejected.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? Would you recommend self-publishing?
Definitely, but don’t be haphazard and nervous about marketing and promotion as I’ve been. It’s no good being shy; if you’re proud of your work, tell everyone you know and don’t apologise for doing so!
Just for Fun:
If your book was made in to a film which actor(s), past or present, do you envision in the lead role(s)?
It would suit the book to cast ‘unknowns’ in all the roles, although there are a few jokes about a certain character bearing a passing resemblance to George Clooney, so…?
If your book had a soundtrack which artists would feature on it?
It would have to include Uprising by Muse for Sally Archer and some Abba for Lyn, plus a few chords from Puccini’s Tosca at key moments in Hilary’s story.
Tea or Coffee?
Tea. Gallons of it!
Write at home or outside?
At home, on my own or in the evening. Especially J’s pub nights!
Pen or PC?
PC at home and work; pen for proofreading and notes on the narrowboat.
Email or letter/postcard?
I use email a lot, but when time permits I love writing, and receiving, letters.
And the all-controversial: print book or ebook?
I’m a Luddite at heart – it’s because I wanted to produce ‘real’ books that I opted for the CompletelyNovel publishing package
About Sarah: After working in Welfare Rights and Housing for twenty-five years in Hampshire and then Staffordshire, I took voluntary redundancy from Stoke-on-Trent Citizens’ Advice Bureau in the spring of 2011 to set up as a self-employed gardener. And there I was, fork, trowel and spade at the ready, when the ‘summer’ of 2012 came along… ‘Plan A’ was effectively rained off.
Missing my colleagues, clients and the world of welfare rights advice, I started to write about it. A few months later I had the first draft of Severe Discomfort and when the final version remained utterly resistible to several literary agents, I found CompletelyNovel online and through them self-published this first book and its sequel, Continual Supervision.
I rejoined Stoke-on-Trent CAB at the beginning of August 2013 in a training role, and I’m now donating any profits from sales of Severe Discomfort and Continual Supervision to this organisation, as right now we need all the help we can get.
I also write a light-hearted gardening blog with an occasional splash of social commentary at sarahhoneysettsgarden.blogspot.co.uk and comment seriously on Social Security policy at raggedskirt.blogspot.co.uk