Sharon Hannaford is here today to talk about her new urban fantasy, A Cat’s Chance in Hell. The first book in the Hellcat series, it’s an action-packed adventure as Gabi fights to protect her city from the supernatural.
“Gabi has some extraordinary talents. Some might call them supernatural, but for her they’re just part of everyday life. What she knows about the supernatural would give most humans nightmares forever. Ridding the streets of bad-ass creatures of the night is Gabi’s other job. Taking up the mantle of her father’s legacy, she is a Hunter for the Malus Venatori. If she had a choice it would be her only job, but a girl has to make a living, right?”
Pauline: Was being a writer something you always wanted to do? How did you get your start?
Sharon: I had some great encouragement at school level to pursue writing in some form, as creative writing was a really strong subject for me and one I absolutely loved. In junior school it was all I wanted to be, but I’m one of those odd literary types who is also good with figures and analytical stuff, so I decided in high school that I would pursue that strength as I felt it offered me better career prospects.
I saw myself being a high powered executive type, in a business suit and flying to meetings around the country. I guess I really didn’t know myself very well in those days. :-) When I did get into that environment I realised I hated it, I couldn’t deal with being away from home, I hated meetings and the whole corporate environment in general.
Luckily for me, my husband and I found ourselves in a position to buy a business for the two of us to run. We chose farming and we absolutely loved it, despite the huge challenges and hard work. In farming though you get some down time in winter, and this was when the writing started knocking on my door again (I’m not much of one for sitting around twiddling my thumbs).
My husband encouraged me to do a correspondence course in writing for children, which was what I thought I would be good at. My intention was to develop a “Famous Five” or “Nancy Drew” type series for the new generation. In the end, the course lead me to writing a hand-guide to owning a pony in South Africa, as I had owned and ridden horses most of my life, and it came to my attention that nothing specific to South Africa had ever been published. I failed to find a publisher, and about 3 years later I decided to self-publish the book in print. It came out in 2009 and has only been mildly successful so far, but has given me valuable experience in the self-publishing field, and I’m glad it’s out there to help people if they need it.
The move to New Zealand, more spare time (due to no longer owning businesses or farming) and a re-kindled interest in the exciting developments in paranormal and supernatural fiction lead to me trying my hand at adult fiction for the first time.
Pauline: What was the inspiration for A Cat’s Chance in Hell?
Sharon: It probably sounds rather cliché, but it was dream (probably a result of reading too much Laurel K Hamilton or Kim Harrison). I saw a section of the book as though watching a movie, and it stayed in my mind for weeks afterwards, finally forcing me to make up a plot to explain the scene and a back-story to explain the dialogue and it all snowballed from there. The scene was the first meeting between Gabi and Julius. After turning this over in my mind for ages (and noting the exponentially increasing public interest in Vampires and Werewolves) I finally decided to give adult writing a try. It had taken 30 odd years to find the genre of adult fiction I was passionate enough to write about.
Pauline: I could do with a few dreams like that!
Did you do any special research for the story?
Sharon: Oh yes! I spent nearly 3 months of my spare time (I was working part-time at that stage) researching dozens of things. I sent many “thank-yous” into the universe for the invention of the internet I can assure you. I researched demonology, medical terms, weapons (and the myths surrounding them), martial arts styles (there are far more than most of us ever dreamed of), names for Gabi and her sword, as well as history (I was a terrible history student at school) so that I could refer to wars and battles that Julius had been in, what was happening at the time of his birth, and his first years as a Vampire. I have a file an inch thick of printed research material!
It seems like a strange juxtaposition, but I wanted to keep the ‘real’ stuff in the book absolutely real. I think that by doing that I can draw the reader into my world; make them feel like this story could be happening right in their own City, under their own noses without being aware of it. You can check into anything about Gabi’s training or the weapons mentioned or the demons mentioned and the internet will validate it.
Pauline: I think you’ve done a wonderful job of giving enough history to add a richness to the story and blending it seamlessly into the story so it doesn’t slow the story down.
Is there a particular scene, or character, or other aspect of A Cat’s Chance in Hell that’s a particular favourite of yours?
Sharon: I love the scene in the van when Julius and Kyle are discussing Gabi – they kind of dance around each other a bit, and you get to see more of Kyle’s true character, not the one he shows to the world on a daily basis. And, without saying it, they both know that she’d flay them alive if she found out what they’d discussed.
My favourite side character is Fergus, he’s a gem to write about, and I hope he makes more appearances in future books.
My favourite parts to write are the fight scenes – there is just something innately satisfying for me in writing fight scenes. If I find myself in a slump or with a touch of writer’s block, a fight scene is my cure-all.
Pauline: Fight, fight, fight!! There are definitely some exciting scenes in A Cat’s Chance in Hell and I can see why that would get you fired up.
You’re stuck on a deserted island with ONE thing to eat – day in and day out. What is it?
Sharon: Oh NO – you’ve just made me shudder in horror! That is one of my pet hates, eating the same thing day in and day out, I crave variety. I guess it would have to be potatoes, at least you can cook them in a variety of ways…
Pauline: I love potatoes. I definitely think I could eat those every day – oh wait, I do eat them (almost) every day, just not by themselves!
Do you write every day or on a set schedule, or just when the muse strikes you? Any writing quirks?
Sharon: I am one of those sad, horribly organised people that other people like to throw things at, so now that I’m writing with some seriousness I have set days that I write, and I set myself weekly word count goals to achieve as well.
I can’t write when my son is home (I have a fire-cracker temper if I’m disturbed when I’m writing – just ask my husband) so I write during his school hours. I prefer to write in utter quiet, even the birds chirping outside get on my nerves, though I can write with music playing, and will put headphones in if my husband is home so that I can write undisturbed.
Pauline: I guess we know where Gabi gets her temper!
Do you plot everything out or are you a “pantser”?
Sharon: I’m not sure what a “pantser” is, but as I don’t do much plotting I must be one. :-) I know the general direction of my story, I know what character developments I want to happen, and I usually have a few scenes that are set in my mind, but the rest happens as I write. My characters often manage to surprise me by doing something stupid, or having something unplanned happen to them. But when I look back, those unplanned bits often solve a problem or create an opening that I’d been mulling over, so I guess it’s just the subconscious at work. I don’t even necessarily write a book in order, if a scene is calling to me, I’ll break away and write it, and then fit it in later (probably contributing to my editor’s grey hairs at the same time ).
Pauline: Pantsers “fly by the seat of their pants” when they write and you’re it. I am in awe of writers who can sit down and write and the story just happens.
What’s the most unforgettable thing you’ve ever done or has happened to you?
Sharon: That would have to be moving from South Africa to New Zealand. It is the most exciting, nerve-wracking, sad, difficult decision we’ve had to make. We left friends, family, pets, financial security and our support-structure and moved half way around the world to get away from what we felt was an innately unsafe environment. Seeing our son grow up in a safe, education-orientated, caring country has made it all worthwhile, but leaving South Africa was not an easy thing.
Pauline: I hated moving across town. The thought of moving to another city, let alone another country, leaves me shuddering. Kudos to you (and hubby) for having the guts make such a life-changing decision!
What books do you have available to-date?
Sharon: Owning a Pony: The South African Way (only available in South Africa) and A Cat’s Chance in Hell (Hellcat Series Book)
Pauline: Are your books available as print, e-books or both? As a reader, do you prefer e-books or paper?
Sharon: My pony book is only available in print, but I may look at converting it to e-book in the near future.
Cat’s Chance is currently only available as an e-book, but I am planning to have it available as a print book by the middle of the year.
As a reader I love both – as long as it has a good story on I’ll read it! I do find that the e-books offer so much more choice right now, and that is always a great thing for any reader, but I still find myself browsing second-hand book stalls regularly.
Pauline: When I first started reading e-books, I also still shopped for new and used books regularly, but as more and more titles became available digitally, I found myself reading a chapter or so in print and then looking for the e-book version to finish it. Nowadays, e-books are all I read and I only buy print books that are autographed.
What are you working on now?
Sharon: I am working on Hellcat Book 2 (so far untitled, but playing with a few options)
I am also developing a series of toddler books, using rhyme and meter, and I’m looking at turning them into e-books as well. I’ll be using a pen name for these though, to avoid confusion.
Pauline: Yay for book two. I can’t wait to find out what happens to Gabi next.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Sharon: Start saving money when you start writing. Finish a project. Spend saved money on professional editing for your finished project, and setting up an internet presence for yourself. If you go the “indie” route be prepared to spend any leftover money on advertising. Write about something you’re passionate about (and remember you can love passionately, and you can hate passionately).
Pauline: Great advice!
What are your favourite things to do when you’re not writing?
Sharon: Annoying my 5 year old son like he annoys me, playing chasey-chasey around the house and hand-snakes with my overweight rescue cat, Tiger (who isn’t much like Razor, except that he occasionally growls at strangers and my husband), reading, Skyping family, having coffee with my husband or BFFs (just not at the same time), passing on bad joke e-mails and getting on my husband’s nerves.
Pauline: We have a Tiger, too! He’s a 3 ½ year old black lab and collie mix. Paranormal being the theme today, here he is doing his best vampire impression.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Sharon: Any film producers out there??? I think Hellcat would make one hell of a movie.
Pauline: LOL! Where can we find out about you and your work?
Sharon: The Kindle version of A Cat’s Chance in Hell is for sale on Amazon US and Amazon UK or view my Author Profile.
Connect with me on these sites:
Hellcat Series Blog
Manic Readers profile
Sharon Hannford’s biography:
Born and raised in South Africa I’ve been living in New Zealand since 2008 with my husband and young son. I have had many jobs over the years, but have finally been able to fulfil my life-long ambition of being an almost full-time writer (housewife, mother and cat servant are my other job titles). I am an avid reader as well as compulsive writer, and read traditional fantasy, paranormal romance, urban fantasy and anything similar. I am a passionate animal person, and my life is always filled with animals of all shapes and sizes. I have owned cats, dogs, mice, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, horses, miniature horses, pigs, cows and sheep. I have worked on farms and petting zoos and have handled everything from porcupines and warthogs, to ferrets and hedgehogs. I have hand-raised kittens, lambs and an eagle owl. If I ever give up writing I think I’ll study animal behaviour or open my own menagerie.
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Thank you, Sharon, for joining me today, and many thanks to all our visitors!