Successful author Tessa Buckley discusses her transition from non-fiction to fiction, what inspires her to write and how she is already attracting some attention from agents with her current work-in-progress:

It’s 15 years since your first book, The Multiple Sclerosis Diet Book – inspired by your own MS diagnosis – was published, since then you’ve written 3 Middle Grade Detective novels and now you’re working on a Young Adult novel. What inspired you to start writing fiction and what kind of themes are you covering in your work?

I spent a lot of my childhood writing and illustrating stories, but inevitably the writing tailed off after I left school. There were too many distractions – work, boys, art college – and later, supporting my husband through a university degree. I only started writing fiction again when my ten-year-old daughter, Louise, complained that she couldn’t find enough adventure stories to read. It was a call to action to take up where I left off all those years ago.

My aim with the Eye Spy series was to create exciting, fast-paced mystery stories which would appeal to both reluctant readers and avid bookworms. There’s a family story running through the series, and at least one animal plays an important part in each book.

Does your MS affect your writing process? Do you write every day and do you have a writing routine?

Vision problems were amongst the first MS symptoms I had, and I can no longer read normal size print in books or magazines, or on screen. I now read books on a Kindle, or listen to audiobooks, and the ability to magnify print on screen is key to my work as a writer. I usually do marketing and promotion and answer emails in the morning, and write for two or three hours in the afternoon.

Last year we had a guest post from Tony Forder who suffers from Meniere’s disease and he has incorporated it into his writing, where his lead character also suffers from the condition. Have you included characters with MS in your fiction or is it something that you would consider doing?

I was happy to write about MS in The MS Diet Book, because I was really keen to alert other people with MS to the idea that lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise really can be beneficial, something neurologists very rarely mention. Although I don’t yet feel ready to write about a fictional character with MS. I feel very strongly that there aren’t enough characters with disabilities in children’s and YA fiction.  My work-in-progress, a YA crime novel, includes a young man who is partially sighted and uses a guide dog. Luckily, agents and publishers have recently started to actively seek out books with diverse characters, as well as diverse authors, including those with disabilities.

The Eye Spy Series

Your Eye Spy series of children’s books were published with Matador – the self-publishing arm of Troubador. How did you get on with them and what advice would you give to anyone thinking of using their services?

When I started using Matador in 2014, this sort of self-publishing service was still new. Because I was fairly ignorant about self-publishing myself, I didn’t know what to expect, or what questions to ask. The initial cover for my first novel, Eye Spy, was a disaster, because nobody explained to me that their covers were created from stock images, with the text superimposed on top, and that they couldn’t make endless changes in order to get it just right. For some reason they listed my book on Amazon as a YA, when it was a middle grade children’s book, and the initial typesetting and fonts for the print version didn’t seem child-friendly. However, all the staff were always friendly and helpful, and together, we got it right in the end.

I would advise anyone using a self-publishing service to have a very clear idea before you start of how you want your book to look, including font, layout and cover design, and if something feels wrong, don’t be afraid to complain.

How are you progressing with your YA novel? You’ve had some interest from agents already – how did you attract their attention? When are you hoping to publish it?

I’m 55.000 words into the novel now, with maybe another 25,000 to go. The best decision I ever made was attending a virtual Writers’ Weekend last year, where the price included a chat with three different agents. I sent them a synopsis and the first three chapters in advance, and then had a 15 minute video call with each of them. They were all encouraging and gave me good advice, and two of them said I could send them the finished manuscript, which I certainly wasn’t expecting.  I’m hoping for a traditional publishing deal with this book, rather than self-publishing it.

What is your favourite part of the writing process?

Unlike some writers, I don’t have a detailed plan when I start writing. I have a setting, the main characters, the beginning and end of the story, and a few key scenes. The rest emerges as I write, and is often a great surprise. The more I write, the more the characters reveal themselves, and start making their own decisions, sometimes taking me completely by surprise.

Which social media platforms do you prefer for promoting your work? What tips would you give for using social media as an author?

I rely on my Facebook author page and my website: tessabuckleyauthor.com and occasional free publicity offered by various Facebook author groups. I don’t believe Twitter is that helpful, and anything like Instagram, which relies on me taking a lot of photos or making videos, is difficult because of my sight problems.  But the sort of social media teens use are changing all the time, which is why my YA novel needs a publisher who understands platforms like Tik Tok and can do a lot of the promotion for me.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write a book – is there anything that you learned that you wished you’d known when you were starting out?

In some ways, ignorance is bliss. As soon as I had finished my first children’s book, I sent it out to agents and publishers just as it was. I thought editing consisted solely of checking spelling and punctuation. No wonder it never got published.  Since then, with the advent of self-publishing, the number of books published each year in the UK has risen to almost 190,000. The competition to find a publisher, or even to find readers, is fierce, and to succeed, you need to make your manuscript the very best it can be. This means having it professionally edited and proof-read. Then if you are self-publishing, you will also need a professional cover, and a marketing plan, put into practice some months before publication.

You don’t need to spend a fortune to learn how to write a book. I taught myself using ‘How To’ books from the library, and the articles in Writing magazine. I also joined a local writing group for practical advice and support. And the feeling of achievement when you have finally finished writing a book, and again when you have found a publisher, is unbeatable!

You can find out more about Tessa on her website: tessabuckleyauthor.com and find her author page on Facebook

The Multiple Sclerosis Diet Book and the Eye Spy series are available on Amazon and we’ll let you know when the next book comes out!

If you’re using our weekly blog post for your own writing accountability please check-in in the comments below and let us know how you’ve been getting on this week.