I started off by asking her:
Firstly, can you tell me a little about your published works?
In 1987, I wrote a short crime story which was published in an anthology called Murder & Company, called Box. Much later, in fact, pretty much 20 years later, it was picked up by a radio production company and adapted for radio - the first I knew was quite literally, when my husband yelled at me to turn on Radio 4, someone was reading my story! And then another friend saw a small ad in Private Eye asking me to get in touch so they could pay me royalties. It has had a long life for 2000 words!
I got my first publishing contract in 2003. I was offered first a contract for a regency romance by Kensington Zebra, and then my editor there offered me a three-book contract. After that, Kensington Zebra moved into more steamy material and closed down their regency line. At that time, I was writing a romance which kept going out of control. It became less and less romantic and more and more a thriller. It was published by a US e-book publisher, but sank without trace. I’ve now recovered the rights and am thinking of editing it and reissuing it as a self-published novel.
By the time I’d written the five regency-set books, I was a bit jaded and my eldest son, then around ten or eleven, told me I should write a fantasy. I did, and tinkered with it, sent it out to three or four agents and publishers but it was clear it wasn’t what anyone was looking for in 2007. After a hiatus, though, I took it out and polished it again last year, sent it off to Finch Books, which is a new e-publishing imprint set up by the Totally Entwined Group, and they offered me a contract.
Eagle-eyed readers of your blog That Reading/Writing Thing will notice three names on the banner - can you tell us more about those 'three' people?
Madeleine Conway was my pen-name for my historical romances. I don’t think Zeba has a very romantic vibe, so I ‘borrowed’ my grandmother’s maiden name, which I think does have a classic romance feel to it! Zeba Kalim is my maiden name, and that was the name I used for Box, the short story. When I married, I became Zeba Clarke, and much of my writing is done as Zeba Clarke - confusing, but I’ve always had plenty of names. Half my family calls me Zeba, the other half calls me Ayesha, and my school-friends call me Alex...
Brogue Magazine - can you explain what it is and the opportunities it provides?
Brogue is an arts magazine on the internet which explores visual arts, music, fashion, books. It welcomes submissions from all types of creative individuals, musicians, artists, writers in a range of forms, from reviews to radio interviews. I write a weekly column which is usually about books, film, TV or art, an extension really of what I do on my own blog but writing for Brogue gives me a chance to revisit topics I may have developed new ideas about. For example, I wrote about Frankenstein on my blog some years ago, but after a recent re-read and on the bicentenary of its publication, it was good to revisit what I love about the book. I also loved writing about childhood favourites to celebrate World Book Day.
You have a new release. Please can you tell us about it?
Dream Guy is the book that I redrafted and revised last year. It’s about a young man, Joe Knightley, who learns that he has the power to make dreams come true. His name is deliberate as an echo of the idea of chivalry and the idea of something that happens to us every night developing into something bigger. At first, he uses his power to try to get stuff and to please people. But quite soon, this gets him into trouble, and of course, as he tries to put things right, he gets drawn more deeply into an increasingly dangerous world with a lethal enemy. He is also wrestling with his attraction to Nell, who used to be his best friend, but who won’t now give him the time of day. I loved writing it because unlike the regency romances, I didn’t really know how it was going to end, or even where it was going to go. As it happened, it took me to Turkey - sadly not in real life - and Elizabethan England. As I did more research, I became aware of some surprising coincidences and synchronicities, and that was really absorbing.
I was also quite mischievous and included cameo characters who were based on both students and teachers I’ve worked with. I don’t ‘borrow’ people wholesale, but I do borrow names and physical characteristics, like hair colour or physique or a habit and use them to round out my minor characters.
You obviously enjoying writing in a variety of ways - do you have a favourite?
I love the possibilities with that borderline between YA and what seems to be emerging as New Adult or NA, where the themes are quite controversial, reflecting the interests of the age range of students I teach. You can be quite risqué in terms of themes and relationships but without being explicit. I discovered quite early that I can’t write sex scenes very well. Romantic moments and kisses are fine, but the mechanics of a full-on explicit scene just make me giggle.
I also love writing radio scripts, mainly because the discipline of creating a world that you can’t see but you need to feel through characters and perhaps some narration is a real challenge. The draw of writing for me is actually entering a world in my own mind, opening up doors and just getting down what I see and hear in my mind’s eye. When I was working on a postgraduate degree in education, I first heard about Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi and the concept of ‘flow’, where you enter a state of what he calls ‘optimal experience’ and I think it’s that stage that is the most compelling. As an English teacher and former journalist and editor, I also get a weird pleasure from revising and rewriting. My favourite writing is when I feel I’ve really done a good clear job of telling a story in a consistently interesting way. Which can be quite tough. There are moments when I look at my writing and I’m overwhelmed by a sense of ‘what were you thinking, this is complete gibberish’.
I’m finishing a second draft of the sequel to Dream Guy, which is an even darker tale, as it involves Joe developing his powers under very difficult circumstances. His father, who works in the Middle East, is taken hostage, and Joe is also being set up in a rivalry with another boy his own age. His love for Nell is entirely on the back-burner - but the plan is for that to take centre-stage in the final book in the series. I’ve also written two out of three books about a young woman training to be an artist in 17th century Europe and those need a lot of work before I submit them to agents/publishers. And then, there is a radio series I’d really like to get underway set on the Isle of Man where I live, based on some of the historical events that have taken place here. It’s a very evocative place with wonderful stories dating back from Viking times through the Civil War period and WW2.
Thanks for taking time to talk to me, Zeba. If you would like to know more about Zeba and her work -
Find her on her Blog or on Facebook
Buy Dream Guy