Meet Angel McGregor: Urban Fantasy

In today's author interview, I had the pleasure of chatting with urban fantasy writer Angel McGregor from England. Please be advised that her books contain adult themes and sexual content. If you're a writer or a fan of urban fantasy fiction, this could be the interview you've been waiting for!

Before we go any further and learn from Angel's experiences and advice, let's get to know her...

I was born and raised in Yorkshire, England, and have been writing for as long as I can remember. Creating characters, and telling stories is what makes me happy, and once I get writing the hours just seem to disappear on me. You will often find me hanging out in the worlds that my imagination conjures up and I am never far from either my laptop which is the centre of my operations, or a notebook, just in case inspiration strikes when I am out.

I have a degree in English Literature, obtained from Bishop Grosseteste University in Lincoln, where I fine tuned my knowledge and thrived in the Creative Writing classes which were by far my favourite - it is there that the ideas for my first novel came about, scribbled furiously on the back of a worksheet!

Other than writing, reading is my biggest obsession (and I don't use that word lightly); my personal collection is one I am very proud of and is forever growing, despite the fact that my 'to-be-read' pile never seems to get any smaller... I read what I write - Fantasy fiction, and still regularly venture into the YA section where some of my favourites sit! And since becoming a Bookseller in December 2017, I have tried to step out of my comfort zone and read books that I might not normally pick up - this led me to discover that I quite enjoy crime fiction and still have a love of children's fantasy fiction!

I am a typical introvert as far as my writing and reading are concerned, but I break the norm when it comes to wanting to be out and about in the world. I love to explore, searching for new ideas that will spark my imagination into creating a new character or storyline that I will then mold into my next creation! A good adventure is always exciting, especially when it comes with a little spontaneity. Having recently become a mum to my beautiful little boy, my life has been rearranged putting him at the top - I can't wait for him to slide into our lives and for us to begin new adventures as a family.

How important is research to you when you're writing your first draft?

I’m kind of a ‘pantser’ when it comes to writing and I do very little planning or research before starting my first draft. I have an idea, usually a character and a small scene in my head, and I start writing. The story unfolds around that character and I go from there. After a first draft (which is usually not a whole story) I go back and reread what I have and make some notes in my trusty notebook. (I have one of those pre-divided notebooks so that I can keep the stories/characters separate, but the series together.) Then I start to dig into the details from there and go and research anything I need to before going back to writing. I also do a lot of edit-as-I-write (which I know is very much frowned upon lol) so when I stumble across something that I need more information on, I just research it then and there and then continue writing.

Journal Prompt: find your favourite book and flick through to some of the most important scenes. What sort of research did that author have to do for those paragraphs to be believable and emotive?

When did you realise you wanted to be a writer? In other words, why are you a writer, and how important is it to you?

I've always written stories and remember quite vividly a story about a duckling that I wrote as a child, which I printed off, displayed in clear plastic wallets and tied together to make a book which I proudly presented to my mother! But in all seriousness, my passion for writing started at A-level and continued into University where I studied English Literature purely because I loved it. My passion to become a writer was stoked at university when I was studying the Creative Writing module in my third year. I had so many ideas that I didn’t know what to do with them all, and one day, whilst sitting in a lecture, this idea hit me, and I scribbled it down on the back of a worksheet. It was the opening lines of a story, one that I can still quote to you today, although it never made it into the final version of the book. I could see the storyline playing out in my head like a movie and couldn’t wait to start writing it down. I didn’t actually write that story till several years later and have only just published it this last year! Talk about years in the making!

I am a writer because I wouldn’t know how not to be. When I started writing I did it purely because I wanted to, with no intention of publishing. I had a blog where I published scenes I'd written; I loved writing from the point of view of the character, but as the reader you weren’t quite sure who they were until right at the very end. This is where many of my current characters originated from. It was when I finally wrote that first book and let my mom read it that she said I should consider looking into having it published as it was really good. I went down the traditional route first but didn’t get very far. I had very unhelpful feedback from agents saying that my story was ‘good, but not for them’. It was a couple of years later that I learned about self-publishing and looked into it. Since then, I haven’t looked back – I love the control that self-publishing gives me and that I have say over all the aspects of the book.

What inspires you to write, and where do you get your ideas?

My ideas come as characters, and I see them in a certain situation and can usually hear the conversation they're having. I normally write this down and save it to my ideas folder and can sometimes not go back to them for a while. My storylines kind of come out of nowhere, they can be dreams, or things I've seen on TV or around me in the world, and I mush up all the ideas and a story comes from it. As for being inspired to write, I write because I love it, it really is that simple, and I've often wondered if I'd go mad from all the voices in my head if I didn’t write them down…

Do you have a schedule for writing, or do you write only when you feel inspired? How often do you manage to write and when you do, how many words can you manage in one sitting?

- I try not to pressure myself where writing is concerned, and I have often said that I think this is why I don’t really suffer from Writer’s Block. I try to write every day, but if I only write a few words because the inspiration isn’t there, or the ideas aren’t flowing, then that’s okay. I have taken part in NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo every year since April 2016 and use these times to write first drafts as I find the target and the community spirit encouraging for that first hurdle. On a good day (back when I didn’t have a newborn) I could easily achieve the 1667 word average for NaNoWriMo’s daily word count and more. These days I'm happy if I can average at a 1000 words a day during nap time! But again, any words written is more than I had yesterday!

Writers are often labelled as loners and introverts; in your opinion, is there any truth to that?

Loner I don’t think I agree with, but generally speaking, I think a lot of us are introverts. Don’t get me wrong, I love to get out and about, and one of my favourite things to do when not reading, writing or snuggling my little boy is to get out on an adventure and go for a walk somewhere wild. But when it comes to socialising with large groups of people, you'd find me at the back of the queue. My idea of a good Friday night is being in my pyjamas by nine and snuggling up in my favourite chair for cuddles with a good book to read when the little one falls asleep.

I'm not sure there’s anything I hate about writing, hate is a very strong word.

What would you say are the easiest and hardest things about writing a book? What do you love and hate the most about what you do?

The hardest part about writing, if you're not lucky enough to be able to do it full time, is finding the hours in a day to put aside to dedicate to your work. Before becoming a parent, I worked full time, ran a home, made time to visit my family and friends, and tried to get out with my partner and his two girls every weekend for a big family adventure. I treat my writing as a second job and made sure to put time aside (which often included a couple of hours at the pub twice a week where my partner ran a music night with his band) and made sure that I stuck to it. The easiest parts, for me, are the ideas. I have never had a shortage of ideas, and I write a series of books, which are all stand-alone stories, but are set in the same universe, so having my characters interact with each other gives me endless possibilities. My other series, the one which I published the first book of in July last year (the one I started back in university) will be a five book series, and that one is the one which the story line has been in my head for as long as I can remember, it’s finding the time to get it all down on paper that’s the struggle!

As for love and hate, I'm not sure there’s anything I hate about writing, hate is a very strong word. I have issues with a few things, one of them is the hard slog of trying to get readers to review my books… As an avid reader, and a Bookseller, I have always reviewed the books I read as standard. As an indie author, reviews are a little like gold dust; they're precious and can do wonders for a book’s visibility. Trying to help readers understand that and get them to take a couple of minutes after reading a book to go and review it can feel a little like banging your head against a brick wall. What do I love? That’s the easiest one to answer. I love seeing my finished, physical book in someone else’s hand when they're reading it, especially when it’s not a family member.

Have you ever experienced “Writer’s Block”? How long did it last and how did you overcome it?

I mentioned before that I don’t really get Writer’s Block, and I credit that to the fact that I don’t pressure myself into writing. I have gone long periods of time without writing before, sometimes months at a time, but it has been a lack of desire to write rather than a lack of inspiration. Since starting my self-publishing journey, I haven’t experienced the lack of desire to write, as I plan my year so that I don’t have to write all year round. I love the formatting, cover design and release of a new book and usually publish twice a year, so my writing/editing/formatting cycle spreads out nicely. Generally, I can't write fast enough to keep up with my ideas!

When you finish writing a book, how long do you wait before beginning the editing process and why? Do you edit your own work, or hire someone else to help you?

When I finish a first draft, which for me is not always a complete draft, as I don’t write in chronological order, meaning I often have gaps when I get to the end, I usually read through it almost straight away and make the odd tweak, fill in a gap or two and make sure that it flows properly. Then I walk away. I usually leave the book alone for at least a month, moving on to another project, possibly at a completely different stage of the process. (For example, I currently have one project in the first draft stage, and one in the later editing stages and one in a third draft stage that I flit between.)

When I return to the project, I read through it again and make sure that it is a whole first draft, then I print a copy and take a red pen to it. I like the satisfaction of seeing the edits in red, and I wholeheartedly recommend the printed version to edit; you really do see more than you do on screen! After those edits have all gone into the digital copy, I walk away again before going back and rereading and making any alterations I find. Then it goes to my editor-in-chief (my mom) who reads and picks up on any spelling and grammar issues she finds, and highlights any story points, character development issues or plot holes etc. Once these edits are in the digital copy, it goes out to two other editors, (both friends, I understand the recommendation of having a professional edit your work, and back that in theory, but unfortunately it’s not something I can afford, so I work with avid readers and interested parties and between us we do an okay job). After those two editors have put their edits in, I have two more readers who give it a once over before I start formatting ready for the next stages of publishing.

I work in a book shop, and I still judge books by their covers.

Many people advise not to judge a book by its cover. As an independent author, what are your thoughts on cover quality? Would you say it plays an important role in sales?

We all agree with the fact that you SHOULDN’T judge a book by its cover, but I think if we’re all honest, we do! I know I do. I work in a book shop, and I still judge books by their covers. It’s the first thing you see, it’s only natural to have a first impression… I think a striking, bold or pretty cover can really go a long way in attracting readers, especially when they're lined up on a book shop shelf along side hundreds of others great titles. Of course, once someone has picked up said pretty cover, you need the blurb and content to live up to the expectation!

Some people believe independent (self-published) authors produce books of poor quality in comparison to traditionally published books, often down to editing and cover design issues. What is your opinion on this; what would you say to those people as an independent author?

Unfortunately, this is a popular pre-conception, and often, is right. Self-publishing is incredibly easy these days, and free on some platforms, meaning that anyone can throw a book together and publish it. As indie authors who genuinely want to make a future out of writing, we have to constantly prove that we’re better than that stereotype… I don’t even have my books on the shelf where I work, because as a rule of thumb, they don’t stock self-published titles in store because they can't guarantee the quality. It’s just one of those things that we have to accept is the common belief, and then work damn hard to prove wrong.

Journal Prompt: find an indie book published on Amazon that you think works really well, and another that disappointed you. What are the reasons behind your opinions and what would you have done differently?

What is your experience of publishing so far? How have you chosen to publish and why? What do you feel are the benefits of this method?

I started out my self-publishing journey with Amazon, as, I think, many of us do. It’s free and reasonably straight forward, and the Kindle Direct Program does a lot of the formatting for you. I made many mistakes and learned from each of them to slowly improve my methods. I started in kindle format, and eventually struck out and published in paperback too. I was more than a little excited when my first batch of paperbacks showed up at home!

Since getting my job at the bookshop, I investigated other means of publishing, as long term, I really wanted to be able to see my books on the bookshop shelves. I spoke to several other authors that I'd met online, E Rachael Hardcastle included, and moved my publishing from Amazon to Ingram Spark. Ingram is the same kind of platform, but they do less of the work. So, I had to learn to format my own documents and to make my covers without the Amazon templates, and you also have to pay to upload the content to Ingram. I worked hard to make my books look as professional as possible, both inside and out, studying the layout of little things like the barcodes (something else you don’t think about until you need one!) and the copyright pages. And when I finally had a batch printed and delivered home, they were amazing! My books are now available through my shop, although I've only ever had one on the shelf by default – but guess what? It sold… to a stranger… I was beside myself with excitement that day!

If you were asked to give advice to primary school children about writing creatively, what top tip would you share with them?

Just write! Don’t overthink anything; if you have an idea, write about it. I think, because of the way children are taught to write stories in school, they quickly get hung up on the details and layout etc when writing at home for pleasure. It doesn’t have to be perfect; you can perfect it later. If you want to write, just do it! can edit anything you write later on, but you can't edit nothing!

If you were asked to give advice to secondary school children about writing creatively, what top tip would you share with them and would this differ at all to the previous question?

Again, don’t get too hung up on how it’s supposed to look, or whether you have too many sentences in a paragraph. The fact that you used the word ‘said’ far too many times is something you can deal with later. As Terry Pratchett is known for saying, ‘The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.’ – you can edit anything you write later on, but you can't edit nothing!

Lots of authors struggle to market and promote their book/s. Do you have any top tips you can share with them, and what have you found to be most effective?

I think this part is possibly the part I've found the hardest, knowing when and where to market my books. To know when you're overkilling it or not doing enough. I’m a writer, not a promoter, but again, it’s something I've learned, taken examples from other authors, (both indie and traditional well-known authors I follow on social media) and developed a routine that works for me.

One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given, was not to try and be everywhere, but to take a couple of platforms that you're comfortable with, and really be present there. (For me, that’s Instagram and Facebook.) I have a twitter account too, but I rarely update it, I use it for following others mainly. I also started a Facebook page for my series too, again, maybe branching too far, as I rarely find time, or the content to update there. I currently post the same content to both my Instagram page and my Facebook page, but before my maternity leave, I used to put different content up on each as the audiences are slightly different. At present, I figured content was better than none, even if it is designed for my Instagram followers. It works for me, for now.

As for my advice – the best thing I learned was scheduling… starting with a paper planner to write a social media plan for a certain book, but also using Facebook’s scheduling process. I then either copy and paste that text straight over to Instagram when it goes live, or I have my Instagram post written in a notes app, and use the notification from Facebook to prompt me to post on Instagram too! It saves a lot of time and helps make sure you don’t forget to post something important.

What is your opinion on the benefits of writing on mental health issues including anxiety and depression? Would you recommend it as a form of self-therapy; of looking inward and reflecting? If not, why?

As someone who doesn’t really suffer from anxiety and depression, I feel that I can't really answer this with any real knowledge, however, I do believe that anything is a form of self-therapy if it’s something you love doing.

I'm not sure I would class my fiction as therapy, but I do write morning pages and have journaled for several years, which for me is a way of keeping my head clear and focussing on the positives in life.

Do you believe that writing can be learned, or that you must be born with a passion and/or talent?

To write is easily something that can be taught and learned, but the passion to write is something you either have or you don’t. You can be a good writer, but if you have no passion, I think that shows in the work you produce. On the flip side, you can have a lot of passion and not be a very good writer, that’s where a good editor comes in. Just because you think you're not a very good writer, doesn’t mean that the world doesn’t need to hear your stories, it just means you need to find a decent team to help turn your ideas into a fully-fledged story.

Journal Prompt: what are your thoughts on the above question based on your own experiences? Did you complete a course to learn how to write, or is it purely a hobby?

Do you believe that it's more challenging to write about beliefs, morals and values that conflict with your own? How do you feel about books that explore unusual, 'risky' themes? When reading these books, do you feel at all uncomfortable?

My five book series, although a fantasy fiction novel, is based in Christian religion with the idea of the fallen angels. I don’t claim to be religious, although I did attend a church school as a child, but I did a lot of research and bible reading in order to make sure that the facts I were using were right before I took liberties with them in order to write my story. I think that writing about something that you don’t believe in, is the same as writing about something you don’t understand. You research it and write it anyway…

As for risky themes, I'm reasonably hard to shake. I like reading and writing things that make people think outside the box and push them to face things that they might not normally have any contact with in normal life. I think that it is very much each individual’s choice as to whether they were to read a book that explores something out of their comfort zone, but personally, I think that reading about something is probably the best way to expand your comfort zone as it’s a way of coming into contact with lots of different ideas, without having to face them in reality.

World-building applies to all genres, even to those where it is not necessary for authors to create unique societies, landscapes and species. No matter your chosen genre, what top tip can you give aspiring authors when world-building?

Writing urban fantasy, I obviously use the real world as my base, however, I don’t tend to use real places, so there is an element of world-building in my books. I take real places or areas and then mould them into the place that fits my story. Many of my environments have started out as places I know or have visited, and then been pulled apart and stitched back together with other places in order for them to be the place I need them to be for the story. I think the main thing you have to remember, when doing any kind of world-building, is that you have to know everything about it, even the bits that aren’t important to your story line. If you have a village, you need to know exactly what’s in that village and where, and what impact that has on the other things there too. If you're creating something from nothing, then you must understand it if you want a reader to be able to understand it.

How do you view and define success? What does it mean to you, and do you currently feel successful? If not, what would you need to achieve to reach success?

When I first started my writing journey, my goal was to be able to walk into a bookshop and find my books on the shelves. That was what success would have looked like for me. As time went on and I actually started travelling that road, especially when I took the fork in the road for self-publishing, the goal posts changed. I was unlikely to see my books in the shops, so did that mean I wasn’t successful? No. of course not. For me now, success is each time I finish a book a publish it. If no one reads it, that doesn’t change the fact that I wrote and published a book.

Long term, I would love to hear that I was someone’s favourite author, the way I talk about my favourite authors, someone that isn’t blood related that is! But that doesn’t define success. My success is in each completed book. Someone else’s success might be in getting picked up by a traditional publisher, another’s might simply be finishing a whole draft. We’re all different, our successes are all different, and once you start this journey, I can guarantee you that your goal posts will move with every milestone you achieve, meaning you'll forever be successful.

Whatever you do, make sure that you don’t start rating your success against other people’s – there is a well-known saying about not judging your chapter one against someone else’s chapter twenty, and I think when you see someone else achieving a goal that you have on your list, it’s important to remember that they are probably much further along in their journey than you are, and not to get hung up on it. You’ll get there too.

When I first started my writing journey, my goal was to be able to walk into a bookshop and find my books on the shelves.

What is the secret to becoming a bestselling author, if you believe there is one? Do you agree an Amazon bestselling status counts, even if that status was for a free or discounted book?

I'm not sure there is a secret to becoming a best-selling author if I'm honest. You could write the best book in the world (in your opinion) but it is never going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Best-selling authors (traditionally) are the ones who either have a huge fan base already, (the Stephen King’s and Milly Johnson’s of the industry) and anything they publish will achieve best-selling status due to their fan base going out and buying it when it releases, or they come in and take the world by storm. (For example, Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant, or Bridget Collins’ The Binding.) These books, in my opinion, are the true best sellers. When they come from nothing and become best-sellers because of their content. They are stories that no one has heard before.

It works this way for indie-authors, generally, no one knows our name, so if your book makes it up a best selling list, Amazon included, then it’s because you’ve caught the eye of readers everywhere… Personally, I think that a free book making it’s way up there isn’t always a true reflection of a best seller, as many people will have downloaded it purely because it’s free, and possibly never even read it, but that doesn’t go to say that it isn’t still an achievement to have had enough people download that book to get it to best-selling status, but for me, I'd want it to have been bought and paid for, because it meant that those buyers genuinely wanted my story!

How do you deal with rejection, criticism and bad reviews from friends, family and strangers? What would you say to someone struggling with a lack of support, or worried about online negativity?

Best advice – you're never going to please everyone, so expect the bad reviews! If you get a negative reaction to your story, that doesn’t make it a bad story, it means that you have evoked that reaction from that one reader, and personally, I think that fiction should evoke different reactions from its readers. I run a book club and the best conversations are the ones where not everyone agrees with the ‘general reaction’ to a book. I quite like to hear when readers didn’t like something that is, for example, a best-seller, and why. Books should evoke strong reactions in their readers, and depending on the content, the way a reader relates to a character and many other things, will depend on their opinion of the book.

If you get a bad review in the form of your spelling/grammar or layout, then take that information and act on it. If they're saying it was hard to read because of all the spelling mistakes, then go back, read it again and improve it – you shouldn’t get that bad review again!

That’s how I deal with the negative, and honestly, there is no bigger critic of my work than my mom, but she does it to help make it better. I've been known to get annoyed with her, to get angry, I've even cried, but my books are better for her input!

For someone struggling with lack of support, I suggest finding the support somewhere else as I believe that it is the people around us that make us strong. I am very lucky that my mom is very much behind me all the way. My sister is an avid reader and reads my books pre-release, and I have a lot of support at home from my partner when writing, even though he isn’t really a reader. If you don’t have that support at home, try friends, or online groups. We writers are a friendly bunch and I've made a lot of really good friends through Instagram and Facebook who support me and vice versa. Reach out; the support is there!

Why not answer some of these questions yourself and post them on your blog?

Get to Know Angel in the Bonus Round!

What question/ comment do you hate receiving in relation to writing? Why do you think it frustrates you so much, and have other authors agreed with you? What answer/s do you usually give?

I hate it when people assume that you're doing it as a flight of fancy. There was this one guy in the pub who used to do nothing but joke around with me and make fun of the fact that I had my laptop there again, writing away. It really, really bugged me. But I had respect for my elders and I kept my mouth shut and laughed along with him, until one day, he caught me on a bad day and I snapped. I had a go at him, telling him that my writing was like a job to me, and working a full-time day job meant that I had to fit my writing in at other times. I liked to be in the pub to support my other half in his out of work interests, therefore I brought my laptop to the pub to work while he was setting up band gear. He backed off a little after that, but still didn’t seem to get it. Until the day I published my book and held the launch party at the pub. Seeing my book and even buying one to support me, made him see my ‘hobby’ differently. Now he’s like a proud grandparent and tells others about me and my books!

Favourite Author and Reason

I read what I write, and my favourite authors are urban fantasy writers. Nalini Singh tops the bill with her Guild Hunter Series, closely followed by her Psy/Changeling series. I love the genre because I like the idea that all of these characters and ideas are plausible. I like fiction set in the real world, but I read for pleasure/escapism, so I like the fantasy and supernatural aspects. Singh’s books are perfect for that, they have bright, well-rounded characters that are easy to relate to, lovable yet flawed enough to be real! The reality created in the Guild Hunter series is one I would love to visit, the idea of the archangels ruling a city and the angels and the vampires being a part of society. I'd have loved to be a Guild Hunter like Elena and I wouldn’t have turned Raphael down either!

Tea, Coffee or Hot Chocolate?

Hot Chocolate every time, with little marshmallows, and some digestive biscuits to dunk

Currently Reading:

The King by Tiffany Reisz – book 6 of 9 of the Original Sinners series (another firm favourite) – I have been rereading this series as the 9th/newest book is just out and I wanted to refresh on the whole series before reading the new one. I have read the series more times than I can count (I have always been a rereader and reread my favourites over and over again!) but I hadn’t read the last one more than a couple of times, so I wanted to make sure I remembered everything correctly before diving into the new book.

Last Book Reviewed:

Shards of Hope (A Psy-Changeling novel) by Nalini Singh – I have been reading this series for the first time and only have one more to go! A beautiful series full of love stories that break the rules of norm for their world, battling their own preconceptions and the opinions of others to follow their hearts.

Favourite Writing Food/Drink

There is always a big glass of blackcurrant squash on my desk, and my writing snacks really do vary depending on my mood and the weather. I can just as easily have a pile of biscuits or fresh fruit – always sweet though, I'm not a huge savoury snacks person…

A quote you live by and why?

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others; read a lot and write a lot.” by Stephen King.

You know you love a quote when you can write it out word for word – this quote is also on my website. I think it sums up perfectly the simplicity of being a writer. Yes, we have a lot to do to write and publish a book, but at the bottom of the climb there is the simple act of writing, and we learn to write by reading.

A huge thank you to author Angel McGregor for participating in this interview. If you are interested in reading her latest book, Destiny (The Cursed Novels, Book 1) then you can read more about it below.

"The predetermined course of events in life that some people believe others are to follow; an inevitable and unavoidable future.

What would you do if you found out that your life was a lie? How would you react to finding out that your destiny had once been your wildest dreams? Who do you turn to when those you’re meant to trust turn their backs on you?

When Serena meets the mysterious new guy at college her life seems complete.

Great friends, good grades, hot boyfriend. That is until she tells her parents and life as she knows it begins to unravel in ways she cannot understand.

The box in the attic holds the clues to a past she doesn’t remember, but do they also show her the future she’s long since forgotten? Her mother believes so and tears a rift between them trying to convince her that Dylan is bad news, pushing Serena into the arms of another family. A family she is destined to be a part of."

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