It was around fifteen years ago when Harriet Smart, along with hundreds of other successful writers, found that her contracts were not being renewed. This huge contraction in the publishing industry saw a lot of writers turn to other careers but some, like Harriet, turned it to her advantage.
“At first I didn’t mind, because I’d just had a baby and thought it would be nice to spend some time with her,” she explains. “But then, when Toni was about 3 and going to nursery for a couple of mornings, I decided to do an M.A. in screenwriting. If nothing else, it convinced me I was a novelist and not a film writer. But it was very interesting and I learnt a lot about how to develop storylines.
“In those days, you had to use index cards to keep track of multiple storylines and I kept thinking, no, what I want is a computer software programme that will do it for me.”
As luck would have it, Harriet’s husband Julian is a software developer so together, they developed Writer’s Cafe, a software programme which theyÂ developed over several Â years. Â At the heart of it is StoryLines, a tool that claims to make it quick and simple to generate, record and organise your random ideas into a working structure. Originally it came in a boxed set of DVDs but now you can download it from the internet!
From there, it was only a small step to full-scale e publishing. Luckily Julian had foreseen the e revolution coming and advised Harriet to withhold electronic rights. Now that she had publishing rights back from her print publisher, she experimented with e publishing one of her popular novels, Green Grow the Rushes.
It wasn’t as simple as you’d think because, like websites, they have to readable on many different platforms. Over a period of time, Anthemion Jutoh was developed, to allow Harriet and hundreds of other writers who had ‘gone out of print’ or who were finding it difficult to find a publisher who would take the risk, to publish themselves.
Gone are the days when self-publishing was vanity publishing, undertaken by people who really couldn’t write. As Harriet says, “The systems of gatekeeping, with regard to quality, by publishers, have gone. Now buyers are more interested in word of mouth recommendations and reviews. You can write what you want to write for a niche market and not have to worry about the cost of print runs and marketing. Compared with the days of 7% royalties, you can really make money with e publishing.”
Well-known as a historical fiction writer, Harriet has now, as they say, taken to crime. She has always enjoyed reading crime fiction and now combines crime with historical in the Northminster series.
“I like the 1840s,” she explains. “It’s a period which isn’t much touched on by writers. You have a crossover from late Georgian rakishness to early Victorian correctness. This is right at the beginning of the transferring of the old Watches to the new Police Force. Most Chief Constables were ex military and had a huge amount of discretion â€“ they could even design their own uniforms! Law enforcement was much simpler and with police surgeons working without the benefits of modern forensics, often by intuition, I thought it would be a fun time to explore.”
Like a lot of writers, Harriet is not just interested in the plot but in the development of the main characters over a period of years. She wanted to get away from the female point of view too, so introduced two sexy male leads who would be attractive to women. And interestingly, their age gap is considerable, which again means that a wealth of life situations and emotions can be covered. Chief Constable Giles Vernon is ex military and married, but with a wife who is ill, so is he ‘available’ or not? And young Felix Carswell, the surgeon, has yet to find his bride, although by book 2 he has had a few offers and seems about to succumb. “They could be characters from a Jane Austen novel,” Harriet suggests, “but they are placed in a more dynamic environment. They’re gentlemen but it still matters that they are good at their jobs.”
And Northminster? It’s a fictional northern town. Harriet saw London with its fogs and gas lamps and Ripper references as a clichÃ© so she has created a world which will serve her for a dozen or so books. It has a cathedral, factories and dirty money and you can be sure there will be a murder in every novel.
The Butchered Man (Northminster Mystery)
and The Dead Songbird (The Northminster Mysteries) are the first two books in the Northminster series, which is already attracting a pleasing fan base. Meticulously plotted, as you would expect, they are available as e-books so it’s easy to join the thousands of fans who are enjoying getting to know Giles and Felix and debating whether Lord Rothborough is a decent sort or not. And, of course, wondering who dunnit!