Author’s Roundtable: Dakota Douglas

How long have you been writing?

Since I was about eight-years-old. So that is a very, very long time. My favourite author then was Enid Blyton. I used to write stories on a toy typewriter inspired by Blyton’s famous five, but with my own characters and storylines. It was fun. And my dad used to illustrate them, put them in a binder and put my name on the front.

Has writing always been something you wanted to do?

Yes. As a kid the local library was my favourite place to be. Books inspired me to daydream about doing all sorts of adventurous things, like going into space or digging up mummies, but I always came back to writing. It led me into a career as a journalist. Since retiring I have returned to my childhood passion. When you write, you can step into the shoes of any character you like, say things in your dialogue that you wouldn’t think of in real life and get up to all sorts of cool stuff.

What books or stories have you written? Published?

Two children’s stories: ANTics and WOOF.

Can you tell us a little about your books? What are they about?

ANTics is about three young ants who get up to heart-pounding adventures as they flee from their colony’s fiercest enemy, an evil spider, who has vowed to turn them into ant soup and wipe out their nest. They must use their combined wits to escape his clutches and warn their nest mates. The characters all have names that describe their personality and end in ant.

WOOF features two stories about a shy schoolboy who is brought out of his shell after befriending an unusual stray dog.

How did you get inspiration for the characters/books?

ANTics was based on a dream after watching a group of ants carry a potato crisp back to their nest. The crisp was huge but they worked as a team to achieve their goal. As I lay in bed thinking about the dream, I expanded the storyline and came up with the idea for their ant-ending names.

I’m not sure about WOOF. It was probably inspired by a dream, too, or a day dream. I do a lot of that.

WOOF BOOK COVERAre the books based on personal experiences?

In a way, yes. As a kid I was shy and still am. One of my characters in ANTics is timid and shy and Jeremy in WOOF is shy, so I suppose I connect with that.

Is there any advice you have been given that you could give to a young up-and-coming writer?

Have fun. When writing your first draft, just write. Don’t get bogged down with checking spelling and punctuation. Let it flow. Enjoy the writing experience. Once the story is down, put it away for a few days, then come back to it with fresh eyes and edit and tweak to whip the story into the best shape you can for publication.

Can you talk a little about the benefits of getting your work professionally edited?

I have done my own editing because as a former journalist I am used to editing my work. However, I will probably get future work professionally edited. If you read your story through 60 times, on the 61st time, you will still spot mistakes. You really need fresh eyes and trained eyes to pick up mistakes and give you constructive feedback.

What are some of the hardest things you’ve had to overcome as a writer, in order to be published?

I wrote the first draft of ANTics about 10 years ago. At the time I started to develop repetitive strain injury (RSI), which gave me pain in my hands, wrists and forearms. It’s from doing repetitive tasks. As a newspaper reporter, my fingers were forever clutched in a ball over a keypad or writing shorthand all day long. I found it too painful to type during the day for my living and again at night and weekends for my hobby. So I gave up my writing dream. Since retiring at the end of 2011, the pains have eased so I’ve went back to ANTics, edited it and put it out into the big wide world. I’ve had some great reviews, which have thrilled me and spurred me on to write more.

How did you find time to write your books?

I am retired so I should have all the time in the world. But I haven’t. I play golf, which takes up a big chunk of my week. Also I’ve joined social media to promote my work and find it difficult to manage. It can eat your time, if you allow it. You hear about how self-published authors have sold millions of copies of their books. It sounds so easy. The reality is they are the minority. To promote yourself in the self-published world, you need a lot of skills. It’s not just about putting the words “The End” at the finale of your story. The really hard work is just beginning unless you pay someone to do it all for you. You have to format your book for publication, get a cover created, upload it onto sites, get a website, start a blog and try to attract readers. I’ve learned a lot but still have a long way to go.

Do you think writing has any benefits, and if so what would they be?

If you are successful, it will pay the bills. If you don’t sell a lot, hopefully it will be a hobby that you enjoy. Writing stretches you creatively. To complete a book, a blog or a short story, gives me a sense of achievement in the same way as completing a great round of golf.

ANTics bookcoverSeveral of my guests have often said writing is therapeutic and relaxes them. Can you talk a little about how writing relaxes you? Any specific examples you can share?

It can be an outlet for your emotions. If you are angry with someone but don’t want to start an argument with them, or are sad about something, you can channel that emotion into your writing through one of your characters.

Once you start to write, it’s amazing what comes out, almost subconsciously, as if there is someone else inside your head telling you what to say. It can give you insights into yourself, your relationships, your feelings and sometimes evoke memories that you thought were lost.

Can you also talk a little about how writing your book was therapeutic? What do you mean?

I used to be a scaredy cat when it came to bugs. I did a lot of research for ANTics and I have a better understanding of the bug world. Also I love research. It widens your knowledge. Though I must admit talking about creepy crawlies isn’t exactly a riveting dinner table topic.

Has writing made you a better person?

Ask me that after I have several more books under my belt. What it has made me is heavier. I spend more time at the computer than being outside getting exercise.

Do you like to read? If so, what are your favorite genres and why?

I like to read nonstop. I will read a bus ticket if there’s nothing else at hand. When I’m writing, I am immersed in the topic and genre I am writing about. ANTics is my first novel so I am reading a lot about the writing and editing process, also other author’s blogs for writing tips. I love the American West and am a great fan of westerns and historical novels.

Can you talk about how important reviews are to writers?

As a new author, I don’t have enough experience to talk specifically. However, it’s great to get reviews, and good reviews. It’s a sort of validation of all the hard work you have put into your book. I read the other day on someone’s blog that they didn’t think reviews sell books. They believe that readers don’t take much heed of them, instead they buy if they like the book cover and are hooked by the synopsis and first page/chapter.

Have you ever received a bad review? If so how did it make you feel?

I’ve been lucky so far. I haven’t had a bad review. My reviews haven’t all been five stars but they’ve included great comments and some constructive feedback. Writing, like art, is subjective, so people will have different opinions. As long as it’s well-meant, without malice, I squirrel it away to hopefully make me a better writer.

About Linda “Dakota” Douglas

I’m an author from the northeast of England. As a kid I read books under the bedclothes by torchlight. Now I dive under the covers, torch in hand, to scribble down conversations between my book characters in case I forget them in the morning.

Linda trimmedI’ve written stories since I was about eight years old. I wrote them on a toy typewriter and my dad did the illustrations. When I wasn’t pounding on my typewriter, you would find me smashing a tennis ball against the brick end of a block of garages beside my home. For hours on end I perfected my lob, backhand and forehand shots–all the time spinning stories in my head.

After dreaming of becoming an astronaut, tennis star, archaelogist, air stewardess or superhero, I chose a career in journalism. I pounded the beat as a newspaper reporter all my working life. I retired in 2011 and am now fulfilling my main childhood dream-of becoming an author. Under my pen name, Dakota Douglas, I have published two children’s books, ANTics and WOOF. When not writing, or burning my husband’s dinner, I can be found on the golf course, not hitting like Tiger.

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