Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, Neil Heath-Hartley – Neil Heath-Hartley is a LGBTI+ author residing in South Africa. Although writing in the LGBTI+ genre, he writes children’s, fantasy, mystery and thriller fiction too.
Thanks so much, Neil, for joining me!
JSC: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
NHH: growing up on a small mining town in Gauteng, South Africa, the world of my imagination was overwhelming from a young age and I enjoyed creating characters that people would love. I knew I was good at it when I started entering competitions for poetry and short stories and started winning prizes, I then started writing longer stories and published my first book, Behind the Mask.
JSC: If you could sit down with one other writer, living or dead, who would you choose, and what would you ask them?
NHH: As a child and teen I read Sydney Sheldon’s work and if I could sit down and chat to him I would ask what would he do for fun and how he went about doing the research for his books. I need to admit that there are other writers I would love to meet.
JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
NHH: I write in many genres: LGBTI, children, mystery, fantasy, thriller, poetry, short stories, I try new things like taking on a new adventure and if it doesn’t work then I know it is not for me.
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
NHH: my first book was Behind the Mask, which follows a young gay man, Jerome, on an adventure of self-discovery, suicide, heart break, bully, love basically anything a young gay guy would go through as a teen.
JSC: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?
NHH: I had to research many things for stories, magic and poison, murder, serial killers
JSC: Have you ever taken a trip to research a story? Tell me about it.
NHH: I have never taking a trip for research purposes, however if I do go on holiday and we go away then I pick up things that I could use an idea for a story.
JSC: What is your writing Kryptonite?
NHH: Most writers would agree but mine is writers block as I am a punster.
JSC: What do you do when you get writer’s block?
NHH: Research, or youtube ideas I have floating around in my mind.
JSC: Do you use a pseudonym? If so, why? If not, why not?
NHH: No pen name for me, I want my fans to see me for me.
JSC: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
NHH: Start an author platform ASAP and start saving for marketing.
JSC: Do you ever base your characters on real people? If so, what are the pitfalls you’ve run into doing so?
NHH: I try not to, each of my characters have their own uniqueness to them and don’t want to change that.
JSC: How long do you write each day?
NHH: as I work a full day at my day job, I write for one hour a day, during my lunch time.
JSC: Do you reward yourself for writing, or punish yourself for failing to do so? How?
NHH: I try reward myself with a treat or something cool however I don’t do it all that often.
JSC: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
NHH: Yes I do, it is the opinion of the person so I try grow from whatever they said.
JSC: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
NHH: Depending on my genre I am writing in, children book maybe a week, longer a year.
JSC: What do you do if you get a brilliant idea at a bad time?
NHH: I try and jot it down as soon as possible, even if on a scrap paper.
JSC: Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
NHH: I am a gay male so I feel comfortable writing in LGBTI genre, with the rest I explore what I would enjoy and love, to balance them I allow one story to flow at a time.
JSC: How long have you been writing?
NHH: since I was a child, however been a passion for about twenty years now.
JSC: Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book? If so, discuss them.
NHH: I try and bring in the under dog or gay community, want to convey the message that we are all human and have feelings too.
JSC: Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?
NHH: Part-time, I wished I could get more time to write.
JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantster?
JSC: Do your books spring to life from a character first or an idea?
NHH: I sometimes get the characters first then work from there.
JSC: How did you deal with rejection letters?
NHH: It gives me ways to improve my craft.
JSC: How long does it take you to write the first draft?
NHH: More or less a year.
JSC: What is the most heartfelt thing a reader has said to you?
NHH: That they cried when one of the characters was killed off, the emotion in that scene.
JSC: What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
NHH: Pen, Notebook, laptop or tablet to write your story out.
JSC: What was one of the most surprising things you’ve learned in writing your books?
NHH: That most female serial killers use poison to kill.
JSC: Where do you like to write?
NHH: Outside with fresh air to keep my mind open.
JSC: What are your favorite parts of publishing?
NHH: Knowing that your work is ready for the world.
JSC: What are your least favorite parts of publishing?
NHH: The long time it takes to get everything ready.
JSC: What advice do you wish you’d had before releasing your first story?
NHH: Take your time and enjoy the journey with your characters.
JSC: If you had a grant to write any book you wanted as a freebie without worrying about sales, what kind of story would you like to tell?
NHH: Definitely a gay book, just to convey the message that you must be proud of who you are.
JSC: How do you approach covers for your indie stories?
NHH: I create them myself and ask a group of friends which look good.
JSC: What was the most valuable piece of advice you’ve had from an editor?
NHH: Just be yourself.
JSC: Name the book you like most among all you’ve written, and tell us why.
NHH: I love them all they all like my babies and it’s difficult to choose one.
JSC: How do you combine all the different worlds of your life in your works?
NHH: Note books full of ideas.
JSC: What’s the funniest or creepiest thing you’ve come across while researching for one of your stories?
NHH: That Riccin is the waste product of the castor bean.
JSC: How did you choose the topic for “Behind the Mask”?
NHH: Behind the Mask was something that I felt comfortable doing as I have experience with regards to the lifestyle.
JSC: Tell us something we don’t know about your heroes. What makes them tick?
NHH: Jerome needs to be loved and he is afraid that he will be lonely forever.
JSC: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
NHH: Intentions where to make the gay community feel proud of who they were and not to be afraid, I feel comfortable that I accomplished that.
JSC: What was the hardest part of writing this book?
NHH: The suicide scene.
JSC: Who did your cover, and what was the design process like?
NHH: My cover was designed by my publisher, it was an exciting journey.
JSC: Tell us one thing about them that we don’t learn from the book, the secret in their past.
NHH: There is nothing really the story tells everything.
JSC: What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has? Write it out here, then answer it.
JSC: Was the story based on your own life?
NHH: No, it is not, most of us were bullied in school and that’s what I am trying to convey that we are all human beings no matter what.
JSC: What character gave you fits and fought against you? Did that character cause trouble because you weren’t listening and missed something important about them?
NHH: None of them did (laughs).
JSC: What inspired you to write this particular story? What were the challenges in bringing it to life?
NHH: Life in general seeing how many gay people can’t live their lives because they been judged.
JSC: What secondary character would you like to explore more? Tell me about him or her.
NHH: In other books there are secondary characters, however in Behind the Mask there are none.
JSC: Who has been your favorite character to write and why?
NHH: Jerome, just going through his emotions with him felt so real.
JSC: What was the weirdest thing you had to Google for your story?
NHH: Marriage proposals.
JSC: Let’s talk to your characters for a minute – what’s it like to work for such a demanding writer?
Jerome: Actually very fun, he allowed us to be ourselves.
JSC: What’s your core motivation in this book?
Jerome: To find love and overcome judgement.
JSC: Are you happy with where your writer left you at the end? (don’t give us any spoilers).
Jerome: Yes for sure.
JSC: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
NHH: A vet, I love animals.
JSC: If you had the opportunity to live one year of your life over again, which year would you choose, and why?
NHH: I don’t think I would, maybe I do it again as what it happened.
JSC: Tell me one thing hardly anyone knows about you.
NHH: I can crochet.
JSC: Tell me about a unique or quirky habit of yours.
NHH: when I cut paper, my tongue stick out.
JSC: Were you a voracious reader as a child?
NHH: No I was not did read though.
JSC: What pets are currently on your keyboard, and what are their names? Pictures?
NHH: Don’t have any on my keyboard, but on my memory stick I have Piglet.
JSC: What’s your writing process?
NHH: Typing out on my tablet, Word.
JSC: What was the first book that made you cry?
NHH: Unfortunately to medical issues I cannot cry.
JSC: What other artistic pursuits (it any) do you indulge in apart from writing?
NHH: Teddy bear making.
JSC: What are some day jobs that you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.
NHH: I have worked as a cashier in a liquor store, pawn shop, and I am currently employed as a pharmacist assistant.
JSC: We know what you like to write, but what do you like to read in your free time, and why?
NHH: I do like the odd thriller, mystery, even gay books, stuff that I relate too.
JSC: What qualities do you and your characters share? How much are you like them, or how different are they from you?
NHH: My characters are all unique and that’s what excites me about them, none of them are like me.
JSC: Describe yourself using… (choose one: a food, a book, a song, a movie, an animal, a drink, a place etc)
NHH: I am like a bag of potatoe chips, full of different flavors.
JSC: Do you have any strange writing habits or superstitions?
NHH: No I do not.
JSC: If you could create a new holiday, what would it be?
NHH: Dress as a character day (hehe).
JSC: If you were stuck on a desert island all alone with only three things, what would they be?
NHH: Notebook, pen and Google to research and get new ideas.
JSC: What action would your name be if it were a verb?
NHH: I would have to go with Thinking.
JSC: What fantasy realm would you choose to live in and why?
NHH: Fairy land, there are so many interesting beings there that you would not get bored
JSC: What fictional speculative fiction character would you like to spend an evening with, and why?
NHH: I would have to go with Crystal with my current work in progress, I feel she has a deeper sense about her than what is on paper.
JSC: Which of your own characters would you Kill? Fuck? Marry? And why?
NHH: Kill – I have killed so many characters in my books that I wouldn’t like to kill another on, Fuck – would be Darryll he is a hot guy in Behind the mask, but he is kind of a player, Marry – Jerome, he is too adorable to leave alone.
JSC: Would you visit the future or the past, and why?
NHH: No thank you, like everything the way it is.
JSC: How does the world end?
NHH: My characters coming to live and killing me (laughs).
JSC: Star Trek or Star Wars? Why?
NHH: None, not my cup of tea.
JSC: What meds are you supposed to be taking?
NHH: A tablet that stops characters from fighting in my mind
JSC: What’s your drink of choice?
NHH: Flavoured water.
JSC: What’s in your fridge right now?
NHH: Eggs, water, veggies, mayo, sauces, cheese, herbs, jam.
JSC: What food(s) fuel your writing?
NHH: Potato chips!
And now for Neil’s new book: Behind the Mask:
Everyone is so afraid of change and the unknown that their minds are like a closed lid on a coffin. Those who don’t like change refuse to see it in their lives until too late, and then wonder what went wrong.
At least Jerome knew the change was happening and tried to accept it from the beginning.
His life changes when the school bully confronts him about his sexuality, instead of beating him to a pulp, the jock surprises him by wanting to know more – intimately more, and he turns out to be just a one night stand. The rejection proves too much for Jerome and he attempts suicide.
But love conquers all, and after a few weeks of rehabilitation, he meets the man who will shower him with love and protection.
“The journey to school was the best ever. Finally, we had a chance to bond as father and son. I wondered how my mother would react to the news.”
Neil Heath-Hartley is a LGBTI+ author residing in South Africa. Although writing in the LGBTI+ genre, he writes children’s, fantasy, mystery and thriller fiction too. Neil has currently got five titles to his name with the latest been Welcome to the Forest of Looms (2019) and Jesse the ugly rag doll (2019). He has a diploma in Novel Writing as well as Creative Writing and has won numerous times in the Whisper Poetry Club annual competitions, getting his short stories and poems published in books alongside other writers. When not writing he has a talent of making teddy bears and crocheting.