Author’s Spotlight: Jessica Huntley Interview

Jessica Huntley, author of The Darkness Within Ourselves and the My…Self series.

1. First, introduce yourself a bit. What is your name (or pen name) and where are you from?

My name is Jessica Huntley. I currently live in Edinburgh, however I have lived all over the place and grew up in Wales (but I class myself as English!) I am 33, married and have a two-year-old son and a black Labrador. I am currently a stay at home Mum, but my careers have ranged from being an Intelligence Analyst in the Army to a Personal Trainer. I love keeping fit, writing and reading. At ten-years-old I wrote my first full length novel and wrote nearly a dozen novels by the time I was eighteen, but I gave up writing and joined the Army and just assumed that writing was no longer a part of my life….until last year!

2. Next, tell us a bit about your most recent work. Is this your first published book? What is it about and what genre would you classify it as?

My first official self-published novel is called The Darkness Within Ourselves. I came up with the idea while completing a Novel Writing diploma during the first national lockdown. I am a big fan of reading horrors and psychological thrillers, as well as watching horror movies, so I knew I wanted to write a book in this genre. The Darkness Within Ourselves is about a group of childhood friends who each develop severe psychological issues after witnessing the supposedly accidental death of one of their own group. It focuses on the mental health issues that many people face, as well as solving the mystery of what happened the day their friend died. However, I also have another book due for release in July called My Dark Self, which is about an ordinary woman who has a psychopathic voice called Alicia inside her head. This is also classed as a psychological thriller and has been extremely fun to write about.

3. Tell us a bit about your main character; what are they like, how did they come about, and what are some of their strengths and weaknesses?

The main character in The Darkness Within Ourselves is called Amber. She is a Mum to a young daughter and is married, but is unhappy. She suffers from sleep paralysis and insomnia and is haunted in her sleep by an entity she calls “The Creature”, however The Creature begins to haunt her in the real world too. She has a good heart and always tries to do the right thing, but often is held back by the actions and wishes of others. She always put everyone else first and this is one of her weaknesses, however she is a good Mum and loves her daughter more than anything. She keeps a lot of secrets, especially from her husband.

The main characters in My Dark Self are Josslyn and Alicia. Josslyn is 28 years old and is a vet and to the outside world she is a perfectly average woman, but Alicia is the psychopathic voice in her head who can take control of her body. Both of these characters are loosely based on myself and my twin sister who is called Alice. They bicker and argue and are almost completely opposite to each other, yet they are also best friends. One cannot survive without the other.

4. What was your hardest scene to write in this (or any) book?

The hardest scenes to write for me are sex scenes! Probably because I know that my friends and family will be reading my books. However, recently I have had to write a scene depicting animal cruelty and I found this very emotional and difficult to write, but it was necessary for the plot to move forwards. I even cried while writing it.

5. Did you go the traditional route when publishing your book or did you choose to self-publish?

I originally wanted to be traditionally published and sent off my first book to many agents and publishers. I did get a few responses from publishers who wanted to publish my work, but they expected me to pay them a substantial amount of money to do it and this raised a lot of red flags for me, so I turned my hand to self publishing and researched it. I am still learning and it has been quite a steep learning curve, but this is the route I will be focusing on, however I still may attempt to gain representation from a literary agent, but the chances of being accepted is extremely low. I like the fact that being self-published means I have full control over everything about my books, the cover, the design, the formatting, the marketing, etc.

6. What would you say is the most difficult part of your writing journey and what advice would you give to other writers?

The most difficult part of my writing journey so far has definitely been teaching myself and learning how to self-publish my first book. There are so many things to think about: the blurb, cover, editing, formatting, proofreading, beta readers, ARC readers … then there’s the issue of marketing the book and getting it to stand out against the millions of books on the market. I think the one piece of advice I would give to other writers is to take your time. Don’t rush the process and don’t skimp on important things such as cover design and getting your book professionally edited. Yes, it can be expensive, but I would rather spend a bit of time, effort and money on getting it right the first time then rushing the process and having a book that looks unprofessional, is poorly edited and has lots of typos and mistakes, and therefore is likely to receive negative reviews.

7. Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

My first book, The Darkness Within Ourselves, is a standalone book, however My Dark Self is the first book of a trilogy I have planned. I think I will be doing a mix of standalone and series. Writing a series takes an enormous amount of effort and a considerable amount of planning and time, so I will see what happens after I have finished writing the trilogy.

8. What are some of your favourite authors and books and what inspired you to become a writer in the first place?

Some of my favourite authors are Stephen King, T.M. Logan, Caroline Kepnes and Lisa Jewell. Some of my favourite books are The Sanatorium, You, Pet Semetary, the Harry Potter series and Behind Her Eyes. I started writing very young, however it was reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that made me start seriously writing. I planned out my own series of Young Adult books when I was ten (you never know, I may even go back to them one day and re write them!) Watch this space!

9. What would you say has been the best way to market your books?

When I originally set out to self-publish my book I never really thought about a marketing plan, but I have done a course on it, which has really opened my eyes. Marketing is a minefield, but in the future I plan to market the ebook versions of my books to sites such as BookBubs, NetGalley and BookFunnel. However, in the mean time, I have made some lovely friends in book groups, made sure I am active on my social media pages and offer my books free in response for an honest review. Slowly but surely I will expand my marketing plan as I publish more books. To sell more books one must write more books!

10. Are there any tropes, clichés, or writing styles that you dislike and, if so, what are they and why?

To be honest I find any book with a detective or an extremely attractive character very … cliché. It’s been done to death. I like my characters to have flaws, be perfectly average and not perfect. As for writing styles I’m open to any and I have actually written in both first and third person and I think I prefer writing from the characters’ perspective.

11. Do you read reviews of your book and, if so, how do you handle negative feedback?

Yes, I try to read and respond to all of my reviews. If someone has taken the time to read my book and write a review then I can spend the time reading their review and responding to them. At the time of writing this I have not received a review under 3 stars and nothing extremely negative (that could change of course!) However, I would still read a negative review and maybe even share it and respond to the person too. It would upset me, of course, but I know that everyone is different and we all like different things, including books. I don’t expect everyone who reads my books to like them.

12. What are some of your quirks as a writer? Do you like to plot everything out or do you prefer to just “wing it” and see where the story takes you? Do you listen to music when writing and, if so, what do you listen to?

I’m not sure I have any quirks! When I set out to write a novel I usually have a very vague idea of the storyline, but most of the time during the first draft I just wing it and allow the story to develop. A lot of the time the story basically writes itself and things expand and characters grow and develop on their own. I have an “ideas book” where I jot down my plans and any random ideas that pop into my head. It’s usually during the second draft that I properly lay out the chapters and make bullet points. No, I don’t listen to music when I write. I tend to have silence. Sometimes I have my toddler with me, but I end up giving up because I can never focus! I sometimes write while watching TV, but to be honest I prefer to be alone with my thoughts.

13. What is the best advice you’ve ever had when it comes to writing and what advice would you give to new writers?

To be perfectly honest I don’t think I’ve ever been given any good advice apart from the usual “just go for it, what’s the worst that could happen”. However my Dad always had faith that I would be a published author one day. I may be self published but he is very proud of me. My advice to a new writer is “if you are really a writer, then never give up and never let anyone persuade you otherwise”.

14. What’s next for you? Are you currently working on any new books or stories?

I am about to publish my second book, My Dark Self. Currently I am working on the next two books in the series. My plan is to have the whole trilogy written by the end of the year.

15. Finally, feel free to plug your social media, website, and links to Amazon, GoodReads, and other relevant sites below, and detail any current offers available for your book/s:

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