Hi Gang! Today we have with us my friend Sharon Ward Keeble, an international journalist for over two decades and author of the fabulously inspirational book The Horse Girl, about the London subway bombings in 2005. She also penned a personal memoir about her adventures as a young lady from Great British backpacking around China, and a lot more. Sharon has been living the dream, making money from writing, and she’s graciously agreed to chat with us today.
Dan Alatorre: Good morning, Sharon! Ready to GET INTERVIEWED???
Sharon Ward Keeble: Lol, I think so!!! Good morning!
DA: Ha, you think that now, but just wait…
SWK: Oh oh….
DA: Most writers are multitaskers, or try to be. What other things are you doing while we do this interview? Laundry is a big one with my interviewees. I’ll take all the laundry tips I can get.
SWK: Yes, the laundry is on!!
DA: Knew it. Always laundry.
SWK: Oh yes! I am also checking emails as I wait for questions, checking Facebook sites I’m on for stories, and I am writing down zombie-related stuff as I think about it. I made a new friend last night who met Norman Reedus on Saturday.
DA: For folks who don’t know who Norman is…
SWK: He’s the utterly lovely tough guy with a heart who plays Daryl Dixon in The Walking Dead. Bit of diamond in the rough…..
DA: Aren’t they all? And zombies – you’re a huge Walking Dead fan, you went to a zombie themed event the other night-
SWK: I know, zombies again! I’m a little odd like that…
DA: Is all the zombie research for a new book?
SWK: I’m thinking about a non-fiction and a fiction – can’t decide which to do first.
Aside from writing about real life zombies – allegedly – you wrote about horses and horse therapy in The Horse Girl. This stemmed from the London Underground (“tube”) bombings in 2005 and tells the heart wrenching true story about one of the victims, Beverli Rhodes.
SWK: She was caught up in the London Underground bombings of July 7, 2005, in which she was seriously injured. She received a severe blow to the head when the bombs went off, causing memory loss, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other challenges. As she rebuilt her life through horse therapy, she uncovered long-buried memories of being a child victim of a sick, high-profile pedophilia ring that has recently been documented in the UK newspapers.
DA: Wow, as if getting blown up in a subway wasn’t bad enough, she had to relive the abuse from her childhood. And the book details that traumatic story, and her recovery through horse therapy. Is she okay now?
SWK: She is now able to live a peaceful life, and continues to maintain her strong connection with the animals that helped to save her.
SWK: It’s an extraordinary story of hate redeemed by love, as well as a testament to the triumph of the human spirit over the most terrible adversity.
DA: And you were able to better tell her story because of your own love of horses. How long has that been a passion?
SWK: I started horse riding when I was seven. I got a job at a local news agent shop working weekends so that I could save to buy my horse. It took three years. I had my horse until I was 18 and went to college, then when I moved to America 10 years ago I bought another horse which turned into five!
DA: Wait, let me check that math… you bought a horse at age 10?
SWK: I was 14 .
DA: Math was never my strong suit…
SWK: I’d been working from the age of 11 – this was back in the day when there were no rules as to how young a child had to be to get work. I wanted a horse, my parents couldn’t afford it, so I decided to get my own.
DA: Living your dreams even as a child. Impressive.
SWK: We don’t have them anymore – too expensive and time consuming – but I miss them terribly
DA: Expensive – RIGHT! How much did your first one cost?
SWK: $500 – an unbroken Welsh horse, 18 months old so untrained, straight off the Welsh hills
DA: Awesome. I… have no idea what any of that means.
SWK: A bit of a stupid thing to do, but I had my heart set on one like that.
DA: But to own a horse at that age is pretty cool.
SWK: Well, it was so young that it hadn’t been handled, so when it came to me we had a lot of work to do. We had to get it used to being handled by humans and eventually, put a saddle on his back. I named him Rhett Butler after a character in one my all-time favorite movies
DA: That’s great. Rhett Butler.
SWK: I LOVE that movie – hopeless romantic…
DA: As a long time horse lover and dog lover, answer the age old debate: which one is smarter, dogs or horses?
SWK: Ooh that’s a hard one – dogs win by a hair, I would say. Horses are inspirational to be around.
DA: For over 15 years, there was a 20 acre horse farm behind my house here in Tampa. Most of the riders were young girls, about 14 or so I guess. The only boys I ever saw over there were the owner’s sons.
SWK: It’s not a great sport amongst the boys.
DA: Teaches you how to manage an unruly animal at a young age. Good preparation for marriage…
SWK: God yes!
DA: You have a lot of experience in writing, and recently you took on public speaking again – you were a presenter at the Florida Writer’s Association conference. Inquiring minds want to know – how was it to give a presentation like that?
SWK: It was absolutely one of the most nerve racking things I have ever done in my life!
SWK: Gosh yes! You know when you talk in public you want to do the very best job you can to inform and be entertaining at the same time. I set myself very high standards in my writing and my professional journalism
I wanted to make it as interesting and informative as possible while showing what a great job it is. I love my job! In the end it was a great experience because, after the initial nerves, I started to enjoy myself AND it helped having people who asked such great questions.
DA: Why did you do it? Most writer types tend to avoid that sort of thing.
SWK: I did it because I wanted to share with other writers that writing about real people for magazines and newspapers is a great life. It’s a great way to earn a second income while you’re just starting out and also by meeting and talking to so many diverse people, it can really help the people who write fiction, give them ideas, etc.
DA: Have you ever spoken publicly before?
SWK: This was my second time – the other was many moons ago when I gave a talk to my dad’s creative writing group!
DA: Is he also a writer?
SWK: No my dad wasn’t a writer – he fell in love with writing when I became a journalist.
DA: That’s a good dad!
SWK: He edited my first book, a travel book, about my back packing adventures around China.
DA: I take it back, he’s a great dad if he edited a book for you! When did you first start writing? What’s the earliest story you remember being a complete piece? Because we writers always remember the first “book” we wrote.
SWK: Absolutely. I wrote my first book when I was 11 – a story about a horse and a girl –
DA: Imagine that.
SWK: -and after that I only ever wanted to be a journalist. I went to journalism college in the UK, then I worked my way up through weekly newspapers, then daily newspapers, then national newspapers and women’s magazines. In between I would write, and write fiction. Then I realised that I was very much capable of writing non-fiction books, so that’s what I did in my spare time
DA: Brilliant strategy. Did you keep the story from age 11?
SWK: I think it’s in the loft at my mum’s house in England. I should really check that out when I go home next.
DA: For your archive wing at the Smithsonian. I agree.
SWK: LOL. Absolutely.
DA: And what is the newest book you’re writing about?
SWK: I’m working on a real-life crime story.
DA: That is a lot of your articles’ subject matter, too, right?
SWK: About 85% of my articles are true-life crime, I’m afraid, only because my market in the UK loves crime stories.
SWK: And that’s what I’m asked to write about by commissioning Editors most of the time.
DA: That’s you doing a lot of crime work.
SWK: Yep – the other 15 per cent is romance, weird health and big boobs!
DA: Well… everybody likes big boobs. With all that crime background, you’re probably almst a detective.
SWK: I keep thinking I should really write a crime novel. I feel like I know how to commit the perfect murder and get rid of the evidence! Oh, and how not to get caught – criminals can be so stupid!
DA: That’s why we’re not doing this interview in person. Ask the wrong question = never heard from again.
SWK: Ha ha – I’ve learned a lot! I keep telling my husband that if anything happened to him, no one would ever know the truth…
DA: Because who’d plan a murder out loud…
SWK: Exactly! Who would?!
DA: I bet he keeps on his toes. Knows the sharp knife count before he goes to bed…
SWK: Oh, yes…
DA: By writing crime articles, do you work a lot with police? Or victims? Or… the bad guys?
SWK: I work a lot with the victims and their families – the mags I write for like it all to be first person. Sometimes I have to speak to the police for verification on convictions, etc., but that’s it.
DA: If you write the articles in first person, you write as the victim of the crime?
SWK: Yes. First person would be from the mother, father, sister or friend of a crime victim who died, or as a survivor story it would be from the person herself.
DA: That’s gotta be tough. For them and for you.
SWK: It’s really hard, sometimes. Although I have learned to keep my own feelings inside until after the interview. I’ve been known to get off the phone and have a good old cry many times.
DA: Really? Wow.
SWK: I get to hear so much depravity, so much horror, but in each story i always try to end on a good note. Like someone who survived a massacre who can show that they have got their life back together.
And just when you think you’ve heard and seen it all, something happens that is even more depraved and more horrific than you’ve learned about before.
DA: So you do the interviews with the victim, then you write in first person – he came at me, he stabbed me – that would get to me, but hearing it from the people it happened to, that’s emotional.
SWK: Exactly. “He came at me with the knife and he stabbed me in the chest. I couldn’t breathe… I had to try to keep calm as he came at me again…”
DA: And you have to funnel that emotion into the story…
SWK: Yes, that’s a good tip. I write my stories almost immediately after the interview so that the information is fresh and raw in my mind.
DA: I think our word choice is affected by our emotional state at the time. So it imparts more emotion into the story.
SWK: I agree. I think that people resonate more with people’s stories if they see the full emotions laid bare on the paper. They are living it through the victim’s eyes
DA: Then you’d need to have a release, I suppose. To let off the steam.
SWK: My release was the horses. Now I paddle board.
DA: Oh, paddle boarding is tough! Do you stand or sit?
DA: Standing is supposed to be a real workout.
SWK: Yes it is – you need a good core. It’s great, though – peaceful-like. I actually started in the ocean so when I went on the lakes it was easier. We live on a chain of lakes so I can practice whenever I get the minute. The ocean is soooo difficult at first!
DA: I’d recommend lakes right now anyway, with all the shark attacks this year. You don’t wanna end up as the subject of one of your own stores.
Before we wrap up, let’s give out a few tips to new writers who want to make money from their writing. Most new writers are only thinking about writing a book and having the money from that be the income from writing. It would never occur to them to write articles, but there’s good money in that, right?
SWK: Yes there is. A few good tips would be to look for human interest stories in local and national media – the weird health stories, the true-life crime (of course), inspirational women with stories to tell, Then when you have found the stories, track down anyone involved in the story who is in a position to be interviewed. Unless you are doing a newspaper report, most publications, as we’ve said before, like the first person account.
DA: That gets the story. Then, how do they sell it?
SWK: Get on publications websites and study their market – that way you will learn the types of stories that sell. Crime and inspirational women who have survived something traumatic always sell.
DA: Obviously there’s more to it, but there’s a great living in it, as you can attest. Around 85% of Americans want to write a book. Many will try, fewer will get there, but a large percentage would love to make money from writing at all. You can help them do that, because you are living that dream, and it’s obvious you love what you do – that’s rare, sadly.
SWK: That’s true Dan – thank you for the reminder. Could do with it sometimes!
DA: Your enthusiasm is contagious. I know you’re getting ready to launch a website with your writing and more ways to help people learn how to make money from writing. With your enthusiasm, people will want to be a part of that. I said it before, it’s very engaging, and your persona is endearing.
SWK: That’s kind of you to say.
DA: Thanks for dropping by. I know you’ll keep on doing great things!
SWK: Great speaking with you! Okay, have a fab day!
Amazon Author Link (UK) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sharon-Ward-Keeble/e/B00K6MTG8Y