On Wednesdays on social media, people use the hashtag #WriterWednesday to chat about all things author, book and writing, including authors promoting their own work. As we love to support self-published authors, we thought we’d join in and we will be featuring a UK self-published author every Wednesday on the website. This week, we met Jamie Bernthal to find out more...
Please tell us about yourself; when did you first become interested in writing?
I’m 27 and work as an academic and an assistant to a crime writer. But I also self-publish fiction and poetry. I’ve been writing stories longer than I can remember, with my brother and sister. When I was eight, I started reading detective stories — especially Agatha Christie — and writing my own. They weren’t as good as the ones I was reading, but they were okay.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
The first substantial story (with chapters and everything!) was called The Very Sunny Christmas though that title has nothing to do with the story! It was about my siblings and me finding an escaped prisoner in the garden and accidentally helping him blow up the Houses of Parliament. I was six. It will never see the light of day.
The first story I published was a novella called Dead in the Water. It’s set on board the Titanic in 1912. A series of murders take place on the doomed voyage, and a ladies’ maid with delusions of grandeur hooks up with a bisexual matinee idol actor to uncover the truth. The truth is revealed as the boat starts to sink, and everyone has to decide what is more important: knowing what happened or getting out alive. This started out as my dissertation for an MA in Creative Writing a few years ago. But the person marking it (a famous novelist) hated it, so I locked it away for five years. It turns out that the aforementioned famous novelist hadn’t even read the manuscript when he savaged it; he was just having a bad day. I reread his feedback and the novella and decided it was good. So I self-published it, and people seem to like it. That’s also when I started writing again.
What genre/genres do your stories fall under?
Traditional mystery/whodunit and black comedy.
What is your latest story called, what is it about and what was the inspiration behind the story?
The latest one is Dead Fan’s Folly, and is coming very soon. It’s the third in a series featuring a well-meaning spinster sleuth called Jessica Brick. She lives in a sleepy English village, and fancies herself as a detective. There’s just one problem: she’s a terrible detective. Murders and mysteries come her way quite regularly, but she always gets things completely wrong. But the mystery is solved, so the reader won’t feel cheated. The series started as a very simple question: What if Miss Marple was wrong? What if the trained professionals, who dismiss that great detective as a meddling busybody, were absolutely right? This festered for quite a few years — then I mentioned it to my mum, who said ‘You have to write that’, and that’s how Jessica Brick took off. The response on Amazon and social media has been really encouraging, especially since we haven’t heavily publicised the stories yet.
Dead Fan’s Folly centres on the world’s most obsessive Agatha Christie fan, who is found murdered amid a collection of memorabilia. It’s a tribute to the greatest crime writer of all time, and also a way of laughing at myself for being a bit of a mega-fan.
Besides your current story, do you have any new projects coming up?
There’s going to be another Jessica Brick story, and then a print book featuring all the stories to date. As an academic, I’ve just published my first monograph which explores gender and sexuality in Agatha Christie’s fiction.
Where can people find your work?
On Amazon — for your Kindle. There are links on my website: www.jcbernthal.com
What has been the greatest moment in your writing career?
Getting a negative review! With anonymous positive reviews I can never be quite sure it’s not just my friends saying nice things for the sake of it. If someone hates your book enough to leave a negative review, it means they probably don’t know you, it’s reached them, and they’ve actually read it.
Besides writing, what hobbies or interests do you enjoy in your spare time?
Spare time; I’ve heard of that, but thought it was a myth. I love reading, of course, and teaching — just as well, as both are huge parts of my various jobs. Do twitter arguments and red wine count as hobbies?
Which novelists do you admire?
Agatha Christie because she’s the most amazing writer in history. Sophie Hannah, who is incredible at getting you to turn the page with her psychological thrillers. In terms of admiring how someone uses their profile as a writer, I strongly admire JK Rowling (although we disagree on Jeremy Corbyn!).
What has been the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?
‘If you like reading it, other people will like reading it.’
Do you have any tips or advice for other indie authors?
Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. What would make you buy a self-published book? What does it need to feel like (that’s both a physical question and a kind of esoteric one; what is the ‘feel’ of these words on the screen or the page?), what does it need to look like, where does it need to be? And go for it.