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Between the Lines
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Between the Lines

Ashley Lister talks with Tracey Shellito


Tracey Shellito

Tracey Shellito is the author of the Crème de la Crime novel Personal Protection as well as e-book titles including Red Skin and The Scantlebury Demon. Aside from appearing in acclaimed anthologies such as Vamps, Locked and Loaded, Periphery and Best Lesbian Erotica 2008, her short stories have been submitted for awards including the revered Nebula.

Tracey took time from her busy schedule to talk to ERWA about her writing.

Ashley Lister: Personal Protection takes place in Blackpool, Lancashire, in the UK.  This is a town where we both live so we’re both intimately acquainted with its unique qualities.  How difficult was it recreating Blackpool in fictional form so that it would appeal to a public who aren’t familiar with the town’s distinctive charms?  Did you find any challenges in writing about an area that is so different to any other place in the UK?

Tracey Shellito: I never thought of Blackpool as being especially different from anywhere else I’ve been. I do think there are a lot of deliberately fostered misconceptions about the place. Its press would have you believe it’s a fun, family holiday resort; seven miles of beach, deck chairs, kiss-me-quick hats, candy floss, smutty postcards, trips to the tower and the circus and rides on the big one by day while scoffing sticks of Blackpool rock, then pantos and pubs and fish and chips by night. While all of that is there on the surface, I wanted to show the Blackpool I know and have lived in for the better part of forty years. So I conjured up my loathing of the place while it‘s full of tourists and dead during the miserable winter weather when the council closes everything so that we can‘t use it. Most of it isn’t fiction. I adopted a documentary style when the town appears in the story. Real places and street names. Anyone who read the book will be able to walk around some of those places and say; “I read about this!” Only the Bird of Paradise lap dancing club is fictional. But that’s based on a mixture of several places that do exist. Under the glitter it’s all a bit seedy and tarnished. I didn’t set about making Blackpool appeal to the readers, I tried to let them feel what I feel about it. It’s the place I live. Not a place I like. A necessary evil. (Because it’s where my day job is.) I think that shines through in the writing. It’s not a book you’d give to someone to persuade them to come here. I don’t think the tourism board are using my work to promote the place - though one hotelier is!

Ashley Lister: According to your Amazon page, you’ve been published in: “crime, erotica, speculative fiction, western, supernatural mystery and poetry and have resolved never to be pigeonholed.”  What is that makes you shy away from the prospect of being pigeonholed?  And which genres do you intend to approach next to prevent the risk of this happening?

Tracey Shellito: Someone’s done their research! Yes, I have an Amazon Author Page, and (probably rather pretentiously) it does say that. I don’t think of it as shying away so much as a refusal to be defined as a writer of only one genre. I have all these ideas running through my head which don’t necessarily fit in with whatever the last thing was that I wrote! If you get stuck in a rut with just one kind of fiction it’s really difficult to have editors and fans take you seriously writing anything else. So far I’ve managed to push the boundaries and find acceptance in most of the above categories, my fans seem to have come with me and I’ve added new ones with each different thing I write. That’s great, and not something I was certain would happen. From a purely financial point of view, you can’t afford to be a master of only one trade anymore. You might love writing science fiction, but that may not be what is selling. While we’d all love to just write only what we want, if it’s a narrow field you might never see anything but rejection slips. Sometimes you have to diversify in order to make any money. Let’s face it, if all I wanted to do was see my work in print I could pay a vanity publisher. Like it or not, writing is a  business, no matter how much we enjoy what we do. And you have to enjoy it to keep on doing it. I have honestly no clue what I’ll tackle next just not chick-lit or literary fiction. I’m pulp fiction and b-movie entertainment all the way.

Ashley Lister: I’ve read and enjoyed "Mind Games."  It’s a story about an empath and a telepath in a dystopian future.  The imagery is stark and literate.  The story is complex but not complicated.  The two central characters are from well beyond the realm of the normal reader’s experience, yet you’ve managed to make them appear human and realistic.  How did you go about humanising characters with these special abilities?

Tracey Shellito: Thanks for the compliment! This was a story I just woke up with in my head one morning and wrote down wholesale. (I told you I have a lot of weird shit running through my head, if I’m allowed to say that?) There was never any conscious decision about what the main protagonists would be like, they just sprung into being fully formed. When I came to read it back after I’d got it down and start the editing and refining process I realised that I’d just written them as ordinary people with… additions. Additions which -  admittedly - take them beyond the normal. But people just like you and I. Who throw up at the idea of being inside a murderer’s twisted thoughts. Or who vividly remember their childhood baby food as a comforter. Who are phobic about open spaces. But sanguine about who and what they are because they can’t change any of that, except in small ways. Little rebellions. Exactly as we all do every day with the bits of ourselves and our lives that we don’t like. I think that made them easy to identify with, even while they are living a life so different from our experiences.

Ashley Lister: I understand that, aside from being a prolific author, you also hold down a job working in the civil service.  How do you find time to work in regular employment and write?  Do you find that your day-to-day work influences your fiction?

Tracey Shellito: How do I do a day job and write? Easy, I have no social life and I don’t sleep! Seriously, you know yourself how time consuming keeping up the websites, blogging and then actually writing, editing (and mentoring protégés) can be. Somehow along with all that I work 37 hours a week, spend around another 28 hours a week computer gaming (Mass Effect 2 and Splinter Cell: Conviction most recently) at least an hour and a half every weekday reading, catch maybe an hour of TV every other night… It all adds up. I suppose it helps that I’m basically an insomniac. But every so often I end up drinking a can of Rock Star (energy drink) to get me through the working day then crash for ten hours the next night before I start the cycle all over again. And in answer to the second part of your question, yes, my day job does have a certain amount of influence on what I write. I’ve worked in the financial sector for the better part of the last 20 years - in one of the few institutions not hurt by the banking crisis - it keeps you politically and socially aware. And my current post is hardly a happy one (I’m working in a death claims department) so in order not be let the job get you down you find ways to think your own happy thoughts. I’m just the exception to most of the other folk in that I put mine down on paper and sell them afterwards. So even if I’m not utilizing the quirky behaviour of somebody I work with in my next character, or adding unusual names from our clients to my ‘names bible’ list to be recombined with something else to employ at a later date, I’m actively forcing myself not to get depressed by the work I’m doing by taking some flight of fancy that will become the next story. (And still getting 196% output. What can I say, I’m the classic over achiever. Me and the Energiser Bunny have a lot in common.)       

Ashley Lister: What advice would you give to any aspiring writers reading this interview?

Tracey Shellito: Write what you know, then twist it 45 degrees, it’ll make a great story. Get a completely unrelated person to read your work, one who hates that genre. They’ll be the harshest critic you’ll ever have and you’ll be prepared for anything the industry throws at you later. Develop a thick skin early on if you want to get anywhere in this business. Listen to what your reader says and adapt your work accordingly. Don’t be precious about it. It’s not the Holy Grail. Re-write until it’s right! You’ve got a word processor, hack that beautiful (but unnecessary) piece of prose out and paste it in another file. You can always use it somewhere else another day. Read endlessly. Know your market then you won’t get rejected because you sent Cyber Punk to a Steam Punk anthology! Be prepared to change and adapt anything whether it be the language you employ, the gadgets you’ve incorporated, or the title you laboured for hours to choose. Do you want to sell this work or don’t you? It won’t change the basic core of the story and it might make it even better. And when you’re rich and famous if you want to go back and release it the way it was you can - if you can stand it read it again - you‘ll be surprised how much you‘ve grown up and improved. Once you’ve got the basics of grammar, punctuation, spelling and sentence construction down and have something interesting to say, writing the story is easy. Selling it is hard. Brutal even. So my final advice would be never give up.

Ashley Lister: What projects are you currently working on? And where can readers go if they want to find out more about your work?

Tracey Shellito: I’m currently having a break from writing to edit some of my longer works (a werewolf novel and the sequels and prequels to Personal Protection) while I review some books for Lethe Press. Readers can find out about my latest works on my Live Journal blog which is now being syndicated on Amazon and for links to this, latest interviews, some short free fiction and even some photographs of the covers and me (god forbid!) please visit my website:

Ashley Lister
September 2010

"Between the Lines" © 2010 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

About the Author:  Ashley Lister is a UK author responsible for more than two-dozen erotic novels written under a variety of pseudonyms. His most recent work, Swingers: True Confessions from Today's Modern Swinging Scene (Virgin Books; ISBN: 0753511355), a non-fiction book recounting the exploits of UK swingers, is his first title published under his own name.
Ashley's non-fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines, including Forum, Chapter & Verse and The International Journal of Erotica.  Nexus, Chimera and Silver Moon have published his full-length fiction, with shorter stories appearing in anthologies edited by Maxim Jakubowski, Rachel Kramer Bussel and Mitzi Szereto.  He is very proud to be a regular contributor to ERWA.
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