When I prepared my interview notes for this week’s guest Jayne Davis, I was expecting to talk about the finer points of Regency Romance fiction (which we did) and earning a living as an indie author (which we did), but experiments in artificial intelligence audio was a surprise topic. But I guess that’s typical of what’s happening now. AI’s reach is expanding into all corners of society. To be fair, though, Jayne started out as an engineer and has a fascination in how new things work and AI is another tool that she’s working with in a very successful career. In this case, she used an AI narrator for one of her audiobooks, with mixed results. You can download a sample from Bookfunnel here (you might need an account).
I asked ChatGPT to transcribe a typical episode of the Bestseller Experiment podcast. This is what it spat out (I swear, I have not tinkered with this one bit!)…
[Intro music] MARK: Hello and welcome to the Bestseller Experiment, the podcast where we discover what makes a bestselling novel and inspire you to finish your book. I’m Mark Stay, and today I’m joined by… MARKUS: Markus, hi, great to be here again. MARK: It’s great to have you here, Markus. Now, today we’re going to be talking to a fantastic guest, an author who has sold over a million copies of her books worldwide. MARKUS: Wow, that’s incredible. Who is it? MARK: It’s none other than Jane Smith. MARKUS: Oh, I love her books. This is going to be a great interview. MARK: Absolutely. So, before we get to that, Markus, how has your writing been going this week? MARKUS: Well, I’ve been struggling a bit with the second act of my current novel. It’s been tough trying to figure out how to keep the tension high without it feeling contrived. How about you, Mark? MARK: I’ve actually been working on a short story this week. It’s a bit of a departure for me, as it’s a sci-fi story, but it’s been really fun to write. MARKUS: That sounds interesting. Have you got any tips for writing sci-fi? MARK: Definitely. I think the key is to start with a strong concept. You need to have something that’s going to capture people’s imagination and make them want to keep reading. And then, once you have that, you need to really think about the world that your story is set in. The more you can make it feel real and believable, the more your readers will be invested in the story. MARKUS: That’s great advice, thanks. MARK: No problem. So, let’s get to our interview with Jane Smith. Jane, thank you so much for joining us today. JANE: It’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me. MARK: So, first of all, congratulations on selling over a million copies of your books. That’s an incredible achievement. JANE: Thank you. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, to be honest. MARK: I can imagine. So, what do you think has been the key to your success? JANE: I think it’s a combination of things. Firstly, I’ve always tried to write stories that are emotionally engaging. I want my readers to care about the characters and what happens to them. And secondly, I think it’s important to have a strong brand. When people see my name on a book, they know what to expect. MARK: That’s really interesting. How did you go about building your brand? JANE: It was a gradual process, really. I started off by writing in a particular genre, and over time I developed a style and a voice that people could recognise. And then, as my readership grew, I started to focus more on what they wanted from me. I made sure that I was delivering the kind of stories that they were looking for. MARK: That’s great advice. So, what’s next for you? Are you working on a new book at the moment? JANE: Yes, I am actually. It’s a bit of a departure for me, as it’s a historical novel. But I’m really excited about it. MARK: That sounds great. Well, we’ll be looking out for that one. Jane, thank you so much for joining us today. JANE: Thank you for having me. MARK: That’s all we have time for today. Join us next week when we’ll be speaking to another bestselling author. And remember, keep writing and never give up on your dreams. [Outro music]
Something very different on the podcast this week. I spoke to Dave Dawson who with his dad, under the guise of Dave and Derek Philpott, has been writing funny letters to pop stars about their lyrics. Their first book, Dear Mr. Kershaw, became a cult hit and the follow-up Dear Mr. Pop Star was released by Unbound Publishing to more acclaim. And now they return with a Punk edition, Grammar Free in the UK, which is raising money for the charity Crisis. A few writing tips on building a community of readers, crowdfunding and such, but mostly this is a good laugh about 80s music and punk…
Me and Mr D are in a peculiar mood in this week’s podcast. I’m recovering from a cold and he’s high on cold medication, leading to some very strange conversations about streaking… No, really. But fear not, Rosie Andrews comes to our rescue with some great insights into writing historical fiction. Her debut, The Leviathan, is face out in ever bookshop I go into these days and I think we’re seeing the beginning of superstar’s career here…
Anyone here remember Twinterviews? Or text-based book launches on Facebook? Mark Edwards does! He was pioneering online book launches long before Zoom and Streamyard, and in doing do he’s got an amazing connection with his readers and has sustained a career writing standalone thrillers and sold over 4 million copies of his books. He’s also a delightful bloke and it was a real treat to catch up with him again…
Much talk of farts in this episode of the podcast with Matt Brown, author of the splendid Compton Valance series, the Dreary Inkling School books and The Mab, a retelling of Mabinogi for children.
Matt is a former children’s TV presenter and offers some great insights into writing for children… and yes, we talk a lot about farts, Ben Elton, The Young Ones, David Williams, rejection, writing without fear and more.
Also, in the extended version of the podcast, me and Mr D get into the recent hullaballoo over editing the less progressive bits from Roald Dahl’s books. You can listen to that by popping over to Patreon and becoming a chart topper supporter.
Here’s a first for the podcast: twins! I spoke to twin brothers Zack and Michael Urlocker about their 50s noir thriller The Man from Mittelwerk, and it was refreshing to speak to a pair of writers so honestly about the ups and downs of collaboration.
The regular episode of the podcast is on all the usual providers and Youtube below… but if you’re interested in my various collaborations then do check out the extended version for our patrons as I go into working with the likes of Jon Wright and Rowan Coleman and (coming soon) my wife Claire in some depth. You can subscribe here.
So much good stuff in this week’s podcast. I got to chat with Richard Armitage about his new Audible original thriller Geneva. I think writers can learn a lot from actors in how they approach a script and develop characters, and Richard was very generous in sharing the methods he uses.
This episode also sees the return of Mr D, and in the extended version of the podcast (for subscribers) we discuss his night in Leicester Square seeing Unwelcome. If you want support and subscribe to the podcast, pop over to Patreon and become a Chart Topper supporter and you’ll get access to over 120 Deep Dives.
One of the easiest jobs I had when I was a sales rep was selling Simon Scarrow’s books to booksellers. Of course, the writing is superb, but so much of that first book, Under the Eagle, had everything it needed to become a bestselling series. A great premise, a great package, and Simon knew exactly who his readers were. Lots to absorb in this one! I was joined by guest co-presenter Julian Barr, whose own fantastical historical fiction is definitely worth checking out. Have a look here!
Peter May has this uncanny knack of peeking into the near future, writing about it, and getting it right. He did it with his novel Lockdown, which was about a SARS-like pandemic. It was rejected by all the major publishers for being unrealistic… Those same publishers clamoured to buy it when Covid changed all our lives. He’s done it again with his novel A Winter Grave, which is set in a near future that’s been ravaged by climate change.
If this all sounds a bit grim, don’t worry. Me and my guest co-presenter Caimh McDonnell do a good job of lowering the tone with some grounded writing advice. And this is the episode where I reveal why Caimh is thanked in the credits of Unwelcome.
Oh, and if you’re watching the Youtube version, have fun spotting the moments where my internet dropped out and either me or Caimh have baffled expressions on our faces…