Frances Kay Brown

I’d like to introduce you to the fifty-ninth interviewee in my ‘Meet the Author’ series. She is Frances Kay, who also writes as Pan Zador.

Hi, Frances! Welcome to Susan Finlay Writes blog site. Can you tell us a bit about your background as a writer?

I started making stories of my own pretty much as soon as I could read [aged 3 and a half]. I press-ganged my little brother into appearing in plays by the time I was five [performed for parents and anyone who was in the house at the time]. The first book took a little longer – I was 12, and tapping away on a very old typewriter my parents gave me for my birthday. It was so heavy I couldn’t lift it. And that book, alas, never saw the light of day.

Your novel, Micka, was published by Picador in July, 2010. It was recently the runner-up for the Society of Authors’ McKitterick Prize, and featured on BBC Radio4: A GOOD READ. Can you tell us about the book? What inspired you to write it?

Micka is a composite of so many boys – and girls – I met when I was working with travellers [gypsies] in Scotland and the West Midlands, and living in the roughest, most neglected council estates in Newcastle on Tyne [this was in the seventies]. His friend, Laurie, whose parents are neglectful and harmful in a different way, is more a product of imagination.

What inspired this book is my lifelong passion to give a voice to those who are never heard. Children – especially difficult, inarticulate children born into poverty and neglect – would be in this group.

But there’s another artistic reason why I wrote it. I wanted to try something challenging, to write a novel only in the voices of the two very different boys. They alone tell the story, but of course, they are only ten, so they see things in their own way. I felt I got right inside their heads to reveal their lives, which are heartbreaking.

You have also written for theatre, and your most recent play is ‘With My Bare Hands’. Please tell us about the play and about your career in theatre.

I’m just a happy hack! If I’m commissioned to write a play, the play springs into life. A friend asked me to write a one man show based on a mediaeval document written by an Irish Franciscan friar about his journey in the footsteps of St. Francis to the Holy Land. I knew absolutely nothing about the subject or the period, but with superb research backup from two university lecturers I educated myself very quickly. The show is a human, humorous, tragic story, which anyone, religious or not, will resonate with. I’m working on another play which will premiere in October – again, the subject was given to me and I’m now deeply into it!

You used to be the voice and puppet of Cosmo in BBC TV’s ‘You and Me’ programme. That’s fascinating. How did you get that job? Please tell us more.

I was working on Southwold beach in England with my partner, doing our own shows twice a day. Someone from London who worked in the BBC saw the show and we were invited to audition. I think the producer liked the voice I chose – a growly Geordie accent – it certainly wasn’t my puppeteering! I adored being Cosmo, and the programme gave me my first chance to write TV scripts.

Another interesting surprise is that you also write under the name Pan Zador. What prompted you to do that?

Well, it was a mad joke! I’d already had a serious, dark piece of literary fiction published. And the romance couldn’t be more different. So I needed two selves. And when I sent off the manuscript, I picked that name for its exotic glamour…

Your first book written as Pan Zador is, Act of Love, a contemporary romance published in April, 2013 by Crimson Romance. Can you tell us about the book?

It’s a romance with an unashamedly happy ending set in theatre, which gave me lots of opportunity to have huge emotional scenes [meat and drink to actors in real life!]. I drew on my experience of – ooh, let me see – let’s say more than thirty years in theatre as an actor, writer and director. Pan’s book has an idealistic young heroine and her treatment of sex is very, very gentle.

Pan herself is a larger than life character who seems to be taking over my writing ego! I’ll give you a link below to an online magazine where you’ll see what I mean…

Your second Pan Zador book is about to be released. Is it a rewrite of Thomas Hardy’s novel, Far From the Madding Crowd? How is it different? Where did you get the idea?

This was in response to a call from my editor at Crimson Romance for ‘sexed-up’ classics for a new edition to be called ‘Wild and Wanton.’ Pan loved the idea of trying to write in exactly the same style and period as a classic nineteenth century novelist. Far From the Madding Crowd immediately sprang to mind, as it is a seething hotbed of sexual longing, frustration and violently sensual impulses, all of which Hardy had to merely hint at, because of the prudish restraints of his editor. Not like mine! Who urged me all along to ‘put more sex scenes in’. Pan had a lovely time – as myself, I’m not at all approving of sexing up classics…. So you see what I mean about the battle of my two selves.

You’ve been published by two publishers. What is that like? What has your experience with your publishers been like? Is it everything you’d hoped for?

Well, getting Micka accepted by Picador was a massive thrill. I was on air for days. And I’d recently read a self help book about how to get published which said that publishers like ‘low maintenance, high output’ writers, so I resolved to be one of those. I agreed to pretty well everything, including a cover I wouldn’t have chosen myself, and I arranged book launches and events, and Picador did get the book reviewed by the tip top UK newspapers and they all wrote fabulous reviews – The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times and lots of Irish newspapers, as I was living in Ireland when it was published. But, as my editor said six months later, ‘Sadly, these reviews did not translate into sales’.

With my second book, written by the glamorous Pan Zador, it was a great way of experiencing e-book publishing. Crimson Romance is an imprint of an enormous US media organisation, and they decided to launch with five new books a week, in different genres of romance. I didn’t expect to get much attention. I’ve had some sparkling reviews on Amazon, but no press, and it’s not possible to do book signings or a launch, so ‘Act of Love’ sank without trace. I’ve now bought some paperbacks and am giving them to friends. I’ve realised that I really, really don’t like e-books. However, Crimson Romance is worth checking out for direct submissions, if you have a novel that fits.

I loved the process of working with my editors, but alas they are only a tiny part of the team who make decisions. I wish that publishing was still about discovering wonderful writing. I wish we still had the Net Book Agreement, which used to ensure that booksellers did not undercut each other.

What is your favorite or least favorite part of writing?

Favourite is that moment when an idea pings into my head and I know I have to get out of bed and start writing.

Most unfavourite is selling the book when I’ve finished it. Definitely.

Do you have a writing routine, a special place where you go to do your writing, or a certain time of day? Do you listen to music while you write, and if so, what kind of music?

Not at all. I have an office where chaos reigns and files of past projects loom over me so I tend to go downstairs and sit on the sofa and write a bit there and a bit in bed [in my head, of course]. I never ever listen to music. Sometimes there is a lot of music in what I’m writing [plays or novels] and other tunes would get in the way. Actually, I’ve just realised that we [myself and husband, who is a musician] don’t listen to music very much anyway. Unless it’s live.

Please list any websites or social media links for yourself or your book. Thanks!

Thank you, Susan!