Thursday 25 June 2015

Indie Spotlight: Siobhan Daiko

Indie Spotlight is our monthly column on self-publishing. This month our new indie correspondent Siobhan Daiko introduces herself, and talks about her own writing.

I was born in Hong Kong, but moved to the UK in the early 80s. I’ve worked in the City of London, I once ran a post office-cum-bed and breakfast in rural England, and more recently I taught modern foreign languages in a Welsh high school. I now live with my husband in the Veneto region of Northern Italy, where I spend my time writing, researching historical characters, and enjoying la dolce vita.

My most recently published novel, The Orchid Tree, is an historical romance.  Fifteen year-old Kate Wolseley lives a rarefied life of wealth and privilege in the Hong Kong expatriate community. But when the Japanese take over the colony in December 1941, she’s interned in squalid Stanley Camp with her parents. Forty miles away, in Macau, Sofia Rodrigues’ suspicions are aroused when her father invites a Japanese family to dinner, an event which leads to a breach between Sofia and her controlling half-brother, Leo. Enduring cramped conditions, humiliation, disease, and starvation, Kate befriends seventeen year-old Charles, who’s half Chinese, and they give their hearts to each other under the orchid tree. But can their love survive the war? In December 1948, Kate returns to Hong Kong, determined to put the past behind her. Sofia dreams of leaving Macau and starting a new life, and she won’t let anyone, not even Leo, stop her. A young Englishman, James, becomes the link between Kate and Sofia. The communist-nationalist struggle in China spills over into the colony, catapulting the protagonists into the turmoil with disastrous consequences.

I was privileged to have grown up in the ex-colony during the post-war era, and I hope that my personal experience of a time and place which no longer exists has lent an authenticity to my writing. The Orchid Tree is, however, a work of fiction. All the characters are products of my imagination. Still, it was while I was researching my grandparents’ World War II experiences in Hong Kong that the idea for the novel first came to me. When my grandparents were finally liberated from internment, they were so thin they resembled walking skeletons, and both died relatively young from post-starvation-related illnesses. Their lives were similar to Henry's and Flora's, Kate’s parents, in my novel, in that they lived on the Peak in a house with nine servants and shared some of the colonial attitudes of my expatriate characters, but that’s as far as the similarities go.

By 2014, I’d taken early-retirement, and I had moved with my husband and two cats to Italy. I’d already written several drafts of The Orchid Tree, and I’d started submitting it to traditional publishing houses. After the book had been rejected a few times, I heard about a fantastic freelance editor, John Hudspith, who helped me get it into shape. A small publisher in Edinburgh then asked for the full manuscript, and I waited, and waited, and waited for their decision while I wrote my next novel, Lady of Asolo, a time-slip historical romance set in the area where I now live. I’m definitely inspired by locations that touch my heart!

A couple of nudges to the publisher in Edinburgh produced the same response: The Orchid Tree was still under consideration. Rapidly losing the will to live, I decided not to submit Lady of Asolo anywhere. I set up Fragrant Publishing to publish my fragrant books, found a fantastic cover designer, JD Smith, organised a Facebook launch party, learnt how to format for Kindle and Create Space, and started my self-publishing journey.

Becoming an indie author, for me, was definitely the right decision. So far, I’ve loved everything about the self-publishing experience. Publishing Lady of Asolo taught me a lot about the process, which I could use when I withdrew my submission from the Edinburgh publisher and launched The Orchid Tree myself. And I’m still learning. There are so many opportunities out there for indies. The best thing I did was to have my work properly edited and to commission a professional cover design. It was wonderful to have control of that and to use my father Douglas Bland's paintings on the covers of my first two books.

I still have to get to grips with marketing, but my books are selling and it’s great to log onto my Create Space and Amazon Kindle Direct accounts to check their progress, and even better to get a monthly royalty payment. Lady of Asolo is being translated into Italian and German via Babelcube. The Orchid Tree has been produced as an audio-book via Audiobook Creation Exchange, narrated by the amazing Gill Hoodless. And, just last week, I heard that it has been assigned to a team by Fiberead for translation into Chinese.

My next project is a series of erotic historical novellas, inspired by the lives of famous courtesans. The first Veronica Courtesan is based on the life of Veronica Franco, one of the most talented courtesans in 16th Century Venice, another of my favourite places. It will be launched on 2nd July.

Long-term, I’d like to write a sequel to The Orchid Tree. Then, perhaps, another historical romance. Sometimes, I wish there were more hours in the day…