Friday, 13 February 2015

Q&A with Zanna MacKenzie

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1.    Did you always dream of being a writer?

Yes, I did. As a child I used to dream of being a journalist and I’d chop up my mum’s magazines and paste bits into a scrap book, making my own version of a newspaper or magazine! When I was in my final year at school I wanted to be a journalist but realised I didn’t have the personality for it! My career advisor said you needed to be pushy, persistent and outgoing to be a journalist and I’m definitely not! I ended up working in the travel industry (my next favourite career option) but eventually the writing bug reared its head again and I gradually became involved in researching, writing and compiling travel brochures. Then I started writing freelance articles and short stories and eventually started writing novels.  I think writing has always been a part of me.

2.    You are doing self-publishing, what does it include?

I was lucky enough to get my first three novels published by traditional publishers and that has been wonderful. However I soon learned that there is just as much (if not more!) work involved once a book is published. It has been a very steep learning curve regarding the promotional side of things and, as I’m a very shy person, self-promotion of my books has not come easily (and still doesn’t!).  I’ve discovered there are some promotional opportunities which are available to self-published authors which are not available via publishers. This is just the way of the highly competitive book market these days. This was behind my decision to self-publish my new series of books.  The overall process is much the same as working with a publisher. The same editing, proofing, the same high standards have to be upheld.  As I can be a bit of a control freak I’ve discovered I actually quite like being in control of the whole publishing process!!

3.    You wrote a series of chicklit-type mysteries, the first book is called And The Earth Moved, what is it about?  

     The books are each stand alone stories but they are all based on an agency called the CCIA – the Celebrity Crimes Investigation Agency.  The main character is called Amber. She’s a part-time barmaid and part-time newspaper admin assitant. Her duties at the local newspaper include making up the horoscopes under the name of Madam Zamber! Her one claim to fame is that she dated heartthrob actor Ennis McKarthy, but it was before he was famous, back when they were at university together.  Since then they have remained friends. When Ennis‘ brother Joel is found dead in mysterious circumstances, Amber becomes involved in trying to solve the murder mystery.  Firstly, she has to try and convince CCIA agent Charlie (who has been assigned to the case) that she’s going to be a help not an hindrance in solving the crime! The book combines romantic comedy with celebrity murder mystery.

4.    Can you tell us more about the second book in the series?

I’d love to. The second book in the series is called Precious and the murder mystery to solve this time revolves around a pop star who has recently quit his band.  His body is washed up on a beach on a remote Scottish island and CCIA agents are sent to figure out what happened. It’s not long before they discover the former pop star has been keeping lots of secrets and one of those secrets will lead them to the answer of why he was murdered.  Though the stories have a murder mystery element to the plot they aren’t heavy going or dark at all. They fall very much in the chicklit cozy mystery reading genre – there’s no violence or gore! They’re romantic comedies with a celebrity murder mystery to solve.

5.    What was your inspiration for the series?

I love reading books in the chicklit mystery genre –authors like Gemma Halliday (Spying in Heels series), Kate Johnson (I adore her Sophie Green Mysteries), Sibel Hodge (Amber Fox Mysteries) and Camilla Chafer (Lexie Graves Mysteries). From there I thought I’d like to try writing in this subgenre of romance myself so I was inspired to invent Charlie and Amber. Everyone has heard of the CIA so I decided I wanted to create an agency with a similar name but which deals solely with celebrity crime cases – and the CCIA was born. The books just grew from there. I had loads of ideas for plots – celebrity crime offers such a huge range of possibilities, exciting locations and the chance for the characters (and the readers) to escape into the world of fame and fortune, red carpet film premieres, the whole celebrity lifestyles thing. The books are great fun to write because I get to (mentally anyway!) escape into that world too!

6.    If You Only Knew was published last year, tell us more about the story.   

     The book is about trust and letting go of your past. It’s essentially a love triangle. Faith has sworn off relationships. Then Zane arrives in town and she finds him rather distracting. Zane’s not looking for a relationship after what he’s been through.  His focus is on his new business – an extreme sports centre. But he is distracted by Faith. A friendship begins… which they both realise, despite their fears, may develop into something more.  Then Matt arrives on the scene. He’s Zane’s best friend and business partner. He’s also Faith’s first love. With Zane keeping secrets and Matt up to no good Faith’s soon reminded why letting a man into her life is asking for trouble. But she can’t help wondering if one of them could turn out to be the love of her life…

7.    Where and when do you write your stories?

Anywhere and everywhere! I write in a notebook as well as straight to a computer. Ideas for scenes pop into my head all the time.

8.    What do you do and enjoy when you’re not writing?

     Spending time with my husband and taking our 3 dogs for long country walks. I also love gardening and am in the middle of revamping our back garden – again! Of course, I also love reading.

9.    If you could switch places with a characters from a book, who would it be and why?

     Oooh, tricky question. I’d be torn between being Amber in my new chicklit mysteries and being Faith in my novel If You Only Knew.  The character of Amber appeals because I was always a tom boy as a child and spent playtime racing around pretending to be Purdey from The Avengers (showing my age here!). Faith appeals because I’m very much an outdoorsy person, just like she is!

10.  How would you describe your style of writing?

I like to write books which have drama and romance mixed with comedy, nothing too heavy going.  I’m a bit of an impatient person and like books that I’m writing (and reading!) to whiz along so I’d say I don’t go in for writing lengthy descriptive scenes of people or places. I hope I manage to strike the right balance between giving enough information about a place or character without slowing the pace of the story.

11. Another one of your books is called How Do You Spell Love, what is it about?

     How Do You Spell Love? is a little different from my other books because there is a magical theme to it.  The book is about two women – Kat and Summer – and their disastrous love lives. Summer – a modern witch who only uses her magic for good – breaks her number one rule when, in desperation, she performs a lunar love spell to try to help but then she begins to wonder if she might have actually made everything worse instead! The book encompasses a whole range of issues, from friendship and relationships to betrayal and questioning what you REALLY want out of life and who you want to share it with. Again, it’s a mix of comedy, drama and romance but this time mixed with friendship and magic.

12.  What do you enjoy most about writing?

I get VERY excited about creating characters and the world they live in. Then I get to spend months escaping into their world and telling their stories. Writing is, for me, the best job in the world. I feel as though the characters are all my friends!

13.  Imagine If You Only Knew would be turned into a movie, who would you cast for the main characters?

Well, in the book Zane mentions how he thinks Faith reminds him of the actress Emily Blunt, so I’d have to choose Emily to play Faith.  I always pictured Matt as looking like Ryan Gosling, so that would have to be the actor for him. As for Zane, well… maybe the hunky rugged actor Eddie Cibrian.

14. Tell us about your book The Love Programme and it’s prequel Back To Square One.

The Love Programme was my first book. It tells the story of Lucy, a very confused young woman.  Lucy’s childhood sweetheart Marcus walks out on his wedding to someone else and tells everyone it’s because he’s still in love with Lucy – even though he and Lucy broke up a long time ago.

Having people think she was carrying on with someone else’s husband-to-be makes Lucy the talk of the town – and not in a good way!  Lucy knows she’s innocent but people aren’t interested in hearing the truth. Even her boss wants to get rid of her –claiming she’s putting off the customers at the travel agency!

The only thing for it is to get out of town for a while and, thankfully, fate seems to agree. As a last minute stand-in contestant on a reality TV series about love, Lucy ends up staying in a gorgeous Scottish castle where the programme is being filmed.

Marcus tries to track her down in an attempt to rekindle their former romance and Lucy finds herself questioning her life and her choices - as well as developing confusing feelings for the castle’s laird, a man she’s told is definitely not part of the Love Programme and very much off limits.

Lucy needs to figure out what (and who) she wants in her life – and fast!

15.  Coffee or tea?   

     Herbal tea. I’ve never liked coffee to drink but love coffee flavoured cakes and desserts – strange, I know! I don’t like the taste of regular tea either but I do love mint and ginger teas.

16.  Paperback or e-reader? 

     Less than a year ago I would have said paperback, definitely. I was very much a ‘proper’ book person. Then, last February, I ‘gave in’ and got a Kindle because there were so many wonderful books I wanted to read which were only available as ebooks. I was convinced I would hate reading on an ereader and not having a ‘proper book’ in my hands. I was stunned when the complete opposite happened and I fell in love with my Kindle.

17.  Mountains or the sea? 

     Ooooh, tricky one this. My husband and I used to go hill walking in the Lake District and Scotland for every holiday we had. We loved being in the hills and mountains and stopping for a picnic on the tops of them before making our way back down. Then we got a dog. And another dog. The rocky paths up and down mountains were not paw-friendly so we switched to beach holidays instead! So I’d say I love mountains and coast but these days it’s mainly the coast we head to when we get chance. Though we live as far as it is possible to from the coast in England, so trips to the coast don’t happen very often these days.

18.  Summer or winter? 

     I used to be a winter person because I don’t cope very well in hot sunny weather. I can’t expose my skin at all to summer sun, I always have to stay covered up, because I’m very fair skinned and immediately get itchy and come out in heat rash if my skin sees the sun for a second! I spent my childhood covered in pink calamine lotion to cover all my heat rash!  These days though I’d probably lean more towards choosing summer, simply because I prefer the longer hours of daylight which means we can walk the dogs in the evenings and I can spend a blissful hour in the garden after the working day, just pottering and enjoying the plants and flowers. Even if I have to be dressed in trousers and long sleeved tops, plus a hat!

19.  Sweet or salty? 

     Probably salty. My favourite treat food is cheese, crackers and crisps!

And The Earth Moved
Amber Reed CCIA Mystery Book One

Tagline - “Romantic comedy meets celebrity murder mystery”
Short blurb – Can a barmaid convince a secret agent she can help him solve a celebrity murder mystery?

Book Blurb:
Amber’s making up the horoscopes for the local paper and wishing for some excitement in her life when she gets a phone call offering her just that. It could change her life forever and plunge her into a world where she’s quickly (and scarily) out of her depth.
The call? Heartthrob actor Ennis McKarthy, her old uni boyfriend, begs her for a favour. His brother Joel has been found is dead - in very suspicious circumstances.
Desperate to keep the story out of the newspapers and solve the mystery of his brother’s death as fast as possible, Ennis has called in the specialists in the shape of the CCIA. The Celebrity Crimes Investigation Agency has just the man for the job – their top agent Charlie Huxton.
But Ennis, stalked by journalists and paparazzi, doesn’t trust a stranger to handle the case on his own and keep quiet about what he might discover so he pleads with Amber, wanting her to shadow Charlie throughout the investigation.
Much to Amber’s surprise Charlie eventually agrees, leaving her wondering why. What’s he up to?
Charlie and Amber delve into Joel’s death and soon have their hands full with questioning potential suspects and the victim’s irate ex-girlfriend. Then they discover they’re battling something far more dangerous than they could ever have expected…and it’s not just their growing attraction for each other.
Maybe Amber’s life is about to get too exciting…

Find the book on Amazon UK

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“What kind of excitement are Gemini’s going to have this week?” I ponder, tapping my fingers against the keyboard.
I’m a third of the way through making up the horoscopes for this week’s local paper. Aries are going to get news of a fantastic job opportunity. Capricorns will receive some kind of windfall. But what about Gemini? I always like to give my Madam Zamber horoscope column an upbeat feel – after all, nobody reads their star signs to get depressed right?
My fingers hover over the computer keys as I debate on Gemini’s fate. I’m a Gemini so this one better be especially good; it’s been a rough week.
My phone, nestled somewhere in the depths of my bag, starts playing a chart tune at full volume. When I eventually find it I check the caller display and see Ennis’ name.
Ennis and I haven’t spoken for a while but I know he came home last week after he’d finished working on his latest movie, he sent me a text. He probably wants to meet for a coffee and a catch up. It’s strange; to me Ennis is, well, just Ennis. I don’t think of him as a heartthrob actor, just my ex, my university boyfriend, who I meet up with for a chat whenever he’s in Palstone.
Time for a little break from the horoscopes. I hit the answer button.
“Hi, how’s things?” I ask, leaning back in my chair.
There’s nothing but silence on the other end of the line.
“Ennis?” I sit up, instantly concerned. “Are you there? Is something wrong?”
His voice is so quiet I can barely hear him. “Joel’s dead,” he says.
“What?” I shout, leaping to my feet and earning myself a look of curiosity from the other two members of staff at The Palstone Courier.  I lower my voice. “How? What happened?”
“We don’t know yet,” he replies, his voice heavy with emotion. “But the police are saying he died in suspicious circumstances.”
I gulp. “You mean murder?”
“Look, Amber can you please come over?” Ennis says. “Now? Please? I need to ask you a huge favour.”
I grab my jacket and bag. “On my way.”

Find the book on Amazon UK

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Author bio:
Zanna Mackenzie lives on the Derbyshire/Leicestershire border with her husband, 4 dogs, a vegetable patch that’s home to far too many weeds and an ever expanding library of books waiting to be read.
Being a freelance writer and editor of business publications is her ‘day job’ but, at every opportunity, she can be found scribbling down notes on scenes for whatever novel she’s working on. She loves it when the characters in her novels take on minds of their own and start deviating from the original plot!
Find out more about Zanna on her blog, on Twitter via @ZannaMacKenzie or on Facebook at

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