How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in your book?
Honestly, I think probably more than I realise!
Vanessa has my eyes and some other physical characteristics; many of my female characters share some of my personality traits…but none of the characters are based on me. They all have their own unique identities. Caitlin is my polar opposite in looks, but her disposition…well, I’d like to hope I’d have the strength to survive as she did.
How much of a story did you have in mind before you started writing?
Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer was precisely what it says in the title – a nightmare I woke up from. I wrote it down, just because it wouldn’t get out of my head and I kept having more nightmares, all along the same theme, but I wasn’t me in the dreams – I was Caitlin. I found myself rehashing the remembered dreams during the day, writing them up and trying to put them into a coherent sequence. I was twelve.
Over the last nineteen years, the story took shape as I had more nightmares, sometimes years apart. The final scene was a dream from two years ago, after a gap of quite some time.
So…when I started writing this book, I had no idea it was a story, let alone a trilogy of novels I’d one day publish.
Can you tell us what genre you write?
No, I can’t, as I don’t write for a particular genre and then I’m left scratching my head, trying to work out what box to slot my stories into – no easy feat. Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer has been described as many things, from teen fiction to romantic suspense to international crime fiction to horror thriller.
If this wasn’t trouble enough, my other series is mermaid fiction for adults, not teenagers. If trying to stuff Caitlin into a box is hard, try a pack of mermaids…
How do you cope with writer’s block?
I smile and nod sympathetically, as it’s something I’ve only ever heard about. Like snow at Christmas, given I live in Australia.
I get what I’d like to call writer’s burn – I write and write and write, until I feel so drained I just can’t channel inspiration any more. My arms ache from my fingertips to my shoulders and I know the torrent will start again if I let it, but I need to sleep, recharge and start afresh in the morning. The morning will inevitably start with a vivid scene at around 5 am which I absolutely have to write and the waves roll in again. I’ve written ten thousand words in a day before – the draft short story that is now Water and Fire.
I have heard that alcohol helps with writer’s block, though.
How do you develop and differentiate your characters?
My characters ambush me in the early hours of the morning, invade my head and refuse to leave until I’ve witnessed their entire life story, or at least the highlights. It’s getting pretty crowded in there, as none of them have left yet. Sometimes I can faintly hear them battling it out for supremacy and my attention, as I only listen to one of them at a time.
Caitlin is fairly calm and usually waits ’til the others are occupied to slip past them, unnoticed. When Nathan realises she’s disappeared, he enters the fray with a ferocity that invariably means he wins, so the scene Caitlin patiently shows me often morphs into one from Nathan’s perspective. I always get hers first, though.
I don’t feel like I’ve developed any of my characters – every single one is their own, distinct person. If it’s a bloke, chances are it’s Nathan Miller or Joe Fisher. The difference between the two is that Nathan will agonise over everything, while Joe Fisher starts staring at girls’ boobs. Yes, even when they’re fully dressed. I actually don’t know for certain what either bloke looks like, either.
The girls…are all different. Marina is always angry. Vanessa is calm and certain – I’d compare her to a smooth ocean where currents run deep. Belinda is torn between love and duty, but her choices leave her cold. Laila is a wimpy pseudo-heroine like you wouldn’t believe. Caitlin…oh, she’s the one who makes me cry. She’s so incredibly strong, but when she breaks – if only for a moment – the flood of emotion she unleashes is just incredible.
To me, my characters are people who moved into my head and permit me to view their lives through their heads. It’s like differentiating between different real people.
Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?
My plot evolves scene by scene and I only focus on one story at a time, if I can. That means that I might have up to a dozen vague outlines for stories (think a couple of sentences or paragraphs – just a vague description of an idea with key points and scenes), but I only allow myself to write one until I hit the writer’s burn point. The next morning, I may have a dozen more scenes in my head for that book…or I might wake with a completely new idea that has to be vaguely outlined so I can put it away for later. Most of my books are written as month-long marathons – just focussing on one and letting the inspiration cascade into my head and out through my fingers into the PC.
Each book is a series of scenes to me, which are slotted into the story as they feel appropriate. I start with the beginning and end, with some vague scenes in the middle, so it’s like piecing together a jigsaw, really.
Oh…and each book has a soundtrack. Specific songs for particular characters and scenes. I’m embarrassed to say that one scene in Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer has four songs to it – two Powderfinger songs, Queen’s classic Bohemian Rhapsody and a One Direction song. I don’t have to like the music for it to fit the scene – but it has to be right.
How (or when) do you decide that you are finished writing a story?
I would say when it has no gaps that I can see, as I don’t sit down to seriously write a story unless I know where it ends, or at least I think I do. When I think it’s at about 90%, I read through the draft and start pointing out the gaps I see in it, then slotting in scenes where these need to go. Sometimes they get very specific details for me to flesh out; sometimes they’re as vague as “Something with Belinda,” or “Caitlin in the toilet.” For the record, toilet and bathroom scenes in Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer are particularly significant.
I work with beta readers on all my books, so once I’m happy that the story hangs together well and I’ve edited it so it’s readable, the beta readers get a go. In Ocean’s Infiltrator in particular, I had to write in two completely new scenes based on their comments – my story wasn’t as finished as I’d thought.
Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer is different in that I know there are distinct gaps, owing to the first person perspective of Nathan. You only know what he does, so when he’s confused, it’s no surprise that it’s hard to tell what’s going on. The gaps are filled by Caitlin – but her perspective isn’t in this book. Hers is in Necessary Evil of Nathan Miller, the second book of the series.
Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp?
My stories are meant to entertain, not contain some deep, moralistic lessons. The only message I definitely know I’d like to convey is that my characters and their lives are realistic. If you’re after some wimpy pseudo-heroine who’s meant to be incredibly strong, but who almost faints with pleasure and her clothes magically falls off when the perfectly-sculpted young billionaire hero orders her to do something degrading – my message is clear: you won’t find those characters in my stories. I believe the reason is because it hasn’t happened to me. I draw on my own experiences and research a lot when writing. If my clothes magically fell off, you can bet I’d raise hell with the clothing manufacturer or anyone else who might be deemed responsible. As for the domineering billionaire…my reply would include some swearing and directions involving large implements being shoved into dark, surprising places. I don’t take orders too well.
I’m not saying there isn’t a place for such Cinderella-type stories – there evidently is and some writers do a brilliant job of it. I just can’t write them – for I could never do those things.
My heroes have something in common with the perfect hero. A decent body, certainly. Their flaws are simpler, though. Nathan suffers from insomnia and you see it in Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer – the less sleep he gets, the less coherent and logical is his story – he makes mistakes and misses important details.
In contrast, Joe Fisher’s backside is much admired by the mermaids in Ocean’s Gift, but he’s not the brightest light globe in the box. The man lives next door to a mermaid and all he can think about are her boobs.
Ah, sorry. Readers…grasping…perhaps I’d best leave this answer here and utter a delicate cough instead.
What are you working on right now?
At the moment, I’m writing the third book in the Nightmares Trilogy, Afterlife of Alanna Miller, which follows sequentially from the first two books and includes some interesting new twists and turns, not to mention a fair bit of research. Tasers, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, insomnia and recurring nightmares, ducklings…oh, it’s fun.
I have a few other projects in the works, including another book in my Ocean’s Gift series, Ocean’s Depths. Both this and Afterlife will be published next year, but right now, Caitlin and Nathan have my attention most completely.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
At twelve and all through high school, I dreamed of being able to publish Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer, but I envisaged my career taking all sorts of different paths. Medicine was one I seriously considered – and you can see in my stories how much time I’ve spent working in the health sector.
At what age did you discover your love of writing?
I discovered I loved story-telling when I was about six. I could spin a yarn and write it down, much to the shock of my teachers. The frightening thing is that my daughter seems to have inherited this same trait!
I started writing Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer when I was twelve and its current iteration is actually the third complete rewrite, which I started when I was fourteen on one of the school Pentium PCs.
What was the first story that you wrote?
It was something about a bay mare when I was six. I remember it being particularly violent and twenty pages long, complete with illustrations. I don’t think it’ll be a bestseller any time soon, as I can’t remember the story and can’t find the stapled booklet, either.
When were you first published? How were you discovered?
My first published book was Ocean’s Gift in 2012. This was when the most popular books were the Fifty Shades trilogy and anything to do with vampires. As mermaids summon sharks to dispose of any Dom who even suggests BDSM and they know vampires don’t exist, I knew I’d have a hard time selling the book to a traditional publisher. Yet, if the book was worth publishing, even as a midlist title, then I felt it was worth the risk to sink a little of my own money into the project, instead of asking a publisher to do so.
I paid for editing services and a graphic designer for the cover, seeing it as either an investment or an interesting hobby, depending on how popular it was. I didn’t expect it to be a bestseller – I aspired to see a stranger reading it on the train.
My success since I can attribute not to Ocean’ Gift, but to the draft of Nightmares on Wattpad, a Canadian writers site. I released the first few chapters just so that I could show someone a sample of my work that didn’t involve mermaids. I felt the story was too disturbing to publish, yet within a few short weeks, more than ten thousand people had read those few chapters – and they demanded more. Over the next four months, I took the partial draft of Nightmares and wrote furiously, piecing together not just Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer but Necessary Evil of Nathan Miller, too, as the stories are complementary. The completed first draft of Nightmares has been read by over 1.4 million people on Wattpad. Now, I’d never publish a first draft, so I worked with an editor and a team of beta readers over several months before finally publishing Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer, followed by Necessary Evil of Nathan Miller.
I’m still stunned by how successful this dark, disturbing story has been already – who’d have thought a twelve-year-old’s nightmares could captivate so many people?
What is the most difficult part of the whole writing process?
The final proofread. It’s the most mortifying part of the whole process. I poured the contents of my head into writing the book for weeks, months or years. I edited it within an inch of its life and then handed it to beta readers and editors for them to do the same. The manuscript is picked apart and put back together again, stronger than before, and formatted for ebook and print.
The cover design’s done, the page count stays the same and there is no way it needs another toilet scene. Yet I’m terrified of leaving a typo in there that I missed. So, I carefully comb through the galley copy and then the paperback proof, hoping, praying, wishing that there won’t be any typos. With so many eyes on a manuscript, there couldn’t be any, surely…
And yet, there’s always one. One I’m so horribly, mortifyingly embarrassed by that I have to fix it immediately before the book’s released.
What do you like to read?
I like to read a book I can get lost in. Ah, you’d like something more specific, in terms of genre and such?
Both fiction and nonfiction. I love history and science, so it will come as no surprise that I’m fond of science fiction, historical fiction and fantasy. I like to read any story with a decent plot and believable characters, though – whatever genre it is.
What writer influences you the most?
Margaret Atwood. I would say I aspire to her style of writing. I remember dissecting her book, The Handmaid’s Tale, in English literature at high school. Every other book we read (Shakespeare’s works were plays, not books) we picked apart minutely until the story it contained held no enjoyment for me. Atwood’s book was the opposite – the deeper you dug into the details behind the book, the richer its story became. If I could write a book that can be picked apart by clumsy high school students and still survive the experience, I would be thrilled.
If your book was made into a TV series or Movie, which actors would you like to see playing your characters?
My characters are predominantly Western Australians and we have a very specific accent, different to the rest of Australia. We’re pretty isolated here. Yet there aren’t many West Aussie actors who are well known. The only one I can think of is Sam Worthington – I could see him as Nathan Miller, but Nathan’s only twenty-four.
I will go out on a limb and say that if any of my books are made into movies, I’d be looking at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and possibly the National Institute of Dramatic Art for as-yet unknown actors who can do the character voices correctly. I’d consider Chris Hemsworth for Nathan, but only if he had the accent right.
Where can people learn more about you?
Ooh, I have a whole list of links and places people can stalk me, from my website to YouTube to Facebook.
I’ve been told I have a sexy Aussie accent, so if you’d like to judge for yourself, pick one of my YouTube videos. I do the voiceovers for my trailers and background videos, with some occasional chapter readings, too.
Sorry, those links are:
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself?
What would you like to know? Drop me a line, PM, whatever and ask!
Someone asked me once how mermaids could possibly have sex. Yes, I answered that one in descriptive detail. Surely no question can be stranger than that.
Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer
There are real monsters out there. The worst part is that they’re human.
They took her away from me.
I mumbled a protest through the haze of pain and exhaustion that had turned me into little more than a zombie. I’ll never be able to watch a zombie movie again without remembering this night, I thought.
“It’s all right – we have to move her to take care of her. She’s hurt worse than you,” I was told. “We need to treat you, too. There’s a gunshot wound in your shoulder.”
One of the hospital staff looked grim and came over. She started firing questions at me.
“I was shot.”
“A homicidal lunatic with a gun and bad aim.”
“What happened to her?”
“Looks like someone tried to kill her.”
Nathan found Caitlin on a beach covered in blood. Saving her life was just the start. Now he’s the prime suspect and he has to find out who’s really responsible. Both of their lives depend on it.
Who hurt her?
Why was he shot?
What did he promise?
Why doesn’t his story add up?
Who was the dead man on the beach?
What will she remember when she wakes up?
A tiny taste of what’s in store:
“Stay away from her, Nathan. That girl isn’t good for you.”
Stay away from her? I’d go crazy with worry in a day. “You don’t know her.”
Chris looked grim. “Neither do you. Is there anything you wouldn’t do for her?”
“Yes,” I snapped. “I wouldn’t die for her.”
Chris turned around to stare at me, her mouth hanging open.
“Do you want to know why?” I asked steadily. “I wouldn’t die for her because I wouldn’t be able to protect her any more. What if I missed one of the people who hurt her? I couldn’t take that risk. She’s too important.”
Dark, disturbing and definitely scary – Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer is the first book in Demelza Carlton’s Nightmares Trilogy.
The second book is Necessary Evil of Nathan Miller.
Demelza Carlton has always loved the ocean, but on her first snorkelling trip she found she was afraid of fish.
She has since swum with sea lions, sharks and sea cucumbers and stood on spray-drenched cliffs over a seething sea as a seven-metre cyclonic swell surged in, shattering a shipwreck below.
Sensationalist spin? No – Demelza tends to take a camera with her so she can capture and share the moment later; shipwrecks, sharks and all.
Demelza now lives in Perth, Western Australia, the shark attack capital of the world.
The Ocean’s Gift series was her first foray into fiction, followed by the Nightmares trilogy.