I was given a heads-up about the release of MA Ford‘s book, Track Limits, by a friend who’s even more fanatical about motorsport than I am, although possibly not as fanatical as Ford herself, who apparently gave up her original dreams of writing a novel for nearly twenty years in order to write about real-life racing drivers and their cars. But now she’s managed to combine the two interests, with the first of at least three motorsport romances coming up from Dreamspinner Press. So, without further ado…
DUCK CHAT: Welcome to The Good, the Bad and the Unread, Melandra, and congratulations on your novel. How does it feel seeing your first book fledge and leave the nest?
MA FORD: To tell the truth, it’s absolutely terrifying, but also very satisfying too. I never really expected to be published; I started writing this book for my own entertainment and to try to prove to myself that I could still write fiction if I tried. If it hadn’t been for encouragement and pressure from my daughter, I don’t think it would have got this far.
DC: Have all those years of writing press releases and race reports helped or hindered your writing style for fiction? What have they taught you that has helped with writing fiction?
MF: I think the press work has helped my writing style, allowing me to be clear and precise. But all these years in motorsport means that I am very much aware that every single scenario has happened sometime, somewhere to some driver or team. So it becomes difficult to feel that you can actually create anything. On re-reading the book, I worried a lot that people would think I was writing about them.
DC: We could probably swap some great motorsport stories if we sat down in a pub together. Which real-life incidents have made it into your fiction?
MF: Ah, that would be telling! I have to say I’ve tried to put the fundamentals of motorsport into my book – more of the minor details, the everyday life-at-the-track which is perhaps more humdrum than fans may suppose. Drivers being told off because they haven’t got the patches sewn on their overalls. Being late for briefings. Getting their underwear scrutineered.
DC: And are there any that sound too unlikely for you to ever include, even though they really happened? Can you tell our readers about any of them, or are your lips firmly sealed?
MF: There are a lot of stories I’d like to use… drivers escaping hospital dressed only in their hospital gowns and returning to the track, arrests in the paddock bar… but I’ve tried to be inspired by events rather than copying them directly. I doubt if any drivers will ever read this book, but I don’t want anyone thinking I’ve been basing my characters on them directly.
DC: Do you see yourself just writing about motorsport? Is there a genre (with or without cars!) that you haven’t tackled but would like to try?
MF: My initial plan many, many years ago was to write either fantasy or sci-fi, which were my first loves. My first fiction was in the Darkover fandom, and I’ve written fanfic in many different genres. I’d love to go back and write fantasy some day, but don’t know if I’ve got the patience or the skill for the kind of elaborate world-building I so admire from others.
DC: Writers often say their stories take them in surprising directions, or that dialogue flows from some unknown place. Is it the same with you? Do your characters surprise you sometimes?
MF: Not with this book, which all came together as I wanted. But many years ago, I was well into a fantasy story when one night I killed one of the characters. It took me totally by surprise and destroyed the plot. I tried to delete the chapter and carry on, but somehow, that was it. He was dead, and my story died too. It was a very strange feeling.
DC: What is the best thing about being a published romance author? What’s the most challenging?
MF: I’ll have to get back to you on that one! But it’s definitely validation that I can actually write and that people can enjoy what I’ve written. Although I never realised that just writing the book was almost the easy part – editing and all the other things involved are extremely time-consuming and difficult. I found working on the cover one of the most difficult things. The most challenging aspect is managing the sheer terror in thinking that the book is out there and that anyone could read it.
DC: If you were a book, what would your blurb be?
MF: If a number of racing drivers have gone ‘from virtual to reality’, Melandra has taken the opposite route, going from fact to fiction. After nearly twenty years working in motorsport in a variety of positions, she has finally managed to write the novel of which she was dreaming before the first time she even went to a circuit.
Away from the track she lives in Europe, loves reading and driving, dislikes the snow, and dreams of moving closer to the sea.
DC: What would your “voice’s” tagline be?
MF: GT racing. Where drivers come ready-slashed.
DC: What is sure to distract you from sitting down and working/writing?
MF: The cat! Some days I seem to spend most of my time going up and down the stairs to let him in or out, feed him… I can ignore most things (the piles of ironing, housework, etc.) but not the looks and meows from a very determined cat.
DC: Which fictional character would you like to hang out with?
MF: Good question, and one I find difficult to answer, as I find it difficult to imagine getting along with any of the characters I adore – or rather, I can’t imagine them having interest in hanging out with me!
To answer it a different way… I love the ‘Tigers and Devils’ books by Sean Kennedy. And I’d like my characters, Mark and Jordan, to meet up with Simon and Declan, possibly being interviewed on Simon’s TV show.
DC: What advice would you give to your younger self?
MF: Ah, difficult. ‘Don’t panic, don’t worry. You’ll get there eventually’: I wanted to go into sports journalism, but had to abandon my hopes due to parental pressure. I got there in the end, and I can’t help wondering what my father would have thought of all I achieved.
DC: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever learned by Googling your name?
MF: I think the strangest thing is that despite nearly twenty years working in motorsport, fanfic I wrote prior to that is higher on the list.
DC: What book would you like to read again for the first time?
MF: Either Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault or The Catch Trap by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Both books I’ve read countless times and which, in different ways, changed my life. I’d love to recapture the feelings I had on reading them for the first time.
DC: What romance book would you recommend our readers pick up during their next bookstore run?
MF: I don’t know about romance, but the books I’ve loved recently include ME Scott‘s Death by Silver and The Magpie Lord by KJ Charles. I also really enjoyed The Late Scholar by Jill Paton Walsh, which is the latest of her books based on the Dorothy L. Sayers characters, and Raising Steam by Terry Prachett. In terms of the sort of books I can read and re-read almost endlessly, anything by Tanya Huff or Sarah Monette.
DC: If you had never become an author, what do you think you would be doing right now?
MF: I don’t consider myself an author, and so far it hasn’t changed my life. I’m just someone who has written a book and has been lucky enough to find a publisher. But it’s great to have something to escape into when real life is too stressful. And, believe me, working in motorsport really has its moments.
– dark or milk chocolate? Dark
– smooth or chunky peanut butter? I really don’t like peanut butter, unless it’s turned into sate sauce.
– heels or flats? Heels.
– coffee or tea? Coffee. Espresso, and lots of it.
– summer or winter? Can I cheat and have autumn instead? I don’t like the heat, but hate the snow.
– mountains or beach? Beach, but with rough seas, wind and waves. Not beach as in sand and sunbathing.
– mustard or mayonnaise? Mayonnaise!
– flowers or candy? Flowers plus an anti-histamine tablet.
– pockets or purse/handbag? Handbag .
– Pepsi or Coke? Er… neither, thanks. Water or wine!
– ebook or print? Ebook! I’ve run out of shelf space.
And because we still enjoy the answers we get:
1. What is your favourite word? I don’t really have one… my daughter’s favourite is wainscoting – will that do ?
2. What is your least favourite word? Rhythm… I can never spell it. Second least favourite would be ‘homologation’ because it usually means trouble.
3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? A good storm.
4. What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? Arguments and bad atmospheres.
5. What sound or noise do you love? A cat purring or the sound of the sea.
6. What sound or noise do you hate? People filing their nails. Or sniffing. I have been known to hand people packets of tissues.
7. What is your favourite curse word? I generally don’t swear out loud. I can in print. I rarely go past ‘Botheration’.
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? I used to want to be a travel agent.
9. What profession would you not like to do? Anything to do with music – I’m afraid I have no ear or feeling for it.
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “Ah, yes – the race track is over there.” Actually, it’s been a very bad year for motorsport this year, and we’ve lost some wonderful people. I’d like to think they were somewhere having some really great races.
[Ed. Ms. Ford is kindly offering up a copy of Track Limits to one of our readers today. So leave a meaningful comment or question to be in the running!]