Lasairiona McMaster grew up dreaming of an exciting life abroad, and, after graduating from Queens University, Belfast, that is exactly what she did. She spent seven and a half years in America and eighteen months in India, before repatriating to Northern Ireland in November 2018. With a penchant for both travelling and writing, she started a blog during her first relocation to Houston, Texas. Since repatriating to Northern Ireland, she has decided to do as everyone has been telling her to do for years, and finally pen a book (or twelve) while she tries to adjust to the people and place she left ten years ago, where nothing looks the same as it did when she left.
Her first book, Bloom Where You Are Planted is a part-memoir, part how-to guide for moving and living abroad. Rich with tips on how to expat like a boss, this book takes you on a journey from packing up her life in Northern Ireland to jumping in at the deep-end as an expat in two countries. Shortly after releasing her non-fiction book, Lasairiona published her first romance series, (Intimate Strangers, The Good in Goodbye and Fateful Coincidence). She is a hopeless romantic and is enjoying delving into the world of romantic fiction!
Author interview – Lasairiona McMaster
When did you start writing, and why?
I don’t want to sound like a cliché and say I’ve always written…but, I’ve always written. When I was younger, I studied English language and English literature in school, I wrote an online journal (LiveJournal), which I guess was blogging before it was cool, and I wrote a lot of fanfic (Star Trek). I often found the Drabble challenges hard, though, and quickly realised that a short story of only one hundred words probably wasn’t the best way for me to convey my overly verbose ideas—but I enjoyed the thrill of the challenge.
At what age did you take yourself seriously as a writer?
I was precisely today years old when this happened. Kidding. Kinda. NanoWrimo2018 was basically the turning point from ‘I write some stuff sometimes’, to ‘I’m a serious writer and I’m going to publish’. As it happens, my Nano 2018 ended up becoming my first published book in May of 2019.
But, I think the point when I became serious as an author versus a writer, was after the 20booksto50K conference in Edinburgh, July 2019 (incidentally where I met you, Mariëlle!). I met so many people there who were doing this like it was their life’s mission to write, and it occurred to me that perhaps it has always been mine, too, and I didn’t know how to do anything with it until I was suddenly surrounded by people fulfilling their life’s purpose.
How long did it take you to write your first book?
So, this one’s kind of interesting. I wrote my first book back in 2005/06, I was twenty years old and I didn’t sleep for days until all of the words came out of me. I don’t remember exactly how long it took, but I remember printing one copy of it, binding it at the office I worked part-time, and sticking it on a shelf. I’m pretty sure I deleted all electronic copies and had no intention of publishing it; I wrote it just for me.
Fast forward to 2018 when my husband got made redundant in India and we had to move back to Northern Ireland. We were preparing our apartment for the arrival of our worldly possessions and guess what? I found that bound copy in the back of a closet. I transcribed it back onto my computer—editing a little as I went—and then I sent it to my already author friend Liz and said, ‘So, is this something that needs left in 2005?’
She replied and told me that not only did I need to publish the book, but I also needed to write more for the other characters. I laughed, I told her it was one book and done, and got to work on it once I’d finished my non-fiction book. That manuscript had some hardcore and deeeeep edits (my twenty-year-old self wasn’t mindful of the fact you can’t just copy-paste the lyrics to your favourite song into a book, for example) and was published as Intimate Strangers in September 2019. So, I guess it took nearly ten years for me to write my first book!
What was your last book about?
The last book I finished comes out on September 24th, and it’s called Four Letter Feelings. Remember that ‘one and done’ book I mentioned in the previous question? Yeah…no…I was not done at one. Intimate Strangers ended up being book 1 of a trilogy, the Lisa Millar series, and then I wrote an epilogue novella because my readers asked for more. At some point during book two of that trilogy, my editor suggested I write the trilogy again from the male lead’s perspective—I legitimately laughed at her when she did, but she planted a seed.
AJ’s trilogy, the AJ Williams series, mirrors the same timeline as Lisa’s series—so that ‘just one book’ is sitting at six full length novels and two novellas. These books kind of follow the lives of two couples of best friends: Lisa and her best friend Chelsea and AJ and his best friend Jeremy.
The book coming out on September 24th is the start of Jeremy’s story. For this book, I went back a little further in history, so it is set before Lisa & AJ’s story, and we come to learn about Jeremy as a character. My readers fell in love with Jeremy during the first two series and, again, they pleaded with me to tell them his story, so I couldn’t say no. I’m incredibly nervous about this book launch though; it’s got a bit more of myself in there than the other ones—and the other ones have plenty of myself in there as it is.
What are you working on right now? The same series?
Current WIP is Jeremy’s second book. Well, kinda. I’m currently doing all the non-writing stuff for the launch of Jeremy 1. The ads, the editing all your old books in case of new readers, scheduling promotions, newsletter swaps, setting up giveaways—all the ‘business’ side of things. That said, I have the first draft of Jeremy 2 almost finished and I’m hoping to release that in December.
What is your writing process like? Do you plot or do you just dive in? How many drafts do you go through before the work is final?
My writing process has evolved a fair bit since I first started. I’m largely a pantser: I sit, I write and I let the characters and story come at me how they want to. That said, for my current WIP I opted to attempt a low-level plotting strategy on the guidance of my author friend Clare (she’s a hardcore plotter).
I usually have two drafts; Intimate Strangers was the most with like four maybe? Cause it needed a LOT of work doing to it. But at this point, I write, I send it to my small circle of alphas (I don’t even read back through it; as soon as I’m done writing I need fresh eyes), I attend to any questions/feedback they have before I send it to my editor, she edits, I edit, and then I’ll often send it back to her for a proofread, and to my betas. I started an ARC (advanced reader copy) process with my upcoming launch and a couple of those ARC readers found a typo or two as well (despite the fact the MS had been through TWO editors, alphas, betas, and me!). But, generally speaking, it’s draft, editor, make edits, and done.
What do you struggle with most as a writer?
Agh. Can I avoid this one? Cause I know my writing group (shout out to the amazing Coronitas!) are going to smack me upside the head on this one. Generally speaking? I struggle with crippling self-doubt and imposter syndrome. Which leads to procrastination and a less than ideal use of my time. What if I’m not good enough? What if people hate my words? Why should I write when there are other people out there who write better than me? The procrastination turns into ‘let’s read all the books instead of writing’, cause if you don’t write, you won’t fail and reading is technically ‘research’ and the snowball grows. So, I guess the short answer is that I struggle most with my own destructive mind.
Welcome to the club, Las! Now what advice would you give to the many writers out there dealing with the same or similar struggle?
Find your tribe and love them HARD. Find those people who are absolutely smarter than you (I swear, the powerhouse of strength, knowledge, and some days just brute force at ploughing through in my circle is something to behold), those who believe in you even when you’ve stopped believing in yourself. Those people who push you beyond your comfort zone but know when you need cuddles and head pats, or to curl up in a ball with copious amounts of chocolate. I have also managed to bag myself a dear friend who I dubbed my ‘imposter syndrome coach’ and when I’m feeling down on myself or if I start to sound at all impostery, she comes at me with reason and gifs—sounds pretty simple, but it definitely works!
That said, there are also days when I know I just need to be kind to myself. I need to step away from the computer, from work, from being an author, and just take care of myself as a person. Watch my favourite movie, eat popcorn and M&Ms, and just be. I think you need to learn yourself, become self-aware, recognise your triggers, find coping mechanisms, but, above all, show yourself some freakin’ grace. (She says largely to herself!!)
Have you always had that struggle or has it changed over time?
Always. I think in many ways that’s why I shelved that very first book and didn’t pursue it. I didn’t think it, or I, would be good enough. I think it’s gotten slightly more intense now that I’m actually putting my work out into the world for people to read, but knowing that my words reach readers in the depths of their souls (their words, not mine) makes the vulnerability and being exposed on that level worth it.
I can tell you right now, that DOES NOT RESONATE… Ahem. So, do you prefer the term ‘writer’ or ‘author’, and why?
I think a writer is who I am, and an author is what I do. There’s a big difference there for me. Even if I never published a single book, I’d still be a writer, I’d still write, because I can’t not. Writing is as much a basic function to me as breathing. If I don’t write for any length of time (even just a lengthy Facebook or Insta post), I feel. It’s uncomfortable as though the words cause some kind of indigestion inside and need to come out.
Who’s your favourite author?
I’m going to sound like a total fan girl right now and I don’t care! My favorite author is Kelsey Kingsley. She’s an indie author, she writes romance but it’s gritty, intense, and powerful. It’s next-level stuff.
What’s your favourite book?
Pride and Prejudice! And my second favourite is Warrior Blue by Kelsey Kingsley.
What’s your favourite book on the craft?
I have a bunch of craft books and I never really make time to read them (shame on me!). That said, I’m reading a short book right now called Understanding Show, Don’t Tell: (And really getting it) by Janice Hardy and I’m finding it super interesting.
What’s the best writing advice you were ever given?
This one is also going to make me sound like a creepy fan girl. So, the obvious one ‘write every day’, I think that’s just a staple in every writer’s toolbox. But having read Craig Martelle’s Indie Author series, I’ve pulled out Craig-Quotes, written them on Post-its and stuck them next to my workspace. Some of my favourites are ‘Not everyone is going to like it’, ‘Refuse to be average’, and ‘if you make a misstep you can recover’. When I’m having a ‘moment’ I glance at my post-it wall and my eyes always find some titbit of advice to help me out of whatever I’m stuck with.
What’s your best piece of advice to other writers?
Get out of your own way. I almost imposter-syndromed my way out of going to the writers conference in Edinburgh that changed the entire course of my life (not even exaggerating) and that doesn’t even bear thinking about! Don’t let your brain tell you you can’t do things.