Today our blog puts the Spotlight on Author Michelle Medhat. She is the Author of the 5 star novel Connected: The Call, a genre-busting, fast-paced, surreal spy thriller.
Mystery, Spy thrillers
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Michelle Medhat has had an exciting career that spans over 24 years in technology, science, education and marketing. Currently, Michelle is Director of Operations and Strategic Development at NEF: The Innovation Institute, an educational charity and professional institute that she co-founded with her husband Professor Sa’ad Medhat in 2004. The Institute has donated millions of pounds to the science, engineering and technology education sector, and has helped to improve the lives of over 500,000 people.
In her time, she has headed up an e-learning company, an events and media company and a management consultancy. She has even created (from scratch) an educational institutional overseas (in Dubai) with her husband based on the UK educational system. Over the years, Michelle has worked with clients from BBC, Channel 4, EDF Energy, GSK, Walkers, Whitbread, and the NHS.
Michelle has always tried to stay ahead of her time. A case in point being, back in 1995 she orchestrated the first international conference in the UK on multimedia communications (MediaComm) when the Internet was at its infancy. Backed by leading media and press organisations (BBC, ITN, The Independent, Times Higher) and technology companies (IBM, BT, Philips), the event introduced the public then to an unknown technology called ‘entertainment on demand’.
In her spare time, Michelle enjoys writing, reading, painting and singing. During her career, she has written extensively for publications, journals and newspapers, and has numerous short stories published in various anthologies. Connected: The Call is her first full book to be published.
SPOTLIGHT Questions and Answers with the Author
First things first. Let’s start with what’s next. Rumor has it that you have another book on the horizon called Connected: The Shift which will be out in the Spring 2014. Can you tell us the timeline for its release and give us a little tease?
The rumour mill is right on the button. I have just finished writing Connected: The Shift which is a sequel to Connected: The Call. At the end of Connected: The Call, a question mark loomed over a number of people: Ellie - for what isn't she telling, Sam - for what retribution he would take and Salim Al Douri, the terrifying leader of Al Nadir for what he would do, now he's got ‘it’ - no spoilers here, you'll have to read both books to know what I'm referring to. Connected: The Shift is expected to be released around April 2014. It’s already going through final edit and typesetting.
The Shift picks up almost immediately from where The Call left off. However, be prepared there are changes afoot. The Shift blends an intoxicating mix of fast-paced, shocking spy thriller with intelligent and poignant sci-fi that reflects the world around us.
Things have already happened to Ellie Noor that she can't explain. The roller coaster ride that started in The Call continues at breakneck speed. Over the remaining three days, and told in real time, with scenes playing out simultaneously across the world, Sam and Ellie find themselves in situations difficult for them to comprehend.
The Shift is a book that doesn’t pull any punches, or tread around issues lightly. Lives will be betrayed, revenge will be delivered and actions will be taken to excess. In The Call, Ellie Noor asked "what's too far gone". In The Shift she gets her answer. And in a way, it looks to answer the bigger question "Have we all gone too far?" The world in The Shift is a mirrored reality of our own. Traits of instant want, immediate gratification and insatiable greed, so prevalent now are pulled to the very precipice of what could be.
But The Shift is also about keeping a belief in faith, hope and love. No matter how dark things seem, there will always be a turning point. A rebalancing of dark to light.
It’s going to be an interesting journey… And one that’s not quite finished, as I have Book Three in the Connected series forming in my mind.
You have a great cover. How does your book cover creation process work? Do you hand over the basic theme or do you have more of a hands-on approach? Do you get your readers involved in its development?
I had an idea for the cover around a woman running, but I wanted to make it more dramatic. There is a line in the book: ‘Some people say eyes are windows on the soul. If this was really true, thought Sam as he looked around the table, Justin and the PM were doing their level best to pull their curtains tight.’ Eyes are what connect us, they are the conduit to our soul, and when someone has something to hide they avoid eye contact. In films, an actor’s eyes can express a million words in one look. I knew having an eye on the cover would be stunning, as we are naturally drawn to eyes. It is a fundamental instinct that governs humans at a very primal level.
I also wanted to indicate a sinister overtone and the street lamps giving off their eerie red glow provided just the right visual, suggesting other forces are overseeing the actions of those in the book. Finally, something had to say ‘action thriller’. I didn’t want an overt action setting, and the silhouette weaved between the woman’s hair proved to be the perfect combination of subtly and action.
I reviewed sites like iStock to help with the creative process. Seeing various images solidified my ideas, enabling me to sketch out initial concepts, which I then explained to the designers. The final result is the somewhat striking cover.
You have a great book trailer. (See link below.) It looks very professional. Do you know how much impact it has had on your book’s success? Tell us about the process that you used to create your trailer?
Thank you! I have looked at book trailers before, and I wanted something that was closer to a film with fewer words but maximum impact. The trailer was created by a professional filmmaker/animator from Oakbeam Pictures who really loved the book. I developed the initial ideas and a first cut storyboard, with the key messages I wanted to get over. I then worked with the filmmaker who created the final video trailer. He focused his interpretation of the visual impact to reflect some of the most dramatic scenes in the book. It was crucial to ensure that the video had an edgy feeling. I wanted the effect to be shockingly weird and intriguing enough to get viewers checking out the website and more importantly, the book. Everyone who watches the trailer for the first time has stated: "what on earth is going on." It does leave viewers wondering and has a genuinely unsettling effect.
In addition to the trailer, I also have an interview that another film associate shot of me – literally straight after a full day at a Conference on Innovation which my Institute holds every year. I had been on the go since 7am that morning, had hardly sat down, and no lunch to speak of; I thought I would look like a wreck, but I was pleasantly surprised. The wonders of editing! The interview delves further into both Connected: The Call and The Shift, and gets the inside track on my motivations for writing these books. It’s available here:
What writer support groups do you belong to? Do they help with the writing, marketing and the publishing process?
I don't belong to any support groups at all. That's not because I don't want to, I'd really love to, but it's a question of time. I have a full-time high pressure job and very little time during the working week to explore such opportunities. In the whole process of writing, marketing and publishing, I've been somewhat on my own. That is why on the writing side, book one - Connected: The Call and book two Connected: The Shift has taken ten years to finish and publish. It may seem a long time to write two books - certainly writers on Twitter seem to produce their books considerably faster - but during that time I've set up numerous companies, worked abroad, established an educational charity and a professional institute devoted to driving innovation. It was simply a case that my writing, at times, had to take a back seat. However, it was never forgotten!
My first love has been, and always will be, writing. I love to weave a story, getting lost in the characters and their situations. That's why I persisted with my Connected novels, and stayed the course, writing wherever I happened to be on planes, trains, cars and tubes, and (much to the annoyance of my family) writing very early mornings or late into the night.
On the marketing front, I have been supported by business associates who have contributed their time and services for free. A designer and printer I work with helped me create my 'ConnectedCards' as I call them. Similar to business cards, they have a single striking image on one side with a page link to a chapter in the book that goes on to my website, and on the other side, an intro to the book and an image of the front cover. They're handed out to everyone and anyone. Being a writer you have to market yourself all the time. It may sound crazy but when I see someone reading a book or kindle, I just say, "excuse me, if you like reading, have a look at this!" and I give them a card. No one has ever told me to "get lost", in fact quite the opposite - in this world of everything online – sometimes the 'personal touch' seems to resonate better with people. But I'm not hiding the fact it does take some courage to engage with a complete stranger in this way!
I have created with another friend, my website (www.forever-connected.com) which is, like the books, dramatic and visually compelling. The website is still evolving with new things being added every day (such as short stories to show my diversity in writing) and with the videos, offers a strong marketing vehicle to attract readers. I have little visual attractions running throughout – top secret surveillance transcripts that reflect the characters/scenes in the book - and obviously linkages direct from the ‘ConnectedCards’ to the chapters online.
Between your book writing, working, marketing, family and all the other things that can get in your way, how do you manage your time? Do you have a set schedule or do your sort of play it by ear?
My work is full-time, five even six days a week, so scheduling is critical. During a typical week I will try and write at least once or twice something creative. Even if it is just a sentence or an idea. It keeps me grounded to my first love, and also enables the creative juices to be flowing for my work engagements, which often require a lot of lateral thinking! Family time is kept mostly to the weekends and it's a constant balancing act between family, writing new pieces, and marketing my book. People say to me how do I do it? My answer simply is I enjoy being busy, therefore I make the effort, and I can honestly say, never in my life have I ever said the words: "I'm bored!".
What has been your experience in giving your books away free or at a low cost? Have you been involved in any other type of giveaways and how did that work out? What was your main goal in doing this? Did you run into any obstacles?
I'm really new to Twitter and Facebook, and only became initiated early December 2013, so I have a huge amount to learn about how things work in relation to book marketing, but I have noticed that low cost and free are very popular vehicles to push reach and gain audience.
The main goal in engaging in free/low cost book promotion is to drive reach, and encourage as many people to read my book as possible. For any author, getting their book wagging on the tongues of readers is the best promotion of all. Everyone who has bought and read Connected: The Call really finds it addictive, they absolutely love it.
My challenge is to get more people to take a chance on reading Connected: The Call. As a new unknown author, potential readers need to be confident that they are making the right decision in going for my book, and reviews and rankings help to influence that choice.
How do you start your book launch process for a new book? Give a brief outline of the steps you go through to get your book to market. What methods were the most successful?
Before I start any process I always mind-map my way through. I find this is critically important to scheduling resource (my time) and investment, as well as where the interdependencies are that could affect my book’s marketing and sales performance.
Connected: The Call took almost ten months to get to market, as at the time, so much was going on in my life. Being my first book, the whole process of publishing was very new to me, and of course I had squeeze things in like redrafting and editing around my work life.
From the outset, I decided that i would need professional advice & support. After reviewing many options, I selected Lulu to work with, to publish my first book. I sent them the manuscript and they undertook all of the publishing stages, including a full professional edit of my entire work, and addressed any mechanical edit issues I had in terms of formatting and presentment. I also worked with Lulu designers to create the striking front cover.
For an author, the most in important part of any go- to-market strategy is getting the product right. A good editorial review is absolutely critical, and ensures production of a professional quality product, on par with mass market published books. An eye-catching cover is also essential to differentiate your book from the millions of titles out there.
Living in England creates a unique selling and marketing situation. Where is your biggest audience? Does marketing online help in this situation?
Ironically, at the moment my biggest market remains to be the US. All my marcomms activities so far have been online, and the US readers are very active in this regard.
However, I will be commencing a significant UK/US publicity campaign for Connected: The Call in the Spring, which has been scheduled a bit later to align with the launch of Connected: The Shift, so we will have to see what new reach this campaign will bring.
What is your method of getting reviews for your novels? Do you seek professional reviews, use social media or do you rely on your reading audience to supply them?
At the moment, it's a combination of professional reviews and readers. Some readers also tweet about my book which encourages others to review. Connected: The Call is getting good reviews. The short, sharp pace employed throughout the book is clearly resonating well with readers, as is the intriguing plotline and the credible characters; make the overall read a 'turn-paging experience'. The only downside to the reviews have been the readers documented impatience at a lack of book two to read immediately!
You have published business articles, short stories and now a novel. Does changing hats create any problems? Any tricks you can share with us? Which type do you enjoy writing the most? Does moving from one to the other give you some breathing room?
Moving from one form of writing to another is demanding, in that you have to take yourself out of one creative zone and go into another. Being someone who can write captivating short stories doesn't automatically mean you can develop and write a full book, nor a business article. I have known poets who wouldn't even consider writing a book or article, and authors who would run a mile if someone said compose a poem.
What it is all down to is the ability to conceptualise your readers' expectations and bring tone and voice to the piece, whether that be a book, article, story or poem.
Achieving this conceptualisation requires structuring what you want to write. The best way I find is mind mapping. This method helps to structure the writing and place the focus on what needs to be emphasised. Mind mapping is an invaluable tool for writers, and really saves time further on in the development process.
Author's Book List
Connected: The Call
Behind the Book – Getting Connected
Connected: The Call is a spy thriller that blends the surreal and science fact into a fast moving novel that, by the end of book, will have the reader left breathless, with more questions than answers.
However, those answers will be found in the sequel Connected: The Shift which will be out in Spring 2014.
Those readers that have read Connected: The Call stated that there is a mood that seems to capture the deep feelings of people today. It touches on a number of themes that affect our modern lives: the mistrust of establishment, the fact that the government and its agencies can do almost anything with impunity, and civilians have little redress; the fears of terrorism (in any form) and a general feeling that we’ve all gone too far. The book counters these dark themes with a solid hope that things will somehow improve and the balance shift that has occurred can be reversed.
The book handles some very strong themes, and presents situations that are virtually intractable for the protagonists, although despite this, there is a continuous underlying strength in faith and a belief in love and goodness.
A somewhat unique feature of the book is the ‘connectedness’ of everything. People that have read Connected: The Call and Connected: The Shift (published Spring 2014) have commented that they ‘enjoyed seeing how everything came together’ and even how seemingly little events had a meaning and purpose. This connectedness is something that I believe in - how a small event can have massive consequences - and how, in this fast moving world we live in, these connections can sometimes be forgotten.
Connected also has a strong, technological feel to it, and all the technology and science that has been included is grounded in the principles of ‘real science’. Over the years being in technology, science and engineering, I have accumulated an array of articles and information relating to these technologies, and together with over 24 years of technical knowledge, I have been able to create devices in Connected series that have been termed as ‘highly plausible’ and ‘believable’ by those who have read the book. (Even by a writer of science fact).
Sam loves Ellie, and Ellie loves Sam. They have the perfect marriage. Only, everything that Sam has told Ellie is a lie, and very soon his world breaks into hers in ways she cannot possible imagine.
Connected: The Call is a fast-paced, unpredictable spy thriller. With every turn of the page, a new dimension is revealed, as you go further into a world where traditional powers are failing and a new brand of enemy has the edge. Who is lying, who can be trusted, and what can be done to stop those who want to take over?
The shifting power-play between governments and international terrorists, where double agents, advanced technologies and brutal actions only seek to mask a deeper fight. In the end, it will be down to control, but those who think they have it are just fooling themselves. Control belongs to another. And this is only the beginning.
For Ellie Noor, an innocent woman who is at the centre of it all, one unexplained moment starts a chain reaction leading to series of events that will change her life forever.
But what isn’t she telling? … And is it all too late?
Connected: The Call
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