I am pleased to be kicking off the blog tour for You Let Me In and I am pleased to welcome its author Lucy Clarke to Novel Kicks today. Hello Lucy. Can you tell me about your new novel, You Let Me In and what inspired it?
The novel is about a bestselling author, Elle, who rents out her beautiful cliff-top home in Cornwall. When she returns, she immediately senses a shift in the atmosphere: a shard of broken glass embedded in the carpet; her writing room left unlocked; the word LIAR scratched into her desk. As Elle’s unease mounts, she begins to wonder exactly who has been in her home . . . and what they’ve discovered.
The idea for the novel came when I was in my own writing room, daydreaming about travelling. My husband and I had been chatting about the possibility of renting our house to fund a longer trip. From the corner of my eye, I noticed the ancient oak trunk that houses all my diaries, journals, photos, notebooks, and old love-letters. I began to wonder what I’d do with it if the house were rented to strangers. There is no lock on the trunk, and it’s so heavy that it’d be almost impossible to heave it through the hatch to our loft. I realised I’d just have to leave it where it was – sitting in the corner of my writing room. But what if, chimed my writer’s voice, someone went through the trunk? What then? That was my starting point for YOU LET ME IN.
What’s your approach to the writing process like and how has it changed since your first novel?
I always write my first draft by hand – I love the connectivity of ideas to page. I typically write several drafts, layering as I go. I might focus on a particular theme in one draft, or the pace in another, and it’s a way of helping me dive deeper to create more complex characters and plot lines.
YOU LET ME IN is my fifth novel and I suppose one of the key ways my writing process has changed is that I don’t tend to plot out the second half of my novels. I think I have the confidence to know it’s okay to be led by my characters and to allow myself to be surprised.
What’s your typical writing day like? Do you prefer to write in silence? Need coffee etc.
I write Monday-Friday, 7.30am-12.30pm. During those five hours, I turn off the internet and my phone. I can write anywhere – at my desk, in a café, on a train – but my favourite place to write is from our beach hut, which is where I spend most of the summer. In the afternoons, I’m back to being ‘mama’ to my two young children.
What’s your favourite word and why?
I’ve never thought about this . . . but I’m going to say, SHERBERT. Now there’s a word that fizzes on the tongue!by
Hi Riley. Thank you for joining me today. Your new book is called Last Time I Lied and was released in the UK on 10th July by Ebury Publishing. Can you tell me about it?
LAST TIME I LIED is about an artist named Emma who went to a fancy all-girl’s camp when she was 13 and watched her three cabinmates leave in the middle of the night. They never returned.
Fifteen years later, she returns to that same camp as a painting instructor, hoping to learn more about what happened to her friends. Nothing goes according to plan. I think of it as my version of “Picnic at Hanging Rock.”
What’s your writing process like from idea, to planning, to writing and finally editing?
For me, it varies from book to book. FINAL GIRLS, for example, was a bolt of lightning. From writing to revising to finding it a good home, everything about that book was fast. I’m usually much slower. Once I get an idea, I spend a lot of time thinking, taking notes and trying to figure out how to turn it into a book.
LAST TIME I LIED took twice as long to write because I still didn’t quite know what to do with it even after I started written. Like some of the characters in the book, I spent a lot of time lost in the woods, trying to find my way out.
What advice do you have for when you’ve finished your book and want to try and get it published?
The act of trying to get a book published can be so difficult that it’s easy to overlook the obvious—You’ve written a book! It’s such a huge accomplishment that quickly gets overshadowed by the rest of it. So I advise writers to remember to pat themselves on the back.
There’s a lot of negative involved in trying to get a book published. Rejections come fast and furious. At least they did for me. And I wish I had taken the time to be more proud of what I’d already accomplished instead of agonizing over what I had yet to accomplish.
Which fictional character would you like to meet and why?
Mary Poppins. She’d fly in, we’d go on a grand adventure and when it’s over I’ll hopefully have learned an important life lesson or two.
Do you have advice for someone who may be experiencing writer’s block?
I find reading helps. Just pick up a book, open it and start reading. If it’s good, you’ll be inspired to be just as good. But I’ve found it’s more helpful if the book is bad. Because I can tell myself, “If this dreck can get published, then what I’m doing also has a fair shot of making it!”
What are you currently working on?
I can’t say very much. It’s still a work in progress and I’m still trying to figure it out. But it features a very ornate, very famous apartment building in New York City where horrible things happen.by
Hello Louise, thank you so much for joining me on Novel Kicks today. Your debut novel is called Wilde Like Me. Can you tell me a bit about it and what inspired it?
It’s so thrilling to be a published author, I feel truly honoured to be involved in the publishing industry which I can tell you has some of the nicest people in the world in it. I feel really excited to write more and have a few more books under my belt!
Wilde Like Me is a love story with a difference. It’s not your typical fair maiden being rescued by a prince on his stead. The book’s heroine is 29-year-old single Mum called Robin Wilde, and when we first meet her, she’s finding the gig of being a single parent really tough and is struggling to keep on top of things. Throughout the book, we see Robin battle with what she calls, The Emptiness, and discover the real key to what makes her happy. It’s fun and exciting but also has some really poignant moments which I love. I can also tell you there are definitely some real life inspirations in this book. When I began writing Robin’s story, I was a single working Mum myself, trying out the dating game again, and I knew first-hand what a struggle it can be!
What are the challenges with writing a novel especially the first novel? What’s the best part?
I’ve found juggling my time hardest when writing the first novel. I’m a full-time vlogger and a Mummy to 2 little girls so squeezing it all in has been a bit tricky but so worth it when I hear readers tell me what they thought of the characters or what the book has meant to them- that’s by far the best part.
What was the planning process like and how has your writing process evolved since your first book compared to the second?
When I first sat down to write Wilde Like Me I really didn’t know how to put a whole book together. I had all these ideas buzzing around but no real skill in making a story arc or keeping it flowing. My editor Eli taught me how to sew chapters together and how to make sure it kept a good momentum so the second book has been much smoother in that respect- and less phone calls to Eli!
What is your typical writing day like? Do you have any rituals or habits?
I write best first thing in the morning before I’ve looked at anything else or I’ve distracted myself with other work like editing videos or updating social media, so I try to do a couple of hours as soon as I wake up.by
Your book is called The Snow White Effect. Can you tell me about it and what inspired the story?
My sister was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma in 2013 after having a laparoscopic hysterectomy. We learned shortly after her diagnosis that her cancer had been made worse by the tool used in her procedure. As a writer, I wanted to help tell her story to prevent it from happening to more women. It’s a love story wrapped in a medical drama. Being told through four different vantage points allows the reader to see the story from more than one angle.
What elements do you think make a good novel?
Twists. In every story I write, I try to have at least one twist the reader didn’t see coming.
Can you talk me through your writing process from idea to editing to pitch.
All of my writing starts with one main idea. I have a basic idea of where I would like to see the story go, but I never hold myself to any one path. Instead, I allow for the characters to develop and tell their stories through me. I am blessed to have a supportive family. My mom and sister always read the first version of my manuscript and offer their brutally honest opinions. From there, I make changes and edits. At that point I usually walk away from it for about to weeks. After a couple of weeks, I come back to it and re-read it. If I’m happy with it, I’ll send it to my editor. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a great editor who challenges my writing and thought process at every level. The editing process with her takes about two months, after which I know my book is ready. The pitching process is my least favorite because I don’t like to talk about myself. But I believe in my writing, which helps me pitch my stories.
What is your typical writing day like? Do you have any rituals like lots of coffee or writing in silence?
Tea and music. I love tea. I am a big tea drinker. So when I start writing, I always have a steaming fresh cup next to my computer. I’d like to say I have a writing ritual, but with young children I write when I can. Most of my writing is done at night when everyone is asleep. I tend to become an insomniac when I am in the middle of a story. Music is also important for me because it helps me feel the mood I am writing. By the time my manuscript is complete, I have a playlist to go along with it.
What is your favourite word and why?
Hope. Life is full of lows and high. Hope bridges the gap between the two. It gets us through the lows so we can attain the highs.by
Hi Catherine, it’s lovely to welcome you and the blog tour for your new book Love Among The Treetops to Novel Kicks today. What is your typical day as a writer?
I work best in the early mornings, so I like to reach for my laptop (and lots of tea) almost as soon as I wake up. On a good day, I’ll write five hundred words before breakfast, and to make it easier to face that blank page every day, I like to make rough notes on the next part of my story the night before. I usually write between 500 – 1500 words a day and I aim to finish by ‘lunch-time’, which can be anything from midday to mid-afternoon! By then, I find all the emotion of living the story with my characters has taken a bit of a toll on my energy levels. (I’m always amazed by how exhausting it can be, writing on emotional subjects – particularly when your main character has hit rock bottom. You feel all the see-saw emotions she’s going through and it’s almost as if you’ve been through it yourself.)
What inspired Love Among the Treetops?
I live near a place called Alnwick Garden in Northumberland. It’s incredibly magical and they have a beautiful restaurant in a fairytale tree house. I wanted an unusual setting for my café in this book, and I suddenly thought what a romantic setting a tree house would be!
How do you pick your names in a novel?
For my heroine, I like to choose a name that really appeals to me – and if it can be that little bit different (therefore memorable), then so much the better. Sometimes the name just slots into my head when I’m dreaming up the character. It just seems to fit. And that’s what happened when I was imagining my main character in Love Among the Treetops. The name ‘Twilight’ came to me and it was perfect!
Is plot or character more important?
With me, what tends to happen is I have a basic idea at the start of what’s going to happen in my book and a rough idea of my main character’s personality. So at that point they’re equally important. But then I think character takes over and to some extent dictates the way the story progresses. Once I’m immersed in seeing things through the eyes of my heroine, surprising plot twists seem to happen. That’s why I never start out with a plot that’s set in stone because it always changes – I have to obey my main character!by
Welcome to Jean McNeil and the blog tour for her novel, Fire on the Mountain which was released on 15th February by Legend Press.
Hello Jean. Thank you so much for joining me on Novel Kicks today. Your latest book is called Fire on the Mountain. Can you tell me a bit about it and what inspired the story?
Hi Laura, thanks very much for your interest in the novel and for your questions.
Fire on the Mountain is a contained and intense story about masculinity and desire. It focuses on three men: Pieter Lisson, a celebrated writer in an unnamed post-colonial country who has never quite found the fame and acceptance he might have experienced had he been a more ‘serious’, political writer; his son, Riaan, who lives in the desertified north of the country, and Nick, a British (although he has grown up all over the world) NGO worker, who comes to stay with Pieter and his wife for a few days and ends up staying for four months. He and Riaan develop a wary friendship, then a much closer mutuality, and finally their relationship is transformed into something neither of them every would have expected.
The inspiration for the story is the landscapes of southern Africa, in particular Cape Town, where I lived on and off for years, and Namaqualand, the Kalahari and the Namib deserts. Another inspiration was the years I spent gaining professional safari guide qualifications. This wasn’t a completely masculine environment, but the sort of masculine consciousness I encountered in men in southern Africa fascinated me. Strength and an awareness of vulnerability are both needed to survive in the bush. You have to be intuitive and attuned to other creatures. It’s a way of life that creates a different kind of man than I had encountered elsewhere. I wanted to try to capture that in the novel.
If you could drop into the life of any fictional character which one would it be and why?
My characters are me and I am them, so I do live their lives. Like Pieter I am a writer, and like Riaan I know the African bush. Like Nick I’ve worked in NGOs and international development. I consider that I live all their lives, simultaneously.
What’s your writing process like – from planning to edit.
I write quite quickly, meaning I can write a novel within a couple of months if I really put my mind to it, as well as working. But then I tend to rewrite very extensively, doing at least 12 drafts, adding and subtracting and crucially getting the structure right. Because I’m a fast and intuitive writer I rely on sane, intelligent people called editors to help smooth out contradictions and fill gaps. I wish I could be more methodical, punctilious, perfectionist, but I’m just not. Thank god for good editors…
Do you have an writing rituals or routines?
No, I can write anywhere and at any time. I do like to be able to see the sky as I’m writing. My flat in London has a good view so I can stare at seagulls and the Shard.
What’s your favourite word and why?
Aha, tough one. There are so many choices… Orphic, probably, as in musical, but also a tinge of the quality of underworld, or submerged – from Orpheus. Closely followed by heliotrope.by
Only Child is the debut novel from Rhiannon Navin (released by Mantle on 8th February,) and I am so pleased to welcome her blog tour to Novel Kicks today. Rhiannon, your novel sounds like such a powerful read. Can you tell me about Only Child and what inspired it?
ONLY CHILD is the story of six-year old Zach, told from his perspective, who lives through the terrifying trauma of a shooting at his school. During his rampage, the gunman takes nineteen lives and Zach’s formerly tight-knit community is left shattered. While the adults in Zach’s life, especially his parents, deal with their grief in all-consuming ways, Zach is mostly left to his own devices to confront the after effects of the trauma he’s had to endure and his feelings of grief and fear. I found the inspiration for ONLY CHILD in a personal experience that occurred in my life a couple of years ago, when my twins were five years old. They had just started Kindergarten when they had to participate in their first “lockdown drill” at school. Lockdown drills are a common practice here in the U.S. where, unfortunately, mass shootings happen on an almost daily basis. Children as young as five years old, or even younger, have to practice how to take cover in the event that a shooter might come to their school and try to kill them. On the day of my twins’ first drill I found my little Garrett hiding underneath our dining room table. He said he was “hiding from the bad guy,” and he was petrified. That really hit me incredibly hard and led me to want to explore what living through an actual horrifying event like a school shooting and its aftermath would look and feel like through the eyes of a child.
Can you describe your writing process from idea, planning, writing and editing.
ONLY CHILD was my first writing experience, so I really made up my writing “process” as I went along. The idea for the story came to me in a flash and I scribbled down the first few scenes rather furiously in one of my children’s school notebooks. A few chapters in I realized that I should probably take a step back and plan out my story a little; get to know my characters and picture where they might be headed. I read a few books on writing (Stephen King, Anne Lamott!) and a few more technical books on outlining a novel and I went to work creating a loose game plan for the book. I found that, at times, the game plan helped me navigate my way through the story and other times, the story itself took me down a totally unexpected path. I was incredibly fortunate to find a fantastic writing coach who helped guide me throughout the entire journey of writing my first, second, third…I don’t quite remember how many drafts exactly. I wrote ONLY CHILD in about a year, give or take, and when my writing coach and I thought I was in a good place with it, she also helped guide me through the querying process.
Do you have any writing rituals – coffee? Writing in silence?
No real rituals, but I try to set myself up in a situation that (theoretically) eliminates any excuses to get up for at least a couple of hours. That begins with having walked the dog, checked and responded to all urgent emails, having gone to the bathroom, and prepared a cup of tea (to be sipped slowly in order to not repeat the previous step too soon.) It also includes placing my phone clearly out of my reach—that’s one of the toughies. It’s incredible, the kind of pull your phone has on you, especially on the days when your mind wanders and you’re looking for an excuse to do anything BUT write. I need to know that I have a long, interruption-free window ahead of me; otherwise I can’t relax enough to dive in.
What are the most challenging things about being a writer?
When I first started writing ONLY CHILD, I wrote without any expectations. I didn’t expect anyone to necessarily even read it, let alone to find an agent, or a publisher. It was a wonderful first writing experience for me because I had found this story that grabbed me and pulled me in, and I only focused on that. If anything was challenging for me at the time, it was allowing myself to take the time to write the story, and to justify putting writing ahead of other things in my life—the laundry, the dirty dishes in the sink. Now, the most challenging thing about being a writer is the question: “How is book number two coming?”
Which authors do you admire and why?
Wow—there are so many authors I admire. I don’t even know where to begin. Anne Lamott pops into my head immediately. I just love how authentic she is and unapologetic about how messy and unglamorous and hard writing is. And she is absolutely hilarious. I love any writer who can make me laugh out loud. Amor Towles falls into that same category. I’m currently reading “A Gentleman in Moscow” (yes, I know I’m very late to the party) and this story makes me laugh all the time. His writing is absolutely beautiful, every word is placed just so. I admire J.K. Rowling so very much. Her personal story of overcoming adversity is very inspiring and I’m in awe of how she’s managed to turn a whole generation—and many more generations to come—of children into lovers of books. And adults, too! I’ve seen it happen first-hand with my older son. He read the whole series when he was quite young, in first grade, and he’s been hooked on books ever since. J.K. Rowling literally helped my son discover his love for reading.
What’s your favourite word and why?
If I really have to choose one (!) favourite word, it will have to be “Wanderlust.” Which is a German word that doesn’t really have an English equivalent or literal translation. It means “a strong desire to travel;” and I do love to travel more than anything. But beyond just the literal sense of feeling the urge to travel, I like to use the word “Wanderlust” to describe the desire, or the bravery, to step outside of your comfort zone, to explore and try out new things, to expand your horizon. So, I hope to always have “Wanderlust,” in all aspects of my life. My second favourite word is champagne.
Are you working on anything at the moment? Are you able to tell me a little about it?
Yes, I am and I’m beginning to feel it pulling me in the way ONLY CHILD did at the beginning. But I’m going to wait a while longer to talk about it if that’s OK.by
Daniela Tully’s debut novel, Hotel on Shadow Lake was released by Legend Press on 1st February. It’s lovely to welcome you and the blog tour to Novel Kicks today, Daniela. What’s your book about and what inspired the story?
Thank you for having me! Let me start with what inspired the story: my grandmother had a twin brother, a German fighter plane pilot, who died during WWII. As he felt his death nearing, he wrote a farewell letter to my grandmother and their mother, at the end of 1944. That letter, however, was held up in the East, when the Berlin Wall was erected, and only reached my grandmother in 1990, after the Wall had come down. The letter in my novel contains much more than a “simple” good bye (the reader doesn’t learn the content until the end). In my novel, the recipient disappears without a trace after receiving the letter. Twenty-seven years later, a landslide in upstate New York uncovers her remains. Her granddaughter back in Germany thought she had come to terms with the disappearance of her grandmother, who was her surrogate mother, her best friend, and a storyteller of spellbinding, mystical fairy tales. But when her grandmother’s body is found in a country her grandmother had no connections with, the granddaughter begins to question everything. Who was this woman? What made her leave Germany? What were her ties to the captivating yet chilling Montgomery Hotel, located near the site of her death? As Maya seeks answers in the States, she finds herself sidetracked by her own assumed identity—and how much it enchants the charming heir of the Montgomery dynasty. She soon discovers that the best way to the truth about her grandmother might be through surrendering herself to the majestic Montgomery Hotel, the strange family that owns it, and the spirits that live on in the dark surrounding wilderness…
In the plot strand set in the past, the reader travels with Maya’s grandmother, Martha Wiesberg (Martha was also my grandmother’s Christian name) to a Germany on the cusp of World War II. And later in the novel we return there again, but for reasons that I cannot disclose here, as they are not only connected to the twist in my story, but also deliver some of the reasons why Martha Wiesberg disappeared in 1990 – and why she had to die. It also sheds light on a historical aspect of the Second World War that hasn’t received too much attention yet, but one I find a fascinating angle.
What’s your typical writing day like? Do you have any writing rituals?
I often made attempts to write from home, but they have never been as fruitful as those times when I leave the house to write. I write best on the move (road trips, planes, trains) and second best in a public setting like a coffee shop.
What planning did you do prior to beginning the novel? Do you have any planning tips to share?
I don’t know the entire plot before I start writing. With Hotel on Shadow Lake, I knew the first scene and the final one, but not every plot point in between. And my writing process got hung up on that at first. My husband, who is a screenwriter himself, suggested to me to just start writing those scenes I already had in my head, a wise piece of advice, because from then on the flow became natural; the characters, as clichéd as this might sound, did start talking to me at some point, telling me what to do.
Did you prefer to have a complete first draft before editing and how do you think is the best way to approach the editing process?
Yes, I do prefer to have a complete draft before digging into changes. As this is my debut novel, I was probably more protective of my words than other more seasoned writers, so at first I was always on the defensive, instead of embracing those changes that improved the pacing.by
Hi Thomas, thank you for joining me today. Your book is called Pimp in the Pulpit. Can you tell me a little about it and what inspired the story?
First please accept my gratitude for granting me the honour and privilege to be doing this interview with you. Secondly Pimp in the Pulpit is a book based on a dysfunctional family that has very limited spiritual and moral foundation. This book has some person experiences of my life along with other people I know and even quite a bit of fiction to give the story a little more flair.
What’s your typical writing day like? Do you have any writing rituals?
I don’t have any rituals. I just write whenever I’m feeling in the mood or inspiration instantly hits me. I write about life, family and friends some personal experiences of my own and even scenarios that may have happened in the past that I wish I had handled differently.
Can you tell me a little about your route to publication.
I’ve been trying for some time to get published with no success in the traditional sense. So I decided to go the self-publishing route and it was challenging at times and it even took me a while to get my confidence all the way up. But with this book I feel great and determine to officially make a name for myself in the publishing industry and hopefully all around the world.
Which authors do you admire and why?
I admire Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Maya Angela and W E B Dubois. Because they are some of the unforgotten heroes in today’s and modern literature. People like them help paved the way for individuals such as myself and that is why I will always honour our unforgettable heroes.by
I am pleased to be welcoming Liv Constantine (the writing duo of Lynne and Valerie) to Novel Kicks and the blog tour for their latest novel, The Last Mrs Parrish.
What’s your typical writing day like and as a duo, how do you approach the writing process?
We are in touch everyday via email and FaceTime. We both write in the mornings and email that day’s work to each other. Late afternoon, we jump on FaceTime and give each other feedback on the pages we’ve each read. During these talks, we’ll also bring up any issues either of us is having with character or plot, and brainstorm solutions. Then we assign scenes for the next day. This goes on every day, usually even Saturdays, and occasional Sundays depending on our deadline.
What are the advantages of writing together and also, what are the challenges?
The advantages are numerous. Firstly, we get along great and enjoy each other’s company so we have a wonderful time coming up with the story, the characters, and twists and turns along the way. Our sessions are infused with a great deal of laughter and fun. When we get stuck writing a scene, a simple MORE HERE in the middle of a paragraph and an email to the other results in it coming back all filled in! It’s also great to be able to bounce ideas off your co-writer and to get input when you’re at a loss for where to go next. The biggest challenge is making sure our scenes mesh, both contextually and emotionally. A lesser challenge for us (fortunately) is the need to be open to hearing criticism and the other’s point of view.
The Last Mrs Parrish is your debut thriller. Can you tell me a little about it?
It’s a story of two women: one who has “everything”, the other who has “nothing”. The story was born of a conversation we were having concerning the phenomenon of the “trophy wife”. We began to imagine how this trope might be turned on its head, and the more we talked, the more intriguing the idea sounded. It was then that we decided to write the story of a woman who befriends a wealthy woman with the intent of stealing her life and giving it a big twist.
How do you approach the editing process? What are the challenges of this with the physical distance between you?
There’s no question that editing is the most time consuming and tedious process for us. This is often a four or five-hour exercise as we facetime, both of us with the document open on our computers, and go through the manuscript line by line. More than once!
What elements do you think make up a good thriller?
Suspense is critical– keeping the reader wanting answers to questions and turning those pages; but it’s vital that you play fair with the reader. Authenticity in character and action is a must. Nothing pulls the reader out of a story more quickly than a cheap plot device that doesn’t ring true, or when a character does something totally contrary to her nature. Pacing is also a key element in a good thriller.
What do you think is the most important – Plot or Character?
This is such a tough question and one that is debated over and over. The two are so intertwined that it’s almost impossible to choose, for without a good plot you have no story and without believable characters the story doesn’t matter. We begin with an overall plot, however, we let the characters drive the story. We’re always asking the question “Would she do this, say this, believe this.” And if the answer is no, then the plot has to change. If you think about the stories that move us, it’s usually the character that’s most memorable. Elizabeth Bennet, Scarlett O’Hara, Katniss Everdeen, Eliza Doolittle, Michael Corleone, Hannibal Lecter, Atticus Finch, James Bond, and Jay Gatsby are all examples of characters that live on. Does that mean that character is more important than plot? We go back and forth on this one.by
Hi Georgia. Thank you for joining me today to talk about your book, We Were The Lucky Ones. What was the writing experience like for you considering this book was based on family history? Did you feel a certain responsibility toward the story?
I felt a huge sense of responsibility! It was important to me to do everything I could to capture my family’s experience in a way that did them—along with the time period—justice. I tried not to leave any stone unturned in my research, and I thought long and hard once the research was complete about how best to bring the story to life. I was nervous, to be honest, to share the finished product with my relatives, as there was no audience whose feedback mattered more to me! Luckily, the family has been incredibly supportive, and has responded to the book with nothing but love and appreciation.
What is your writing process like – are you a planner and how do you approach the editing of your novel?
With a story of such broad scope (the Kurcs’ paths spanned seven years and five continents), I knew I’d need to take a methodical approach to my writing process. I began by dropping my research findings into a timeline, which I color-coded by relative so I could track who was where/when. From there I created an outline for the book, then chapter summaries, then finally began the process of putting the story to paper. I kept the manuscript close for years as I edited and polished before finally gathering up the courage to pass it along to a few close acquaintances, then to a freelance editor, and finally to an agent.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I love to write in the mornings, once my son is off to school. I also enjoy wearing headphones while I work. Even when I’m alone in my office I’ll slip on a pair, as I find the extra bit of quiet puts me in the proper headspace to write, and helps to drown out the annoying little voice in the back of my mind that likes to remind of the (non-writing) to-do’s I’ve chosen to ignore. If I’m in a writing rut, I’ll try working at a coffee shop, or on my sofa (if I have the house to myself), or in the library—often a change of scenery is just what I need to boost my creativity.
If you were only allowed to own three novels, which three would you pick and why?
That’s a tough one! If I had to pick, I suppose I’d choose City of Thieves by David Benioff—a fast-paced and brilliantly-told story of the author’s Holocaust-era family history that inspired me years ago to tackle my own book. I’d also pick Wonder, a Y/A novel (although I’d argue one equally suited for adults) about a young 5th grade boy with a facial deformity, struggling to fit in. And finally, at the risk of sounding self-centered, I suppose I’d pick my book, so I could share it someday with my children (and their kids, and so on). I’ve read We Were the Lucky Ones more times than I can count, but I find with each pass, my own everyday “problems” seem a whole lot less daunting, and I’m reminded of just how lucky I am to be here. I hope someday my children (and future generations) will take away a similar perspective and sense of gratitude.by
Hi Isabella, thank you for joining me today. Can you tell me about what your typical writing day is like?
Thank you for having me on your blog! My typical writing day consists of waking up to my children’s chatting and playing, getting them dressed, preparing breakfast and taking them to school. Then, when I get back home, I sit in my office and start writing. I am most productive in the morning, when I have a clear mind, and feel the most motivation. After my children come back from nursery and school, I have to find any moment I can to continue writing; after putting them to bed, when they are at activities, and any other moment I can find – which isn’t always easy.
What’s the best and most challenging thing about writing your first novel?
The best part of writing The Beta Mum, Adventures in Alpha Land, was when I felt like I had written a really good passage, and thought people would enjoy it. I once laughed at what I wrote, which is usually a good sign. They say that if you are bored writing then your reader will be bored. You have to keep the writing alive and fun if you want your reader to continue reading. If I can move someone to feel something when they read my novel, that is success to me.
The most challenging? The entire process is challenging! Writing the book, word after word, until you finish typing the last word. Then the editing. And more editing. Then sending it off to agents and publishers. Then, once it has been published, promoting your book and trying to get sales. It is like an intense obstacle course over years.
What’s your favourite word and why?
That’s difficult for me to answer! I don’t have a favourite, I like all words, whether simple or complicated. To me, each word has a purpose, a meaning and a place, so all of them are important in their own way.
What was your writing process like from your idea to final draft? Did you plan? How did you approach the first sentence?
When I first started writing my novel, The Beta Mum, the story line was completely different than this one and it also had a completely different title. I had a general idea of what subject I wanted to write about – the Alpha mums in a nursery setting in west London – but the plot changed completely after I started the Faber Academy novel writing course. There, I received a lot of input, both positive and negative, and I found a new story to tell. I also learned about writing an outline and now in the future, I will always work with a basic outline. We also learned about writing our first line and our last line and how to make them count. It was an invaluable experience and I learned so much.
What advice do you have to keep motivated?
Sit on that chair and write. Word after word. Even if it is ‘bad’ writing, it can be edited in the future, but it gets the creative juices flowing and helps you re-enter your world. The worst you can do is not write at all. Even if on some days you don’t feel like writing, you have to push yourself to write. And your first draft is meant to be bad! So don’t worry about writing ‘badly.’
Which three fictional characters would you want round for dinner and why?
Daimyo Toranaga and John Blackthorne from the novel Shogun. It was one of my favourite novels growing up and is an encyclopedia of knowledge about Japan. It is exotic and beautiful and so foreign, I would have loved to be a part of it. I tried to learn Japanese from that book! And one final character on a completely different note, Carrie Bradshaw (from the book Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell), because I think we would be good friends!by
I’m happy to be welcoming Emily Harvale to Novel Kicks today and the blog tour for her new Christmas themed novel, Christmas Secrets in Snowflake Cove.
Christmas is a time for family and friends, miracles and magic, falling snow and roaring fires, fun, laughter and festive feasts. In Snowflake Cove, it’s also a time for secrets to be revealed…
Evie Starr is hoping for more than a sprinkling of magic this Christmas. The family-run Snowflake Inn is virtually empty and the Starr’s financial future isn’t looking bright. But Evie’s gran, Jessie has a secret that might help.
Enigmatic, Zachary Thorn is every woman’s dream. He’s also ex-SAS, so his secrets are classified. The Christmas Special of his feel-good, TV show is set in Michaelmas Bay – until a phone call means he’s spending Christmas in nearby Snowflake Cove.
Evie’s best friend, Juniper thinks boyfriend Darren has a secret. Evie knows he does. And Evie’s niece, Raven is hiding feelings for Juniper’s brother – who has a secret crush of his own.
But the biggest secret in Snowflake Cove is the identity of Raven’s dad.
With snow falling thick and fast and secrets being revealed one after another, will everyone be snuggling up by the fire on Christmas Eve, or are some secrets best kept hidden…?
Hello Emily, it’s lovely to welcome you to Novel Kicks today. Your book is called Christmas Secrets in Snowflake Cove. Can you tell me a bit about it and what inspired the story.
Hello Laura, it’s great to be here. Yes, my new book, Christmas Secrets in Snowflake Cove is about 34-year-old Evie Starr and her family. Evie is single and lives in the family-run, Snowflake Inn with her parents and her gran. The book is set during the week leading up to Christmas Day and Evie’s 15-year-old niece, Raven is also staying for the holidays. The Starrs are struggling financially and Evie is hoping to persuade TV show host, Zachary Thorn to give the inn a plug during his live, Christmas Special. His show is being filmed nearby, but what Evie doesn’t know is that her gran, Jessie has a secret and when Jessie makes a phone call, it changes everyone’s plans. There are also several others with secrets in the tiny village of Snowflake Cove and one of the biggest secrets is the identity of Raven’s dad. With snow blanketing the village and secrets being revealed, it’s not going to be the quiet, family Christmas the Starrs were expecting, but it’s going to be one that changes people’s lives. And Evie may just get what she was hoping for this Christmas.
As to what inspired the story, I’m not really sure. I write a Christmas book each year and when it came time to write, Evie appeared and told me her story.
Did you plan much before writing this novel? How much planning do you feel is needed?
I never plan my novels. Lots of people do, I know, but that simply doesn’t work for me. I firmly believe there is no right or wrong way to write a novel. I do what feels right for me. A character pops up with an idea and I sit and type it. By the end of the first draft I know my characters well, and I do make notes about them along the way. Then I write a second draft. Sometimes I ‘plan’ an event or the ending – but that doesn’t always work out as I expect.
What elements do you feel make up good characters?
Characters need to be believable. No one is perfect, so, like us, characters can have foibles. They should have a ‘strong voice’ – but that doesn’t mean they need to be strong. Sometimes the character with the biggest weakness is the most memorable. They need to be true to themselves. Doing something completely out of character should be as much of a shock to them, as it is to the reader.
When you came to edit, did you wait to have a full draft. How did you approach the editing (a chapter at a time?)
I always edit as I write. I’ll finish a few chapters then the following day I’ll read them through and edit them before continuing. I like doing that because it gets me back into the flow of the story. Once I’ve finished the first draft, half my edits are done. I then read it through. Leave it. Read it again and edit it however many times I need to before it goes off to my editor. Then together, we may do more. I edited this book in the same way I edit all my books.
Do you believe plot or character is more important when writing a novel?
I believe they are equally important – but it depends on the novel. Some stories are plot driven, some are character driven.
Are you working on anything at the moment that you can tell me about?
I’m working on book two in this Michaelmas Bay series. It introduces new characters but we still get to spend some time with Evie and her family. All of my books can be read as standalones even if they are part of a series.by
Jane Sanderson is the author of This Much is True which was released in June 2017.
After decades in a deeply unhappy marriage, Annie Doyle can barely bring herself to care that her husband Vince is finally about to die.
But as the family gathers to see out his final days, Vince utters a single word that will change everyone’s lives completely:
Who is Martha? And why is Annie so quick to dismiss the mention of her name?
As Annie’s long-held secrets start to emerge, the lives of everyone she holds dear will be changed forever…
Hello Jane, thank you so much for joining me today and congratulations on the release of your book, This Much is True. What was your typical writing day like when writing this book?
Ah, if only there was any such thing. Every day seems to be different, depending on what other demands there are on my time. I work at a desk in my bedroom at home, and am easily distracted by almost everything that happens around me: dogs barking downstairs, postman knocking at the door, phone ringing, washing to be done, drying to be folded, dogs to be walked, dinner to cook … do you get the picture?! I write between all those other activities – half an hour here, an hour there – until the book gets more than halfway finished, and then I always make a priority of it, find the discipline to turn a blind eye to other things, and forge ahead to the end. On the whole, I’m probably most productive either very early in the morning, or late in the evening.
Can you tell me a little about This Much is True and what inspired the novel?
It was actually inspired by walking my dogs, here where I live, in Herefordshire. But that really was just a starting point for a story about secrets, lies, and the redemptive powers of friendship. Annie Doyle is a deceptively complex woman, whose ordinary existence hides some extraordinary truths, and who can only deal with the miseries of her past by ignoring them. I wanted Annie’s fledgling friendship with Josie and Sandra to be a catalyst for change; through their example she begins to see another way of being. Of course, I also wanted to explore the idea of secrecy in friendships too – the lines we don’t cross, the things we never tell. Annie has more to hide than most of us, but I believe we all protect our secret selves, to one extent or another.
Do you have many pages of planning and research for this book or did you just see where it took you?
I have a notebook with random memos to myself about things I mustn’t forget, but that’s all. I research as I go, and I don’t really plan at all. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it works.
What’s the editing process like for you – how do you approach it?
It’s a fluid process, and I edit (that is, rewrite, correct, add material) as I write, rather than at the end. I don’t do drafts – my first draft tends to be my only draft, but it will have undergone an awful lot of tweaking as it took shape. Then, of course, the manuscript goes to the editor for their input, and the copyediting stage is equally crucial to weed out the continuity errors and grammatical blunders, but on the whole I try to be as efficient as possible during the actual writing of the story. It’s my journalist’s training, I reckon – it dinned into me the importance of producing ‘clean copy’.
What elements do you feel make a good novel?
Great characters and believable dialogue. If those elements are in place, I’m happy. Plot matters – of course it does – but sometimes a great novel can actually be about very little; if the reader cares about the characters, and can hear them when they speak, then that’s the basis of a truly good read, in my view.
Do you have any writing rituals – coffee, music, silence, a specific place you need to write?
Silence, generally, and I always write at a small desk at my bedroom window, which has a beautiful view of the Brecon Beacons in the distance, but I have to keep the shutters closed because the light bleaches out my screen! Coffee and tea are essential to my day, whether I’m writing or not.by
Copycat is the latest novel from author, Alex Lake and I am pleased to be welcoming her blog tour to Novel Kicks today.
Imitation is the most terrifying form of flattery…
Which Sarah Havenant is you?
When an old friend gets in touch, Sarah Havenant discovers that there are two Facebook profiles in her name. One is hers. The other, she has never seen.
But everything in it is accurate. Photos of her friends, her husband, her kids. Photos from the day before. Photos of her new kitchen. Photos taken inside her house.
And this is just the beginning. Because whoever has set up the second profile has been waiting for Sarah to find it. And now that she has, her life will no longer be her own…
Thank you for joining me today, Alex. Your book is called Copycat. Can you tell me a little about it and the inspiration behind it?
It’s about a woman, a doctor with three young kids, who discovers that there’s a Facebook account in her name. When she looks at it, she’s shocked – the most recent post is a photo , from the day before, of her kids on the beach. And there are others: photos of her out with her friends, of her on a date night with her husband, of her kids’ school plays. It is an entirely accurate representation of her life.
But she had nothing to do with it, and, as she will soon discover, it is just the beginning of her problems.
The inspiration came from some conversations I’d with friends about the way we treat our digital lives. Social media is very public, and yet we seem happy to put all kinds of information out there which would once have been considered private – birthdays, middle names, current location – that leaves us vulnerable to hackers and the like. But what if someone didn’t want to just steal your money or your identity – what if they wanted to destroy your entire life, and the information you left online was just the means they used to do it?
What’s your writing day like and do you have any writing rituals?
I write early in the morning, before my three young kids are up and about. When I sit down I know what I’m going to write – what the scene is and how it fits into the rest of the book, and so I can really use the time. I normally plan it the evening before (in the bath, or on a walk).
I only write for about an hour and a half each day, which is normally around 1500 words – after that I start to lose the flow and it becomes a struggle. Then for the rest of the day I do all the other things I have to get done.
What’s the best and most challenging thing about being a writer?
The best is getting the first copy of your book. Each book starts as a vague idea in your head, then gets turned into notes, then conversations with friends over a drink, then a draft, another draft and then one day a parcel comes and it’s your book. It’s just thrilling.
I think the most challenging thing is the constant worry that whatever you’re working on isn’t good enough. I always have that feeling – I’ll be halfway through a first draft, and I find myself thinking that what I’m working on is no good, that the characters are flat and boring, that the plot is full of holes, that I need to scrap it and come up with a better idea. And there’s no one you can talk to – the book’s not done, so they can’t read it – so all you can do it carry on, convinced you’re going to end up with a disaster on your hands….
What elements, in your opinion, make a good thriller?
I think there are three broad areas: characters, plot and The Villain.
The characters need certain characteristics – they need to feel real, so readers can identify with them and care about them, they need to be in genuine peril, and the solution needs to be in their grasp. They can’t just be waiting for the end to resolve itself. They need to be fighting and struggling and helping themselves.
As for the plot – the thrillers I enjoy the most are the ones I could imagine happening to me. It’s that sense that the structure of our lives is just one step away from falling apart, that, hidden behind the closed curtains of a nearby house unspeakable things are going on, and they might spill over into all of our lives…
And then there’s the villain. What makes a good villain would need an entire blog post of its own, but the villain too needs to be real.
And the more real they are, the more terrifying they become…by