NK Chats To….
Our Author Interviews and Guest Posts.
Our Author Interviews and Guest Posts.
Maggie’s Kitchen is the latest novel from Caroline Beecham (which is due to be released by Ebury Press on 27th July 2017) and I am happy to be welcoming her to Novel Kicks today.
When the British Ministry of Food urgently calls for the opening of restaurants to feed tired and hungry Londoners during WWII, aspiring cook Maggie Johnson seems close to realising a long-held dream. After overcoming a tangle of red tape, Maggie’s Kitchen finally opens its doors to the public and Maggie finds that she has an unexpected problem – her restaurant is too popular, and there’s not enough food to go round.
Then Maggie takes twelve-year-old street urchin Robbie under her wing and, through him, is introduced to a dashing Polish refugee, digging for victory on London’s allotments. Between them they will have to break the rules in order to put food on the table, and, perhaps, find love into the bargain…
Thank you for joining me today, Caroline. Can you tell me a little about your book, Maggie’s Kitchen and what inspired it?
‘Maggie’s Kitchen’ is a novel that follows the fortunes of Maggie Johnson as she sets up and runs a British Restaurant in London during the Second World War. The story focuses on the relationships that she develops with the community and in particular with Robbie, a twelve-year-old runaway, and Janek, a Polish refugee. Together they struggle through government red-tape to open the restaurant and then battle food shortages and community crisis to keep their doors open.
The novel is inspired by real events and I was intrigued by the fact these restaurants were created to help with the food shortages during the war. It seemed timely to write a story about them given the renewed interest in ‘paddock-to-plate’ and ‘nose-to-tail’ eating and our obsession with food.
The novel includes excerpts from the original Ministry of Food’s War Cookery Leaflets together with recipes that have been updated to suit contemporary tastes. The story is ultimately about hope and finding courage in the most unlikely of places.
What are the challenges of writing historical fiction?
Being inspired to write fiction based on real events and/or people and their achievements feels like a real privilege but there is also the danger of becoming too obsessed with your research and wanting to include everything in your book.
The key is to recognise how much detail to use to create the setting and as signposts to make the era authentic, but also remember you are creating a fictional work that needs to be real for your characters.
I’ve learnt that the first step is to recognise when to stop researching and start writing. The next is to know when to leave the research behind and just write freely, knowing that you can go back and check facts and details later; the most important thing is story and character.
That said, I was surprised at how strict the editors were in their fact checking with places, street names, and bus routes from the time for instance, but I suppose that’s good news for readers!
What is the best and hardest thing about being a writer?
The best thing about writing is being able to immerse yourself in fascinating subjects and people and different and interesting worlds; and your imagination of course. Initially I had wanted to write non-fiction because of my background working in television as well as to carry on storytelling in a different way after stopping fulltime work when I had children, but then I found myself drawn to fiction because it seemed to offer up more opportunities.
That’s what happened with ‘Maggie’s Kitchen’; I could have developed a documentary about these British Restaurants that few people had heard about but the characters of Maggie, Janek and Robbie emerged quite quickly, and the rest they say is history!
The hardest thing about being a writer is having the space and time to write. Everyone is very busy these days and juggling a family with other work commitments can be challenging.
When people asked what I did before I was published, I used to apologetically explain that I was writing a novel and they either rolled their eyes or were genuinely interested, but I didn’t feel as if I could legitimately say that was my work, even though I was totally committed to it and quite disciplined about spending time writing because I knew the novel wouldn’t write itself and that was what I had to do.
Now I realise that I need space around writing, not just the physical sitting down at the desk or doing research space but real headspace and that’s not always easy to get. I understand now why there are so many writers’ retreats and I think I need to apply for one!by
Hello Kevin, thank you for joining me t0day on Novel Kicks. Your novel (which you’ve co-written with Jack Ketsoyan) is called Blind Item. Can you tell me about it?
Sure! The idea for Blind Item came out of conversations that Jack Ketsoyan and I had when I was a tabloid editor and he was a publicist with chaotic clients that I needed to do stories on.
After he came to trust me, we would share the darkest things we’d seen in our jobs, and we swore one day that we’d fold them all into a novel.
With Blind Item, we set out to write a dark romance that was set in the real Hollywood, the city were fame is just another job, and being famous is the worst job of all. We wanted to tell a funny, touching and truthful story that used our experiences as a springboard, and we threw in a generous sprinkling of the scandals that we’d seen over the years.
You’ve been an entertainment journalist for over twenty five years. How did this help with writing the novel? How much in the book is based on true events? (If you’re allowed to say… obviously.)
For a lot of entertainment journalists, their job entails showing up to interviews and spending very formal time around celebrities. I used to do that job. Once I entered the tabloid world, things became lot more informal.
I’ve always believed in journalistic integrity and if someone says something is off record, it’s off record. I think this surprised a lot of celebrities, but as they came to trust me, I began to get invited to private parties at their houses, and I never sold them out.
For many years, I was able to see a side of Hollywood that doesn’t get reported on. It was fun for a while but like anything that you have to do for work, it got old. But the behavior and the ridiculous excess that I saw definitely informed Blind Item.
The book is a fiction, it’s the story of a group of friends who live a life that’s very similar to both Jack’s and my own, when we were starting out in this town. We then saddled our poor characters with a lot of the lurid things that we saw happen, but I’d imagine that this is something that most writers do, go with what you know, write from your experience, but transform it into something more.
What was your typical writing day like when writing Blind Item? Do you have any rituals before sitting down to write (needing coffee, music, silence, etc?)
It’s all about ritual for me. On the days that I was writing Blind Item, I would get up and check my phone exhaustively, literally exhaust the news, email, social media and whatnot, so that it would not distract me (and ultimately, as we entered the home stretch, I deactivated Facebook because of its capacity to enable procrastination.)
Then I would pile my two dogs into my car and go get a ridiculously strong coffee at Starbucks.
I would come home and think about the playlist for the day. I can only write to very few albums. I have to know them inside out. But it changes, and I think the material dictates what music I’m able to write to. For most of Blind Item, I only listened to Nocturne by Siouxsie, Last Splash by the Breeders and Golem by Wand. Just three albums on repeat.
I think they soothe my brain. I don’t hear them while I’m writing but they give my subconscious free reign to go live in that made up world. Once I had exhausted myself for the day, I’d go for a hike to clear out and return to myself.
What’s your favourite word and why?
It changes all the time. I like animal words, like panda and pangolin. I like palindromes, like kayak. I like onomatopoeia, and I love invented words. I’ve always loved a word I heard in France, I don’t know how to spell it, but it was something like les roploplos, which an old lady told me was a plural noun for really big boobs.by
I’m saying a big hello today to Audrey Davis. Her debut novel, A Clean Sweep has just recently been released via eBook.
Love comes around when you least expect it. Fifty-something widow Emily isn’t expecting romance. Nor is she expecting a hunky twenty-something chimney sweep on her doorstep.
Daughter Tabitha knows something isn’t quite right with her relationship, while her boss – Abba-loving Meryl – thinks she’s found the real deal. Are they both right, or pursuing Mr Wrong?
Emily’s sister, Celeste, has the perfect marriage … or does she? Can a fitness tracker lead her down the path to happiness or heartbreak?
Susan is single, overweight and resigned to a life of loneliness. There was the one who got away but you don’t get another try, do you?
Sharing her route to publication, it’s over to you, Audrey.
It’s been five weeks since my first novel – A Clean Sweep – was published on Amazon but I am still giddy with excitement. I am an author! An actual, people-are-buying-my book author (or otter, as my lovely Dutch friend pronounces it). OK, I’m a very long way from topping the best seller list but that’s probably because I’m clueless about the marketing side. More of that in a little while …
My writing journey began several decades ago – yes, I am old – when I trained as a journalist and worked for many years in provincial newspapers and various magazines. My relationship with my now-husband Bill took me to Singapore, Australia and the south of England before we moved to Switzerland in 2002. Along the way we raised two boys, now all grown up and living in the UK, but we remained in the land of cheese and chocolate. Any dreams of writing were put aside as I focused on never-ending house renovations which still challenge my French-speaking abilities but at least I provide entertainment for the local workers.
It was in February 2016 that I signed up for a Start Writing Fiction course run by Future Learn, an offshoot of Open University. Within a few weeks I was totally hooked, exchanging ideas and reviews with fellow students from all over the world. It was one short exercise that gave me the idea for a longer story which then grew … and grew. With no firm plot in mind I found characters popping into my head, along with vague notions of what might happen to them. Five thousand words became twenty thousand and on it went. I ran sample chapters by friends who were effusive in their praise (probably because they are very nice and polite people.)by
Penny Parkes has joined me today to talk about her new book, Practice Makes Perfect (released by Simon & Schuster on 29th June 2017.) Thank you for joining me today and congratulations for your new book. Can you tell me a little about Practice Makes Perfect?
Well, Practice Makes Perfect takes us to the fictional Cotswold market town of Larkford, where we sneak behind the scenes of the medical centre there – The Larkford Practice. There’s a whole new management structure in place. In fact, the four senior doctors are not only entwined professionally, but also personally: 4 partners, 2 couples. So, I’m sure you can imagine how the boundaries between personal and professional become ever more blurry.
On the surface it might seem like the perfect situation and the powers-that-be certainly think so, because they’ve nominated Larkford as a Model Practice. But, as is often the case, if you shine a spotlight on things, it does rather tend to emphasise the flaws…
And, as always in Larkford, we get to see the doctors as a crucial part of their community – in good times and in bad. For Dr Holly Graham, in particular, that relationship works in both directions, as resident celebrity Elsie Townsend makes it her mission to help Holly find balance and fulfilment.
I’m hoping it will be like visiting old friends for those returning to the series after Out Of Practice and also stand alone as a wonderfully rural escapade for those new to the Larkford Valley.
What’s your writing day and routine like? Any rituals?
I have to be fairly flexible, to be honest, to fit around family life, but that doesn’t stop me having an ‘ideal day’ that I try to work towards. I normally see the kids off to school and then have my breakfast – an excellent excuse to muck about on social media while I top up my caffeine levels. Then, The Ginger Ninja and I like to have a little stroll, and this mainly serves not only to wear her out, but also to give me time to think about what I want to write that day. I have found (to my cost) that I am much more efficient if I sit down to type with an idea of where I want the story to go… Even if my characters don’t always behave themselves accordingly once I get started!
What type of writer are you in terms of planning and editing?
I’d have to say that I’m a little of both – I like to sketch out a loose framework and then just let the plotlines develop on their own with a first draft. Only then will I start looking at the balance of points of view and more specific character arcs etc. and of course that’s where my incredibly insightful and lovely Editor, Jo, comes in with some much needed objectivity!
Do you have any advice for anyone experiencing writer’s block?
I think the only thing to be aware of is that, creatively, you can’t drink from an empty cup – if you’re exhausted or ill or hammering out the words simply to up the word count, I think it shows in the quality of those words. Half the time, the days when I’ve pushed through writing with the flu, for example, all those pages have ended up on the cutting room floor anyway! Sometimes better to step away – rest, recover, see a friend – and then suddenly a chance comment in the queue at the supermarket will set my enquiring mind off on a roll… Inspiration is everywhere really, except possibly staring at a blank screen!by
Hello Marilyn. Thank you so much for joining me today. Your book is called Granny with Benefits. What is it about and how did the idea originate?
Hi Laura, thank you very much for inviting me.
The book is about a 39 year old single woman called Grace. Her grandmother passes away and Grace volunteers to clear out her belongings from the Sheltered Accommodation, but really it’s an opportunity to get her sticky paws on some beautiful coats and jewels that her grandmother owned. Grace is dressed head to toe in her grandmothers clothing when a handsome man, who is looking for accommodation for his father, comes to view the room. They strike up a meaningful conversation about life and love, a discussion Grace believes would not have happened had he not thought she was an old woman. Grace decides that she will use her Granny alto ego to engineer a date for herself with the man, but things do not go according to plan.
The idea originated from two separate conversations that I had with friends of mine. The first conversation was with one of my best friends, who at the time was single and very reluctant to join Match.com. It made her feel exposed and she felt that it was a digital meat market. We had a long conversation about dating. We came to the conclusion that the men we were meeting wanted someone to look after them. They were basically looking for their mothers. This sparked the idea of men looking for their mothers when dating in my head.
The second conversation was with male best friend. I suggested to him that as we both had single friends we should set them up on blind dates. He agreed to speak to his friend and I was horrified when he advised that his friend had given him right of veto to vet my friends via photographs to decide if they were suitable for a blind date. He thought it was a perfectly reasonable suggestion. I thought the pair of them had a bloody cheek!
But it got me thinking. I made me think about the fact that some of us have a checklist that we can’t deviate from when looking for a partner. We aren’t open to surprises. It also made me think about the fact that when you meet someone are you really meeting the real them? Aren’t we all on our best behaviour when first dating?
The two conversations made me want to explore the idea of getting to know someone in a dating scenario without them realising it. What would they reveal about themselves? I also loved the idea of being able to look at the process of dating and aging. Grace gets the opportunity to become her ghost of Christmas Future through her Granny alter ego and it impacts on her present life.
If you were suddenly given the courage to do the one thing you’ve always wanted to do but have not yet done, what would you do?
I would walk a tight rope. I suffer from vertigo and only discovered this in my late twenties. Even the thought of a great height makes me dizzy! I can change a light bulb and put up curtains, basically anything three rungs up a step ladder, but any higher than that and you’re on your own!
What’s your writing process like? When writing this book, did you plan much and did you edit as you wrote or once you’d completed the first draft?
I discovered my writing process and the fact that I could write a novel by accident! I had planned to write a short film and whilst plotting it turned into the novel.
I wrote the entire novel by hand in notebooks, so there was no editing. I have a computer, so I have no idea why I did it this way. I think it was my subconscious not quite convinced that I could write a novel, so didn’t want to commit to it fully. When I typed up the novel that served as my first edit. Then when I read it back, that was the second edit.
I then came across an organisation called Spread the Word and they offered one to one Fiction Surgeries, so I booked one. It was invaluable. Based on the Writer Development Manager reading a 3000 word extract from the novel, I was given some top tips on where it wasn’t quite working. One of the books recommended at the session was Stephen King’s On Writing. It is an absolutely fantastic book for any writer, but particularly a new one like me. Once I read that I knew what I needed to do with the novel. I didn’t touch it for four months then I gave it a complete restructure and further edit.
At this point I knew I had got it in the best possible shape I could on my own, so I then found an Editor. We did one edit and a final read through and the book was done!
I was quite a long journey, but I now have it down pat, which made writing my second book a much more refined process. Plotting is the key for me. I plot from beginning to end before I write a single word on the manuscript.
Which authors do you admire and why?
I was a prolific reader as a child, but then I discovered film and so most of the authors I admire are from my childhood.
I loved Roald Dahl books. His imagination seemed boundless. He seemed to have a knack/genius for creating fantasy worlds that were comfortably inhabited by real children. Nothing seemed impossible, but simply magical.by
I’m pleased to be welcoming author, Kate Hughes to the blog today.
She chats to us about her self-publishing journey and what it was like for her. Over to you, Kate.
So I’d written a book. Now what?
All the advice I read said ‘Get an agent’. It all sounded so straightforward. So I diligently ordered the Writer’s Handbook and began to contact the relevant agents listed within its many pages. Email after email was sent but gradually after reading what felt like the millionth rejection message, it finally dawned on me that it was pretty unlikely that I was going to get any interest. I was unpublished, unknown and unimportant.
What to do? I’d invested so many hours in writing my precious book that I wanted at least a few people to read it. A friend of mine had just self-published his first novel and was having a lot of success, so he convinced me to give it a go. After sorting out all the formatting issues, which for a technophobe like me was extremely demanding, Amazon were pretty good at taking me through the self-publishing process. I had to upload the correct format of my book (finally it looked like a proper book with chapters and everything) then I had to design the cover. Again, Amazon have a handy cover creator which allows you to use pictures and text on their program. I know many authors pay to have their own covers designed and they look amazing, however as I had no idea whether I was actually going to sell any copies yet I was loathe to spend money I didn’t have! I have to say I was pretty pleased with the finished cover anyway. Just a few more boxes to fill in then…
I self-published my debut novel Mr Brown’s Suitcase in 2014. BUT and this is a big ‘but’ (hence the capitals) now the real work began.
The book is out there but, in order to sell any copies, people have to know. If you go through a traditional publisher they’ll sort all that out for you, but down the self-publishing route it’s all your responsibility. That for me has been the hardest part. The huge problem is that there are so many self-published authors out there. The competition to get your book noticed in a crowded marketplace is a challenge. I also work in a profession (teaching) which isn’t known for its expertise in self-promotion so it didn’t come easily! I had to advertise on all my social media accounts and encourage friends and family to share the news and a link to my book, use word of mouth (i.e. drop into the conversation at an appropriate time, “Did you know I’ve written a book?”), ask book bloggers to review my book (and hope it’s positive!) and contact relevant websites who I thought might be interested. Phew!by
Hello Emma, thank you for joining me today. Firstly, What’s your writing day like?
It varies, depending on a lot of things – other commitments, my mood, the weather (yes, really). However, if possible, I do the bulk of my actual writing first thing in the morning. I’m an early riser, so this means no later than 6am in the winter and, often, as early as 4am in the summer. I love that time of day for its peace and quiet. No interruptions. And my brain seems to function best then. Later, if I can, I will go back to my writing and redraft or I’ll research things. There’s usually an energy dip in the afternoon, so that’s when I try to make myself do mundane but important tasks like tidying my desk (I’m a very messy writer), sorting, labelling.
Your new book is called The Valentine House. Can you tell me a bit about it?
The Valentine House is about an English family who go, every year, to their summer home, high up in the French alps and about someone from the village nearby called Mathilde. At the start of the story, Mathilde is employed to work as a servant for the family. She becomes involved with them in all sorts of ways, discovering a secret that affects them all. The novel explores the relationship between the two cultures and also the relationship between identity and place.
If you could have a chalet anywhere in the world, where would you have it and why?
I would have it in the French Alps. I can’t say where, precisely – there are so many beautiful spots to choose from. But somewhere that is accessible, yet feels remote, and, above all, somewhere with a view – of the mountains, a valley, a village, a river, a blue, blue sky. Why? Because I’ve seen chalets in places like that. They exist. It’s not a fantasy. People live in them. I’d like to be one of those people.
What’s your writing process like – edit as you go? Much planning?
My writing process is a mixture of editing as I go and planning. I’m not very good at planning in advance. I try to do it. I make myself do it. But I tend to write first and just see what happens. Usually, this results in a mess of words, which I then have to sort and turn into a novel. So the planning happens during and after, not before the writing, usually.
Do you have any writing rituals? Coffee, silence, tea?
No rituals, although I like silence and solitude. The only quirky thing is my use of 2B pencils. I have a big stock of them. I like to have them within arms’ reach wherever I am in the house. When things are going well, that means 2B pencils all over the place – on the floor, in my bed, next to the bath. They are used mostly for jotting, but sometimes for longer bits of writing, but my handwriting is terrible and, when I write quickly, even I find it difficult to read later. I have to type up my 2B jottings quickly, therefore.by
Hello Meg, it’s so lovely to welcome you to Novel Kicks today. Your book is called The Wanderers (released yesterday and has, in my opinion one of the prettiest book covers.) Can you tell me about the novel and how the idea originated?
Thank you! (And I love that cover too.)
“The Wanderers” imagines that a private space company is four years away from sending the first crew of humans to Mars. Three astronauts have been selected, and as part of their training they are asked to undergo a seventeen-month simulation of the mission. The story is told from the point of view of the crewmembers, and also from some of the people they’ll be leaving behind: a wife, a daughter, and a son. We also hear from of one of the people tasked with observing and evaluating the astronauts. It’s a story about ambition, isolation, inner space, the problem of knowing what is “real” or even what “real” means, and the different kinds of personal simulations human beings find themselves in. (I hope it’s also a little bit funnier than my description!)
The idea for the book was inspired by a newspaper article I read concerning a simulated Mars mission: six volunteers spent 520 days in a module, being tested for the kind of psychological and physiological stresses a crew might experience in a long-duration space expedition. I thought it sounded like an incredibly cool setting for a novel.
What was your approach to the writing process with this novel – did you plan a lot, wait until you had a whole draft before editing?
I spent over a year researching before I wrote anything at all. The research continued for the length of writing: about four years. I don’t outline, but I spent months writing the first chapter and thinking through the general shape of the book. I revise CONSTANTLY.
Once you’d written your first novel, could you tell me a bit about the route you had to publication and how the process was different with this novel?
The first novel I wrote didn’t sell—just got very lovely rejection letters. So I put it away and tried again. The second book sold, and the editor who acquired it was interested in that first book, and told me to take it out and work on it a bit. I did, and it became my second published novel. (Lesson: you never know.) I don’t usually show anyone what I’m working on until it’s finished, so with “The Wanderers” my literary agent only knew that I was working on “something with astronauts in it.” It’s my first book to be published in the U.K, which is tremendously exciting for me.
Do you have any writing rituals – coffee before you start? No noise etc.
I avoid all rituals or rules involving writing other than Work Hard and Care About Everything.
Do you have any advice for anyone who might be suffering from writers block?
Well, I’m reluctant to give advice but I can say what I think it true. It’s this: writing isn’t about word count or how many hours a day you spend typing. (It’s also not about publishing.) Writing is a way of confronting the world. When I’m stuck, it’s because I’m not confronting the world, I’m confronting the “idea of being a writer.” That’s a closed-loop system. So, I go to museums, art galleries, concerts, plays, and read poetry and non-fiction. I stop being “person who is trying to write” and let myself be a reader, an audience member, a student. At a certain point, it becomes clear that being a writer MEANS being a reader, an audience member, a student. I get excited about what I’m observing, learning, confronting, and I want to talk about it, figure it out, and make something of my own.by
Big lovely hellos to Bella Osborne who is back on Novel Kicks with her blog tour for the third instalment of her Willow Cottage series. It’s called A Spring Affair and was released by Avon on 23rd March 2017.
Beth is running away. With her young son Leo to protect, Willow Cottage is the lifeline she so desperately needs. Overlooking the village green in a beautiful Cotswolds idyll, Beth sees a warm, caring and safe place for little Leo.
When she finally uncovers the cottage from underneath the boughs of a weeping willow tree, Beth realises this is far more of a project than she bargained for and the locals are more than a little eccentric! A chance encounter with gruff Jack, who appears to be the only male in the village under thirty, leaves the two of them at odds but it’s not long before Beth realises that Jack has hidden talents that could help her repair more than just Willow Cottage
Over the course of four seasons, Beth realises that broken hearts can be mended, and sometimes love can be right under your nose…
Willow Cottage is part of a serialized novel told in four parts, following the journey of Beth and her new life in the Cotswolds. The full book will be out next this August, but for now, enjoy Willow Cottage seasonally.
With her top five spring inspired movies, it’s over to you Bella.
Hi Novel Kicks, Thank you for having me on your blog today.
Part 3 of Willow Cottage is set in springtime so that got me thinking about films that are set in the spring and there really aren’t many that spring to mind (apologies – no pun intended).
When it comes to seasonally focused films winter and Christmas seem to have the monopoly. However, after dusting off my DVDs I came up with a list of five films I love that even if they aren’t specifically set in spring they certainly make me think of that time of year.
Ferris Buellers Day Off (1986)
This is of course a modern classic – charming and hilarious. It’s what we all hoped we would do with an unplanned day off school. Ferris has some good advice for us all – ‘Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.’ Ferris Bueller
Saving Grace (2000)
I love this film. It stars Brenda Blethyn as recently widowed Grace who suddenly discovers that her husband was on the brink of financial ruin and she is about to lose her home. Fear not, this is most definitely a comedy and a very sweet one at that as Grace puts her green fingered skills to great use with some interesting plants!
10 Things I hate About You (1999)
Heath Ledger at his most gorgeous but watching him always leaves a tinge of sadness. A modern day version of Taming of the Shrew based in an American High School – what’s not to love?
You’ve Got Mail (1998)
My favourite Nora Ephron film staring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan and based around the cutest bookshop in New York. Romantic comedies don’t get much better than this!by
Hi Dani, thank you for joining me today. Congratulations on the release of This Love. To begin, could you describe what was your route to publication like?
If it was a journey, I would have to say it was one that took a scenic route, rather than the fast track. Like many unpublished authors, I was largely fumbling around in the dark, trying to get my first book noticed. I did send it out to literary agents, but sadly without success. Eventually I had to accept that, for whatever reason, this was not the right time for me or my book, and sadly relegated it to a memory stick in my desk drawer. Then four years later in 2013 my daughter offered to help me self-publish. Very soon, after a lifetime of thinking it was never going to happen, I was lucky enough to have both an agent and a publishing deal. But best of all, I finally had the opportunity to share a story that very nearly never got to be told at all.
Your new book is called This Love. What’s it about?
THIS LOVE is an emotional drama, but – as its title would suggest – at its core it’s very much a love story. It’s a book about falling in love with possibly the one person you should never become involved with, for a great many reasons. But it’s also a story about the heart ruling the head.
The main character is Sophie who, because of a past tragedy, has chosen to live a very contained and limited life, until a dramatic event occurs, and she meets Ben. After that the prison walls she had built around her come crashing down and the path to her future is rewritten. Although it’s about being rescued, THIS LOVE is also about finding the courage to rescue yourself. And, of course, it wouldn’t be one of my books if there weren’t some fairly major obstacles standing in the way as well.
What’s the best and hardest part of being a writer?
The best part of this job is doing something for a living that you would choose to do as a hobby anyway. I don’t think you can – or should – ever consider writing a book to earn a great deal of money, because that literary jackpot only happens to a very small select group of authors – which is probably why those jaw-dropping six figure deals make the headlines. Most of us are just happy to earn enough to cover the mortgage. I believe the only reason to do this job is because you have a passion for storytelling. And if you’re fortunate enough to find someone who wants to pay you for the privilege of doing something you love, then that is the most incredible bonus.
The hardest part of being a writer is probably the isolation and the potential loneliness. There’s no one around for the famous ‘water cooler chats’ anymore. Also there is a very slippery slope you could easily slither down: unwashed; not even brushed your hair; working all day in your pyjamas; not wearing a scrap of makeup. Funnily enough, however scruffy you look, the people in your book don’t seem to care a bit!
When writing This Love, what was your writing process like? Did you plan much? Do you tend to complete a first draft before editing?by
Award winning author Liz Fenwick’s latest novel, The Returning Tide is released today by Orion.
Two sisters and one betrayal that will carry across generations . . .
In wartime Cornwall, 1943, a story between two sisters begins – the story of Adele and Amelia, and the heart-breaking betrayal that will divide them forever. Decades later, the effects of one reckless act still echo – but how long will it be until their past returns?
A big, lovely welcome to Liz who joins me today with her advice on staying motivated when writing. Over to you, Liz…
The beginning of writing a novel is a wonderful thing. I am in love. The book in my head is perfect in every way from flawless sentences, twists galore and characters to die for…it’s all there unsullied by actually putting a single word on the page.
This love affair normally lasts for about 20,000 or maybe to 40,000 words if I’m lucky…then the doubts creep in. What was I thinking? It’s awful. These thoughts I refer to as the crows of doubt and they really begin to circle. This is when I turn to research and writing craft books. I’m always scared that I won’t find the inspiration to complete the story but digging into research fills my head with more ideas. Writing craft books make me look at things from a different angle.
Both of these exercises are essential to finding the will and the inspiration to keep going until I type the end.
I also remind myself that the first draft of the book is for me…for me alone. It’s fine that it is so far from perfect, from the book in my head. I tell myself that once the first draft is done I can fix it but I can’t fix an empty page.by
Huge hellos today to Julia Chapman and the blog tour for her new novel, Date with Death which is part of the Dales Detective Series, released by Pan on 9th March. Here’s a bit about it….
Murder’s no cup of tea.
Samson O’Brien has been dismissed from the police force, and returns to his hometown of Bruncliffe in the Yorkshire Dales to set up the Dales Detective Agency while he fights to clear his name. However, the people of Bruncliffe aren’t that welcoming to a man they see as trouble.
Delilah Metcalfe, meanwhile, is struggling to keep her business, the Dales Dating Agency, afloat – as well as trying to control her wayward Weimaraner dog, Tolpuddle. Then when Samson gets his first case, investigating the supposed suicide of a local man, things take an unexpected turn, and soon he discovers a trail of deaths that lead back to the door of Delilah’s agency.
With suspicion hanging over someone they both care for, the two feuding neighbours soon realize that they need to work together to solve the mystery of the dating deaths. But working together is easier said than done . . .
To celebrate the release of her new novel, Julia asks, what’s in a name.
My novels are full of characters. But when you are creating a brand new person, where do you start? Usually, the physical characteristics come first for me. On the odd occasion, a character has emerged on the page complete with name from the very beginning. But that’s unusual.
On the whole, I create the people who populate my books from scratch. But sometimes the traits I give them come from real life. For example, I have a gorgeous Weimaraner called Tolpuddle in my new Dales Detective Series, a large grey dog who has a habit of leaning against people. I took that detail from a New Zealand Huntaway I once knew who was just like that. He would come up and lean into you, his weight heavy on your leg. But it wasn’t threatening. It was reassuring. As though he was letting you know he was there – in case you were in trouble.
I stole that characteristic and gave it to Tolpuddle. The rest of him is pure fiction. Especially his penchant for beer!
But perhaps the most essential part of any character, for me, is the name. It can tell you as much as any detailed physical description. More sometimes! We all know a Susie is different to a Susan. A Bill is going to be possibly less formal than a William. We can even deduce a person’s age simply from what they are called. Edith and Lucy – both live in Bruncliffe, the setting for the Dales Detective Series. Want to take a bet which one lives in Fellside Court retirement complex and which one runs the local cafe?
(Having said that, I do have a character called Titch who is massive. But then, if a bit of name inversion was good enough for Little John in Robin Hood then I’m happy to follow suit!)
How to choose this fundamental aspect of the people who will populate my books, then? By the time I reach the stage of assigning a label, the personality is usually fully formed. So I need the name to be right – it has to fit the person emerging from under my words like a glove. Consequently, it can take me a lot longer to christen my characters than to create them.
Take the landlord of the Fleece in Bruncliffe, the setting for the Dales Detective Series. He’s morose. A misanthropist.
He’s a reluctant host and suffers his customers only because they make him money.by
Massive happy hellos to Caroline Lea and her stunning debut novel, When The Sky Fell Apart which has just been released by Text Publishing.
Jersey, June 1940: it starts with the burning man on the beach just after the bombs land, obliterating the last shred of hope that Hitler will avert his attention from the Channel Islands. Within weeks, 12,000 German troops land on the Jersey beaches, heralding a new era of occupation.
For 10-year-old Claudine, it means a re-education under German rule, and as she befriends one of the soldiers, she inadvertently opens the gateway to a more sinister influence in her home with devastating consequences.
For Maurice, a local fisherman, it means protecting his wife at all costs. He has heard the whispers from France of what the occupiers do to invalids like Marthe and he is determined to keep them away from her – even if it means endangering his own life.
Edith, the island’s unofficial homeopath, is a Jerriais through to her bones. She sees her duty as caring for those who need her in their darkest time, but even she can’t save everyone, no matter how hard she tries.
And as for English doctor Tim Carter – on the arrival of the brutal Commandant, he becomes the subject of a terrifying regime that causes the Jersey locals to brand him a traitor, unaware of the torment he suffers in an effort to save them.
It’s over to Caroline where she is chatting about her writing process and the magic of editing. I’ve also reviewed the book too.
I’ve always written, but it took having children to compel me to finish my first novel. Perhaps it was the escapism writing offered, or the fact that motherhood has shown me both that I am a huge control freak, and that parenting is hard (why didn’t someone warn me that my kids would have opinions, or that they might prefer fistfuls of sugar to steamed broccoli?). The result was WHEN THE SKY FELL APART, which was written in six months during my children’s nap-times. Children provided me with a useful time constraint—I always respond well to a deadline—and writing provided me with characters I could control, so that it mattered less when my children drew on their faces with sharpie marker pens.
There were many surprises along the road to publication, not least of which was the amount of criticism writers must be willing to accept. The key is to acknowledge it, struggle back up, dust yourself off and continue to write, ignoring the monkey on your shoulder, babbling that you’re a failure. Writers are masters of self-sabotage. It’s easy to sit in front of a blank screen, paralysed by the idea that, whatever you write, it won’t be good enough. At the other end of the spectrum is the eviscerating experience of writing something ‘good’, only to feel utterly shattered by critical feedback from an agent or editor. All this emotional battery can leave hopeful writers feeling like the end product might not justify the years of tears and crushed egos, but I think that the problem is often that we expect to be ‘good’ too soon: we don’t allow ourselves to write badly.
Bear with me. I’m not suggesting that you send out your first draft of poorly shaped plot, with under-developed characters (I tried this with the first draft of my second novel: the response from my wonderful and longsuffering agent was polite but brutal). But I am saying that good work often starts with ‘bad’ writing, and with forgiving yourself for writing badly, and then being ready to endlessly reshape, rework, edit and redraft. This is where the magic happens. Imagine that you’re a sculptor. The first, roughly hewn block of wood will look be underwhelming. You’ll spend hundreds of hours sawing, chiseling, sanding and varnishing it before you have anything worthy of display. On the other hand, there may be things that remain in your novel through all twenty redrafts: WHEN THE SKY FELL APART starts with a burning man on a beach, and the first sentence, which was the impetus for the whole novel, has never changed: When he was on fire, the man smelt bitter.by
Who’s That Girl is the brilliant novel from Mhairi Mcfarlane. I’m so incredibly excited and honoured to be welcoming her to Novel Kicks today. I’ve reviewed Who’s That Girl below but first, I have a chat with Mhairi about her book, her writing process, who from the fictional world she’d like to hang out with and writing advice I am going to print out and pin to my desk.
Hi Mhairi, it’s lovely to welcome you to Novel Kicks today. Could you tell me a little about your novel, Who’s That Girl?
Lovely to be here! Who’s That Girl? is about Edie Thompson, 36, who is caught kissing the groom on his wedding day. She has her reasons, but no one wants to hear them, and it causes a scandal that sees her carefully managed life in advertising in London fall apart. She she has to go home to Nottingham and face her demons, and her grumpy younger hippy sister, Meg. She gets a temporary assignment ghost writing a celebrity biography and meets a hot new actor, Elliot Owen. Together they help each other tackle fame and infamy.
What’s your writing process like? Are you much of a planner or edit as you go?
I am such an ex journalist in this respect: I edit like fury as I go along, I don’t know how else to be: it has to feel more or less right or I can’t move forward. It’s a good thing in it that I tend to be quite clear in my tone and intent from the start, and I don’t have – my editor gives side eye here – HUGE rewrites later, but it doesn’t make me all that speedy, either. I have to bully myself to move on and not torture myself over it being exactly where I want it and polished to a high shine. Which no first draft ever is, really.
If you mean plot planning, I work to a rough A to Z outline but there’s a fair amount of free styling along the way.
Do you have any writing rituals for example writing in silence, chain drinking coffee?
Oh I hammer through great pails of black coffee definitely. No rituals, I’m not one of those ordered Kon Mari-ish writers with five fresh pens and a 9am on the dot start at a sun lit desk and all that. I can’t cope with music when I write, way too distracting, but oddly I can cope with the bang and clatter of a coffee shop, so if I get cabin fever, I take my laptop to Caffe Nero. Then of course I sit down next to five shrieking students and I start scowling as if they’ve brought their lattes into my library.by
Starting a new novel is always so exciting. Everything feels shiny and fresh, and you just know it will be the best book you’ve ever written.
I love that moment, before the inevitable self-doubt sets in. I don’t have any particular rituals when I sit down to write a new book, but I always sketch out the obstacles my characters will face and how I want them to change and grow by the end of the book.
I also think about their backgrounds and their internal conflicts, either as a result of their history or character traits. I often don’t have a picture of my protagonist in my mind, but I do need to ‘know’ them: their fears, their likes and dislikes, and what they want out of life.
I’ve tried both exhaustive planning and ‘pantsing’, and I usually fall somewhere in the middle.by