‘Shifting Colours’ is a story of secrets, love and loss. Set against the violent backdrop of apartheid South Africa and then the calm of late twentieth century Britain, it traces the lives of Celia and Miriam – mother and daughter separated by land, sea and heart-rending circumstance.
Its genesis was a snapshot from a current-events programme I saw many years ago. I held the image in my head for a long time, knowing that one day I would elaborate a story from it.
What’s your writing day like? Do you have any writing rituals? Do yo prefer to write in silence?
I begin each day with a coffee expertly brewed by my husband, but only start writing after doing some sort of exercise (running/walking/Pilates) and then seeing my family off to their respective commitments. I’m usually at my desk by 9am and write through until 2pm, after which life again intervenes.
I try to write Monday to Friday and get very frustrated if I don’t manage to achieve this. I like to write in the silence of my study for a first draft, but for any editing and rewriting after that, I prefer to go down to a local coffee shop. I sit in the same corner each day – the owner calls it ‘my office’ – and a cappuccino and a piece of ginger-and-oat slice go a long way to improving my writing skills.
Do you plan and edit as you go?
I never plan. I have a clear idea of how I want my story to end, and I work towards this point, but how I reach that endpoint is up to my characters. They tend to take me their own route.
I begin each day of writing by reading over the previous day’s work, and at this stage I also do a preliminary edit. Each subsequent draft is edited in this way too, until all I am eventually doing is just editing, and not adding.
Is there a fictional character you’d like to meet?
He would bring along a wild boar and roast it for me over an open fire, just like he does at all the Gaul banquets in the ‘Asterix & Obelix’ collection. I’d be in heaven. ( I was always hungry after reading one of Goscinny’s books!) Obelix would also bring along his little dog, Dogmatix, who, like me, loves trees and hates it when they are cut down.
A new novel, but I can’t say much more than that. Somehow, talking about something I’m currently working on seems to rob it of its intrinsic energy. I can say though, that the protagonist popped into my head almost fully formed, and she’s leading me by the nose. Very bossy indeed, but quite delightful too.
Who would your ideal dinner guests be?
Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
What’s your favourite word?
Five tips for new writers?
. Don’t tell too many people what you are doing. It creates an unnecessary pressure for you to get published. Instead just enjoy the journey and don’t put a time frame on your apprenticeship.
. Once you’ve completed a piece, put it away for a while. It allows the sediment to settle and when you come back to it, you come with fresh eyes.
. Try to write every day if you can. My mentor once told me that the art of writing was like a muscle which had to be worked and toned daily for it to function optimally and get stronger.
. Be open to feedback and criticism. You don’t have to accept it, but you should at least consider it.
. Write about what moves, excites or interests you, not what you think the market wants to hear.
What was the most challenging thing about writing Shifting Colours?
Writing in the voice of characters whose life experiences were so different from my own. In the end, I hope the common denominator I shared with my characters was our humanity.
What part of the writing process do you like the most?
Remodelling and reworking a first draft.
Shifting Colours is published by Allison & Busby (May 2014) and is available in paperback and e-book.