I had an idea for a character who, despite trying to do the best for everyone he encounters, feels his life to be one of disappointment and failure. Eventually, we discover that his decisions and actions have had a profound, beneficial effect on the lives of others. You could say it’s a modern-day interpretation of the film ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’.
I am also intrigued by quests and the twilight world of things that may or may not be. I am a great admirer of David Lynch and his ability to suggest that things are not as they seem was influential.
As for the story, it’s set in a secretive, hidden corner of Middle England, combining folklore, legends and ancient beliefs with the contemporary issue of what it means to be human in an increasingly technological world.
Thirty years ago, Oliver Merryweather is intrigued by a woman who waves to him from the window of a house in a village he discovers by accident.
In the present day, Oliver believes his life to be a series of failures and regrets. When the same woman appears to him in a dream, Oliver embarks on an obsessive quest to find her. With the village inexplicably absent from all maps, all he has to go on is the unusual mark on her wrist.
Journeying back into his past, Oliver finds himself inextricably drawn into a decades-old mystery involving missing children, pagan beliefs and the Green Man of folklore, while coming face to face with the disappointments and tragedies of his own life. As the story draws towards its unexpected and uplifting conclusion, the line between reality, dreams and memory begins to blur and Oliver gains an insight into the true purpose of his existence.
What were the challenges you faced whilst writing Another Life?
The bringing together of disparate ideas presented several difficulties. The biggest challenge was how to link my protagonist’s ordinary family life to the idea of the myths and legends associated with the Green Man.
The border between dreams and reality is a key theme in Another Life. This needed care, to avoid confusing the reader. There is the suggestion that something on the edge of the supernatural may be involved. It was essential to keep this as no more than a possibility in the mind of the reader. I’m not interested in writing pure fantasy – there has to be a grounding in reality, the possibility that the weirdest of events has a rational explanation. This was also important in creating a hidden community in Middle England, where the normal rules do not apply. I addressed this using a combination of geography and historical fact.
Finally, there was the challenge of the resolution: how to explain the mysteries and strange events encountered by the protagonist. Two-thirds of the way through the book the reader encounters a major change that makes sense of what comes before.
In summary, Another Life combines elements of family life, myths and legends, a quest and cutting-edge science. These elements are introduced in a natural, uncomplicated way, avoiding technical explanations, so as not to alienate the reader.
What’s your typical writing day like? Do you need things like coffee? Do you prefer to write in silence?
I’m an early morning person, whether it be writing and related activities, walking, running, photography. Writing comes first; it’s a passion that can never fully be satisfied.
A typical pattern is revision of the previous day’s work, followed by new words, including necessary research and then more research, finishing with a review of the current day’s progress.
I have to work in silence, other than birdsong. Music is too distracting. Any breaks have to be at a time of my choosing, usually ten minutes out of every hour. The exception is when I’m engaged in a long passage that’s going well. You have to take advantage of those occasions.
What’s your favourite word and why?
Apricot. I like the falling rhythm of the three syllables with a pause between the first and second. It’s like a musical phrase, sensuous, as is the shape and texture of the fruit.
How do you approach a writing project from idea to final draft and how long does it typically take you to get from the beginning of the process to the end?
A new book begins with a lot of thinking. A primordial soup of apparently unrelated ideas seeking to connect with the ideal partner. I write a few experimental passages, in isolation, to test whether they work, or at least have promise. Even at this early stage, I’m keen to ensure I can write engaging prose and believe in the idea. Much research follows until I’m happy that there is a story, a voyage embracing change. It is good to have an early idea for one or more endings. Much more important to let the characters lead you on a journey.
A new book takes me between nine and twelve months, including long periods of revision, particularly in the latter stages.
Which fictional world would you like to escape to for a while and why?by
Hi Laura, it’s wonderful to be back celebrating my second novel, I’m delighted to be here. It’s never easy to obtain a contract for a book, and for some reason, in my opinion, if it’s not already in place, obtaining that second one is always the most nerve-shredding. When the email offer came through for this one, it was like a weight lifting from my mind.
Can you tell me a little about your first historical saga, ‘A Wing and a Prayer’ and what inspired the story?
Because of ill health, I hadn’t been writing, I’d wanted to but it hadn’t been working. My author friends had all been encouraging me to try, so when a friend suggested I try something new rather than to pick up an unfinished project, it was like a serendipitous moment. I was watching a program on tv called, Spitfire Women, about the lady pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary in WW2. Before I was even aware I was doing it, I found myself scrolling around the internet and the beginning of a story idea reared its head. For this prod up the proverbial, I have two excellent authors and good friends to thank; best-selling romance author Sue Moorcroft and historical saga author par excellence, Elaine Everest. Also, after finding out so much about the brave women and men of the ATA, I wanted to write a kind of tribute to them. I hope I’ve done so.
What are the challenges of setting your novel in WWII?
Getting your facts right. Well, that’s only partially true, as in this day and age of the internet, you really shouldn’t be getting anything wrong, though it does happen. The other part, at least so far as I’m concerned, is making sure your characters behave and talk as they did back then. Compared to my romance, which was set in contemporary times, this was initially much harder to write until I got into the swing of it and now, it’s quite natural. Now I’m well into writing the third book in the series, writing as if my mind is back in the 1940’s seems natural. My main issue is, and will probably remain, writing in US English, as my publisher is based in the USA and prefers this. It still looks strange to me.
A lot of my ideas, when I first tried my hand at writing, came from listening to Radio. I’d hear a song and that would spark an idea. I still have a folder with about 20 idea for stories, some are brief outlines, a few lines, some are up to 6 or 7 pages, quite full of detail, a few even with a start, a middle and an end. I’d like think I can get back to some of those at some point. For this saga series, once the idea came, I was able to start writing pretty fast. I like to begin a story as soon as the idea hits me and as I’m more of a panster than a planster, I can get the first draft down pretty quickly, even taking into account that my first drafts are more akin to between a second and third draft, as I edit as I go along; each chapter has to read right before I can move on to the next one. I also keep each chapter as its own file, as I find it much easier to go to what I need to if, well, I need to.
So far as writing a series is concerned, this is my first series as ‘The Season for Love’ was a standalone romance, I’m kind of learning my own way as I go along. I’m sure everyone who writes a series has their own ways, so there may be an easier way than the one I’m using, but so far, it works for me. I like to, if it’s possible, to leave each chapter on a cliffhanger. That’s not possible with a series of books, so far as the end of the book is concerned. I’d like to, but each book has to be able to be read as a standalone too, so that’s out of the question. What I have to do is give the reader an enjoyable reading experience, whilst making them want to find out what the characters get up to next. It’s a nice feeling to know that I’ll be coming back to these characters again too.
You are a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association Do you feel that the RNA New Writers’ Scheme is worth joining if you’re wanting to start writing a novel?
My route to publication was through this esteemed scheme so, yes, very much so. I know so many authors who became published by joining the NWS scheme of the Romantic Novelists Association. It’s one of the hardest things to accomplish, having a book published and the support which this scheme provides is invaluable. I would recommend it to anyone who wishes to become an author.
What’s your favourite word and why?by
You come into this world alone and you leave this world alone, which got me thinking about whether that world even existed before I came into it and will it exist after I leave it.
What’s your typical writing day like? Do you prefer silence? Lots of coffee?
I like to write in the afternoon. I prefer total silence, no distractions. I write on a desktop computer with a huge screen. Can’t do it on a laptop.
How do you approach the writing process, from idea, to planning, to final draft? How much prep do you feel you need to do before you feel ready to start writing?
For me, it all starts with the first paragraph of the book. Once I get that down on paper, then it’s off to the races. As all authors know, I don’t write the book; the book writes itself and goes in whatever direction it wants to. Kind of like a runaway train.
What is your favourite word and why?
Really. It’s a noun and a verb and an adjective and even an exclamation point.
What songs would feature on a playlist for your novel?by
The whole series was inspired by my father who was a military policeman in Singapore during the 1950s.
What prompted you to start writing the Singapore Series?
I read a Lee Child novel and thought: I can do that. I have a character and an exotic setting – plus the seeds for a plot. However I subsequently found it harder than I expected.
How much research did you do before starting?
I took my dad to Singapore for his 75th birthday. He thought it was a holiday but I never stopped asking questions. I’ve been again since. I’ve and also been to Kuala Lumpur and Penang, both of which feature in the series.
So no further research as you work?
Lots of research! I have a number of good reference books for the period including a fabulous one full of photographs. Of course I use the internet, but I also have a few readers who can also be called upon to help.
Singapore Killer is book 5. Can it be read as a stand-alone?
I hope so. It’ll help to read them in order, but it really shouldn’t matter.
Will there be a sixth book?
Yes, it’s called Singapore Fire, and it will be the last of the series. However Ash Carter may well appear in Hong Kong if he does resurface.
Map of the Dead which had flashbacks to ancient Egypt, was an Amazon best seller. Your dad didn’t inspire that one?by
It is the life story of Charles Dickens using his own words to tell his story. On a number of occasions Dickens expressed the wish to write his own life story, but he died prematurely in 1870 at the age of 58 without doing it.
Now 150 years later and for the first time I have collected up all the various pieces of that jigsaw of things that he said about his life and put them into the narrative. It produces the nearest thing to an autobiography that is now possible.
Details of me, what I have done, and the written comments of people who have read my proofs can be seen on my official website at www.dickensmylife.com.
What challenges did you face when writing this novel?
The overwhelming challenge of hunting out things he actually said and did, as distinct from what other people have said about him in the last 150 years.
I began my research about 25 years ago, became more focussed about collecting up the relevant pieces after I became a Judge in Portsmouth (his birthplace) in 2004 and visited the bedroom of his birth, and once I had retired in 2014 spent nearly 4 years putting all the pieces I had found together into a continuous narrative.
What do you think Charles Dickens would feel about the current state of the world?
I suspect he would be highly critical about it, as he was in his own day. He never trusted most politicians, having seen them at work in Parliament in his early career as a Parliamentary reporter. He later referred to Parliament as “The Dustheap of Westminster”. He was equally damming on the politicians he saw in America, as well as the way the press reported things over there.
He said many of the newspapers were only fit to be used as a water closet doormat. He was a Radical by nature and had a huge social conscience and whenever he saw anything that he felt was socially wrong he spoke out strongly against it. He became the people’s champion and that is why he was so loved in his time, apart from the brilliant fictional novels he also wrote. I think he would have taken the same approach to the social issues of today if he was alive now.
Which Charles Dickens character would you like to meet and why?by
When I was a teenager I lived and breathed variety theatre – in fact, any kind of live entertainment. Before and during the war was a golden age of variety and there was so much to draw on – all the wonderful theatre, and the end of the pier shows. When I was sixteen I got a job working backstage at the local theatre on Cleethorpes pier and from that time I was hooked. It was an absolute joy to revisit variety when it meant so much to morale during WW2.
What were the challenges when writing The Variety Girls?
A deadline, although that was really a God send as it turned out. It kept me at my desk, so I had to learn to overcome the distractions and self-doubt that normally plague me. Sometimes what you fear most is the driving force to success.
What’s your writing day like? Do you have any writing rituals?
I write for about three or four hours a day, but I’ll be thinking about the book all the time and I’ll have thought a lot about it before I start writing at all. There’s always research to do, but it has to be balanced with spending time with family and friends. It would be no joy to spend all day writing, not to me.
I don’t have any rituals other than playing music in the background and sometimes lighting a scented candle. Anything that helps me relax and settle to work.
I started with articles and then short stories. I wanted to write a novel but our life was very unsettled and so I never had the mental headspace to invest in a longer work. I went to classes and conferences and kept myself connected with other writers – and the short stories were excellent for learning to write tightly. A couple of years ago I decided that it was now or never and got stuck into a novel. It was the right time for me.
What’s your favourite word and why?by
It’s been quite interesting, starting with the birth of the idea, which got me excited about the whole thing because of my worldview and experience on love from my teenage years, and then editing process, and then getting the appropriate cover. I had a tough time with the designer because I felt he didn’t dig deep in creativity to get the best, but in the end I had to calm down. In the end, looking back, I would say that it was an exciting process.
What’s your typical writing day like?
I usually start with getting my family settled. I make sure I take my daughter to school and drive my wife to work. Then I get something to eat. I would sit on the table and work on my laptop with some music playing in the background. That happens earlier in the day. I hardly write after 3PM, so the next writing session is usually at night when my lovelies must have slept.
Your book is called The Stuff of Love Songs. Can you tell me a bit about it and what inspired the story?
It was inspired by the youthful search for true love. It is the story of a young man who was looking for something lasting, something beyond great sex, and a young woman who has tasted a fairytale-like relationship in the past and tries to give true love another chance. As usual, they face the challenges every good thing faces. It was inspired by the love songs I loved as a teen, and the promises of lovers in the stories in those songs, so as a teen I was always looking for the stuff of love songs.
What would be on a playlist for this book?
“Brighter Than The Sun” by Colbie Caillat
“Without You” by Mariah Carey
“Lucky” by Colbie Caillat featuring Jason Mraz
“Two is Better Than One” by Boys Like Girls featuring Taylor Swift
“Wait For Me” by KSA featuring Onyeka Onwenu
“Slow Jam” by Usher featuring Monica
What’s your favourite word and why?by
The Pineys is based on the legend of the Jersey Devil. Instead of just one Jersey Devil, Mother Leeds was a witch that summoned hundreds of them into the Pine Barrens. The nearby villagers of Abe’s Hat, NJ formed a secret society to hunt down the devils and send them back to Hell. In the present day, the Galloways (and their many, many cousins) continue the hunt. It’s kind of like Ghostbusters meets Men in Black meets Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. It’s a lot of fun and is steeped in South Jersey lore and color.
Previously, I created the Jersey Devil comic book and a lot of my stories take place in South Jersey. What interested me was exploring the culture of South Jersey in more detail and doing a story with a group of characters from a large extended family like mine.
Wokeistan: A Novel is a political satire in the vein of a Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. book. I co-wrote it with Christian Beranek. It takes place on an East Coast college campus in upstate New York and it’s about a student body that has a complete mental meltdown after Trump is re-elected. It’s sort of the best (worst) of Social Justice Warriors from the last two years and mixing that with taking post-modernist ideology to its logical conclusion. It’s funny, absurd and savage, but not that all unrealistic if you’ve followed the stories.
Christian and I were looking for a project to write. We were considering doing it as a webcomic, but decided to write it as a novel. She came by and stayed a couple of months. We basically wrote it in two weeks. It just really poured out of us. It was an amazing experience. The end result was a story that was equally funny and Orwellian.
With Wokeistan, the story was already there. Colleges have become so inbred intellectually, they no longer seem to function for the purpose for which they were intended. Instead, we’ve developed a system that drains money from kids that are expecting an education and a career and instead they’re getting brainwashed and fleeced financially. The challenge is, most people don’t realize how far the college system has degraded, so some read it and go, “What? This is insane. Nothing like this is happening.” But many of the events of the book were based on things that actually happened on college campuses over the last few years. I’m proud to say my nephew, who is in college, seemed to like it. He helped proofread it.
For the Pineys, horror and comedy are closely linked. They rely on surprise. This is the kind of stuff I’ve been writing for decades, but in the world of the Pineys I have no limits like I did with comics or trying to write a screenplay— I guess the hardest part is keeping track of all the Galloway family members mentioned in the books. It’s getting pretty tough at book six, which is what I’m currently writing.
How would you describe your writing style?by
Thanks, Laura. It’s great to be interviewed here.
Before I focused on a character, I knew there were themes I wanted to address in Hopscotch Life. One theme was that some of us judge ourselves harder than we would ever judge others. We’re simply not accepting of ourselves, and we don’t see all the wonderful character traits we might possess.
Another issue I wanted to deal with is the way our lives are sometimes on either a strong upswing, or a determined downhill slide. And that often we can’t bring that downward slide to a stop until we reach a pretty low point.
Those themes became my inspiration. With those in place, protagonist Plum Tardy then simply walked onto the page for me. Quirky, out-of-synch, hopscotch-playing, but still sweet, funny, and appealing Plum. She pulled it all together. Here’s how I describe it: Feeling like she’s living in a country song, having just lost her job, her house, and her man, quirky Plum Tardy sets out in her usual hopscotch fashion to find a completely new town and a new man. But even knowing how out-of-synch she is, and how oddly she moves through life, Plum could never have predicted the unexpected way that trouble would find her, or the way her past would collide with her future.
Do you think strong characters or plot is more important to a reader?
While both are important, I believe it’s the characters we relate to, especially the protagonist. Once a writer creates a really well-developed character, that character points the way. She shows us how the plot should evolve because her actions drive it, and her choices reflect her. Besides, don’t we all love to find a protagonist we can cheer for, cry over, and champion when no one close to her does? We love to find a character who remains with us almost like a real friend after we finish a book. I’m not sure that most of us can care about a plot that much.
What’s your writing day like? Do you have any rituals?
I like to sneak up on my writing. I mull scenes over in my mind for quite some time before I write them. But then I write them fast. Sometimes that mulling takes place during sensible activities like hiking. More often it’s during sleepless hours in the middle of the night, when I stare at the bedroom ceiling in the dark, trying out different alternatives. I do have a few actual rituals. As I said, I walk or hike, I meditate, answer emails, and spend too much time scrolling through Facebook—but those are just stall tactics while I’m mulling, waiting to pounce on my scene the instant it’s ready to be written.
It varies from novel to novel. My last book, REVENGE ON ROUTE 66, which is a road trip mystery that takes place along Route 66 from California to Texas (in the US), required me to actually drive much of the route and take loads of notes. That was great fun, of course, but I also noted everything. I worried that I’d lack some critical information when I went to write it.
One of my novels, NEVER SAY DIE, a thriller, takes place in the San Diego, California area, and it involves the world of professional female triathletes. I filled boxes with all my setting material and the interviews I did with professional female triathletes.
In HOPSCOTCH LIFE, it was more a matter of creation. The town of Applewood, Arizona, where much of the novel takes place, does not exist. But I needed it to be such a rich place that the town would become like another character. I drew on some other towns I’d visited for aspects of it, but most of Applewood comes straight out of my own fertile imagination.
Do you tend to edit as you go or wait for a completed first draft? What do you feel are the benefits of doing it this way?by
Time of My Life is a gender-flipped Dirty Dancing. Pole fitness instructor Janey needs a new partner for the end of cruise Talent Show after her friend Penny drops out due to illness.
When Frank steps up, she’s beyond skeptical, but she really doesn’t have anyone else who can help. As he learns the routine, Janey starts to fall for Frank. Unfortunately, if she acts on her feelings, she could lose her job.
What have been the challenges of writing within the Oceanic book series? Do you need to have read the other books to read yours?
The primary challenge was just figuring out how to balance several very busy authors with different schedules, especially since we’re living in 4 different countries (and multiple time zones). Once we talked through all the logistics and things really started getting moving, for me it was largely smooth sailing.
You don’t have to read the other books in the series to enjoy mine, but I recommend it. You might see someone you recognise.
Is character or plot more important?
To me, the character drives the plot. If Harry Potter had just kept his head down and gone to classes, Voldemort would have killed him in the first book. If Katniss Everdeen hadn’t stepped up to take her sister’s place, the Hunger Games series wouldn’t exist. Plot is important, but it’s the character’s choices that make things happen.
What’s your favourite word and why?
My favorite word has always been “defenestrate,” because it’s fun to say. But sadly, it’s not one I manage to work into conversation very often.
What advice do you have for someone suffering from writers’ block?by
Hi Laura! Thank you so much for having me! I am so excited to “chat” with you. Mom Genes, which is my fifth novel, is currently available on all eBook platforms and has been published today (March 24th.)
It is the second book in my Forest River PTA series, but it’s a completely standalone story. Mom Genes is a heartwarming and hilarious book about a PTA mom, Claire Conroy, who is searching for a fresh start while struggling to survive suburban backstabbing and parental politics
What songs would be on a playlist for this novel?
Oh my, this is a hard question, but a few songs come to mind.
The first would be Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” because Claire is faced with quite a few problematic situations in the book. First, she returns home from a trip to Italy gearing up to separate from her husband of thirteen years. Then the meddling mothers spread rumors about the “real reason” for her divorce.
The second would be “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge because Claire’s family plays such an essential role in this story, especially her hysterical grandmother, Gigi.
The last would be “Take Me Back To The Night We Met” by Lord Huron because thanks to a chance encounter, Claire reconnects with someone from her past.
What’s your writing process like, from idea, to first draft and then to final edit?
I’m pretty impulsive, so as soon as an idea pops into my head, I start writing. I don’t plot out my books. I let the story take its twists and turns. I often to run to my laptop fresh out of the shower, dripping wet, because one of my characters “told me something funny.
After I finish the first draft, which is always pretty rough, I read it over and polish it, and add a lot to the story. Then I send it to my editor. She has a keen eye and incredible insights, and I pretty much end up writing the book over again.
What has your route to publication like and, in your opinion, what’s the most common mistake new writers make when looking to be published?
My route to publication has been like a roller coaster. I self-published my first book, Dangled Carat. Then a few months later, I secured a publisher who then published my second novel, Plan Bea. Right before they were about to publish my third book, Plan Cee, they went out of business. As soon as I received my rights back, I self-published all of my books, and have been self-publishing ever since.
I think the most common mistakes new writers make when looking to be published, they don’t have a complete understanding of the industry and the process. There is so much to know. It is overwhelming. However, I have found the author community is the most generous group of people. Everyone is always so eager to help each other out and share their experiences and knowledge.
Which author has impacted you the most as a writer?by
Hi! Thanks for having me. A lot of my ideas begin with an image and in the case of The Silence it was the image of a woman jumping into the sea with her toes pointed downward. I’d been reading a lot about gaslighting – a covert form of emotional manipulation – and how easily it could be used to isolate someone from their friends and family.
The two ideas came together almost at the same time. Stella (the central character) is a former child star and I liked the idea of her trying to untangle herself from her former fame.
What were the challenges of writing this novel?
Ha. All of them. All the challenges! Time, for one. I squeezed writing The Silence into every moment my daughter was asleep and then again when I forced myself to wake up early. It’s the commitment, I think. Financial, emotional, mental.
Sometimes the story was so suffocating I would happily have drop kicked my computer into the sun. Other than that, you know, it was a breeze!
What’s your writing day like? Do you have any writing rituals?
A cup of tea. We live in a cold, cold house and so in the winter I started writing in bed with a hot water bottle so now that is where I write 99 percent of the time. I’m told it’s terrible for my sleep hygiene but I’m stuck in it now.
I work in a library, so I write in between the end of my work day and school pick-up and then again in the evenings. There’s a lot of opportunity for procrastination so I try to be really disciplined.
Which fictional character would you like to meet and why?
This is a great question and I’ve got two terrible answers for it. One, is Nanny Ogg’s cat Greebo from the Discworld novels but only – only – when he turns into a piratical man. The other is all the kids from the Losers club from the novel IT, the people I most identified with as an adolescent.
NK: My husband is a huge fan of The Discworld and I also think he would like to meet Greebo.
In your opinion, what’s the most important thing to remember when developing characters?
Personally, I like to see flaws in a character. Jealousy, anger, bitterness. I need to see them as human and I need to care if they live or die. That’s what carries me through a book. I don’t neccessarily need to relate to them but I do need to know they’re not entirely whole. That helps, for me.
Which author has made the most impact on you as a writer?by
I have always been fascinated by the fact that the main readers of novels and short stories are women. Currently we buy (and also borrow) about 80% of all fiction. Women are the vast majority of members of book clubs, attendees at literary festivals, visitors to libraries and bookshops, and organisers of days out to literary heritage sites like the Brontës’ Haworth Parsonage. Many years ago, I wrote a book about Gone With the Wind, and more recently a Daphne du Maurier Companion, and while researching both these, I was struck by how many women told me of their passion for both writers and their books, and how profoundly they had wrapped words, scenes, characters and settings into their hearts and their own life stories.
They had even called their daughters, dogs and cats after the protagonists (Scarlett, Rhett, Rebecca). So I set out to ask what it is about reading fiction that appeals to women – and I found it offers escape, a special space just for us (‘me-time’), and the opportunity to spread our wings intellectually and emotionally. It helps us through the night, and gives us insights into our relationships and families, as well as the world beyond. Jackie Kay suggests ‘our lives are mapped by books’.
Fiction is important to so many people (including me.) Which fictional novel has made the most impact on you and why?
At different stages of my life, particular books have resonated. As a girl, I wanted to be like awkward, unconventional and ambitious Jo March in Little Women. As a young student, George Eliot’s Middlemarch taught me about social and intellectual pretentiousness, and warned me never to marry an emotionally stunted man.
As a middle-aged and older woman, I’ve learned about worlds very different from my own through writers such as Ralph Ellison, Eudora Welty and Hilary Mantel. Toni Morrison’s Beloved about American slavery is the most devastating novel I’ve ever read, and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening is very dear to my heart because set in a special place of mine, Louisiana.
What were the challenges you faced when writing When Women Read Fiction?
I decided to send out questionnaires to women about their reading, and to interview women writers too. The enthusiasm with which over 400 women responded to my questions and the wonderful material they provided me with, were very humbling, and I had to try to do justice to it all. Women love to tell you about what reading fiction means to them – ‘a lifeline,’ ‘my best friend,’ ‘the love of my life’ – and all the ways they have found it helped them in sorrow, joy, sickness and health.
Women writers are very aware of their responsibility to, and friendly relationship with women readers, though they gave me angry accounts of being ‘Little Womaned’, as Hilary Mantel put it – reviewed, paid and valued less than male fiction writers.
What’s your writing day like and what do you need around you? For example, coffee, tea, music, silence?
Alas, I’m not an early riser, but when I get going (after many cups of good English Breakfast tea) I like to write to music – Joni Mitchell, Kate Rusby, Mozart, Leonard Cohen)- but when I REALLY get going and the writing is flowing, I work in silence. Those are the most productive and precious times.
I am a slow burn writer. I was commissioned to write a BFI book about the film of Gone With the Wind and I finished it in three months, but usually it takes me years to shape an idea and produce a book.
I had the germ of an idea for Why Women Read Fiction thirty years ago, but I worked on it seriously for about five years. I think it’s a better book for taking so much time.
How do you approach the editing process?
Editing is my favourite process of all. I find research and first drafts time-consuming and difficult, but I love to edit.
Years of teaching students have given me considerable experience here, and I love to spot my own repetitions, clichés, weak phrases and poor arguments – then brutally cut and reshape. It’s the most creative process.
What’s your favourite word and why?by
Thank you for inviting me to chat with Novel Kicks, Laura.
A Degree of Uncertainty explores how a Cornish community is being ripped apart by its growing university, with an influx of students upsetting the balance of things and challenging the way life has always been. Some residents — and business people — see it as progress and welcome the expansion. Others feel threatened by the change in dynamics.
Against this backdrop of small town politics, the story is very character driven, exploring love, friendship, loyalty and betrayal. The shifting community pits friends, neighbours and colleagues against each other and reopens old wounds…
Do you think character or plot is more important in a story?
I think that’s a little bit like asking which is more important, a bra or knickers… I agree that some books are weighted more in favour of one or the other, but for me, you need both. That doesn’t mean the plot has to be a rip-roaring rampage punctuated with multiple murders and endless twists, but the storyline needs to travel from A to B.
That said, I can really enjoy a book where a deeply plausible character goes on an emotional journey and, in essence, very little happens. But I don’t think the best plot in the world will stand up in the hands of characters in whom readers don’t believe or, worse, don’t care about.
What would be on a playlist for this novel?
One of the two key protagonists is Harry Manchester, a proud Cornishman and successful local businessman who vows to save his beloved community from being overrun by students and ruined by change. Harry is a keen music fan and ex-drummer and he often seeks solace in Queen music, letting the lyrics guide his mood and — in one instance — his actions. So it would have to be Queen’s Greatest Hits. (He also has an incident where his Bohemian Rhapsody ring tone goes off at an untimely moment, but that’s another story…)
What was the biggest challenge when writing your first book?
Starting a book is a challenge. I’d had the idea for a while and I began making notes and sketching out characters and plot, but actually writing those first words seemed like a terrifying leap!
I did a ‘Starting to write your novel’ course with the literary agency, Curtis Brown, which gave me the tools to plan and start the book. It also gave me a huge dose of confidence as I was chosen as ‘Most promising student’ on the course, and was rewarded with a one-to-one tutorial with one of the agents. That was a massive shove in the right direction, and the novel began…
What’s your typical writing day like? Where do you like to write? Do you prefer silence, do you need coffee?by
I was at a meeting of Sisters in Crime in Atlanta when the leader asked the audience to write a quick book blurb and share it. I’d been doing a lot of volunteer work with senior citizens, and my dad had recently passed away with dementia, so the topic of Alzheimer’s was top of mind. I raised my hand with an idea, the audience applauded, and two long years later I published the book.
It’s women’s fiction, a tale of a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease who is visited by a man from the future with a cure. I call it a hopeful fantasy. He’s a doctor, head of a medical research team, and needs her to conduct a long-term study to prove the safety and efficacy of their drug, and the only way for him to do this quickly is to get patients in the past to take the drug and get the results to him. The plot thickens as their relationship gets complicated, as the study must be done under the legal and ethical radar, and as the doctor ignores his directive to change nothing during his trip to the past.
What’s your writing day like and what do you need around you, for example, silence, coffee?
I either write or revise almost every day. If I’m writing, I shoot for at least one thousand words. If I’m revising, at least a couple of hours. I’m a morning person, up at around four most days, and my mental state is best early in the day. So, I’m that weird neighbour you see out walking in the dark of the morning in the light of the moon for exercise, then come home for coffee and breakfast, two cats show up on my desk, pictures of my muses surround me (Flannery O’Connor, Elena Ferrante, Pascal Garnier, Patricia Highsmith), my laptop has ready research available from google and Wikipedia, and I begin to write.
What’s your favourite word and why?
Great question. After much thought, I’d have to say “care”. I want to care about the important things, things that will help me and others, inspire me to give back to all who’ve helped me and cared for me. It’s easy to say we like something, but do we care about it?
Do we care enough about something to do something about it…put some time in for it? We have so many challenges today, life is not simple anymore, and I think that caring becomes a differentiator, whether it’s a small thing like making a good cup of coffee or a big one like what can I personally do to make someone else’s life better today.
Like write a better story, take someone away from their troubles for a page at a time. Listen, we writers aren’t in this for the money, and I love hearing that a reader cared about my story, that it made them think, or laugh, or grin, or even that it put them to sleep after a long day.
With sheer dread. I can’t say that writing is easy, but I find it a breeze compared to editing and revising. It’s difficult to tear your own work apart, to read it like a reader and not the author of all those words. As for my process, I make five passes: first to review the draft and mark it up for obvious changes; second to enhance the plot, subplot(s) and scenes… too much detail, not enough, right details; third, enhance the characters and their dialog; fourth, check spelling, grammar, for weak and passive words, check names and dates and places; fifth, polish it, show off, spice it up, add some clues, ramp up the pace. Then I send it out to four to six beta readers and attend to their advice, making changes, rereading, reediting. There are no short-cuts.
Do you think character or plot is more important?by
The Colonel and the Bee is a Victorian Age adventure novel about a young acrobat who meets a larger-than-life explorer and the journey they go on together. The idea for the book was as simple as people flying around in a hot air balloon, getting into adventures, and the characters and themes followed.
What’s your writing day like, where do you like to write and do you have any writing rituals?
I try to write every day (though admittedly little on Sundays). I write in coffee shops because there are too many distractions at home. I wouldn’t say I have any real rituals other than a cold brew or iced tea, and I’ll either listen to the ambience of the space or something instrumental in my headphones to really focus in.
Can you tell me a little about your writing process from idea to final edit?
I always have a long phase of gathering material for a particular idea, and once that becomes enough for an outline, make a fairly general outline. Whenever the schedule allows, the outline goes into a first draft (which usually takes a few weeks). Then it’s many rounds of rewriting, outside feedback, and whatever else is necessary to get the book out.
What music would feature on a playlist for this novel?
Any kind of whimsical classical music. The soundtrack for the movie The Brothers Bloom might work.
What is more important when writing a novel, character or plot?
I think it depends on the particular novel. Stories that are more firmly rooted in genre will probably have a more plot-dependent execution because there are certain reader expectations, but if something is a little more literary or unconventional, character might take the lead. The boring but true answer is that both are simultaneously the most important, and in some ways inseparable if done correctly.
How do you approach creating a character?by
It depends on what stage I am at. Before I start a project, whether it’s a novel or a short story, I plan it out. I think of the characters and their main story as well as the backstory.
This could take weeks or months with a novel, especially because I never start a novel now without reading at least 5 or 6 novels that I think might be similar.
With a story it could take an hour or so, and then I start writing. I like to get up before 6 when the house is quiet, and I work all the time I can. The re-write is my favorite part and its much easier to get up at 5 when I am there, because I have something to work with.
What’s the challenges of writing a collection of short stories?
For a collection, there needs to be a common thread linking all the stories together, so not every story might fit the collection.
For Were We Awake, the publisher didn’t think one story fit. It was a story about alcoholism and family dynamics, but Marc believed it was too normal and boring for a collection with ghosts, clowns, exotic birds and murders. So, I wrote a different story, and he was right. The collection was better for it.
What’s your favorite word and why?
I laughed when I read this, such a hard question. I like the word ‘pernicious’, though I can’t say I have a favorite word.
How do you approach the planning process when writing a book made up of short stories? What advice do you have for someone who would like to put together a short story collection?by
Hi there! Thank you for putting these fabulous questions together for me. So, first things first – I absolutely loved writing Christmas in Chamonix. I have recently fallen in love with skiing (although I have really struggled with it – Lily’s fear of heights echoes my own!) and I have always adored Christmas. My parents have always been huge fans of Christmas and made it such a special time of year for myself and my brother, with lots of traditions and magical moments – which I now carry out with my own children.
So Chamonix was mostly inspired by my absolute love of Christmas. But it was also the opportunity to take readers into a beautifully Christmassy environment – with falling snow, gorgeous, festive decorations and the delicious food and drink involved. Add skiing into that – and I was in writing heaven! Skiing is such an exhilarating sport…it’s amazing if you master even a small part of it, let alone manage to ski down a steep mountain and not fall over!
How do you approach the planning of a novel and how has it evolved since your debut novel?
I approach the planning of a novel with military precision – and always have done. With lots of creativity thrown in, of course, but for me, it’s about being organised and disciplined. So I begin with the idea. I expand it with lots of notes (I use a different, A4 sized notebook with a lovely cover for each new novel) and begin writing character notes to flesh out my main players. I then write a synopsis which will be two pages or fifteen, depending on how much of the story flows out at that stage, but the main point is to get down the beginning, the middle and the end. After that, I write a full version of this, which is where I will structure scenes and make sure each section moves smoothly on to the next one. With some cliff hangers thrown in here and there. I find this process easier and more fun than I used to in the early days and it also makes writing the novel itself fairly straight forward as I have a strong structure as a guideline and I’m essentially then delving into the thoughts and feelings and emotions of my characters.
Well, that’s a seriously good question! Ok. So even with a killer idea, if you don’t have the right personalities in place to play the story out, it’s going nowhere and it’s just a concept with no heart and soul. Equally, if you have fantastic lead players and strong secondary characters but no real idea of what the story is about or where it’s going, the reader won’t feel invested as there isn’t anything for them to connect with and relate to. For me, they are equally important. You need a killer idea and you need relatable characters your readers can fall in love with and care about.
What’s your favourite word and why?
My favourite word….I’m loving these questions! I love the word ‘serendipitous’. Which means ‘occurring or discovered by chance in a happy or beneficial way’. I just think it’s a really positive word and one which puts me in a strong headspace of believing that everything happens for a reason and that there is something to be grateful for everywhere you look.
Can you tell me about your typical writing day, where you like to write, do you need endless amounts of coffee and silence or do you prefer noise?by
Beth, my heroine, has returned to her childhood home – the Hotel Everdene – after a bad breakup. Her confidence is badly shaken & she’s struggling to know what to do next in life. When her mother is stranded in a blizzard, Beth is left in charge of the fully booked hotel, feeling completely out of her depth. But one thing Beth isn’t, is a quitter and, with a bit of help from Nick, a gorgeous guest, she does her best to make sure Christmas doesn’t end in catastrophe!
What’s your typical writing day like? Do you need coffee? Silence? Where do you like to work?
It varies through the week. On a Monday & Tuesday, when my 3yo is in nursery, I usually get back from the school & nursery run by 9.30. Then I run around tidying up the mess from breakfast, make a start in some housework & settle down to write at my desk at around 10.30-11.00. I have a fantastic pull down desk in my bedroom which my partner put in as a surprise for me when I was away at the RNA conference in July & I love it so much. I always have music playing, the house is so quiet without the kids in it, and I probably spend too much time creating special playlists for each project. The rest of the week when I have my 3yo home, writing takes place in the evenings on the sofa with my headphones on!
What’s your route to publication been like?
It feels like it has been very long. I started writing my first novel over a decade ago & I did query it but in hindsight I had no clue what I was doing! Writing became sporadic over the last eight years as we started a family & I became a stay-at-home mum. Some people might think that gives you lots of time to write but I find it so hard to concentrate on writing with my kids around me.
Then I joined the RNA at the beginning of 2019 & really got serious about finishing my manuscript, sending it for the NWS critique & submitting it. Orion announced their new digital first imprint called Dash at the RNA Conference & I sent it along. Overall, I probably submitted A Mistletoe Miracle to twenty agents & publishers, and entered half a dozen competitions. So, lots of no’s but you only need one yes!
What would be on a playlist for this novel?
As I mentioned earlier I have an extensive playlist for this novel on Spotify (which I’m going to make available very soon). Also, Beth is a music tutor so music is very important to her & lots of songs feature in the story. Three Little Birds by Bob Marley, Come Away with Me by Norah Jones & Words Are Dead by Agnes Obel all play a significant part in her journey.
What’s your favourite word?by
Say a big hello to RE McLean and the blog tour for her novel, Murder in the Multiverse. Thank you so much for joining me today. Can you tell me about your book, Murder in the Multiverse and what inspired the story.
Thanks for having me here! Murder in the Multiverse is a geeky mystery, the kind of thing you’d enjoy if you like Jodi Taylor or Douglas Adams. It’s about Alex Strand, a physics postdoc who finds herself recruited to the top-secret Multiverse Investigations Unit. The MIU is based in the parking lot of San Francisco PD (in a Tardis-like VW campervan) and investigates crimes by visiting parallel worlds where the crime hasn’t happened – yet.
What’s the challenges of writing something like Murder in the Multiverse? Do you have an idea of where you want the series to go?
The main challenge is writing a book where the solution to the mystery always has some kind of link to quantum physics, while not being a quantum physicist myself. I’ve dealt with that by making the physics very silly – hard science this is not!
I have a ten-book outline for the series storyline. Each book will be focused on one specific crime, and take place in a new parallel universe. But the twin threads of Alex’s search for her mother across the multiverse and her growing relationship with Sarita, the mysterious materials scientist, will drive the series plot.
What’s your writing day like, where do you like to write and do you have any writing rituals?
I like to write in my local library, and I have a Spotify playlist to help me focus. And Schrödinger the quantum cat sits on my desk while I write!
If you could go and investigate anywhere, where would it be and why?
Definitely Silicon City, the parallel universe in Murder in the Multiverse. It’s got an augmented reality version of the internet and you can conjure up a plate of cookies just by thinking about it. And all the doors go swish-thunk, like in Star Trek.
Good question! I’ve been putting together a playlist for Alex and her team, which you can find on Spotify. Alex is into retro tech (and music) and can only get to sleep to the sound of the Cheeky Girls. Her partner, Sergeant Mike Long, prefers easy listening. Alex wants to pull her eardum out with a fish hook when he puts that on the radio.
Do you think character or plot is more important?
I normally start a book with a concept, then decide who’s going to have to live with the consequences of that concept, then write the plot around that. Normally the characters come first for me, but I think both character and plot are equally important (and interwoven).
Which other authors have inspired/influenced you the most?by
Hi Laura, and thanks so much for inviting me to share with your readers! Sea Holly and Mistletoe Kisses is a cosy Christmas read and the third book in my romance series known as ‘A Little Hotel in Cornwall’. It continues the adventures of Maisie Clark, an aspiring author who follows her writing dreams across the Pond to a quaint Cornish hotel by the sea. Readers can expect a festive, feel-good read, as Maisie and the rest of the staff at the Penmarrow prepare to host an ice sculpting competition at the historic hotel.
Are you able to tell me a little about what you’re currently working on?
Currently, I’m working on the edits for Book Four in the series, The Cornish Secret of Summer’s Promise. It features a daring heist, an unexpected secret, and a romantic crossroads that Maisie never expected!
When you begin a novel, what do you focus on first?
Hmmmm. I think it varies from project to project, but I tend to focus first on the central plotline or event that kicks off the story. Then the characters tend to develop alongside the twists and turns in the plot that help to bring the whole story together.
Which songs would be on a playlist for Sea Holly and Mistletoe Kisses?
Christmas songs! I have everything from classic to modern on my holiday music playlists, so it could feature anything from Bing Crosby to Mariah Carey songs.
What is your idea of a perfect Christmas?
How do you approach the editing process and what is the biggest mistake that new writers make do you think?by
Hello Eliza. I am so happy to be chatting to you today. I am excited to be heading back to Lytell Stangdale with A Christmas Kiss. What is this one about and how does it fit in with the others in the Life on the Moors series?
Hi there Laura, thank you for taking part in the Publication Day Blog Tour for A Christmas Kiss; I’m very happy to be chatting to you, too! So, this book sees us getting better acquainted with Zander Gillespie, who briefly featured in The Secret – Violet’s Story.
After a last-minute change of plans with his girlfriend, he finds himself – and his adorable black Labrador Alf – driving through a snow storm to his holiday cottage in a very wintry Lytell Stangdale. There, in an unusual set of circumstances, he meets Livvie.
Thanks to her boyfriend, she’s also had a last-minute change of plans and has come to Lytell Stangdale to lick her wounds. It soon becomes apparent that fate may have had a hand in their situation and they find themselves fighting a powerful mutual attraction.
Over the course of their story, we get to see all of the usual characters once again – Kitty, Molly, Vi, Jimby, Ollie and Camm feature heavily; a Life on the Moors book wouldn’t be complete without them! Hopefully, A Christmas Kiss should slot in rather well.
What is your writing process like from idea to the final draft, where do you like to write and do you have any writing rituals?
I have notebooks allocated to all of my different story ideas, it makes them easy for me to locate if an idea suddenly pops into my head. When it eventually comes to writing that story, I’ll grab the relevant notebook, sit at my laptop and start to plot it properly.
After that, I’ll then work on developing the characters – I go into quite a lot of detail for this so I get a really clear idea of each one of them in my head.
Once this is done, I launch into the actual writing of the story. I’ve learnt that I’m not the sort of writer who can just get anything down on a page for the first draft; I have to do as clean a first draft as possible, then go back and do a little editing the following day.
Once I’ve got that first draft done, I print it off and read through, making lots of notes along the way. I then edit the first draft and repeat the process of reading through and editing several times before I send it off to my editor.
Once it’s returned, I get stuck into her edits, check through them, amend them, get them proof read, then convert the document to a mobi and send it to my Kindle for another read through. Phew! It involves an awful lot of reading!
As far as writing rituals are concerned, I don’t have any as such, though I do need a regular supply of Yorkshire tea and plenty of ginger biscuits to nibble on!
How has your process evolved since your first novel? Is there anything you know now that you wished you’d known then?
I’d say I’ve become much more organised in my writing process since my first novel, which makes it much more enjoyable for me. Though, I wish I’d known that everyone has their own system that works for them, and that there isn’t a right or a wrong way; it’s okay not to just get words down if that process doesn’t work for you. Of course, if I’m pushed for time, I will just list ideas, conversations etc. so when I go back to my manuscript, I can flesh it all out and get it to make sense.
How important is planning when writing a series like this and what challenges did you face?
For me it was very important to plan, particularly for the first three books, as I had to ensure that time-lines matched. I’d say the challenges for making sure everyone’s age was right leading from one story to the next.
Do you think character or plot is more important?
For me, I think a story needs to have a good plot, otherwise there’ll be nothing to keep the reader interested. Though well-rounded characters are important, too; I feel they can help move the story along – does that make sense? I hope so!
Which fictional character (other than any of yours) would you like to spend Christmas with?by
Thanks so much for having me. When it’s time to write, that’s when I hunker down in front of the TV or get on Twitter or remember that I have a wife and kid. Basically, I procrastinate as long as possible until the muse possesses me and compels me to burn the midnight oil in the solitude of my den.
It’s not that I like to write in my den or any place of isolation for that matter. But when I’m in the zone, it’s best to leave me alone. I don’t have any writing rituals per se, but I need to create some, especially when the muse goes MIA.
Your novel is called Hands Up. What is it about?
Hands Up follows three characters from different worlds on are on collision course after a deadly police shooting spins their lives into chaos. Officer Ryan Quinn is on the fast track to detective until he shoots an unarmed black male. Now he embarks on a quest for redemption that forces him to choose between conscience or silence.
Jade Wakefield is an emotionally damaged college student who lives in one of the city’s worst neighbourhoods. She sets out to find the truth and get revenge after learning that there’s more to her brother’s death than the official police account.
While mourning the death of his son, Kelly Randolph returns to his hometown broke and broken to seek forgiveness for abandoning his family 10 years earlier. But when he is thrust into the spotlight as the face of the protest movement, his disavowed criminal past resurfaces and threatens to derail the family’s pursuit of justice.
What’s your writing process like from idea to final draft?
It’s like a sausage factory on fire. It’s not pretty or safe. As Ernest Hemingway said, the first draft of anything is s***. My writing process aims to turn that s***, speck by speck, into gold.
What music would be on a playlist for Hands Up?by
Hi Laura. It’s lovely to welcome you to Novel Kicks today and happy book birthday for A Wedding in Cornwall. Can you tell me a little about it and what inspired it?
Thanks so much, and very excited to share with your readers today! The romance read A Wedding in Cornwall is the first novella in a series that focuses on an American event planner’s adventures working at a Cornish manor house in a remote village. It was heavily inspired by other Cornish-themed stories, including the television shows Poldark and Doc Martin.
What’s your writing process like, from idea to final draft and how has it evolved from your first novel?
My writing process is actually much the same as when I first started. I usually start with brainstorming some notes, and then create an outline. This can range from anything from a few lines to describe each scene to a more full-blown, descriptive document outlining what happens in the story. From there, it’s just a matter of getting it all on paper and then onto revisions and editing for the final draft.
Where do you like to write, do you prefer silence and do you write longhand? Need coffee?
I work with a laptop, but my work station is most often in my living room (usually with a cat or two on hand for company!). I often work to music or sometimes a favourite television program, although silence is okay too. No coffee, but occasionally a cup of hot chocolate in the winter time!
What elements need to be in place for beginning a novel?
For me, the basic events of the story need to be outlined, so I don’t get too off track, so to speak! And I need to have some basic notes on character background too, even though certain things about both plot or characters may change as the story goes on paper.
Do you think plot or character is more important?by
Hi Ann, thank you so much for joining me today. Your book is called Crossing Over. Can you tell me a bit about it and what inspired the story?
Thanks for having me! Crossing Over is the story of an unlikely friendship between an elderly woman living alone on the Kent coast and a traumatized Malawian migrant hiding in her barn. On the surface, the two characters have little in common and in some ways they can never fully understand one another, but through their interaction they gain new perspectives on their own experiences and uncover more similarities between their lives than you might expect.
For several years, I’d wanted to write about the little ships manned by civilians that were sent to rescue soldiers from the beaches in Dunkirk early in the second world war. I knew this would probably involve an elderly character who had been involved in the evacuation effort. Then, when reports started to surface of refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean and more recently the Channel in small boats, the parallels and contrasts between the two types of crossings seemed powerful.
In addition, I’m fascinated by representing altered mental states in narrative and how mental illness affects storytelling (something I explored with bipolar disorder in my first novel, Beside Myself). Many therapies are built on the theory that telling a story can help a person move past a traumatic event – so what are the implications for people who are unable to articulate what has happened to them coherently? It struck me that bringing together two characters whose storytelling is compromised – one through PTSD and the other through dementia – might provide an interesting way to explore this.
What challenges did you face in regards to the themes of the book?
I was representing the story from the point of view of two characters with markedly different life experiences to my own. It required sensitivity and a great deal of thought. Indeed, for a long time I would have doubted my entitlement as white British writer to try and tell the story of a Malawian character.
However, recent books such as The Good Immigrant and Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race challenged my thinking on this and made me see that it’s important for writers of all backgrounds to do what we can to increase representation and diversity in storytelling.
The key is to do your best to do it well – in fact that is always a writer’s job. In the case of Jonah and Edie, this involved a huge amount of research and time spent talking to people with direct knowledge of and insight into many of the things I was writing about.
I then had to filter all this research through my own imagination and sensibility to try to make sure that it lived in the story as human experience, rather than two-dimensional information.
What’s your typical writing day like? Is there somewhere specific you like to write?
I get up very early and start at 5am in my writing room looking out over the hills and the white cliffs. Those early hours when the house is quiet are golden. If I have all day and am not going out for meetings, I will work in two- or three-hour stints, with breaks for meals and probably a run in the middle of the day, until around 6pm.
What’s your favourite word and why?by
Your book is called Reader, I Married Me (I love this title.) Can you tell me a little about it and what inspired it?
I wrote this book after going through a bad break up – being cheated on, lied to and rejected by the person I trusted the most. But, you know what, looking back I realise it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Romantic love is wonderful and all, but realising that I didn’t need ‘another half’ to make me happy or ‘complete’ me was an awesome revelation to have. So much so that I decided to take vows of self-commitment and marry myself in Brighton! I know it sounds bonkers but the idea was to start conversations and ask the question ‘why shouldn’t self-love be AS important as romantic love?!’ After all, your relationship with yourself deserves as much attention as any other – and the more you deal with your own crap the less other people have to, right?
So, my new novel is loosely based on my own experience of sologamy because it turns out that loving yourself so publicly is not easy – in fact, it got me a lot of haters. Which kind of highlights the complex attitude our culture has to self-love in the first place! The title slightly adulterates the words of literary heroine Jane Eyre 🙂
What’s your favourite word and why?
Discombobulate. I love this word because it sounds amazing in your mouth and describes the rather marvellous state of being tumbled from your comfort zone. It kind of reminds me of how Winnie the Pooh thinks.
What’s your writing process like from idea to final draft?
Well, I’m still figuring that out actually. Writing the novel was such a great learning curve and I think the next book I write should be a lot more streamlined. Because there is a certain formula to plot and character development and I think if you can pin that down first then your writing becomes a lot less chaotic!
Where do you normally write and do you need coffee, silence, noise?by
Hi Des, thank you so much for joining me today. Can you tell me a little about your book, Dead and Talking and what inspired it?
It’s lovely to be here. Thank you for the invite. The novel is about a man who is forced to atone for the “sins” of his family by a sort of ghost – think It’s a Wonderful Life’s Clarence! – And he can only do that by righting some historical wrongs. He’s given the gift of being able to peer into the last moments of dead people’s lives if he’s near their remains. Which sort of helps. He’s a natural sceptic and thinks he’s going a bit mad but picks up some fellow travellers who help him. It quickly becomes an ensemble piece. Although set today, the first case he has to solve is of a private shot for desertion in WW1. He soon finds it is linked to his own family history.
It’s dark in places but is also funny because he and his helpers are all so reluctant to believe any of it is happening. There are some Ealing Comedy moments too. Tone-wise, it’s in the same ballpark as Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Though, as I say, the dark moments are pretty dark.
It was inspired by a few actual events from WW1. After I started plotting it, I also had to make a film about the role of soldiers from the Empire who fought for the British. I spent some time in Ypres, at the In Flanders Fields Museum and at some locations not open to tourists. It all sort of fitted together. Actually, doesn’t this show how research doesn’t just adorn the plot, it can become the plot?
What’s your typical writing day like? Is there somewhere specific you like to write?
I nearly always get up and go to a local coffee shop to get started for an hour or two on my laptop. I like to see the world go by before I hunker down behind the closed doors of my office. I write between 1-4 hours a day because I’m a filmmaker by trade and that takes up a lot of time. I wish I could spend more time writing.
How did your background in journalism help with writing your book?
Many ways. Not having a fear of the blank page helps a lot. Knowing how to plan, how to sub, how to edit. Knowing the importance of drafts and revisions. Welcoming constructive criticism and actually acting on it.
But it’s also in the people I’ve met. I’ve spent a lot of quality time with Normandy veterans and other soldiers. Also, my starting point has always been a journalistic one of trying to see both sides of an argument and so, though a natural sceptic myself, I’m able to suspend that disbelief while writing, simply by putting myself in the mind of someone who does believe. Sceptic or not, who doesn’t love the idea that there are ghosts?
What would your reaction be to a ghost? It would scare the hell out of me.
I’m a journalist. A sceptical journalist. But not a cynical one. I will never, ever believe there are ghosts until I see one myself though. I don’t care who else tells me. But if I did see one, I would use it as a basis to explore how I’d been wrong all this time. Sadly, I haven’t seen one – though I’ve seen quite a bit of death and spent a ridiculous amount of my life in cemeteries when I was younger. Always been a bit morbid.
I’d kill to see one. Even if I was afraid, I’d be delighted.
What’s your favourite word and why?by
Hello Mandy. Thank you so much for joining me today. Can you tell me about your new book, One Last Greek Summer and what inspired it?
One Last Greek Summer is a perfect summer read set on the Greek island of Corfu. It’s the story of newly divorced thirty-something Beth Martin and her friend, Heidi, having one last holiday before they both re-evaluate the next stage of their lives. Except Heidi has picked the destination they both first visited when they were 21, and there just might be a few familiar faces waiting for them…
How has your writing process changed since writing your first novel?
*laughs* Seriously, it hasn’t changed that much! The only thing that has changed slightly is I now write two books every year as opposed to one when I first started out. I still initially come up with main characters and setting, the very bare bones of an idea, and then I literally start to write. I am not a plan it all and stick Post It notes around the room kind of writer, I just haven’t got that in me. I think if I knew the beginning, middle and end of each story I’d get bored writing it.
Where do you like to write? Do you have any writing rituals?
I have two main places I write. I have an office at home and I also visit my husband’s office at Numeric Accounting in Salisbury three days a week to give me that true ‘getting up and going to work’ feeling. It’s amazing how productive you can be surrounded by a team of accountants… As for writing rituals, I don’t really have any of those, just keep the coffee coming! Oh, and we always go to the pub at lunchtimes on a Friday! That surely counts, doesn’t it?
How important is it to pick the right names for your characters?
This is SUPER important to me otherwise the characters don’t come alive or feel real to me. I remember one publisher (who shall remain nameless) at the very last moment, I think at the proofreading stage of things, wanted me to change the name and nationality of my hero. I was so shocked and I was absolutely not happy about it. I stuck to my guns and obviously I was right! It doesn’t usually take me long to come up with names but they do have to feel right for the characters.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently finishing writing Christmas! One Christmas Star comes out in e-book on 12 September and I am really excited about this book. It’s the story of schoolteacher, Emily and down-on-his-luck singer, Ray. It’s set in a festive London and involves a full-on school Christmas show – think Nativity meets A Star is Born – that’s how I pitched it to Aria Fiction.by
Hi Jenni, it’s great to be welcoming you back to Novel Kicks.
Thank you so much for having me back. I can’t believe my second book is out already. I had a real thrill ride with The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker. The book had so many amazing reviews and I was delighted to get an Amazon bestseller flag. Let’s hope The Unlikely Life of Maisie Meadowsis as enthusiastically received.
Which fictional character would you like to spend the day with? What would you do?
This is such a hard question. In fact, I left answering it until the end because there are so many characters I could have chosen. I considered people from historical novels where I would get the opportunity to spend some time in an exciting period of history – perhaps with a Regency lady or a certain Victorian cotton mill owner *wink*. I thought about characters with special powers, like Harry Potter and various superheroes (flying through the air with Superman would be a blast). I considered the simple rural idyll that would be spending a day with Anne Shirley at Green Gables, or Miss Marple in her beloved St Mary Mead. Perhaps I could pamper myself and spend the day with someone wealthy or influential, perhaps party with Jay Gatsby, or Holly Golightly? So many fabulous characters, so many choices…
In the end (wait for it…) it’s a toss up between Mr Daydream (who could give my imagination a boost and therefore some fabulous material for my novels) and Mr Impossible (so I can do EVERYTHING and ANYTHING) from the fabulous Mr Men. These were the very first books I read by myself and they have a special place in my heart. I’m sure I could have some up with something more intellectual but I’m embracing my inner child. Besides, I’m curious to see how they mange to drink a cup of tea with those stumpy little arms (Mr Tickle being the obvious exception).
Which songs would be on a playlist for The Unlikely Life of Maisie Meadows?
This is quite an easy question because Theo, who works with Maisie at the auction house, has a particular penchant for the 1980s. Although he is an expert in modern design (i.e. post-war) that’s the decade that really interests him, and this is reflected in his music taste. He plays a lot of The Jam, The Police, The Clash (late Seventies/Eighties) so a soundtrack would have to include these bands. This contrasts with the flamboyant Johnny (Maisie’s boss) who has more classical tastes, so perhaps some Mozart and a sprinkling of Shostakovich (as it is mentioned in the book). And then, to keep the author happy, I’d have to throw in a few recent dance tracks – which is largely what I listen to when I write. So it would be quite an eclectic mix.
How did your writing process differ from your previous novel?
In many ways it was quite similar. I’m a pantser, not a plotter, so apart from the bare bones of the story and a definite idea of the ending, I do tend to launch myself in rather randomly, not even writing chronologically. However, for Maisie I had to produce a synopsis for the publisher before I began writing and this did help me focus my ideas a bit more. There was also a time pressure for Maisie, whereas Lucy was written before I had a publishing deal so I had longer to play about with it. However, deadlines are Good Things. They help you focus.
The only thing I really did differently was a mid-book plan. I always refer to my first draft as the Bowl of Dropped Spaghetti stage – because in my head that’s what it feels like. After that, I need to pick all the jumbled spaghetti up and sort it out. Writing Maisie was the first time I’d produced a coherent plan but it was only at this post first-draft stage. I put all the scenes I’d written on Post-it notes and then planned the book – a bit backwards but it worked. My clever techie son set me up with two screens and I simply pulled across sections in order onto a blank document. I am at the Bowl of Dropped Spaghetti stage with Book 3 now so shall employ this method again.
Which authors have inspired you?by
Hello Jon, welcome back to Novel Kicks. Congratulations on the new book Good Grief, which has been released today. What are you doing to celebrate?
Firstly, thank you so much for having me! It’s always a pleasure. I don’t know about other authors, but I don’t do much to celebrate new books because I’m usually too anxious and worried about getting reviews and what people will think of it. I usually just have a meal with my family and a couple of drinks, and then it’s back to stressing about it! That’s the life of an author – 95% stress 5% enjoyment!
Can you tell me a little of what Good Grief is all about?
Good Grief is my eighth novel and it’s about two very different people trying to get over losing their partners. Holly Moon is twenty-seven and a year before the start of the book her husband died suddenly of a heart attack. Holly thought she had it all and suddenly her life is nothing like she had planned. Phil Turner is sixty and he’s been married to Bev for nearly forty years. She’s all he’s ever known. When she dies of cancer, he doesn’t know what life is about anymore. Holly and Phil meet at Good Grief counselling group and strike up an unlikely friendship. Together they help each other move on and find a purpose in life again. Good Grief is a love letter to the healing power of friendship. It might sound a bit sad, and it is in places, but ultimately it’s a feel-good, uplifting story.
Which songs would be on a playlist for Good Grief?
Haha that’s great. I actually made one on Spotify! Queen play an important role in the book and so definitely some Queen. I’d go for Another One Bites The Dust and I Want To Break Free. There’s the Snow Patrol song, What If This Is All The Love You Ever Get? Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division, Your Song by Elton John, Nothing Lasts Forever by Echo & The Bunnymen, Hey Jude by The Beatles and One Day by Kodaline. You can find the playlist on Spotify. It’s called Good Grief Playlist. Enjoy!
What’s your favourite word and why?
Ooo that’s a tough one. I think my all-time favourite word is bivouac. I’ve never actually used it in a book, but one day! The way it just sort of rolls off the tongue.
When you are beginning a new project, how much planning needs to be in place before you decide it’s enough to begin? Do you use software like Scrivener or a notebook?by
Welcome Back Lynne and Valerie. I am so happy to be chatting to you on publication day for The Last Time I Saw You. What are the challenges of co-writing a novel and how do you divide responsibilities from idea to final draft? How long does it take you to write a novel?
We love writing together and feel the advantages far outweigh the challenges, however there are definitely aspects of co-authoring that present more difficulty than writing solo. Because we live in different states, one of the biggest of these is scheduling. We speak every morning to determine the day’s “assignment” and then FaceTime at the end of the day to discuss the work for the day, and so we need to be strict and precise about the time for these appointments. That means looking at our calendars and determining times that mesh with our respective schedules.
With everyday life commitments , sometimes finding a mutually workable time can be frustrating, and could hamper the flow of work. Then there is the challenge of resolving a disagreement regarding plot line or character. Fortunately, this is a fairly rare occurrence, and when we have disagreed, we’ve been able thus far to listen to each other’s reasoning with respect and an open mind. Hence the solutions have always been arrived at without rancor or resentment. Lastly, the job of editing can be challenging because it’s something that must be done together, page by page, line by line. This part of the job can easily keep us on FaceTime for six to eight continual hours at a time. So…pretty minor challenges given how much we enjoy working together.
We talk through an idea for two months or so before we write the first sentence, and so we have a general idea of where we want to go and what the twist will be. We also develop our characters together. We don’t have a detailed outline of the story, preferring to let it unfold more organically––to let the characters dictate the action as it were. We work equally on all aspects of the book, so even though we have two protagonists, we both write for each of them. The process has now evolved to the point where Lynne might start a scene and then send it to Valerie to finish or vice versa. There are times when the beginning of a sentence is written by one of us and the end by the other. And of course we edit each other’s work as well.
The Last Mrs. Parrish took us a year from start to final edits, however, The Last Time I Saw You took eighteen months. The book in progress has taken us four months, and we are now in final edits.
What’s your favourite word and why?
Lynne – Gobemouche – it sounds just like what it is – extremely gullible. It’s a fun word to say and it reminds me of something my father would make up. He was a great kidder and loved to come up with crazy nicknames and words.
Valerie – mulligrubs. First of all because it sounds so delicious on the tongue and secondly because it so perfectly describes someone who is sullen and has the grumps.
Which song would each describe each of you?
Lynne – Break My Stride – Matthew Wilder
Val –Time of my Life – Bill Medley & Jennifer Warens
What elements do you feel need to be present to make a believable, good suspense novel?
Good character development, plausibility, tight pacing, and surprising but inevitable twists.
What book do you wished you’d written?
Val – Pride and Prejudice
Lynne – Murder on the Orient Expressby
Hello Nicholas. It’s great to welcome you to the blog today. Please tell me a little about your new book, Justice Gone and what inspired it?
Justice Gone was inspired by a true event, the fatal beating of a homeless man in a small Californian town. This was such an extreme case, and one which did not include any racial elements, that it exposed the utter abuse of authority in which an outraged public reaction was inevitable. The town was Fullerton, the man’s name was Kelly Thomas, and the year was 2011. Although the police officers were indicted by a grand jury, they were acquitted in their trial. So I asked myself a question: if someone felt that justice was denied the deceased, would they take it in their own hands? This became the seed for the story.
What elements do you feel need to be present in a thriller novel? What are the challenges?
Suspense, that is, the anticipation of what is going to come next, and this is usually accompanied by actions to some degree, although if you have enough skill, words alone can create this tension. Whichever way you accomplish this, the challenge is to persuade the reader to invest their interest in what is going on, and this includes sympathy for the protagonists.
This is the first part of a series featuring Dr Tessa Thorpe. What advice do you have for someone trying to develop a series and a strong character that will keep them coming back to read their story?
You need to become friends, or even love the character, knowing their faults as well as their admirable traits. In this way you know what they will say and can predict what they’ll do in any situation.
Actually Tessa first appeared in Journey Towards a Falling Sun, a story I wrote over 30 years ago, but eventually got published in 2014. It was a minor role, but one in which she was born, so to speak.
What’s your typical writing day like, where do you like to write and do you prefer silence?
I can write in the early mornings when I’m fresh, or in the evenings when I’m relaxed. usually the time between is non-productive. Silence is mandatory.
What’s your favourite word and why?
I don’t have a favourite word. I have a favourite colour, blue. Can I then say that “blue” is my favourite word?by
Hi Peter, thank you for joining me on Novel Kicks. When did you start writing?
I have been writing since I was seven years old – my original ambition was to be a scriptwriter. I find the world we live in very interesting and I enjoy observing human behaviour, and that’s really my approach. I’m constantly taking note of what’s happening around me as you never know where you might find inspiration for a character or piece of plot.
How did you get your big break?
My first ‘break’ was at age seventeen, when I won a national short story competition run by the BBC and got to read my story out on air. It was hugely exciting! However, my first professional writing job came along a few years later whilst I was living in Toronto and working on a children’s television series called Polka Dot Door. I was a gopher – it was my job to basically run errands. One day we were due to film an episode, but the writer hadn’t turned in the script. The producer asked if I could write one there and then, and I said ‘okay!’
How much research do you do for each novel?
My novels tend to be very research-driven. I first had the seed of an idea for Absolute Proof when I received a mysterious call from someone claiming to have proof of the existence of god – just like Ross does – thirty years ago. In the decades that followed I did a great deal of research, ranging from speaking to religious leaders about the consequences absolute proof would have for believers, to living as a monk for five days in the extraordinary monastic commune of Mount Athos. It’s been an extraordinary journey!
Who inspires you?
When I was 14, I read Graeme Greene’s Brighton Rock, and it totally changed my life. It’s the book that made me realise I wanted to be a writer, and also the reason that my Roy Grace series is based in Brighton. Greene has a way of describing characters, in just a few sentences, which makes you feel you know them inside out, and his sense of “place” is almost palpable. Brighton Rock is for me an almost perfect novel. It has one of the most gripping opening lines ever written too – ‘Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to kill him.’
What advice would you give to new and aspiring writers?
Reading extensively and intelligently is the most important thing – read books that have done well in the genre you want to write in and analyse what you like about the author’s style. Once you’ve started writing, make time to write every single day. Find a comfortable number of words to do each day and stick to that number. I am comfortable with 1,000 words. For some it might be 500, 200 or even 2,000 – as long as you are consistent, the number doesn’t matter.
And you must love your characters – or no one else will!
Hi Emily. Thank you for joining me today. Can you tell me a little about your novel, Bells and Bows on Mistletoe Row (I love this title) and what inspired it?
It’s lovely to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
I’m so pleased you love the title. The wonderful members of my Facebook group helped me choose it. There were three options and this was the most popular.
The idea of Bells and Bows came to me as I was staring at one of the churches I can see from my office. The bells were ringing because it was a Sunday morning. I love listening to church bells, so my mind was drifting as it so often does. Juliet Bell and Harrison Bow popped up in front of me and introduced themselves. I loved the fact that their names had a Christmas ring to them (excuse the pun) and because they both had siblings, Bells and Bows was born.
I firmly believe in love at first sight. I also believe a person can love another their whole life, even if they’re not actually together. I can tell you many true stories relating to both!
Anyway, because I adore Christmas, and because of their names, I decided to put all those things together and see where it went. Both main families in this book need to learn to discuss issues and to open up about their feelings.
They believe in ‘a stiff upper lip’ and tend not to talk to one another about anything meaningful. This Christmas, that’s all about to change.
One of the secondary characters is based on a dear friend of mine who is no longer with us, and he is the cause of a few misunderstandings in the novel.
From planning to edit, what’s your writing process like and how has it changed since the first book?
I don’t plan. I never have. I get an idea and I sit down and write whatever comes into my head, or whatever appears in front of me.
I often say that the story unfolds before my eyes and I simply type what I’m seeing. I write a very quick first draft and make notes about the characters, settings etc. along the way.
Then I leave it for a few days or so, do any research that’s necessary, and then write the second draft. I write as many drafts as it takes before I feel happy with the book. After that, it goes to my editor.
Any changes or suggestions she has, are discussed and if I need to rewrite anything, I do.
Which Christmas tradition is your favourite?
That’s a difficult question because I love them all. Preparing the Christmas cake and all having a stir of the mixture and making a wish is one I’ve loved all my life. Opening one present on Christmas Eve, is another.
Finding a Yule log, bringing it home and burning it is one I can’t do at the moment because I no longer have a real fire. I miss that.
I need to move home before next year. I want a real fire again. Buying about two hundred more Christmas cards than I’ll ever need – and then doing exactly the same every year. (I’ve got boxes and boxes of cards…but I’ve already bought more this year!) Hanging wreaths on the doors, front and back.
Putting up the Christmas decorations in November. Going to a carol concert. Christmas crackers. Making mulled wine and eggnog.
Not together in the same pot, obviously. Hohoho! Setting the Christmas pud alight. Baking mince pies. Playing Christmas songs from October onwards. Yes, honestly. Ask my friends. It drives them nuts.
Ooh nuts! Spending hours trying to crack a brazil nut open and nearly losing an eye, or breaking several ornaments in the process. That’s a tradition not to be missed! Sorry. You only wanted one thing, didn’t you?by
Hello Pernille, thank you so much for joining me on Novel Kicks today. Your book is called Him With The Beard. Can you tell me a little about it?
Hi Laura, I´m so glad you would have me!
In Him With The Beard, we follow a little family whose life is turned upside down when the daughter Mille stops believing in Santa. We read the story from the mother´s, Stella, perspective.
It’s a sweet Christmas story about family, Santa Claus and the big question whether it’s possible to find a way back to the joy of Christmas when you discover that Santa isn’t who you thought.
What is your writing process like from planning to editing?
I always begin with a vague idea, often a funny scene, and work with the idea in my head for some while, before I begin writing it down on paper. I love the process of getting all the small pieces in the puzzle to fit.
And then I begin writing, writing, writing and writing. I´m one of those unwise people that edit and write at the same time, but I just know when something doesn’t work, and I would rather change it when I know what I can do differently than forgetting it and try to change it later.
From then on it’s off to beta readers and the editor and I do changes based on what they find. I´m not perfect, so I love getting feedback that can help me get my story better across to readers.
Is there a certain place you like to write and are there certain things you need like coffee/tea/music/silence?
I´m pretty easy to please. I just need my computer to write 🙂
I always write late at night or very early in the morning when it’s quiet. I´m also pretty tired at this point so it’s like writing drunk which can be a good thing because then my inner critic has gone to bed. Ha!
What elements do you feel need to be present in a novel?
I really like when a book has humour and a twinkle in the eye because I feel like the book becomes your friend and you share all these inside jokes that no one else understands (Even if the author wrote them like that).
I often wonder what kind of relationship other readers have with my favourite books, and now also what my book will give people.
What’s your favourite word and why?
I love this question! And I don´t know!
I´m such kind of person that often stops up to repeat a word because it sounds funny or delicious in the way it leave my lips.
I´m a Dane so the word “Hygge” is a word I use at least ten times a day. At least!
English words I like is: Dazzle, giggle or the hilarious Flabbergasted. I feel like I have to do the flabbergasted face to say this word!
Is there a fictional character you’d like to meet? What would you both do?
I´m thinking I would have a lovely day with Lily from Pictures of Lily by Paige Toon. Just walking around in an Australian conservation park, and say hello to kangaroos, wombats and koalas (NO SPIDERS PLEASE) and then have lunch in the shade of a big eucalyptus tree. If I’m lucky I might even get the chance to say hello to Lily´s sexy husband Ben.
Hi Julie. Thank you so much for joining me today. Your new novel is called A Village Affair. Can you tell me about it and what inspired it?
Hi, and thank you so much for having me on your blog today. It’s much appreciated.
As writers, we’re always advised to write about what we know and “AVillage Affair”began its life under the guise of ‘Not in My backyard’ influenced, very much, by a real-life fight in my village where acres of fields and greenbelt land were in danger of having hundreds, if not thousands, of houses built upon them. As the main focus of the plot moved and centred upon the village school, the novel took on the handle “Little Acorns” and many of the school incidents are based on real happenings in the primary schools I have taught in over the years. Eventually Aria came up with the title “A Village Affair”which I love and which, I think, encompasses the different strands of the book.
What’s your writing process like (idea, research etc.) How do you approach editing?
At the start of a new idea/novel I sit at my desk with a brand-new exercise book. I like my novels to be very much character-based and so I come up with characters’ names, write what they look like and actually give them a family tree. This is important as I’m mainly writing about the characters in one town and one village and so I have to make sure they’re not too related to each other, especially if they’re going to end up together!! With “Holly Close Farm”,as nearly half of it is set during WW2, I did a huge amount of research about the WAAFs and Bomber Command. I really enjoyed this bit and it was quite hard work leaving the reading to actually write. I love editing. I must be the only writer who enjoys this bit. I love going back over what I’ve written, tweaking and adding and crossing out. In my early days as a writer I would write one chapter and then edit it to death the next day because I was so proud that I’d actually written another chapter. Now, with deadlines, I tend to just write and edit at the end. Editing means I’ve finished, which is always wonderful.
What’s your typical writing day like? Do you have a place to write? Cup of coffee? Write in silence?
I’m a lark: I’m much better writing at 6am than later in the day. I had the most beautiful writing room at one end of the house but my husband is now working from home and has commandeered it for his office. I’m in a cupboard – not literally, but it feels like it after the lovely office with views down the valley. I actually quite like my cupboard: it’s jampacked with books, piles of papers, computer and, usually, the dog. I write, plan for school if I’m teaching a couple of days and do some private tuition in there. It does tend to get a bit cosy. One day, I’ll have my office back!
I need silence, tons of coffee (morning) and Earl Grey tea (afternoon).
So, basically, if it’s a writing day, I’ll get up early, have a mug of hot water and lemon (my mum always did and I’ve done this for the past 30 years) answer emails, decide whether it’s a swim or a run, shower, have breakfast and read the paper about eleven and then really get stuck in. If I can write 2-3000 words a day I’m more than happy.
What’s the most challenging thing with writing a novel?
The start of any new novel. By the end of a novel I love my characters so much I can’t bear to leave them and start again. I feel very disloyal to my old friends and it takes a while to love the new ones.
How do you pick names for your characters?
Probably with names I wanted to call my own children but for which my husband didn’t share the same enthusiasm. So India, Clementine, Kit, Theadora and Fin were born! My daughter, Georgia, is really cross I didn’t stick to my guns and call her Theadora – shortened to Teddy – that Harriet names one of her twins.
In my “Work in Progress“(Book 7 and desperate for inspiration for an actual title) it’s been easy to come up with names because I have Patrick, the father – a bit of a lothario – who is a Cambridge educated Classics professor and gives all his four daughters names from Greek literature. I’ve ended up with Isolde, Pandora, Juno and Lexia.
What elements make up a good novel?
When I read, I want a thumping good story. I want to know what happens next. I want to want to go to bed read to know what’s going to happen. I do like humour in a novel. It doesn’t have to be overtly laugh out loud. I think Liane Moriarty and Kate Atkinson are both superb writers, not only at weaving good stories but at having the ability to include some quite subtle humour. I aspire to both these wonderful novelists!!by
Amelia Mandeville joins me today. Her debut novel, Every Colour of You is released tomorrow by Sphere. Hi Amelia, thank you so much for joining me today. Your book is called Every Colour of You. Can you tell me a bit about it and what inspired the story?
Hello, thanks so much for having me!
My book follows the journey of Tristan, who is struggling with his mental health, and Zoe, who is the most positive person you’ll meet. It’s all about their friendship as very different people. I think my own personal struggles with mental health made me write this story. I also think it’s important for boys to be able to know that they can cry, they are allowed to not be okay, and talk about it.
What is your writing process like from research and plot development to editing?
It’s different for each book. This one, I spent a little bit of time planning, writing down certain lines I really wanted Zoe or Tristan to say, their characteristics. Then when I had the ending set in stone, I started writing. The editing was thorough, we did a lot of drafts before it got to my final draft, and I felt it just got better and better. My book would not be how it is, without Abby and Manpreet who edited.
Do you have any rituals when writing – a certain place to write, coffee, music, silence?
Music. I always have to listen to music. I think of my most chapters to myself when I’m driving on my own, listening to a song. There’s something about music. It really just gets me in my zone. Specifically sad, emotional, music.
Which author/book has most influenced you?
I think I always found Veronica Roth so successful, writing at such a young age. And obviously JK Rowling. Despite all those rejections, but her true talent eventually was recognized. I tried to remind myself that whenever I got rejections (I got a lot). I’m not saying I will ever be on the level of JK Rowling, but if she gave up, we would never have Harry Potter.
What is the best part of writing and what did you find the most challenging?
The best part is creating characters that you feel so much emotion and love with, its lovely. The hard part is the self-criticism, and comparison. Also when you hitting a writing block. I really do doubt my writing abilities when I’m in that state of mind. But once you’re out it’s back into doing what you love again.
Are you working on a new book? Are you able to tell me a bit about it?
I am! I’m keeping it secret. But I’m 20 thousand words in, and it will focus on duel narratives again. But it’s a very different story, with a very different situation.by
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