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