Writing can be solitary and also rather frightening – and sometimes it can feel like going mad (and I write in an attic). Writing with Sean is less solitary and less frightening, and there’s something rather exhilarating about going mad with another person – folie a deux. In many ways the actual process of writing isn’t so different from when I write solo novels, because Sean and I actually never write together (we did try once, at the end of our first book, The Memory Game, in an act of symbolic unity – but it was dreadful: we took about an hour to come up with one drab sentence, and squabbled throughout).
There are things that are straightforwardly lovely and fun – like the planning, when we go for long walks, or sit over coffee and tea and wine, and bounce ideas off each other without fear of being ridiculous. But usually the advantages are also the challenges – what’s good about writing together can also be what’s hard. We have to trust each other and to be vulnerable in front of each other. We have to allow the other to edit an even to erase our precious words. And there’s nowhere to hide – most relationships thrive with areas of separation, with boundaries .by
Earlier, we heard from author, Deborah Lawrenson about how she deals with the mid-book slump and now we catch up with Cathy Kelly to see how she deals with that dreaded mid-book stall…
I keep writing and tell myself I am an idiot about a hundred times. It’s such a dreadful thing to go through and I go through many of them with each book, and I force myself to stay at the computer, when really, a good walk helps. What I’ve written still looks dreadful when I come back but I am somehow calmed!
Cathy Kelly is the best-selling author of The Honey Queen, Just Between Us and The House on Willow Street. Her latest novel, It Started With Paris was released by Orion in October 2014. Read our interview with her by clicking here.by
Monday has rolled around once again and we are now over halfway through November and National Novel Writing Month. Most of the people taking part will be over 25,000 words into their NaNoWriMo novel (or not even close if you are having a writing month like mine.) At this stage, it’s very easy to fall into the mid-book slump. Later on today, we will be hearing from Cathy Kelly with her advice on how to conquer the mid-book slump but first, we hear from the author of The Sea Garden, Deborah Lawrenson. She gives us her advice on what she does to get through it.
The mid-book slump is a genuine threat. For me, it’s the moment when the thought strikes that what I’ve written so far might all be a load of rubbish, an implausible story and so tangled that any readers will rip it to shreds. How do I get over it?
I just walk away from it for a few days. I don’t stop working, though. I keep a notebook for each book, beginning with ideas, details of characters, reminders to myself, and whole passages of writing I’ve played around with. This is the time to re-read the notebook, and keep it close to jot down my thoughts.by
Jo is the author of non-fiction, poetry and short stories. Her first novel, Significance was released by Seren Books last month. We had a chat with Jo about her book, her ideal dinner guests and her favourite word…
Hi Jo, thank you so much for joining us. Can you tell us about your novel, Significance and how the idea originated?
The idea for the novel came from two sources; first, a sort of unease about reading and watching stories about murder. Like a lot of people I have enjoyed the recent Nordic Noir TV series The Killing and The Bridge, and I’ve also enjoyed novels on the same theme. On the other hand real murder as it hits our headlines is brutal and awful and it has often been said that while we remember the names of the killers the victims’ names are forgotten. I think the book is also informed by a series of murders in the town where I lived of three girls the same age as me at the time. Two of them had been to the same club as my friend and I on the night they died and so obviously this had an impact, and while I never knew them I have never forgotten them. So it was exploring these memories and ideas that provided the backbone of the book.
Out of all the books you’ve read, which three have made the most impact on you?
So many books come to mind, but for different reasons – if I think about impact my first thoughts go to those books that had a real emotional impact – for example, Sophie’s Choice by William Styron, one passage of which made me weep loudly and uncontrollably on the London underground. Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls Trilogy has also remained memorable for its tragicomic scenes and O’Brien’s droll understated humour. Ian McEwan’s collection of short stories, First Love, Last Rites impressed for the strangeness of the situations his characters found themselves in, the borderlands of loneliness and love with dark undertones of decay.by
Day twelve of National Novel Writing Month. So far we’ve heard from Jill Mansell who talked about planning a novel, Victoria Fox who gave us advice about discipline and Milly Johnson who chatted to us about heroes. Today, Margaret James joins us. She talks to us about what elements she believes creates a great story.
A great story needs a great premise – think of the tag lines and/or memorable quotes from some of the movies you’ve seen and you’ll soon come up with one yourself. Here are a few to get you thinking.
Love means never having to say you’re sorry.
You killed my father so prepare to die.
Houston, we have a problem.
Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more.by
When I am thinking up the perfect hero, the first thing I do is make him (ironically) imperfect. A totally perfect hero would be too daunting. George Clooney belongs on a pedestal, not wandering around a car boot sale on a Sunday morning. My heroes have flaws, they have made mistakes in life and become stronger people because of that. They are attainable and interesting. They have a good work ethic and are kind to animals. I could not write convincingly about a hero who kicked cats and preferred life on the dole. Flaws make a hero believable, but you have to find the right balance. A hero with too many flaws would be a pain in the butt and unattractive to readers. A good starting point is writing about someone who would be imperfectly perfect for you. Trawl the internet and find someone you like so you have a visual in your head when you are writing about him.
Lookswise… well, the faces I find most attractive have character. Features might not be flawless, but together they work. My hero’s nose may be slightly large, but on a strong face, a small straight nose would look ridiculous (analyse Liam Neeson’s features – small eyes, crooked nose, thin lips – but dynamite when placed together!). Strong female leads need even stronger men. I would have thought that 99.9% of women find being cared for and protected by someone physically and mentally strong a turn-on.by
One of the questions I’m most often asked is how I find the discipline to write. Well, the answer is simple. Writing is my job, and, like any job, I have to get up every day, sit down and get on with it. Sure, sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes I feel like doing just about anything if it means getting away from my desk. But if I worked in an office, say, I couldn’t just not turn up one morning because I’d decided I’d really rather stay in bed and watch re-runs of Frasier. I’m a firm believer that if you sit down with your book for long enough, the words will come. They might not be the right words first time, but they’ll move your story forward and keep your plot turning over.
When you’re on a roll, everything is brilliant. When you’re feeling creatively sapped, it’s an effort. And if you don’t have a book contract in place, that’s the hardest bit. Will it be worth it? Will anyone read it? Is it any good? These are questions the vast majority of unpublished writers, including me, have asked ourselves. Discipline, then, becomes something different. It comes from deep inside. You have to believe, in your core, that you’re going to finish this book. You’re not going to do it for anyone else except you – because you want a completed novel and you can’t let your characters float in uncertainty for the rest of time. The publishing contract is the golden prize but it’s not a given. Discipline stems from your own personal desire to write.by
We are now on our fifth day into National Novel Writing Month. How is everyone doing?
All throughout November, to coincide with National Novel Writing Month, we will be bringing you advice on aspects of writing from a variety of authors including Ali McNamara, Jane Fallon and Nicci Gerrard.
Today, we catch up with best-selling author, Jill Mansell who is talking about planning that novel. She says:
The trouble with planning out a whole novel’s worth of plot in advance is that you are bound to get much better ideas during the course of the book that knock the initial careful plans completely off course and render them useless. Since it’s so important to have the best plot possible, I now only plan it out in the very vaguest of ways, with Post-It notes stuck to a huge length of paper.by
Realise that you will occasionally look at what you’ve written and think it’s crap. Don’t panic at that. Just sit down and write. You will get distracted, it’s inevitable, just make sure you give yourself a good telling off and get back to work. Give yourself a target word count everyday. Something realistic and achievable. My target is 1,500 a day – that might seem a small amount to some people, but it works for me.by
There’s a reason why publishers have editors and why every writer needs one. Because it’s a different job than being a writer. The same applies when we’re writing a novel. Writing is writing, it’s creative and visceral. It’s the difference between designing a house and building one. When you’re writing, be a writer. When you’re editing, be an editor, but never confuse the two.by
1. Keep moving forward. Don’t get stuck editing the same passage over and over again. There’s time for that later. I think that a first draft is all about getting the whole story down on paper as quickly as you can, and then sitting back and assessing what you’ve got.
2. If you have a block write through it. Don’t give up because you are stuck on a passage that’s going to be difficult to write. Write a version of it, however bad. Eventually you’ll hit a point where the story flows again. And then it’ll be easy to go back and rewrite.
3. Don’t think you have to write in perfect, grammatically correct, English. You’re Continue readingby
As readers of my newsletter know, Muse slipped into my head and took up residence while I was reading Paradise Lost at school and then refused to leave. At the time I took him at face value, but I’m pretty sure now he isn’t a real muse at all, because he’s male, steely-blue, wears a lot of leather, is winged, has talons and is devilishly handsome, if you like that kind of thing. Everyone else seems to have a fairly useful female Muse, but no – I have to be landed with a creature who needs to be arm-wrestled into submission every morning.
But then, that’s not such a bad thing, because there’s no point in wafting around looking soulful and waiting for the Muse of Inspiration to stop flitting round the room and land. No – get a firm grip and tell him or her to jolly well get on with it, and then soon the only thing flying will be your novel.
It’s taken me many years and many books to get to the point where I could call myself a disciplined writer and the turning point for me was when I realised I couldn’t work anywhere with broadband or wifi. So now I take my laptop to a cafe to write every day, just for two to two and a half hours. I have yet to have a day when I didn’t get to my 1000 word goal. Sometimes I even finish early and go and mooch around the shops for a while. It’s all about knowing your own limitations and working around them. It’s also about routine. The best gift for a hard-working novelist is for every day to be the same as the last!
I’d say that characters are more important than plot because it’s really good, believable characters that ultimately create plot. That said, you need a strong kernel of a structural idea to place the characters into from the start – it can be a simple as two contrasting characters falling in love, meeting after a long absence, both wanting the same thing that only one can have etc. I find that if my characters aren’t established enough, the plot tend to become more and more extreme and farcical to try to keep the reader engaged, whereas really loveable, rounded characters should achieve that engagement in the first placeby
Make sure your supporting characters add interest and depth to the central story, as opposed to start telling a story of their own, distracting the reader from the fates of the hero and heroine and splitting your story in two.