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?
My two writing days per week look like this: I get my two daughters into school. I come back, grab a cup of tea or a decaff coffee and switch my lap top on. Even though I have a dedicated writing room in my loft with a lovely desk and a beautiful chair I bought with one of my royalty cheques, I write in the lounge, sitting on the sofa, at a little table that makes my back hurt sometimes so it’s not ideal! But it’s where I’m happy writing. I couldn’t write in a coffee shop or anywhere public. I love the peace and quiet and the alone time. I tend to have the TV on while I work but it has to be a series or program I don’t have to follow too much as I will miss most of it when I get engrossed in the writing. But I can’t have anything irritating on the TV in the background either – it drives me nuts! On one of my writing days, I dash out at lunchtime to teach a Pilates class. I teach five times a week, which takes care of my fitness routine and gives me a good balance and contrast with sitting down at a table writing.
Love this. Let’s go full-on Christmas / snow / ski here!
I could go on, but you get the gist…
How do you approach the editing process and what do you think is the most common mistake new writers make?
I used to hate the editing process! It felt like being at school with red pen and corrections written all over my precious work. These days, it’s all done as an emailed document with track changes etc. Much easier! And it feels more like suggestions than corrections. But I welcome a second pair of eyes on my work – I’m too close to it and it’s hard sometimes to see repetition of words or where the scene might be dragging. I always feel that a novel is better, tighter and much stronger after the editing process and the best thing I can put out there.
The most common mistake new writers make…having reviewed some early works on and off, I would say that it’s lack of structure. Lots of descriptive writing, but the kind that can slow the pace of the novel down, rather than moving the story forward. That’s a tricky thing to balance for any author – putting enough colour and light and shade in there, without allowing the story to sag or become static.
If I could escape somewhere for Christmas, I would either head to New York as it’s incredible at that time of year or more likely these days – a ski resort! I have been Megeve twice and it’s a really pretty town with a wonderful Christmas tree in the main square that’s up all year round. With all the hot chocolate and the mulled wine and the skiing and the snow-dusted fir trees and the glorious decorations…it’s just Christmas all wrapped up with a big red bow. And now I’ve been talking so much about it, I want to go there now, let alone for Christmas!
Are you able to tell me a little about what you’re currently working on?
I’m going to be a little cagey about it as it’s early days, but I’m working on something insanely romantic, that has a cool hook, with two fantastic characters I can wait to dive into. And it’s set in two different places in the world…and that’s all I can say about it right now!
What advice do you have for new writers?
My advice for new writers is this. Write. Write, write and write some more. I speak to lots of aspiring authors who get caught in the planning stage and make endless notes and they don’t really get around to actually writing the novel. You have to write something to be able to see what’s there and where it can go. Don’t just talk about writing a novel – write a novel!
Sasha Wagstaff learned foreign languages, and imagined she might eventually get a glamorous job speaking French. After climbing her way up the banking ladder, Sasha started idly mapping out the beginnings of a novel on an old laptop. When she realised her characters were more real to her than dividends and corporate actions ever could be, she left her job to become a writer. She also writes under the pseudonym of Ella Harper.
Say hi to Sasha on Twitter
When life goes downhill… head to the snow-capped Alps for roaring fires, apres-ski and festive romance.
Lily Jackson loves Christmas. She also loves her childhood friend Jamie, but when her plan to kick-start their romance goes drastically wrong and her job gets her down, Lily decides it’s time to make changes. A job opens up in snowy Chamonix and egged on by her best friend Imogen, Lily decides to go for it.
As Lily settles in with the eccentric Devereux family at their gorgeous boutique ski hotel, she starts to confront her past. But when she meets handsome ski instructor Luc, who hates Christmas, Lily might have taken on more than she can handle.
Can Lily make a new life – with or without skis? And can she get Luc to see how truly romantic Christmas can be?
A heart-warming, feel-good romantic comedy, perfect for fans of Holly Martin, Carole Matthews and Tilly Tennant.
Christmas in Chamonix was released by Canelo Escape on 19 Sept. 2019. Click to view on Amazon UK