Questions and answers about writing
What's the best thing about being a writer?
This may sound silly, but the best thing about being a writer is the writing. Once you've started, it's addictive. Even if you were never to get a word published, there's something very satisfying about getting ideas out of your head and onto a page. And if you can create an interesting world full of people to visit whenever you like, so much the better!
How did you go about getting published?
Like most writers, I finished my first book, 'All Shook Up' and began sending it out to publishers. I checked the writers and artists yearbook to see who I could send it to (not all publishers accept unagented submissions) and I bought a whole pile of large envelopes and stamps!
The post man began to think I was stalking him as I waited for replies, then he began to get worried as I was giving him dirty looks because he was the bearer of so many standard rejections!
But soon the rejections began to get more positive, I was re-writing the book in accordance to some of the better refusals, and finally I had an offer.... Then I had to go and find an agent. Back to Writers and Artists yearbook!
Do you have a writing routine? Where and when you write for example.
The simplest answer to that is probably that I write when I can find the time.
But that's simplifying things too much. I really need to make time for writing. For example, if I'm working on a first draft, I need to put in about twenty to thirty hours a week minimum, and a fair chunk of the weekend. Otherwise I would lose the 'rythm' of the story. So I work the whole time the kids are at school and anytime my husband is at home. For solid writing like that I work almost exclusively at my desk in the spare room. If I'm editing or re-writing, and I do an awful lot of that, I sometimes sit at a table in the living room (with a view of the garden) or curled up on the couch with my laptop on my knees.
Why so much editing?
I believe in getting the story down, getting the characters established and committing that first draft to paper in one smooth go. Then I re-read and re-write again and again until I'm happy(ish) with the final product. I find that this constant revising gives insights into characters and plot that I might not have spotted first time round. A bit like getting to know someone I suppose. The more you keep at it, the better you know them, and in the case of a writer, that means you can add things to make them more believable.
Your language and 'voice' firm up aswell. When you're writing you can't always hear the voice, but as you read out loud, or even in you head, it can come through much more clearly.
When you start a novel, how much of the story do you have in your head already, before you even put pen to paper, or finger to lap top? Would you know before you start more or less how its going to end?
At the start of a book, I usually have three or four strong characters and an interesting situations for them to find themselves in. (The full extent of their situation may or may not be obvious to the reader). I’ll have a rough idea of how I want the story to develop, and I usually have an ending in mind. But that’s not to say the characters fall in with my plans!!
‘All Shook Up’ was fairly obedient, and being a beginner, I was a bit of a control freak, and I didn’t let the plot step too far out of line.
In Charlotte’s way I gave up trying to be too bossy when at a very early stage I needed a new character called Paul, a bit as a foil to Emily, one of my main characters. But Paul dug his heels in, got under my skin, and more or less wrote his own story.
By the time I'd finished 'A French Affair', it bore no ressemblance whatsoever to the book I thought I was going to write. Some of teh best storylines just came to me in a sentence.
Do you have a little book that you carry around all the time for thoughts and ideas?
A notebook- I always try to carry one but I hardly ever use it!! For ‘All shook Up’, I had all these notes written down, things I wanted to include, so I worked them in. By the final draft I had written most of them back out again because the joins were too obvious. The bits looked ‘worked in’, looked like soap-box passages, or ‘humorous’ stories, about as in context as a joke at a funeral. Now I tend to trust things to come to me while I write.
But I do wish I had an endless supply of scribbled down names. Names are really hard!!
When you read a book by another author can you just enjoy it for what it is, or do you find yourself thinking "I would have done it this way, or made this happen?
That’s something I used to do before I started writing, I think in a lot of ways it’s what spurred me on to write myself. But now I try to just enjoy what I’m reading (and if I don’t I’m in the ‘life’s too short’ camp- I abandon it, give it a few more tries at other occasions and if it still fails to capture me- forget it!!)
More often I will look at something someone else has written and marvel at the way they’ve done something.
The way they’ve managed to get into their story for example, or a novel storytelling structure, a unique voice. There are so many different types of story than the linear beginning, middle and end. I love when a writer draws me into a different type of story structure without my even noticing. For example Anita Shreve’s Light on Snow, slips between past and present effortlessly, but the boundaries are clearly defined- even chapter by chapter if I remember rightly.
Another example that springs to mind is ‘Middlesex’ by Jeffrey Eugenides. The transitions between past and present, first person narration and third person, and the almost bewildering array of viewpoints, are all breathtaking. It makes the book almost impossible to put down.
From your experience, would you recommend new writers to start with short stories, or to jump straight into a novel?
To be honest, I personally find it easier to write long than short. A short story requires a huge discipline, you need to know exactly where you’re going, and how you’re going to get there before you set off. A novel gives you more latitude. You can let the story develop, allow new characters to step up and demand to have their story told.
I did try writing short stories before I wrote my first novel- but they were awful. Now, I occasionally write a short story and when I do, it’s a lot better than anything I attempted before.
But writing of all types is an apprenticeship. While you’re writing you’re learning. To learn, you need to make mistakes, discover them for yourself and find ways of correcting them. A novel allows you to make a lot more mistakes than a short story!!
Any tips for would-be-writers?
Read lots- everything and anything. An artist would never try to paint without keeping a ready supply of paints to hand, so why is a writer any different? Words are our raw materials, we need to keep up our stocks.
And write. Don't think too hard about what to write, just do it. If you've got a story to tell, it will find its way out once you get going. It sounds silly, but it's easy to think about writing, to want to write, to dream of getting published, without ever putting a single word on paper.
A good writing class can be helpful too. It won't teach you everything, but contact with other people who are writing and a good teacher can do wonders for your confidence. Talking to or meeting with other writers is also invaluable as it reduces the solitude of writing
What's the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
It was actually something I read on the internet-
Never stop writing at the end of a chapter, a scene, a piece of dialogue, or even a long paragraph. Too final a full stop can make it much harder to get going the next day. Because I don't have the luxury of waiting around for inspiration to strike- I need to be ready to start writing as soon as I sit at my desk- if I've already started on something the day before, my mind will have been working on it in the background while I go about other business.
And the best books on writing you've read?
Stephen King's 'On Writing' is great, common-sense writing advice in a very readable form. It's also great for those 'What on earth do I think I'm at?' moments. Inspirational books would include a series of essays, edited by Clare Boylan called 'The Agony and the Ego'. If you ever wondered how your heros put pen to paper and found their inspiration, this book is an absolute must.
Both of the above are books I dip into again and again.