INTERVIEW BY DEBS CARR
I’ve been following Christine Stovell’s entertaining blog for a couple of years now and was delighted when she agreed to be interviewed by me for Novelicious about her fabulous debut novel, Turning The Tide.
- Chris, having read your entertaining blog posts for the past couple of years, I know you go sailing with your husband quite frequently (I’ll resist saying how wonderful I think his paintings are, but I love seeing them on each of your posts). Can you tell us if your sailing trips were where the inspiration came from for Turning The Tide, or was it something else?
I suppose the story of ‘Turning the Tide’ began when I met a keen sailor and thought how romantic the thought of sleeping under starry skies in quiet little anchorage sounded. That was until we bought our vintage wooden boat and I discovered how prone to seasickness I am! However, we have managed to sail halfway round Britain, from the east coast of England to the west coast of Wales. When I didn’t have my head in a bucket, the sleepy backwaters, picturesque harbours and fascinating characters we met during our voyage all worked their way into my imagination and into my writing. But one day I suddenly ‘saw’ an image of a troubled young woman sitting by the water’s edge and started to tell her story...
- I’ve seen a photo of your writing space and have to say that it’s the antithesis of the tip where I plot and tap away at my laptop. You seem very organized and I was wondering if you’re disciplined with your writing routine each day? How do you gauge a good writing day? Is it a specific word count, length of time spent writing, or something else?
Hmm, I am quite boringly organized because I find clutter in my working environment highly distracting; I need to focus on the task in hand. I think being disciplined about my writing came with taking myself seriously as a writer. It’s that thing about a goal without a plan is just a wish; if you don’t apply your bum to the seat and get on with it, it won’t happen! Anything over 1000 words a day is a good day, although the closer I get to the end of a draft, the faster I write.
- How long did it take you to write the first draft of Turning The Tide and can you tell us if you knew the story before starting, or did you start with an idea of a story and several characters and go with it?
I think the short answer is a couple of years then seven months! I started the book but then my husband became seriously ill after an operation. Shortly after he recovered my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was a very dark period, but it made me realise that if I wanted to achieve my ambition of becoming a novelist I couldn’t afford to wait. I had a basic idea for Turning the Tide, and some characters, but the first draft was fairly straightforward; the plot twists and turns came with subsequent drafts.
- How many drafts did you write before you were happy enough to submit your novel, and can you tell us a little about your journey to becoming a published author?
Well, I was happy with my first draft! But I knew that I had to send out a really professional script for anyone to take it seriously. At that point I contacted Hilary Johnson who told me that my word count was too low, so I took it up to 90,000. Hilary, through her Authors’ Advisory Service, then sent the typescript to an agent, who requested ‘a bigger, darker novel’ so I added more twists and the word count went up to 110,000! It was a really useful experience even though, for various reasons, the agent was unable to represent me. The next version was 100,000 – all of the good bits and none of the waffle! – I sent it to Choc Lit, who loved it... but asked me to make it 10,000 words shorter and change the beginning and ending! Two weeks later I had produced the Goldilocks version we were all happy with!
The story of these drafts probably answers your question about becoming a published author. I’d produced lots of articles, both in a professional capacity in my ‘proper job’ years and as a freelance writer, but it was only by applying myself to the task in hand that I became a published author.
- I’m really enjoying reading Turning The Tide, your characters are so well drawn and Little Spitmarsh is so easy to visualize that I was wondering if it’s based on any particular place, or if it actually exists – because I’d love to go and visit some time?
Thank you! Little Spitmarsh represents all those faded seaside towns that I love, but which are faced with uncertain futures caught between the need to modernise and the risk of losing all that makes them unique. We initially kept our boat in a small boatyard near Walton-on-the-Naze and had a very happy time there pottering round the backwaters, so that’s undoubtedly influenced my writing. Sailing into traditional harbours like Ramsgate, Weymouth, Salcombe and Penzance has also given me that same appreciation of the blend of old and new.
- I love the feistiness of Harry Watling, but Matthew Corrigan, your hero in Turning The Tide, is particularly gorgeous. Is he based on anyone in particular, and if so, can you tell us who?
I’m glad you like him! I’m just thanking my lucky stars that Matthew Corrigan came along! Seriously, it’s quite hard to point to any real life figure and say, ‘That’s Matthew!’ What happens with all my characters – and I’m sorry if this sounds pretentious – is that the process starts with a mental image, like a ‘still’ from a film, which I then develop. Matthew was sitting in Harry’s favourite spot when I first ‘saw’ him, but it was through ‘hearing’ his voice that I got to know him.
- Finally, was there any advice you received that you feel helped you towards publication? Also, is there any advice you can give us that you think may help unpublished writers towards publication?
The best advice I can give is not to give up. Whoever said published writers are just unpublished writers who kept going was right. If you believe in what you’re doing, that self-belief will carry you through.
Many thanks, Chris and good luck.
Turning The Tide is published by Choc Lit and is out now. Look out for my review, which will be posted here soon.