I’m usually juggling around three projects at any one time, and the ratio can be either two scripts and one novel or vice versa – so I have to be very organised. I tend to have page goals every day and I find that moving in short bursts from one project to the next keeps everything flowing better, creatively especially. Before I start writing in the morning, I need a strong coffee, and then I’m good to go for about 2 hours. I then do all the emailing and practical stuff and maybe review some of the outlines. As I spend the afternoon with my little son, I resume my writing in the evening for 4 to 6 hours, and that’s when I work the best – there’s no work emails or phone calls breaking my concentration and I go into a zone.
2. When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
I think a lot of writers tend to use everything around them as inspiration, and I’m no different – there will usually be a blend of people I know, things I make up and then occasionally I may have an actor in mind before I even start writing the character, especially when I’m writing screenplays.
3. What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
It has to be Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley – it never ceases to amaze me that it gets so overlooked compared to Jane Eyre or her sister’s Wuthering Heights, as it’s a work that was really ahead of its time in terms of how it explored women’s rights and women’s yearning for equality. Ultimately, it’s a girl power story, but with all the delicious thwarted romance elements. I always struggle when forced to single out just one work, so I’d like to add Donna Tartt’s awe-inspiring The Secret History and Catherine O’Flynn’s heartbreaking What Was Lost. I’ll limit myself to three works, because I could keep going…
4. What is your writing process? Do you plan first of dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I always plan the story, which I think comes from my screenwriting background – it’s ingrained in me to divide the story up into smaller segments in a detailed outline before proceeding with the first draft. Because of this planning process, I only have to then do polishes on my first draft rather than several drafts, so usually this means one extensive polish and one shorter polish. Beat Girl is a case in point – after the first draft, I only had to do two polishes.
Quite a circuitous one! After doing a degree in Film Studies in Paris, during which I fell in love with Screenwriting, I decided writing novels was my main love, and I devoted a year to writing, but kept getting rejection slips. By the end of that year my passion for screenwriting re-emerged, and I went on to do an MA in Screenwriting, which really opened many doors for me. But ironically, based on some of my screenwriting samples, I got offered to ghostwrite a book, after which my ghostwriting career really took off, which is how I first became published. And concurrently I’ve been working as a screenwriter, so that now I get to tell stories in both of the two mediums I love – books and film.
6. What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
I often get the impression that people think writers don’t work that hard. To an extent I can see how this misapprehension comes about – a writer often lolls about the house, sometimes staring into space, not exerting themselves much physically and a writer doesn’t need to wake up early in the morning to head to work. I’m a prime example – I often work in my pyjamas, and when there’s a big deadline looming I turn into a complete slob. But knowing how hard writers work, this can be a bit irksome.
7. What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
It’s the simplest of advice – keep at it. And don’t set unrealistic goals for yourself, especially if you have a 9 to 5 job and a family to look after. But finding an hour for yourself each day should be feasible, and make it a set routine, so that it’s sacrosanct to you and clear to your family – this is your time. And then write.
8. What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I’m preparing to embark on the next stage with my script Honoured (a thriller) – it’s already at quite a developed stage, but now that I’ve got producers on board, it needs one final re-write. I’m also doing a book-to-script adaption of a series of teen novels and I’m just about to finish one of my ghostwritten action thrillers.
9. What are your top five writing tips?
- Hemingway’s tip to stop writing mid-sentence has been one of the most useful advices for me, although I’ve slightly modified it – stop writing mid-paragraph, when you know how to continue it, so that next day you can get stuck in without encountering any writer’s block.
- Planning the story in advance can be a great approach – you don’t need to have figured out all the details (there’s fun in exploring and digressing) but if you know what your main plot points are and where your story is headed, as in how it ends, it keeps you on track.
- A daily target – either page numbers or word count – can become a way of self-discipline. If you stick by it, it becomes second nature, and it makes deadlines really manageable rather than sources of stress.
- If you’re struggling with one particular chapter, don’t force it – leave it and move on to the next chapter, or even to the end. Eventually you’ll figure out how to resolve the said chapter, and you’ll be able to return to it without having wasted time being stuck on one page. Nonlinear writing can be very freeing.
- If you’re just starting out, it can be a good idea to write in the genre you most enjoy reading – chances are you’ll already know a lot of the genre tropes without even realising it, and besides, it will be easier to stay motivated when it’s a genre you’re passionate about. The reverse of this advice is not to get tempted into writing in a genre just because it happens to be commercial – that alone will never sustain the writing process.