Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
I get up at 6am, have a shower, make a pot of coffee and get back into bed with my laptop and write until I have to get out of the house for work, at 9.30am. I was never a morning person, and for the first while I found it almost impossible to get my brain to start forming words and sentences so early. But now I’ve adapted to it and find that it’s an optimum time to write, when my brain is fresh. I have a minimum target of 400 words a day, and I’ll feel satisfied (and not guilty) if I get that, but mostly I reach 1,000.
I often go to sleep imagining what I’m going to be writing the next morning – how a scene will begin, or how two characters might interact – and when I wake up I’m prepared to start. I like to think I’m working in my subconscious while I’m sleeping.
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
I sometimes use actors in certain film roles for help. If there is a trait one of my main characters has that is echoed in a film, I’ll watch it to note mannerisms, rhythms of speech, little quirks. I won’t copy them directly, but they’ll help me flesh out the surface of a character. For instance, I watched Sarah Jessica Parker in the film The Family Stone to help me with some detail about Katherine, the emotionally repressed main character in The Forced Redundancy Film Club and Colin Farrell in the film In Bruges to help hone mannerisms and figures of speech for the character of Martin.
Some characters appear in my mind fully formed. I know I can write about them in a real way if I emotionally connect with them.
I don’t use people I know, but there are aspects of people I know in the make-up of certain characters.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
The first book I read as a teenager, after I’d grown out of Enid Blyton, was an epic romantic family saga, set in the West of Ireland, called Cashelmara by Susan Howatch. (There was no such thing as teen lit in the day.) Since then I’ve read the book about five times, and it always grips me completely. Howatch’s sagas may have gone out of fashion now, but she is a master storyteller, her characters are passionate and crystal clear, and she knows how to write utterly believable melodrama. I think she has been a big influence on me in terms of drawing realistic, not always easy to love, but hopefully compelling characters that you become close to over the course of a book.
My favourite modern Women’s Fiction book of all time has to be Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes. It deserves to be recognised as an Irish classic, but because it falls into the chick lit bracket, the literary establishment are snobbish about it. But they’re wrong. It’s a beautifully written book that has crossed-over to become beloved by readers of all types of novels, and has been hugely influential on many writers, including me. Keyes is Ireland’s Jane Austen.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first of dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I plan before I dive in, and before I plan I ruminate - for so long, I begin to panic about doing too much ruminating. But I have to think my way into a story, explore the characters in my imagination and figure out what I want to say before I start plotting. Part of that is beginning a scrapbook for the novel, with pictures that inspire me or may turn out as location or character detail. Then I do a very basic plot line, before a more detailed scene-by-scene breakdown. When I eventually start writing, sometimes the story changes, and I let it, but all my planning takes most of the fear away from facing a blank page
What was your journey to being a published author?
Since I was a child, I have always wanted to be a novelist, but I was scared of doing it for a long time. Then, ten years ago, I plucked up the courage and willpower to sustain myself write a novel, which was turned down by every agent and publisher I sent it to. It took me a while to get the guts to start another one. In the meantime, I became a ghostwriter of celebrity autobiographies as a sideline to my job as a magazine editor. I was writing full books with other people’s stories, and it gave me the confidence to start telling my own stories again. I pitched the idea I had for The Forced Redundancy Film Club to the publisher of my celeb autobiographies, and she said ‘Write that novel’, so I did. Eventually I was offered a two-book deal by the same publisher.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That being published is the Holy Grail. Yes, it’s a big thing to get a book deal if it’s what you always wanted, but it’s not the end of the uphill journey. It’s the beginning of a new quest, to get people reading your book and talking about it. For all the millions of books published at any one time, there’s only one Fifty Shades of Grey every so often. As a writer, you have to learn to market your books as well as write them. If you don’t get readers, you won’t get the next book deal. Getting your book to the top of the pile is work that no one fully knows how to do, but still you’ve got to try and try hard.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Three words: Just do it. This mantra is the screensaver on my computer and I suggest you make it yours too. Life is short and if writing a book is something you think about a lot, then you should just do it before the days, weeks, months and years pass you by. Not trying for whatever reason will leave you wondering if you could have done it all along.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a novel called Abbaholics Anonymous. It’s about a lifelong Abba devotee who, on the same day she begins treatment for her breast cancer, learns that Abba are reforming for one concert only in Stockholm. She determines to bring together the Abba fan club she formed when she was 13 years old to go to the concert, all of whom haven’t seen each other in 20 years and are facing problems of their own. I’m really enjoying the process because I was a huge Abba fan as a kid, and I still love their music. Incorporating their songs and stories about the band members into the narrative is great fun.