My average writing day is also my ideal day. I start with roughly an hour on twitter. It’s my way of exercising my writing muscles – not to mention the pleasure of having a chat with my friends! Then I edit the previous day’s work. After that, I write all morning, stopping briefly each hour to make a coffee.
Whilst I drink my coffee after lunch (yes, I drink too much coffee), I glance again at twitter. Then it’s back to the book. I stop at around six, have a quick peek again at twitter, then watch the News on TV with my husband. Unless I’m very pushed, I don’t write in the evening unless my husband is away.
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
Unlike many authors, I don’t. No, not even Richard Armitage!
My hero and my characters grow in my head, untainted by any changes in a celebrity’s appearance or by the roles that they play, or by any revelations there might be about their private lives.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time, and why?
I am going to be very corny – I adore Pride & Prejudice. I know it’s a book that many men enjoy, but I think that generally it’s more of a women’s book. I love it for many reasons other than yummy Mr. Darcy! I like the characters in the novels I read to have interesting foibles, and Jane Austen has given us many characters rich in foibles in Pride & Prejudice, as well as a very romantic story line. Unlike many authors, she doesn’t condemn her characters in her own voice. Instead, she allows the characters to condemn themselves memorably with their every utterance. I mean, who can ever forget Mr. Collins and his arrival in the Bennet household?
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I don’t ever just dive in. The Road Back and A Bargain Struck required a knowledge of the period and location, and I did a couple of months research on each before I began. The structure for The Road Back grew naturally out of my research–I followed the lives of my characters separately until they met, and the story of what happened next was a natural outcome of their pasts.
With A Bargain Struck, I did a much more detailed plan than I’d ever done before. I began the novel where a lot of novels end, and I needed to know in advance where each chapter was heading to make sure that the readers kept turning the pages to find out what happened next.
Before I start each day’s writing, I go through the work that I did on the previous day. When I complete the whole book, I go through it all again. I then send it to a friend who reads everything that I write and who comments. I then give effect to her comments, and the book is finished. Until I have to go through it again, that is.
What was your journey to being a published author?
I was writing non-stop for seven years before I received my offer of publication from Choc Lit. What a day that was! Those seven years were an invaluable learning curve. My first full-length novel had a very dark theme, and I was told it was unpublishable by an unpublished author. I then wrote a contemporary novel. When I finished that, I was told by two top agents that it was virtually impossible to sell anything by an unpublished author. I then encountered Ladakh through my uncle’s album, felt intrigued by the country and The Road Back was born.That’s rather simplified things – I wrote one or two shorter stories in between the main novels whilst waiting to hear back about my submissions. One of them, A Dangerous Heart, was published as a People’s Friend Pocket Novel in March of this year.What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That you sit back and do nothing more strenuous than write your next book, pausing occasionally to haul a pile of money to the bank. With the ever-increasing number of titles being published, newspapers, radio, bookshops are being forced to cut back on their author interviews and book signings. The personal approach by the author possibly now achieves more than an approach by the publisher. The author, therefore, must do his or her bit towards publicity, which is no light task, and then the publisher comes in.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
They should read as much as they can, especially in the genre they want to write. They should keep a notebook with them at all times and jot down interesting snatches of conversation, sights, physical characteristics, ideas, and so on. When they have the idea for their novel clear in their mind, they should start to write it at once, even if they can do no more than 30 minutes a day. It’s amazing how ideas flow once you start writing. Write from the heart. Write the novel they want to write as they want to write it, not as someone said they should or in imitation of someone else.
Once they’ve finished their novel, they should go through it very carefully and correct errors such as changing POVs. The manuscript they send out should be the best they can possibly make it. With the degree of competition there is today, they might miss an opportunity if they submit a flawed manuscript which, with a little more care, could have been made perfect.
What are you working on at the moment?
The novel for which I went to Wyoming in search of answers is called A Bargain Struck. It’s set in Wyoming, 1887. The title comes from a statement made in 1979: In popular opinion a good marriage was a bargain struck between two strong-willed characters for an equitable and advantageous division of labour. Yes, it’s about a marriage. Widower Conn Maguire, a second generation homesteader, needs a wife to do the necessary in the house when his 8 year-old daughter starts school and can no longer help, and he arranges by mail to marry applicant Ellen O’Sullivan.
It is assumed, if course, that both will have been completely open and honest about themselves in their exchange of letters. But when Conn meets Ellen upon her arrival, he realises that he was incorrect in his assumption. They have an arrangement, however, and he sees himself as an honourable man and agrees to honour it.
P.S. Ellen doesn’t step off the stagecoach with a child at her side!
Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to answer your questions, Novelicious. I’ve really enjoyed doing this. Before I sign off, may I wish all of your readers publishing success if they haven’t yet had it.
THE ROAD BACK, published by Choc Lit is out in paperback on 7th September
JENNI CAHILL'S REVIEW OF THE ROAD BACK