I’m an early riser, so I’m usually up and about before six in the morning. If I’m trying to get the essence of something very new, a mood, or a particularly difficult piece, then the piece is normally in my mind from the night before. The next morning I often write in longhand before any thought of breakfast is contemplated. But this isn’t average. On the whole, I start the day, by editing the work from the previous day. I find this really helps me get back into the script, and it’s a great way of tightening the previous day’s word count. Then I am ready to start the new work. I’ll try to do at least 1,500 words per day Monday to Friday. Sometimes it’s like drawing teeth, sometimes it’s like a flowing river, but either way, there is a target, and it is there for a reason. The routine is then varied when it is time to do the full editing of the work. When that happens, chances are there is a deadline, and the routine of Monday to Friday, or taking sufficient breaks can feel like another lifetime ago. Every stage is different and interesting with the change of intensity and type of work required, but I recommend plenty of early nights!
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
I actually find reality can confuse the issue when it comes to writing fiction. If I was to use elements of people I knew, and believe me, I’ve met some very interesting ones over the years; I think it would restrict the character development, if that makes sense.
I’m sure my characters are probably combinations of people I’ve met, or seen on the big screen, or perhaps conjured up from an image in a book, but on the whole, I don’t really know where they come from. They grow legs all of their own, and on great writing days, they surprise me. I’m not sure what actually happens in the logical sense, but it’s certainly a very fascinating thing, the task of finding fictional beings from your subconscious, and when you do fin them, then to wonder, who they are, and how you managed to get them there in the first place.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte – I first read it in my late teens, and I was blown away by it. It is a stark but wonderful tale of young lovers, and how their wild passionate longing for each other resulted in misery and torment, not only for them, but for those around them. The characters are exactly what really great characters should be, capable of warmth and sincerity, but when hurt or frightened, willing to do the most vicious and revenging acts. It is an utterly passionate novel, which crosses the path of hatred, and love, creeping into the next generation, when the darkness is finally broken in exactly the same way as it began, by the hearts of two young lovers.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first of dive in? How many drafts do you do?
In many ways, I wish I was a planner when it comes to writing. I’m a planner in most other aspects of my life, so it would stand to reason that I would apply the same mindset to something I totally love. But alas that is not the case. Yes I am disciplined, but as for planning out the novel, using a roadmap, plotting each chapter, knowing what’s going to happen next - it doesn’t work for me. I tend to write with only the smallest amount of direction. Quite often I’ve written short stories, and it is only on page four or five that I realise what‘s the true core of what the finished story will be.
When I get to the end of the first draft - the approach changes again. Then I have a tangible live thing with a beginning, middle and an end, and that is when structure, framing, reorganising chapters to manage the reveal comes into play. Or if during editing, I realise that I need a particular scene, or the emotions of a character has to be explored further, well then I would go about creating the chapter with very set goals in mind. However, this usually only happens at second draft stage.
As for how many drafts, well the answer can be two or two hundred. Ellie Brady for example in Red Ribbons changed very little, whereas Kate Pearson changed an awful lot and therefore required many different ways of ending up in the right place.
The thing about crime writing, or any form of writing where a lot of action ripples through a sea of information, is that one change can cause a mountain of change, and that too has its own ripple effect.
I stopped writing for twenty years. I still don’t fully know why, except to say, my mind got very busy with other things. I got married to a great guy, whom I’m still married to. I had three wonderful children, now grown up. I worked outside the home because we couldn’t afford for me not to. I also worked in our family business, so my time was fully occupied, simply getting by.
When I hit my forties, I went to a local creative writing class, and I was utterly terrified. I thought, what the hell am I doing here, I can’t really write, can I? But that night something changed. I drove home from the night class, and I knew I would never stop writing again. I had a poem in my head all the way driving back in the car, and I nearly knocked my poor hubby over darting up the stairs to get it written down. The poem was about my father’s hands, and it was like I had been pulled back in time, to a place I had almost forgotten about.
On finishing the classes, I heard of this working group that the wonderful Dermot Bolger was setting up in Dublin, and in order to get a place, I needed to write a 1,500 word piece, which I did. I didn’t actually think I’d get a place, but miraculously, I did. And then I got an inkling that perhaps I might be able to write.
Five years later, after practicing my craft within a local creative writing group, I set about writing a novel, but I didn’t finish it. I lost heart halfway though, the nagging doubts got in the way. Then I got cross at myself, and I made a promise, that the next time, I would finish it. And that is how Red Ribbons came to be. Again I was lucky. The first agent I sent it to, Ger Nichol of The Book Bureau, loved it. And very quickly after that, I had a two book deal with Hachette.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
Probably that a novelist is someone who is on the best sellers list! To be a successful novelist, very simply, you have to finish a novel. Write around 90,000 plus words with a beginning, middle, and an end. If you do that, you are then a novelist. If you write something that others want to read, then that is a major bonus. If you write something that a publisher wants to publish, well perhaps even better. I’m in the middle of writing The Dolls House at the moment, another psychological crime thriller, and the first task in hand, is getting it finished. I am utterly excited by it. I can’t wait to find out what happens next. I love the concept of it, and how it will challenge me as a writer, and at the end of the day, I hope I end up with something very worthwhile for the reader.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
I’m slow to give advice, because it is different for everyone. I suppose I would say, try very hard to shut out any negative voices, especially the ones inside your own head. Don’t expect to get it right first time out. Even seasoned novelists, know first draft is simply that. Join a creative writing group if there is one in your area. It is a great way to share ideas and meet likeminded souls. Also do a couple of creative writing classes. You’ll start to get the feel of what kind of writing excites you. Go with your passion, your gut. It takes a lot of stamina to finish a novel, so if you start off with something which has really grabbed your heart, chances are, you will end up with something pretty greatl.
What are you working on at the moment?
As mentioned above, The Dolls House which will be published by Hachette in 2013, so I am in the middle of that right now. If people want to get a flavour of it, they can visit Louise's website. It’s going to be different to Red Ribbons, although Kate Pearson, the criminal psychologist is also in this one. Kate is the puzzle solver, and she certainly has another interesting puzzle to solve.
Louise Phillips' book Red Ribbons was published by Hachette Books Ireland on 3rd September.