Vanessa's debut novel The Vintage Teacup Club is out tomorrow (11th October). You can read our review of the book here.Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
After a cup of tea in bed, I’m usually at my desk by half-eight. I really enjoy mornings, as I can come back to the manuscript fresh, and ideas often arrive during the night, demanding attention. I start each day with some free writing – three pages, handwritten. Whatever is in my head, from the mundane (laundry, bills) to plot issues goes down there. It clears the clutter and gets my mind ready for creative work. After that I make a coffee, open my word file and I’m off! I tend to write more before 11.30am than I do for the rest of the day.
I set myself a target word count for the day – usually 2500 words – and I write until I reach that. I use an app called Freedom to cut me off from internet distractions, and I set that for 90 minutes at a time – it’s an absolute godsend as I’m hooked on Twitter! I now make time for things like social networking at set points in the day.
I’ve usually hit my word count by early afternoon, and take a break from my desk, going for a swim, or to the shops. In the afternoon I focus on publicity or admin tasks. My writing brain is slow then but keeps ticking away in the background, so it’s often the case that I’m making dinner/cleaning the bath and the solution to a plot riddle I’ve been wrestling with in the morning, will suddenly appear.
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
My characters aren’t directly based on people I know, but some details, mannerisms, jobs and life experiences from friends and acquaintances do creep in. The author Nina Bawden once said about writers ‘we take pieces of other people, we can’t help it,’ and I think that’s true. As I value my social life, I try to use fragments, rather than chunks!
Like most writers I’m fascinated by the nuts and bolts of what it is to be human, so am often inspired by the people I meet. Far more so than I am by celebrities, because I think the day to day of being famous takes up a lot of time that other people use more interestingly. I’m often inspired by the jobs and hobbies ‘real’ people have, from being a midwife, crafting cushions, or being a social worker.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
I’m going to say Marian Keyes Watermelon, which I picked up when staying in a cottage years ago, and couldn’t put down. I felt an instant sense of connection with her female characters, they were real. Until then I’d thought only ‘literary’ novels dealt with the more difficult parts of life, but Marian Keyes brought real-life issues like depression into the mainstream. I’ve always wanted to create female characters that feel ‘real’ and whose lives and challenges reflected those of the women we all are and know, and I think authors like Keyes helped clear a path for that.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first of dive in? How many drafts do you do?
A mix of planning and diving! By nature I’m a diver, but planning really helps me get the plot and structure solid, so I take time to do that. I plot out the novel before I start, so I have a detailed chapter outline like a grid – that way I can see what different characters are doing at any given time. It helps me ensure that the pacing is right, and the reader will want to keep on turning pages.
Next up (the fun part) I do character questionnaires for all of my characters – noting down everything about them, from their long-term goals, fears, to what jewellery they wear, or what they’re typically doing on a Sunday morning.
When I write I don’t look back until the whole thing is written – and then I’m really brutal with my revises, cutting back any scenes or sections that feel slow or don’t move the story on. The rewriting process often takes me much longer than the initial draft.
What was your journey to being a published author?
I’ve always loved writing and books and worked as a book editor for nearly eight years. In that time I read hundreds of manuscripts – some that went on to be published, and many more that didn’t. Every single one told me something new about what works, and what doesn’t, in fiction.
When I turned thirty, I realised I wanted to write myself. A friend there told me about the NanoWrimo project, to write a novel in a month in November. We both frantically typed away for thirty days, alongside writers all over the world, and it was great fun. The resulting manuscript was pretty chaotic! I decided to put that novel, about tango dancing, to one side, but the project really kickstarted me. I started something new, a warm story of female friendship with a nostalgic twist – and that was The Vintage Teacup Club.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That you have to have ‘suffer’ in order to write. In my view, the happier you are, the more capable you’ll be of finding space, time and confidence to create. A good network of writer friends and supportive readers helps to move your writing on and can help you overcome hurdles.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Do what it takes to get your words on the page – be it making time in your schedule, joining a class, getting involved in NanoWrimo, or using free writing to get you started. Once the words are there, don’t judge them – work with them, draft and redraft, and know that your novel will get better. Enjoy your novel and your readers will too!
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ll writing a summery novel about two sisters who inherit a business that changes their lives in unexpected ways.