This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Cally Taylor is the author of Heaven Can Wait and Home For Christmas. She also appears in the brand new short story collection, Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After (which also stars our very own Debs Carr!).
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
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I’m not sure there’s such a thing as an average writing day for me as I’ve got a full time job (as an e-learning manager for a London university) and squeeze in writing my novels in any bit of free time I can grab. Mostly that tends to be in the evenings and weekends although I do occasionally take holiday so I can concentrate on writing or editing. With editing, because it requires so much concentration, I find it useful to get out of the house and book a week or ten days at a writing retreat like Anam Cara in Cork, Ireland.
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
Not really – although sometimes, when I’m trying to visualise a character, the face of a celebrity pops into my mind and that helps me write about their expressions and mannerisms. With ‘Heaven Can Wait’ Saint Bob looked a lot like Bob Hoskins! That said none of the characters in ‘Home for Christmas’ are based on celebrities.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
I think it has to be ‘After You’d Gone’ by Maggie O’Farrell. The structure of the book is unusual, the mystery that runs through it had me absolutely gripped and I felt emotionally shaken for DAYS after finishing the book. The prose is gorgeous too.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first of dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I love the initial stage of planning a book although, for me, it’s more like daydreaming than coming up with concrete plot points. That said I do like to know what will happen in the first few scenes, what the inciting incident is in the middle of the book and what happens at the end. I let my characters guide me between those points – it’s more fun that way! I tend to do a rough and ready first draft, a second draft that tidies everything up and sorts out the structure and a couple more drafts after that where I tweak.
What was journey to being a published author?
My dream had always been to write a novel but I'd put it off for years telling myself I had plenty of time. It wasn’t until a friend of mine died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2006 that I realised I had to stop procrastinating and get on with it because you never know what’s round the corner. Seven months later, in March 2007, I started writing "Heaven Can Wait".
I wrote like a woman possessed and completed my 100,000 word first draft in three months and three weeks. In September 2007 I bought a copy of the Writers and Artists Yearbook and looked through it, ticking the agents that represented women's fiction and chicklit. I shortlisted half a dozen and sent off six brown envelopes. Three days later I received my first rejection. It was personalised but still a no. A couple of days after that I received a phone call from Darley Anderson. He said he'd liked what he'd read and could I send him the rest of my novel? Could I? I hardly slept for the next three nights as I read through my novel again and made a few more tweaks before I sent it off. I didn't hear anything for six more weeks – but did receive a couple of other rejections – then finally, in January 2008, my phone rang. It was Darley. I was on tenterhooks as I answered it, so hopeful that this was the phone call I'd dreamed about – the one where I was offered representation – but by the end of the conversation I was in tears. The novel showed a lot of promise, Darley told me but there was no way he could represent me or show it to any publishers in its current state, I'd have to do a lot more work on it.
I was gutted, and certain there was no way I could turn my novel into the book Darley thought it could be. For a few months I did nothing. I was scared that if I edited my book and sent it back I'd get a definite NO but eventually the fear ebbed away and was replaced with a 'sod it, if I don't try I'll never know' attitude and I set to work.
At the end of June 2008 I sent off my complete manuscript for the second time. I heard nothing for three months and just had shortlisted a second set of agents to approach when my phone rang. It was Madeleine Buston, Head of Foreign Rights at the Darley Anderson Agency. She told me Darley had given her my revised manuscript to read on the train up to Scotland from London and it had made her laugh and cry. She'd loved it so much in fact, that she'd asked Darley if she could represent me! The second she rang off I burst into tears – happy ones this time!
One month later I had a two book deal with Orion and Maddie and the DA team went on to sell ‘Heaven Can Wait’ to thirteen more countries! ‘Home for Christmas’ is my second novel and has already been published in Germany and sold to Brazil and Indonesia.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That life gets easier after you’ve had a novel published – it doesn’t! Yes there’s a HUGE thrill, quite unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced, when you hold your published novel in your hands but your life doesn’t become all rosy and perfect just because you can finally call yourself an author. Most novelists don’t earn enough to give up their day jobs so you have to keep going to work and squeezing in writing time (unless you’re VERY lucky and write a bestseller) just like you did with your first novel only now you’ve got a deadline and the pressure of reader/agent/publisher expectations on your shoulders (not to mention your worst critic – yourself).
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Write the novel that moves/excites/thrills you and not the one you think will sell. Writing a novel is hard work and if you aren’t genuinely excited by your characters and plot you’ll find it a huge grind. You can tell when a writer genuinely loves the story they’re telling – and when they don’t – and so can agents, publishers and readers.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a novel I call ‘Project B’ which is about as far away from chick lit as you can get but it’s a story that popped into my head about six months ago and refused to go away so I’m writing it out of my system. If it’s picked up by a publisher that’s great, if not I’ve had the MOST fun writing it. I’ve also started thinking about my third chick lit novel and am spending some of my time day dreaming about it (my favourite bit of writing a novel!).