This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Caroline Smailes' latest book, The Drowning of Arthur Braxton, was released a couple of weeks ago. She recently let us take a peek inside her writing room here where she told us about her rollerskates and disco ball, and today she's answered a few questions for us about her writing.
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
I’ve three children, I share lifts for school runs and, somehow, I’ve fixed it so that I don’t do any morning runs. So, I’m at my desk by 8 a.m. and I have until 3:00 p.m. to write. My office is next to the kitchen and has a disco ball hanging from the ceiling. I try to write at least two thousand words by 11:30 a.m., to have drunk two pots of tea and not to have eaten any cake, then I take my dog for a quick walk to clear my head. Next it’s lunch at my desk (or cake), editing what I’ve written that morning and planning what will happen next or researching (depending on what stage I am in the novel). I always take a notebook with me when I do the school runs and have been known to forget to get out of the car to collect my daughter, because of an idea happening during the drive and needing to be written before it’s forgotten. I’m usually back at my desk at 8:00 p.m., catching up on emails and social media, as well as tidying up any niggles in plot and character until I’m too tired to focus.
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
I used to draw from people I know but now I try not to, mainly because so many of my friends now start conversations with, ‘I’ll tell you this, but you can’t use it in a novel.’ For my next novel I thought I’d try some celebrities to inspire. I’ve printed out some images of Audrey Hepburn, Orla Brady and Annette Badland for my three female characters.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
That’s such a difficult question, but I think it would have to be ‘My Best Friend's Girl’ by Dorothy Koomson. And why? Because I’d finished writing my first ever novel on holiday in France, back in August 2006. I’d not been able to read anything else during my time writing it, so choosing that ‘first’ book to read was a major decision. My reward to myself for completing my novel was to read Dorothy Koomson’s ‘My Best Friend's Girl’. It was the first novel I’d read by her and I was completely absorbed and engaged. I remember it was raining outside and I lay on the bed reading for an entire day (ignoring my children and husband!). Forgiveness, hope and heaps of heart, Dorothy’s writing made me want to be a better writer.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I used to dive in. I’d ‘hear’ a voice, possibly just a single sentence and then dive into the story. This meant I could start in the middle, at the end and never at the beginning. It made writing exciting but chaotic. I think that fitted around having preschool aged children and a hectic grabbing of moments to be able to write. Now I plan, I have routine and a tidy desk. And when I say I plan, I really and truly plan. I write a detailed synopsis and character outlines before I begin. I feel it takes away the spontaneity, but I love the lack of chaos. I will draft at least five times before I show it to anyone else. No one ever sees my first draft.
What was your journey to being a published author?
I’ve had a bit of a backwards-forwards writing journey. I finished my first novel in the summer of 2006 and started a blog that September. Three weeks later a publisher stumbled on my blog, read an extract from my novel and offered me a publishing contract three days later (and before I’d submitted to an agent). I’ve had a one book deal, a two book deal and a three book deal. So when my next novel is written, I’ll be submitting to agents. See, backwards-forwards!
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That it’s an easy job or not a ‘proper job’. It isn’t an easy job. You have to work long hours, give bits of yourself to a story, sometimes throw the biggest tantrums EVER without anyone hearing. You have to read people’s negative opinions (on something that took you a year to create) and never respond, read people’s positive reviews and never ask them to be your new best friend. You have to eat far too much cake to make yourself feel better, get far too excited about book covers/edits/film options, ignore the inner voice telling you that you’re rubbish and remember to brush your hair before leaving the house. You have to be creative, original and continuously upping your storytelling game. But what makes it truly difficult AND proper is that every writing day you have to stay focused on creating stories that others will want to read, no matter what is happening in your real world.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
I had my ‘now or never’ moment back in 2005 when I heard Richard Madeley refer to someone as a ‘nearly woman’. For me it was the moment that made me question what I was doing – writing in secret and never daring to share my writing with others. So I guess my advice would be to be brave, to believe in yourself and not to be afraid to speak your dream. Fear stops so many of us, sometimes I think the fear gets worse the older we get, so my other advice would be to WRITE, worry about everything else later, because without a novel to sell or publish, there’s really no point in worrying about ‘what ifs’ or ‘if onlys’.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just completed my nine page ‘synopsis’ and character outlines for my sixth novel. It’s working title is ‘Lime Street’ and it’s set in the lost property office in Lime Street Station. It’s a wonky love story and it’s a story about someone connected to The Beatles.