This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Donna Douglas's latest book, Nightingales on Call, was published on April 24 and today she has popped over to answer a few questions about her writing process and her journey to being a published author.
My writing day tends to change as I approach a deadline. When I first start on a book, I’m quite easily distracted. I always mean to be disciplined, but I can easily end up spending half an hour researching through my old medical books, popping out on errands or chatting on Twitter. As time goes on and D-Day gets closer, I tend to be more focused. I write best in the mornings, so I like to get started as early as possible. Towards the end of writing Nightingales On Call, I was starting work every day at about 5am and working 16 hour days. I always say I need to pace myself better, but I was just the same with my homework at school, so I don’t suppose I’ll change now!
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When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
I certainly use real people in terms of background. I have huge folders of interviews and notes from my archive research, and I’m always drawing on those when I need ideas for subplots or to get a particular detail right. I also have a mental image of some of my characters, taken from actors I’ve seen on TV. For instance, I’ve always pictured my main character Nick Riley as looking like a young Tom Hardy (although that might just be because I like Tom Hardy…)What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
That’s an easy one! My all-time favourite is Riders by Jilly Cooper. It was the first of her big bonkbuster novels, and still the best in my opinion (although Rivals comes a close second). It’s the ultimate comfort read, full of brilliant but flawed characters, nail-biting drama, and a fascinating, glamorous background. What more could you ask for?
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I’m a great planner. I know some writers work very successfully without any kind of outline, but for me that’s like setting off on a long journey without a map – you might find some fascinating detours, but you’ll also end up down a lot of frustrating blind alleys! The first thing I do is assemble my cast of characters. This is the most difficult part for me, because there are lots of people at the Nightingale Hospital, all with an interesting story to tell! Because each Nightingale book has a number of different stories, I try to choose characters whose stories will go well together, echoing and contrasting and generally creating a balanced theme. I also try to introduce a new character if possible, because I’m aware that some readers might not have read the previous books, and I don’t want them to feel as if they’re arriving at a party where everyone knows each other! Once I’ve got my cast, I do a rough draft where I try to fit their stories together. This is like a jigsaw, putting all the pieces together so I balance out the highs and lows. I don’t want all the dramatic bits happening at the same time, nor do I want all the characters to be going through a low point at the same time! When I’ve got the basic shape, I do another draft, then probably another one after that. But I keep all the drafts separately in case I change my mind about a particular scene and want to put it back.
What was your journey to being a published author?
I first decided I wanted to be a novelist when I was 20, and my first book was published two days before my 40th birthday, which should give you some idea of how easy a journey it was! To be honest, though, I didn’t really approach it seriously for quite a few of those years. When I was young, I tried my hand at a few Mills & Boon novels, thinking that they would be a doddle to write. No one was more surprised than me when they were rejected! Then marriage and motherhood happened, during which time I started a few novels but generally ran out of steam after chapter three. I didn’t really settle down to write a novel until I was in my mid thirties. I joined the Romantic Novelists Association’s wonderful New Writers Scheme, which meant I actually had to finish a manuscript. Luckily, they liked what I did, and helped me to find a publisher. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Eight contemporary novels later, I’d run out of steam again. I took a couple of years off, thinking I’d had it with novel writing. But writing is like an itch that never really goes away. Within a couple of years, I’d found a new agent, who suggested I should try a new genre. And so the Nightingale Girls were born! I so love writing historical novels, I really wish I’d done it years ago.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That it’s a quick fire way of making money. It isn’t, unless you’re a mega bestseller. If you work out how much you get paid compared to the hours you put in, you’d probably be better off stacking shelves in Sainsbury’s. But that wouldn’t be nearly so much fun. Also, they wouldn’t let you go to work in your pyjamas, which you can when you’re a novelist.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
This is going to sound like a cliché, but read! Reading novels, whether in your chosen genre or not, helps you absorb good storytelling. I’d say read a book once for your enjoyment, then again to analyse the plot and the way it’s written – you can even learn something from a book that isn’t very well written. It’s also a good idea to read books about technique. I’d recommend On Writing by Stephen King. He has some great tips on storytelling, and his own rags to riches story is very inspiring, too.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I’m writing book number five in the Nightingales series, which is called A Nightingale Christmas Wish, and is due to be published in November (which is a little bit scary, since I’m still at the easily distracted stage in my writing and really should be heading for the focused stage soon). It’s set in the winter of 1938. The threat of war is looming and no one is really sure whether they’ll see another Christmas. It’s a period of huge tension and change for everyone, which makes for great drama.