This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
We recently asked Hannah Richell a few questions about her writing. Here's our recent review of her latest novel, The Shadow Year.
Before Secrets of the Tides was published, writing was something I squeezed into the cracks of the day, but now I have the luxury of treating writing as my job, AND childcare, so things are a little more organized. I do my best work in the mornings, so as soon as I’ve bundled the kids off for the day I get stuck in, either at the kitchen table or at a studio I’ve rented round the corner from my house – it’s nothing flash (just a dingy room in a former pub) but it’s all mine. I work through until lunch, take a break – often take a walk or visit a café – then I get back to it until it’s time to collect the kids. If I’ve really hit my stride during the day I might do a little work in the evening too, but often by that point I’m flopped on the sofa with a glass of wine and something mind-numbing on TV.
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
No, I haven’t to date and I can’t imagine I would. I like the characters I write to come from my imagination and basing them on real people would feel weird. I think I’d only be able to see that person, not the character in the story, and it would become enormously limiting. That’s not to say that I’m not a keen observer of people and their habits and interactions. I’m always looking for interesting quirks: an unusual turn of phrase, a nervous tic, a childhood scar, even the way someone fiddles with their necklace. It’s the tiniest details that can make a character spring to life on the page.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
Argh! This is an impossible question, not least because what defines ‘Women’s Fiction’ can be so diverse and wide-ranging. I have an endless list of books that I would choose from and probably it would be a different title on a different day, but if you’re going to press me for a choice right now I’d choose I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. It’s a novel I return to over and over. To me, it’s the perfect curl-up-on-the-sofa-with-a-cup-of-tea read. It’s romantic and endearing, with fabulous atmosphere and wit to boot. Just brilliant.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I’ve written two books and the experience of writing each has proved different. Secrets of the Tides, was an experiment. I dived in with an idea, knowing roughly what the ending was, but winging it for the most part. I got terribly tangled up in the puzzle-like structure of the narrative and it took me many months to untangle it and make it what I hoped it would be. When it came to writing The Shadow Year, the structure was clearer to me, right from the start. I wanted to write the story as two distinct years, thirty years apart, told in alternating chapters, month by month. This frame really helped me to keep things on track, but I’ve also learnt in the process of writing both novels that it’s good to remain open to the possibilities of the story and the natural development of the characters. It’s amazing when they jump up off the page and tell me what they want to do next – sometimes something I never saw coming, and that’s when I know I’m onto something exciting.
When I’ve finished a first draft, I try to give it a little breathing space. I try to let it go, as much as possible, for a week or two, but it’s always there, drifting in the background. If I’m feeling brave I may let my sister or my husband read it. I trust them to give me honest feedback, in a way that isn’t totally disheartening. Then, when I’m ready, I dive back in and finesse the whole thing. I look at the characters, the arc of the story, where it may be losing pace, where I’ve been self-indulgent or really clunky, and I try to enhance the themes and motifs of the story, to make them clearer to a reader. I add new scenes and delete others. I can end up writing several drafts before I’m happy with it.
What was your journey to being a published author?
I’d spent ten years working in the publishing and film industries and had never written anything before but irregular entries in my journal, but when my son was born I began to write at home, as a hobby to keep my brain working. I snatched moments whenever I could to write what eventually became Secrets of the Tides. As soon as I’d ‘finished’ it, I knew I had two options: I could either put it in a drawer and forget all about it, or I could send it out to literary agents and see what happened. I did the latter and got very lucky. I found an agent who seemed to really love the story. We made a few tweaks to the script and then sent it out to publishing companies. The first offer came within 24 hours and it ending up selling in a global deal at auction a week later. I couldn’t believe it – still can’t really. It was an amazingly exciting time.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
There’s that whole notion of ‘the tortured artist’ associated with being a novelist, but I don’t feel tortured. It can be bloody hard some days, but can’t most jobs? I just feel incredibly lucky to have found something I love doing so much, that I can do in my own time in my own space and the fact someone wants to pay me for it is a bonus. It’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Do it! Don’t sit there thinking about it, get started – right now. You never know where that idea will take you.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m very distracted with promotion of The Shadow Year, but I’m also working up loose ideas for my third novel. It’s exciting and a little daunting facing that leap of faith out into an idea again.