This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Isabel Ashdown is the author of Summer of ’76, which we'll be reviewing soon; she recently answered a few questions for our Novelicious Readers…
My writing day starts at 8am, when the rest of the family leaves the house, and I’m left alone in the glorious quiet of morning with Charlie-dog. I’ll spend an hour trying to beat my inbox, updating social networks and sorting out any forthcoming events. Once I feel I’m winning, I’ll have a large iced coffee and a biscuit (or three), before sitting down to write for 2-3 hours. After lunch, I try to get out into the hills to walk with Charlie, and it’s here that I think about the next day’s writing and perhaps solve a few problems. In the afternoon, I usually work on freelance articles and admin, before the kids arrive home and domestic life takes over. And depending on my workload, I’ll be back at my desk for an hour or two in the evening, just to keep on top of it all. Anyone who’s a mother will know… there are just never enough hours in the day.
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
My characters are always the starting point in my stories – I’ll get an idea or a feeling about a character – and it’s not until I start to write that they really begin to take life. They’re never based on anyone ‘real’, but curious traits and characteristics that I’ve observed or absorbed from the world at large undoubtedly creep in. I think writers tend to zoom in on the smallest details – my children always tell me I take an age to answer them – usually because my mind is hooked into something else that has captured me.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
A tough one. But let’s say, Gaining Ground by Joan Barfoot. It’s not so well-known in the
UK, but it’s a wonderful story about a woman who leaves her family and home in Canada to start a new life in the wilderness. It’s a quietly troubling tale, beautifully written and deeply
thought-provoking. Women respond to it in so many different ways, and it’s been a strong inspiration behind the new book I’m working on at the moment.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you
You know, it has varied so wildly with each of my books, that I don’t think I can claim to have a tried-and-tested process. What I do know is that my characters drive the narrative forward initially, and I follow their lead, for say, the first quarter of the novel – at which point I have to sit down and think about where the story is going. It’s an unsettling way to write, but if I don’t allow myself this loose approach at the start, my characters seem to resist. By the time a book is finished, it will have gone through several drafts, much cutting, much editing and much zooming in!
What was your journey to being a published author?
I was an avid writer as a child – stories, poems, letters, plays… But it was never something I thought of as a job – never something that seemed within reach, and so by adult life, my
concentration had shifted and I inadvertently ended up working in business. I spent fifteen successful years in product marketing, but when my two children were very young, I had a
moment of epiphany – and gave it all up to return to education at the age of 34. As soon as I arrived for my first lecture, I knew I was in the right place! Four years later, whilst studying for my MA, I won the Mail on Sunday Novel competition with an early draft of my first novel. It was a prestigious prize, and as a result I quickly found an agent and a publisher, and Glasshopper was released with Myriad Editions in 2009.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That you can make your fortune! Sadly, there are plenty of esteemed writers out there, barely scratching a living from their books, and having to hold down other jobs just to pay the bills. But there you have it: society still undervalues the arts and pays accordingly. Writers are regularly asked to appear at festivals for no fee, to write articles for free, to visit schools and libraries gratis – all based on the notion that ‘it will promote your book’. My advice – don’t plan to be a writer unless you love it, unless you live for it, unless you can’t imagine life without it. It’s a vocation. And an addiction.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Don’t say, ‘If only I had the time …’ – Do say, ‘I’m going to find the time.’
Don’t say, ‘I wouldn’t know where to start …’ – Do say, ‘I’m going to keep a notebook and write daily.’
Don’t say, ‘When the kids have left home …’ – Do say, ‘When the kids have gone to bed.’
If you really want to do it, you’ll do it.
What are you working on at the moment?
This! Lots of interviews and articles and features for the launch of Summer of ’76. I do have another novel on the go, but I find it impossible to write when I’m in the release phase for a new book. It’s a bit like trying to listen to the radio with the TV on. So, I’ve parked the ‘proper’ writing for now, and I’ll be back to it in earnest after I’ve recharged my batteries during the summer holidays.