This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Josa Young's second book, Sail Upon The Land, is out now. Today, Josa is speaking to Debs about her busy days and how she fits her writing into them.
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
Wake at six from alarming dream about taking my finals in medieval German. Or not strictly ‘get up’ except to stagger down to the kitchen and make a cup of tea AND a pot of coffee. Return to bed, drag laptop onto knees and start – either writing or editing. Disappear into the story. Notice the time. Swear vividly while hoping no offspring is within earshot. Wash using 19th century technique involving flannel. Miss bus. Swear more. Arrive at work panting, wearing dress inside out, with one eye made up if you’re lucky.
Repeat in reverse at end of day ie crawling back into bed with tea and laptop and trying to remember I write fiction (and not content strategy and digital copy….) There was a long-ago five weeks when I went every day into the very drafty library of the old Royal Society of Literature in W2, and banged out up to 8000 words on an electric typewriter. You can tell how long from the technology – that was the first draft of One Apple Tasted – but life is very different now.
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
Not as inspiration, no. But I did used to get my characters’ names from the death columns of the Daily Telegraph.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
I have a passion for mid-20th-century fiction and devoured the entire output of Virago when they republished forgotten masterpieces such as The Constant Nymph (huge favourite of mine which I read regularly), Our Spoons Came from Woolworths, Peking Picnic and Illyrian Spring. Depth and height of feeling, terrific characters, wonderful writing with satisfying stories and no artificial distinction between ‘genre’ and ‘literary’. I also adore Rosamund Lehmann’s Invitation to the Waltz, its sequel The Weather in the Streets, and Nancy Mitford’s later novels.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
There is something in my head, or someone, or a whole group of noisy creations, needing to escape. So they do, messily, noisily, jostling for words, sentences. The fact that once the things (they are not real, although there is absolutely nothing more fun than having a conversation during which the other person wants to discuss the characters as if they were) have escaped, they entertain other people, is a delightful side-effect for which I am grateful every day. Oh, and I edit and edit and edit, over and over again.
A very rocky road. I have always written bits of fiction but without trying to get it published. Then I went on an Arvon course, and Beryl Bainbridge was so encouraging, even recommending me to her agent, that I bashed out a first draft very quickly between two magazine contracts (see above). Unfortunately I did not go to her agent, but to a family friend who promised the earth. Many rejections later, I gave up and One Apple Tasted lay forgotten in a drawer (and on a floppy disc – luckily as it turned out).
Years and many drafts later, independent publisher Elliott & Thompson picked it up following a series of odd chances, and it was published in 2009 on their relaunch list. Shortly afterwards they went non-fiction only. But by that time I was already deep into Sail Upon the Land, encouraged at last to get going again by the whole publishing process.
A year or so went by. As a single mum and family breadwinner my desire to be a novelist was parked on that expedient back burner. Rejections led to that very British feeling of embarrassment that I had even tried to get people to read what I wrote. If the publishing industry thought it was not worth publishing, then that had to be the final verdict, didn’t it? I wasn’t sure what to do next, as what I did was not working. Yet there was a niggle in my mind. Readers, that audience out there, did seem to like what I do. But how to access them with dignity intact?Then Rachel Hore, a novelist I hugely admire, read a proof, and her generous feedback and unsolicited cover line made me determined to have a proper go at indie publishing. Using all the skills I learned as a magazine editor, plus a whole lot more gleaned from others successfully doing the same – particularly my lovely fellow members of the Alliance of Independent Authors – Sail Upon the Land was published in December 2014. To begin with the overwhelmingly positive reviews, both here and in the USA, made me rush to the loo at work to cry with delighted disbelief. When celebrated author and president of the Romantic Novelists Association Katie Fforde offered me another unsolicited cover quote, I nearly exploded. It’s all firming up my determination to find the time to crack on with the new project….
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
A recent YouGov survey found that ‘Author’ was the most desirable ‘job’ in Britain. As writing fiction is something I can’t help doing, like some kind of a tic, I think the biggest myth is that we sit there wafting out fiction without effort and rolling in great heaps of cash as a direct result. I cannot possibly give up the day job just yet.
I do know successful novelists with masses of talent, but many do not support families on their own by their literary efforts – they have productive partners, lucrative side lines or private money. And even the most successful are only as good as their last advance, film deal etc and are just as liable to be dumped as any of us, as the trend for what they do begins to fade, and the ‘numbers no longer add up’.
Also maybe it doesn’t seem like ‘work’ as there is an expectation we will do it for free. I wonder what would happen if you asked a master baker to do your wedding cake for nothing, as it was clearly a fun creative hobby and he could do with the ‘exposure’!
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Read passionately and very widely. You would be surprised at the aspiring writers who don’t read and support their fellow writers by doing so. Fill your head with stuff. Don’t be self-conscious about writing, just let it pour out. Then edit, but I don’t believe in killing all your darlings. Don’t try to write that psychological thriller with Girl in the title unless that comes easily to you. Write what you want to read.
What are you working on at the moment?
A sequel to Sail Upon the Land. It’s all mapped out, but I need to escape to get more of it down and living on the page. There is another rather disturbing story trundling around my brain too, but not as well fleshed out. It comes from some dark places that I don’t usually reveal to the light. I am disciplining myself to stay within one time frame and one generation for both these projects.
Thank you for inviting me to Novelicious. I love the site and get plenty of reading recommendations from you all.