This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Mary Balogh’s book, The Escape, is out now. Today, Mary is telling us a little about her writing process and her unusual journey to publication…
I like to start writing as early in the morning as possible after I have dealt with breakfast, email, and Facebook. As far as the weather will allow, I like to work out on our screened sun porch, using a lap desk. I aim for 2,000 words a day or about half a chapter, though I do a lot of going back and rewriting. On average, a book takes four months to write – and I write seven days a week when there is a book on the go. I have usually finished my quota by about noon and then catch up with other work-related things, like this interview, during the afternoons. If I can't work outside, I write in my study surrounded by perfumed candles.
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When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
No, I don't. I don't watch films made from books and I really don't believe I I would want to see any of my books made into films (well, maybe the BBC). I write purely from the imagination and I read from it too. I don't see real people when I create characters.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
Oh, goodness, this is difficult. No matter what answer I give, I know that for the next few days I am going to be thinking of something else and wishing I had named that instead. I'll stick with the conventional, I think, and say Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, if they qualify as women's fiction. I choose them for the same reason. The heroines are women of their time, but both manage to take charge of their lives even if doing so is going to lead to unhappiness and deprivation – as it does for both for a while. The fact that each manages to have her cake and eat it too is a very nice touch, but the happy endings are not the real point of either book.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
Well, I try to plan. I have a vague idea of the plot before I start and what I always think is a firm knowledge of the hero and heroine. But I might as well save myself the bother, because once I set the plot in motion and release the two main characters into it, they take over and they are never the people I think they were going to be. Fortunately, they always have much more complexity. It is only through dealing with the events of the story and, more important, with each other, that these complexities are revealed.Therefore, I write too many drafts to count! They are not full drafts, however. Whenever I get a new insight or feel that there is something wrong with the story, I have to go back to the beginning and make all the necessary adjustments. And I do this many, many times. By the time I get to the end of the book, it is usually more or less in its final form apart from a few cosmetic changes.
What was your journey to being a published author?
From early childhood on I wanted to be an author, but life and hormones got in the way until I was in my early thirties and my children were old enough not to need all my time when I was not teaching. I wrote a Regency romance (longhand) and then did not know what to do with it apart from type it out. I lived in a small town in Saskatchewan, Canada (having emigrated from Wales) and knew nothing about the publishing process. And this was before the time of the internet. I looked inside the cover of a Regency romance, found a Canadian address, and fired off the whole manuscript with a covering letter about three lines long, which said more or less, "I have written this and wonder if you would be interested." Two weeks later I had a letter back explaining that I had sent it to a distribution centre (how to feel like an idiot in one simple step). But someone there had read it and liked it and sent it off to NAL in New York. Two weeks after that I had a phone call from an editor to say she had read it and loved it and wanted to give me a two-book contract. It ought not to be allowed! Since then I have not been without a contract.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That we are somehow different from ordinary mortals and live in mansions and need to be worshiped and adored by our legion of fans. I always feel very uncomfortable if I am at a conference and someone rushes up and pretty much goes down on one knee in total awe. "I am just me," I always want to say – and sometimes do. The ability to write is just my specific gift (we all have many gifts), for which I am truly thankful. But apart from that … well, I am just me.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Do it. All right, that sounds a bit facetious, but down the years I have met innumerable would-be writers who have always wanted to write a book and will do it too as soon as___ There are as many ways to fill in that blank as there are people I have spoken to. If you want to write a novel, then write it. When I started to write, I had a home and three young children, I was a school principal, and I taught English to high school students (yes, all that marking). I thought of my writing as my own special hobby that I did when all else was done for the day.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am just over halfway through Book 6 of the Survivors' Club series – Imogen Hayes, Lady Barclay's story. She is the only woman in the group of seven. Book 3, The Escape, has just been published, and that will be followed in the next year by the already-written Only Enchanting (Flavian's story) and Only a Promise (Ralph's).