This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Penny Feeny is the author of The Apartment in Rome – here's the link to our review. Penny recently answered a few questions about her writing for us.
I’m a terrible procrastinator. I’ll check emails and read the Guardian and even do household chores to avoid settling down to write. The day seems long enough at 8 am – but then it shrinks alarmingly. I always write my first drafts, section by section, in longhand. I find ideas flow better that way. Also it doesn’t matter if I write rubbish because it can be edited later. I enjoy transferring the material onto the computer because then it really starts to take shape. I work in a converted hayloft with old wooden beams supporting a sloping roof. There’s no view so I don’t get distracted – and I close my eyes a lot to picture the episodes I’m writing! I try for a minimum of 1000 words a day; I’m very satisfied with 2000.
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
Not as a rule. But if I’m trying to get a handle on a character I’ll think of someone I know with a similar trait and try to imagine how they would behave. Even if you use a real person as a starting point, they soon develop different facets as you progress through the book.
What is your favourite Women's Fiction book of all time and why?
I think for epic romantic melodrama, nothing beats Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I’m very bad at planning. I do try. I’ve messed around with filing cards and charts, but in the end it’s mostly worked out in my head. Before I start, I make notes and have a general time frame and chapter breakdown and an idea of what will happen. But I now know from experience that there’ll be major changes of direction before the end of a book; unanticipated characters will arrive and demand space and there’ll be new plot developments. Sometimes, with only a few thousand words to go, I’m still not sure how I’m going to finish but then it will come to me and I’ll know it’s right. I do at least 3 drafts – 1&2 in tandem as I go along. For the third, I wait till I get to the end and then go back to the beginning. I’m at this stage now with my third novel. (And this is before anybody sees it – editors always want further changes!)
What was your journey to being a published author?
It was long and tortuous. I’d written a couple of messy novels in between jobs in my twenties and got the interest of an agent. My biggest regret is turning down his suggestion that I should write for radio because I was so intent on being a novelist. In the end family life tookover : I had five children (the youngest severely autistic) and no time. I finally did get a radio broadcast, for my first short story. It took a decade of story writing before I pushed myself to complete and submit a novel, but it was very good experience. My first novel, That Summer in Ischia, was taken on by Tindal Street partly because they already knew me from my short fiction.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
The perception that it’s glamorous. It’s lengthy, solitary work and doesn’t necessarily lead to an exciting future. It certainly doesn’t guarantee you an income. Marian Keyes’ The Other Side of the Story gives a very good (if exaggerated) insight into the process – especially the discovery that shops might choose to not stock your book and people might choose not to buy it! But that doesn’t mean that writing isn’t a gloriously satisfying process, worth doing for its own sake. Everything else is a bonus. I’m currently reading The Leopard, an Italian classic that’s been continually in print for fifty years, but it wasn’t accepted for publication until after the author’s death.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Write what you enjoy reading and read closely to see how it’s done. An agent once suggested I try a psychological suspense thriller and I failed miserably because it’s not a genre I feel comfortable with. It’s important to believe in what you’re writing, but you also need to be able to distance yourself and avoid self-indulgence. Try and keep it fresh.
What are you working on at the moment?
A novel about two families, linked by a long ago tragedy, and the connections that develop between them in the present day. In The Apartment in Rome my lead character is unattached and I wanted to celebrate female independence. But there’s no doubt that most of us do have children and family responsibilities which lead to all sorts of tangled relationships.