It's publication day for Rosanna Ley's latest book, The Saffron Trail, and today we're posting a few questions that we recently put to her about her writing process and how many drafts she does when writing a book.
Not that I have one. But when I’m at home, I try to clear up urgent admin first (for an uncluttered brain) write in the morning (to make myself feel virtuous) and then go for a long walk to mull things over, plan, plot, or just take a break. After that I might do some more writing or editing or I might cook, research, catch up on emails and chores or even see a friend. Ideally, I’d then work till at least 7 p.m. on a good day.
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
Er, no. I do sometimes listen to the conversation of strangers. That’s fun. I like being on the outside looking in. And I suppose I’m always absorbing things that may emerge later as material… But I don’t intend to use anybody in that way. It presents too many boundaries – I can’t then make them my own so easily…
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
Impossible question! There are so many and the answers would change constantly. And ‘women’s fiction’ is a bit of a genre headache, isn’t it? So … I am going to choose Maggie O’Farrell’s The Hand that First Held Mine because it is brilliant and because it is about love and motherhood, so it has to be ‘women’s fiction’ even though it is literary and poetic, doesn’t it?
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I start with the seed – this could be an idea, a place, a character, a theme, a feeling. Then I think and plan and plot and try out different pathways and explorations, first in my head then in a notebook. Then I research and continue to plot and plan whilst reading, travelling, trawling the Internet, whatever. Then I work out a rough structure and start trying to find characters and voices. At some point, a line of dialogue comes to me and I shout ‘Yay!’ and realise I am ready to start writing. The first draft of a scene will be written longhand in a notebook (usually) which I edit and then again when it goes on to my PC.
When I’m happy with a draft of a scene I read it aloud (sometimes to long suffering husband) and then move on to the next scene. (This is important; I could continue editing forever). When I have finished the ‘first’ (haha) draft, I will edit and juggle with the structure and then probably send it to my agent and editor. More editing will follow of course… So, yes, hundreds of drafts at least.
Long. I wrote poetry as a child and teenager. I read a lot and studied literature at college. I took up creative writing again when my children were young – I started writing articles and short stories to keep my brain from calcifying. My first published piece was an article in Mother & Baby about my son aged four who thought he could fly. I mean, he really did. (He’s now 32 and about to have a son of his own. Now he’ll know how I felt…)
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That it isn’t incredibly hard work. (See above!)
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Read avidly. Take time to learn your craft. Daydream. Write spontaneously (every day if possible) and edit ruthlessly. Develop tough bark (that’s the tree kind not yelling at people when they criticise your work). Never give up.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am writing a book set in Cuba and Bristol, working title The Last Rumba. It’s about the power people can hold over us and also about loving the wrong man.
The Saffron Trail by Rosanna Ley is out today.