When she’s not running creative writing classes or teaching English, A.L. Michael is curled up in a comfy chair writing lovely novels. She joins us now to talk inspiration, books she adores and her own personal journey to becoming a published author. A.L’s latest novel, Driving Home for Christmas (which we will be reviewing here on Wednesday), is out now.
Television shows, movies, people on public transport. Snippets from newspapers and blogs.
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
I usually get onto the laptop late in the morning, do all my emails, check on Twitter, write a few blog posts, and then I’m ready to get writing. Usually l write well in the late afternoon, or if I’m out teaching or running workshops, I can get in some good writing time in the late evening, sitting in my comfy chair!
When you are writing, do you use any famous people or people you know as inspiration?
I guess there are characters from different shows and movies that I use to visually focus on characters, so for example, in the book I’m working on at the moment, I made the leading man look like Aaron Paul. It’s easier to work on something when you’ve got an anchor in a real world image.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
Oooh, difficult, but I think it’s probably Faking It by Jennifer Crusie. Her love interests always have great chemistry, all her characters are fully developed and amazing. Every single one is snarky and smart, and all of them gel together. Faking It has extra storylines that aren’t just focused on the romance element, and you can tell she’s always done lots of research to figure out what’s going on (Faking It is about art fraud, among other things) but every character is informed by their histories and their nature. Exactly as they should be. Plus, she’s funny as hell and her sex scenes are great.
What female writer has inspired you?
I have so much respect for both Sarra Manning and Mhairi Mcfarlane. They write amazing books, they are totally doing this in real life, as jobs! That was always massively inspiring to me, that you could live as an author. No-one really lets you think that’s a job you can actually do. It’s empowering to see people doing it, and doing it well.
Can you give us three book recommendations?
Ask the Dust by John Fante, Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sarra Manning.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I get caught on an idea and I start writing, little snippets of conversations, different scenes. I do this all by hand in a notebook I assign to the new story. When I feel like I’ve got it together enough, I start typing it up in chronological order. I don’t always use the draft bits that I’ve got, but some of them I read through and they piece it together for me when I feel like I’m getting lost.
What was your journey to being a published author?
I studied english and creative writing at university, and when I graduated, in the summer before I started my masters degree, I sent out a story I’d written to about 70 different magazines. Some of them published it, some of them rejected it. I went on and during my MA, I wrote a novel for my dissertation.
Just after I finished it, I heard from a publisher who had taken over one of the magazines I’d applied to. They asked if I had anything else to show them, and I sent them my novel! They published it, and whilst that was going on, I wrote The Last Word, a women’s fiction book that I never intended to publish, but was just for me, to blow off steam. I saw a competition on Twitter from Carina, and thought: “Why not? It’s just sitting on my laptop!” and now I’m writing my third book for them.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That publication is the end goal! There’s so much more after that happens. There’s sales and blogging and blog tours, promotions and writing the next books and doing it all at once. Publication is just the beginning.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Do it! Just write! Don’t spend all your time talking about it, but do connect with others who have the same aims. It should be a 70/30 split. If you’re not writing, don’t talk about writing. You need to be doing it, thinking about it, loving it. You need to be consumed by your story, even if it’s only half an hour writing a day, or day dreaming your characters whilst you’re doing other things. It’s work, so work on it!
What are you working on at the moment?
It’s currently called The Young and Bitter Club (but that might change!), which is about a group of young women who are stuck in their lives, getting restless and frustrated. The main character, Tigerlily is an artist who was dumped by her childhood sweetheart five days before her wedding (on Valentines Day no less) and is still kind of reeling. She enters a pact with the barman at her favourite pub to fake date for a few months, so she can learn how to date as an adult, and he can have help avoiding his crazy neighbour for a few months. Her friends are all dealing with different issues, so they get together once a month to moan and eat and drink margaritas, called The Misery Dinners.