I am definitely an early morning writer, particularly in summer when the days are long. In the dark of winter it is more difficult but I still try to stick to routine. I deal with emails and social media first, and then I like to be writing by 8.30 at the latest. I write through until lunch. Sometimes, if I am meeting a deadline, I continue through the day but I prefer to spend time in my garden in the afternoon. I often return to my work for an hour or so in the evening, either reviewing or completing some research. And that’s it – I am not a burner of midnight oil. At then end of the day I sit with a glass of wine and some music and relax …
2. When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
For character, no. Because I write about individuals who actually lived, they have to develop their own characters based on what we know historically about them. But for appearances, I often imagine today’s celebrities, since our knowledge of what historical characters looked like is often almost non-existent. I have been writing about Owen Tudor, the romantic second husband of Katherine de Valois. What better than Neil Oliver, with all that dark Celtic hair and cheekbones? I had problems with Henry II – dynamic, short tempered, charismatic – until I thought of Damien Lewis. He might have to grow his hair but he would be perfect …
3. What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
I’m not sure about the exact title – it might have been The Passionate Man – but I remember the first time, many years ago now, when I first picked up one of Joanna Trollope’s novels. She introduced me to novels primarily about women and their relationships with family, lovers and friends. I was hooked, and since then I have read all her novels. In a way my own novels compare with Women’s Fiction even though they are historical. Although my female characters lived hundred of years ago, their lives too were dictated by their relationships and also by their emotions: love, hate, friendship and jealousy are all present. Nothing changes …
4. What is your writing process? Do you plan first of dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I plan. I am a writer of lists and a definite planner. I start with a timeline of what I know historically about my heroine – since my novels are usually written from her point of view. From this I can plot an idea of the dramatic scenes which will make my readers want to know more about my heroine. I add other characters whose lives cross and interact with hers. And then I start writing. My research is an ongoing process, but I like to start writing fairly quickly so that I can see something of my protagonists’ characters emerging. Sometimes they dictate the direction that the novel and so my research will take. Sometimes they are very wilful!
I usually aim for four drafts: the first draft is very rough: the subsequent ones add detail and sparkle and also remove the sections that are too heavy or irrelevant. (I have to be aware of word count!) And then finally there is a fast read through to test the novel for pace, repetition, page-turning quality. All in all, it usually takes about a year before it is ready to go off to my agent.
5. What was your journey to being a published author?
In the days when I was still teaching history, I tried my hand at writing short stories. I had neither the time nor the energy to embark on anything longer. Nor, to be honest, did I have the ambition. Writing was not something I ever saw myself doing, even though I won some short story competitions with my efforts. It was only when I ‘retired’ and had the time that I wrote my first Regency historical romance which was accepted for publication. And the rest is history … I wrote twelve romances, ranging from Regency to Restoration to early medieval, before deciding that I wanted to tackle something with more breadth and depth, based on characters who actually lived and could open a window into the life they led. Particularly women. So my novel of Anne Neville and Richard of Gloucester was written, Virgin Widow. And then Eleanor of Aquitaine in Devil’s Consort. Somehow I seem to have acquired a second career …
6. What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
The biggest myth is definitely that a novelist only writes when the muse strikes. If novelists did this they would never get anywhere. I find that writing has to become a habit. Even when inspiration is at a low ebb I sit down and write. Sometimes the ideas that come are surprising. If I am having difficulty with one scene, I simply write about another one that takes my interest at that moment. The muse is not allowed to be flighty and uncooperative!
7. What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Choose a subject or an issue that means something to you. Or even simply a character that you care about. Devise a story that will draw the reader in, and begin it at a dramatic or crucial point in that story so that your reader feels a need to turn the page find out more. And then – most important of all – have confidence and persevere. It is a long journey and rejection can be hard to take. Look on it as character forming. Don’t be afraid to take advice, but in the final instance, you have to write what you believe is best for you and for your plot.
I know that it is now possible to publish one’s own work on Amazon, but I would still say: get a good agent.
8. What are you working on at the moment?
I have just completed a novel about Katherine de Valois. A French princess, she was married to Henry V, hero of Agincourt, bringing with her as her dowry the kingdom of France. They were a beautiful couple, praised and feted on all sides, given a wonderful love scene in Shakespeare’s Henry V, but historically all was not what it seemed on the surface. There was little romance in Katherine’s early life. And then, when Katherine was widowed, she fell in love with Owen Tudor, a most unsuitable match since he worked in her employ as Master of the Queen’s Household. Katherine’s is a tale of pain and anguish, of intense joy and love – and ultimate tragedy. A great story. My editor is reading it at this moment …
For readers who enjoy historical fiction and would like to keep up to date with me and my novels, they can find me here:
My website where readers can keep in touch with my books as well as events and signings: www.anneobrienbooks.com
My Facebook page: do drop in! I love to meet fans of historical fiction there. www.facebook.com/anneobrienbooks
My blog to keep up with my thoughts on Alice Perrers and other favourite characters: http://www.anneobrienbooks.com/blog/.
And on twitter: @anne_obrien