This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Beth Thomas, author of His Other Life, is in the house today. Join us as we chat about the writing life beginning at 40, procrastination (how many hairs does a cat have?), the marvel that is Jenny Colgan, and Beth’s favourite books – including one by her uncle, Colin Dann, who wrote The Animals of Farthing Wood.
His Other Life centres on the story of Grace, whose husband Adam goes out for takeaway food one Friday night shortly after their first wedding anniversary, and doesn't return. Grace has no idea what has become of him, so she starts trying to find out, and soon realises that the man she married isn't quite what he seemed. It's part chick lit, part family drama, part psychological thriller, in a 50:30:20 ratio.
Where do you find inspiration for your books?
Everywhere, I suppose. A lot of it is hearing stories on the news or things that have happened to people. Quite often I dream things and have to dictate a message to myself on my phone in the middle of the night while still half asleep. Thank goodness that you can now ask Siri to do things without having to pick up the phone at all. Mind you, some of the messages I find on my phone the next morning are hilarious gibberish! 'Young man wants to drive lawnmower' was one – goodness only knows what I was getting at there. Hopefully it will come back to me one day!
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
I'm still working full time as a Civil Servant, so I get precious little writing time, sadly. In spite of this, I still spend aaaaages procrastinating, which is so stupid. I have two days a week to do all my housework, shopping, errands and writing, and yet I repeatedly find myself on Twitter or Facebook or Googling ‘how long do centipedes live?’. I'm always up early, with the best of intentions: an hour on the treadmill, shower, dress, then six straight hours of writing, bringing me to around 4 or 5 pm. Job done. But it rarely happens. I'm in my writing place right now, still in my gym gear (haven't been near the treadmill yet), and I've just been looking at holidays to Florida. Ridiculous.
When you are writing, do you use any famous people or people you know as inspiration?
Things people say is often inspirational. Funny or ridiculous things, I mean; not stirring prose about the human condition. Once or twice I've used my own or friends' experiences to start off an idea, and have then enlarged on it. But not famous people. I don't know any so can't really get an idea of what they're like from their public personae.I did once spend an entire afternoon creating my characters on my daughter's Sims game (computer game where you create people and then run their lives – a bit like writing a book!).
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
That's almost impossible to answer! I remember reading The Promise by Danielle Steele when I was about 15. Was absolutely captivated by it then, couldn't put it down. But I'm not a fan of hers any more – my tastes have changed completely. I'm massively into Jodi Picoult and loved House Rules, possibly because my own son has Asperger's syndrome. But I also loved Before I Go To Sleep, by S.J. Watson (does that count as women's fiction?), and Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. Absolutely gripping, and such a clever, brilliant idea. Of course Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice are my all-time greats. Subtle yet passionate romance just doesn't seem to exist like that anymore.
What female writer has inspired you?
I read a ton of Jenny Colgan books in the years leading up to my writing success, and longed to be like her! She's so incredibly funny and cleverly observational. Reading one of her books always makes me feel cheerful and upbeat, which I think is an incredible achievement. Isn't that what entertainment is supposed to do? A lot of 'serious' writing about how we're all doomed as soon as we draw breath just serves to make us miserable. No thanks!
Can you give us three book recommendations?
Dammit, should have saved them for this question. But in fact I will say Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver; House Rules by Jodi Picoult; and The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann (my lovely uncle).
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I tend to start with an idea for a plotline, like 'a husband goes out for takeaway food and never returns', then dive straight in. Not much of a planner, to be honest – it's soooo boring! I just make it up as I go along. But as things occur to me while I'm writing, I leave notes for myself in the text, to make sure I come back to it. Word processing on a laptop is such a godsend – being able to highlight things, add messages just for me in a different colour, then delete them at the end. How on earth Jane Austen coped without so much as a biro, I can't imagine.
What was your journey to being a published author?
Well it's taken me 40 years, so quite a long one! I wrote my first book while my kids were little and I was working part time (same job I'm doing now, although I've been promoted since then). That book, my first one, was published a few days before my 40th birthday, which really did take the sting out of it! It was like the start of a whole new life. They do say it begins at 40 – I prefer to think it begins again at 40 because my life before then, as a mum to two gorgeous littluns was equally, or more, important.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
Easy – that you make millions from it! So far I haven't been able even to reduce my hours at work, let alone give up and write full time. I read somewhere that only something like 11% of writers make their entire living from writing, with no other source of income. I am working very very hard at the moment to try to get into that elusive 11% – I can't imagine anything more amazing than that – but it is extremely hard work.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
A few things, I think. First of all, imagine what your favourite book sounds like in your head – that's what you need to be aiming for. I don't mean to imitate the same style as your favourite writer because that style already exists, but you need to make your book sound professional – the way a book should sound. Also, if you get to a point where you're stuck or where you're not entirely happy with how the plot is going or how the characters are developing, don't stop. Just keep on writing. Write past it! When you've written the whole thing down, you can go back and tighten up the weaker parts. And it will be easy to do, because by the time you get to that point, you'll know exactly where the plot is going, and how the characters need to and would develop. Just keep swimming!
What are you working on at the moment?
My next novel is mostly chick lit again, but it has some supernatural elements to it. I don't want to go into too much detail at the moment as it's still very much a work in progress, but I'm pretty pleased with it. I just wish I had more time to devote to it (she says, googling 'how many hairs does a cat have?').