This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Cressida McLaughlin’s sparkly new festive book, A Christmas Tail, is finally available as a full novel after teasing us with four parts as an e-serial throughout 2015. Here, she describes what life is like as a debut novelist, and explains how Novelicious had a starring role in her publication journey. Aw, shucks!
I’m a morning person, and like to sit down at my desk at about 8am. I usually read through the words I wrote the day before, and then dive into new ones. I try not to edit anything until my first draft is ready, otherwise I’ll quickly tie myself up in knots. To be a truly successful writing day I need coffee, music in the background and my lava lamp or a candle. I’ll try and write until about 4pm, but that does include several Twitter breaks, emails and (recently) stroking my sparkly paperback that now sits on my desk.
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
I occasionally use a celebrity as my physical starting point for a character, but the more I think and write about them, the more they take on a life of their own. They develop a unique personality, and also begin to look slightly different in my head, with greener eyes or a more prominent chin, as my imagination (and the character) takes over. I never put people I know straight into my books, but often I’ll notice a mannerism, habit or way of speaking that I think is funny or interesting, and can make my characters more real.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me by Lucy Robinson is the most beautiful, funny, true, uplifting, upsetting, shocking, brilliant book. I remember reading it and covering the pages with mascara as I cried and laughed at the same time. Lucy Robinson is a genius, and that book is close to perfection.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I used to plan the rough story, know my beginning and ending, and then wing it in the middle, but as my books are being published in series form, as four novellas before the full paperback, leaving the middle to chance is no longer an option. Because the first novella is published before I’ve finished writing the last one, I need to know exactly what’s happening in every chapter, so I don’t catch myself out. While it’s made me write in a different way, having everything planned in so much detail has meant I’ve found the writing much freer and easier – I don’t have to worry about what happens next, and can immerse myself in the scene I’m working on.
What was your journey to being a published author?
It was long and twisty, and Novelicious had a starring role! I had written my second novel, and had lots of agent rejections under my belt, when I entered the Novelicious Undiscovered competition in 2012. I was shortlisted, and while I didn’t win, I attracted the attention of an agent, who offered to represent me and sent my novel out on submission. Feedback was good, but nobody picked it up, and then my lovely agent decided she was going to pursue a different career path.
While I was about to plunge into a pit of despair at having to start submitting to agents again, I was invited to attend Alex Brown’s Ice Cream at Carrington’s launch event at Fortnum’s ice cream parlour, and cover it for Novelicious. I ate the most fantastic ice cream sundae, met lovely Alex and was also introduced to her fab editor Kate Bradley. I told her my book had gone out on submission, and she asked me to send it to her.
A couple of months later, we met up in London and had a chat about book ideas that could work as an e-serial as well as a novel. We got on really well, I worked on some ideas and, in December 2014 was given the best Christmas present ever in the form of a 2-book deal with HarperCollins. 2015 has been an amazing whirlwind of a year. My dream of being a published author has come true, and it’s even better than I imagined!
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That writing a book is easy. There is the thinking, plotting, writing, re-writing, tearing your hair out when something’s not working, re-writing (again), editing, more editing, copy editing, line editing, proofing, social media, publicity. I love it all, and it wouldn’t be as fun or rewarding if it wasn’t also challenging, but it’s not always a walk in the park. (I had to get a dog-walking pun in there somewhere).
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Sit down and write, and think only about the writing. Don’t worry if it’s good enough to get an agent or a publishing deal, or if it’s the right kind of book or if you’re doing it right. Everyone does it differently, and as long as you’re enjoying it, and putting energy and passion into it, you can worry about the rest later. Take one page at a time, with a story you really believe in, and see where it takes you.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on my second novel, which will also be serialised in four e-book novellas. It’s called The Canal Boat Café, and I’m really enjoying writing about a whole new cast of characters in an entirely different setting. So far, life on the water is proving to be pretty fun!