This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Ellie Campbell is the pseudonym of sisters, Lorraine Campbell and Pam Burks. Today they chat to Novelicious about their writing and their new book, Looking For La La.
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
Pam: On my best days, after I’ve shoo-ed everyone out the house, husband, teenage kids, girlfriends of said teenagers, I’ll walk my dog around the park, read over yesterday’s chapters and make notes on my Kindle. Exercise definitely helps me think. When I get back I’m buzzing, full of ideas and raring to go. I feed the dog, grab tea, toast, race up to my attic and jump onto the PC. I work usually till about 3 pm, often not stopping for lunch. Saying that, I’m easily distracted and one phone call can put me back a couple of hours. Not that I’m gabbing. My phone always seems to be in another room, and it’s usually just some salesperson telling me I haven’t claimed on insurance policies. But as I trudge back upstairs, I always see things need doing – washing littered on floors, endless cleaning, interesting newspaper articles… By 3pm on a good or bad day, whatever, I’m usually done and that’s when I email all my stuff, handing over the reins to Lorraine who has fed and mucked out her horses and hopefully is ready to start work.
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When you are writing, do you use any famous people or people you know as inspiration?
Lorraine: I’ve tried gazing at photos of gorgeous guys hoping their smouldering sex appeal will seep out onto the page (or at least into my dreams) but somehow our heroes always seem considerably less ‘male model’ and more down to earth. In How To Survive Your Sisters, we definitely based the mother Peggy on our own mother (no longer alive) who was so unique and funny that we could have written the entire novel about her alone. Otherwise I think it’s more observations about people in general that sneak in, perhaps a characteristic or a mannerism you’ve observed. I have noticed though that friends are quick to look for themselves in our books and quite often claim to be so-and-so when in fact our inspiration was quite different. Or they want to know when we’re going to write a novel based on them.
Pam: Never – I value our friendships too much.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
Pam: Compromising Position – Susan Isaacs. I loved that book. I loved the film of the book. I have it by my bed always. I had to buy a second copy because the first copy was so dog-eared. It’s Susan’s easy humour and realistic situations – the feeling these events could happen to anybody even though not many of us would actually set out to hunt down a murderer.
Lorraine: Oh god, too many. Pride and Prejudice – cliché, cliché – had it all… humor, misunderstandings, terrific love story, you could say it was the original Chick Lit success or the seed from which all Chick Lit sprung. I love Bridget Jones, Devil Wears Prada, Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, the Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler – all for the same reasons: great characters, wonderful storytelling and sharp observations about life.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
Lorraine: Because Pam and I are always sending versions back and forth, there are so many drafts for each novel that it’s amazing I still have memory left on my computer. It’s essential for us to have a plan – at least a basic outline and characters – because there are two of us writing together. We’ll discuss a chapter, one of us will write it and then as the book progresses everything is open to change. Often we’ll get an insight into a character or think up a plot twist that transforms the whole story. While writing When Good Friends Go Bad we struggled a bit with the husband character until we decided to make him ten years younger than the heroine. Well, that added a whole new level of complexity and insecurity to their relationship and made their misunderstandings and impending divorce much more believable and poignant.
What was your journey to being a published author?
Pam: I used to love reading short stories, especially ones that Lorraine wrote (plug), no really. And I loved writing at school. English being my favourite subject. I began by joining creative writing classes in my late 20’s. Anyone, anywhere, libraries, WEA centres, college evening courses. I loved it, all the different teachers, the different exercises they made us do. I undertook a sitcom writing course at the City Lit in Islington which was fascinating and fun, as well as an escape from family life – I had young children at the time. I began with poems, then short stories (which Lorraine – who worked in publishing – was also selling at that time). I was thrilled when my first story was published in a weekly women’s magazine. From then on, I used to write like crazy when the children were at nursery or school. Having that free two hours used to really focus my mind. I knew that when the children came home, that was it. I carried on writing short stories while the children were young, to Chat, Take a Break, Woman’s Weekly, Woman, etc. Only later did I turn to novel writing.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
Pam: That it’s easy. That you can publish one book and then you’ve got it made. That once you’ve been published, you will be “rich beyond your wildest dreams”.
Lorraine: There is also this fantasy that it’s some kind of glorious process, that inspiration hits and then you just pour it out on paper and that if you’re not feeling it on one particularly day, well then you’re lollygaggling around, lunching with friends, watching reality TV, until a mythical time that the muse returns. Whereas sometimes inspiration does strike and it is glorious but those moments usually come because you’ve developed a routine of sitting at the computer, cursing the blank screen and slogging away despite know that what you’re churning out is fit only for the trash.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Pam: Not to talk about it. Don’t discuss ideas with people. Don’t procrastinate. Just do it. Get over to your computer, get all distractions out of the way and start typing – anything. It will come. Everyone has it in them to be a novelist. I used to think, well even if my book is terrible, and no-one wants to publish it, it will be there sitting in some dusty attic somewhere for my kids to come across and they’ll know me, through my writing.
What are you working on at the moment?
Lorraine: We’re quite busy with promotional stuff since we just published Looking For La La and also have How To Survive Your Sisters and When Good Friends Go Bad available for the first time in the States. And there’s our fourth book Million Dollar Question which we’ve recently finished rewriting and is now with our agent. But we had so much fun with Looking For La La, especially the main character Cathy that I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a sequel in our future. She seems like the kind of person who could continually find herself in trouble muddling through another mystery. Like a younger, totally incompetent, Miss Marple.
What are your top five writing tips?
1. Write fast. Get something down however bad. Don’t keep going over and over the same chapters or first sentence. You can always throw it out or edit later but at least you'll have made a start.
2. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’ll have good days and bad days. If you’re having a really bad day, don’t despair. Often things percolate overnight. Take a break, get some exercise or go out for coffee with friends, and console yourself that tomorrow may be a day when everything just flows.
3. Remember that although it is sometimes said everyone has a novel in them, it isn’t necessarily a novel other people want to read. Most likely your undiluted life history isn’t as fascinating to strangers as it is to you so stretch your imagination, throw out the boring truth and reach for the unexpected.
4. Accept that rejection comes with the territory. Not everyone has the same tastes or the world would be a miserable boring place. (And obviously if they don’t like your book, they have no taste at all).
5. Don’t lose touch with the real world. Sometimes the worst thing a writer can do is give up her job and end up cocooned in her study, blocked by lack of social stimulation and financial stress. Likewise there are probably many talented people who absconded to the Greek Islands to pursue their writing dream and never wrote another word. Of course, they’re happy, drinking ouzo and working on their windsurfing but really – what a literary loss!