This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
When Erin Lawless, unable to find a traditional publisher, self-published her debut novel Little White Lies last year, she was thrilled to see it shoot to the top of the Amazon bestsellers list. Now repackaged and republished in paperback under the name of The Best Thing I Never Had by HarperCollins, we thought it was about time we sat down for a natter with Erin about what makes her tick as a writer.
I tend to get the characters first. I can see them almost as if I’m watching a film, and usually not at convenient moments – when I’m busy at work, when I’m falling asleep, when I’m about to get out of the bath. This is true of whether I’m writing a 500 word flash fiction or a 100,000 word novel!
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
Unfortunately I’m not lucky enough to have an average writing day! I have a full-time job and so the writing needs to get squished in around that – and around my wedding planning, my unhealthy appetite for reading and just general living. When I was on the home stretch for The Best Thing I Never Had, I got into the habit of coming into work an hour early and staying an hour late, and using those two hours purely for writing. The fact that I was at my office desk kept me in a professional headspace. When I write at home I tend to get distracted. Ooh, new Spotify playlist..!
When you are writing, do you use any famous people or people you know as inspiration?
I actively try to distance my characters from people I know. If I read a section back and it reminds me too much of a friend (or an enemy!) I will have to edit it. It’s not very polite – besides, I can hardly create three-dimensional, rounded characters if I am just producing literary caricatures of people I know! It's more situations from my real life that inspire me.The most obvious example is my current work in progress, about a girl who’s mid-application for her Indefinite Leave to Remain in the United Kingdom; this is something my best friend is going through at this very moment.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
I read from a lot of different genres and styles. I’m often putting perfectly good books down after reading a chapter, not because there's anything wrong with the book, but because I know I’m not in the right mood for it. I will pick them up again when I feel I am, and love it. As a result of this rather slapdash approach to reading, it’s really hard for me to pick favourites. When it comes to women’s fiction though I tend to have a soft spot for ‘magical realism’ books, like those by Sarah Addison Allen. Having said that, you can never go wrong with a Sophie Kinsella, can you? Remember Me? is one of my personal favourites.
What female writer has inspired you?
It’s probably not very fashionable to admit to, but maybe Danielle Steel. My great-aunt had a huge wall of books when I was growing up, and an impossible number of them seemed to be Danielle Steel. The sheer output that woman has managed over her lifetime is incredible. She’s a novel writing machine, and immensely talented.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I’m a planner. I admire “pantser” writers so much though, I wish I could write like that! Before I start writing I need to have a firm grasp on all my characters, where they start and where I want them to end up. For all my planning, most of my stories end up mutating halfway through, but I think that’s a good thing. I normally finish quite a clean first draft, because I do a lot of editing as I go. I have beta readers who give me constant feedback and help me shape the story. Then I read the whole story aloud and make changes as I go – that’s draft two. Draft three will be with my editor’s comments and usually that’s it.
What was your journey to being a published author?
A relatively uneventful one! I finished what would become The Best Thing I Never Had in late 2012. Early feedback was that the book was good, but unmarketable. Like a complete wuss I gave up any hope of being traditionally published and went down the self-published route. I think the advent of self-publishing is amazing, and it was a really good experience, but there is so much stigma attached to it, and so much competition. I begged bloggers to read and review my book and was turned down 99% of the time just because it was self-published. Many of those same bloggers in turn begged Harper for advance copies of Best Thing, probably not realizing it was once offered to them by the author under a different name! Anyway, on a whim I submitted to Harper, mainly because I’d been part of their focus group and really admired what they were doing. I then promptly forgot about it – but the rest is history.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That we are good at things like poetry, or script-writing. No!
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Write the book you’d want to read. Write because you can’t function until you tell that story. Don’t just write what you think will sell, or because you want accolades. Write because you don’t know any other way to be.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a new contemporary romance, although this one is a little more light-hearted than Best Thing. It follows two main characters: Nadia, a Russian national living in England, desperate to not get deported back to a mother country she has never known; and Alex, an administrator for the Home Office Border Control who has lost his verve, pathetically in love with his flatmate’s girlfriend and who spends far too much time on his Playstation and not in the real world. Best Thing was my love letter to studenthood – this book will be my love letter to being a twenty-something lost in London.