This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Fanny Blake was a publisher for many years before she began writing her deliciously wise, warm and entertaining novels. Today, we’re talking to Fanny about the launch of her two latest books, Secrets Women Keep and With a Friend Like You, both of which shine a light on the passionate, emotional and complicated lives women lead.
From all sorts of places. I think you have to be a bit of a magpie as a writer, so I might hear a conversation on the bus or be chatting to a friend, or something I’ve read – another novel, a magazine or a newspaper – might ignite an idea. My new novel, With a Friend Like You was sparked by a story a friend told me about two sisters who stopped speaking because of something that happened between their children. I was interested in what makes two women who have known each other forever fall out and how easy it might be to recover from that.
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
I treat my writing day like a working day. This is what I try – and often fail – to do. I start after breakfast, and take a cup of tea into the room where I work. Before I begin writing, I disable the Internet on my computer and turn off my phone. I agree with the person who said that having the Internet on is like having someone constantly tapping on your shoulder. I can respond to that tap and displace at the slightest excuse! After that I write until lunchtime. I break for lunch, maybe a walk. Afternoons are for admin, my work for womanandhome and anything else. If I don’t have any of that, then I go back to my novel till about 6pm.
When you are writing, do you use any famous people or people you know as inspiration?
I don’t. Sometimes I might take a character trait or an aspect of someone’s appearance but the character grows on their own. I know some people like to have photos of famous people pinned up as inspiration but that wouldn’t work for me because they wouldn’t turn into the character I want them to be. They would remain as Napoleon or Rufus Sewell, or whoever.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
I’ve always loved Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I love the immediacy of her voice, the gothic twists and turns of the plot and seeing Jane’s journey from cruelly treated orphan to intelligent strong woman who sticks to her principles and is rewarded in the end.
What female writer has inspired you?
I have always loved Anne Tyler’s novels. When I went to see her speak, I was completely inspired by her. She was elegant, funny and wise. I loved the way she spoke about writing. If I wrote just one novel as good as any of hers, I’d die happy.
You are Books Editor for Woman and Home magazine. Can you give us three book recommendations?
Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler (Vintage) This is my favourite of Anne Tyler’s novels. It centres on a day in the life of Maggie Moran in which she and her husband Ira attend the funeral of an old friend. Tyler is so observant of the minutiae of everyday life, her characters are both funny and sad so that it’s a real pleasure to read.The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Little Brown) When I read this, I couldn’t put it down. I thought the opening chapters were second to none. After that I was completely hooked to this fantastic odyssey through contemporary America, told through the life of Theo Decker, a boy who loses his mother at the opening of the novel but gains a painting that influences the rest of his life.
Asylum by Patrick McGrath (Penguin) I read this years ago but the story of Stella Raphael, wife of a celebrated psychiatrist who comes with him to live at a maximum security prison for the criminally insane has always stayed with me. Her falling in love with one of the patients (there for murdering his wife) has devastating consequences.
I do both! I start with an idea, then I think up the characters I need in the novel before starting to work out about the journeys I’m going to set them on. By the time I start, I know the beginning of the novel, the rough end and a series of key scenes on the way. I also write out quite detailed character studies so I know the characters quite well. When I work, I’m constantly going back and fiddling and editing as I go. Once I’ve got to the end, I might give it to a friend and to my agent. I make whatever changes they suggest as well as my own and then it goes to my editor. If I’m lucky I get away with one more draft. If not … I do as many as I have to until I get it right.
What was your journey to being a published author?
I was a publisher for many years, acquiring, editing and publishing fiction for several of the major publishing houses. When I left, I became a journalist, writing about books and interiors. Eventually I started writing TV tie-ins to programmes such as Grand Designs, A Place in the Sun, Location, Location, Location. A stroke of luck moved me on to ghosting celebrity autobiographies, which I loved, but all the time I was itching to write something of my own. I had a significant birthday approaching so I thought I would try writing a novel at last. I already had an agent who sold it to a publisher during the week of said birthday.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That it’s easy. Sometimes the last thing you want to do is sit down in front of the computer and, if you do, it’s with a sinking heart. Once you have, sometimes the words won’t come or, if they do, they’re the wrong ones. I always start a novel with huge optimism but at about the 30,000 word mark, I begin to flag and have severe doubts about the whole thing. My confidence takes a huge dip but I have to force myself to keep going, trying to keep the self-doubt at bay. Scratch any writer and they will admit to doing the same.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Read as much as you can. And write something every day. Even if you don’t achieve whatever word count you aim for, it doesn’t matter. Writing is like a muscle that works better with regular exercise.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m writing my fifth novel called (at the moment) The Last Birthday Party. It’s a big family drama set in southern Spain where a family gather after the death of the mother. All sorts of secrets and surprises come spilling out over the course of a long weekend.