This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Fiona Valpy writes books in the garden of her lovingly restored French farmhouse. As she explains here, however, the writing life isn’t all glamour. Fiona’s new book, The French for Christmas, is out now.
Everywhere, in the little details of everyday life. I think the most significant and dramatic moments are often found in the daily interactions between people – you just have to be looking for them. My husband and I moved to France seven years ago and that fresh perspective gave me the inspiration to begin writing: the cultural differences between French and English make for all sorts of miscommunication, but once you bridge that cultural gap you soon realise that we all have the same hopes and fears … It’s just that they can be expressed in so many different ways. I love the way that seeing things through the lens of a different culture can sometimes be a very enlightening experience, and that’s what has inspired the heroines in my books to find new ways of living their lives.
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
As well as my writing, I teach yoga, so I have to juggle the two to make it work. But they are such opposite kinds of work, (the yoga is social, physical, and grounding, whereas writing is solitary, sedentary and all in the mind!) that I think I’ve managed to create a kind of balance. But whatever I’m doing, focus is all-important.When I’m in writing mode, I’ll take myself away to a quiet place – preferably outside in the garden if the weather’s good – and spend hours immersed in my work. I write first, then transcribe, editing and re-working as I go. And then I’ll re-read and re-edit on the screen and finally print out copies to edit again: it’s definitely important to re-read and re-work across different media because somehow you see things differently each time. I get so immersed that I lose all sense of time … my poor long-suffering family often end up with yet another cheese omelette for supper, because suddenly I realise it’s eight in the evening and there’s nothing else in the fridge…
When you are writing, do you use any famous people or people you know as inspiration?
I haven’t done in the first two books, but look out for a couple of very gorgeous famous look-alikes in The French for Christmas!
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
It’s so hard to choose because I’m an avid reader and I have so many favourites. One of the best is probably The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver (and its sequel, Pigs in Heaven). The heroine is feisty and incredibly courageous in the face of terrible injustice. She’s so funny too, you just know she’d be a really great mate.
What female writer has inspired you?
I think several have – I’m a true reading addict and usually have a heap of books next to the bed (plus my Kindle balanced precariously on top of the pile with a queue of several more lined up). But two of the best ever are Jane Austen (for her brilliant portrayals of the subtleties of society) and Nelle Harper Lee who wrote a single novel – To Kill a Mockingbird – that was so powerful and so brilliant that it won her the Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (as well as being made into an Oscar-winning film). Both these women writers, centuries apart, had in common a firm belief in the importance of books and reading, to which I wholeheartedly subscribe.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
Through trial and error, I’ve learned the benefits of planning thoroughly beforehand, which gives me a structure in which to work. But it’s also important to be prepared for the story to take you in other, unplanned directions sometimes and to follow your nose when that happens. These unplanned diversions can be the very best bits. You can end up surprising yourself.
I don’t know how many drafts I do, but they are many! I try not to print out copies too often, but let’s just say there’s never any shortage of paper to light the fire in winter …
What was your journey to being a published author?
I sent my first novel to a number of agents who all turned me down. And I was about to give up, only my sister encouraged me to keep on trying. I self-published my novel in the end but then shortly afterwards read about Bookouture, a new independent publisher who was prepared to receive direct submissions from authors. So I got in touch with them and the rest is history. My third novel, The French for Christmas, is just out now, and the first two are being translated into German, Norwegian and Turkish. That’s so cool! – I can’t wait to have copies in these other languages on my bookshelf.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That it’s a glamorous occupation. The reality is months of isolation and hard work, with the distinct possibility of rejection at the end of it all. You have to write because you love it and because you have something to say. The wonderful Deborah Moggach wrote a 12-point plan for writing success and her final piece of advice was “Sort out your priorities. Don’t clean your home … you’ll probably neglect your friends too and even your personal hygiene. If you have children, however, try to keep them fed.” I can relate to all of that!
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
One phrase stuck in my mind through the months of rejection: the ones who succeed are the ones who didn’t give up. You have to develop the hide of a rhinoceros and keep on picking yourself back up, dusting yourself down and trying again, no matter how many knock-backs you receive along the way.
What are you working on at the moment?
Having just finished The French for Christmas, I’m in the planning stages for a new book for next year.