This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Kerry Barrett, author of Baby It’s Cold Outside, joins us now to talk writing on her commute, her long journey to publication and bumping into J.K. Rowling on the tube.
I get inspiration from all sorts of places. I like to think of writing as a series of 'what ifs'. What if you had to go back and tackle all the things you'd run away from as a teenager? What if your fiancé discovered he had a son, just days before your wedding? What if you got chosen to go on Strictly Come Dancing only to find out you've got two left feet? News stories, celeb gossip, anecdotes from friends – they're all little seeds that take root.
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
My average writing day is probably a bit odd. I have a 30-minute train journey to the office so when I get on the train each morning, I start writing. I used to scribble away in little Muji notebooks, then type it up later, but I eventually realised this wasn't the best use of time, so I treated myself to an iPad mini with a keyboard and I bash away on that. I can write anything between 500 and 1000 words on the train on my way to work, and the same on the way home. Work for me is writing, too – I'm features editor for All About Soap magazine, so I write (and watch Hollyoaks!) all day. Then I write again on the way home – if I can stop myself falling asleep!
When you are writing, do you use any famous people or people you know as inspiration?
My characters are a mixture of people I know, people I see in the street, characters from films, TV and books, and famous people. Esme, one of my heroines, looks like a girl I worked with ten years ago! Her glamorous cousin Harmony is based on an actress I saw in an episode of Silent Witness, and Harmony's partner Louise is totally Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones, if Brienne of Tarth was a detective in Edinburgh CID. But please don't tell George RR Martin.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
Riders by Jilly Cooper has to be my favourite women's fiction book of all time. I read it when I was 14. And 15. And 16… you get the picture. I think generally the 'establishment' is quite snotty about women's fiction and dismissive, but Riders taught me that a book can be a brilliant page-turner of a read, perfect for the beach or your commute, but still be clever and thought-provoking. There are other women's fiction writers who do that now – Marian Keyes for one, Jennifer Weiner, Adele Parks, the list is long and growing all the time – but Riders was the first one that hit the spot for me. After my first book was published, I wrote to Jilly Cooper and told her how much her books meant to me. She wrote back and I was beside myself with joy. She's wonderful!
What female writer has inspired you?
Of course Jilly Cooper is an inspiration to me, but in terms of the 'business' of writing I love J. K. Rowling. Her 'just get on with it' philosophy really appeals to me. I love that she persevered with Harry Potter despite rejection after rejection, and I love that she's now reinvented herself as an adult fiction writer. I'm a big fan of hard work being rewarded and she's the absolute epitome of that. And I once saw her on the tube. THE TUBE. Amazing.
Can you give us three book recommendations?
For writing, I recommend Stephen King On Writing, which is just one of the best books about writing I've ever read. It's my bible and I have read it cover to cover several times as well as dipping in and out when I need ‘help’.Of course, my fave book of all time is Riders by Jilly Cooper so I recommend that, too, and my favourite book I've read recently was The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes which is a charming, lovely, heartwarming book.
I'm both a planner and a diver-inner (is that a thing?). I always start with a plan, generally about one side of A4 that gives the bare bones of the story. Then I start writing, and once I begin I add to my plan. I add to it by scribbling all over it with different colours of pen, and sticking post-it notes on top. It makes sense to me but I doubt anyone else would be able to make head or tail of it. If I type more up, I staple it on top, so I've got everything all together. When I'm writing the first draft, I just write. I don't look things up, or check stuff. Instead I put queries in square brackets, so I have things like [insert fun scientific fact here] or [some sexy stuff here] or [is his name Albert? CHECK]. When I was stressing over essays at university I had a friend who always said: "Just write it down and hand it in." That's now my mantra for getting the first draft done! My second draft is the one I polish before I send it to my editor, and then there's generally a third draft after that, too.
What was your journey to being a published author?
It was a long journey. I started and failed to finish several novels over the years. Then in 2004, I did a novel-writing evening class. At the same time I started writing Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered. Six years later I finished my first draft. I sent it to some agents and got rejections back so I put it to one side and started writing something else. Then in 2013 I saw a Carina UK call for submissions and sent it off to them. They said no, too! But a week later they emailed and said they'd changed their minds. I was over-the-moon.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
I think the biggest myth about being a novelist is the airy-fairyness that is often talked about. There's no muse or magical process – it's more blood, sweat and tears. In my experience, anyway.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Do it! Just sit down and start writing. Even if it doesn’t end up being a part of the finished novel, everything you write is valuable.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I'm working on my fourth Could It Be Magic book, which explores friendship and trust – and the politics of ante-natal groups. I'm also keeping half an eye on another book I'm planning which is all about a dancing competition that's very similar to Strictly. This means I can legitimately watch YouTube clips of my fave Strictly dances like Zoe Ball's tango and Cherie Lunghi's rhumba (everyone does that, right?). And for a couple of years I've had a historical novel on the go. It's very different from anything else I've written and it involves a lot of research so I dip in and out of it whenever I have time.