Interviewed by Debs Carr
My ideal average writing day would start after breakfast with four solid hours at the keyboard – without interruption, apart from a strong cup of coffee deposited in silence just above my mouse mat at 11 a.m. by my husband. I would then break for lunch at 1 p.m. which I would eat in the garden with husband/son/daughter/good friends. But that doesn’t happen very often – twice a week in high summer if I’m lucky.
This has always been an ‘open’ house in that we welcome ‘droppers-in’ with no need for anyone to telephone first. So I’m flexible about when I work. I also keep in mind that my husband is not a writer (or a reader for that matter unless it’s books on vintage motorcycles – and nothing wrong with that) so if the weather looks set fair and he fancies a walk on Dartmoor, then I’ll go with him – writers’ bum is not an attractive attribute!
I’m in awe of writers who bake their own bread, keep the house to show-house standards, are always turned out like a catwalk model (and I know a few who do all of those things) and manage at least 4000 words a day. But that doesn’t happen in this house. Something has to give if I’m to get anything approaching an average writing day – which for me is at least 2000 words of some sort of creative writing be it short stories or novels – and in this house it’s the vacuum that gets let off the hook. All this said, if I have a deadline then I do ‘mention’ to friends and family that I will be ‘busy’ for the next ten days or whatever. Usually they take the hint.
2. When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
People I know, no – not knowingly, although as all writers know there is much buried in the subconscious and it is often only after something appears in print that we recognise that man we sat next to on the bus, or a former neighbour, or our mothers.
Celebrities I use sometimes, but only for their hair colour or their eyes or the way they walk – not their characters or their lifestyles. When I start a new piece of work it is always the characters that come to me first, their personalities and their back story – where they went to school, where they lived as children, their parents. Once I’ve got all that I do need what I call a ‘visual’ to ‘flesh out’ my hero/heroine/peripheral character. So, with a view to future writing, if I see a photograph (celebrity or not) in a magazine or a newspaper who catches my eye for some reason, then I cut it out and keep it. Currently, I can hardly close the lid on my box file marked ‘bods’. I’ve even been known to cut out pictures of the models in the Cotton Traders or Boden catalogues. Hair-dressing magazines are good, too.
3. What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
I’ve had lots of favourites through the years and I think we equate with our reading according to our life experience or what is going on in our lives at the time we choose a particular book to read. What I needed – and read – in my twenties isn’t what I need, or indeed would enjoy reading, now. But the book that has stayed with me is The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller. I think men can write the most wonderful love stories. In this book a lonely Italian woman is living in 1960’s Madison County, Iowa. Into her life comes a charismatic National Geographic photographer, in the area to do a photographic essay of the covered bridges. Their affair is brief and exquisite with a wonderful sense of place I would give my eye teeth to be able to write so well. It’s been made into a film which I don’t want to watch in case it shatters the beautiful images in my head.
4. What is your writing process? Do you plan first of dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I’m impulsive in real life and that spills over into writing – short stories and novels. To Turn Full Circle began life with a first line – ‘Well, well, well – look what the cat’s brought in’. It was something my Dad always said to me if I left it a week before calling in to see him and my Mum. I was thinking about him one day (he died quite a while ago now) and it set me thinking – what if someone else used that phrase a lot? Who would they be? To whom would they say it? And why? I don’t know that many people use that expression today so I used it as the beginning of an historical romance. The story was written very organically – I just let the story spill out of me. Then came four more drafts….and rather a lot of edits.
5. What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
The ones I keep hearing at the moment is that my advance for To Turn Full Circle must have been in six figures at least (the number six did feature but…) and that I’m going to get every single penny of the £7.99 cover price for each book sold. I wish!
6. What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Never give up if it’s what you really want. I wrote six contemporary romantic novels that are still sitting in my desk – unwanted and unloved by agents and publishers – until Choc Lit bought To Turn Full Circle from me; a change of genre for me but a very wise move!
I would strongly recommend to anyone wanting to write romance – in whichever genre – to join The Romantic Novelists’ Association; their New Writers’ Scheme is second to none. And the obvious – read as much and as widely as you can, and not just in the genre that is your favourite. Oh, and it might be an idea to warn your husband/wife/significant other/children that meals probably won’t be turning up at the regular intervals they’ve been used to as you get deep into your characters’ heads and their story.
7. What are you working on at the moment?
I’m writing a sequel to To Turn Full Circle. My working title is No Turning Back. It follows Emma’s and Seth’s love story as they begin their life together. But as it’s Emma Le Goff in the equation nothing, but nothing, is plain sailing for her.