1. Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
I’ve never had the luxury of being a full-time writer: I started out as a fulltime working single mum writing in the evenings, and now I’m a stay-at-home mum to a toddler/ freelance copywriter. I’ve always had to fit my writing in around everything else. When I am writing a first draft, I write 1,200 words a day, every day seven days a week without exception. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes I’m still up at midnight trying to finish, but I get into rhythm and the story begins to tell itself.
2. When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
I think it’s much more complicated than that. No character is every a copy of a person you know or a celebrity, but an amalgamation of characteristics, impressions, things you’ve heard or seen. Also, once you get into a story, the characters gain momentum and get a life of their own and they start to tell you things about themselves (I’m not mad, this really happens), and then they’re not inspired by anyone but their own selves. I don’t like it when people read something I’ve written and say, “Oh, such-and-such a character is obviously So-and-so,” because they’re not.
3. What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
This was a hard one, because I have read and loved so many books, but I would have to say Looking for Andrew McCarthy by Jenny Colgan (Good Choice! Kirsty – Ed). I grew up in the eighties, and the idea of a girl who goes looking for heartthrob star of Pretty in Pink and St Elmo’s Fire because her life hasn’t turned out like a movie… well, I loved it. And when, a few months ago, Andrew McCarthy said “Hi” to Jenny Colgan on twitter, I was almost as excited as she was.
4. What is your writing process? Do you plan first of dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I like to start with as little as possible, sometimes just a few characters and a slim premise. As I said above, I think what is interesting is seeing characters (and therefore their stories) develop. As you write, you make a million tiny decisions. Where does your character live? What job does she do? What is her dog called? They all (hopefully) add up to form someone complex and believable, and the most thrilling part is when those multifaceted characters take you places you didn't expect to go. Also, it is more fun for me than just writing down something I have all planned out would be. Then it’s redraft, redraft, redraft. My agent is a real stickler, so I’ll usually do a few redrafts for her too before she submits. If something goes to publication, you can expect at least another two work-throughs before the book is in print.
5. What was your journey to being a published author?
Long. I’ve worked as a writer, first in theatre, then TV, advertising and the corporate world, for twenty years. I write my first book This Year’s Black, in 2003, and it was published in my native South Africa in 2004. I thought it would be easy to get a UK publishing deal and a wonderful career off the back of that, but it’s taken another three books and a total of eight years to get an agent and a UK publisher. It’s been worth the wait though: My agent (Caroline Hardman at Christopher Little) is a pocket-sized marvel, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be published by Quercus.
6. What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
If one more person says to me, “Ah, so you’re going to be rich like that JK Rowling,” I’m going to push them down the stairs.
7. What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
If you’re not writing then you’re not a writer. Thinking about writing isn’t writing. Get it down on the page. If it doesn’t work, rework it or abandon it and start again. But write.
8. What are you working on at the moment?
I’m writing a new book for Quercus, which is about people having to juggle work and family responsibility, and about how sometimes you wake up one day and wonder how in heaven’s name you ended up where you are. A couple of characters from Babies in Waiting make a brief appearance, but it’s about a whole new bunch of fascinating people! It’s provisionally called Now and Then.
MORE ABOUT BABIES IN WAITING