Because of our STARTING OVER contest today, I thought it might be a nice idea to put up our interview with the author today too!
- Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
I have quite a long day. I’m generally at my machine by around 07.45 and I begin with emails, reading newsletters etc. My professional life is divided into creative writing tutor/writer and I divide most days in the same way. The mornings are devoted to students and critiques – since I took on the Writers’ Forum fiction competitions my mornings have been extremely busy.
At lunchtime I often attend a class – yoga, piano or pilates. Or I go for a walk. Sometimes I just work right through.
The afternoons are for writing. I try not to let the time leach away but it’s inevitable that there will be business emails and promo to do. It’s all very important but it sometimes seems as if writing time is hardest to find. Maybe it’s just because that’s the hardest job. The teaching takes less concentration. I generally finish around six.
I do a little work some evenings and weekends, too, especially if I have a manuscript to appraise or another comp to judge.
- When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
Yes, to an extent. Ratty in Starting Over came to me as I was watching an amazing Kevin Kline as the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance. If you’re not into the works of Gilbert and Sullivan you probably think I’m nuts – but just watch a few clips and you’ll see the Pirate King’s mixture of insouciance and passion. And he’s always the leader of his gang.
Not that Ratty carries a sword or anything.
Tess is entirely from my imagination but I have a very strong image of her. Some characters come to me one way, some another.
Justin in All That Mullarkey is a pastiche of several people. Bryan Brown, actor, Carl Fogarty, motor cycle racer, and Fabrice Santoro, tennis player. This is only a visual reference – I created the person that went inside the skin. Cleo, in All That Mullarkey, is a woman I saw in a magazine article. It was one of those features where they took people and looked at what they hated about themselves and then dressed them to minimise the despised bits. But this woman – Cleo – pretty much said that she didn’t mind having eyes that turned down at the corners instead of up, or being too busty and hippy for her height. They dressed her in a straight black dress to try and minimise the effect of the curves and she said she preferred her usual style, thanks very much. I thought, ‘I like her!’
- What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
Wow. That’s a bit like asking what is my favourite type of chocolate.
OK, if I absolutely have to go for one, it’s Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Cruisie. The relationship between hero and heroine sizzles from the moment they stand on the same porch.
- What is your writing process? Do you plan first of dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I used to hate planning – it reminded me of school, when everything had to be planned and analysed until there wasn’t a spark of life left in it. But as I developed as a writer I began to find that I could see the big picture if I planned, so had less of a tendency to ramble or wander into blind alleys. I learnt to look for the central thrust of the story and write with focus.
I usually begin with the central characters and scribble, longhand about them, learning how they affect each other, how each sees the other, how others see them, what there is in their history to affect their personalities and interest the reader. I give them employment and begin to research that – it’s surprising what effect a job can have on a plot – and I also research any big issues they have in their lives. If I’m writing romantic fiction I work on the hero and heroine together, to check our that their relationship is going to sizzle rather than fizzle. And I work out what is going to keep them apart for most of the book – otherwise they might get together in Chapter 1. You get very short, very dull books, like that.
I amass a kind of compost heap of information and I begin to think in terms of big plot points, thinking around these, utilising logic. Logic has a big part to play in fiction writing and if you remember that you tend to produce a plausible book.
I generally know the end of my book, what I’m writing to, as well. If it’s romantic, it has a built-in element of hero and heroine getting together in some way, at some level. This provides a lot of reader satisfaction.
- What was journey to becoming a published author?
For me, persistence has been the key to success. I don't think this is all to do with my work ethic – more a stubborn belief that I'm good enough to be published. This has sometimes been the triumph of hope over experience, but it's got me this far. I am lucky to have a husband who earns a regular salary so it matters less than my earning capacity is more random.
I got started in women's mags. Well … here's the potted history: decided at early age I would be a novelist. Got sidetracked into secretary/bank job. Had children. Began to write novels when kids little, wrote two absolutely unpublishable books that I loved to bits. Publishers hated them. Realised I needed more education and did a course much like the one I now teach on – distance learning (called a correspondence course in those days). Read that a publisher will take you seriously if you have 20 stories published in national newsstand magazines (this is UK, of course, other countries don't all have national mags). Kept writing novels as well as short stories. Got my Romantic Novelists’ Association membership by virtue of a serial I wrote for People's Friend that was published in 04. Got an agent in 2001. She nearly sold my books. Nearly, nearly sold my books. Finally, in 05, sold Uphill All the Way to Transita then Family Matters to Hale. In 09, because I thought I wouldn't write novels again, I dissolved my partnership with agent to a large extent and, almost by accident, began selling the books that had nearly nearly made it to Choc Lit. The opportunity to write my ‘how to’ book: Love Writing – How to Make Money Writing Romantic or Erotic Fiction came up in the same period – early 09. So it seemed that no sooner did I stop caring so much about novels that the success began. Odd. Coincidence or a lesson to learn? I don't know. I'm just enjoying the ride, at the moment,.
Most writers have a similar story of battling things out over a number of years. Only a few write a novel, sell it, get rich!
- What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
Writer’s block. As Mickey Spillane said, inspiration is an empty bank account.
- What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Educate yourself and attend conferences, talks and seminars, join organisations such as the Romantic Novelists’ Association where you can hang out with people who are already doing it. It’s amazing what that does for your ‘can do’ attitude. Persist. Remember that if you write a page a day for a year, you’ll have a first draft. Persist. Write. Persist. Don’t ever tell me that I’m lucky to be published – the harder I work, the luckier I get.
- What are you working on at the moment?
I have just handed in Want to Know a Secret? the book that’s to be published by Choc Lit in November 2010. I’ve just been on a couple of research trips to help me write The Next Book (no proper title, as yet), including interviewing a male model, which was interesting. Martyn is my new hero and he’s a glamour model with a very particular family background. Honor is my new heroine and she’s an American in England, looking for her British mother, who left her when she was a baby. I already know quite a lot about Honor’s story, why her mother left and what kind of life Honor has had, till now. I have written the first few pages, so I know how Martyn and Honor meet and what is going to keep them apart. And how they’re not going to be able to stay apart. What’s also important is I know what they see as their responsibilities.
Apart from that, I’m getting my students, competition entries, emails, invoicing and admin up to date. I need a secretary.
To find out more about Sue click here!