This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
A former BBC producer, Sue Watson left her career in TV to write books. Here, she talks about her publishing journey and making the leap to writing full-time. Sue's second novel, Younger, Thinner, Blonder, is out now.
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
I am at my desk by 9am every morning, you have to treat writing like a job. My first task is to watch a little Jeremy Kyle with breakfast, to help with my characterisation. Then, once the DNA results are in, I’m checking what’s trending on Twitter and who’s doing what on Facebook. By now I’m plagued by texts from friends. Even though I’ve told them I’ll be busy writing, they demand my attention. I answer all the texts by which time it’s mid-morning coffee with a ‘biscuit binge’ or ‘biscuit avoidance,’ depending on my diet status on that day.
I am totally tied to my desk and like to spend at least an hour considering my plot and cruising The Daily Mail’s ‘sidebar of shame’ for the latest Kardashian car-crash. Popbitch and other celebrity car-crash sites are available and, yes it can be time consuming, but I like to research thoroughly. Once I’ve sifted through Kris and Bruce’s divorce, Jordan’s latest marriage and someone from Big Brother’s sex change, it’s lunchtime! Wow, how time flies when you’re busy!
Sadly it’s now too late to start writing so I call a friend to say I’m snowed under and, before I know it, she has convinced me to meet up for a light lunch or a large pie (diet status on the day once more comes into play here). After lunch, I have to rush off back to my desk and I’m not back five minutes when my daughter Eve comes in from school. I now officially clock off and can’t possibly write any more as I’m so exhausted, and then my husband’s home and it’s time for dinner! It’s tough this writing life – don’t let anyone tell you any different.
When you are writing, do you use any famous people or people you know as inspiration?
Yes, in fact the heroine in Younger, Thinner, Blonder is loosely based on someone famous I knew when I worked as a TV Producer. I’ve changed a few minor details around so she’ll never know … I hope!
In my first novel, Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes, much of the heroine’s character comes from me and the two best friends also exist. Al the TV Producer who belongs to a gay swimming club is based on my friend Al … the gay TV Producer, who belongs to a gay swimming club. My friends are sometimes wary around me, scared they’re going to be immortalised in fiction … and they are right to be scared. In fact, they should be very scared.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
My favourite book has to be The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. I read this as part of my degree course when I was eighteen (and that was more than twenty years ago), but it’s as relevant and fresh today as it was to me then. Like any brilliant book, you can read it many, many times and discover something new that perhaps you hadn’t seen before.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
Having only written two books so far I think I would describe my style as ‘evolving’ though my family and friends may call it ‘chaotic.’ I don’t plan as such; I have a synopsis in my head for months that shifts around, but during that time I have two or three main characters talking to me. I make folders for each character and give them a star sign and a secret. Then I work on their voice, which often comes to me in bed, at the school gate, or while I’m driving. I have to stop doing whatever I’m doing and make notes … I always forget my notepad and pen so it’s often in lip pencil on the back of a receipt or a chewing gum wrapper. Sometimes I feel like a psychic; I’m the Sally Morgan of writing, ‘…hang on a minute love, I can’t listen to you all at once… now what have you got for me?’ I’m constantly channelling characters and bringing them to life so they can take part in my world.
What was your journey to being a published author?
It was like a tortured love affair. My journey was filled with rejection, heartbreak and tears and ultimately happiness. I wrote the novel, quickly got a great agent and couldn’t believe how lucky I was. Within days my agent had sent a pitch to the big publishers while I sat back and waited for the bidding war she promised would happen. However, it’s not that easy, I didn’t get a book deal and my agent regretfully dumped me. Devastated, I put my tear-stained manuscript away and continued with my life. About a year later, with a view to destroying the manuscript, I read it and thought, ‘it’s quite good actually’. I almost couldn’t bear going through the whole, painful process, but something inside urged me on. I edited a little here and there, sent it out to smaller publishers and by the end of the month had three offers. In September 2011, my first book Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes was finally published by Rickshaw Publishing.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That you can pay the mortgage by being one! Writing is the best job I’ve ever done, it’s also the hardest. It’s long hours and hard work for not much money and when you’ve ‘finished,’ it’s all about the edit … the edit … and then the edit. When the book is finally out, it’s about marketing … marketing … and then marketing, by which time the process has begun again for the next book. So now you’re doing double the hours and double the hard work … and then it all starts again and you don’t speak to family and friends and you put your heart and soul and love and time into all these words. Then someone on Amazon gives you one star and says ‘it’s boring’ – and breaks your heart into a million pieces.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Write the novel you ‘need’ to write and it will come from the heart. I chose to leave a career that I loved, because I had to write instead. My feelings were so conflicted, they sat in my throat for a year once I’d made the decision to leave television, but I had to write. My first novel Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes, is inspired by my own journey and the wonderful people I shared it with … along with the bad times. If the novel had never been published, it would still have been the right thing to do for me. It’s not for everyone to write a novel that, at times reflects their own life, but you have to write the novel you need to write, the one that keeps you up at night begging to be written. Trust yourself to know when that novel is waiting for you, and don’t beat yourself up if it’s not this week, even this year. If you’re a writer, it will come.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have a few bits and pieces on the go, but nothing has emerged yet. I just can’t decide which way to go next, despite those character voices calling and demanding attention. Currently I have six characters in search of a novel … and when they finally get together then the fun will begin.