This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Veronica Henry was a television script writer before turning her hand to fiction. The Beach Hut Next Door, her eagerly awaited twelfth novel, will be released tomorrow. Here, she chats with us about treating writing like a business, author sat nav, and the inspiring warmth, wit and wisdom of women’s fiction author Jilly Cooper. Oh, and sex, politics and sharks, naturally.
It can be something tiny, like a scrap of material or a word or a cake, or a story that someone has told me, or a theme – forgiveness, motherhood. It’s like a tapestry – lots of colours and textures that weave together to form a big picture. Songs often inspire me – Fell in Love at the Seaside by the Kooks was very much underpinning my latest book, The Beach Hut Next Door. I often want to capture the emotions I hear in a song in my writing.
My next book is going to be held together by the word scintilla: a tiny spark or flash.
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
Most writers will tell you they spend as much time as they possibly can avoiding writing – an elaborate timetable of housework, food preparation, pencil sharpening! But I can’t really afford to do that. I have to treat my writing as a business. I get up and take the dog to the dunes for a walk before everyone else gets up, then put on Radio 6 while I make breakfast and get the kids off to school, then ‘get on with it’. It’s the only way.But I do accept that some days I won’t write as much as I want to. Some days I will end up with less, as cutting is a vital part of the process. And I never really stop working. Even when I’m in Sainsburys I can be mulling over an awkward plot point, or having a conversation with my characters.
When you are writing, do you use any famous people or people you know as inspiration?
I use them as a starting point, but never drop real people into my fiction, as they never really fit, somehow. But someone’s character traits can be an inspiration – their joie de vivre or their stinginess or their loyalty or their fecklessness. Again, it’s a layering process. And no-one is black or white. Their faults are offset by strengths. And we are often different with different people.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
It absolutely has to be Riders by Jilly Cooper. I adore her generous, extravagant way with words, her eye for detail, her humour, her ability to make people utterly wicked but utterly irresistible. Riders is a feast; a banquet of words and the ultimate page turner.
What female writer has inspired you?
Again, Jilly Cooper. She is warm and wise and witty – all the things I aspire to be. I think her over-riding quality is her authenticity – she knows who she is, and that comes through in her writing.
Can you give us three book recommendations?
Jaws by Peter Benchley – it’s got it all. Sex, politics and sharks!
Anything by H E Bates – wonderful descriptions of the countryside.
Diary of a Mad Housewife – a searingly funny and painful account of a housewife’s ennui and her extra-marital fling – a women’s fiction classic.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I have a very rough plan – I set the sat nav if you like – but then I set off on the ‘journey’ and see what happens. I’m not afraid to ditch a plot line or a character if it’s not working, though equally a small idea can flourish into a big one. It’s very much trial and error. Over-planning can stifle and inhibit a novel. You need room for your characters to develop, and sometimes they say ‘Hey, how about if this happens?’
What was your journey to being a published author?
I started as a production secretary at the BBC, then became a script editor, which was fantastic training in how to create stories and shape them. I worked at ITV and making sure people stuck with the programme after the commercial break was the biggest challenge. I then wrote scripts for ten years, but had always wanted to write a novel. So I wrote half of Honeycote. My TV agent introduced me to Araminta Whitley, who took me on based on what I had written. She went on to get me a book deal, and twelve books later I am still in the game, published by the wonderful Orion.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
I think the one thing that people overlook is that it is a very lonely occupation. That you are on your own 90% of the time, having to push yourself and find inspiration and get the words down. That can be scary; very scary. It’s not all book launches and lying on a chaise longue scoffing violet creams. It’s tough.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Everyone is afraid of the blank page. It is terrifying. Because while it is empty, it is perfect and can’t be judged.
What are you working on at the moment?
My thirteenth novel! It’s inspired by the poem Sea Fever, by John Masefield: ‘I must go down to the seas again; to the lonely sea and sky …’