1. Where do you write?
I have my own writing room, and I adore it. When I first started out, though, I wrote wherever and whenever I could: coffee shops, kitchen tables, even in a cupboard that we customised!
2. Do you use a pen or computer?
Both. Pen and paper to plot and plan, but a computer when I’m actually writing.
3. How long does it take you to write a book?
A year or so. My favourite part of the process is the beginning, before I even write the first word. I like to spend a few months reading and dreaming and sketching out ideas. It’s a wonderful feeling when the ideas start connecting, and the people and places of the novel come to life, insisting that I write about them.
4. What are your top tips for aspiring writers?
- Read frequently and widely. You can learn a lot from other authors, both better and worse than you are.
- Write daily, and always write what you love to read. Never be tempted to write for the market. If you’re writing for yourself, you’ll be rewarded even if you’re not published.
- Don’t be discouraged. (Well, not for long, anyway…) The biggest challenge any writer faces is having your work rejected and managing to pick yourself up, dust off, and begin again. Rejection stings, but if you love the process of writing, you just keep going. You don’t have a choice: characters, settings, ideas keep bothering you until you give in and write them down. Being published is great, and very vindicating, but the joy of creating characters and telling stories is equally real, publishing contract or not.
5. What if they get stuck after 20,000 words?
The middle is definitely the trickiest part of the book to write: the introductory energy of the beginning has worn off and the ending feels an awfully long way away. Whenever I reach a sticking point I take myself and my notebook to a coffee shop (park, library, bar—whatever your taste) where I let myself imagine. Somehow that brief separation from my manuscript helps me to see things clearly and refills me with the enthusiasm and direction to start typing again.
Once you begin writing, the most important thing is to keep going even if you hate everything you write (and you will, oh you will!). Most writers swing between thinking they’re gods or sods, but so long as you keep putting words down you can always come back later. You can’t edit a blank page.
Writing a book is like building a house: it takes time and effort, and you need a firm underlying structure to hold it together so that the pretty trims don’t collapse under close inspection. Give yourself the time to work out the direction in which your story needs to go.
6. Do you have any writing rituals?
I’m a fierce plotter and planner, and while I write on a computer, I always plot with pen and paper. I fill copious notebooks with scribbled story outlines, character ideas, questions to myself (!), and, happily, lots of answers. One of my favorite things to do when I hit a wall with my writing is to take my notebook to a dim and cosy coffee shop. I find a booth in the back corner, disappear into it, and start daydreaming. I scribble anything and everything that comes to mind, and it never fails to send me right back into the world of my story.
Despite my best intentions, my desk is a cluttered mess of old manuscript drafts, scented candles, pens, a doodling pad, coffee cups, and ‘to-do’ lists!
7. Do you have any reading rituals?
I’m one of those people who always has to have a book in my handbag. In fact, I’ve been known to re-purchase books if I accidentally leave them at home. When I don’t have recourse to a bookstore or bookshelf, I find myself reading whatever text comes to hand—parking tickets, business cards, the back of the cereal box. I can’t help myself—it’s a compulsion. Sometimes, I even read at red lights. As for the bath, I wouldn’t dream of hopping in without something to read. I don’t always read it, I just like to know it’s there. Again, I’m sure it’s genetic: my mum was always an avid bath reader and tells me that the worst thing about getting older and needing glasses is not being able to read in the tub anymore due to the steam. All the more reason to enjoy it now, I reckon!
8. What book influenced you to become a writer?
The book that most influenced me to become a writer would have to be The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton. It was my first ‘favorite book’ (I used to read it before, during and after school when I was five years old!) and the one that sparked the love of reading that has sustained me ever since. I’m a writer whose need to write is fathered by a need to read, so I’m indebted to Enid Blyton for capturing my young imagination. And it’s funny, when I look at the books I write now, I can see her lingering influence—it’s still mysteries and secrets that dance around the edges of my mind.
9. What are your favourite books?
- A Dark Adapted Eye – Barbara Vine
- Atonement – Ian McEwan
- Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
- Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
- The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
- Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
- The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Pursuit of Love – Nancy Mitford
- The Veil of Gold – Kim Wilkins
- Passage and The Doomsday Book – Connie Willis
10. What type of music do you like?
My husband is a musician so music is a huge part of our lives. My tastes are very eclectic: I adore jazz music—from Ella Fitzgerald to Madeleine Peyroux—Irish music; classical music, from the moody and melancholic to the utterly joyous; I love The Beatles and my favorite album is Grace by Jeff Buckley.