as she answers questions about her latest novel Wasted and her blog Help I Need a Publisher, and why she penned a non-fiction book called Write to be Published.
NEWEST NOVEL: WASTED “Stroke of genius” – Cat Anderson, bookseller. “Outstanding!” – Vanessa Robertson, bookseller. “WOW!” – Nikki Heath, librarian
WASTED nominated for the Carnegie Medal
PUBLISHING BLOG http://www.helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com/
WRITE TO BE PUBLISHED WEBSITE www.writetobepublished.co.uk
When did you get your first break into writing fiction?
Well, I struggled and failed for many years. My first novel was published 21 years after I started trying! And the reason I got one published in the end was that I came up with an idea that worked – one that worked in storyline and language. (Before, it had all been about the language and I couldn’t get the story right.). I don’t think I was a rubbish writer before but I hadn’t found a way of turning my love of words into story. It was really my memory of all that heartache combined with everything I learnt from my own experience and that of all the other writers who I came into contact with professionally during the last ten years that made me want to give advice to aspiring authors.
Have your family and friends always been supportive of your writing career?
Yes, though to be honest no one who isn’t a writer can really understand. They try but most don’t always manage! My husband and daughters are 100% fantastic and supportive and they do understand. Maybe you have to live with a writer before you can, because we keep a lot of stuff hidden. Before I was published, I didn’t talk about it much outside my family but my husband stood by me for a long time while I failed. I hope he thinks it was worth the wait.
Have you stayed with the same agent/publisher all through your career?
Same agent, different publishers. That’s partly because I write for children and adults, fiction and non-fiction.
What is the most productive time of the day for you to write?
Nowadays, it seems to be either 5 till 7 in the morning or 4 till 6 in the evening. It just depends on what else is distracting me. (Usually a lot.) I think that routines can change more easily than we think and if my circumstances changed I’d write at different times. Now that I’m so busy travelling to do events, I am better at writing on trains and in hotels, for example.
Do you have a favourite book of yours that you have written?
Wasted. Before that it was The Passion Flower Massacre. They both have more of me in them than any of my other books and are more experimental. Also, in both cases I knew exactly what I wanted to do and managed to achieve the effect I planned. They came from the heart. Mondays are Red also has a special place in my memory, because it was my first.
Do you have a favourite character?
I love Jack and Jess in Wasted. They are cool, brave, deep, wonderful, slightly damaged and yet very strong. They will survive. I’m not surprised they fell in love with each other – they are perfect for each other and the attraction was huge from the start.
Do you start your projects writing with paper and pen or is it all on the computer? Computer. I’m very bad with pens. I get lovely notebooks and then don’t use them. I must try to change because I love paper, but I love it most when it’s got nothing on it.
What (or who) do you draw inspiration from?
Everything, everywhere, nature, the sky, the space between my head and yours. I almost never feel inspired by sitting at my computer (which is a bit unfortunate in view of my last answer…) but going out for a walk, with my dog but no people, usually frees the ideas. I think it’s incredibly important for people to give themselves time to think – not just writers and artists but everyone. We fill our hours too full these days and we need to find time to dream.
Do you set yourself goals when you sit down to write such as word count?
Usually. It depends. I must say that my targets have all lowered recently. I used to do 3000 words a day easily (when writing a first draft) but now I struggle to do 1500.
What drives you to choose the career of being a writer?
I just want it, need it, can’t do anything else. I can’t imagine being or doing anything else. I also quite like doing nothing, but that’s not satisfying. I need, really need, to do something I can be proud of. I also really need to be a bit different from “normal”. And I love the power of language. In fact, if you want to know the real answer, it’s that I’m power-hungry and language is the ultimate power. When I help writers with their writing, through Pen2Publication, it’s that power that I’m trying to give them.
Write to be Published is out now. Is this a how-to book for want-to-be-authors? And how does it differ from other books in its genre?
Of course, no two books on the same subject will be the same, but let me tell you what I think are the important points about Write to be Published. First, the philosophy: I aim to show you why publishers and agents say no because I believe that when we know why they say no, we can make them say yes. So, I get you to focus on all the possible things you could be doing wrong, so you can cure and prevent them. Second, the voice: the “Crabbit Old Bat” voice which is the key part of my blog (Help! I Need a Publisher!) is there in the book, chivvying authors into working as hard as they must to become good enough to be published. So, there’s humour and snarkiness but I hope that what comes through is that if you are determined to be good enough, I’m there to help. And third, the breadth of topics – I go all the way from how agents’ minds work and deciphering the market, through the concept and all the main aspects of the actual writing, through the pitch and submission, as well as dealing with rejection and getting quality feedback. It’s the blog of the book and the blog will give readers a pretty good idea of the content, but the book is more distilled and obviously easier to find your way around. It has a structure that makes sense.
Which came first with you, non-fiction or fiction? What’s easier to write?
Fiction was my first love and I’m now married to it forever but I flirt with non-fiction when I want something easier. Then I got my hand bitten when I wrote Write to be Published, because any ideas that I’d had that non-fiction was easier were destroyed.
What are you working on now that you can talk about?
Secret! I’m juggling a couple (or more) of different things for different age groups and I’ve yet to decide (or have it decided for me) which way to go first. Basically, I want to do it all, but obviously I can’t, or not all at the same time. Managing a writing career is not easy and sometimes you have to say no to things, or wait for a better moment. I have far more novels in my head than I think I’ll ever write.
Who are your favourite authors, and are you reading anything now?
Bernice Rubens was a long time favourite of mine, and I was very sad when she died a few years ago. I love Michel Faber, Kate Atkinson and Joanne Harris – and there’s not really enough similarity between them to explain what I need in a book. I need excitement and emotion, clever language use, fantastic characterisation and something a bit off-beat, individual, clever.
What is the one thing want-to-be authors must do to succeed?
Write something that people will pay to read.