Friday, March 19, 2010

Writing rules

An early criticism of my novel (yes there was one - more than one, but we won't go there) was that there wasn't enough character description - the reader felt like she couldn't 'see' my main character clearly, and that I should include more physical description to bring her to life.

Harrumph, I thought. Sophie Kinsella, author of the popular Shopaholic series, purposely didn't write a description of her central character, Becky Bloomwood.

In a recent interview she said she deliberately never described what Becky looked like, partly because she wanted everyone to relate to her and partly because when she's writing, she's not looking at her, she's looking through her eyes at the world, and didn't think in real-life anyone would ever look look in a mirror and say, "Wow, my shoulder-length, blonde-streaked, shiny hair looks fab today!" though she might say "Wow, my hair looks fab today!"

(As an aside, it's been a long time since I looked in a mirror and said, "Wow, my hair looks fab today!" I'm well overdue for a trim. My daughter tells me it's turned to 'wisp' again. That never happens in novels.)

In another book - the chilling but deeply impressive The Mother's Tale by Camilla Noli - the main character doesn't even have a name, never mind a description. And yet ...

I didn't realise until I read that interview with Sophie Kinsella that Becky Bloomwood didn't have a description, because I'd pictured her so clearly in my mind - I had to go back and check, and it wasn't until I was reading the author notes at the end of The Mother's Tale that the lack of a name even registered. Which taught me something.

I'm thick.

No, it wasn't that.

To break the rules, you have to be experienced enough to carry it off so the reader doesn't notice. My reader noticed.


And no, since you ask. I haven't heard from Lovely Agent yet. I'm sticking with the old adage 'no news is good news' until I hear otherwise.

Monday, March 15, 2010

And the winners are ...

Thanks to Elise for a great interview and for all your comments and questions.

The winners of the draw are Fia, Womagwriter, Abbi and Joy

If you'd like to email your address to me, Elise will send you a copy of The Wrong Sort of Wife/Your Roots are Showing.

Well done!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Guest post - Elise Chidley

Today I’m delighted to welcome author, Elise Chidley to my blog. Elise has written two wonderfully warm and witty novels, The Wrong Sort of Wife and Married with Baggage, and I absolutely loved them both. Intelligent and romantic, as well as funny, they’re peopled with characters you can’t help warming to.

Elise is giving away 2 free copies of The Wrong Sort of Wife and 2 copies of the American version, Your Roots are Showing. If you’d like to leave a comment below I’ll pick the winners at random on Sunday!

So, without further ado …

Elise, when did your writing career begin?

I’ve been writing for a living since my first job as features writer with a national women’s magazine in South Africa, but I started writing fiction after my third child was born. At that stage, I was telecommuting as a staff writer for a publisher of health care magazines, writing three feature stories a week. The pressure of these deadlines, coupled with looking after three small children, was just not sustainable. So I became an unsalaried worker, banging away at my keyboard with no guarantee of ever seeing a return on my time and effort. It was scary and liberating!

What inspired The Wrong Sort of Wife, and did you have a clear idea of the market you were aiming for?

I was inspired by the house we were living in, in Kent, at the time. I ended up using it as the model for the very awkward house Lizzie moves into when she separates from James. As I looked out across the weed-ridden garden, I felt overwhelmed, and then—because I’m always writing stories in my head—I started imagining the challenges of moving into that house as a single woman with kids. The story fleshed itself out around that image. I knew I was aiming for the market that used to be called ‘chick lit’, but I wanted a bit of cross-over with the kind of women who enjoy writers like Joanna Trollope.

Are you anything like Lizzie, the central character?

The story isn’t autobiographical, but I think I share many characteristics with Lizzie. I hope I’m a bit more technologically savvy, and not quite as much of a softie as she is. Like me, she’s a writer—but that was only because I had to give her a profession she could pursue from home.

Can you describe your path to publication?

At a stage when my manuscript wasn’t quite ready (but I thought it was) I started sending it out to agents. I had several encouraging responses, and even some requests for ‘partials’. One agent in particular, out of Bath, sent back some really useful criticisms and suggestions. I edited and rewrote, and eventually landed two agents on the same day! The process of finding a publisher was much faster. My agent sold the manuscript to the first editor who looked at it, in a two-book pre-emptive bid.

The Wrong Sort of Wife is set in Gloucestershire in England and your second novel, Married with Baggage, in America – how crucial is setting in your novels?

So far, I have found myself choosing settings that I know very well, that I can picture visually as I write. (I’ve lived in Gloucestershire and in Connecticut.) I think that’s why I’m writing contemporary women’s fiction and not historical or fantasy. I like to see the layout of the house, the street, the town in my mind’s eye. Sometimes setting becomes part of the plot, as in Married With Baggage, where the American context is another factor that causes the (English) main character to feel very much a fish out of water in her new role as stay-at-home mum.

What’s your normal writing routine?

Routine? What’s that? Every day is different for me, but mostly I run around first thing in the morning getting the kids out of the door, then deal with the worst of the mess in the house, then sit down in front of the computer. I do a lot of thinking and plotting while occupied with other tasks, like laundry. As a matter of fact, the best place for plotting, for me, is when I’m having a long soak in the tub.

Do you plan a detailed outline before you start a novel?

With my first novel, I had no outline. With the second, I had one that I ignored. With the third (which I’m just beginning; I was diverted by a sudden urgent need to write a young adult novel—still unfinished!), I’m going to map out the characters and conflicts before I start, but I don’t think I’ll try to hammer out every last detail of the action.

What are you working on next?

I’m just starting a third romantic comedy that I’m really excited about. I won’t talk about the premise because I’m scared of jinxing the whole project with too much discussion. But I will say that it’s going to be set in Gloucestershire again.

Do you still write short stories? I read on your website that you’ve won awards in the past.

Short stories are tough to write, and they’re tough to sell. I haven’t attempted one in years.

What’s the best thing about being a published author?

The best thing is hearing from readers who loved your book. Seeing it on the shelf in a bookstore is also a massive thrill.

Which writers inspire you?

As a teen, I consumed Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer rather indiscriminately. I loved their wit, more than anything. I also love I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith—oh, and Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. I devour anything by Marian Keyes and Catherine Alliott, and I loved Slummy Mummy by Fiona Neill.

Any advice for aspiring authors?

Don’t give up. Hard slog and tenacity count for a lot in this profession. And remember that rewriting is key. Also, never forget that ‘write’ is a verb. Don’t dream it, do it.

If you've got any questions for Elise, ask them in the comments box and she’ll pop by to answer them.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Technology's a marvellous thing for a writer - endless info at your fingertips, access to lovely blogs and writing forums and groups - it's enhanced my career (if you can call it that) no end, as well as presenting me with online friends and endless ways to procrastinate. But in terms of telling a story, especially one with a hint of mystery, it can be a hindrance.

There were so many times when I was writing the novel that I thought ... hang on. All she has to do is Google him and she'll know everything there is to know. Because that's what people do these days. Or ... wait a minute, why doesn't she just whip out her mobile and phone him? Because EVERYONE has a mobile phone. It wouldn't make much of a story though. Girl meets boy, isn't too sure about him, checks him out on t'Internet and they live happily ever after.

It wasn't realistic to make my main character a techno-phobe, as she runs her own business. And that was another thing - I suddenly thought, shouldn't she have her own website? And wouldn't Whatsisface be on Facebook? (He's not really called Whatsisface by the way. That would be silly.) And wouldn't she have sat-nav in her car if she travels around a fair bit??

What it meant was I had to be extra inventive and come up with ways round these things - and I don't mean changing the setting to the early seventies, although it did cross my mind at one stage.

It made me think how much easier, but less interesting, life would have been for Miss. Marple and Sherlock Holmes if they could have Asked Jeeves whodunnit instead.

Maybe I'll write an historical novel next time.

An historical? A historical? Now I'm confused. Again.