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.

111 comments:

Dumdad said...

Hi Elise,

You describe yourself as a "chick lit" writer, albeit a "chick lit" writer with attitude - and with an ambition to cross over into other territories.

Do you see yourself as an author who only appeals to women?

I understand the value of genres and labelling: you want to read a detective thriller or a sci-fi novel then it's as well that there is some indication on the book cover.

But I don't distinguish between a male or female writer - a book is either well written and readable or not.

For the past few years I've posted a list on my blog of books I've read during the year. For example, last year:

http://wwwtheothersideofparis.blogspot.com/2009/12/books-i-read-in-2009.html

It is an eclectic mix of genres and genders.

But I do feel excluded from "chick lit". At random from the many bookshelves around my home I've plucked out two "chick lit" novels: Don't You Want Me by India Knight and Pretty Boy by Lauren Henderson. The first one I bought because I've read India Knight who's a columnist in the Sunday Times; the second I did not buy and I have not read - it must be my wife's.

What have these two paperback books in common? They're both a garish pink! Of course, pink for women, blue for boys. A bit demeaning all round. Anyway, I enjoyed the India Knight book but can't say I'm tempted by the other one, partly because it is so obviously aimed at women. But I might be missing a treat.

Maybe I should invent a new genre for blokes like me: "git lit" anyone?

HelenMWalters said...

I'm not familiar with Elise's work, but reading this interview has definitely made me want to read her books. Very interesting answers.

Fiona Mackenzie. Writer said...

Fantastic interview Karen, thank you.

I love the themes of these books. Hope they're in Waterstones where the thug is taking me for coffee tomorrow. (He wants to show me an x-box game he'd like. Why don't teenagers understand 'I'm broke'?)

My question for Elise is do you do much re-writing? Please, please say yes.

Amanda said...

What a great interview, Karen ... and brilliant answers from Elise. I hadn't heard of the books, but they sound my cup of tea - so thank you!

Elise Chidley said...

Hi Dumdad
I'd love it if men would read my books! Like you, I read widely and don't distinguish between male and female writers. Well-written books defy gender pigeon-holing.
I'm also happy to report that the paperback cover of Wrong Sort of Wife is black, and Married with Baggage is blue! That said, publishers are more comfortable if an author can narrow down their target readership. It just seems to help with marketing.
Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

Elise Chidley said...

Hi Fia
Yes, I do a lot of re-writing! The way I see it, the first draft is like a lump of clay you can play around with and re-sculpt till you get it right.

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

Thank you for this wonderful interview.

I haven't read either of Elise's books yet, but definately love the sound of them, so fully intend doing so.

Sherri said...

A very interesting interview. They sound just my sort of books and I'll look out for them.

Kath McGurl said...

These books do sound good. I particularly like the idea of the one set in America with a heroine struggling to fit in. I really like novels set somewhere exotic (to me) especially when it's clear the writer really knows the setting well.

While setting is crucial to a longer work such as a novel, how important do you think it is for short stories?

Kath McGurl said...

Meant to add - thanks Karen and Elise for a great interview!

Tonya Kappes said...

Hi! Elise is amazing and such an inspiration to all aspiring writers. I love her books.

Abbi said...

Really enjoyed your interview, Elise. I have "Your Roots are Showing." Going to have to track down "Married with Baggage"!

I have a question. Did you look for agents in the UK or did you look both in the UK and the US?

Abbi

J K Maze said...

Your interview really sparked my interest. I love chicklit and your sense of humor comes through in the interview. I've put boh books on my list to buy.

Jenny Beattie said...

Brilliant interview, thanks Karen. Thanks to Elise too, because it's always fascinating to hear how other people approach writing.

Cheryl said...

Elise sounds so inspiring to me and now that you've post this i would love to read her books!

Joy N. Hensley said...

Just saw this today, but wanted to get a question in. Elise, how long did it take you from start to when you were ready to send out manuscripts on your two published novels? I'm working on my second novel now and it's taken me over a year and a half. Just wondering if I'm really slow!

Elise Chidley said...

Hi Womagwriter
With short stories, you have to get in and get out quickly, so you have less time to develop setting. Still, setting can sometimes be central to the plot, eg. a short story set in apartheid South Africa may use that context as a prompt for the story. But setting has to be drawn quickly, with a few strokes, in these cases.

Elise Chidley said...

Hi sbbi
I concentrated my agent search in the UK.

Elise Chidley said...

Hi Joy, I was slow with my first novel (maybe two years?). The second took a bit more than a year. Even once the manuscript is accepted by a publisher, it takes a year or more (in my experience) for the book to hit the shelves.

Girl in Progress said...

I respect the fact that Elise seems to follow her own voice and writes her books accordingly and not necessarily based on the market. As a currently unpublished author of a book that is written in a "chick-lit" humorous voice and having started my second one, it inspires me to continue to write the story I want to tell in the voice in which I want to tell it. And it gives me hope that I might just succeed too. Thank you. I can't wait to read your books.

broken biro said...

Thanks for the inspiring post, Elise!

Josefine said...

Thanks for an inspiring interview Karen and Elise. I love I capture a Castle too and re-read it every so often. I have to put your books on my to read list.

Suzanne Ross Jones said...

Oh no - too late for the draw. But really loved the interview.

X

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