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.