What do you write?
I write contemporary fiction with a strong romantic element. I hesitate to say ‘romantic fiction,’ because I don’t always use all the things romance editors seem to want in a story! For example, I think you can say all you need to say without adding a bedroom scene (behind closed doors or not!) and yet still have a sensual element to your story, and I’m perfectly okay with a ‘happy for now’ as opposed to a ‘happy ever after.’
Do you use 1st person, 3rd person, multiple POVs (points of view)?
The things I’ve had published up till now have all been in 3rd person, but I’ve written in 1st too and really like it, to read as well as write. Multiple POVS are great too, as long as there are clear divisions between each POV – a new chapter, a clean break from one part of the story to another. My novel ‘A Different Kind of Honesty’ is in 3rd person, but also tells the story from both the hero and the heroine’s POV.
How do you get started with a book- is it an idea, a character, vary from story to story?
It’s usually an idea. I’ll hear a piece of interesting news, or something that happened to someone, maybe something that happened in recent history. Then the ‘what if...’ kicks in! You know, what if things didn’t turn out the way they did, but something else happened that changed to course of that story? After that, the characters usually come along quite quickly.
Do you draft quickly?
No, I’m really, really slow at a first draft, and it’s a terrible failing of mine! The book I’m writing at the moment has taken me two years so far – that’s partly because other things have got in the way and I’ve had to pause, and partly a dreadful lack of discipline on my part. I wish I could do better, but I don’t seem to be able to, and there it is! Having said that, my first draft is usually pretty darn close to the final version, probably because I like working with my CP as I go along, so a lot of what wants fixing has been fixed as we go.
Do you do research before your first draft, during?
A bit of both. I write about things that really interest me, so I’ll already have done some research in that area, anyway. For example, I’m working now on something set where I live, in Sussex in the UK, during the time of WWII. I’ve always been fascinated by the effect of the wartime on ordinary people and civilian lives – what historians call the Home Front - so I’ve already got a lot of research under my belt for that. I’ll keep researching as things come up while I’m writing, too. For me, that’s a big part of the fun.
Do you outline? How?
I can knock out an outline for a story quite quickly, a lot like a synopsis. It’s the flesh on the bones of the story that takes me so long! But I’m also happy to veer away from the outline if the story shows it really wants to go in a different direction than the one I’d planned.
Do you name everything up front when you are drafting or do you leave comments for yourself to go back and fill in later so you don't lose the flow of what you are working on?
I leave spaces then go back and fill them in, so you’ll see things like, ‘She leaned against the door and said FILL THIS BIT IN LATER!’ or ‘He yelled ‘look out!’ just as SOMETHING REALLY SCARY HAPPENS HERE!’ all over my drafts! I’d rather go back when I‘ve had time to think the detail through, instead of losing the flow as I’m writing the conclusion of part of the book. It all seems to work out fine in the end!
Do you work with CP's or Beta's? How soon into your draft do you let them see your work?
I love to work with a CP. For a short story, say up to 10,000 words, they’d get the whole story at once, or perhaps in two parts, if that suits them better. For a longer work, maybe something like the first three chapters, to be certain it’s going along the right way – after that, maybe a couple of chapters at a time, as they’re done. That way, It’s not just the overall critique, but the whole flow of the story that they can comment on. A good CP is worth more than double her weight in gold. [I totally agree with this!]
What books/websites have you found most helpful to helping you write your best?
I often go back to a book called ‘The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes,’ by Jack M. Bickham. It’s in short, punchy sections, and as well as being a good book for novice writers it’s a great self-check for experienced writers, too. The Writer’s Digest ‘Elements of Fiction’ series has some good stuff, too.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing?
That you really need a good CP who will tell you what’s wrong as well as what’s right. That every time you write Chapter One, it’s like you’ve never written a word in your life before. That just because your friends say it’s wonderful doesn’t mean it IS wonderful! And that it can be the most frustrating, infuriating, maddening and saddening things you’ll ever do, and yet one of the best things, too.
Anything else you want to share?
Keep your eye on the Muse It Up bookshop this week, as both my publications will be discounted for a few days! With them I have a short story called Edinburgh Fog, and a novel called A Different Kind of Honesty . You can find me at my own blog, Home Is Where The Heart Is
I’ll leave you with an excerpt from A Different kind of Honesty. Thanks for having me to visit, Mary! All the best,
Leaning her chin on her hand, Maggie looked at him for a moment before she decided to take the plunge.
“Okay. Danny, when I was in New York, I, um…had a fling. A brief thing, a one-nighter.”
“What?” Danny looked incredulous. “You told me you were only actually in New York for one night! Bloody hell, you didn’t hang about, did you?” He started to laugh. “I thought you gave up one night stands after the college days.”
“I did,” Maggie squirmed. “But this was sort of…different.”
“Oh, I see. Different.” Danny nodded in an annoyingly superior, knowing way. “A head over heels, caution to the wind, never to be repeated, special offer kind of different, right?”
Maggie gave a short, embarrassed laugh. “Something like that. Actually, a lot like that.”
“Aw, so sweet, my little chicky!” Danny reached out a hand and patted hers. “But it’s not as if it was your first time, or your last, let’s hope. So why all the panting ingénue stuff?”
Maggie sighed, a mix of wistfulness and longing that surprised her. “Because here’s the thing,” she said, her thumbnail between her teeth. “And you are not going to believe this.”
“Ha! Try me, girlfriend.” Danny took a swig of Bud. “There’s something hot about this one, I can tell.”
“It was him.”
Danny creased his brow as he pretended to think hard. “Nope. I’m going to need a little more than ‘him’, I’m afraid.”
Maggie cleared her throat, suddenly feeling nervous. “Okay. It was the guy we met today. Valentino. Tony Valentino.”
Danny’s lips wiggled around an ooo. “You are kidding me! Absolutely no way!”
“Yes, way,” Maggie said miserably.
“I don’t believe it. Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure, it’s not like I do it every day!”
Danny was opening and closing his mouth like a demented goldfish. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me? You spend one night in New York, you sleep with the FBI, and you keep that to yourself? You selfish cowbag! I may never speak to you again.”
Maggie shook her head and kept her voice low. “No, Danny, listen,” she said urgently. “I didn’t tell you because I shouldn’t have done it.”
Danny’s elbows slipped off the table in mock astonishment. “What are you talking about, you shouldn’t have done it? What, with that hunk? Good God, I’d shag him, and I’m straight.”
Picking up her water, Maggie paused with the bottle at her lips. “Somehow, I suspect you’re not his type. What with you not being a girlie and all.”
“For a guy like that, I’d change. And I’ll pump you for the sordid details in a minute, Lawless, but what the hell do you mean you shouldn’t have done it?” He pulled a face. “C’mon, he’s gorgeous, even more gorgeous than me, if that’s possible. I’m not seeing the problem.”
Maggie flopped back on her seat and heaved a sigh that came right up from her boots.
“Danny, just think about it. I meet this guy called Joey Pescolloni. He won’t tell me what he does for a living, says he has bits of business here and there. The guys he knows all have shiny suits and signet rings.” She peered at him to see if any of this was sinking in. It wasn’t. “Look. He takes me to a place called, oh, I don’t remember, La Speranza or La Gondola or something. Everybody in the place is flashing big bundles of cash.” She tipped her head to one side. “Is this waving any flags at you yet?”
Danny did his worst Robert de Niro impression, lifting his shoulders right up to his ears, hands open in supplication. “So whaddya know, he’s Italian, he likes pasta? Badda boom, badda bing!”
“Exactly! Badda...whatever. That thing you said.”
Danny’s jaw dropped halfway to the table. “Oh, my giddy aunt,” he said, leaning on each word as realization began to dawn. “You thought he was Mafia! Some wiseassed wiseguy.”
Maggie covered her face with her hands. “Yes, I did, I did…”
“So why the hell didn’t you just walk?” Danny couldn’t contain his laughter now. “You know, ‘excuse me while I powder my nose’ and just leg it through the bathroom window?”
Maggie squeaked. She opened her hands a tiny gap and peeked out. “Danny, you know why, you said it yourself. He’s gorgeous!”
“Ah.” Danny folded his arms and looked at Maggie in smug satisfaction. “Oh, now it makes sense. You were already too far gone in lust and Lambrusco. Lawless, you total trollop!”
Maggie slumped onto the table, her head on her arms. “I’m not,” she said in a small voice. “I’m female and breathing. Any woman would have done the same.” She looked up, trying to retain what little dignity she had left. “And it was a rather nice Pinot Grigio, thank you, not Lambrusco.”
“Whatever. He plied you with booze and had his wicked way. Or you plied him. Stop kicking me under the table.”
“You deserve it. Anyway, it wasn’t like that. I just fancied him like mad, and when I realized he felt the same, well, you know…”
“There was no stopping you.”
“There was no stopping either of us.” A sudden pang of sweet memory made her gasp. “Oh, Danny, it was quite a night.”
The waitress arrived with their order and the sort of enthusiasm that would have her telling them to be sure and eat up all their vegetables because it would make them nice and strong. Maggie fired a look at Danny, telling him in no uncertain terms to shut up until they were done. She smiled her thanks at the waitress, who beamed beatifically at them one more time and went off to bestow her blessings on some other lucky customers.
Danny attempted to lift a burger as big as the plate it sat on without losing any of it. “So, when are you going to spill the gory details? Coz I want to be sitting somewhere cosy with another beer in one hand and a ciggie in the other when you do.”
“I’m not telling you anything else, you dirty sod.” Maggie pushed her salad around the plate with her fork, stabbed a chunk of tuna and peered at it before she dropped it, appetite gone.
“Are you going to eat that or just torture it?” Danny asked, chewing happily. “Anyway, there is one thing you absolutely do have to tell me.”
Maggie looked at him, eyebrows raised. ”And that would be?”
“That would be…what are you going to do about it now?”
“What do you mean, now?” Maggie stared at him in horror. “Nothing!”
“Aw, do me a favour.” Danny paused in his chewing to lick mayonnaise from the side of his hand. “I twigged the way he was looking at you when the lights came on in that room. I thought it was coz he was looking forward to an introduction. I didn’t know he’d already had the pleasure.”
Maggie dropped her fork. “You’re making that up.”
“I bloody am not. You think I don’t know how a bloke looks when he’s thinking about rampant sex? I see it every time I look in a mirror. Trust me, he’s got the same fond memories of your sordid little adventure as you.” He dipped a French fry the size of a house brick in some ketchup and munched, speaking with his mouth full. “Possibly even fonder.”