1.What got you into writing / what made you sit down and actually start something? I was between jobs on gardening leave and had what I thought was the time to write the book I’d always planned to write. Of course I got very little done as I wasn’t the least bit disciplined about it. In six months I wrote three very rambling, self-indulgent, completely useless chapters, which have never seen the light of day!
2.What is a usual writing day like for you, how is it structured? I have a day job, with a 45 minute commute. As I drive to work, I listen to the radio and think about my characters, iron out any plot problems and work out where I’ll start that evening. By the time I get home, sort the family out and sit down to write at about 7pm, I’m ready to go. I aim to write a minimum of 1,000 words each day.
3.Do you get writers block? If so, how do you overcome it? At the risk of tempting providence, I don’t believe in writers block. You just keep writing … I genuinely believe that writing is like using any other muscle in your body, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. If you do get a bit stuck, find a prompt and try a little flash fiction. Set yourself a five minute goal of writing about a subject. I find the radio is an endless source of ideas.
4.Are you a plotter or panster when it comes to writing a story? I’ve always been a pantser, however it means that I waste a huge amount of time deleting stuff I like, glueing everything together at the end like a big unwieldy jigsaw. Recently I needed to write a book very quickly, so for the first time ever I sat down and plotted scene by scene on a spreadsheet. It was the easiest and quickest book I’ve ever written … I wrote 87,000 words in 31 days and with a day job!
5.Are you traditionally or self-published, and what was the publishing process like for you? Any advice to aspiring authors? I’m very fortunate in that I’m traditionally published and that was always my goal. Personally, I really needed that third party approbation. I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association in the UK and its New Writers’ Scheme. This scheme is open to 250 writers of romance each year and as part of the scheme you can submit a manuscript for critique by one of the published members. These reports are like gold dust and provide the most amazing feedback. Being a member of the organisation is a real boost as it connects you with other authors and provides great networking opportunities. Through the RNA contacts I heard about my first publisher, Choc Lit and submitted to them and signed a contract. However, prior to that I had written five books and received enough rejections to wallpaper my house.
My biggest piece of advice to aspiring authors is Don’t Run Before You Can Walk. I get frustrated with writers who have only written one book and expect to get it published. If you’d run your first marathon, or just taken up running, you wouldn’t expect to get into the Olympics … yet so many writers want to get published before they’ve really learned their craft.
It’s the same with writers trying to secure an agent. I heard a writer say recently that it was pointless trying to get an agent as they aren’t taking people on these days. That’s just not true. Agents are taking people on but you have to be very tenacious and determined. I got my agent last year but I’d submitted every manuscript to her over five years, the fourth one she asked the read the full but rejected it. However every time she rejected me, I politely asked if I could submit the next one to her. On the fifth she said yes!
When I tried to explain and share this advice with the would-be writer she said, ‘Ah but my first novel is brilliant, it’s a story that everyone will want to hear.’
That’s my other piece of advice … real writers are more likely to think their work is rubbish or can still be improved.<br/>
6.What has been your highlight since becoming a published author? Getting feedback from readers who fall in love with my characters. I had a lovely message from a lady, Valerie, the other day who said she’d read the end of my book three times. That’s exactly the sort of thing I do when I can’t bear to be parted from my new found friends.
7.Can you share a little of your most recent book with us? And any other books of yours, if you wish.
This is a snippet from my current book, From Italy With Love
‘Enjoying the wine?’
The voice interrupted her reverie and she stared up at him, her cheeks turning pink. She’d just managed to snag a new full glass of the Lafitte, abandoning the broken one out of sight in the laundry room on her way back in. Had he heard that tell-tale tinkle of glass? Did he know it was her? Was he about to challenge her on it?
He lifted an eyebrow while she struggled to think and speak before finally managing a squeaked, ‘Yes’.
If only she could have come up with something wittier or clever to say. Ever since she’d followed him back indoors, her eyes kept straying towards him. The vibrant coloured shirt stood out in the room, it was impossible not to notice him. He seemed to know everyone and the women all seemed to know him. He’d charmed his way around the room.
For a moment he held up his glass, tilting the wine in it in consideration. Any minute now he was going to say something. Her stomach clenched with nerves.
‘So how did you know it was Miles’ favourite wine?’ he asked with a flirtatious smile toying around his mouth. She almost sagged with relief.
His default expression, no doubt. Definitely a ladies man. Although why not with those looks? No one with any sense would take him seriously. Love them and leave them was written all over him.
‘Why shouldn’t I?’ Her words came more sharply than she intended. ‘You knew?’ She gave him, an uncharacteristically challenging look. Something surged in her blood, heady power buoyed up by nothing more than Dutch courage.
In response, the smile blossomed into a knowing grin as he gave her an unhurried look up and down, a leisurely perusal that tugged at her.
She gulped. He was good. And she was not his type. He knew that as well as she did. And he certainly hadn’t looked at her like that in the church.
Her eyes must have signalled something because he looked surprised and then intrigued for a second. He took a step back and this time studied her more carefully.
And she blushed … again.
‘Hi,’ the overly loud voice cut through her stupor, ‘I’m Robert Evans. Lauren’s boyfriend.’ He thrust out his hand towards the other man.
‘Cameron, Cameron Matthews.’ His eyes glittered with mischief. ‘No one’s boyfriend.’
The heat of the room or maybe it was the wine started to catch up with her, a flush suffused her face and she rocked, feeling dizzy.
‘So,’ Cameron’s gaze took both of them in, ‘how do you know Miles?’ He looked at Robert’s suit and then down to the shiny polished brogues. ‘His accountant?’ He nodded at Laurie, ‘Wine broker?’
She didn’t think Robert realised he was being insulted but she’d underestimated him.
‘No, family.’ Robert informed him.
The wine must have really got to her because she felt unexpectedly embarrassed at his pompous tone and aggrieved he’d applied the term to himself.
Cameron Matthews looked surprised.
‘I’m Laurie, Miles’ niece.’
‘Laurie?’ His voice went up in question. Disbelief etched across his face as he stepped back and said, ‘You’re Laurie. Aw shit.’
She flushed at the vehemence in his tone and watched as he turned on his heel and stomped out of the room, parting the crowd and leaving everyone staring their way with hushed voices.
‘Rude bastard,’ said Robert. ‘What the hell was that about?’
‘I have no idea.’
Excerpt from Talk To Me
If anyone could still look masculine in baby pink, it was Daniel. The fleece dressing gown, several sizes too small, emphasised his broad shoulders and revealed a subtly muscled chest dusted with a tantalising ‘V’ of dark blond hair.
His sheepish smile revealed a chipped tooth, which never failed to disarm me.
‘Morning.’ The tentative word had a tinge of huskiness as he stepped out of the bathroom.
All my hormones leapt to attention, the miserable traitors.
‘Hi,’ I squeaked back, with all the allure of Minnie Mouse, blushing like an over-ripe tomato. Why couldn’t I be cool, calm and sophisticated about this morning-after stuff? He’d stayed over. For the first time. Perfectly normal. People got off with each other at parties. Came back. Spent the night. No biggie.
Should I offer him breakfast? Coffee? No, he didn’t drink coffee. ‘Do you want a cup of tea, I was just …’ I nodded towards the kitchen, keeping my eyes fixed on his, wishing I’d shaved my legs before last night’s party instead of being a lazy trollop.
‘Thanks, Olivia, that’d be great,’ he said with far more enthusiasm than a bog-standard cup of tea warranted. I’d hoped he’d retire to the lounge while I made it, but no, he had to trail down the corridor behind me.
Doing my best not to look his way, I busied myself filling the kettle, getting teabags and mugs out, straightening tea towels and wiping counter tops that didn’t need wiping. Even so, I could see that the belt on the dressing gown had loosened and even more of his chest was exposed. The inside of my mouth felt as though every drop of moisture had been sucked out.
Automatically I spooned two sugars into his tea and stirred, then stopped. The intimacy of the moment glowed between us as I handed him the mug. His fingers brushed mine, and at his touch a spark of electricity raced up my arm and a punch of longing hit me. I ducked my head, looking at the ingrained dirt in the lino that hadn’t yet been replaced. Friends. We were friends. I could do this. He didn’t need to know.
‘Thanks Olivia …’ his voice trailed off, as if derailed by a sudden awareness of the situation. ‘Maybe I ought to, er …’ He looked over my shoulder back down the corridor toward my flatmate’s bedroom ‘… see if Emily would like one.’
There he’d said it. Said her name. My current lodger, Emily. My stomach doubled over as if a demolition ball had slammed into it. It might as well have done.
8.What audience is your book targeted for, and what genre does it come under? I write for anyone who loves a good romance, a drop dead gorgeous hero and a heroine they want to root for. I’d like to think its romantic comedy, although my first novel Talk To Me, had a definite sinister edge to it.
9.Apart from writing, what do you do in your spare time? Hmm … that’s in short supply but I volunteer at the local theatre doing hair and make up backstage which is great fun. I occasionally fit in the odd spot of housework but my favourite way of spending time is with a good book.
10.What tip would you give to new authors when trying to build a fan-base / get followers and market their books? (What to do and what not to do.) I’m a huge fan of Twitter, so most of my experience is there.
Be yourself, share some of your life, your interests and passions but not excessively
Jump right in and have conversations with other people … about favourite TV programmes, music anything but be genuine
Share other people’s successes, launches and front covers
Post links to things that interest you that aren’t necessarily related to your book
Go on and on and on about your book being out … intersperse commercial tweets with a far greater proportion of non-commercial tweets
Be shy about joining in a conversation
Forget to thank people who share and RT your good news
11.How much of your books are realistic / based on true experiences/ people? My books come straight from the inside of my head. Fully formed characters start having conversations in there and start badgering me to write their story. Occasionally I might base elements of a character on someone I’ve met … usually only unpleasant or mean people!
I’m a big radio fan and a couple of my books have been inspired by things I’ve heard on the radio. For example, From Italy With Love was inspired when I heard someone start up a very very expensive vintage Ferrari on their radio programme. It immediately made me wonder what it would be like to be a very ordinary person who owns an extraordinary car and the whole story was born.
Aside from the inspiration, the thing I enjoy about reading is the pure escapism, so I tend to avoid true experiences and too much realism. I guess I’m a complete Cinderella fan, I want the fairy tale, happy ending.
Thanks so much Sophia for having me on your blog.
You can find me @juleswake