Tips for Writers

I’m often asked by people who want to see their own novel published how I set out to write a book, where I get my ideas from, what makes me tick and how they should get started. So I hope this helps! Here are some of the most frequently asked questions:

Image of a cupcake Q: How long does it take you to write a book?

A: I write two books a year at the moment, so each one has to be completed within six months. When I’m writing, I’m very disciplined. I start around 10.00 am – I’m so not a morning person! I finish at about 7.00pm. I try to work only five days a week so that it doesn’t consume my entire life, but if I’m on a roll I can’t resist putting in some extra time. I always check my email before bedtime which is a really bad habit as it sometimes starts me off thinking about work and then I end up staying up all night writing! You can quite often find me on Twitter or Facebook at three in the morning. I also write articles and short stories so need to find time to squeeze those in too.

Image of a cupcakeQ: Is there such a thing as a typical day?

A: I always start my day by reading my email and doing essential social networking on Twitter and Facebook. It’s not gossiping! If I’m writing, then I’m in the office all day – I have no set goal for amount of words to complete or any such thing. I do like to be way ahead of my deadline though as I hate to write under pressure. Some days my fingers fly over the keyboard, other days it’s a solid plod. If it’s not a writing day, then I’m usually off to a local radio station, doing newspaper interviews or indulging in research. Even after thirty-odd books written, I still can’t view research as work!

Image of a cupcakeQ: Where do you get your ideas from?

A: All over the place! I read lots of newspapers, magazines, watch television and films. My friends tell me lovely gossipy stories and life in general. I’m always amazed when writers say that they can’t think what to write about. I seem to have enough ideas to last me a lifetime! It helps if you’re very nosey.

Image of a cupcakeQ: How do you go about doing research for your book?

A: I do like to write about what I know. Lovely Kev calls it ‘method’ writing. I find it much easier to write about a place when I’ve actually been there and done that. When I visit a place it invariably seems to throw up extra elements to the story too. So when you read my books you know that I’ve usually been through most of the things my heroine has! The internet is a great tool too – it can put you in touch with people in certain professions or help you find little details. When I researched Welcome To The Real World which is based around the opera, I interviewed singers, sat through countless operas, visited the San Francisco opera house, stayed in a hotel with opera themed rooms, listened to CDs of music and read autobiographies of singers – anything to give me a picture of their world. The Chocolate Lovers’ Club and The Chocolate Lovers’ Diet both involved me eating a lot of chocolate! For Wrapped Up In You, we took a safari to Kenya for a week, visited a Masaai village and just drank in the atmosphere. Now you can see why I can’t consider it ‘real’ work! I’ll keep doing this until I feel I’ve got my story together.

Image of a cupcakeQ: Share a bit about your writing process. Do you carefully outline stories? How do you create characters?

A: I spend a few week meticulously outlining characters. I give them all complete back stories and histories – most of which I never use, it just helps them to come alive for me. I end up knowing my characters better than I know anyone – including myself! This is very sad, but I also cut out pictures of magazines of actors, celebrities or my ideal film star for the role and ‘cast’ the characters. I keep those pictures by my desk until I’m a few chapters into the book to set the image in my mind. The story is, in some ways, much easier. Because I write very character-driven books, they almost dictate the story. But I normally start out with the spark of an idea – something that will give me good romantic scenes and comedy opportunities too. I do a brief outline of all the chapters – just a line or two – but that’s no way set in stone. I can revise that at least two or three times during the writing stage as the book and characters evolve, to keep myself on track. And my characters always manage to surprise me at the end!

Image of a cupcakeQ: So do characters ‘come alive’ when you’re writing?

A: On a good day! I feel that when my writing is going well, the characters drive the story and I just write it down for them. If you’ve set up your characters well then you should never have to shoehorn them into situations – you should always know how they’re going to react to a given situation. But as I said in the previous question, there are always surprises – that’s what keeps it fun!

Image of a cupcakeQ: How did you get started in writing?

A: I was a beauty therapist and wrote articles for health and fitness magazines for a number of years and then – for some reason lost in the mists of time – I wrote my first short story and entered it for a competition in Writer’s News magazine. To my complete amazement, I won. I spent the prize-money on a writer’s retreat/course in Norfolk and the tutor on the course, a lovely lady and very successful writer called Margaret Pemberton, recommended that I submit my fledgling novel to an agent. Which I duly did. I was very fortunate, my manuscript hit the right desk at the right time and my agent took me on. Some people struggle for years to get started, but I struck lucky.

Image of a cupcakeQ: What advice do you have for writers seeking to find their first publisher?

A: Keep at it! Dogged determination will get you there every time. Writers seem think that there’s a big secret to getting published or a short cut to writing a book – but there isn’t. The only way to do it is to sit in front of the keyboard and put the hours in. Then you need to keep submitting and learning from your rejections. Agents are all looking for new material – if you keep getting turned down, then study the market carefully, see what’s selling. I hate to say this, but sometimes you just need to write a better book. I see a lot of manuscripts from writers who have had countless rejections and don’t understand why – they come to me for advice. But a lot of these manuscripts aren’t finished to a professional standard. People can be too quick to dash off a book and submit it to agents without putting the polish on it. If you can bear it, leave the manuscript for a month after you’ve finished it and then look at it with a fresh pair of eyes – you might be surprised. Think about investing in getting some help to make your manuscript more marketable there are lots of script consultants out there now who can advise you how to improve your work. When you’re happy that it’s the best you can make it, send it out to three agents and wait to hear what they think of it. Unfortunately, this can take months. There are two books which list all of the UK agents and the kind of book that they represent – The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and The Writers’ Handbook. It’s just a matter of trawling through them until you find the right agent willing to take you on. Easier than it sounds, I know.

Image of a cupcakeQ: What do you think of authors who self-publish?

A: I think that particularly the explosion of the e-book market has helped writers to find a new way of getting their work published. Once upon a time, all writers were reliant on being accepted by one of the traditional publishers. That’s no longer the case and anyone can publish an e-book with relative ease and very little outlay. But I do get very frustrated at the quality of some self-published e-books. If you’re thinking of going down this route, then make the book the very best that you can. That doesn’t mean thinking it’s of publishable quality because your best friend or your mum likes it. Employ a professional copyeditor at the very least. It’s a great avenue for writers to get their work in front of readers, so don’t waste it. I’m also slightly worried about how cheaply authors are prepared to sell their work for now. Selling books for 20 pence does no one any favours. The way to promote your book is to get out there and do the leg work with talks, blogs and social networking. That’s how you find your readers however you’re published.

Image of a cupcakeQ: What sort of books do your read?

A: A very eclectic mix. I read a wide selection of commercial fiction, but I also like to discover hidden gems too. I like to chat with my readers on Facebook and Twitter about what we’re all reading. When I read romantic comedy or chick-lit, I’m too analytical and will happily pick holes in the author’s work! But when I read thrillers or historicals, I can totally detach as I have no desire to write in either of those genres. I also love books about climbing mountains – particularly Everest – though I have no desire to do that either! I’ve been an avid reader all my life.

Image of a cupcakeQ: Have you always wanted to be a writer?

A: No. Quite the contrary. I would have loved to have been one of those writers who started out selling stories their friends at the age of five, but I wasn’t like that. Although English and creative writing was always my best subject at school. I assumed that other people became writers and it wasn’t for the likes of little old me! I sort of fell into it – but now that I’m here I feel I’m doing absolutely what I should be doing in life. Which feels very nice.

Image of a cupcakeQ: What are your plans for the future?

A: To keep writing! I’ve always got a few books in mind which are fighting for attention. Other than that I’d like to stay healthy and become wealthy and wise.

I hope that helps you to get your book published! Good luck with it. C : ) xx

ps: I’m sorry but I can’t undertake to assess or work on specific manuscripts.