What is your writing process?
I’m often asked how I approach my writing. Every writer has their own way that works for them, some will meticulously write everything down from the start, some will have lots of notes pinned all over the place with ideas on. For me, I usually take the germ of an idea and begin to play about with it in my mind whilst out walking. I muse over options - What if this? Perhaps if I added that, etc. At this stage I won’t write anything down, I'm just considering the plot, the settings and any facts as applicable. Then I begin to search for visuals of the characters, either someone I know or perhaps an actor I could see playing the part, if the book were a film. I then find it quite easy to develop their personalities. I’ve still not yet written down a word, instead, I’m only imagining key events as a film and, more often than not, whilst listening to music to create a mood. In creating the character of Mary in FATE, for example, I simply one day stumbled across the music of Kristina Train and loved her voice. That, in turn, led me to view her website and hey, suddenly I had my Mary! That’s how quirky it can be – a girl from Georgia, USA, becoming my vision of a nurse in England, 1912. (Thanks, Kristina, and keep recording those gorgeous songs).
Only once I have a film in my head and people to play the parts, do I begin to start writing and telling the story. Because I now have very strong visuals, I find writing the story relatively quick (over 5,000 words in one session isn’t unusual for me). Once I've done a draft, then I’ll usually elect to work with a development editor. They will help me analyse the structure or the start, middle and end of the story and the character arcs. We’ll bat back and forth what is or isn’t working and start to develop fresh ideas. At this stage I'll also get feedback from my little army of test readers which will prompt numerous re-writes. Throughout the process I send a file to my Kindle and let it run on text-to-speech. This will normally pick up bits that don't flow very well. Then, the pain really begins for me – having my manuscript copy-edited. I truly admire the skills of a good copy editor and the way they re-craft your work, amending all those grammar, punctuation and spelling errors and checking for inconsistencies, but the process honestly seems endless. And being Libra doesn’t help matters either, because I agonise over every suggested change and when there are 10k of them – I stress! Finally, after the services of a good proof reader and me doing any final changes the book is ready for typesetting and publishing!
As mentioned, music plays a massive part in my writing process. With music you can be taken to some great places in your mind and experience happiness, sadness, love, tenderness and above all, wonderment. Click here to share just some of the music that helped inspire the Entanglement series.
Do you get writer's block?
Occasionally, yes, of course. I think anybody with a creative nature hits a block now and again. What I do suffer from more, however, is what I call 'writer's muddle' - where you have so many ideas that you end up confusing everything and begin waffling. The way I tend to overcome this is to go back to replaying the story as a film in my head and keep asking myself questions - Is this bit totally necessary? What is it telling the viewer/reader? Does it drive the story forward? Why this? Why that? It's something you learn very quickly when script writing - acceptance of including only the bits that makes a story develop. Yes, It can be frustrating when you ditch an idea which you quite like, but of course you simply keep it in the back of your mind and bring it out on another project.
How do you find working on scripts & novels?
I love it! Whilst they require very different types of writing, both still provide the same thrill of bringing your story to life. However with novels, I have to admit I find it so liberating being able to describe in more detail and not having to worry about strict one page per minute shooting formats. There isn't the same pressure to decide what stays, what goes and how to capture a scene in just a few brief words. Let me give you a comparison from FATE to better illustrate:
EXT. ADEN, MESOPOTAMIA, 1912 – DUSK
A Dhow enters the harbour. Walter looks over to the sun setting over the mountains. The heat is relentless. In the distance the chant of prayers is heard.
In the novel this became:
It was a dusk so evocative, a sunset so beautiful, a time so peaceful. Never before had Walter witnessed such a glorious sight. The golden ball of fire slowly melted into a perfectly still sea. Above was a dark pink sky, washed with shades of yellow and crimson, threaded with blue clouds. In the far distance, the mountains were finally released from the sun’s scorching grip and fell into shadow – a myriad of grey-green hues. In the stifling warm air, crickets chorused relentlessly, amid the chant of prayers coming from the minaret. This was Yemen, his new blessed land.
What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
Above everything else, simply try to enjoy writing and telling a story. This will help give your prose some soul and identity as well as developing your style. Along the road of trying to become a successful author, you'll encounter many frustrations, disappointments and generally will be a lot poorer than if you'd stuck at another career, so you might as well enjoy the thing that consumes your dreams!
Try to write often, even if it's just a short story. You'll find that by continually writing you will hone the skill to write good narrative. Working with an editor you trust is a must for me, mainly because a good development editor will bring a lot to the party, helping you build the structure of a story and developing the character arcs. They have seen hundreds if not thousands of manuscripts and instinctively know when things are good or bad – you learn from their input. Of course there is also a huge offering of books, courses, groups, etc that can teach you techniques to improve your writng - some are very good, some are garbage, but, in the end, reader feedback will give all you need to know. So, toughen up your skin, take a deep breath and canvass people's opinions, although preferably not family and friends - sorry but they never give you the whole truth!
What would you be if you weren't a writer?
Out of choice I would have liked to be an artist. I love and appreciate all forms of art and, apart from writing, dabble in painting pictures in pastels. However, probably the best answer I can give is - I've been whatever I've needed to be in order to pay the bills! My main career over the years has been in Service Delivery Management, but my heart is always in being creative. I'm now fortunate to be able to make choices and can do what I like to do.
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