I was born and brought up in Kent, in the South East of England. Influenced by my teenage sister, who’d decided to write a regency romance, I began my own novel when I was ten. It was a hobby I continued to pursue throughout my own teenage years. Writing was only abandoned when I left home and real life took over from the fiction.
I did not go to Oxford or Cambridge. Instead, after leaving school at sixteen with only 5 indifferent exam grades, I went to Croydon Art College, in south London. (Maybe not one of the more prestigious schools of art, but Croydon fostered the disparate talents of some notable alumni, including Ray Davies, Malcolm McClaren and Mervyn Peake.)
I did not work on any of the broadsheets, in television or publishing, but did a variety of jobs – shop assistant, beauty-consultant and barmaid. I also had a job which consisted of ‘picking-up’ American visitors to London and sending them on a free guided-tour, which culminated in lunch at the Hilton. The unsuspecting tourists were then subjected to an intense sales-pitch, selling Florida real estate. I was no good at this ‘commission only’ job and, unsurprisingly, didn’t enjoy it. I was very relieved when I eventually landed the job of my dreams, working as an illustrator with an advertising design studio. I eventually went free-lance.
I married and resumed writing while my son, Tom, was a toddler. My first ever completed novel, Just Before Dawn, was immediately taken up by a publisher. It hit the bookshelves less than 2 years after I finished the first draft. My second, Desires & Dreams, followed it less than a year later. But my publisher was new and it was small. It failed to achieve the required marketing push and wide distribution which would have given its authors – and itself – any real prospect of success. Though they were available in libraries, I never saw my novels in any book shop, other than in my home town.
Either my publisher was far-sighted or stupid, seeing a niche for intelligent, unconventional romantic fiction. It’s a niche I continue to write for. Since their demise no subsequent publisher I have approached has been willing to take a chance on this area of fiction. So in the last few years I decided to go it alone.
Still a keen artist I draw and paint, design Christmas cards, and regularly attend a weekly art class. I’ve been a school governor, a contributor to local newspapers and was one of the initiators of the successful community shop in my village.
What inspires you to write?
Inspiration is a strange beast – who knows what is going on in the subconscious? Inspiration may come from a momentary impression, something overheard or an incident from your own life. If you admit to the latter you can then be faced with the: “Are your stories autobiographical?” question. I have various answers . There are always a few autobiographical elements in every story I write. These may be tiny, hardly more than flicker, or they may be large, but that does not make my books autobiography. When writing fiction, the real is made unreal, not because you are trying to disguise something, but because the people, places and events from true life won’t fit the story you’re making up. They have to be re-imagined.
Hands up – there have been a couple of incidents in my life which have directly inspired a whole book, but usually I am already in the midst of the process when a memory springs up, and I think “Oh yes, I could use that.”
Tell us about your writing process.
‘I don’t know what I think until I write it down.’ I certainly wasn’t the first to say this – it was probably a journalist – but it’s true, if slightly paraphrased, of anything I commit to paper. I don’t know what I think, what I’m going to say, how I’m going to say it, or where a story is going, until I start writing it.
How I wish I was one of those authors who are bubbling geysers of plots and ideas, the kind of writers who have hardly finished one book, before they are ready to start the next. They can’t wait to start writing plans and character profiles, detailed synopses and timelines. I am the polar opposite. I may have a few vague notions which…. I was going to say ‘swirl’ around in my head, but they don’t even do that, they ‘rumble lumpily’. I write little or nothing down. All I have, when I start, is an out-of-focus scenario and a few character sketches which are usually nothing more than their appearance and their back-stories. So for me, the hardest part of writing a novel is simply beginning.
Being an ‘into the mist’ writer (or a seat of the pantser) is tough. I have to grit my teeth and start, not really sure of where I am going. For the first few weeks of a new book, it can feel like carving granite with a teaspoon, and is just as appealing! The easiest way to cope with this problem is simply to avoid beginning a new book. But once I have started, and the book has ‘caught fire’, the process is a joy. Ideas about how the plot will unravel start coming thick and fast.
‘Of course that’s what she does.’ ‘Why didn’t I realize he thinks that?’
I just wish the kindling at the start of a book wasn’t so stubbornly green (and I apologize for the mixed metaphors)!
As a result, starting a new book is difficult and scary, but it becomes increasingly exciting. I often don’t know until I am near the end, how the plot will conclude – as in TORN. Even if I know roughly how the story will resolve itself, I don’t know how I am going to get my characters to that point. I hope this sense of unpredictability communicates to the reader.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
This was one of the most delightful (and sometimes frustrating) aspects of first starting to try and write a novel for publication. It was as if the story already existed somewhere. All I had to do was tap into it. So the characters were already ‘their own people’ and wouldn’t do or say some of the things I wanted them to do or say. Even so, I get to know my characters slowly – as the reader does. But nothing is set in stone. I give myself permission to go back over the story to strengthen and underline certain elements of their personalities which I’d not been aware of in those early chapters.
What advice would you give other writers?
If I had any fail-safe tips I’d have employed them myself and be a best seller by now. All I know is that no one succeeds in this business without being able to take the knock-backs and keep coming back for more, like one of those wobbly men with a silly grin on his face. You have to be persistent to the point of obstinacy, even bloody-minded. You have to believe in yourself. And – this may seem obvious – you have actually got to do it. It’s no good thinking about it, talking about it, reading articles about it, going to workshops, but keeping your manuscript in a drawer. It’s no good waiting till you’ve got more time, the children are off your hands, you’ve gone part-time or you’ve retired. You have to put your money where your mouth is and just do it. Now.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
Since my glory days I have continued to write what I have always written – unconventional, subversive and surprising stories, which never follow the current band-wagon. Although my books – contemporary women’s relationship fiction – always have a love story at their core, they DO NOT have predictable, join-the-dots-plots. But I have failed to find a new publisher. Either it’s because my reputation has been tainted by the demise of my first publisher or it’s because I cannot fit my stories into an easily promotable sub-genre.
So in 2011, taking advantage of the explosion in digital publishing, I e-published my novel, TORN. A year later, in the spring of 2012, I published my novel, LIFE CLASS, as an e-book. In the autumn I brought out TORN in paperback. In the next few weeks LIFE CLASS will make its debut in paperback. Later this year I propose to epublish my book, Fly or Fall. I design my own covers.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
With the new technology the publishing industry is changing rapidly. I don’t know where it’s headed. I don’t have a crystal ball. All I do know is that what seemed like a boon for Indie writers is now a more qualified benefit. To begin with it seemed like the balance of power was shifting away from publishers and agents and back into the hands of the author. I now realise it is only a few of us who will really win out. Big success has been achieved by the early up-takers of indie e-publishing; they were able to manipulate the prices and promotion in such a way as to achieve maximum exposure and sales. I am NOT saying the books weren’t worth their success, just that it is harder for those of us who were slower off the starting blocks and who are not as internet savvy. Best selling mainstream authors will do well out of e-publishing. Those mid-list authors who have a solid fan base and have ‘rights-reverted’ titles, will do well. As will the media/internet savvy types, who write quickly and have genre specific books to sell. The future for the rest of us is a little more murky.
What genres do you write?
Contemporary romantic fiction
What formats are your books in?
Both eBook and Print