My writing process

I’ve been asked by the lovely Zoe Gilbert, friend and fellow member of North London Writers, to take part in the Writing Process Blog Tour, which gives us writers the chance to discuss our working process. If you’d like to see how Zoe answered the questions below, check out her blog, Zoe, by the way, writes pretty sublime short stories. They are dense and textured and full of tasty words; highly recommended. Here’s what I did with the questions.

What am I working on?

…my third novel. It’s a psychological suspense set in the far reaches of Cornwall, where three families spend their summers together. Their holiday is full of the comforts of routine – they stay at the same house each year, eat the same meals, play the same games – until one year a series of events leads to a tragic accident, and their carefully constructed worlds implode. On recently reading a draft, my writer’s group asked if I intentionally intend to crush my character’s privileged lives. I’d say it’s more about exposing the cracks that all of us try to cover up in order to function, particularly when we’re in stressful jobs or have children. I’m interested in what happens when the grenade is thrown in.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I have a hard time with this genre question. On asking those who know my work what genre they think it fits into, some say literary crossover – which I guess is an umbrella term for quality commercial, literary commercial, upmarket woman’s fiction, and so on, which kind of nails it. My work is accessible and easy reading, not in a light, simple way, more that I have a natural gift for suspense. People are compelled, when starting one of my books, to get to the end. Saying that, the content of my books is less easily digestible: my first book was about a young girl emotionally at sea within a cult, and the terrible consequences of her father’s neglect; my second was about a young woman finding light through the darkness of an abusive relationship; my third is about the tragic disappearance of a child. I’m excited by the moment when a seemingly normal life/relationship goes horribly wrong. It’s a complex, emotional ride.

Why do I write what I do?

Um. To keep myself out of trouble? Partially, this is true. I spent much of my teens and twenties deep-and-near-to-drowning in an emotional sea, and writing kind of saved me. I’ve come to realize that I can use the painful periods in my life as material. Also, in order to write well, my life needs to be pretty stable. So, my desire to write tends to keep me in at night. I am also fascinated by the human condition. How what we say is often quite different from what we feel; and that’s because most of us don’t even know what we feel. It’s my job, as a novelist, to know and to use that knowledge as bait to entice the reader. It’s satisfying to have that control.

How does my writing process work?

If I don’t have time to write, or if things are going badly, I’m not the nicest person to live with, which means, for my family’s sake, I have to make the time. I need to write every day, even if it’s scribbling notes while sitting on the loo, my kids hammering on the door, or writing a diary entry, or my dream on waking. Probably the most liberating lesson I’ve learnt as a writer is that it doesn’t need to be right. I used to agonize over my work, whereas now I let myself write anything and everything, because I know that something good will come from it. When I’m in the midst of a project, I carry a notebook around with me. If I don’t, ideas will nag at me, and my children will pull on my sleeve and demand I give them attention, then, before I know it, the idea is lost. Often an idea will come from a feeling. It might be an emotion, phrase or image. Once I write it down, it grows into something bigger and finds meaning. Last night I took a bath and thought about the scene I’ve been working on, and I had an image of my child character being picked up by her father and carried to bed. In the context of my chapter, this image held significance, for my characters, and the tragic event that is yet to happen. And this came to me in the bath; this is why I love writing.

From here I will pass the baton to novelist, Peggy Riley,, who has entertained me many an afternoon with her tweets and discussions about the editing process. I will also pass it to novelist and poet, Carolyn Jess Cooke,, who I look forward to meeting at the Dylan Thomas Centre in September for our discussion about the affect motherhood has had on our writing.


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