I held his face in my hands and kissed him back. I felt that life just couldn't get any more perfect. I was right, it wouldn't...
a) An ex-boyfriend had died and come back to haunt me
b) I was actually dead and managing to write a novel (a lot, lot more press!)
The truth is I was inspired to write “Heaven Can Wait” after a friend died and I ended up thinking about death a lot (I know, cheery subject for a romantic-comedy writer). That, and a question from my then boyfriend – if he died how long would I wait before I moved on? (he was a cheery sort) - sparked an idea for a novel. I started to wonder what would happen if the dead person refused to move on. What if they refused to go to heaven and insisted on being sent back to earth instead?
Have you always been a writer? What is the most interesting job you have done?
Despite having a novel out I’m not a full time writer yet – I’ve still got the day job, designing e-learning Masters degrees for a London university.
I’ve had lots of different jobs – a strawberry/raspberry sorter (M&S and Sainsburys get the best, the other supermarkets gets the rest), a kitchen hand, a waitress, a barmaid, a post sorter for the Royal Mail (even if you write ‘Fragile’ it still gets chucked into a sack!), a graphic designer and a web developer – but the most interesting job was when I worked for a local radio station. I had to put together the traffic reports for the DJs to read out and answer the phone during competition phone-ins. I also had to greet the guests in reception and bring them through. I remember being very nervous about going to meet an ‘aura reader’ once. I was in a foul mood and was sure she’d see a big black cloud around me as I forced a smile and welcomed her to the studio!
What do you most enjoy about writing? ... and least?
I most enjoy that feeling when the scene you’re writing grabs you by the hair and pulls you into the story. You lose track of time, yourself and what’s going on around you and you live and breathe what you’re writing. When you finally stop writing the rush is incredible.
I least enjoy getting stuck and not knowing what happens next. I also dislike the feeling that something is wrong with the story and/or character – especially when I can’t work out why, or how to fix it. I don’t like that I’m a perfectionist and constantly doubt my ability and what I’m writing.
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to write and publish a book?
Write what excites you. Don’t write about vampires because they’re ‘the next big thing’. Don’t try and write a Mills and Boon because you think it’ll be ‘easy’. Don’t write chicklit because you think it’s popular and bound to sell. Don’t write to make money. Write the story that you can’t get out of your head, that makes your heart beat faster, that has you jumping out of bed at night to scribble down a new idea for a scene. Write the story that you can put your heart into. Write the story that makes you laugh and cry. Don’t try and write like another writer, or how you think a novel should be written to be marketable, write like you.
I really believe that when what you’re writing moves you it will move your reader too (whether that’s an agent/editor or book buyer). If you hate every second of what you’re writing you’re writing the wrong novel for you. Yes it’s hard to put your bum on the chair and I procrastinate as much as everyone else, but once I get going I enjoy it and wonder why I don’t sit down and write more often! If what you’re writing feels like constant torture – and it never gives you a buzz - write something else.
At the moment you are editing your second novel. How do you approach the process of editing? Do you have any tips (... for those of us who find it soooo difficult and often demoralising...)?
Oooh god, you’re asking me this while I’m knee deep in rewriting/editing hell, and have been for months!
I’ve had two very different experiences with editing. With “Heaven Can Wait” the story was very clear in my head all the way through and the structure didn’t need any work when I finished the first draft so I ‘just’ had to edit it. I went through and cut a lot (trimming it from 100,000 to 80,000 words) to make it pacier. I cut a lot of introspection
, I tried to make the funny scenes funnier, I noticed there were lots of ‘waking up in the morning’ chapter beginnings and cut or changed them. I cut journeys and transitional scenes and I cut bits of dialogue that were just waffle and didn’t move the scene forward. I cut, cut, cut.
The best bit of advice I can give for editing is, if your novel is in good shape structurally/makes sense/has plot and character arcs, to read it through and mark anything you find boring with BORING in big letters. Keep reading. Keep marking the boring bits. Then go through and cut or rewrite those boring bits. Read it again – out loud this time – and you’ll spot more mistakes and/or stumbling sentences. Fix them.
With novel 2 (the one I’m working on now) the story was a lot messier at the end of the first draft and, unlike “Heaven Can Wait”, the structure needed a lot of work. As a result I’ve had to rewrite it. I did that by reading the draft through, making notes about what had to change/why/where and then working through it methodically, from the first chapter to the last, rewriting. It’s a bit like building a wall in your back garden when you haven’t got a car. You walk down to B&Q, buy a few bricks, carry them home, and lay them in your garden. Then you go back to B&Q the next day, buy a few more, carry them home and continue to build. When you’ve finished you’re absolutely knackered, go out to admire your handiwork and discover you’ve built it wonky! The only thing you can do is to knock it (or some of it) down and rebuild - but at least you’ve got the bricks and you don’t have to walk all the bloody way to B&Q again!
There are probably a lot of holes in that metaphor. I’ve never actually built a wall before...
Anyway... if you’ve finished your first draft and there are problems with it and you’re not sure how to fix them the best advice I can give is to go back to your ‘How to’ books on plotting and characters and try and work out what it is your novel is lacking. Go with your gut instinct. If something doesn’t ‘feel’ right about your novel it probably isn’t. Try and narrow down what isn’t working then ask yourself WHY it isn’t working. If you can identify that you should be able to fix it.
The Withenays have wandered an awful lot, moving house seven times in the last six years. I know you are selling your flat at present. Where would you most like to move to, given no other constraints on your life?
Don’t talk to me about moving! My dad was in the army and I think I was born with itchy feet. When I first moved to Brighton I moved house six times in three years! I’ve been a bit more settled in this flat and have lived here the longest I’ve lived anywhere, ever (mortgages are like concrete blocks for itchy feet!). If I had no constraints on my life...hmmm...I don’t know. I’d have to visit a few places first, to check them out. I’ve heard that Perth, Australia is gorgeous and I’ve always wanted to visit San Francisco so maybe somewhere like that. Ideally I’d like to be able to live in the UK during the spring/summer and live somewhere sunny in the winter. I can’t STAND short, dark days.
Which is better: the journey or the destination?
I’d be lying if I didn’t say ‘the destination’. It’s the feeling of accomplishment, relief and pride when I’ve finished a draft of a novel and typed ‘the end’ that does it for me. I might feel like I’m limping over the writing finishing line (like Katie Price completing a marathon), but I know I’ve worked bloody hard to get there and I’m proud of myself. Writing is an exhausting process and I can’t believe I used to think (before I actually tried writing a novel) that it was easy! I’ve got a LOT of respect for anyone who writes and finishes a novel, whether published or unpublished, because I know how bloody hard it is and how much dedication, perseverance and sheer-bloody-mindedness it demands.
If you could pick one person who would request a signed copy of 'Heaven Can Wait' from you, who would it be?
Richard Curtis. I’d be secretly hoping he’d requested it because he wanted to turn it into a film (well I can dream...)
Thank you so much Cally for visiting my little blog as part of your World Tour. I wish you every success with the forthcoming film of your book (positive thinking!) and look forward to my seats at the premiere in Leicester Square!