In which I post about The Next Big Thing and am both a day early and a day late

Hello. Apologies for being a day late in blogging. Yesterday just sort of got away from me a bit. Apologies also for being a day early – today I’m a blogging in response to Nikki Goodman‘s Next Big Thing post, which I’m really supposed to post on Wednesday. But I figured that if I was both a day early and a day late, that would average to being precisely and perfectly on time.

So the idea of The Next Big Thing is that we blog about our writerly works in progress. Now I don’t normally blog about writing, because repeated blogposts about how today I mainly sat on my bottom and peered at a screen aren’t desperately interesting. I also don’t usually do chain blogposts, but Nikki asked so nicely, and provided questions to answer, thus minimizing the thinking involved. How could I refuse?

So here are some answers to questions about my current novel-in-progress.


Q. What is the working title of your next book?

Ghost Stories. And it always has been. Normally I’m terrible at titles and the drift and evolve over time, but this one dropped into my head fully formed, and I can’t imagine it changing.

Q. From where did the idea come?

From the main character – I was taken with the idea of a protagonist who is a stage medium, but my first attempt to write her as a young funny chick lit heroine didn’t work. I’d given that character a mother who was an old-time stage performer, and eventually (I’m not always the sharpest tool in the box) it dawned on me that the mum was much more interesting than the daughter and should be the main character. The rest flowed from there.


Q. Under which genre does your book fall?

This one (which is my second novel) is quite literary, which was a bit unexpected. My first novel is a rom-com.

Q: Which actors would you choose to play the part of your characters for a movie?

My main characters are Pat, who’s the medium, and Louise, a mum whose teenage son has been stabbed. Pat’s in her 60s by the time most of the action takes place. There are loads of fantastic British actresses who could play her. Maybe Pauline Collins – she has a mixture of warmth and grit that would work really well.

Pat also appears as a teenager. I don’t know who could play the young Pat – I’d probably go for someone new and completely unfamiliar.

In my imagination Louise just is Anne-Marie Duff, so that’s an easy one.

Q. What is a one sentence synopsis of your book?

It’s about a mother of a murdered son and a woman who says she can talk to the dead.

Q. Will you self-publish or be represented by an agent?

Too soon to say. Ideally traditionally published with an agent. I’ve talked about why I’m not mad keen on self-publishing at the moment here, but never say never.


Q. How long did it take to write the first draft?

I’ll tell you when I’ve written it. For my first novel the first draft took a neat 8 weeks, writing 2000 words a day 5 days a week. This one’s going much much slower, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m hoping it’ll make for a slightly less crappy first draft than I managed last time.

Q: With which books within your genre would your story compare?

I hope it’s unique, but structurally it definitely owes something to Margaret Attwood – I love inventive narrative structure. There’s also a hint of Kate Morton about it. I do like a bit of a timeslip.

Q: Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’m not sure. I’m not a great fan of doing x-factor type emotional dedications. I’m not writing it for my dead kitten or wonderous great aunt. I’m writing it because I’m a writer, who wants to be a published writer, so writing books is kind of what I do.

Q: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Well it’s going to be bloody marvellous  obviously. And there’s a  rock band in it and a deceased Pekingese and a Somme veteran called Stanley (also deceased). What more could you want?

As always, please do commenting and following/subscribing if you feel so led. Bye-bye.

The Unromantic Romance Writer

So here’s a curious thing, dear internet, a much adored friend of mine recently pointed out to me how odd it is that I’m currently writing romance, because, she said, I am the least romantic person you could hope to meet. She’s not the first person to observe that I’m slightly lacking in the hearts and flowers department. My sister-in-law, much more recently married than my husband and I, oftens makes fun of our habit of marking shared emotional triumphs with a high five. She considers this unemotional in the extreme. She is equally bemused by the fact that she will share a heartfelt reminiscence from her wedding day, and then ask about memories of my wedding, only to be met with a blank face and a vague excuse about it having been a frightfully long time ago.

We don’t do Valentine’s Day. We don’t do anniversary gifts. For the first 2-3 years we had a competition to see who could buy the other the most ghastly wedding anniversary card, but that petered out after I refused to spend a fiver on objectively the most hideous card ever produced (about 8 pages of “rhyming” verse, much glitter, many badly drawn flowers). It would have been a surefire contest winner, but it cost five whole English pounds, which might otherwise have been spent on important accessories.

The most romantic gift my husband has ever bought me was a dictionary and thesaurus. The most romantic gift I’ve ever bought him was… no, actually I’ve got nothing to offer there.  He’s bought me flowers about three times in 15 years. If he started buying them regularly I’d probably think about getting him checked in for a brainscan. And flowers are wasted on me. They’re lovely when they’re fresh, but the following 3 weeks, where they slowly die and then begin to rot in the vase before I get around to chucking them out, does rather take the shine off.

However, I don’t think any of the above means I’m not romantic. I’d argue that it just recognises that romance isn’t something you can buy off the shelf in a one-size fits all package. To be truly romantic a gesture has to be individual. So, in our special little world, high fives are romantic. The act of mildly winding up people who think we should be more lovey-dovey is a personal, specific shared joke. The dictionary and thesaurus present really was romantic, because it was based on a very vague comment I’d made months earlier about wanting a nice dictionary and thesaurus, because I thought that maybe one day I might like to try to write stories, and a dictionary and thesaurus seemed like the sort of thing a Proper Writer ought to own. That’s personal, and personal, I think, is romantic.

So in a very individual way, maybe I am romantic, but even if I wasn’t I don’t think that would preclude me from writing romantic stories. It’s so common for writers to be asked whether they base stories on real people and real situations, and the answer, if we’re honest, is probably both “Of course,” and “Of course not.” In the bigger sense, you can ultimately only write from the brain that you have and that is entirely conditioned and created by the life you’ve led and the influences you’ve been exposed to. Having said that, I’ve never sat down and conciously based a story on a person or situation from my own life.

As a writer I don’t want to be tied to only writing about what I’ve directly experienced. I want to make stuff up. So even if I’m not romantic, there’s nothing to stop me from writing a character who is. In the story I’ve just begun my heroine is uptight, has an overblown sense of duty and is terrified of losing people she cares about. My hero is impulsive, loyal and focussed on living life to the full. When I write about those characters, I’m not thinking, how would I react in this situation? I’m thinking, how would this character react in this situation?

Your characters aren’t you. You don’t have to live their lives. If you did, there would be no fantasy novels, no historical stories and scary crime fiction would be even scarier, knowing how many people the writer had to dismember for the purposes of research.

So, in conclusion, I don’t need to be romantic to write romance. And anyway, I do think I’m romantic, but probably only in a way that 1 other person on the planet would appreciate, and in real-life, as in fiction, you only need 1 other person to make the romance work.

Reading that last sentence back I’m finding it a bit uncomfortably mawkish, so I think that’s a good place to stop. You can scurry off and follow me on twitter, or subscribe to the blog, or leave a little comment – are you romantic or does the notion induce a mild nausea? If you write, to what extent do you draw on your own experience? Or you could not comment and run along and crack on with the day. I shall go and do something bracing and emotionally unengaging. Good-day to one and all.