Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The way I write...

Following on from my previous post about writing sisters, I thought I'd give a few insights into the way I write, as opposed to the way, Virginia does it. Like I said, we're very different! In my early days of writing (and after realising with my first unpublished novel that I really badly need to plot) I started the process off with a longish synopsis, of up to four pages, and a more blurby type thing, both of which I gave to my then editor. Initially I started planning individual chapters, but I found that too stifling, so now my synopses tend to be divided into two or three parts and I give each a rough story arc, so I know where I want to be by the end of each part, and then flesh it out. Basically I get too impatient planning and the writing starts to escape with me (so much so, that sometimes things I've planned not to happen till part 3 turn up in part 1 which can be a bugger I can tell you.). I am allright with a basic skeleton, but anything more detailed and I am dead in the water. By trial and error I've also discovered that my early attempts which would involve writing, rewriting and fiercely editing the first few chapters made me want to slit my wrists, and leave me incapable of finishing the damned thing. So now I throw caution to the winds and just write till the story is out. Even if it's shit, I've got something down, which is a lot more satisfying than staring at a blank screen, I can tell you... I had always typed my first drafts up, till I was on holiday a few years ago and discovered that actually writing by hand is much more productive for me. For some reason I find it easier to get the basic story down. The typing up and faffing about when I realise things don't fit together very well is a damned nuisance, but I actually think I get a first draft out quicker that way. As a notorious procrastinator, I can waste HOURS of my life on twitter and Facebook while I'm supposed to be writing. This way, I take myself off to cafes and libraries to concentrate solidly for several hours at a time. On my best days I can get through at least three chapters, on my worst, one. And if anyone has been following me on FB recently, they might have noticed I've been doing a lot of cafe writing as I was working insanely hard to hit a tight deadline. One of the things I love about writing by hand, is that so long as I have a pad with me, I can do it anywhere. I know I could with a laptop, but I find the hassle of lugging one around a bit of a pain. And over the years as I've been sitting waiting for various children to finish various activities I find it's a great way to maximise moments I didn't know I had. Thus in January I found myself sitting in a cafe in Hammersmith waiting for inspiration. A blank page can be intimidating too, but when you are stuck somewhere for three hours, and you don't have access to the internet, and you have nothing else to do, it is AMAZING how words do come out. Even if you have to force yourself to put pen to paper.
Some days I visit more than one cafe. After about an hour I get bored, so a change of scenery works for me. Though I have to fight with the temptation to run home and go and lie down (Writing frequently makes me want to lie down and go back to sleep) I try to resist the urge. I find this can be helpful to the creative process too. As if I am stuck and can't think where to go next, invariably by the time I get to my next location, I have found a solution of sorts to my problem (even as if frequently when I come to rewrite it's not the right solution. So long as it's enough to move me on, that is good enough for me.)
By the time I am at the end, I am quite demented. Scribbling notes in the column (as I've done in the pic below) to remind myself of where I'm going with the damned thing. But OH the relief when I finally get to the end. I actually never type the end, which is a hangover from my editing days as I know it always gets edited out, so I don't see the point. But nonetheless, there's a great sense of satisfaction when I DO get there.
The end though, isn't really the end. It's the beginning. Particularly when you are mad enough to write by hand. My next stage is typing up - I always try to type up as a I go and then get into the writing and that all goes for a burton. Suffice to say I had ten days in which to type up my first draft and get it knocked into a good enough shape to send to my editor this time. And pray WHAT did I do with all that time. Oh yes, I procrastinated HUGELY. For which I was kicking myself last Tuesday when I realised I had left myself very little time to edit. Although to be fair, I edit as I type, so the first printed draft, is in effect a second draft.
And by the time I'm done I usually have a very stiff neck, and my wrists fill like they're going to fall off. At this point in the process I usually hate the book with a passionate loathing. Especially when I read it through and think all the things all writers do, like it's shit, why would anyone buy this/read this, why do I bother? This dear reader, is part of the process, and has to be got through. It is just as illusory as the other reaction you go through when you're thinking, this is it! I am on fire! This is the best thing I've ever written etc! What then usually happens is a far more sensible response. I scribble notes on the second draft, and go through it one more time. By the end of which I can see further tweaks, which need sorting, and I am far more likely to be of the mind that it's ok, I have written a story, which needs lots of work, but I'm heading in the right direction. This is my fourth draft, and this is the one I send my editor.
At this point I do breathe a sigh of relief, because now it's out of my hair for a bit, although the writer who told me many years ago sending of an ms to an editor is a bit like sending off a job application wasn't far off the mark. There's always the worry your editor/agent will hate it but you have to hope it won't come to that... And while I am waiting, I can spend a bit of time researching more information for the book which I didn't have time to do in the writing process, and selecting songs for my playlist (I always have a soundrack to my books, I shall post the latest one when I've worked it up more), and pay a little attention to sorting my domestic life out. In two weeks time my edits will come in and everything else will go for a burton, so I have to make hay while the sun shines! If you want to know more about the way I write and meet me in person talking to my twin sister Virginia Moffatt about the way she does, check this out. Virginia is crowdfunding to publish her amazing book, Echo Hall with, here: here You can help her do it by pledging to join us for tea! Or if you can't do that, there are other pledges you can make. And if that's not your bag either, please do feel free to share on FB and twitter! Many thanks

Friday, March 04, 2016

Scribbling Sisters

I come from a very literary family. My father was an English teacher and writer manque (he wrote us amazing plays when we were little). We recently discovered my grandmother, Jane Henry, after whom this blog was named had written but not published short stories, and her mother was a poet. Among my siblings I have a poet, translator and a philosopher.

Then there's me and my twin. I have been writing now for eighteen years, and published for nine (this year unbelievably I am having my tenth book published.) It took me eight years to get that first deal, but I was able to write when the children were small because I went freelance and was able to carve out some time.

My lovely twin, Virginia Moffatt has not had that option. She has been writing a novel for ten years, while bringing up three children and having a full time job.Quite frankly I don't know how she has done it, but she has worked away steadily attending writing conferences and courses, and crafting and recrafting her story so it is good as it can be. She has worked very hard, and stayed true to the vision of her story, and I'm delighted that she now has the opportunity to get it published by the amazing team at But  dear reader, she needs help...

If you don't know how Unbound works, it's a brilliant way of helping bringing books to market through crowdfunding. Authors pitch their ideas on the Unbound website and if one takes your fancy you can pledge money to help get the book published.

Here is Virginia talking about her book Echo Hall, part ghost story, part historical, part antiwar - it's a brilliant book for our times, and one that will stay with you long after you have read it.

Pledges go from getting your name in the back of the digital edition, to a Bespoke Literary Tour of Oxford with Virginia as your guide.

Ginia has always supported my writing, so it is with great pleasure I can now return the favour., by offering a Tea with Twins in London in which we will talk about our writing and being twins, and how the two things are interconnected.

With that in mind I thought I'd share some thoughts on twinniness.

Ginia and I had very similar experiences growing up. But you know that nature/nurture debate? I would say 100% nature, EVERY time. Why? Because from the off, while we look similar and sound similar, and share many similar views and thoughts and characteristics we also have very different personalities. I sometimes wonder if at some point in the womb, we made a mutual decision to say, ok, I'll do that bit, you do the other, because despite our older brother spending our childhood teasing us that we were one person, we really really aren't (as various wannabe boyfriends found out to their cost - choosing one twin thinking we were exactly alike and then finding out the bitter truth.)

So from an early age I was the conventional, goody two shoes one, and Virginia was the daring one, more likely to get into trouble at school. The main reason she was in trouble, was because she had and has a very strong sense of justice, and couldn't resist pointing out to teachers where they'd been unfair (which they frequently were), which invariably led to her being sent to the Head's office. I swear she spent a whole term sitting outside the Head's office aged 9. I, on the other hand, would be equally cross, but took the more pragmatic approach of keeping my mouth shut and head down. I always admired Virginia's courage though, as I was a massive coward and hated getting into trouble.

At school we were very similar academically, but I learnt a harsh lesson aged 5 when Virginia overtook me by miles in the reading scheme we were following, and I never quite caught up with her after that. She always had the edge on me in everything, particularly Maths, which I found baffling but she could manage with ease. On the other hand, though neither of us were particularly sporty, I was the one who played tennis obsessively and would go swimming, when Virginia would rather read a good book.

At A level we started off sharing two subjects, English and Biology, but I later swapped the latter for History. Being the sciencey twin, Virginia chose Chemistry to my French. Yet I have always had a yen to understand Science better, and Virginia has never stopped loving History, evidenced by the fact that she has written such a good historical novel.

We have both always shared a love of stories, but when we were growing up, writing for a living didn't seem a thing you could actually do, so it wasn't on our radars as a possible career.  Our dad was horrified when I said I wanted to go into publshing which he thought was an unstable career, while Virginia's choice of going into social care was even worse. During our twenties then, when we were establishing our careers, writing was the farthest thing from our minds, although I always scribbled away at things, and I suspect she did too.

Then I started publishing teen romance, and discovered a hitherto unknown love of the genre. My company generously allowed me to publish a couple of short stories with them and I was hooked. When I went on maternity leave in 1998 it was a complete no brainer to use it as an opportunity to start writing.  Virginia came to the same conclusion a bit later than me, probably starting her writing journey around the time I was first published. During that time she has been my most enthusiastic cheerleader, encouraging me with all my endeavours even though romance isn't a genre she particularly likes.

And herein lies another significant difference between us. We have many shared tastes in literature: Dickens, the Brontes, Virginia Woolf , Margaret Atwood, to name a few, but we also have wildly varying loves too. So I don't really understand her obsession with David Mitchell, and my love of Terry Pratchett leaves her cold. This difference extends to our writing. Virginia has spent many years writing flash fiction, and writes wonderful short stories, the like of which I could never do. You can read some of them here: or buy them in this collection I partly helped her put together
She often explores a darkness that leaves me breathless. I do do dark - my favourite of my own books are the ones that touch more on the pain and difficulties of life (The Bridesmaid Pact and Make a Christmas Wish are two I love particularly) - but writing in the romance genre, the upbeat, positive side always wants to come through, and I cannot go as dark as Virginia sometimes does.

Virginia is much more political then me, being active in the peace movement, and that too informs her writing. My politics are on a much more local scale, so my books tend to draw on the things that matter to the people in their daily lives, rather than the bigger world issues that Virginia likes to tap into.. But I like to think we share a view that flawed and difficult as people can be, life always offers hope and the chance to make amends, though I suspect her stories will always end more ambiguously then mine.

If you are someone who likes my books, I hope you will give Virginia's a chance. You won't find the same stories I write (we aren't the same, remember?), but I promise you vivid rich writing, with real well drawn characters, and a cracking and compulsive storyline.

I have been lucky enough to be published for the last nine years, and I can't wait to crack open a bottle of bubbly for when Virginia finally does it too. So, if you can't help personally by pledging, please do support her by tweeting and sharing on FB the posts we put up about Echo Hall, so it can reach the widest audience possible.

And if, perchance any of my witterings here have interested you to discuss it further, do feel free to pledge to join us for tea. We would love to meet you!