Welcome to my weekly Blog Series – Author Interviews.
This series is where I interview authors who inspire and motivate me. I get to ask them about their writing journey, understand the obstacles they faced with writing their books and glean some valuable insight into their writing life.
Today I am thrilled because an author, who I have been admiring for sometime, has agreed to an interview – Evie Gaughan.
I started reading her fab book ‘The Heirloom’ and I knew (a few pages in) that I had to somehow persuade her to come on my blog.
So please give a warm welcome to Irish author and blogger Evie Gaughan!
Hey Evie! Welcome to my blonde blog – please take a seat in my famous red chair..
Tell my readers about yourself and the book / books you have written.
Well, if you make me a cup of tea, I’ll tell you anything you like! Which tells you a lot about who I am – I drop everything for tea and a chat, which isn’t very conducive to writing, as it requires a lot of willpower and self-discipline. Thankfully, I do have a very tenacious streak in me that always gets the job done. I’m basically a hare in a tortoise’s body! When I’m not writing, I paint. Canvases, not houses, although I have been known to dabble in emulsion when the mood strikes.
Evie – that is an amazing phrase – a hare in a tortoise’s body! Brilliant! I think I might be one of those too – sigh! Please carry on..
As for books, I’ve always been a fan of reading and writing contemporary fiction, but in the last few years I’ve really been drawn to the ‘Dual Timeline’ genre. Books like Kate Morton’s ‘House At Riverton’ and Diane Setterfield’s ‘The Thirteenth Tale’ are both master-classes in how to blend two-time periods into one novel.
My debut novel, ‘The Heirloom’ is the story of a young woman who inherits a medal, which dates back to the time of the Spanish Armada. I was inspired by the fact that several Armada ships wrecked along the coast of Ireland and hundreds of Spanish sailors sought refuge with local Chieftains. It was a fascinating time in history, but rather than set the entire book in 1588, I told the story through the contemporary eyes of a young woman who is struggling with her own demons. ‘The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris’ is set in France and tells the story of a bakery with an unusual family secret. This novel is more contemporary, although there are historical aspects touching on World War II, and focuses on my penchant for the otherworldly (and pain au chocolat!).
I have just finished editing my third novel, which I am EXTREMELY excited about! It has been a year in the making and explores another subject that is close to my heart… but if I tell you what that is, I’ll have to kill you!
However, I can say that it is another dual timeline story, set in the early 1900’s in Ireland and the present day. I don’t have a publication date as yet, but it will be available in early 2017.
Evie, I am loving your excitement for dual timeline stories. I must try writing one as you are clearly having some literary fun!
When did you write your first book?
This is a bit of a trick question (or a trick answer!) I began writing my first novel back in 2002 in my little apartment in Montréal, Québec. I had lived in Canada for about five years and after 9/11, I started to get extremely homesick. My reading habits reflected this, and I began devouring books by Irish writers such as Maeve Binchy and Marian Keyes. I think I knew I was going to return to Ireland, even before I had made the decision, so I quite my job and decided I was going to be the next big thing in Irish fiction! I soon realised, however, that this writing lark wasn’t as easy as it looked. It was damn hard and I was woefully unprepared, so I gave up.
I wrote another novel after that and actually finished it, but it will never see the light of day. I have read that writers who are at the beginning of their career often tend to mimic the style of their favourite authors and that’s exactly what I did. Still, I learned so much from that novel, not least what it takes to see it through to the end. I never saw it as time wasted, because it turned out to be an apprenticeship of sorts, where I learned the craft of novel-writing.
In 2011, I came upon the idea for The Heirloom and the rest is, well, give me another cup and I’ll tell you about it ☺.
How long did it take to write your first book?
It took approximately two years to write, although about six months of that was spent researching the medieval portions of the story.
What was your motivation to write your first book?
Honestly, the motivation was to write something I could be proud of. After the first attempts, I knew I had to push myself to write something original and not settle for being a poor imitation of someone else. I wanted to make my own mark with my own voice. I put everything into it, so I’m very proud of it.
What writing issues did you encounter along the way and how did you overcome them?
The biggest issue was getting to grips with writing historical fiction. It’s not something to be entered into lightly and it takes a lot of time and practice to hit the right tone.
Obviously, I had no idea what it was like to live in the middle ages, so I had to pluck research from a lot of different sources to create a feel for what it might have been like. I needed to know everything, from what people ate, where they lived and what they wore. But I also needed to find a voice that would make the historical sections of the book more believable. I had to enter a very different head space to write those scenes and even listened to lots of Enya and Loreena McKennit to get in the mood!
Music has always been so evocative for me and with every novel I create new playlists to create the atmosphere I’m looking for. It must have worked, because most reviews have mentioned how realistic the historical parts were.
Did you go through any bad writing patches during writing your book – what kept you going?
Always! There are always bad patches, with every book. That’s why so many people give up (apparently only 3% of people actually finish their novels!).
Self-doubt is the biggest culprit. There are days when you look at your writing and think, this is utter shite! I can’t do this! But, cheesy as it may sound, what keeps me going is the dream. I dreamed of being a writer for so long – not someone who dabbled and gave up – but a writer, with a decent body of work to her name. I don’t base my idea of success on worldwide recognition and obscene advances (although I wouldn’t kick them out of bed for eating crackers!) but rather on achieving my own goals, which are to write good books that people enjoy reading.
Are you a plotter or do you just write / see what happens?
I have a rough outline of what shape the story will take, but beyond that, I’m not a very organised writer. I need space to work spontaneously and let the story unfold organically. That’s the unexpected magic of writing, when characters appear out of nowhere and new plot twists turn a dead-end into an interesting new path. For me, too much rigidity can stifle that sense of creative freedom. In other words, I don’t really know what I’m going to write and just hope that inspiration will strike!
What is the best thing about being a writer?
The best thing about being a writer is creating a world, filled with people who didn’t exist before you wrote them. As a reader, I love to escape into fictional worlds, but as a writer, I get to indulge in my own fantasies.
What is the worst thing about being a writer?
The sedentary lifestyle! I often find my day is spent swapping one chair for another. In an effort to combat all of this sitting around, I started swimming… in the sea. However, at the risk of hypothermia, I have since confined myself to a heated swimming pool!
Have you ever considered quitting writing, and if so how have you worked through this?
Every time I finish a book! I don’t know if it’s the same for other writers, but by the time I type the words ‘The End’, the thought of doing it again seems almost sadistic! I move towards my art when I finish a book, because I can still express myself creatively but without words.
Nevertheless, after a few months of a writing holiday, I begin to feel heartsick for that indescribable high you only get from writing. An idea will form at the back of my mind and then other aspects begin to attract to it like magnets. It’s more than a coincidence; it’s a secret agreement between your subconscious and the muse, which you can only ignore for so long. And so, the process begins again!
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
I really don’t have one. The only time I kept some sort of timetable was when I did NaNoWriMo – the crazy challenge of writing 50,000 in 30 days. There’s something about it that appeals to my inner Hare and I’ve actually completed it twice. Frankly, it nearly killed me, but it did teach me how to not edit while writing and I think that has really helped to free me up as a writer. But normally, I try to give myself a weekly word count target rather than a daily one, so I have more flexibility. I’m also trying to write a bit more away from the screen. I was never a huge fan of writing long hand, but sometimes it helps to change things around. I don’t really thrive under routine!
Do you suffer from procrastination and if so how do you handle it?
Never do today what can be put off till tomorrow, that’s what I say! As you can see, there’s a bit of a pattern forming here. But I try to embrace it – I mean we all procrastinate at some point (writers more than anyone). I think we label any time where we are not being productive as ‘procrastinating’. But when you’re a writer, you really do need time to just do nothing and let the ideas sort themselves out in your head. We’re all under so much pressure to work harder and be more productive, which is so stressful. I try to trust in the fact that I’ll get there in the end. Mostly!
Which is more important – plot or characters and why?
I don’t think you can put one above the other. The story just won’t work if you don’t balance these two very important elements. I recently read a novel by a very successful author, which had lots of well-developed characters, but the plot didn’t really go anywhere. I lost all interest in the story and I wasn’t alone (the reviews on Goodreads bear this out.) Equally, you can have an interesting story, but if the reader isn’t invested in the characters, they won’t care what happens to them. The plot always comes to me first, so I really have to work at creating engaging characters the readers can connect with, while also driving the story forward.
What have been your 3 biggest learnings during your writing career?
- Writing is the bones, editing is the flesh.
- The first draft is essentially telling yourself the story. It’s okay if it’s messy.
- The best way to promote your book is to write another one.
How do you manage social media as a writer?
Ah yes, social media. The great vortex! I think especially for self-published authors such as myself, it is an invaluable tool. I have connected with so many great people (such as yourself!) and found new opportunities to chat about writing with like-minded people. My blog is a fantastic platform to flex my writing muscle and again, to become a part of the online conversation. But sometimes it’s hard to know whether you’re spending time on social media or just wasting it. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like work, because it’s so entertaining, but then you meet a new contact and so on and so on. I probably ‘manage’ it about as well as the next person (i.e. I have no control over it!!). But when you’re writing, cleaning the oven can become a welcome distraction so what hope do you have against dancing cats?! I try to disconnect when I write and become a bit stricter with my usage.
Do you have any tips or advice for budding aspiring authors?
Try to read as much as possible. Reading good books has really elevated my own expectations of my writing, which is so important. You are essentially working in a vacuum and the only one pushing you, is you! And remember, professional writers are just writers who never gave up, so keep pushing and never give up.
Do you suffer from writer’s block and if so how do you overcome?
Not exactly. If I’m struggling with a scene, I tend to skip ahead and write a scene that I know will come easier. I don’t normally tend to write out of sequence, but if I’m stuck, it’s a good trick to use because you’re still making progress.
Do you ever think of the next book whilst writing?
If I do, it’s only a fleeting thought. I couldn’t possibly start fleshing out ideas for another book while writing; I’m not sure how people do that. I do have an idea for another book, but it’s just a little seed germinating away in the dark recesses of my mind! Ideas need time to form and I don’t like to rush that process. Rightly or wrongly, that’s how I’ve always worked.
What do you wear to write?
Hah! Well I know what I’d like to wear.. a bright pink Selkbag! I write in my converted attic which, apart from a few weeks in the Summer, is freezing cold. I end up looking like one of Fagan’s street urchins with fingerless gloves wrapped around mugs of steaming hot tea.
So I found these online last year and thought they would make the perfect Christmas present (wink, wink).
It’s like a sleeping bag suit! Might get some funny looks when I answer the door, but I think it’ll be worth it ☺ You can read my blog about it here
If readers want to get in touch how do they contact you?
I’m either on Twitter @evgaughan or my blog www.eviegaughan.wordpress.com If I’m not at either of those two locations, I’m dead!
Evie – wow! What an interview…and so many cups of tea 🙂
I have taken so many things from our chat today:
- I love how you referred to the book, that will never see the light of day, as an ‘apprenticeship’ – I can really relate to this as I believe each book or story teaches you something new and as you say nothing in writing is ever a time waste.
- I loved how you spoke about your motivation. ‘The motivation was to write something I could be proud of and I knew I had to push myself to write something original and not settle for being a poor imitation of someone else. I wanted to make my own mark with my own voice. I put everything into it, so I’m very proud of it.’ I think this is why I am sweating and slaving away over my first novel.
- I can really relate to your comment about ‘letting a story unfold organically.’ Amen!
- Yes I agree social media is the ‘great vortex!’
- Great tip regarding reading!
- OMG – that sleeping bag suit looks amazing! Although I do think my deodorant would let me down so mine would be a bit whiffy after a bit 🙂
Thank you Evie! What a star!
BTW – Love your blog post – How being a writer can prepare you for old age!
Your book ‘The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris’ sounds right up my street! Love vintage French bakeries!
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/79577679@N00/5448848999″>the chair in the attic</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>