One of my favourite authors is here on my blog today.
After reading Evie Gaughan’s wonderful book, The Mysterious Bakery on Rue de Paris I nearly caught a ferry over to the West Coast of Ireland to meet her in person. This is what good books can make you do. Seriously, you write a cracking novel and you might find your readers doing strange things. I did wonder how Evie would react to having a mad blonde book fan turn up, unannounced, on her doorstep, begging for an author selfie, a signed copy of her book, a guided tour of her hometown, an intense discussion about why she wrote her amazing book, a nose around her attic, where she writes and a cup of tea with cake. So I settled for the next best thing, a guest blog post. *Sigh*
Without further ado, please welcome Irish author, Evie Gaughan.
Writers get all sorts of advice, some more valuable than others, but I remember when I began drafting my first novel (Shoot The Moon, I never published it) the prevailing wisdom was to write what you know. Inexperienced and unsure of my abilities, I applied this motto to my writing and began writing a story I was comfortable with. I figured it made sense: If you haven’t been to space, don’t write a book about astronauts. So, I wrote what could only be described as a thinly veiled autobiography. Set in my hometown, the protagonist (save for a few cosmetic and superficial alterations) did exactly what I did. Studied for the same diploma, fell into almost the same relationships and wished for a happy ever after.
It wasn’t the worst novel in the world, but I had painted myself into a corner with it. I couldn’t really deviate from the script or let my imagination run wild. Moreover, I was mimicking the style of my favourite authors, so my writing voice was not my own. It was a fantastic writing exercise in that I discovered yes, I was able to write and finish a full-length novel. My writing did have a style that was engaging, readable and even quite witty. I sent it to a publisher and they confirmed my own thoughts – the writing was strong, but the story was lacking.
Of course back then, all I focussed on was the rejection. Had I known the long road ahead of me, I would have seen it as a triumph; an editor liked my writing! She even called it strong, but I was too upset that my story had failed to win me a contract, that I couldn’t see the value in the experience. Later on, I was able to learn the lessons that this novel had taught me. It turned out that writing about what I knew was a bit…. well, boring! I wasn’t exactly stretching myself and seeing as I’m more of a plot-driven novelist than a character-driven one, this needed work.
So I took a break from writing and began reading, experimenting with lots of different genres. That’s when I discovered a book called Labyrinth by Kate Mosse, which opened up a whole new world to me. Here was a story about a young archaeologist working on a dig site in France, only to uncover the secret of a woman who had lived in the area centuries before. It was exciting, engaging, with a beautiful setting and lots of historical interest. The juxtaposition of the past and the present really appealed to me and I suppose the magic of playing around with ideas that would require the reader to suspend their belief made me want to write again. I had found my genre and it was a decision that would require me to write about all sorts of things I knew nothing about.
Historical fiction requires so much research, because you really do need to ground your fiction in fact. However, I also learned that you didn’t have to have first-hand experience of your subject-matter to make it real for the reader. The author Patrick O’Brian, who wrote countless novels set on the sea, including Master and Commander, had little or no experience of sailing. Yet no-one would ever question his ability to describe in astonishing detail, the daily experience of life on board a ship. But research alone is not enough, as you risk bombarding the reader with facts and figures that read like a manual.
I discovered that writing what you know isn’t about telling stories based on your experience or events in your life. It’s about bringing what you know of your emotions to any situation, which means you can write about almost anything and make it real, simply by grounding it in that most universal experience. It’s about using what you know of sadness, of rejection, of joy, of belonging, and framing your fantastical story with the very real emotions that you know so well. Look at the success of Star Wars; do the creators really know what it’s like to live on the death star (or whatever it’s called?) Yes, they do their research, but the story is always brought back to very human emotions of fear, ambition, courage, greed, love. The only way we can identify with a character is by empathising with their emotions and what they are going through, so it is the job of the writer to make their story relatable.
Write about what you know is a piece of advice that shouldn’t inhibit your creativity but guide it towards a finished product that will resonate with people. The only limit to story-telling is your imagination and your ability to connect with your characters on an emotional level.
Thank you Evie, a great guest post.
To coincide with her guest post all of Evie’s books are 99p.
Edith Lane imagines her new life in Paris will be one big fairytale. In reality, her dream job turns out to be in a quirky old bakery, one hour north of Paris, run by the most ill-tempered woman in France.
While navigating her way through French life, Edith discovers that not everything in the bakery is as it seems, and as the family’s secrets reveal themselves, she finds herself drawn into a mystery that will force her to choose between love and friendship.
A charming story about finding yourself, in the strangest of places.
In the autumn of 1588, the Spanish Armada set out to invade England, before retreating and losing a large portion of her fleet in violent storms off the west coast of Ireland.
Now, Amanda Morrison is haunted by dreams of a past she cannot remember. Adopted as a baby, she knows little or nothing of her birth family until one day, a letter arrives stating that she has been bequeathed an heirloom from a long lost relative. Will the heirloom give her the answers she craves and will her search for its provenance lead her to the truth…
Have a fabulous day!