Welcome to my weekly blog series – Author Interviews.
These weekly posts involve me interviewing some inspirational authors and gleaning some wonderful hints and tips on writing a book.
This week I am struggling to contain my excitement as an amazing author has agreed to sit in my chair. She writes romantic comedies about mid-life heroines *squeal* – seeing as I write this kind of fiction too I have decided that we are going to become writer soul mates (she doesn’t know this yet so…ssshhhh) plus she’s blonde, has cats and likes coffee!! I must try to keep it together today or she’ll start to think I am unhinged or something.
Please give a warm welcome to Sue Watson *second high pitched squeal from me*
Hey Sue, please have a seat in my famous red chair and tell my readers about yourself and the book / books you have written
I started out as a journalist, then a TV producer and came to writing in my 40s, so I feel like I’ve lived 3 lives! I write romantic comedies, often involving mid-life heroines, love, catastrophe, heartbreak and cake. This year I wrote a slightly different novel, ‘We’ll Always have Paris,’ which centres around a couple who fell in love as teenagers and were reunited many years later… the story is about what happened to them in the intervening years – and why they parted. It’s sad and funny and I have loved writing about an older heroine, but also revisiting her past and discovering the teenager she once was when she met the love of her life in 1968 at just 17.
When did you write your first book?
I wrote much of my first book, ‘Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes,’ in my head and on scribbled notes starting about 10 years ago. I was still working as a TV producer at the time and much of my inspiration for the novel centres around my own life at the time. It’s about a woman struggling with work, weight, family and love and no-one was more surprised than me when it became a best seller.
How long did it take to write your first book?
I wrote Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes within a year – I was working full time and I had to grab a couple of hours here and there. However, it took another 3 or 4 years and many, many rejections to find an agent, a publisher and finally hold the paperback in my hands.
What was your motivation to write your first book?
I decided to leave full time TV work to write the book, and made the mistake of telling everyone. Consequently people kept asking me ‘how’s the book coming along,’ which made my blood run cold and reminded me almost daily that I had to finish it – so perhaps I was right to tell everyone after all! It sounds a bit pretentious, but I also just felt this compulsion to write – and on a less pretentious note, money was a great motivation as I’d thrown myself into writing it and given up my career, the book became my only form of income!
What writing issues did you encounter along the way and how did you overcome them?
My first two novels were based in or around working in TV because it was what I knew, so for my third book, Love, Lies and Lemon Cake, I wanted a completely different environment and chose a hairdressing salon. This was a wonderful setting because I could introduce all kinds of characters but I was a little nervous writing about something I’m not so familiar with. As luck would have it, one of my best friends is a beauty therapist so she was able to provide me with funny stories and the day to day details I needed regarding life in a salon. My latest novel ‘We’ll Always have Paris,’ was also a slight departure for me – involving more emotion and less humour than my usual novels. This was a challenge, but one I welcomed and enjoyed – essentially it’s still written in my voice with my humour, but in a slightly different tone – more mature, more wise and more reflective.
Did you go through any bad writing patches during writing your book – what kept you going?
There is always doubt along the way. I consider my first drafts to be rubbish and it’s only on the second or third version I ever begin to know my characters and actually begin to like my books. I think many authors spend a lot of time struggling with doubts about their writing and I know as I start the next one I will go through a couple of days thinking ‘I really can’t do this again,’ but then I just do it – or it happens, I’m not quite sure, it’s like arriving somewhere and not really remembering how you got there.
Are you a plotter or do you just write / see what happens?
A bit like the housework, I let it pile up until something has to give! I am not a planner, in any area of my life, but I always write a synopsis and use that as a sort of sat nav, I take other routes as I write, but always aim to end up at the destination I’d hoped to. I also create quite big characters and find they often do a lot of the work for me.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
Not having to leave the house, and spending the day with people who you like, who say what you want them to and who make you laugh – because you made them that way.
What is the worst thing about being a writer?
Having to take myself away from family and friends when I have a serious deadline and leave my own life for a while. And having to explain to people other than family and friends that it’s real and just like their full time job and I work as hard as anyone else… if not harder sometimes.
Have you ever considered quitting writing, and if so how have you worked through this?
No. I have been incredibly lucky, my first book sold well and then I joined Bookouture who exceeded the first book sales with my next ones and so I have been able to make a living. It doesn’t sound very romantic or literary, but ultimately making a living as a writer is the most important thing – because then you can afford to keep writing and pay the bills.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
Lots of coffee, lots of promises to myself about how much writing I’m going to do that day followed by TV and a Slimfast, a bowl of cabbage soup, a Cambridge bar or a large piece of leftover cake – depending on what particular diet I’m following that day 😉 Then I go on Facebook and Twitter for too long and call or text my friends for even longer – then it’s lunchtime (I’ve usually given up on my diet by then!) and it’s usually about 1pm before I start work. Then I just write until my family comes home in the evening and if I have a deadline approaching I’ll stop for dinner and continue into the small hours. I work weekends too if I feel the need, though sometimes I wish I could be more 9 – 5 to fit in with everyone else, but it’s a creative process and sometimes you have to write when you feel it.
Do you suffer from procrastination and if so how do you handle it?
ALL the time! I have always found my own lack of discipline and amazing talent for procrastination have been my biggest pitfalls. It’s ridiculous because I love writing, but sometimes I will do anything other than make myself sit down and write! I play with Harry and Poppy our two cats, clean the house (unheard of usually) and arrange to see friends for lunch or coffee then spend all the time telling them how ‘I shouldn’t be doing this, I should be at home writing!’
Which is more important – plot or characters and why?
If I had to choose I’d say characters every time. They are the people the reader meets and of course their story (the plot) is important, but if the characters are memorable, relatable and well developed you might just get away with a weaker plot. On the other hand you can create the best, most twisty turny plot with an amazing conclusion – but if the characters aren’t strong or well written the reader doesn’t care what happens to them anyway.
What have been your 3 biggest learnings during your writing career?
- I was rejected, by many agents and publishers – sometimes I didn’t even get a rejection, just nothing. But looking back, I can see I had this blind faith in myself and my writing – and I’ve learned that’s what kept me going, and still does.
- You have to be quite tough and very resilient as a writer and getting that publishing deal is only the very beginning.
- That writing is like any other job, you work long, hard hours and an author’s royalties won’t buy a pad in LA and a new life of glittering launches and champagne signings (not unless you count a bottle of cava at the local WI). But it’s the best, most wonderful job in the world.
How do you manage social media as a writer?
I have a great website, I’m on Facebook and Twitter – I love social media, but sometimes it feels like another pull on my time and can take me away from what I should be doing. Having said that – the best part of it is that I can chat with readers, I hear their life stories and sometimes they even say one of my books has inspired them to do something – and for a writer that is just amazing.
Do you have any tips or advice for budding aspiring authors?
Stick with it. Keep writing through the rejections, and rise above the people who look at you like you’ve lost it when you tell them you’re writing a book. And most of all write down your feelings when you receive the rejections, the isolation, the doubts and despair… and of course the happy elation when you get the book deal – and use the notes and memory of those feelings in your next book.
Do you suffer from writer’s block and if so how do you overcome?
I have never had writer’s block. Perhaps I’m lucky, but there’s a part of my brain that refuses to let it in – for me there’s nothing like a deadline and the prospect of next year’s royalty cheque to dampen down any thoughts of writer’s block.
Do you ever think of the next book whilst writing?
Yes – there is always a queue forming! I currently write for both a digital and a traditional publisher (Bookouture and Sphere) and both publishers have given me tight deadlines. As a journalist and then as a digital author I’m used to writing and completing a novel fairly quickly and being able to produce the next idea, so I’m currently editing my Christmas book (working title The Christmas Cake Café) and I have two summer books in my head while contemplating what the one after will be.
What do you wear to write?
No make-up, awful old jumpers or T shirts with holes and bleach stains from doing my hair – and when I’m mid-book I care even less because it’s all about the book. On those days I can guarantee the postman will knock or a neighbour will pop round and witness this full mid-book horror in the flesh.
If my readers want to get in touch how do they contact you?
Hey Sue, oh my days – great interview!
I have to say this but I think we might be sisters. There are so many similarities here, we must be related!
There are so many things that I am going to take from our chat:
- I loved how you wrote ‘Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes’ in a year whilst working full time. I can relate to this. It is not easy juggling a career and a writing passion so hats off to you!
- I love the way you see the synopisis as a ‘sat nav’ – I have never made friends with the synopsis but I think seeing it as a ‘sat nav’ to guide you at the start so that you know where you are going is a great idea.
- Your writer learnings are fab and I am gutted about author royalties not covering champagne signings.
- A writer outfit with bleach stains sounds interesting and I love your approach to house work!
Thank you so much for taking the time to sit in my red chair…writer soul mate! Sigh!
Here’s a pic of Sue looking glam!
Her two cats Harry and Poppy.
For other fab interviews in this series please click here.
If you are an author and fancy sitting in my red chair please get in touch!
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>