Ask the Author

What is a Day in the Life of a writer like?

I start my day reGill_writer-003asonably grumpy and in need of a nice cup of tea. By about 10am or maybe 11am I’ve made it to my desk. This is not because I get up terribly late (although sometimes I do) but more to do with the fact that I usually exercise at some point between my porridge and my shower.

So to my writing. I start by reading what I wrote the day before and making a few edits, possibly adding sections here and there, until I’m very happy with that particular chapter. This might be enough to motivate me to create more storyline and start writing. If not, I consult my Excel spreadsheet which contains an overview of the story so far chapter by chapter. It also contains my word count so that I can keep track of progress from day to day.

Usually once I’ve started typing the words flow onto the page. I get caught up in the drama and usually take on the emotions of my characters. I have been known to weep or laugh out loud as I write, even in public places which is a tad embarrassing! This period of the day is dotted with trips to the Nespresso machine to make lattes to fuel me onwards.

I might be happy with what I’ve written by lunchtime or I may reconvene after lunch for an hour or so. My target is to write 4000 words a week. That is, 4000 edited, happy-making words, with any research required done.

After that I do ‘everything else’ which might be posting on social media, writing a blog or updating my website.

 

What sort of research do you do for fiction writing?

The view from Nicola's bench in Waterlow Park

The view from Nicola’s bench in Waterlow Park

I’m always looking things up on the Internet as I write. It is such a useful and instant source of material. Whilst you’re telling a story it may be set in a place which is real and so you want to get your facts right. For example, when Katie (in Forever Lucky) went to her first networking event at Kenwood house on Hampstead Heath, whilst it is somewhere I have walked past and I know it’s a magnificent building, I have never actually been inside. So I used the Internet to show me images of the inside which helped me to describe her visit. I think if you got this wrong it would jar for any reader who knew the place.

Sometimes it helps to actually go to a place. Before I started writing Forever Lucky I went to Highgate Village with my camera and a notebook and walked around recording anything useful. It was on this visit that I saw the bench in Waterlow Park, where first Katie sits, and later in the novel, Birch. It has a plaque on it which reads:

In loving memory of Nicola Murray who enjoyed coming here for Sun, walks and squirrel therapy.

It was a perfect fit for my storyline.

 

How do you write a novel? Where do you start?

It starts with a big idea which might be triggered from something I’ve read or play I hear on radio four. From that I develop my main character and the inciting incident which triggers the story. I then decided how my main character will develop through the novel and roughly where she’ll end up. I say roughly, because it’s a creative journey. The endpoint is more about the state of mind of the character than the detail of exactly where she is at the end of the book.

I use an Excel spreadsheet to record everything that happens in the novel, chapter by chapter and details of all the characters. I find images on the Internet of all my characters which makes it easier to describe them and add them to the spreadsheet. I also record the word count, so I know how far I am into the novel at any time.

Aim to write four thousand words a week. That is usually comfortably doable. However, I do have the occasional week off when I know I need to focus on other things.

Sometimes after writing a particularly dramatic and long chapter I feel the need for a break. It’s emotionally exhausting!

So, I literally make it up as I go along, developing characters and deciding their fate!

Once I have a first draft, I will go through the whole novel editing and ensuring that it’s the best it can be before passing it to an editor.