Welcome to my guest page. Here, every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation, over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, if they are not driving, with a friend about their work in progress, or latest book release. I’ll be talking to all sort of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers.
Today I‘m talking to Sally Zigmond in the Clubhouse Tearoom. Welcome Sally.
Hello Paula. Long time no see.
It has been awhile Sally. Let’s order before we chat. Anything you fancy?
That asparagus quiche looks absolutely delicious and what’s that? A glass of iced tonic water plus a lemon slice. Thank you. Just need to make myself comfy. So where do I start?
First, I would like to ask you when you first begun your writing journey what drew you to your chosen genre?
How long have you got? I can bore for England about my writing. Right. I began writing in earnest when my two boys were well-settled into senior school and I had some time on my hands. I took a few adult education classes run by the local council – remember them? When I’d had enough of pottery and jewellery-making, I hit on “Writing for Profit and Pleasure.” I wasn’t interested in the former (just as well) but it renewed my teenage passion for writing. I then discovered a new small magazine dedicated to writing by women for women. This is how I came to know lovely Jo Derrick who was the first editor to have faith in me. I haven’t seen her for ages but I know if we both walked into a cafe, bar or book event, we would continue where we left off; the same with you, Paula.
I first wrote contemporary short stories to find my feet and discover my voice – yes, I know – mixed metaphor! Very soon my stories were historical and long. Now I still write short stories every so often but consider myself a historical novelist.
How many unfinished projects do you have on your computer?
Tell me a writer who hasn’t! I have loads of half-written stories on file in various stages of development. My novel writing is different. When I feel I have edited a novel into a reasonable shape, I’ll keep on submitting to at least 30 different outlets until it’s published – not always with a good result. As yet, I’ve never had the support of an agent for more than a couple of months or any publisher whom I feel really happy with apart from the covers. (I love all my covers!) It would be great to have an agent who believes in me plus a viable publisher. There’s nothing wrong with self-publishing but you need supreme confidence and the ability to cope with nasty critics. I’d crumble into a heap of sodden tissues It’s not for me.
What writing elements do you think is your strongest points, and what would you like to do better?
That’s easy, Paula! I love writing dialogue and, luckily, I somehow find it easy, possibly because I am a quiet person who loves to overhear strangers chatting on buses, trains and cafes etc, not to be nosy – well not really – but to see how they communicate and try to work out their relationship or whether they like or love each other. It’s a great way to find characters and relationships for fiction and I also find long pauses can say more than words.
But I wish I could write more quickly. I’m a cautious person, a tortoise rather than a hare. I am amazed that many of my writer friends can write well over 1,000 words a day. Not only that, but many have that elusive agent, a big publisher and deadlines to meet. Yes, I envy them but know that the only thing I can do is t follow Samuel Becket’s golden rule: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Choosing only five of your favourite authors, and can you list them in order 1 begin the top of your list and say how have they influenced your writing?
Only five, Paula? You are cruel! Fortunately, My English Literature course at Uni covered most well-known poems, plays and novels. Some I still read, but not the most famous. So I prefer Ann Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Our Mutual Friend by Dickens. I always reread the novels of Barbara Comyns and Penelope Fitzgerald.
My five favourite historical novelist are Elizabeth Chadwick, Andrew Taylor, Elizabeth Freemantle, Antonia Hodgson and, of course, my good friend, Nicola Slade. I love the police procedurals written by Ann Cleves, Elly Griffiths, Ian Rankin, and William Shaw. Have I ever told you that throughout my adult life I was a bookshop employee? My dream is to own my own bookshop, fill it with books and cats and live in the flat above.
Tell us a little about latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?
I am currently on my ninety-ninth-whatever draft of a novel set in the 14th century based on the Yorkshire village where I lived until recently. I’m having fun editing, cutting and getting new ideas and it’s getting better every day – according to my evil inner critic. I am currently half-way through an intensive six-month online historical novel course which is helping enormously but is keeping me from concentrating on my WIP.
Do you write a synopsis first or write the first chapter? Do you plan your story, or let the characters lead you.
I am a total pantser. If I started with a detailed synopsis, I would be bored to death. To me, writing a novel is like being an explorer in an unknown world. I have a beginning and an end but never know the journey in between. I like meeting new characters along the way. Are they friend or foe? Who knows? Time only will tell.
What did you learn when writing your book? In writing it, how much research did you do?
I always start with the most basic research. I began with a place. I have written short stories based on places I have never visited but I couldn’t do that with a novel. I have to feel, smell and soak in the atmosphere – smell the coffee, as it were. Then what was the weather like? My novel begins during The Great Famine but before The Black Death. Who was on the throne? Edward II, it so happens whose murder was the most gruesome ever. (Not that this is mentioned at all as it’s in the future.) Was the country at war – yes, as it happens with the Scots.
So that was a start. Then come all the details that will form the plot and the narrative drive – and so on. So you see, for me, research is a long process. Then I start writing – maybe write a short story to get a feel for it If I come across something I haven’t a clue about, for instance, there’s a lot about sheep and shepherding in my WIP. I have talked to farmers, read loads of books, both contemporary and historical, fiction and fact. I find agricultural shows and sheep-dog trials provide me with nuggets of information I can cobble together. Mind you, I doubt if I could fool the Yorkshire Shepherdess! Then there’s the religious communities in Yorkshire in the 14th century. What were they like? Research never ends but with historical novels, most has to be discarded or else you’ll be in danger of massive info-dumping which kills some historical novels stone dead.
Is there anything about you your readers might be surprised to find out?
In the 1970s I worked in the London branch of Interpol as a French and Spanish translator. Looking back I couldn’t believe how much alcohol was consumed and how sexist office life was then. We women had to put up or shut up.
How many hours in a day do you write?
Not enough. In my ideal world I would write all day. I am like an old steam engine. When I start, I huff, puff and chug slowly building up a head of steam and when I’m going there’s nothing that can stop me. If the door bell or the phone rings then wham. I come to a full stop and I might not be able to write again that day.
How do you select the names of your characters? & do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?
As I set all my novels in Yorkshire, I look for the names of Yorkshire villages or Yorkshire trades. With historical novels, you have to be so careful with first names. If you call your Victorian miss, Sandra, you kill your credibility stone dead. Do I know everything about them? Not at first. It’s like meeting a totally new person.
It’s high time I shut up, Paula. And we haven’t spoken about Stone Angels, yet, but it’s right at the top of my TBR pile.
Thank you so much for joining me today, Sally. It’s been lovely to meet up again. I think we should try some of the lovely cakes 🍰 do you? 😊
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