Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. For those of you who are not a member won’t be aware that the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit the clubhouse is via membership or invite to the clubhouse tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation I’ve had with a guest over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, 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 welcoming Victoria Dowd to the tearoom. It’s lovely to meet you here. We’ll start by ordering our drinks. What would you like?
Oh, a drink. I would love a cappuccino please, but if there’s alcohol on offer I’d go for a glass of white wine please. Always best to have both options!
Of course there’s alcohol as we have a driver to take you home.
Now we have our refreshments I’ll start by asking you when you first began your writing journey what drew you to your chosen genre?
I’ve always been a huge fan of Golden Age Detective fiction. I grew up reading any Agatha Christie books I could get my hands on! Also, I was a criminal defence barrister for many years appearing at the Old Bailey, so crime really is the genre that has drawn me in for a long time.
Tell us a little about latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?
My latest project is book 2 in the Smart Woman’s series. Book 1 was The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder and the second book in the series is due for release in February next year. They are classic whodunnit style crime novels but with an updated dark humour to them. The second book is The Smart Woman’s Guide to Survival and takes place on an uninhabited island where the Smart Women find themselves marooned and the murders begin. It’s darker than the first book, in many ways with a lot of fear and a possible supernatural element. I’ve absolutely loved writing this follow up as the characters are all there, waiting and fully formed so I can launch straight into the story but also develop and explore aspects of the people that I didn’t get a chance to in the first book. That’s what I’ve loved so much about working with Joffe Books, that from the very beginning they’ve seen this as a series which is wonderful because I can hold things back and reveal new things much more slowly than might normally be the case. The books form one large story of these women’s lives.
How many unfinished projects do you have on your computer?
There are a couple of things I’ve been thinking about for a while and outlined but, generally, when I start a project, be it a book or short story, I see it through to the end and don’t start new projects in the middle of one that I’m already working on. I love the creative process of planning, then starting a new book, primarily because I like to envisage how it will look in the end. Having that image in my mind all the way through is something I find really inspiring. I like to focus whole-heartedly on that concept and I don’t think I could do that as well if there was any idea that I might abandon it at any point, even if it’s being slightly tricky.
Do you write a synopsis first or write the first chapter or let the characters lead you?
Oh, definitely the first chapter. I hate writing a synopsis! I like to get stuck into the story straightaway. I will plan a lot in notebooks and on a pinboard but that’s a very sketched out idea of where I think the narrative will go. By the time I start chapter one, I know roughly where the story is going and the setting in detail but things definitely change over the course of writing it and I find that once I’m in the place and the characters are interacting, new twists and ideas emerge.
Choosing only five of your favourite authors and list them in order 1 begin the top of your list and say how have they influenced your writing?
- Agatha Christie – has influenced so much about my writing. I love the worlds she creates where the reader is caught up in them and utterly engulfed from the very first page. The ingenious plotting, setting and the wonderful array of characters has always captivated and inspired me. I now write a series of articles about various TV, film and radio adaptations of Agatha Christie novels, entitled Adapting Agatha.
- Daphne du Maurier – I love the beautiful darkness that pervades her novels. There is not just a mystery but one that enthrals and, in many cases, frightens and captivates. I’ve always been utterly gripped by her work and the haunting characters she creates in such atmospheric settings.
- M.R. James – Alongside my novels, I write short stories which are much darker tales. I’ve been heavily influenced by M.R. James from a very young age, possibly much too young to be reading his stories. They bring the frightening and strange into normal, quintessentially English gentile settings such as churches and small villages and the reader will literally be rigid with fear by the end. I particularly like listening to these on audio books as they were originally written for him to read out to his students and I love that idea of a small gathering by candlelight listening to these petrifying tales.
- Charlotte Bronte – I’m a Yorkshire woman and spent many wonderful hours growing up imagining myself lost on the moors. Her story-telling is exquisite and has so many layers that Jane Eyre is one of those books you can come back to at all stages of your life and find new aspects to it. When I was a young teenage girl, I loved imagining Mr. Rochester in his marvellous house of secrets and shadows. Obviously, in later life, the concept of locking his first wife up for being ‘mad’ and illegally attempting to marry a younger version, takes on a whole different perspective!
- Susan Hill – Her magnificent ability to tell a story is fantastic. She carefully weaves a narrative that is so beautifully structured you barely realise the road you’ve been taken down until you’re well into the story.I’ve collected all her small books which she releases periodically and, of course, The Woman in Black is a classic and perfect mystery and ghost story.
What did you learn when writing your book (story, play or poem)? In writing it, how much research did you do?
For my second book, I learnt a huge amount about the Outer Hebrides and did quite a lot of research. It is a beautiful and often fierce place. The extremes these islands face is unimaginable sometimes. The sense of isolation is often enormous. But their history and their myths and legends are magnificent stories. There is a great heritage of story-telling in the old tradition of passing stories through the generations. Very little used to be written down so finding these old tales has been a journey in itself. They are a marvellous time capsule of the beliefs and fears that gripped these wonderful far-flung places and give a fantastic insight into life through the centuries in such extreme conditions.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I’m quite strict with myself when I’m working. I work from 9am to around about 3-30pm. Mostly, I’ll start the day with admin – answering emails or doing interviews. Things are slightly different recently as I’ll have a few zoom meetings scheduled throughout the week or the odd live reading which I’ve got used to now. Then I’ll work solidly throughout the day writing.
Do you set yourself a daily word count?
Generally, I tend not to. I write about 3,000 words a day but most of them will end up in the bin! I probably keep about thirty per cent of what I originally write. It’s more a question of getting the structure right to start with and then honing it down again and again to make the dialogue tight and the story flow.
How many hours in a day do you write?
I’d say, when various admin is taken into consideration and research, I’m probably actually writing for about 6 hours of the day. I try not to write too much at the weekend and devote myself to lots of reading. I think you need a period of time to clear your head so the thoughts and plot doesn’t get too bogged down and impenetrable. I’ll often come back to my desk on a Monday morning and see new things I hadn’t noticed before or have a new idea for where the story needs to go.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
It takes about a year from beginning to end for me to write a book but with it being a series, I start the next book while I’m waiting for the edits to come back on the previous book. So at the moment, book 2 is with the editors and I’m writing book 3 in a very rough fashion. That will be half completed when book 2 is ready. So there’s a fair degree of over-lap. I just have to remember the plot of the book I’m working on! I have two ‘murder boards’ set up in my study, one on each side of me for each book. There are maps, photos, post its and red string all over them. It’s a very good visual reminder to keep the books very separate. But in some ways, it does look very much like I’m planning a murder!
Thank you so much Victoria for joining me.
It you want to find out more about Clubhouse Member’s Books don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops too.