Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. 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 a invite to the 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.
Thank you so much for inviting me. This is a lovely tearoom. Lovely strong tea too.
I’m so glad it is to your liking. We love making sure our guests are happy so they will look forward to visiting us again. Can I start by asking you when you first begun your writing journey what drew you to your chosen genre?
I’ve actually written in several different genres, but my very first novel ‘The Trouble With Ally’ was the first of my romantic comedies. I chose this genre because I’d been reading a lot of rom coms with young heroines, and (being middle-aged at the time) I wanted to write one with an older heroine, to show that older women can have fun in their lives too! Since then I’ve also written 1960s stories, ‘cat’ stories, and more recently, feel-good fiction with varying degrees of ‘pet’ background.
What writing elements do you think is your strongest points, and what would you like to do better?
I’ve always loved dialogue, and was told early on in my career that it’s my strongest point. I much prefer writing conversation between characters to writing descriptive passages. And I’d like to be better at pacing my stories. Sometimes I feel I’m rushing too much, and at other times the pace is too slow; it takes a lot of work, and re-writing, for me to get it right.
Tell us a little about latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?
My most recently published book, ‘What I Didn’t Tell You’ is actually a re-write of one I wrote about five years ago, to self-publish, but I didn’t get around to publishing it because I was then commissioned by Ebury Press to write ‘cat’ stories for them – with a very tight deadline for the first one! During this year’s lockdown, I was between books with my publisher. ‘The Lonely Hearts Dog Walkers’ was released in February, and ‘Escape to Riverside Cottage’ won’t be published until March 2021 – and I’d finished writing and editing that. So I had plenty of time for another project, and decided to go back to ‘What I Didn’t Tell You’, re-write it and self-publish it (with Ebury’s blessing). It’s very different from my recent books. It’s set partly in the 1960s, involves a scandal about a then-famous pop star, and his old friend, Judith, who’s determined to find out the truth about the allegations. It’s available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle.
Do you write a synopsis first or write the first chapter or let the characters lead you?
At one time, I never wrote synopses, or wanted to – I always let the characters lead the story and never had any idea how it was going to end! But when Ebury took me on, it was to write a specific book: a Christmas story narrated by a cat: ‘Oliver, the Cat Who Saved Christmas’. And my then-editor wanted a synopsis first, as there had to be a quick turn-around. Since then, I’ve always submitted a draft synopsis to my agent first and then to my editor, with the proviso that the story might change as it progresses!
Were any of your characters inspired by real people?
No, but when I wrote my third rom-com, ‘Body and Soul’, which was a hospital romance, I was still working at a hospital myself and everyone was convinced they knew who all the characters were based on! In fact all the characters were completely invented, of course, but it was fun to listen to the gossip and speculation!
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I’m in the fortunate position now of being retired from the day job, so I don’t have any schedule whatsoever: I write whenever it suits me. If I have a deadline, I sometimes write for most of the day, every day. If not, it varies enormously depending what else I’m doing. But when I was still at work, I could only write in the evenings and at weekends, which I achieved by hardly ever watching TV. Writing’s always been my relaxation as well as my passion so it was never a hardship.
Do you set yourself a daily word count?
No, I never have. Personally I find that kind of target too constraining, although I know it works for other writers. I write as little or as much as my other commitments/ the stage I’m at of writing the book/ the way I feel each day, dictates. As I said earlier, I’m lucky to be retired!
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
In fact I did write three novels under the pseudonym of Olivia Ryan. These were the ‘Tales From’ series – originally published by Piatkus. My then-editor there wanted me to reinvent myself as a new ‘young’ author for this series, which was hilarious as I was then well into my fifties! I’ve since republished ‘Tales from a Hen Weekend’ and ‘Tales from a Wedding Day’ myself on Amazon, but under my own name. ‘Tales from a Honeymoon Hotel’ is still available from Piatkus. I wouldn’t choose to write under a pseudonym again unless a publisher really wanted me to. I’m a bit known now by my own name so it would mean building up a following all over again.
How do you select the names of your characters? Do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?
I use historical baby-name websites sometimes to find appropriate names for the ages of my characters. I do try not to have too many characters whose names start with the same letter, or sound similar. And I try to avoid names I’ve used in previous books, although now I’m on my twenty-first novel, that’s getting more difficult. I know most things about the main characters before I start: obviously their age, marital status, occupation, and the basics of their personality and their past history – but they often surprise me by revealing a lot more about themselves as the story progresses!
What was your hardest scene to write?
Probably a scene in ‘The Pets at Primrose Cottage’ where a character describes how his grandparents were killed together in a tragic road accident. This happened to my own grandparents when I was a teenager and I don’t think I ever dealt with the grief properly at the time. In a way it was therapeutic to have described it as part of a story – but it wasn’t easy to write.
It you want to find out more about Clubhouse Member’s Books don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops too.