Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. Those of you who are not aware the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit the clubhouse is via membership or an invite to the tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation with all sort of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers. Over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, I shall be chatting with my guest about their work in progress, or latest book release.
Today I’m welcoming Beth in the clubhouse tearoom. Welcome.
Hello Paula, Thank you for your invitation to visit you in your very secret Clubhouse Tearoom. Now I’ve made it here, a cup of tea will be very welcome, especially in such a delicate china cup. However, when the occasion is right, I do enjoy a glass or two of champagne.
No champagne today, but let’s order a pot of tea.
Right, now we have our refreshments, I’ll start by asking you when you first begun your writing journey what drew you to your chosen genre?
From childhood I always enjoyed adventure stories, especially when they involved travel to distant places. And being a keen fan of Georgette Heyer, I set my stories in the wider Regency period. So my tales are a mix of adventure, intrigue and romance.
Tell us a little about your latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?
Some time ago the idea for a story just formed and in less than an hour I had it all sorted. Only, it’s never so simple, as I’m sure you agree. In chapter 7, the hero suddenly announced that he had two brothers. When I recovered from the surprise, it seemed obvious both brothers needed their own stories. I found a splendid chateau in the Pyrenees as a home for my Montailhac family, so it’s been a pleasure to use that as a setting for more adventures and romance. Now The Outcasts, the story about the youngest brother is complete and looking for a home. Everyone considers that Joachim is still a boy, so his ambition is to prove he can manage the family estate as well as any of them. Of course, endless problems occur to hinder him, and two sisters, the most difficult guests possible, make everything worse. Well, that’s how it starts off.
How many unfinished projects do you have on your computer?
There are the first two novels I wrote, which are not likely to see the light of day. The first one is a quest [I love writing those] and could be ok with some more work. The second, which is a sequel, is absolutely awful. I’m cringing even to mention it to you. And there’s a new story on the go, a contemporary tale about an Englishwoman who goes to live in France. It keeps getting held up by the need to check on various bits of French administration. And I have three chapters of a novel about Eleanor Tilney, my take on Northanger Abbey.
Do you write a synopsis first or write the first chapter, or let the characters lead you?
My stories always seem to spring from a picture of a person, seen as I turn the pages of a magazine or read an article online. Suddenly that face takes on an identity and scenes from their life appear in my head. At this point I don’t know what order those scenes come in the story. However, every scene finds its place in there. It’s weird. Before writing the story I make a ‘working synopsis’, which gets added to, and often changed. Sometimes more characters appear and surprise me, but they always have a necessary role in the plot.
Were any of your characters inspired by real people?
That’s a tricky one, Paula. Never deliberately, apart from once when I killed off a character based on a real person. I do copy mannerisms or attitudes from observing people. Mostly it’s after a book is published that I realise I’ve put bits of myself in there, and especially my favourite aunt appears in a couple of novels as a birdlike, kindly old lady. All quite unconsciously done at the time.
What did you learn when writing your book? In writing it, how much research did you do?
Writing is a constant process of learning. I hope to improve with each book I write, finding out how to add suspense, how to make the characters walk off the page, or to show the settings vividly. But I always feel I could do better next time.
Did you uncover things about yourself while writing your books, whether that be a long forgotten memory, a positive experience etc.
You’re right that old memories surface as we write, and maybe we see an event from long ago in a new way. Sometimes it seems as if a window opens and a past event becomes clear again. That can even lead to a separate piece of work, an article about a place or an event suddenly remembered and seeming vivid.
How do you select the names of your characters? Do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?
This question made me laugh, thinking of that first story [still on the computer]. Before starting the novel, I wrote 25 pages of notes about the main character – almost a story in itself, isn’t it! Now I make a workbook, with family trees, homes, a page or two for each character, with photos and dates, together with brochures and research information about the period, area and main events of the year when the story takes place.
To find names I have been known to wander round graveyards to get correct names for the time and region. That doesn’t work for my Turkish tales, as the alphabet was Arabic until 1928, so I go online to lists of the sultans and their children, and select names that way.
What was your hardest scene to write?
In Scandalous Lady, there are two sex scenes, vital to the plot. It was a really tough job to describe the scene, both times. However, I haven’t heard any criticism about them.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Roughly about eighteen months all told, because research often means a journey and i may have to wait a while before going on it. I never send a story out without going to see the places where it’s set, measure the distances travelled, or verify any special buildings. So far this has involved trips to Romania, Budapest, Vienna, Istanbul as well as London, Brighton and Bath. I did say at the beginning that travel fascinated me, so the trips are always a pleasure. The actual writing and revising takes time. Deciding the story is finished is so hard. I’m one of these poor souls who could revise even after the book is published.
Thank you so much for this chat, Beth. It’s always good to share writing ideas and problems with another writers.
If you want to find out more about Clubhouse Member’s Books don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops too.