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 it 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 Lorna to the tearoom. Welcome. My first question is what drink would like?
Please could I have Lemon and ginger tea. Thank you.
Now we have our refreshments let’s start with when you first begun your writing journey what drew you to your chosen genre?
I was six when I started writing, but I was writing songs – yes, the music, too – and poetry, rather than prose. I started to write an adventure book about cowboys when I was eleven. I don’t think I have a chosen genre. I am still experimenting! I got a job on a romantic fiction magazine when I was in my thirties. That’s when I started writing romantic stories and selling them to magazines such as Woman’s Realm. My then boyfriend became a literary agent (lucky me!) and encouraged me to write for the Sapphire Romance library and from there, I started writing romances for teenagers, for Pan and Scholastic.
What writing elements do you think is your strongest points, and what would you like to do better?
I think emotion is my strongest point. I wish I could write better dialogue. I need to listen more… catch the cadences and vocabulary of other people’s speech.
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 writing project is non-fiction. It’s an account of all the strange and spooky things that have happened in my life, such as an angel coming into my living room when my mum died. She hadn’t even been ill. I had no idea what was going on when the ceiling suddenly vanished and all this pink light flooded in, to be followed by mighty, feathery wings that came right through the wall.
How many unfinished projects do you have on your computer?
There are five unfinished projects on my computer. Two are follow-ups to books I have already had published, two are autobiographical, the spooky book being one and the other being an account of the times I was at knife point and gun point. I’ve had a very strange life! The final one involves a murder. This is something new for me. It’s not a police procedural, it’s a psychological thriller, I suppose.
When writing poetry do you plan your poem?
My poems come out of the blue. So do my songs. They are visitations. With books, I get the germ of an idea and let it fester for while. Then I start making notes on my computer, but I can never start writing until I have the end firmly fixed in my mind – in fact, I sometimes write the final sentence and that gives me something to work towards. I write a sketchy kind of chapter breakdown that’s always likely to change. I also make a list of characters and a brief biography of them all, so I don’t change their eye or hair colour halfway through.
Choosing only five of your favourite authors. Can you list them in order 1 begin the top of your list and say how have they influenced your writing?
Favourite writers. I have plenty. Gerard Manley Hopkins’ rhythms and stresses fill me with joy. I can hear music in his lines. D. H. Lawrence, although he writes a lot of purple prose, has emotional power and gritty realism in his writing, and I admire the way he doesn’t avoid sex but plunges in (ahem!). I love Peter Robinson’s writing in his DCI Banks books. He is particularly good at conveying internal dialogue in an unobtrusive way. I keep one of his books on my shelf and often open it at random to check how he does it. I am a great fan of Lindsey Davis’s Falco and Flavia Alba novels set in ancient Rome and I admire the way she is so steeped in her research that absolutely nothing shrieks ‘info dump’ at you. I think A.J. Griffiths-Jones is a terrific writer with an amazing imagination. She is tremendously versatile. I first encountered her work when I was given the job of copy-editing her book Black Sparrow, and I am currently reading The Seasiders.
When reading your work through do you ever find that your daily mood swings are reflected in your writing?
My daily moods don’t affect my writing. If anything, it’s the other way round. When one of my characters suffers a tragic death, I weep over the keyboard and am miserable for the rest of the day.
Were any of your characters inspired by real people?
Sometimes I base characters on real people, but not directly. For example, Cassidy, in Half A Rainbow, is a combination of three people I used to know. Leah is more like me!
What did you learn when writing your book? In writing it, how much research did you do?
For Half A Rainbow, I researched goats and goat breeding. For The Earl’s Captive, I didn’t have time for research as I only had five weeks in which to write 85,000 words, but I am happily researching all things Regency for the next book about Lucy Swift.
Is there anything about you your readers might be surprised to find out?
One thing that surprised me about myself was when I did one of those Ancestry tests and was told I had 4% Neanderthal DNA. That is a very high proportion and puts me in 1% of the population. I have a theory about it. I bet if all those who were in any way psychic were to be tested, they would be found to have high dose of Neanderthal DNA, too. We needed a sixth sense in those days, partly for communication purposes and also to avoid being bumped off by a brontosaurus.
Did you uncover things about yourself while writing your book, whether that be a long forgotten memory, a positive experience etc.
I can’t say I have unlocked any hidden memories or made any personal discoveries while writing, so I can’t answer this one.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
My work schedule varies. I was a freelance journalist for many years, writing to tight deadlines and many of my more than twenty books have been written to deadlines, too. I am much more disciplined when I know my work has to be in by a certain day. Without that deadline, I think ‘There’s always tomorrow’, and don’t get down to it. I certainly don’t whip myself into writing a set amount of words a day. I should. Perhaps I need to set myself some rules. During lockdown, it’s far too easy to drift and play Words With Friends!
Do you set yourself a daily word count?
I’ve answered this in my previous paragraph really, but I once managed 13,000 words over a weekend, because my then agent had a meeting set up with a publisher and wanted three chapters to show them. My book idea was rejected because, quote, “Books set in Cornwall are old hat”. But those chapters became Half A Rainbow.
How many hours in a day do you write?
I find I can’t write for more than four hours a day now. I have arthritis in my fingers – something which I share with Lindsey Davis; we have emailed each other with advice – so I try not to hammer the keyboard for too long, though it’s only too easy to get carried away and suddenly realise it’s got dark and you’ve been writing since lunchtime.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I used a pseudonym just once, for the original version of The Earl’s Captive, which was published by Futura Books in the ‘80s as Sweet Temptation. They chose that title and I always hated it. The book was a ‘bodice ripper’, which was all the rage then and I used the pseudonym Caroline Standish (the Standish came from the name of the stately home my ancestors once lived in). I only did this because my mother begged me to, so that my prim father wouldn’t find out I had written steamy prose! I actually toned the sex down a lot when I revamped the book for my current publisher, because it was too voyeuristic somehow and didn’t fit with today’s climate.
How do you select the names of your characters? Do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?
Choosing names for characters was so much easier back when I first started writing professionally, because we all had phone books! I would think of a Christian name, then flip the pages looking for a surname that fitted well with it. Now, if I come across a name I like, I scribble it down, thinking, ‘That would make a good name for my next hero or heroine’. As I mentioned earlier, I keep a ‘cog sheet’, as we used to call it, containing info about the characters. I love the way in which Lindsey Davis starts all her books off with a snappy resume of each character in her books; just a few laconic words such as ‘Sosthenes, a water-features expert, bit of a drip’, or ‘Alina, a wife dreaming of love: no chance’!
What was your hardest scene to write?
My hardest scene to write? The tricky murder in one of my works-in-progress. I’m still trying to work it out.
How long on average does it take you to write a book (story, poem, or play)?
Writing a poem can take anything from an hour to a year, though this one barely took five minutes:
I’m having a senior moment. My memory’s let me down flat. Was Sandy the name of your sister, Or was it the name of your cat? Did you live in a basement in Balham, Or was it a penthouse in Bow? And your name, is it David, or Alan? And (forgive!) did we ever… you know?!
I write poems in a frenzy, almost channeling them, then put them to one side and re-read them a few weeks later to see what needs polishing. Sometimes it’s an endless task. I am still reworking poems I wrote when I was a student in 1966! With books, I would say the average length of time it takes me to write one is three to six months if I have no interruptions. But life has a habit of getting in the way, doesn’t it?
Thank you so much for joining me today, Lorna.
If you would like to know more about Lorna’s work please click on the links:
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