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 Paula to the tearoom. Welcome.
Thanks for inviting me to the Clubhouse, Paula. I’d love a latte, please.
It’s lovely to have you here, Paula. Now our refreshments have arrived let me start by asking you when you first begun your writing journey what drew you to your chosen genre?
I think the genre chose me. After writing mainly school stories as a child (based on Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers stories), I started writing romance stories in my teens for my friends to read on the school bus. Admittedly, they were very cheesy romances, but in my twenties I adapted and expanded one of these stories into a full length novel which was published by Mills and Boon in1968, followed by 3 more novels for M&B in the 1970s. After that, my family and career as a history teacher didn’t leave me much time for writing, apart from several short stories (romances, of course). When I eventually came back to writing novels (after taking early retirement from teaching), I automatically started writing romances again and have had 11 novels published since 2012. The only real change has been from character-led stories i.e. concentrating on the ‘romance’ between the characters, to plot-led stories in which some intrigue or external problem complicates the development of the relationship between the two main characters.
What writing elements do you think is your strongest points, and what would you like to do better?
I think dialogue is probably my strongest point – I enjoy writing dialogue, and can hear the characters in my head. I can even ‘think’ in different accents e.g. American, Irish, etc, even though I can’t speak them.
I used to think that descriptions were my weakest point – and so have been pleasantly surprised by some reviews of my series set in Ireland in which people have made comments such as ‘the descriptions of places in the book are perfectly heavenly and made me want to go there’ and ‘superb Irish countryside, so excellently described’. It seems I may be better at descriptions than I thought, but I confess I don’t find them easy to write, and can take longer to write a short descriptive paragraph than a whole page of dialogue.
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 came out of the blue, and is quite a departure from my other books, which have all been contemporary. This one is set in the mid-19th century and is based (loosely) on my great-great-grandparents. I knew from information my great-uncle gave me many years ago that his grandfather was a captain with the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company for about 20 years, but that was all I knew until I started researching my family history. I’ve found a lot of interesting, and at times conflicting, references to him in the company minutes and in the Isle of Man newspaper archives. Was John your archetypical ‘drunken sailor’ or was he an experienced and well-respected sea-captain? After more research, I’m now trying to weave a story about him, his wife, and his children, based partly on facts but also using a lot of imagination.
How many unfinished projects do you have on your computer?
After a quick check, I found two first chapters (abandoned), and also discovered a prologue set in Croatia that I’d forgotten about. I also have several articles which sparked my interest and sowed the seeds for stories – all of which I may develop – eventually!
Do you write a synopsis first or write the first chapter?
There’s no way I could write a synopsis first! I know from experience that the finished story would probably bear no relation to any synopsis. I simply start off with a vague idea of what the story will be about, and see where it takes me. Of course, that means I sometimes write myself into dead ends and have to backtrack and/or delete, but the plus side is that the characters often surprise me, or a new character appears who either helps or hinders the main characters. That, to me, is one of the joys of writing.
When reading your work through do you ever find that your daily mood swings are reflected in your writing?
That’s an interesting thought, but no, it’s the opposite for me. I think I escape from my moods into my writing, and concentrate on my characters and their problems, instead of my own. That’s been even more true during this year’s COVID lockdowns. At least my characters can go out and about and meet with family and friends, which I can’t do at present.
What did you learn when writing your books? In writing them, how much research did you do?
I do masses of research – thank heaven for Google, and also for maps, Streetview, and YouTube. I research the places where I set my novels (even those I’m familiar with), to make sure I don’t make any errors – although I admit I did once have a police car going the wrong way up a one-way street in an Irish town– oops! I also need to research characters’ jobs – I’ve had a theatre producer, journalist, archaeologist, volcano expert, veterinary surgeon, professional photographer, ballerina, tour guide, undercover detective, and several actors as my main characters. My Irish novels have also involved research into the 19th century potato famine, the 1920s Civil War, and the horrendous treatment of unmarried mothers and their babies in the 1950s. For my current ‘work-in-progress’ I’ve had to research 19th century Liverpool and the Isle of Man, as well as paddle steamers, Victorian foods and fashions, etc. I definitely learn a lot with every book I write!
Is there anything about you your readers might be surprised to find out?
When I came back to writing fiction, I started with fan-fiction, and wrote several stories based on ‘The West Wing’, my all-time favourite TV series. At various times I actually managed to meet several stars of the show – Richard Schiff and Stockard Channing when they were appearing in plays in London, Bradley Whitford at a theatre in New York, and Martin Sheen backstage at a theatre in Los Angeles. I will be forever grateful to ‘The West Wing’ for inspiring me to start writing again after a long period of not writing.
How do you select the names of your characters? Do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?
I don’t usually have any problem deciding on first names for my two main characters – their names seem to appear out of nowhere once I start thinking about a story. Secondary characters’ names are sometimes harder to find. I went through a phase where I had secondary characters named Kate in several of my books!I have more problems with surnames and usually trawl through surname sites until one jumps out at me.
When I start the story, I only know their names, their occupations, and maybe a few details of their lives, but I find they tell me more about themselves as I write their story – and sometimes they surprise me with information about themselves or their past history. In a sense, getting to know my characters gradually is rather like getting to know people in ‘real life’.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
I used to say writing a book was like having a baby i.e. a nine-month task, six months to write the first draft, and three months to revise, edit, and polish. For several years, I had a new book published each year. However, I admit I have slowed down recently, especially during this past year. Being in lockdown for most of the year should have given me more time for writing, but somehow it hasn’t worked like that, as I’ve been working on my current book for over a year and the first draft still isn’t finished. Maybe my ‘excuse’ is that I’ve had to do more research since it is set in Victorian times.
Many thanks for having me as your guest today, Paula. I’ve really enjoyed answering your questions!
Thank you for joining me, Paula. You’re welcome back anytime.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Paula’s writing check out the links below.
Amazon author page:author.to/MistNaMaraSeries
If you want to find out more about Clubhouse Member’s Books don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops too.