Showing posts with label Writing tips. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Writing tips. Show all posts

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Interview with Liz Fenwick - author of The Cornish House

Liz Fenwick’s path to publication sounds like a dream come true. She sent her debut novel out on a grey February day, not knowing what to expect, and by the end of the week it has been snapped up by Carole Blake, one of the top agents in the business. But as Liz explained to me, writing The Cornish House, her captivating tale of a rambling manor house and the family secrets it holds, took grit, determination and years of hard work.

The Cornish House is your debut novel. Can you tell me a little about the road to publication and how you got a publishing deal?

Liz: To make a long story short – in 2004 I promised myself I would begin to write fiction again. After writing seven books (not counting rewrites) and receiving encouraging rejections I finally felt that I had brought The Cornish House up to a level where I felt that it was as good as I could make it. So on a Monday in February, I sent it to four agents who had been encouraging me in my journey. By noon I had my first request for the full manuscript. I nearly fell over. On Saturday Carole Blake got in touch and said she loved it and would love to represent me. I was over the moon. Things moved swiftly from there. The first sale was to Holland, then the two-book deal with Orion in the UK and it went to auction in Germany. That was so exciting. Recently the book sold to Portugal. It’s all so unreal in a way – you dream about something all your life and finally you put the work in to make it happen and then it does…

How did you come up with the idea for The Cornish House?

Liz: This is the third novel I’d written (currently working on my eighth) and from the book before (August Rock) there was this rather dishy love interest named Mark and he kept pestering me for a story of his own. How could I refuse? That was part of it, but one day a few years ago several roads were closed and we detoured down a lane I hadn’t been on in ages and I saw The Cornish House. This is a house that I had always loved and been intrigued by. Then I had a discussion with a teenager going through that awful stage when they can only see their own point of view… Suddenly the story began to take shape….

Trevenen, the house at the heart of The Cornish House, sounds gorgeous. Does it actually exist?

Liz: Yes and no. The real house is different from Trevenen. In the writing of the book it grew and developed. I spent hours on the layout, which required a lot of internet searching of properties and floor plans…such a hard task. So Trevenen is my idea of the ideal house, but based on the house that captured my heart from the moment I saw it nestled into a fold in the land off a remote lane. That house is truly The Cornish House, and as such is rather special and its location is a secret…

The relationship between Maddie, the heroine of the novel, and her step-daughter Hannah, is incredibly tricky. How did you go about making it so convincing?

Liz: Probably because I’m a mother of teenagers…thankfully mine aren’t as spiky as Hannah. But I loved both these broken characters and I think that helps keep it “real” on the page because they were and are still very “real” in my head.

You divide your time between Dubai, Cornwall and London. How do you manage to write novels when you travel so much?

Liz: I can work on a plane or anywhere. Because I began writing fiction again when the kids were still fairly small, I can tune out the world and tune into my writing.

What are the best things about living in Cornwall?

Liz: The people, the scenery, the fresh fish, and my house…

Do you have any tips for writers working on their debut novels right now?

Liz: Be professional, be persistent and write the book of your heart.  It’s so tempting when you want your words to be read to follow the latest trend, but trends change as soon as you are aware of them. Write the book of your heart and with luck it will hit the right trend and you will have been true to yourself.

What is your own favourite novel? And are there any particular novelists who have inspired you?

Liz: This is such a tough question…there are so many favourites. I love Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer. It was the first one of hers that I read and her books were where I escaped to during my teenage years. A more recent favourite was Leo the African by Amin Maalouf. This showed me the history of an area through a very personal story and has the best opening line ever. In a way all writers who have completed a book inspire me. That is the toughest thing – to complete a book and then accept that you will have to rewrite it in some way at least once or in my case many many more times. But during my “apprenticeship” in the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme I was lucky enough to watch Katie Fforde in action. She is my inspiration. She is such a professional in how she goes about all aspects of her work as a writer. She makes it look easy and I’m now learning how hard it all is…

Can you tell us a little bit about your second novel – August Rock? And when will it be published?

Liz: August Rock existed before The Cornish House. I’m now on my 27th rewrite and it’s a story I still love. It’s about Jude, who suddenly wakes up to the fact that she is following life by other people’s design and not her own. She flees her wedding and ends up taking a position as a research assistant to a garden historian on a Cornish estate. When the historian dies and his son arrives to sell the estate, she finds out that she has fallen in love for the first time - not with a person but a place. She has to save Pengarrock and find out who she really is and what she really wants. And oh, there’s a wonderful thirteen year old Victorian boy called Toby. I can’t seem to keep away from teenagers… It will be out in the spring of 2013.

The Cornish House by Liz Fenwick (Orion, £12.99)

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Novel writing - getting the dialogue right

As a journalist, I spend my days interviewing people and reporting what they say. Maybe I’m kidding myself but I reckon I’ve got a good ear for dialogue – and for an authentic-sounding quote.

But writing novels is far harder. For a start, you’ve invented the characters yourself (unless you’re writing a Hilary Mantel type tome, of course) - so you have to invent convincing dialogue for them too. And bearing in mind that we all speak completely differently, you have to invent different-sounding dialogue for every character, young and old. Joanna Trollope’s a brilliant writer but I always think her characters sound too alike when they speak.

I tried to bear all this in mind when I wrote my new novella, Olympic Flames – and having straight-talking, nearly grown-up children helped a lot. When one of my younger characters described a girl as being “a slip of a thing,” my daughter was on the phone in a trice. “I’ve asked all my flatmates and none of us know what on earth you mean,” she told me. The phrase “getting in a lather” met a similar fate. “No one uses that,” she said. “It should be ‘stressed out.’” And as for “playing gooseberry,” my son rolled his eyes in despair and instructed me to change it to “being a third wheel” – immediately.

So getting your characters’ language and tone right is crucial. But then again you don’t want to go too far and sound as though you’re trying to turn into a hip twenty-something. Not that I ever was a hip twenty-something, sadly.

Actually, all this talk about dialogue reminds me of my first novel, Hard Copy. It was set in the newspaper world, complete with tight deadlines, stressed-out (see, I’m learning) reporters and demanding bosses. One day my copy editor rang me. “There’s a slight problem with the language,” she said. My heart sank, thinking of the smattering of swear words I’d put into the novel to make the news room sound authentic. “Why, is it too bad?” I asked. “No, she laughed. “It’s not bad enough…”

Olympic Flames by Emma Lee-Potter (Endeavour Press, £1.99)
PS. With every room in the house bursting at the seams with books, I've just got a Kindle. I think it could change my life - or at least lead to a much tidier office!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

House With No Name Weekly Digest: From The Hummingbird Bakery to We Need to Talk About Kevin

A new Saturday round-up of the week at House With No Name.

House With No Name Book Review: Cecelia Ahern’s The Time of My Life
House With No Name Film Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin
House With No Name Writing Tips: How to Write a Great Plot
House With No Name Cake Appreciation: The Hummingbird Bakery’s Halloween Specials
House With No Name at the Cheltenham Literature Festival: Carol Drinkwater and Michael Wright
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