I’ve gathered together some of the questions I’ve been asked over the years. On this page you’ll find a selection of general questions about me and my writing. If you’re looking for more specific questions regarding one of my books then simply use the Ask the Author menu above to select.
When and why did you start writing?
I wasn’t one of those people who always knew they wanted to be a writer. Even when I began writing, it was with no greater ambition than to write the words on the page because I had turned to writing when I was living through nightmares rather than searching for dreams. In 2004, my twenty one month old son was diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia. The odds for survival were bleak and while his disease was indolent, we were asked to watch and wait for the cancer to rear its ugly head. That’s such a hard ask, especially when I realised that the best thing I could do for my kids was to find the strength to carry on and give Nathan a secure, loving and as much as possible, normal life. I managed to do that with some amazing support from my family but I still needed an outlet to tell it how it really was. I couldn’t speak my fears out loud but I could write them down. And when the worst happened and Nathan died eighteen months later, my ability to write transferred the rages in my head onto the page and got me through the darkest hours of my life. And at some point between then and now, I got into the habit of writing. My son taught me to make the most of my life and he gave me the courage to have dreams and to see them through. Having my books published is part of his legacy.
How therapeutic was writing in your journal and poetry while your son was ill?
I never considered myself a writer, not creatively at least but when Nathan was diagnosed with cancer I found it was the only way I could communicate. I physically couldn’t get the words out even if I had wanted to talk about what was happening, I was an emotional wreck. Keeping an online journal that friends and family could see meant I didn’t have to keep repeating and explaining what was happening. Writing poetry allowed me to make sense of my own emotions and was an easier way to express to other people how I felt. When Nathan died, I threw myself into writing his story using the journals I’d kept. It was a way of ensuring that every precious memory of my son was kept safely. I think it not only gave me something to focus on but it was also cathartic to commit to paper the single most traumatic experience of my life.
Your books are quite the tear-jerkers – is this something you set out with in mind?
I started creative writing as a way to express myself when my son was ill and then carried on writing to escape the unimaginable grief after he died, so you might be forgiven for wondering why I would want to write such emotional storylines. I suppose it goes back to the old advice of writing about what you know and for me it was also therapeutic, even cathartic at times. And I think it’s good for the soul to have a good cry now and again although I do try to make sure my novels are uplifting too.
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
That would really depend on whether it was during the working week or the weekend. I still work full time which means I have to squeeze in my new writing career as if it was still a hobby albeit one that consumes much of my free time and has deadlines to meet. I’m usually home from ‘work’ by late afternoon and fire up the computer as soon as I step through the door. There’s a quick break to feed myself and my teenage daughter and then it’s back to my writing until I’m finished which can be as early as 7pm but often stretches beyond 9pm. Weekends are another matter entirely. Given a choice I’d write in the mornings as I love being able to spend the rest of the day pottering around with the scenes I’ve just written still lurking inside my head. That’s usually when I’ll get a sudden flash of inspiration that will set me up for the next day’s labours.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I start with the basic premise for a story but where that comes from heaven only knows. From there I’ll write a synopsis which is the basis for the novel that my agent and editor are expecting from me. Now all I have to do is turn a two page summary into a full length manuscript. To begin with I try to divide the story up into about twelve sections so I can think about pace and sub-plots and a little about character development but not too much. I don’t tend to get a real feel for my characters until I’m into the second draft at least.
When I first began to write, I foolishly imagined that the very first draft of my novel would be an unpolished version of the final product. Now I know better. Those very first attempts will be written, rewritten and sometimes completely cut so I try not to labour for hours over each and every sentence. I’ll often develop new ideas as I go along, even new characters that should have been there from the start but I never go back and rewrite scenes until I’ve finished the draft I’m working on, it’s too much like taking two steps forward and one step back. Instead, I make a note of the changes and pick them up second time around. When I have a draft that I’m happy with then I send it off to my agent. His feedback is invaluable, it’s the first time I will have let anyone read it and it’s usually at this point that the rewriting begins in earnest. A revised draft will be sent to my editor next and the process begins all over again, starting with any major restructuring before moving on to gradual refinement of the manuscript and then the final stage is the page proof. I honestly couldn’t say how many drafts that can add up to but I would think I’ve reread or rewritten at least a dozen versions of my novel before it’s ready for the harshest critic, the reader.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
The best advice I picked up and which I’m eager to pass on is that when you begin to write your novel, don’t stop until you get to the end! Don’t keep going back to rewrite chapters until you’ve completed the first draft otherwise you’re unlikely to ever finish it. There have been times where I’ve made fundamental changes half way through the first draft of a novel but rather than going back and making the changes there and then, I just imagine that I’ve written it the way I intended. For smaller changes I keep a log of all the amendments I need to pick up when I start on the second draft. There’s nothing more satisfying than finishing that first draft…no more empty pages to fill.
To what extent would you advise people to write if they are going through something life changing?
Creative writing is a recognised form of therapy and I would recommend it to anyone, even if no-one else ever sees it. There’s something about writing down your experiences that brings a sense of control back into your life. It’s a way of capturing all of the thoughts and feelings spinning around in your head and putting them into some kind of order. And once you’ve transferred them to the written page you have the choice to delve back into them or not.
I found writing poetry particularly helpful because it’s a good way to visualise your emotions whether that’s standing on a precipice, fighting through a raging storm or sinking into an abyss. I’m not a therapist but for me, once I could visualise my feelings I felt better able to deal with them.