Thank you, Susana, for letting me visit your Morning Room to talk about my writing and my novels. I would love to hear more from your readers, so I am offering a free copy of the Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes e-book to one lucky commenter (chosen at random) across this and my previous post.
What inspired you to start writing?
I’ve always loved stories. I never had the confidence to write them down, though. At school I was motivated by good grades and focused more on English literature than creative writing. Then I became pregnant with my first child and started a creative writing course to give me something to keep my brain active. I found that writing stories was even more fun than writing essays.
I had attempted to write a novel before, but never got past the first page because I didn’t think I had a good enough imagination. The Creative Writing course, together with discovering NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers Month—writing 50,000 words in 30 days), enabled me to discover an ability to write that I was previously unaware of. Thank goodness!
How long have you been writing?
I have been writing novels for five years. My first novel, Finding Lucy, remains unfinished (due to the early arrival of my second child!) but I hope to return to it soon.
What advice would you give to writers just starting out?
Don’t give up! Reach out to the writing community: their support is invaluable. Whether it’s through a writer’s group, or blogging, or other online communities, the support network (and advice available) for writers is immense.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
Before NaNoWriMo I found it impossible to get words on a page. Learning to switch off the inner editor is essential (for me) to ensure the words flow. I tend to only suffer from writer’s block now when I’m stuck in a plot hole. I tend to walk the dog and let the ideas drift round my head. Then I’ll tap a few leading sentences into my phone and that frees the words.
I’ve also learned the truth in the advice ‘Write every day’. I found all sorts of excuses not to in the past, before I started a daily blog challenge for 2013. Now there are no excuses, as a post—and an instalment in my daily novel Two-Hundred Steps Home (named for the 200 YHA hostels in the UK) —has to be produced every day. Knowing I have to publish 500-1000 words of fiction, regardless of other commitments, has taught me how to get the words down. Some days produce better writing than others, but I haven’t yet had a day where I didn’t write anything. Deadlines are useful.
What comes first: the plot or the characters?
I usually start with an idea. It isn’t really plot or character, more like a problem or a theme. In Two-Hundred Steps Home it was the desire to write a novel in instalments, which led to a travel theme. Then the character of Claire developed to fit the idea. Knowing who Claire was then helped produce the plot, as I could see what her conflicts would be.
With my latest novel, Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes, the theme of unexpected pregnancy was the beginning. Then came Helen, and her personality drove the plot.
With my YA novel, Dragon Wraiths, I started with a voice. The words that open the novel came in a dream, and everything came from that, even the dragons!
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m a pantser to the core. My creativity is all buried deep in my sub-conscious, beneath years of academic writing, years of being told I didn’t have an imagination and that my writing was dull. The only way to tap into that creativity is to just write and not think.
However, I discovered with Dragon Wraiths the pitfalls of making it up as you go. Sometimes you get in plot cul-de-sacs that are hard to get out of. Also my natural verbosity (sorry!) means my novels are all over-length. In future I plan to limit the words I write upfront, as I find it difficult to cut them out afterwards.
With Two-Hundred Steps Home I have the journey around the UK hostels as a rough guide, but the actual story evolves daily. Some days I know what needs to happen next—for example I knew a week or two in advance that Claire would be travelling with her niece or I have an idea what the month-end cliff-hanger might be—but I don’t know what I’m going to write on any given day until I open my laptop.
Tell us something about your newest release that is NOT in the blurb.
The main character in Dragon Wraiths, Leah, develops powers after her sixteenth birthday. I won’t give the plot away, but they include the ability to read people’s emotions, seeing them as colours. It’s something I think would be a useful, if understated, power. I’m terrible at reading people: I’m too quick to think they’re judging me when, really, they’re probably contemplating their dinner or their weekend plans.
Are you working on something at present that you would like to tell us about?
As well as continuing to write Two-Hundred Steps Home as part of my 2013 daily blogging challenge, I am also doing the final edits on a chick lit novel called Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes. It’s actually on my Smashwords page as I accidentally published it when I was trying to send a copy to a beta reader. I’ve left it live because it picked up a lovely 5-star review, even though it still needs some tidying with grammar and a few lapses in POV. After that, I hope to get back to some of the other half-finished manuscripts I’ve generated through doing NaNoWriMo every year.
What are you reading now?
I’ve just finished Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett. I’ve re-read the entire Tiffany Aching series by Pratchett recently, as they’re so much fun. I try to avoid reading in the genre I’m writing, which gives me a great excuse to read all the MG and YA books I couldn’t read while writing Dragon Wraiths.
What author or authors have most influenced your writing?
I love the lyrical prose of Barbara Kingsolver, and the way she weaves the natural world into her writing. There are definitely elements of that in Dragon Wraiths. The voice of Leah was influenced by Katniss, from Hunger Games, in terms of being written in the first-person present.
For my main genre, chick lit, I love Freya North. Her characters are exquisitely individual and she isn’t afraid to try different styles of writing, changing perspectives and having the narrator talk directly to the characters in the novel.
What is your work schedule like when writing?
On the two days my children go to nursery, my routine is: drop them off, go to the coffee shop, start writing. If I don’t start writing immediately (before I get back home) I get sucked into domestic chores, walking the dog, making beds, housework, laundry and all the other things that go with having two preschoolers in the house.
When I am writing first drafts, my day is structured into chunks of writing interspersed with downtime (chores or, occasionally, reading) to let my brain refresh. At the moment I’m promoting Dragon Wraiths, as well as working on the daily blog. Therefore my day is more about social media, reading and commenting on blogs, following Twitter, than about writing.
For the daily blog, I usually start when the children are in bed, although I often get the blog section written in my phone while I walk the dog after tea, when my husband has the children. Then I sit and write the novel installment while trying to ignore whatever my husband is watching on TV.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a travelling vet, living in a gypsy caravan! Then I discovered I didn’t enjoy science and feel queasy at the sight of blood.
Is there a writer you idolize? If so, who?
My favourite author is definitely Terry Pratchett. The intricacy and cleverness of his world building, his social commentary, his amazing three-dimensional characters, all combine to create books I read again and again. However, for romance and pure enjoyment, I read my Georgette Heyer books. I have her entire set of Regency novels, and will often read one in between other novels, to refresh the palette as it were!
What would we find under your bed?
Suitcases, half-read paperbacks, children’s books, an occasional chocolate bar wrapper and dust.
Do you have a favorite quote or saying?
“Big mistake, big, huge. I have to go shopping now.” From Pretty Woman. Sorry, I realize that isn’t very profound, but I love what it represents about Vivienne’s personal growth and increase in confidence. Besides, who wouldn’t want to do that?
Do you write in multiple genres or just one? If just one, would you consider straying outside your genre?
So far I have written Young Adult and Chick Lit/Women’s Fiction. I’m itching to try writing Middle Grade fiction and my secret desire is to write and illustrate a children’s picture book. One day.
What is something you’d like to accomplish in your writing career next year?
Next year I would like to complete and publish Class Act, another of my unfinished manuscripts. I continue to send my books to agents, so it would be marvellous to finally get a manuscript accepted by an agent. I enjoy self-publishing but I would still like to have a novel published through the traditional route.
When was the moment that you knew you had to be a writer
The first time I did NaNoWriMo (writing 50,000 words in a month) and realised I could write, whatever people had said to me in the past.
What has been your biggest adventure to date?
I don’t think I can choose: Having children. Travelling solo around New Zealand. Self-publishing my first novel. They were all pretty scary, and have all resulted in me discovering new elements of myself.
What is the one modern convenience you can’t do without?
A kettle. No, wait, my laptop. Um. Electricity?
About Two-Hundred Steps Home
Claire’s lie revolves around Starbucks, stilettos and her career as an Advertising Account Director for AJC. That is until her boss Carl decides to send her on a mission to visit every one of the 200 YHA hostel in England and Wales as part of a marketing campaign. More used to five-star spa resorts than ‘flea-infested hostels’ Claire only takes the assignment to save face. It becomes clear to her the ‘mission’ is a ruse to make her resign.
Barnes & Noble
“Claire, could you come into my office for a quick chat?”
Claire looked up from the stack of artwork on her desk and resisted the urge to frown, knowing it would leave creases in her foundation.
“Sure Carl, now?”
“Yes please,” he said over his shoulder as he headed back to his own, larger, glass cube on the other side of the office.
Intrigued that he hadn’t sent Julia or phoned through his summons, Claire slipped on her heels, pulled on her jacket and headed after her boss.
“Come in, sit down, would you like a drink?”
Carl was already seated when Claire scratched on his door and opened it.
“Earl Grey please, black, no sugar,” Claire said as she lowered herself onto the black leather chair, glad she was wearing tights.
Carl pressed a button on his desk. “Earl Grey and an espresso please Jules.”
Carl shuffled the paper on his desk and didn’t look up. “How’s the Birds Eye piece coming together?”
Claire looked at the bald patch starting to appear on Carl’s crown and answered in a monotone. “Fine. No dramas.”
“And the Vodafone ad?”
“Shooting next week.”
“Right.” Carl took an audible breath.
Just spit it out, Claire thought as she watched the words fighting to be released from his mouth.
“The Board would like you to hand over your existing clients to Steve.”
Claire sat forward. She hadn’t been expecting that. Aware of her movement she immediately sat back and looked sardonically at Carl.
“Am I being fired?”
“No,” he said quickly, “of course not. You’re one of our best Account Directors. No, think of it more as a change of direction. We’ve secured a new deal with Coca Cola.”
Claire raised her eyebrows before dropping them quickly. Coke? That was a big deal.
“They’re sponsoring the YHA.”
“Youth Hostel Association.”
Claire looked blankly for a minute, not making the connection. Then her brain kicked in. “That doesn’t seem a likely combination – isn’t youth hostelling all about being healthy and the great outdoors. Not something you associate with Coca Cola.”
“That’s the point. After the Olympics they want to improve their healthy image. They’ve decided a year’s sponsorship of the YHA will improve the perception of their brand in the UK.”
“So I’m getting that account? It doesn’t mean I have to hand over all my other deals, surely? Even someone as big as Coke must understand they’re not our only client.”
“Of course not. Actually you won’t be managing the account, I will.”
Claire felt her heartbeat begin to speed up. Something wasn’t right. Carl was looking shifty and he never looked shifty. It was as if he was bracing himself.
“So, come on then, what am I going to be doing?”
“Um. You’re going to be staying in the hostels.”
“What?” Claire nearly stood up but remembered at the last minute to relax back into her chair. Stay in control, Claire, don’t let him get to you.
“The bigwigs want someone on the ground, living the hostelling dream. They want someone to visit all the hostels during the year of promotion, to feedback stories on Twitter and Facebook, you know how it goes.”
“Why can’t you send one of the interns?” Claire could hear her voice sounded higher than usual. She swallowed and took some deep breaths.
“Polly and Molly have finals this year and Sally has a cat.”
Claire looked incredulously at Carl, then over his head through the glass wall of the office.
“What about Julia, she looks like she could use a holiday.”
“This is not a holiday and my PA is indispensable.”
“And I’m not?”
Their eyes clashed and fought before Carl smiled and leaned forward across his desk. “Come on Claire, be reasonable. Think of it as an adventure.”
“You want me to go and sleep in bug-infested bunk-beds in the same room as a bunch of smelly, over-sexed, students for a whole year? You must be mad.” She looked around the office as if seeking something to help her escape. The office was bare except for some piece of modern art and a photograph of Carl’s inexplicably beautiful wife.
“No Claire,” Carl said in a quiet voice. Claire turned to face him, her pulse beating loudly in her ears. Like any predator, Carl was at his most dangerous when he was silent. Forcing herself to meet his eyes she saw the glint in them and swallowed. Carl didn’t frighten her; she’d been around too long and knew she was good at her job. Even so she felt her palms getting clammy as Carl stared at her, one eyebrow slightly raised.
“Who did I offend?” Claire could hear the resignation in her voice. Resignation, was that her only option?
“No one my dear. Think of it more as an initiation challenge.”
It was Claire’s turn to raise an eyebrow. This was unexpected.
“The Board feel you have potential but they’re not convinced of your loyalty, to them or to our clients. Think of this as a sabbatical to consider your next career move.”
“Up or out?” Claire suggested, her lips twisting sarcastically.
“Well I wouldn’t put it quite so crudely but yes, as usual, you have encapsulated the essence in a pithy one-liner. That’s why you’re such a valuable member of the team.”
Right, thought Claire as she stalked back to her office. What a load of crap.
About the Author
Amanda Martin was born in Hertfordshire in 1976. After graduating with first class honours from Leeds University she wandered around the world trying to find her place in it. She tried various roles, in England and New Zealand, including Bar Manager, Marketing Manager, Consultant and Artist before deciding that WriterMummy summed her up best. She lives in Northamptonshire with her husband, two children and labradoodle Kara. She can mostly be found at http://writermummy.wordpress.com
Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/WriterMummy
Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.com/e/B00BSPIVC0