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Has living in Surrey inspired you to write a novel? Our county has more than its share of highly successful authors and we tracked down six of them. They were all interesting, inspiring and resourceful people, and were happy to give us a fascinating insight into their exciting, creative lives and to offer some tips for aspiring writers . . .
Alison Weir www.alisonweir.org.uk
Alison Weir is one of Britain’s foremost popular historical writers, author of ten best-selling non-fiction historical books and one historical novel to date. Alison has a unique talent for creating easy, accessible, entertaining reads, packed with personalities, set against a vast bedrock of faultlessly researched facts. In September, her latest biography, ‘Katherine Swynford: The story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess’, comes out, followed by a second novel, ‘The Lady Elizabeth’, in spring 2008.
“I’ve definitely been inspired by historic palaces in Surrey, an area Henry V111 knew very well, Hampton Court springs to mind. I wrote my first book – a biography of Ann Boleyn – when I was 15, but it wasn’t until more than 20 years later that I got my first publishing deal with ‘Britain’s Royal Families’, a genealogical guide to the British monarchy, which I’d taken twenty-two years to research! I really live with my characters: when I described Elizabeth 1’s death in ‘Elizabeth the Queen’, I actually cried because I knew I was going to miss her so much. My advice to any aspiring writer is never to give up. Writing has to be something that comes from within you. You’ve got to have flair and determination.”
Adele Parks www.adeleparks.com
All of Adele Parks seven contemporary women’s fiction novels have been bestsellers. Her storytelling skills are such that her first book was accepted by seven publishers, who started a bidding war! ‘Young Wives Tales’ was published in May, and she is planning to be at the Guildford Book Festival in Oct 2007.
“I can see the Surrey Downs from my home-office window and I absolutely love that. I can get inspiration simply by walking through Guildford High Street and stopping in The Green Room for a cup of tea and observing people. I’ve been writing since I was a little girl but I’m a harsh self critic, so never sent anything for consideration until I began ‘Playing Away’, my first success. I know the beginning and end of my novels, plus all my characters in detail, but on my creative journey the plot sometimes convolutes in ways that surprise even me! My advice? Get writing, don’t just talk about it, and write something every day. Shrug off the knock backs and never ever give up. If you have a talent and you are persistent it will eventually pay off.”
Adrienne Dines writes general contemporary fiction, setting her stories in the Ireland of her youth. She’s published three books (‘Toppling Miss April’, ‘The Jigsaw Maker’ and ‘Soft Voices Whispering’ (Transita – www.transita.co.uk), her fourth, ‘Polishing off the Cherries’ is due out soon and she’s now working on her fifth.
“A creative writing course in Weybridge set me on my way as a writer, and I believe it’s really helpful if you can find a group of like-minded writers, so you can get together and critique each other’s work. As a child I wanted to be a storyteller, and the very best compliment I can receive is when a stranger comes up to me in the supermarket and says they loved or hated one of my characters, because that means they were believable. My stories have a psychological twist and there’s a point where the reader has to work out what the answer is. I start with the germ of an idea and just begin rather than doing detailed plotting, even though my characters try to take the story up blind alleys. My advice to new writers is, don’t be afraid of rejection: it’s a feature of the profession, not a reflection of your ability. Attend workshops and go to writers’ conferences. Write for the sheer love of it, and don’t let anyone put you down.”
Meg Gardiner www.MegGardiner.com
Crime writer Meg Gardiner was originally a lawyer in Los Angeles and became a successful novelist when she moved to Surrey. She has written five California-based thrillers with an edge of humour, featuring feisty-but-vulnerable legal journalist Even Delaney. ‘Kill Chain’ has just been released in paperback.
“I got a lot of inspiration from my Surrey friends, who thought my hometown of Santa Barbara, California sounded exotic and exciting, so I set my books there. I love to go walking at Newlands Corner – the view always refreshes me. At 16 I wrote awful schoolgirl romances, so I’m relieved those early efforts never got published! My books are fast-paced with plenty of action and have an underlying love story. They explore the territory where morality diverges from the law. I’d say a writer needs to be patient, and ruthless enough to mercilessly edit their work. Learn to be resilient enough to face perpetual rejection and keep going. Make it up but tell the truth: your story can break the laws of physics but must be emotionally and morally honest.”
Journalist Mark Davison has worked on the Surrey Mirror for more than 20 years. His twin passions: the weather and its effects, and local history have inspired him to write, or co-write 20 books. ‘Surrey in the Hurricane’ was followed by ‘London’s Hurricane’ and the ‘Surrey Weather Book’. With Ian Currie he brought out county bestsellers ‘Surrey in the Sixties’ and ‘Surrey in the Seventies’, before compiling a ‘Remembered’ series of books on Hook, Chessington, Tolworth and Surbiton.
“My first book ‘Surrey in the Hurricane’ contained many amazing true-life stories and stunning pictures of the great storm of 1987 which felled 15 million trees in Surrey and damaged one-in-three homes. I have always been intrigued and awe-struck by the weather, ever since the big freeze of 1962-3. After writing ‘Hook Remembered’, I stumbled upon a mystery about Thomas Hardy’s first marital home, eventually proving that he lived in Hook Road. When writing non-fiction, I’d say only write about subjects that you’re passionately interested in, and your enthusiasm will inspire your readers. Be wary when writing about history or factual events: you will immediately be branded an ‘expert’, which can cause problems if your knowledge is not comprehensive!”
Romantic novelist Julia Williams has her first novel, ‘Pastures New’, coming out in September and she’s working on her next one.
“ ‘Pastures New’ is based in Epsom, where I live. The original inspiration for the story was the allotments at the bottom of my garden, where there’s a really interesting community of people. I love being close to the Downs and Epsom racecourse. The best advice I was ever given was to join the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA). They run a new writers’ critique service, who gave me excellent advice for my first novel. After re-writes it finally attracted the attention of an agent, but not that of any publishers. My second novel hooked a publisher, but someone else had a similar idea, and they’d done their book first, so mine got nowhere! The third one finally made it, but only thanks to all the critical help and support I’ve had. I really like romantic fiction – love the escapist and the hope quality. If you’re writing romance, do join the RNA, who’ve been wonderfully helpful to me. A successful writer initially gets many rejections, but when someone tells you ‘you must keep going, you mustn’t stop,’ that means the earth.”