Today, I’d like to welcome Lucy Atkins to my blog. Lucy has recently had published her gripping novel, The Missing One, and is here to talk about her book and her writing process.
1) CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING, FOR EXAMPLE, HAVE YOU WRITTEN ANY BOOKS AND ARE YOU WRITING AT THE MOMENT?
Hello, I’m a mother of three, living in Oxford and have mostly made my living as a journalist writing features for newspapers like The Guardian or The Sunday Times. I’ve also written several non-fiction books but my latest book – the one I’m most excited about – is a novel, The Missing One. It’s a psychological suspense story about a woman called Kali who, along with her little toddler, Finn – heads off to the wilds of British Columbia trying to find out about her mother’s secret past life. It was published a week ago. I’m currently working on a second novel now, that’s set in Boston, U.S.A.
2) HOW MUCH RESEARCH AND PREPARATION DO YOU DO BEFORE YOU WRITE? FOR EXAMPLE, DO YOU WRITE CHAPTER PLANS AND CHARACTER PROFILES ETC? DOES ANY OF THIS CHANGE WHILE YOU WRITE?
I don’t do any planning at all – I’ve found that planning out a book – knowing the plot in advance, working out what motivates characters etc. – just crushes me. It makes me feel bored or daunted. I like to be as surprised by my characters or the story as (I hope) my readers will be. I do a lot of research as I work, though. For The Missing One I had to find out a lot about Killer Whales of all things (I’ve only ever seen a killer whale once – it was beautiful and amazing but I’m not exactly an expert). One of my characters is a Killer Whale expert and spends her time chasing them across the Pacific ocean, listening to them communicate with each other. Google is a wonderful thing.
3)DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE TIME TO WRITE? HOW DO YOU BALANCE THIS AROUND OTHER RESPONSIBILITIES, SUCH AS WORK OR FAMILY LIFE?
I love to write first thing when I’ve got my children off to school, tidied up the chaos and – crucially – made myself an espresso. My office is in my basement , so I go down there and make myself focus for at least a couple of hours on writing – ignoring any other deadlines, emails, phone calls or demands as much as I can. Sometimes I work for longer than a couple of hours, and sometimes it’s agony but that morning slot is my writing slot and I try and keep it that way. The rest of the day is for my other work (journalism, non-fiction) and my family.
4)WHAT PART OF THE WRITING PROCESS DO YOU FIND MOST IMPORTANT? FOR EXAMPLE, THE FIRST DRAFT, EDITING, REWRITING ETC.
I think the first draft is the most crucial for me. A novel feels like a vast, impossible task when you start out but when you have those words on the page – even if they’re awful, dreadful words you’d never show to anyone – it feels more possible. The next bit – editing, shaping, rewriting – takes far longer for me than banging out that dire first draft but it is also such a relief to have something to work with.
5)WRITING HAS LOTS OF HIGHS AND LOWS. HOW DO YOU KEEP YOURSELF MOTIVATED?
I think ultimately I only write because I just love writing, for itself, as an activity. There’s no logic to it at all really. It’s a disastrous way to make a living and it can be fraught and difficult, but it’s immensely satisfying to work on something so intensely – to see it taking shape slowly and – ultimately – to see it become a book. I have had many times over the years though, when I’ve given up completely – thinking ‘I’m just crap’. Nobody really tells you that about writing but I do think it’s quite rare for someone to just sit down and produce a work of genius. I wrote the first draft of The Missing One (which was – you guessed it – dire) and abandoned it for almost a year before I sheepishly picked it up again and (in secret) worked on it until it became the novel it is. Most of the time you have to try and block out the voices in your head telling you this is pointless and it’ll never come to anything.
6)DO YOU USE SOCIAL MEDIA AND/OR BLOG? HOW USEFUL DO YOU FIND THIS?
I’ve just started blogging – come and visit me at http://www.lucyatkins.com and I’ve realised Twitter can be a hugely interesting place to talk about books, meet ‘book’ people and get the latest on what to read. I’m also The Sunday Times fiction critic, so knowing about this stuff is important to me. But really, I just find it all interesting. Twitter can be overwhelming but it’s a brilliant way to keep up to date and talk to others about the things that matter to me.
7) IF YOU COULD PASS ONE PIECE OF ADVICE TO A NEW WRITER, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I’d say take a (good) creative writing course. I know there’s a lot of disagreement about creative writing courses, but I believe writing is a skill like any other skill. Yes, there are geniuses out there who just produce brilliant novels on their own in their garrets, but most of us probably don’t. I took a creative writing course after years of false starts and abandonments. The discipline of the course fast-forwarded my writing skills about ten years. It made me think properly about my writing and work on it constructively.
THANK YOU LUCY, I WISH YOU ALL THE BEST WITH YOUR BOOK THE MISSING ONE AND YOUR WORK IN GENERAL.
Lucy blogs at http://www.lucyatkins.com
She is on Twitter @lucyatkins