It is with pleasure that today I welcome Rebecca Mascull to my blog to talk about her books and writing process in general.
1)CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING? ARE YOU WRITING NOW?
I’ve been writing stories since I was a kid, including a western and a hospital drama! I wrote some short stories after university and then started taking it seriously around 2001 when I started my Masters. I decided then that if I was going to make it as an author, I’d need to give up full-time teaching and devote myself to writing. I went through two agents and two novels before I found my brilliant agent I have now, Jane Conway-Gordon. She believed in me and kept going despite the book she represented me for not finding a deal. So I got on with the next book for her and that was The Visitors – about a deaf-blind girl in Victorian England – which got a deal with Hodder & Stoughton. It was a long time coming, but worth the wait, for me anyway! The paperback is coming out in July 2014. I’ve just finished my next novel, which is called Song of the Sea Maid. It’s about an orphan scientist in C18th England who makes a remarkable discovery and it’ll be out in 2015.
2)HOW MUCH RESEARCH OR PREPARATION DO YOU DO BEFORE WRITING? FOR EXAMPLE, DO YOU DO CHAPTER PLANS AND CHARACTER PROFILES ETC? DOES ANY OF THIS CHANGE WHILE YOU ARE WRITING?
My writer friend Kerry Drewery will tell you I’m extremely organised about my research to the point of obsession (and yet really she’s like that too!) I do plan out my research for each novel, down to which weeks I’m going to read each book. I write notes in the margins and – if I get time – type up these notes with page numbers so I know where to find facts and references easily. When it comes to the story itself, I keep a notebook for each novel, and write ideas and random thoughts about it for months (sometimes years) in advance of the actual writing. Once I’ve done about half the research, I’m usually getting a plot worked out in my head. I do type quite a detailed synopsis which I send to my agent and we talk through it a little. Then I use an even more detailed chapter plan, and I use this to write from. I print it out and by the end every inch of it will be covered in scribbles and arrows and extra bits and page references. I keep a file with lots of scraps of paper and the themes. When it’s finished, it all goes away in a big box. And then I start the next one!
3) DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE TIME TO WRITE? HOW DO YOU BALANCE THIS WITH FAMILY RESPONSIBILITIES OR OTHER WORK?
My ideal way to write would be in a quiet, empty house, while it’s snowing outside. But obviously, that isn’t possible a lot of the time (the snow bit, anyway). I live with my partner Simon and our daughter Poppy, and so I work around family time and school, which means I tend to do the bulk of my novel writing during the school day. At weekends, evenings and holidays I do most of the research and reading, as it doesn’t matter so much about doing that in snatches, as and when. But when I’m writing actual prose, the novel itself, I need a few hours of silence to get into the flow of it, and if that’s interrupted, then it feels as if something precious may be lost. But that’s just me and my situation. If my home life were different, I’d just find a different way round it. You have to make it work for you.
4)WHAT PART OF THE WRITING PROCESS DO YOU FIND MOST IMPORTANT? FOR EXAMPLE, FIRST DRAFT, EDITING, REWRITING ETC.
Oh gosh, well, it’ all important, I suppose. It’s all part of the process. Some of the best stuff comes in the early amorphous phase when you don’t really know what the book’s going to be and your mind is open to anything. Lots of odd ideas get written down at this stage and some of them end up being very important, whilst some never escape the notebook and others get reworked for future books. The first draft is a very stream-of-conciousness for me, and thus often ends up very scrappy. I don’t edit much at all as I go along. I just let it flow and get it done. I don’t even read some chapters as I go along. I just want to get the story out. When the first draft is done, it’s a tremendous relief, as if I’ve channelled something intense and I can give my mind a rest, at last.
Then the proper work begins! I find the second draft the trickiest bit. That lovely flow is gone, and it gets nit-picky and difficult. You have to read through, and find all the problems and solve. When the 2nd draft is done, I feel a great sense of achievement, as it’s the hardest part for me. Then it gets read by me all the way through, then by Simon and my agent, and other friends and family readers, then recently of course it gets sent off to the publisher too.
The next stage is the line edit – where the editor goes through it line-by-line – and this includes quite broad stuff at times, such as new scenes or fleshing out of characters. It also looks at word level too, where a phrase or even a single word doesn’t work, or where facts need to be checked. That process is also quite tricky and takes a while to get through; there is often some haggling to be done, where I might argue for inclusions and some you win, some you lose. You’re working with your editor to make it the best book it can be, yet obviously you are sometimes going to have differences of opinion. I’m very lucky as I have a wonderful editor at Hodder, Suzie Doore, who is brilliant at noticing tiny things which are actually very important, and also she is always willing to discuss each point and we have so far always come up with answers that we both agreee with.
After the line edit comes the copy edit, where someone you’ve probably not met pulls the novel top pieces, word by word! There can be a bit of wrangling here, where you must argue for things you belive should stay, yet again, the best result usually comes through negotiation and compromise. Really, this whole process is actually very heart-warming, as it’s a wonderful feeling that someone is taking all of this trouble with your work. I love every stage of it – the research, the drafting, the editing – all of it. And I’m always sad when a book is done, yet relieved too. It’s a strange empty kind of feeling and yet this marvellous sense of achievement.
5) WRITING HAS LOTS OF HIGHS AND LOWS, HOW DO YOU KEEP YOURSELF MOTIVATED?
I agree with you – there are highs and lows. Yet for me, it’s the publishing world and my desire to be published, my work to be read and to sell books that causes the ups and downs, not the writing itself. The work itself is just joy, joy, pure joy, from beginning to end. I never, ever have to motivate myself to write – just try stopping me! But I have, over the years got very down at points, from rejections and setbacks. I suppose you just have to possess this kernal of self-belief, that your work is worth writing, worth reading, and someone will want it one day. But I couldn’t stop writing. My head is full of stories. Where else are they going to go, but on the page?
6)DO YOU USE SOCIAL MEDIA AND/OR BLOG? HOW USEFUL DO YOU FIND THIS?
I was quite resistant at first to the idea of social media. I hadn’t been involved in any of it, until I got my first publishing deal. My publisher asked me to do Twitter, which I was pretty nervous about at first. Then I set up a website on Tumblr, and later on Facebook. And now…I love it! Twitter is just great fun – it makes me laugh out loud every time I look at it – but also it’s incredibly useful for reaching a lot of people very quickly and I’ve made some fantastic connections on there with other writers and with some wonderful book bloggers who have written great reviews and interviewed me – like your lovely self, my dear! But it is very ephemeral, so you have to keep at it. Facebook I use far more to connect with family and friends, and put a lot of family stuff on there, as well as reviews and interviews. My website is more broad and random, and I might put a favourite poem or interview someone I admire on there or reblog stuff from other sites I’ve enjoyed. So each one works in quite a different way. I enjoy all of them and I’m careful with them – I don’t engage in any heated discussions, in general – and try to ensure that they don’t take up too much of my time. As a busy writer, as long as you don’t waste too much time getting embroiled in social media, I believe it can be a marvellous tool, used wisely.
7) IF YOU COULD PASS ON ONE PIECE OF ADVICE TO A NEW WRITER, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Write, write, write.
Read, read, read.
Then read some more. Know the classics, the canon. Try reading stuff you think you won’t like, try anything someone recommends and be charitable when reading, don’t slag it off until you’ve really considered it. Work out why you love something. analyse it, pick apart its structure, its voice and try to decipher its magic.
Keep learning, listening, talking to other writers and readers, keep practising and perfecting your craft, never be satisfied with shoddy work. Make every book count, every line and word. Write from the furthest corners of your mind and write from the deepest hollows of your heart. Write like you mean it. Someone out there will love it, one day.
Persist, persevere, get back on the horse, don’t take no for an answer and never, ever give up.
Rebecca Mascull is on Twitter @rebeccamascull
on Tumblr – http://wwww.rebeccamascull.tumblr.com/
Many thanks for letting me interview you, Rebecca. Best of luck for when The Visitors comes out in paperback in July and for your next novel, Song of the Sea Maid that comes out in 2015.