Tag Archives: Women’s Fiction

Writing Tips from Alexander McCall Smith, author of Chance Developments

We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing! After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write? Some writers set out to develop a complete road-map of the book, complete with a great deal of detail. I tend not to do this; instead, I mentally write the first paragraph and, on occasion, the last paragraph. With these two elements in place, all that remains is to write the bits in-between. The first sentence is very important. For me, that can set the whole tone of the book, and once I have the first sentence the task of writing proves relatively easy. Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? Writers can be ritualistic, insisting on all sorts of conditions – where the desk should be and so on. I find that I am able to write wherever I happen to be, and will write in planes and on trains, in hotels or in restaurants. When I am writing at home, though, especially when I am beginning a book, I will use music to get me in the right mood. I have different pieces of music for different series: when I sit down to write my Isabel Dalhousie series I will often play a particular piece of Mozart – the trio “Soave sia il vento” from Cosi. This sets the scene, so to speak. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? When I was a university professor, I wrote a number of academic books with a senior colleague, Professor Ken Mason. Ken, who is now in his nineties, was at school in the UK a very long time ago, and told me about his English teacher when he was aged about twelve (well before the Second World War). This teacher was called Mr Robertson and Ken told me that he gave the boys (it was an all-boys school) the following piece of advice: Never use two words where one will do. I laughed at the story, but then I realized that the late Mr Robertson was right. Since then I have been careful to pare down descriptions and to avoid the excessive use of adjectives. Thank you, Mr Robertson! Do you ever base characters off people you know? Why or why not? I am careful not to base fictional characters on real people whom I may meet. The reason for this is that real people may not have the chance to answer back. Some years ago there was an author in Edinburgh, where I live, who based an undesirable character on somebody who she thought had let her down. Everybody knew who it was she was talking about. I don’t think I would care to do that. However, I do put real people into my novels – under their own name and with their permission. I find that the readers like the fact that some of my characters are real people. I once promised the First Minister of Scotland a cameo role in one of my Scotland Street novels, but then I had to find something or him to do. I had him save Bertie, one of the characters in the series, from a runaway bus. The First Minister was extremely pleased. What are three or four books that influenced your writing, or had a profound affect on you? I have been much influenced by W.H. Auden’s poetry, and in particular by his Collected Shorter Poems. Other books that have influenced me include the Malgudi novels of the great Indian writer, R.K. Narayan. I very much appreciate Jane Austen and her twentieth century reincarnation, Barbara Pym. Learn more about the book below:

From the Editor’s Desk: Kate Seaver, Executive Editor at Berkley, on Sunshine Beach by Wendy Wax

Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best. All year a stack of books sits on my bedside tale. Books I’m reading and ones I can’t wait to start. In the summer my weekend bag replaces my bedside table and the book choices shift to include more beach reads, fun, uplifting stories that often take place in locations I’d love to visit. Wendy Wax’s Sunshine Beach is such a book. Set in Florida, it’s part of a series of books that feature three women whose lives were upended when they lost their life savings in a Ponzi scheme. To make a living they banded together to renovate old houses. Wendy first introduced these characters in her novel Ten Beach Road. Avery, Maddie, and Nikki were strangers who took on the challenge of restoring a ramshackle, beachfront house to recoup the money they’d been cheated out of. Avery’s marriage had ended, Maddie was trying to keep her family together and Nikki was a business woman who’d lost everything—each story captivated me and it was fascinating to watch the women become best friends and renovate an older house. Without actually having to lift a hammer, I learned how to refinish floors and refurbish a chandelier. Wendy’s gutsy, funny, and very real characters resonated strongly with readers and encouraged Wendy to return to that beloved world for two more novels, Ocean Beach and The House on Mermaid Point. In each book we learn more about the three friends as their lives evolve and they fix up a new property. In Sunshine Beach, the three friends gather in the house they renovated in Ten Beach Road and embark on the challenge of restoring an old seaside hotel just down the beach from them. They also face major life changes. Maddie’s second-chance romance with her all-too-famous new boyfriend gets complicated, Avery struggles with grief over the loss of her mother, and Nikki’s reluctance to commit to the man who loves her could lead her to face the biggest challenge of her life. Even the hotel seems to be against them, when their renovation uncovers a decades-old unsolved murder which might bring their lives tumbling down again… I love these women—their stories are compelling and their friendships inspiring. Each evening, no matter how hard the day has been, they gather on the beach with drinks and appetizers (including Avery’s beloved Cheez Doodles) to say the one good thing that happened that day. It’s an appealing ritual, and I invite you to add Sunshine Beach to your weekend bag and join Avery, Maddie and Nikki on the beach. It’ll prove to be the perfect summer escape. Learn more about Sunshine Beach below!

Writing Tips from Mona Awad, author of 13 ways of Looking at a Fat Girl

We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing! 

Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? 

I started writing quite young. My mother worked in a deli in Montreal and when I was little, she would take me with her for the day. I would write monster stories and fairy tales for her (and me) on the backs of the paper placemats—mainly to entertain myself but also for the sheer pleasure and escape of building another world. I remember being flush with joy and excitement when I thought I had a novel on my hands at the age of 7 or so. Needless to say, that didn’t pan out.

 Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking?

 My main routine is to write in the morning in silence. I make coffee and then I turn everything off, including my phone and Internet connection, for as long as I can either stand or get away with. If I write in the morning like this, then I’m able to return to the story at various times later in the day and work on it regardless of where I am or the level of distraction. But I need those anchoring morning hours of silence and focus with the story in order to do that.

I also love Aimee Bender’s idea of the writing contract so I’ve done that with friends as well. You basically contractually promise to adhere to a certain number of writing rules that you determine (it could be a daily word count, or a number of hours per day) and then you check in daily via email with a ‘mentor’ (a friend) who confirms you’re moving forward. You do it with an overall writing goal in mind—like a novel—to be achieved by the contract’s end.  It’s quite loose, but what I love is that you make your own writing goal, your own rules for how you’ll reach it, and then you are required to follow through. I did it with a writer friend last summer, and we both completed drafts of our novels. And I’m doing one now with another writer friend for the revision. I like the collaborative aspect of it too—writing, while exhilarating, can also be quite a lonely, cave-dwelling business. It’s nice to come out of the cave every day and check in with a friend. 

After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write?

I’m often inspired by a moment of tension that I’ve either observed, experienced or imagined—being in a fitting room with a dress that doesn’t fit, for example. I’ll take that point of tension and I’ll sit with it, trying to describe it with as much intimate, immediate and honest detail as possible. I’ll scrutinize it, draw it out, let myself imagine around it. By exploring a moment of tension like this, I find it acquires more layers and consequence, and a story will often emerge. Once I have the story, I can push that tension further still—in some cases, to its limits.

What are three or four books that influenced your writing, or had a profound affect on you?

My favorite stories have always been the ones that felt very intimate, like the writer really gave something vital in themselves to the telling of the story. For that reason perhaps, I love all of the novels of Jean Rhys—I love how urgent her writing is, how her characters experience outsiderness and alienation in ways that feel so immediate and visceral. Russell Hoban is another favorite. Not only is he a beautiful writer, but I love how he conceives that space between what we perceive to be reality and reality—a space that is inherently fraught with our anxieties, desires and dreams—as truly imaginative. In The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz, a son’s anger at his father is an actual lion stalking the streets of London. Perhaps this is a throw back to my placemat writing days, but I’ve always been deeply inspired and excited by fairy tales and Alice in Wonderland narratives. I adore The Torn Skirt by Rebecca Godfrey, which is essentially a feverdreamy, high stakes Alice in Wonderland for adults. The first person voice is also incredible. And of course, The Winter’s Tale by Shakespeare, which is a strange, rich and wondrous fairy tale. The wonderful thing about reading or seeing Shakespeare is that no matter what hot mess of emotions you’re experiencing in your life—pettiness, hatred, fear, desire, joy, sadness, love, resentment—they become eerily performed by the play in question. Will’s got you covered. Within the stories, the characters, the language, there’s room for it all. Also, I love humor. Without writers like Dorothy Parker, Lydia Davis or Lorrie Moore, I would feel lost.

Learn more about Mona Awad’s new book below!