Today I’d like to introduce you all to wonderful writer, expat expert, wife, mother of three, dreamer turned doer…….I refer, of course, to Liz Fenwick, author of the novels The Cornish House and the just published A Cornish Affair. Having read and loved Liz’s debut novel, The Cornish House, I was eager to learn something about her writing process and how she found her way into the world of words. Liz very graciously agreed to humour me!
1) Can you tell us a little about how you found your way into writing? When did you finally decide to become a full-time writer?
Back on New Year’s Eve 2003, I declared my resolution to write more. I didn’t say that it was actually to write fiction again. I kept that bit to myself but in 2004 despite a move from Dubai to London I wrote a complete romance novel of 50,000. The key word in that last sentence for me was complete. Back when I was doing my degree in English Literature I wrote ¾ of novel for my senior thesis but never finished it. And all those years in between I really wondered if I had the ability to finish. The book written in 2004 proved I could do it. I then sent if out to Mills & Boon and it was duly rejected as it deserved to be. Thanks to that rejection I found the Romantic Novelist Association and I joined their New Writers’ Scheme. That dire book went through the scheme and the reader (a publishered author) said that I could write but maybe Mills & Boon wasn’t the right place for me. For this thank I thank that unknown reader. She set me on a journey to discover my voice as a writer, not just what I thought was manageable (50,000 words). It was this point that I realized again that this was what I truly wanted to do. I then looked on writing as my job and treated it seriously and demanded that my family did as well. I took courses and read books and I networked like mad.
2) Tell us a little bit about your writing process – are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’? Do you have a routine? Pen and paper or lap top? Anything else you’d care to share about your process?
In the past I was a total panster. I would know my title, my heroine’s name, the location and roughly the ending and write into the wind. Now with a looming deadline I am learning to plot in broad strokes…I haven’t got the time to write myself in and out of plot holes. It also helps that I have an editor who likes to brain storm and who can see problems that I wouldn’t until I got to that point. So my process is changing. I am also trying Scrivener. I am hopeless with notecards because I lose or they are never in the right country. I can’t live without my notebooks. I jot down ideas, I do mind maps, I keep track of eyes, colours etc in the notebook. The only problem is that it’s not easy to search the notebook to find the info as I put the stuff in there as it happens….I’ll let you know when I’ve finished A Cornish Stranger if this new method has worked for me!
3) Can you describe a typical working/writing day for us? How much time do you devote to daily writing? Do you divide your time between new writing and revising?
I have no typical day. My life is mad. It is divided between Dubai and the UK. I write when I can and spend far more time editing…especially as I write very dirty drafts. In an ideal word I have breakfast with my husband then read emails, check Amazon stats, FB, Twitter and then settle to write. I will then change out of my PJs just before he comes home and wonder what we are going to eat for dinner. That is my ideal writing day!
4) If you were mentoring a new writer what advice would you give her? Any special book recommendations?
You need to write your own book, the book of your heart and not chase the fads. It truly has to be the story you want to tell, it needs that fire, your fire in it. Then enjoy the time pre-publication. It is time to learn all you can about your craft and the industry. It isn’t a race. Finally listen to your work. I have text to voice software that reads the books to me. Listening I can hear things that I would miss on the page. Clunky sentence leap out…
There are so many good writing books out there and I have been lucky enough to find the ones I needed at the right time in my writing. But a short list would include:
Sol Stein’s Solutions for Writers
Donald Maass Writing Breakout Fiction …actually all his books
Save the Cat
Scarlett Thomas Monkeys With Typewriters
5) How long does it take you to write a novel from first idea to last revision?
This is something that is changing. Well it has to because of being published. In the past I would write a dirty draft in three months then put it aside for a long while (months) then rewrite. Now I have got the luxury of time. I have a book due by the end of September so my process is changing. Whereas in the past I used to write a dirty draft I am now writing each scene on the computer, then rewriting it by hand then typing it back into the computer. Fingers crossed that this will cut the time needed to put together a polished novel! I’ll know by the 30th of September!
6) Where do you get your ideas from? How do you organize them?
My ideas come from life and research. A Cornish Affair began with a title…not that one but August Rock, which is a submerged reef just off the mouth of the Helford River. The Cornish House came from a house I did actually fall in love with and A Cornish Stranger began with a Cornish saying I found when research…Save a stranger from the sea and he’ll turn your enemy.
As I mentioned above I am never without a notebook. I jot ideas and snippets down all the time. If I write something down by hand I can ‘hold’ on to it longer if that makes sense. There is something in the process with brain and hand and pen and paper that works for me. I also mind map in my note books. I’m dyslexic and the process of mind mapping works for me.
7) Tell us about your journey from first novel to publication – the journey from actually sitting down to write your very first novel and how long it took to eventually reach publication!
Well, I wrote my very first novel in high school but never finished it, and the same with The Irish Woman (the one I wrote in university). So when I completed First Love Second Chance in 2004 that was a break through. But as I mentioned above it wasn’t right for me as a writer. So in 2005 I wrote August Rock which is now A Cornish Affair. I was then on my journey to find my voice. After a rewrite I then wrote The Cornish House in 2006 and then went back and rewrote August Rock again then The Cornish House again then wrote another book in 2007. Can you see the pattern beginning? So each year each I would write a new novel and revise an old one. And finally in 2011 I got my agent with The Cornish House and it sold to Orion and also in Holland, Germany, Portugal and Norway.
9) Do you write short stories? I was once given advice to start with short stories for women’s weekly magazines, then progress to writing pocket novels and finally attempt The Novel. Would you recommend this particular course of action?
I don’t often do short stories. In fact the first one I wrote since university was done last year for the Sunday Express. I find them much harder than writing a novel. I think every writer’s journey to publication is unique and I know for me short stories require a completely different set of skills.
10) Do you teach the craft of writing? What is your opinion of writing retreats? Do you ever attend any, either as teacher or student?
I haven’t taught writing courses but have done social media workshops. I’m not sure that with only two published books under my belt I’m truly qualified yet. I do think there are many things about writing that can be taught through courses and books. But what can’t be taught is being an actual story teller. I know I can learn how to tell the story better by learning structure and other skills but if the gift isn’t there in the first place then it isn’t going to happen. Every year I attend the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference and I try and attend the workshops held at Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature. I also find I learn from listening to other authors when they speak at festivals. I would love to do a writing retreat.
Thank you so very much Liz for agreeing to do this interview. It was lovely to have you here, and I have learned so much from your wonderful answers. What a treat it is to be gifted with a glimpse into the mind of a wonderfully warm writer such as yourself.
Web site: http://www.lizfenwick.com/
The Cornish House by Liz Fenwick
When artist Maddie inherits a house in Cornwall shortly after the death of her husband, she hopes it will be the fresh start she and her step-daughter Hannah desperately need.
Trevenen is beautiful but neglected, a rambling house steeped in history. Maddie is enchanted by it and determined to learn as much as she can about its past. As she discovers the stories of generations of women who’ve lived there before, Maddie begins to feel her life is somehow intertwined within its walls.
But Maddie’s dream of a calm life in the countryside is far from the reality she faces. Still struggling with her grief and battling with Hannah, Maddie is unable to find inspiration for her painting and realises she may face the prospect of having to sell Trevenen, just as she is coming to love it.
And as Maddie and Hannah pull at the seams of Trevenen’s past, the house reveals secrets that have lain hidden for generations.
This gorgeously sweeping debut from Liz Fenwick is touched with romance and mystery, a perfect summer read.
A Cornish Affair by Liz Fenwick
Running out on your wedding day never goes down well. When the pressure of her forthcoming marriage becomes too much, Jude bolts from the church, leaving a good man at the altar, her mother in a fury, and the guests with enough gossip to last a year.
Guilty and ashamed, Jude flees to Pengarrock, a crumbling cliff-top mansion in Cornwall, where she takes a job cataloguing the Trevillion family’s extensive library. The house is a welcome escape for Jude, full of history and secrets, but when its new owner arrives, it’s clear that Pengarrock is not beloved by everyone.
As Jude falls under the spell of the house, she learns of a family riddle stemming from a terrible tragedy centuries before, hinting at a lost treasure. And when Pengarrock is put up for sale, it seems that time is running out for the house and for Jude.
Following on from her bestselling debut, THE CORNISH HOUSE, Liz Fenwick’s A CORNISH AFFAIR is touched with intrigue and romance, a bewitching, escapist read that is certain to delight readers.