Where do you get your ideas? How do you turn them into a book? Do you write on computer? How long does it take?
These are some of the questions I’m often asked. I wish I knew all the answers! Here’s what I had to say to books blogger Elaine Aldred (strangealliances.com) when she asked me to describe how I write.
‘My books begin with the spark of an idea, which I then explore through a single character. At first I write in A4 notebooks, on one side of the page only, because it feels nicer ( I love this bit!) and allows me space to add things later. When I run out of steam on the beginning, usually round about chapter ten, and I’m not sure where to go next, I spend some time transferring what I’ve written to the computer. That process usually opens up possibilities for the middle section, and so on. When the first draft is on the screen, it’s then a long process of re-drafting and re-drafting. It’s like making a coat. First you have to weave the cloth, then cut it out, then stitch it and trim it to fit, until it’s perfect. Sometimes you have to rip it up and start again!
Ideas can arrive from anywhere and everywhere. It might be something you read, see on tv, hear in a shop or on the bus, a snatch of conversation. It could be a place or an object, anything at all that gives you the spark. The idea for Dark Thread came from my love of textiles and thread craft, mainly quilting and embroidery. I love woven fabrics and tapestries, and things made by hand. That love of handwork, combined with finding out more about Cromford Mill, made me wonder what happened to the artists and crafts people, when the machines took over. That’s why I had to have an artisan weaver in my book, a woman who loved colour and thread, so that the soulless machines didn’t have it all their own way! One thing I’ve learned about history is that there were always individuals who bucked the trend. I love that.
Warrior Girl tells the story of Joan of Arc, seen through the eyes of the narrator, Joan’s fictional cousin, Mariane. I wrote the book after a visit to Rouen, where I stood next to the spot where, in 1431, Joan was burnt at the stake, for heresy and witchcraft. I still remember the feeling that ran through me, a shock of adrenalin, and I started to write her story that night in my hotel room. It’s hard to put into words, that moment of inspiration. It’s what writers pray for, when your imagination opens up like a door and you see something magical on the other side.
I’ve long loved everything to do Vikings and Saxons, so in the wake of Warrior Girl, I wrote Viking Girl, in which Beren, daughter of the dead king, leads her tribe out of the Mark, present-day Denmark, into exile in 9th c. England. Although Beren has been told that the native Saxons are peaceful, she soon finds that she has a fight on her hands, to survive in a hostile land and to solve the riddle of her father’s death.. My research took me to Lindisfarne, site of the first Viking invasion in 793, to York or Jorvik, the old Viking capital, and to a school of falconry, where I did a ‘hawk encounter’ , which was marvellous! Through the internet and my booklist, I read everything I could about the Vikings and their world. Vikings used to be famous only for destruction, rape and pillage. That view has changed in recent years. My Vikings are settlers, capable of a fierce fight to defend themselves, if necessary, but, basically, seeking peace. It was Magnus Magnusson’s book, ‘Viking!’ which inspired me to see them in that way and I think it’s closer to the history. There’s a fox in the book, a ‘soul spirit’ who brings messages to Beren from her dead father. I love foxes. And I love to have a mystical dimension to the books, with the suggestion that there are more ‘worlds’ than we know and can see.
A strong bond with animals is a theme in The Mark of Edain, where Aoife, daughter of a chief Druid, escapes slavery in Rome, by serving as keeper of one of the Emperor’s elephants, when he sets out to invade Britannia. Aoife can read her elephant’s thoughts. Communicating with animals is close to a Druid heart, I think. The idea for the book came to me when I read the amazing fact that the Emperor Claudius brought elephants into Essex when he invaded Britain in AD43!’
However enticing the idea, however fascinating the history, I know that the book won’t come to life, unless there’s an appealing main character. I just hope that readers will love my ‘brave girls’ as much as I do. (And I do have a story in mind, with a male lead!)
If You Want To Write…
It’s all about facing the blank page. There’s no such thing as a mistake, only words to go back to and work on, so just write. Go on, do it!