HOW I WRITE: JADE BEER

Jade Beer is a novelist and award-winning editor (she was at the helm of Conde Nast Brides UK for eight years). As a journalist she has written for The Sunday Times Style, The Mail On Sunday, The Telegraph, Glamour and Stella magazine. Jade is also a regular fiction and non-fiction book reviewer for the Mail on Sunday. From plotting to how long it takes her to write a novel, Jade offers lots of precious insights into novel writing.

Q. How did you come up with the premise for your new novel ‘The Last Dress From Paris?’ When did the inspiration first strike?

JADE: The starting point was the Christian Dior, Designer of Dreams exhibition at the V&A back in 2019. It was absolutely breath-taking. Not long afterwards, I read his autobiography and then booked myself on a writing retreat in the South of France. That’s where the seed of an idea really started to become a reality. I got the first words down, honed my research plan and, probably most importantly, structured some deadlines for myself.

Q. Did you plot/ outline the story and beats meticulously or did the story unfold as you wrote?

JADE: I am definitely a plotter – but I don’t let the initial structure dictate the action entirely. I map out what I think needs to happen chapter by chapter and then off I go. If a brainwave strikes that does not fit this plan, then I go with it and work it into the existing story structure. Having that outline is essential for keeping me on track. I would find it very hard to hit my stride every day if I didn’t have a concept of where I was trying to get to with the words. Hats off to anyone who can write without a structure – that’s not me! A career in journalism means I always need some sense of what the story is.

Q. What helps you generate ideas for scenes and scene settings?

JADE: There are several locations in this book that are scattered across Paris and the only way I felt I could write those scenes originally and with great colour was to put myself there. I booked two nights and visited each one, took lots of notes that would help me capture the essence of the place, and wrote them up every night while they were still very fresh in my mind. There is a scene for example, when a character is meeting someone she shouldn’t in a church. She is very apprehensive about the meeting and counts the number of steps she takes as she walks down the aisle. I did the same walk so I knew how many steps she would take. I ate where she did, I visited the same parks, the same shops, I went to where she lived. It all helped to build a picture of the woman I was writing about.

Q. How long did it take you write the first draft of your new novel, The Last Dress in Paris in comparison to how long it took you to write the first draft of The Almost Wife?  

JADE: I did a lot of research before I started writing so getting the first draft down felt very quick – perhaps 3-4 months. This is much quicker than The Almost Wife which I wrote while I had a full-time job editing a woman’s magazine. That was largely written on my train commute from Kingham to Paddington every day  – which at the time was about three hours a day. Plus, I would get up chronically early every Saturday and Sunday and do 2-3 hours before the children woke up. I honestly never minded. Once I was set on the path of writing a book, I knew I would finish it. I liken it to the rule I have when I go for a run. I can slow down if I need to, but I can’t stop!

Q. What are the biggest differences between writing as a journalist and writing as a novelist?

JADE: I think as a journalist you are well trained to maintain pace, excitement and interest; to hook the reader in quickly and keep them there; to inject detail into your work in a way that doesn’t feel cumbersome. But the big challenge for me initially was remembering to show, don’t tell which is the exact opposite of journalism. Even now, I have to double check myself at the end of a large writing session and ask, did I do it right?

Q. Have your writing processes changed much since your first book?

JADE: I used a very different process for WIDS and TLDFP. The former, I edited as I went, chapter by chapter, which I think very few writers do. The latter I redrafted only once I had at least half of it down. I was incredibly fortunate that there was no real structural edit needed at the end but that is because I worked with a freelance editor while writing it, leaving a lot less of the heavy lifting to do once it was finished. I much prefer working this way. I don’t like moving forward with something that doesn’t feel good. I prefer to problem solve as I go – although of course that is not always possible and sometimes you don’t know what’s wrong until the end!

Q. Have any craft books helped you figure out the fundamentals of story?

JADE: I have read Save The Cat and liked it and will undoubtedly refer back to it, especially when plotting, but when I am purely writing I like the focus to be on the drama and the emotion and I sometimes feel that if you are constantly cross referencing with the theory then it pulls your mind in the wrong direction. The words seem more forced then. But I do think it is important to read these books – whichever one works for you – and understand the theory and be aware of it. In all honestly, it is probably something I should study more.

Q. Who are your fave writers and why?

JADE: I have read so many books in the past year that I have loved but whenever I am asked this question, the first name that springs to mind is always Eve Chase. She is so incredibly talented in my opinion. Her writing is so lyrical and evocative, she is an expert at creating a sense of place, but she can be immensely funny and wry too. I will always buy her books.

Jade’s latest novel, The Last Dress From Paris will be published in 2022 by Penguin Random House USA.  Follow Jade on her website at https://jadebeer.com, on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/jadebeerbrides),  Good Reads (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17852615.Jade_Beer) and Amazon for all her latest news, book events and launches.

You can purchase a copy of What I Didn’t Say on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1786819376/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tu00_p1_i2

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THE BIRMINGHAM COLLECTION: Funny Short Stories for Unsettling Times – my new eBook is out now!

Hi all, I have amazing news to share: my short story collection is published in Ebook today!

At £3.99, it’s a cheap but uplifting lockdown fiction fix and I’d love your support.

Mostly I hope the stories will make you smile & laugh during this awful time.

Your support means the world. Feedback from two of my favourite authors has been great too.

 Best Selling author Erin Kelly has written: “I read these short stories in a single greedy gulp. 
Wersha’s voice is fresh and funny but don’t let that fool you:
her work packs killer punches about family, community, empire, power, what it means
to move through the world in a female body and the dubious logistics of
packing three generations into a Datsun Sunny. Highly recommended.”

Order your copy at https://patricianpress.com/book/the-birmingham-collection. Thank you!

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THE TEMPEST ANTHOLOGY – BOOK LAUNCH, FRIDAY 1ST MARCH 2019

To celebrate the publication of my latest short story ‘ This is Earth’ in The Tempest – A Patrician Press Anthology (2019) on Friday 1st March 2019, I will be reading the story alongside authors Emma Kittle-Pey, Mark Brayley, Petra McQueen and Suzy Norman and signing books thereafter at Bookmarks Bookshop in London from 6.30pm. Please pop along. The last book launch in Westminster was an incredible event and this one will be equally inspiring and thought-provoking. My story is a comedic response to toxic masculinity and rape culture in the wake of allegations against powerful men.

THIS IS EARTH, By WERSHA BHARADWA: When the leaders of the 10 Galaxies discover Earthlings are planning to colonise Mars and bring their deadly ruling system ‘patriarchy’ with them, they send their last hope, a female Zergian, on a mission to fix humanity’s inequality problems with crazy and absurd results.

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HOW I WRITE: SHARON DUGGAL

Like me, Sharon Duggal was born and raised in Birmingham. I love to meet authors from the region who celebrate the West Midlands in their writing. Sharon’s debut novel, The Handsworth Times,  is published by Bluemoose Books. The story features strong female protagonists (another passion of mine) and is set in the 1980s during the race riots of Handsworth in Birmingham. It is essential reading and an important work of literature from a female British Asian author. You can buy a copy here: https://bluemoosebooks.com/books/handsworth-times. You can also find updates about Sharon’s work on her website www.sharonduggal.com and follow her on  Twitter: @MsSDuggal.

Q: How did you come up with the premise for The Handworth Times? 

SHARON: The Handsworth Times started as a couple of short stories. I knew I wanted to write about a time and place I was very familiar with (having grown up there) but one that was rarely reflected in anything I read or saw. I wanted to see people like me in books I was reading and as I couldn’t,  I decided to write my own.

Q. How does your background/ upbringing inform your novel writing processes?

SHARON:  I think all our personal experiences inform what we write in one way or another – not  necessarily in terms of putting our own lives directly into the stories but by bringing  our unique perspective to the page. Even when writing fantasy or science fiction,  a  writer’s own life experiences will feed in somehow.

Q.  Do you read while writing?

SHARON: Yes, I read all the time. I wrote that book on and off over a period of four years so there will have been many writers and books I read.

Q. Who are your favourite writers and why? 

SHARON: I love a very diverse range of writers from Thomas Hardy to Hanif Kureishi, from Toni Morrison to Beryl Bainbridge, from Rose Tremain to Chimamanda Ngozi Aditchie and many, many more. I like South American, French and Russian classics and read many contemporary writers too. At the moment I’ve just finish Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End and am just about to start on Elizabeth Strout’s Lucy Barton.  I don’t tend to re-read books but have recently reread One Hundred Years of Solitude and still love it. The only genre I don’t really get on with is fantasy.

Q. Why your chosen protagonists? 

SHARON: I have two main protagonists – Anila (a teenage girl) and Usha ( a middle aged woman). I wanted my heroes to defy stereotypes, find strength in other women and lead the change in the plot. They are both based on an amalgamation of women I grew up around including my mother, aunties and sisters. There is a little of me in both of them too.

Q. Do you have a word count limit per day? 

SHARON:  I do need deadlines as I am not very disciplined but if I impose word counts per day I  get a bit stuck. It needs to be about the words rather than the numbers but having said that I do aim for 5000 per week.

Q. What is your experience of the pitch/ synopsis/ agent / publisher submission rounds?

SHARON:  I don’t have an agent and was and continue to be rejected by loads of them –  not sure why. Perhaps I don’t easily fit into a preconceived idea of what a British Asian woman should be writing about or am writing in a way they don’t think is commercial enough. Luckily I have a great publisher in Bluemoose Books. They are a small independent but are incredibly passionate about the books they publish. I had all but given up hope until they expressed an interest.

Q. What next? 

SHARON:  I am currently working on my second novel which should be out in early 2020. I am also about to have two short stories published in separate anthologies in the Autumn.

Thank you Sharon.

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HOW I WRITE: ANNA VAUGHT

The following interview is part of a series of author interviews on fiction and non-fiction craft, techniques, writing habits and processes. Enjoy.

WHO: NOVELIST AND POET ANNA VAUGHT

Q.What age did you start, seriously writing? What was the reason for doing so?

Well, I had a tough childhood so I always wrote and had a lot of imaginary friends (Which you see in Killing Hapless Ally). I only started really applying myself to extended fiction in July 2014 after gaining the courage to do so.

Q.Was being a novelist a long held ambition?

I had done a number of freelance pieces but always lacked the confidence to write a longer piece. I just sat down one day and thought, “Right. I am going to write a novel.” And I did. I am now on my fourth novel – one published, one out on subs. I’m also co-editing and editing two anthologies for Patrician Press, the publisher of Killing Hapless Ally, in 2019 and 2018 called ‘My Europe’ and ‘The Tempest.’

Q. What were you doing before becoming a novelist?

My background is in secondary English teaching. I’ve worked abroad and travelled a great deal and I run an English tuition which helps me continue writing. I also have three young sons.

Q. What did you study at university?

I have both a BA and MA in English. However I am a prodigious reader and believe that has been my biggest teacher in terms of novel writing.

Q. Who were your favourite writers growing up and why?

I discovered Dickens very young and it had a big impact – I loved his humour and characterisation.  Roald Dahl was another favourite, of course

Q.What inspired Killing Hapless Ally?

KHA has a great deal of truth in it. Though parts are fictionalised, largely, I lived it. I appreciate that people without a screwy background may be running away, but that was it. I carried Ally both as a better version of myself (so the assumed self) but also as a burden that felt real and palpable for over thirty years. Since publication, strangers have written in to me because they’ve identified with the issues of mental health in Killing Hapless Ally.   People have also come to my talks and opened up and told me it meant so much to them, reading about an experience similar to theirs. One reader wrote to me saying the book had changed her life. I’m now working on a novel called Passerines: I have a particular interest in mental health and mental illness because of the struggles I have had and  I also love reading about history. I started reading about Violet Gibson, the Irish aristocrat who shot Mussolini (true story!) and also about the psychiatric hospital in Northampton where she was sent to for the rest of her life. Lucia Joyce also ended her days there. Part of Violet’s therapy was to care for the songbirds in the hospital garden – hence the title

Q.Do you come up with the book title first or the premise first?

KHA was always the title because killing Ally was the goal so I held it from the very beginning.

Q. Which comes more naturally to you – character or plot?

Character

Q. What’s your take on writers block?

I’ve never had writer’s block. Don’t wait for inspiration. Let it strike while you are at work.

Q. What distracts you?  

As a parent, my life is so full of distractions that I have absolutely no ideal writing conditions and very little protected time. I wrote part of Passerines hiding in the back seat of my car.

Q.Do you have a word count limit per day?

I have fiddled with Prolifiko (check them out on Twitter; they are very nice). You have to do whatever you can. I have written as much as 12,000 words in a day and as little as three lines.

Q.Did you have beta readers or friends help read the novel as you wrote it?

I had a few friends and my husband Ned as supportive early readers. I also joined a reading group where a couple of people gave feedback on my work. It can really help. I ask people’s opinions on Twitter a lot actually. I’ve found the writing community is very supportive there.

Q.Do you have writing mentors?

Well, not exactly, but the writers Avril Joy and Kate Armstrong have read bits of Passerines

Q.How did you submit to your agent/ publisher?

With Killing Hapless Ally, I submitted the book partially and then in full. I have started off with a wonderful small press (Patrician) who are exciting to work with.

Q. Do you read while writing?

I read all the time; two or three books a week.

Q.Anyone whose works inspires/ taught you how to write because of their sheer genius?

There are too many to name, but, Dickens; Joyce; Flaubert; Beckett; Flannery O Connor; Chekhov; Faulkner. The best book I read recently was ‘The Wake’ by Paul Kingsnorth.

Q.Did you read any ‘how to write a novel’ style books?

I liked Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer (Harper Collins). I also did a Cornerstones report while drafting Killing Hapless Ally and met a really lovely editor, but I’m not sure I would pay this kind of money again. I am sceptical about a lot of courses as I guess many authors are. I think the key things are reading and graft

Q. What books are on your ‘to read’ list?

Joanna Barnard’s Hush Little Baby; books from my subscriptions at And Other Stories and as a supporter at Galley Beggar; historical research on the doctors and nurses who kept psychiatric patients safe in the Second World War; Thomas Wolfe’s The Web ad the Rock.

Q.Tell me about your writing processes.

Research (which is ongoing). Write a shit Frankendraft where I turn out 60,000 words. Cry. Rewrite. Edit again. Involve other readers. Edit again.

Q.What specifically did you find challenging?

Honestly? Confidence. I am very determined but I fundamentally lack self esteem.

Q.How do you keep secondary characters interesting? Do you give them a story of their own or do you write multiple character books?

Rule of thumb. Everyone needs a story. Characters who add nothing get chucked.

Q. What are your current projects?

It is a busy time. I am working on two further books and editing two anthologies as well as continuing to run my tuition business.

Q.Where can we find you, read your books and work?

You can follow me on twitter @bookwormvaught and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/annavaughtwrites/. My writer’s blog is www.annavaughtwrites.com.  You can catch me on Goodreads or my Amazon page. My poetry is also published this year in The Emma Press Anthology of the Sea and The Patrician Press Anthology of Refugees and Peacekeepers. You can look at www.annavaughtwrites.com for news on this and for links to other writing, blogs and books. For teaching, you can find me at www.annavaughttuition.com.

You can buy copies of KILLING HAPLESS ALLY at www.patricianpress.com.

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