A warm welcome to Sue Moorcroft, who writes contemporary romantic novels for Choc Lit. She’s also author of numerous short stories, serials, articles and a how to book, she's edited an anthology, is head judge for Writer’s Forum magazine and a creative writing tutor.
Sue can you tell us how you get started with writing?
I don't know that I ever stopped, right from school, where writing was the thing I did best. But it was the early 90s when I started trying to get my novels published. That didn't go well ... So I took a distance learning course, very similar to the kind I now teach. Around the same time I read that if I could get about twenty short stories published in national magazines, publishers of novels would look on me with interest - so I tried it. Loosely, this route worked. But I'd sold 87 short stories, both in the UK and other countries, before my agent rang to say those magic words: 'I have an offer for you!'
To plot or not to plot? How much of a planner are you?
I used to hate and despise planning. It smacked of school, where I had to plan the life and joy out of a story before beginning. But, the more I write, the more I plan, and I don't think that it's a coincidence that the first book I sold, Uphill All the Way, is the first book I properly planned.
I plot in quite a messy way, beginning with character and fundamental questions such as whether the heroine has a quest and what is going to keep hero and heroine apart until I'm good and ready for them to get together. I try and plot tightly, so that one thing impacts upon another and there are plausible gaps in the knowledge of each character. I look into the history of each character for conflict, too. I always know roughly what the ending to the story is before I begin. But when I get to the ending I often find it difficult to get exactly right.
What do you think an editor is looking for in a good novel?
Something that will sell.
What that involves in the type of book I write is likeable characters that act out an interesting story, told in a readable style. I try and make the relationship between my hero and heroine one that will captivate the reader and make them yearn to be part of it.
Where is your favourite place to work?
My study. It's packed with my stuff and is pretty well equipped as a communication centre - my beloved Mac, a printer/scanner, phone/fax, loads of cabinets with drawers and piles of paper everywhere that mean a lot to me. It has a view of the garden but I try not to gaze out too much. I keep my library in here and work at a big iroko desk that my husband made. I have some family photos up and a few favourite ornaments, often gifts. And a lot of sticky notes on the wallpaper, which is past saving anyway. If I had a wish for this room it would be for it to be enough for a sofa and a bigger wall for sticky notes.
Do you write every day? What is your work schedule?
I write most days, although sometimes take a day or two off at the weekend. I work a lot of hours. I'm usually at my desk around 7.30am and leave around 6.00pm, when it's time to make the dinner. I do often have a lunch hour and spend some of those on classes such as yoga and piano. If I work at a weekend I don't get up so early - although some of my weekend work involves conferences, talks, workshops etc so the number of hours I work are dictated by the event.
To balance this heavy schedule, I also have some fantastic days in London or elsewhere when I attend lovely glitzy events such as the RNA's awards - these don't feel like work but they're great networking opportunities.
Which authors have most influenced your work?
Like many writers, I suppose I don't like to think I've been influenced. But I have always loved love stories, right from my first grown-up novel, A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute. I have all of his books and reread one or two a year. Of contemporary writers, I love Katie Fforde, Jill Mansell, Judy Astley, Suzanne Brockmann, Linda Howard ... They all write fantastically entertaining stories where a love affair plays a pivotal part. The creative writing tutor in me does read analytically and appreciatively.
I've decided I'm too old to read books I'm not enjoying. Ergo, I pretty much love everything I read past the first 30 pages.
How do you develop your characters?
First, in my head. It could be the hero or the heroine that comes to me first. It might be from a picture or from somebody I've seen in real life. Rarely does their picture in my mind owe nothing to a real person but they can easily be a pastiche of several people or what I imagine somebody would look like older or younger. Their physical characteristics are simple to establish - it's what makes them tick that interests me and I like to examine a central character from many points of view. How does the hero see himself? How does the heroine see him? What do his friends think of him? What about his parents? I have quite a full history and a clear idea of likes and dislikes. I begin to scribble about the character in third person and somewhere in the process I become absorbed enough that I naturally change to first person. I assume the persona of the character, just like an actor does. And I 'get' them.
Sometimes characters have traits and I'm not sure why - but I know I need to find out. In Love & Freedom, a fourteen-year-old, Rufus Gordon, was incredibly clear to me and I knew he was needy and diffident and had low expectations of life. I knew he had the kind of mum who let him down a lot but that his problems weren't all coming from her. Then, suddenly, it came to me - he was being bullied. Suddenly, I understood him completely. Rufus - Ru - isn't a central character but he is pivotal to the book.
What is the hardest part of the writing process for you?
Getting ideas. Or remembering ideas once I have them! I have begun to write them down prior to evaporation point.
It can be difficult to accept editorial direction, especially if I flat out disagree with what's being suggested. Having to rewrite and revise is part of a writer's life and I can love it or hate it. It depends upon whether I think the change is going to improve my work for the better.
Do you find time to have interests other than writing?
Reading. I read in the same way others watch TV: evenings, spare moments, eating lunch. I'm also a Formula 1-aholic - which is where most of my few TV watching hours go - and enjoy yoga and am learning to play the piano, but learning slowly and just for my own enjoyment. I like to travel but don't get enough opportunity; I love being out in the sunshine.
What advice would you give a new writer?
A) Persist B) Educate yourself. If you don't persist, you're unlikely to succeed. The longer you persist, the more likely you are to succeed. But if you're not succeeding - work out why. Do you need a course? A mentor? To buy some books about writing or the publishing business? Get yourself to writing events such as talks and conferences because you increase your market knowledge and also might meet other writers and, crucially, agents and editors. Joining the RNA and going to events was a huge milestone in my career because it gave me a 'can do' attitude. I met so many people who were already doing it. They showed me what was possible.
What draws you to your particular genre?
That's quite hard to answer. I suppose I like the sensation and excitement of falling in love. Doing it in real life is perilous to my marriage. I do like happy endings, too, and wouldn't like to spend my life conjuring up violence or scary things.
Do you enjoy writing sequels or series? If so, what is the special appeal for you?
Serials, as in magazine serials, were a nice stepping stone for me from getting published in short fiction to long fiction. I quite like episodic writing but it can be a challenge when you have months and months between writing an instalment and getting the approval of the editor - and the go ahead for the next.
In my novels, I don't write in series in quite the same way, but do enjoy setting books in Middledip village, where some of the same characters crop up, such as Gwen at the shop or Tubb at the pub. And in All That Mullarkey, for example, we meet again Ratty from Starting Over, and see that he's still loved up with Tess. I got so much good feedback from it that I wanted to carry on setting some of my books there and my next, Dream a Little Dream, is to be about Liza, the sister of Cleo from All That Mullarkey. Liza was just too naughty and too much fun to leave as a secondary character.
How do you promote your books?
Endlessly and assiduously. There are the obvious things such as book signings and the newsletter and chatting on Twitter and Facebook. (If you want to sign up for my newsletter or follow me on Twitter or Facebook you can do it here.) I have a website at www.suemoorcroft.com and a blog at http://suemoorcroft.wordpress.com. I think the blog is interesting. If I blog about something unusual or put up the details of a short story comp, I can get not only a lot of hits but people retweeting it or linking to it. I mention the post on forums and anywhere else I think it might get interest. When I've hit on one of these spikes of interest I often have people contacting me on Twitter, afterwards, to tell me they tried one of my books as a result. I always hope they'll like it enough to buy more and to tell their friends.
I also put up a permanent page on my blog regarding manuscript presentation, because that helps a lot of people, which is good for them, and sends them to my site, which is good for me.
Choc Lit, who publish my novels, are very market savvy. They come up with all kinds of ideas and promotions and I make myself available for all of them, as I do any sniff of a lit fest. I get quite a few readers through my judging work and monthly columns with Writers Forum and also my writing students. I get news items about forthcoming books wherever I can.
And I do on-line interviews such as this one! And guest blogs. And I carry around little business cards with the covers of my books on one side and its details on the other, so if a chance acquaintance expresses interest I can give them a card. And I put my books in the signature line of my emails. And I use postcards containing my covers as notelets. Really, now I list all these things, I feel like Little Miss Push.
I'm lucky to be supported by Choc Lit's publicists, too.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
Can't afford it. I'm with Mickey Spillane: 'Inspiration is an empty bank account.' Sometimes, one thing isn't going well and I'll do something else for a few hours - that's about the nearest I get to believe that the writers' block monster exists.
In what way has the RNA helped you or your career?
Too many to count. As well as the 'can do' attitude I mentioned, it has provided focused conferences to teach me about the industry, parties at which I network, a wealth of information and expertise to mine - the RNA members are ever generous - and most of my friends come from the RNA. Through the New Writers' Scheme I found an agent; I came across three of my publishers; I made almost every contact I used in my 'how to' book, Love Writing.
Are you a specialist of one genre or do you have another identity?
I write quite wholesome stuff for women's magazines, because that's their market. And sometimes, when writing, I have my creative writing tutor's hat on, which has its own 'voice'. Neither of those things are really other genres - I haven't tried to write crime or anything (not clever enough).
Do you enjoy research, and how do you set about it?
Yes, I do. I often begin by looking for general information about my subject, normally on the Internet. But it's better to talk to people who hold the knowledge that I need. For instance, in Love & Freedom, the heroine, Honor, is American but she has spent family vacations in England for much of her life and she comes to England looking for her English mother. Happily for me, I met a lovely American woman, Amanda, who had enough in common with Honor to be extremely useful to me. I was able to chatter to her about what kinds of things alienated her when she came to England to live, even though she'd had all those vacations here, and she read my manuscript and told me where I'd made Honor sound too British or I was coming over like a Brit trying to sound American, rather than a bona fide American.
The Internet is endlessly useful, though. I read case studies for whatever I'm researching or look for classes on the subject on YouTube. I will try and experience what my characters do - I walked all Honor's walks in Love & Freedom and took her bus rides. But I only took one Zumba class and realised that Honor was a lot better at it than I am. Back to Youtube ...
Who is your ideal reader?
One who likes my books so much that she buys them all and then buys them for all her friends. I think I appeal to a wide age range but more women then men. My readers want to be entertained but have the capacity to go with my characters when I tackle a real issue or two.
Tell us about your latest book, and how you got the idea for it.
The theme of Love & Freedom is its title. Honor has spent her life living up to her name - being 'Honor-able' - but she finds both love and freedom increasingly important. The novel is set in the village of Eastingdean, near Brighton, where she meets Martyn Mayfair, who is alternately captivated and exasperated by her - but keeps finding himself offering help, when he knows it's not the best thing for his peace of mind. Especially when she takes Rufus Gordon under her wing. Ru's mother, Robina, is Martyn's stalker, so Martyn usually avoids him like the plague.
I'm not sure where I got the idea for the book. I was visiting Brighton at the time the book was percolating in my imagination and I knew I wanted an American heroine. Bringing her to England was the obvious way for me to go - although I do take her home to Connecticut for a while, too - so I had to begin looking for a reason for her to be here. So I decided she wanted to know more about her English mother, who abandoned her when she was a baby.
Can you tell us something of your work in progress?
Once I'd decided that I couldn't leave Liza stuck in secondary characterland forever, I had a starting point, because I already knew her, a little. For example, I knew she was a reflexologist. The obvious way to have her meet Dominic was to have him consult her professionally. I remembered something outrageously rude my brother said when he was dragged to a reflexologist and thought that it would set up a funny opening conflict if Dominic were to say it and Liza overhear. (I had to clean it up a bit, first.)
I wanted Dominic to have a medical issue that really wasn't going to be cured by reflexology. In a discussion with a fellow writer who works in an entirely different genre, I mentioned that certain words work well in titles for the type of book I write. I said that 'dream' might be a good word, for example. And Dominic's illness came to me - narcolepsy! It can be incredibly debilitating but lots of people make jokes about it, so it has all kinds of plot potential.
This book will be set mainly in Middedip village, like Starting Over and All That Mullarkey. So there's a little bit of continuity work to be done, but I love being back
Thank you Sue - you've given us some excellent writing advice. We wish you every success with Love and Freedom.
If you want to know more about Sue and her writing, visit her website
http://www.suemoorcroft.com or her blog at http://suemoorcroft.wordpress.com
TO VOTE FOR Want to Know a Secret? (Choc Lit ISBN 9781906931261) at THE PEOPLE'S BOOK PRIZE, click here!
Love & Freedom (Choc Lit ISBN 9781906931667)
Want to Know a Secret? (Choc Lit ISBN 9781906931261)
All That Mullarkey (Choc Lit ISBN 9781906931247)
Starting Over (Choc Lit ISBN 9781906931223)
Love Writing - How to Make Money Writing Romantic and Erotic Fiction (Accent Press ISBN 9781906373993)