A warm welcome today, to Rhoda Baxter, who is a contender for the 2012 Joan Hessayon New Writers' Award.
Many congratulations on being short listed for the award, Rhoda. Do tell us about your novel and how you were inspired to write it.
When I commuted to London, I used to pass a poster that read 'Yorkshire, almost too good to be true', which made me smile (I moved 'down South' from Yorkshire to go to university). So, I decided to write about a Northern girl in London. Patently In Love grew from there.
I made the heroine, Jane, a trainee patent attorney because I used to work in a patent practice and felt it was time a patent agent got the chance to be the sexy hero. Jane had moved from Manchester to London to get away from the press, who have been stalking her since she split up with her pop-star ex. At the time of writing, it seemed a little far fetched to have someone who was nervous of being tracked down by the press (in fact, one of my rejection letters said as much!), but having heard various celebrities talking about it at the Leveson enquiry, I feel vindicated.
Is a sense of place important in your writing? How do you set about the research?
I tend to use places I already know so that I don't have to worry about getting the details wrong. I travelled a lot when I was a child and have lived in four countries, so I have a variety of places to choose from. I find the pace and style of my writing changes depending on the country I'm writing about. Scenes set in England are pacy and lightly painted. Anything set in the tropics comes out more langrous and colourful. I lived in Sri Lanka for a number of years. One day, I would like to write a book set there. I'd have to go back and visit again before I attempt it though - for research purposes, of course.
Which do you find the hardest part of the novel to write, and how do you cope when the going gets tough?
The beginning. Working out the central conflict and planning is difficult. I have characters in my head, but they need a problem to go up against. Also, it's hard to know where exactly to start. I usually end up starting somewhere in the right area and ploughing through until the characters 'click' (it's quite easy to spot when this happens - they start to act by themselves, without my pushing them). Once I've finished, I go back and rewrite the first couple of chapters. Or cut them out entirely if I've started too early.
How do I cope when the going gets tough?
Chocolate. It's my answer to everything apart from the problem of having writer's bottom.
Do you enjoy writing sequels or series? If so, what is the special appeal for you?
I don't write sequels as such. I find coming up with a central conflict hard work, so to come up with two conflicts for the same character would be a nightmare. I like writing about secondary characters from the same story. For example, Marsh from Patently in Love has a little sister who was great fun to write, so I decided to write another book (working title 'Having a Ball') where she is the heroine. It also gave me an excuse to catch up on what Marsh is doing.
With the increasing popularity of ebooks, how do you think digitisation might help or change your own career as a writer? Have you self published anything?
Patently In Love is an ebook and the sequel is likely to be one too, so I'm all for digitisation. I've never been tempted to self publish anything because I wanted the editorial input. Jude at Uncial Press did a great job editing this book and I learned a lot from it. I think the next book is going to be about 20% skinnier as a result of what I've learned.
I've recently tried reading on an ebook reader and I found it surprisingly enjoyable. I doubt anything could replace feel and smell of a real book though.
Have you managed to off-load the housework?
No. The house often looks like an explosion in a toy factory. Housework, paid work and generally keeping my little family fed, clothed and happy takes up most of my time. The writing gets squeezed into the little space that's left. Now that I'm getting more serious with the writing, the kids are starting to look a little crumpled. They don't seem to care, so that's okay.
If you could reincarnate yourself as some other author, who would it be?
Enid Blyton. Well, her writing persona anyway. Her books are loved by generation after generation. When I was a little girl, I had a whole shelf of books by her. One day I looked at them and thought ‘Enid Blyton’s dead, but everyone still knows who she is. That’s immortality.’ (I was a precocious little madam). That was the day I knew I wanted to write novels.
If you could know the future, what would you wish for?
I’d like one brilliant idea that I could write up and become an instant bestseller. I had this dream once about a girl who fell in love with a vampire...oh, wait, that's been done already.
Are you a lark or an owl?
I'm a lark. Unfortunately, so is my oldest child. So I end up spending my most creative hours doing painting and going to pretend tea parties in my pyjamas. I try and write or do writing related stuff for 1 hour in the evening and at lunch time at work. I love lunch hours - a whole hour to read, write, tweet and catch up on emails! Unfortunately, I have to waste some of it actually eating...
Are you ever driven to write by hand?
I do write by hand if I have pen and paper and no access to a computer (like when I’m waiting at the dentist or GP). I sometimes resort to pen and paper if I'm finding a scene particularly difficult. My writing voice sounds slightly different on paper and sometimes the change is enough to unblock whatever it was that was wrong. The main problem with writing long hand is that I have to decipher my scrawl before I can type it up.
Thank you for talking to us, Rhoda. We wish you every success with Patently in Love. Good luck with the Joan Hessayon award.
To find out more about Rhoda and her work visit her website at www.Rhodabaxter.com