Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Interview with Bernardine Kennedy

I’m delighted to welcome Bernardine Kennedy(aka MARIE MAXWELL) to the blog today. She was born in London but spent most of her childhood in Singapore and Nigeria before settling in Essex, where she still lives. Her diverse working life has included careers as an air hostess, a swimming instructor and a social worker as well as teaching English and Creative Writing in a local women’s prison. After working as a freelance feature writer for many years, Bernardine moved over to fiction and after 7 contemporary novels for Headline is now writing regional sagas of the fifties and sixties for AVON Harper Collins. 

You are well known for writing pacy contemporary sagas. Tell us how the change came about.

I was asked by a different publisher if I would try a different genre and I accepted, not realising how hard it would be for me to change direction. And name! RUBY by Marie Maxwell, (the first of four books) is set in the late 1940s, early 1950s and is gentler than my previous books. So I’m with a new publisher, writing a new genre under a new name….. It’s a challenge!

What was the first thing you ever got published and did it help to launch your career?

My first published piece was for a TV listings magazine and it was an interview with a soap star. A ‘right time right place’ meeting and subsequent acceptance. After that I wrote many general non-fiction features, including travel, for an assortment of magazines and newspapers before writing my first novel EVERYTHING IS NOT ENOUGH which was luckily taken up very quickly by both agent and publisher. That book was the start of my fiction career as RUBY is my eight book. I think the feature writing taught me a lot about writing in general so when I wrote my first novel I had a pretty good idea of what I had to do.

Writers are always asked where they find their ideas. Would you like to share any tips with us on how you find your inspiration? 

I get a lot of my ideas from the media. Daytime TV is a gold-mine for my contemporary, gritty novels . Especially the likes of ‘Jeremy Kyle’. Perfect for both interesting ideas and larger than life characterisation. I was also a Social Worker for a long time so I’ve seen a lot. I've also been married three times and led an interesting life so some inspiration comes from within. The genre of RUBY & co is a different kettle of fish entirely so I’ve spent many hours trawling the internet and watching DVDs to try and get a feel for the era and an understanding of the problems of those times.

Is your family supportive of your writing, or do they think you’re a crazy person?

All my family are supportive in their own way and are very accepting of my eccentricities although they do roll their eyes sometimes. A writers life can be quite weird and sometimes its hard for husbands and children to understand how absorbing it can be. They do tend to think I’m deliberately ignoring them as opposed to not hearing them. Writing is very solitary.

I love these pictures of your garden office. Do you edit and revise as you write, or after you have completed the first draft? What method works best for you? 

I edit each chapter as I go. I find it really hard to move on to another chapter until the last one is done and dusted. I often wish I could do it the other way, write the whole thing quickly and then edit, but I’m stuck in the chapter by chapter groove now and can’t change. It can make the end of the Work In Progress seem very far away.

Do you agree with the show don’t tell advice?

I do agree with it but not to excess and not to the point of obsession. I think there’s a middle road for all things writerly. Sometimes we can get held back by following too many rules and lately there seem to be many rules of writing being put out on the internet. Just write a good story would be my advice because everything else can follow later. Sweat the story not the minutae.

Have you ever suffered from Writers’ Block, and how do you deal with it?

I’m in the middle of a bout of Writers Block right now! I spend way too much time on Facebook and Twitter and I even look for housework type things to do. All writers understand the ‘cleaning the fridge’ Work Displacement Activity. Anything rather than actually write. I do sometimes have to force myself to sit in front of the internet-free laptop and write something. Anything. It usually works eventually…..

Which three books would you take on a desert island with you, and why?

Tanamera by Noel Barber. It’s all about Singapore and reminds me of my childhood there and I never tire of reading about the place I knew so well. Angelique by Sergeann Golon. (Preferably the whole series). I started reading them at school and was absolutely engrossed. They seemed very naughty back then! Fascinating that they are written by a couple, Serge and Ann. I never knew that. Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman. I could study it in depth and then write a million pound earner novel when I’m rescued.

Which author has most influenced your work? 

Jackie Collins. I love her books. She does the highs and lows so well. Equal with her is Harold Robbins. I do love BIG stories that show the glitzy fantasy and the seedy reality. So what next? Can you tell us a little about your work in progress? I’m on the second novel of the commissioned four. This one is GRACIE and is the story of RUBY’s friend who features in the first. I’m also mapping out the third book MAGGIE which is about RUBY’s illegitimate daughter. The fourth book is so far untitled and unplotted! I’m also working on my own ‘blockbuster’ but it’s hard doing two different things at once. I can’t multitask like I used to.

Ruby was settled and happy during her 5 year wartime evacuation in Melton in Cambridgeshire, but then she was summoned back to East London and her over crowded family home. Frustrated and bored she soon falls for local bad boy Johnnie and gets into trouble, eventually ending up in the Essex seaside town Southend where she starts a new life. But she finds that, whatever she does, she can’t escape her past.

That was fascinating, Bernardine, and exciting to hear how a writer can reinvent herself. We wish you continuing success with your new persona. 
Best wishes, Freda 

To find out more visit: 
Twitter @BerniKennedy 
Facebook Bernardine Kennedy.

All of Bernardine’s novels are now available on Kindle including the old favourites TAKEN and MY SISTERS’ KEEPER. 

Interviews on the RNA Blog are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact me: freda@fredalightfoot.co.uk


Jan Jones said...

Oh, that work displacement activity! It's when I voluntarily get the ironing board out that I know I'm in trouble.

Nice interview, Bernardine.

Susie Vereker said...

V. interesting interview, Bernardine.

Rebecca Leith said...

Fabulous interview, ladies. Thank you. Facebook, Twitter and finding stuff to do around the flat ... I know those displacement activities very, very well.

Sandra Mackness said...

Lovely interview, Bernadine and Freda. 'Sweat the story' is such good advice. I'm now wondering how many other former air hostesses there are among RNA members. I know of one or two.

Gwen Kirkwood said...

Interesting interview ladies. I think it takes courage to develop another persona, almost like starting over again. Do agree with Berndardine about ignoring many of the new rules which seem to be appearing.

Bernardine Kennedy said...

Thanks everyone. xx

Jane Henry said...

Great interview, Bernie, and FAB picture. You look gorgeous. Best of luck with Ruby. You deserve to do well with itxxx

Bernardine Kennedy said...

Thanks J. Must get a new pic done but HATE the process so much! Ian took this one... xx

Susan Bergen said...

I'm with you (and Gwen) on the rule thing, Bernadine. Never heard so many rules in my life as since I've started writing. And I'm a bloomin' teacher!! And the novels I've loved reading the most always break the silly things anyway.

Anna Jacobs said...

I love hearing about other authors' lives and work. Very interesting, Bernardine. As to rules, there is only one - write the best story you're capable of, in whatever way suits you best.

I would never use ironing as a displacement activity, Jan. We bought a new iron four years ago and haven't yet opened the box.

Sue Moorcroft said...

Great interview Bernardine. I wish Marie Maxwell mega sales!
Sue x

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Lovely interview and fascinating to hear about your transition to sagas, Bernadine. And thanks for the point about not sweating the minutae at first!

Beth Elliott said...

Thank you ladies, for a really interesting interview and for telling it how it is with the struggle to write [sometimes].