How long does it take you to write a novel?
About a year.
What made you decide to self-publish?
Couldn’t interest any publisher or agent in taking me on. And I was a book production editor in Toronto, with Prentice-Hall, so I was familiar with the nuts and bolts of publishing: editing, design, typography, bindings and so on.
Did you always want to write?
I’m not sure. I went to some lengths to persuade myself that I could not write, and ignored advice from others. I had a good career as an editor for many years, until quite by accident, I discovered how much I loved writing. But I had some sort of idea of it from childhood, when I read Rupert Bear and thought it would be super neat to write such things. Years ago, while working in England, I took a writing course out of interest, but dropped it halfway through. I did pick up a copy of John Braine’s Writing a Novel. If I had to suggest one how-to book it would be this one, from the author of Room at the Top. It’s filled with sane, sensible advice.
How does a writer develop her “voice”?
By writing. Continually, without pause. You have to keep on writing until gradually the stuff you’re not aware of takes up more and more space over the stuff you are aware of. That unaware stuff comes out unplanned and naturally: that’s your voice. Or at least, it’s part of what is meant by that term. (I’m sure there are better to ways to express it but that’s the best I can do.)
When I first discovered I wanted to write, the ideas gushed forth. But I had editing to do (paying work!) so I put them on the back burner, and then writing began to affect the quality of my editing so I stopped completely for ten or fifteen years. That was bad. All those ideas and sentences and thoughts sat inside, growing stale and resentful. And when I began to write again, they sat, mulishly at the front of the queue wanting out but only coming out as stale and resentful instead of fresh and interesting. I became stilted and constipated in my writing until I got through all that stuff. It’s a very very bad idea to stop writing once you start.
Do you ever get “writer’s block”?
I’m sure I would have if I’d started earlier, but now? I don’t have time.
Do you have any special rituals that help you begin writing?
I have a let’s-not-start-this-book ritual, where I’ll circle around the idea for as long as I can get away with, vacuuming or washing windows, until the scenes and words simply tumble all over themselves to get out.
Do you try to write a given number of words each day?
Once I start a book, I aim for 2,000. That’s harder to sustain as I get older, but I still try for it. It means you can get your first draft down in a month and a half or so. That’s what keeps you going when you’re thrashing around in the middle of it.
Some writers like to go to a busy coffee shop to write. Does that work for you?
When I first took it up, I could and did write anywhere, around anyone, on any occasion. Now I like to write in my office at my desk from nine until one or two pm. First drafts I generally write in pen on the couch downstairs.
What do you do to publicize a new book?
Spend too much money.
Do you still offer editing services?
No. It’s a left-brain, right-brain thing. These days, I just write.
Where can I get your paper on effective business writing?
Right here. I just have to format it and put up a link.
Where are the Christmas carols? You used to have a link to them.
It’s true: I uploaded my 1987 book, The Christmas Carol Handbook. With the changeover to this new website, I’m making them (words, sources and histories) they’re now available as a pdf file. There are currently 61 carols in the file and I plan to add more next year.
Do you offer a Christmas carol music book?
No, The Christmas Carol Handbook only offered the words and histories of the best-loved carols.