Honoured to be featured in booksbywomen.org with my piece on writing a heroine’s journey.
Honoured to be featured in booksbywomen.org with my piece on writing a heroine’s journey.
Hazel Gaynor is a novelist, freelance writer and author of New York Times best seller and RNA Historical Romantic Novel of the Year, THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME, and new novel, A MEMORY OF VIOLETS. Originally from Yorkshire, England, she now lives in Ireland.
Welcome to the series, Hazel. Let’s begin with your writing journey so far…
I’ve always written in one form or another. Even when I spent a late gap year in Australia in 1997 I did a correspondence course in creative children’s writing. I never really thought I could make a career from my love of writing, and only started writing seriously after leaving my professional career in 2009 when my two children were very young. Initially I wrote a parenting and lifestyle blog called Hot Cross Mum (I still love that name!), which led to writing freelance features for press and websites in Ireland and the UK. I wrote my first full novel in 2010 (this has been hidden away under the bed ever since!), and wrote my second full novel, THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME, in 2011.
And how did your first publishing break come about?
After both my novels had been rejected by publishers, I decided to self-publish THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME. The novel is based on a group of Irish emigrants who sailed on Titanic and with the centenary of the sinking approaching in April 2012, I knew I had a great opportunity to connect with the resurgence of interest in Titanic. Having said that, I wouldn’t have self-published if I really didn’t believe in my novel. I felt so passionately about the subject matter, and firmly believed that there was a readership for it. The self-published ebook sold around 100,000 copies in its first year of publication, and during that year I wrote a third novel, titled DAUGHTERS OF THE FLOWERS. However, despite the success of THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME, my third novel – also historical fiction – was rejected by twelve publishers in Ireland and the UK and at the start of 2013 my agent and I parted company. This was the lowest point for me. It was really hard to keep going, but I did. I started writing a new novel, and within a few months everything completely turned around for me.
Having parted company with your first agent, do you think it important to have representation?
From personal experience, I think the most important thing is to have the right agent for you. Having the wrong agent is worse than having no agent at all and I would strongly advise new writers to take their time, do their homework, find agents whose published authors they love and who they feel they could work well with and who can best represent their work. I am now represented by an amazing agent, Michelle Brower, from Folio Literary Management in New York. Michelle read THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME on her Kindle in 2013. She loved it so much that she contacted me via Facebook to ask whether I was represented and if I had written anything else. I have that message printed out on my noticeboard above my desk! I wasn’t represented at the time, and I had an unpublished novel to send to her. Within six weeks of that initial contact from Michelle, she had my two books – THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME and DAUGHTERS OF THE FLOWERS – at auction with three major publishers in the U.S. In June 2013, I signed a two-book deal with William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins. THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME was republished in paperback in 2014 and the retitled A MEMORY OF VIOLETS was published earlier this year. I am currently editing my third novel for HarperCollins which will be published next year.
Do you write every day, Hazel? And how is your writing time structured?
During term time I am at my desk in the attic, Monday to Friday, from 9am-2pm, while the children are at school. I spend this time writing, researching, promoting, updating my website – any number of writing-related tasks. When I’m writing early drafts, I try to spend all my writing time just writing, and use the evenings to focus on admin/interviews etc. I try not to write at weekends, but when the pressure is on, it happens. When I’m not writing, I’m constantly thinking about my characters and figuring our plot issues. They often unravel themselves when I’m out walking, or in the shower! I do try to maintain some structure to my writing, but during school holidays I just have to grab whatever time I can. Often this is very early in the morning or very late at night.
So you also take some responsibility for the marketing and promotion of your work?
Absolutely! I would be worried if a writer wasn’t! A significant portion of my ‘desk time’ is dedicated to marketing/PR activities. Authors are very visible now and readers want to be able to connect with them through all forms of social media, as well as in person at festivals and conferences etc. Authors know their books better than anyone, so I would always encourage the author to be very involved in the promotion of their books and to work with their publisher to generate ideas. Authors often have really strong local networks which a publicist in another country (in my case the US and UK) might not be as strongly connected into.
What draws you to write historical fiction?
It’s a genre that is often misunderstood! Far from being stuffy and boring and using old-fashioned unfathomable language, historical novels are as dramatic, engaging, emotionally compelling and as readable as contemporary set novels. In fact, for me, the fact that the stories and characters, events and settings in historical novels are based in fact, makes them even more dramatic, engaging and emotionally compelling. That’s why I’m drawn to the genre; to discovering fascinating and forgotten stories, events and people from the past. My own brand of historical fiction is set in the twentieth century. I’ve written about Irish emigrants on the Titanic in THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME. I’ve written about orphaned flower sellers in Victorian London in A MEMORY OF VIOLETS. In the forthcoming anthology, FALL OF POPPIES, I’ve written about events on Armistice Day in WW1. In my new novel, I’m writing about a young maid trying to make it in the theatre in 1920s London.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Finish the book!
And write what you know? Agree or Disagree?
Write what you want to know. Write the book you want to read. Write about something you will still be passionate about in five, six, twenty years’ time, when (hopefully) people are still discovering your book and want to talk to you about it.
Thoughts on how to handle negative reviews – if you’ve ever had any?
It is never easy, but an unavoidable part of the creative process. Some people will love what you produce, others won’t. I try not to dwell on reviews – good, bad or indifferent. Reviews are for other readers, not for the writer. Of course, it is very tempting to read every single review, but my one piece of advice is to NEVER engage with a negative reviewer. You simply cannot win that argument. Let it be. Go for a walk. Have a good cry on your friend’s shoulder. Pour a large G&T, but NEVER publicly respond or engage in a debate about it.
Can you share with us what you are working on now?
I’m currently editing my third novel, due for publication summer 2016. It is set in London in the 1920s and tells the story of a maid at The Savoy who longs to be a star on the West End stage. I have also contributed to a WW1 anthology FALL OF POPPIES – Stories of Love and the Great War which will be published in the US in March 2016. Nine authors have each contributed a story to the collection and we are all really excited about the release.
And just for fun, name six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?!
It would be a gin and tonic and my drinking companions would be Audrey Hepburn. Grace Kelly, Tallulah Bankhead, Charlotte Bronte, JK Rowling and my mum.
Martina Reilly has had many careers. She’s been a supermarket packer (she knows you can’t put a loaf of bread in with a packet of bleach), a lounge girl (she can avoid a grope at close quarters), she even worked in her local council. Nothing, however gives her as much pleasure as the job she has now – it involves drinking lots of coffee and concocting elaborate lies. No, she’s not a politician, she’s a writer. To date, she has written nineteen novels, including four for young adults. Her books have been translated into many languages and have won prizes (A Bisto Book Merit Award, an RAI reading award, an International White Raven Award, and Something Borrowed was long-listed for an Impac award).
Martina also writes scripts, plays and poetry. She has dabbled in journalism. She acts and has also directed plays (mostly her own, because she’s a control freak) Her long-term ambition is to write a sit-com and in 2013, she and her friends got together and produced a demo dvd of her first venture – Headers. In her spare time, Martina walks her dog, acts with her local drama group, runs with her local athletic club (she was the All-Ireland Masters W3 champion in 2014 in the 200m and held the 60m indoor record). Sadly her knees are letting her down bigtime now! Martina hopes to keep writing in the hope that people will keep reading her books.
Nineteen novels, Martina. Impressive! So tell us, where did it all begin?
I have been writing since I could read. I started ‘seriously’ when I was eight, scribbling little stories into my school copies. When I was fifteen, I wrote a book called Livewire, which was about a boy called Joey who was in a band, much to the horror of his dad who wanted him to study for his exams. Even back then I recognised that there was something special about this story. When I was in my twenties, I had the money to buy a word processor and type it all up. This is the book that was eventually published.
And did you take inspiration from anyone in particular?
Enid Blyton was the first writer I read and I just loved the idea that you could make a living creating stories. I think I was born a writer really, I needed no encouragement!
How would you describe your writing, from a marketing perspective?
My work is marketed in the ‘women’s commercial fiction’ genre. I have no idea what that is as each time I write a book, the stories are vastly different. My latest one ‘That Day in June’ is about a homeless runaway and a mentally ill man. I just like to write about people, what makes them who they are and to allow the reader some understanding of what it means to be human. There are pretty good plots to.
And the length of time it takes you to complete a book?
It depends on the book. On average, it takes about a year, though I did write my second YA novel in two weeks – Fast Car. That was a goodie.
How is your writing day structured?
I write most days between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm – which is when my daughter comes home from school. I rarely write on weekends or during summer. I’ve been lucky so far in that I seem to be always able to finish a book within these parameters. Friends are very important to me so I’m not your stereotypical writer who abandons her friends and morning coffee in favour of an elusive chapter. I really believe that the best of writing comes easy, so a morning off to have coffee with my friend will not derail my work.
Do you have an agent, or think one is necessary?
I do have an agent and yes, I do think, certainly in publishing that you need one. An agent ensures that your work gets read by editors in publishing houses. A lot of publishers only accept manuscripts from agents so the places a writer can send their own work is very limited. Even if a publishing house accepts manuscripts from a writer directly, there is often a long wait before the scripts will get read.
And do you contribute to the marketing / PR of your work?
Absolutely, yes. I think that’s a reflection on the modern way of doing things – writers need to be their own PR machine. It’s not something that I enjoy as I’d much rather be writing, but it can be fun coming up with creative ways to get seen!
What’s your opinion of the publishing trade these days?
Book selling has changed so much in the last while. Ebooks are making their mark, but I don’t believe that printed copies will ever vanish. My route to publication seems hopelessly old-fashioned now – if I had to do it again, I guess I’d have to be a vologger (or whatever it’s called). God help the world then…!
Indeed, Vologging could become a thing! Would you also consider self-publishing?
I think it’s brilliant if done well. Of course I would. I love writing and I will write forever – a bit like that irritating kid who insists at singing at parties whether she’s wanted or not! If I don’t get published ever again, I will self-publish.
And literary competitions and awards?
It’s nice to be recognised but honestly, I don’t put any store by them. I’ve read prize-winning novels and hated them. I mean, really, really hated them. It doesn’t mean they were bad books, but they were not for me. I’ve also read books that have never caused a ripple on the publishing scene and been very moved by them. A good book for me is one where great writing and great characters combine. Sometimes I think books are picked for the cleverness and that irritates me.
If you’ve ever had any: How do you handle negative reviews?
I have had one bad experience with a review. I’ve also had critical reviews. The trick is learning the difference. Critical reviews enable you to learn. I am always open to people’s opinion of my work, I don’t mind if they dislike it if I find out why. A bad review on the other hand, is an assassination job in which the book is shot down in a hail of smart comments. They sting but as my mother always says, ‘There’s a reason people behave that way. Be kind’.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
The best bit of advice I can give, besides ‘just do it’ is – be yourself. Don’t try to ape anyone, don’t try to be funny, or pull at heart-strings, or scare people. Just write and be honest to the story. Put yourself and your voice on the page.
Write what you know? Agree or Disagree?
I’m not sure. Starting off it’s good advice, but I tend to write about what I want to figure out, or what I’d like to learn about or what I find interesting. I think better advice – if it interests you, write about it.
Is there a book by another writer that you wish you had written?
So many….The Poisonwood Bible, What is the What, The Patchwork Planet…
And finally, Martina, can you share with us what you are working on now?
I am doing a book called ‘The Scent of Apples’ – it’s about corruption and evil in a small town. (I think!)
Check out Martina’s website here