Saturday, 27 February 2010

Jo interviews Rosalie Warren

Today I am very happy to welcome Coventry based author Rosalie Warren.

Rosalie's novel Charity's Child was published by Circaidy Gregory Press in 2008. She followed this with Low Tide, Lunan Bay, published in 2009 by Robert Hale.

With her next novel, Rosalie aims to attract younger readers...

So, Rosalie, would you like to share your news about the progress of your latest book?

Hello Jo, and thank you very much for inviting me onto your blog. I'm delighted to say that my first book for children, Coping with Chloe, has just been accepted for publication by Phoenix Yard Books, and should appear sometime early in 2011. It's aimed at age 11+ and will probably appeal mostly to girls, though there's no reason boys shouldn't read it too.
Is it possible to describe the feeling of having a novel accepted for publication?

No! Oh, hang on, I'm meant to be a writer, so I'd better try. All I can do is compare it to (a) getting my first swimming award - aged 10, (b) passing my driving test - aged 23, (c) discovering I was pregnant - aged 24. No, it's not quite as good as having a baby. Not quite...

I understand that with all three novels you have dealt directly with publishers rather than through an agent. How have you found that?

I've found it very straightforward. I met my first publisher (Kay Green of Circaidy Gregory Press) through having a short story shortlisted in a competition she ran. So, I already knew and trusted her, and she was wonderful to work with. When my second novel was accepted by Robert Hale I took advice from the Society of Authors regarding my contract. Hale were very good to work with too. And now, with my children's book, I again approached the Society of Authors for help in negotiating my contract. I've every confidence that, once again, I've found a great editor to work with. An agent would be good at some stage, but I'm in no great rush at the moment. I'd rather wait and find one who is exactly right for me, and who understands my need to write lots of different kinds of books.

How much time do you tend to spend working out the plot of a novel before you start the actual writing?

Very little. Usually the main character comes first, with a hint of the situation they are in. I scribble and doodle like mad, trying to get to know and understand them. Other characters emerge and I let them talk to each other, write emails to each other etc. Sometimes my characters even write poems (sadly their poems are not much better than mine!). This gradually merges into starting the story, which is always longhand at this stage. The first draft is my way of finding out what happens. If it's going well, I can't stop - it feels like reading and I can't wait to find out what happens next. It's not always as easy as that, of course. Sometimes I get stuck and it's painful to squeeze out my 1,000 words a day (that's the minimum I set myself to write). When the first draft is done, I rest it for a month or so, then I read it through and try to extract the plot. I write a long synopsis, then base my second draft on that. My books go through at least 4 drafts before they are ready for submission.

Do you dream in colour, and has your writing ever been influenced by a dream?

I think I dream in colour... yes, I do. When I'm working on something new, I try to start writing early in the morning, before I'm properly awake. That way, my dreams are still accessible. The end of my first novel, Charity's Child, was decided by a dream. My editor wasn't keen on the original ending. I could see she was right, but I didn't know how to change it. I struggled for several days, then went to sleep one night, still thinking. The dream I had wasn't exactly about my book - it was predominantly an intense feeling - but as soon as I woke I knew it was the state of mind my character had to have at the end of the book. So I rewrote the end to go with that - and it worked. Or at least, my editor was happy and so was I.

What do you enjoy doing when you're not writing?

I love the sea and spend time beside it (or in it) whenever I can. I like swimming, reading, messing about in the garden, cooking things, eating things... going to the theatre and spending time with my partner and my (grown-up) kids.

If you ever appear on Desert Island Discs, which book will you choose and why?

That's a really difficult one. It would need to be a long book because I read very quickly. And one that would bear reading over and over again. Perhaps an inspiring biography. Or maybe I can have a complete works? I know, I'll read Homer's Iliad - about time I did.

Is there any advice you would give to newer writers?

(a) Don't become a writer unless you absolutely love writing. If you don't, it's a terrible way to live. If you're meant to be a writer, you'll know it - possibly from a very early age. In that case, go with it - you'll be unhappy if you don't. But don't expect anything from it beyond the thrill of making up people and stories (and, if you're lucky, seeing other people enjoy them).

(b) Read lots. Write lots. Rewrite lots. Don't give up. Get used to disappointments - I get the impression they never stop.

(c) Find a way to turn off you inner editor/censor/monitor - whatever you want to call it. While you write your early drafts, that is. You'll need to turn it back on later.

(d) Write what you would most like to read. Ignore trends, unless they coincide with what you want to do.

(e) Find ways to console yourself (for rejections, days when you're stuck, poor sales figures, etc) that don't involve consuming zillions of calories. (If you discover any, please let me know...)

(f) Ignore advice from older writers - unless it clicks and you know it's for you.

What's next in your writing life, Rosalie?

I've just finished a novel for adults. It's short, more of a novella, so finding a publisher may be a challenge. I've no regrets - it was a book I had to write. I've another novel for age 11+, which needs further work. I'm also writing a fantasy/SF novel for slightly older readers. I have ideas for a series for 7-9 year olds, and two further novels for adults, one of which may be a sequel to Charity's Child. I want to write across as many genres and age-groups as I can - the ones that interest me, anyway. Perhaps eventually I'll settle down and stick to books of a certain kind, but in a way I hope not. I'd quite like to have a go at scriptwriting, too.

Well, thank you Rosalie for being my first guest on Zigzag Road. I'd like to wish you every success with Coping with Chloe, and with all your other future projects.

Thank you - I really enjoyed it.

For more about Rosalie and her work, please see her website.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

When I grow up I want to be...

a writer! That was the only concrete idea I had in my head when I was a child. It took me 40-odd years to get published, and some of those years were very odd indeed. Along the way I've had many jobs. Lots were in the N.H.S. or social services, but I've also been a cleaner, nanny, ironing lady, a putter of leaflets through doors, and a voluntary adviser for the Citizens' Advice Bureau. It was all good fun. Well, maybe not being a nanny. Jo Frost I am not. But one day I'll write a story about it and wreak my revenge.

I used to think I'd like to work in a flower shop. I never have, but I did set a story in one. In researching it I made a point of visiting every florist I passed to help me bring the scene alive on paper. The colours and scents of the flowers were wonderful, but I tried to notice other things too. The rustling of the cellophane and ringing of the phone. The cross customer complaining that the lilies were too fresh. In fact writing that story cured me of my desire to work in a flower shop, because I realized they are very chilly. That's Ok in a heatwave, but not this time of year, thanks.

Another place I've always fancied working is a department store. When I'm fed up with my day job I tell my colleagues I'm going to go and work at John Lewis, preferably in the sewing machine department where I would enjoy demonstrating embroidery and buttonholes. So far I haven't done it, but I did use one as the location for another story.

Writing a My Weekly Pocket Novel was total heaven for two reasons. Firstly I set it in the Peak District, one of my favourite areas. Secondly, I played out another of my fantasy jobs - running a small hotel. I loved every minute I spent on that. My little hotel became so real to me that I can still see it now, four years after I finished the story. The hotel in my mind was very much idealized, I'm sure. I had all the fun, without actually having to do the early morning breakfasts, deal with difficult guests, or tremble in fear of the hotel inspectors.

I find other people's jobs are great starting points for stories, especially for the women's magazines. Now, let me see. What shall I be tomorrow?

Sunday, 21 February 2010


I learnt a new word today: Galanthophile - someone who loves snowdrops.

Some people say it's unlucky to bring snowdrops indoors. Presumably they are not Galanthophiles. Courting danger I may be, but I buy a pot of snowdrops every year for my desk.

We had snow again here over the past couple of days. This winter has chilled me to the bone, and never have I coughed and sneezed so much. But signs of spring are appearing, and are as welcome as the final whistle when your team is one goal ahead in the last minutes of the game.

Snowdrops look wonderful as a big drift under trees, but in my garden they tend to get lost in the undergrowth. Either that, or trampled by a heavyweight Golden Retriever. I'll carry on enjoying snowdrops in the house for their fleeting glory. Every year when my new pot of snowdrops finishes flowering I add it to the cluster in my garden. Will I ever end up with one of those carpets of white that lifts your mood on a dark winter's day? Maybe not, but my desk is always a little bit brighter.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Have you seen my concentration?

Missing from home: concentration.

It's a small, jumpy creature with wings like an eagle and ears like a bat.

Loves peace and quiet on account of its sensitive hearing. Also fond of Yorkshire Tea, brand new pads of A4 paper, a fresh idea, the colour blue.

Hates barking dogs and dustmen (the two being often connected). Easily disturbed by more than 10 minutes Internet activity, surprises, running out of milk, and having workmen in the house.

Concentration is itself a noiseless creature. Therefore it can easily sneak away unnoticed, leaving only its footprints in the snow.

Should you find my concentration, please return to:

The Rocking Chair,
Bookworm House,
United Queendom.


Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Reader's Digest

I was shocked to hear that the UK edition of Reader's Digest has gone into administration today. I admit I've never subscribed, but according to the BBC over 500,000 people did. It sounds a lot of subscribers to me, but apparently numbers had dropped hugely in recent years, leaving Reader's Digest with a hole in its pensions pot.

A fanatical reader all my life, I would always read anything rather than nothing. I remember going on holiday as a child to seaside B and Bs where dog-eared copies of Reader's Digest were the only reading matter available. Once I'd run through my stash of books or comics, I'd move onto the Reader's Digests, and became quite familiar with its distinctive mixture: 'Laughter's the Best Medicine', 'Life's Like That', and the odd funny cartoon alongside more serious articles or interviews.

So many famous brands have disappeared lately - Woolworths, Borders, several holiday firms, and one of my own favourite shops, The Pier. I do hope a solution will be found to the Reader's Digest crisis. Wouldn't it be sad to lose it?

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Sunday, 14 February 2010

100 Stories for Haiti

In common with many other people, I felt helpless watching the news reports about the earthquake in Haiti last month. What is it like to lose everything you have - not just home and possessions, but family, friends and neighbours? How do you go from living your normal everyday life one minute, to scratching about for the basic means of survival the next? Most of us probably cannot begin to imagine that. And what can we do, except drop a few coins into a collecting tin if we can afford it? Somehow this just doesn't feel enough.

But faced with any disaster, there are always those who respond using their own talents to raise money. Singers sing. Artists draw. Writers write. And one writer who saw a way to help was Greg McQueen.

In the past few weeks Greg and his fantastic team have put together a book project in aid of the Red Cross relief effort. 100 Stories for Haiti will be published on March 4th, but is now available to pre-order from the website below. A diverse range of writers contributed short stories (myself included). None of the stories is over 1,000 words long, which makes the book ideal reading in our fast paced world. You can read a story on the train. You can read one in your lunchbreak. You can give the book as a gift to someone else. You can tell your friends about it. Whatever you do you will have played your own small part in supporting a truly worthwhile cause.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Some light reading

If you would like to read my Frome Festival story from 2007, I have uploaded it to the blog. Please click on 'The Power of Purple', under 'pages' on the right hand side.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

A zigzag road

Does anyone travel a straight road through life these days? Not me - and especially not in my career or my writing.

All the changes of direction used to bother me. The roads not taken. The roads that were taken that turned into dead ends, roundabouts or diversions.

But since I've been writing, all this experience has become so useful to me. In many ways, if you want to write then the more you have to draw on the better. Did you make mistakes? Great! Did you feel utterly lost and confused? Terrific! If we'd only known a smooth, untroubled path what would we write about?

I'm coming to appreciate that life is better travelled zigzag.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Will the real me please stand up?

Are you looking for the Joanne Fox who is:-

a) an Australian water polo player;

b) a triathlete from Vancouver; or

c) a trainer of Arabian horses?

If the answer to any of these questions is "yes", then you are in the wrong place! I never knew there were so many of me in the world. However if I run out of ideas for my new blog then what I might do is contact some of these other Joanne Foxes to see if they would like to make a guest appearance here.

In the meantime I'll be posting my writing news (she says optimistically), plus whatever snippets of life catch my eye.

Do come and visit again. And who knows - I may turn out to be the right Joanne Fox after all!