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How to write a novel

I love this C.S.Lewis quote. I mean, what could be better than that?

a quote written on a page

Writing a novel is an exciting thought, but also daunting. This is because most writers have a complicated relationship with their profession. Writing is temperamental, it’s emotional – it sometimes stands you up like an unreliable date. In fact, if I’m completely honest with you, even with four books under my belt, I still feel out of my depth when referring to myself as an ‘author’. I feel like in doing so, I might somehow jinx myself and when I next sit down at my computer to write some words, my mind will fall completely blank and I’ll stare listlessly at an empty page, empty of any original ideas, let alone the ability to write a whole BOOK!

Okay. Stop.

Now that we’ve finished panicking, let’s start at the beginning.

Committing to write a novel is probably the hardest part of the process. The thought of writing 80,000-plus words of a novel is as scary for me – and probably most authors you could ask – as it is for you, but it’s a hurdle that we must all overcome, if we’re ever going to write an author’s favourite two words : ‘THE END’

And that is something we really, really, want.

So the plan is: start.

If you are reading this, the chances are that you are already a writer.

Think about it. Your writing process probably started decades ago. ALL of your life experience is valuable in helping you to write that novel.

As the journey isn’t necessarily quick. As my mum will gladly tell you, writing was in my blood. I was a prolific letter-writer as a child, I kept a written diary as a teenager and later, as a journalist, I have earned my living from writing to entertain an audience. As I moved up the career ladder, I moved further away from writing day-to-day, and I missed it. I simply must have writing in my life, and scribbling shopping lists on the back of receipts did not sustain my thirst for the written word.

In 2016 I achieved my lifelong ambition to become a published author

The Stylist is my first novel. It is a romantic comedy set between London and Los Angeles during one red carpet awards season – through the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs and The Oscars, it follows a stylist to the stars called Mona Armstrong and a young woman called Amber Green who accidentally gets a job assisting her through the busiest period in the entertainment calendar. The novel lifts the lid on the business of fashion – how it’s not just about the frivolity of wearing designer dresses, but careers can seriously be made or broken following a good or bad turn on the red carpet. The stakes are high, the heels even higher. It unveils the smoke and mirrors aspect of fame and the darker side of celebrity culture, because my heroine Amber knows that in order to shine a star needs to have her life together too. I tapped into my natural comedic tone for this novel, and when I got my rough plot and characters nailed, the words flowed. I knew I was onto something when my characters led me on the journey with them. In any writing project, it’s important to let your natural voice shine through. Don’t try to be Neil Gaiman if you’re really more Jackie Collins. Go with your own unique flow.

I found I had already done most of the research for this novel during the course of my career – every life experience can be useful to you in some way, when you decide to write a novel. Draw on the life you know, and research the worlds you don’t, all the inspiration you need is out there. I came up with the name for my central character, Amber Green, on the tube home from work one day when I overheard two young women discussing a colourful night out with their friend ‘Amber’. In a lightning bolt moment, I suddenly thought it would be fun to add the surname Green, and thus Amber’s personality took shape in my mind, as I thought about how being the butt of traffic light jokes from a young age might have shaped her personality. It instantly endeared me to her, and I knew she was a warm, kind soul with a desire to fit in, but a strong determination and raw talent that would see her make her own luck in the world.

My second novel, Amber Green Takes Manhattan

My second novel, Amber Green Takes Manhattan, the sequel to The Stylist, sees my central character try to kick-start her styling career in New York, where she encounters some mishaps with social media whilst navigating her first serious relationship, not helped when her best friend rocks up and tries to sabotage her cosy new life. When writing this book, I undertook two writing trips to the Big Apple to ensconce myself in Amber’s world – from her bijoux ‘shoebox’ apartment in Williamsburg to chic rooftop pool bars, the Skyline, subway, Central Park and the Empire State Building – I visited them all to add authentic colour and atmosphere to my writing. One of the perks of being a writer is a carte blanche to travel!

My third novel is something completely different

Women Checking out her Book
Here’s me in a hotel library in Marrakech, where I finished my first draft of Just Between Friends. As you can see I’m just a little bit happy, excited and relieved.

In Just Between Friends I drew on my experience of having a baby whilst living in Clapham in London and attending an NCT class. The idea began forming in my mind that it would be interesting to dream up a storyline about two women thrown together because they have one thing in common – the due dates of their first babies – but there is a big secret between them which is slowly unravelled through a series of flashbacks. This novel is more of a thriller, although it is humorous too. It’s a story of friendship, families, secrets and lies, with a backdrop of baby wipes and a side-helping of sleepless nights. Something that was very familiar to me at the time of writing, with two children under the age of four. I poured my experience of childbirth, ‘Armageddon’ nappy incidents in cafe, large pants, blocked milk ducts and colic into this book. I knew these experiences would be useful one day! That’s another great thing about writing a novel – the challenging times in life all serve a creative purpose.

I have to say that one of the most fulfilling things I do now, is to write. It is a creative outlet for me – an escape from everyday life. It is a way of making sense of the world; of re-living the person I once was; the people I’d like to be and the folk I’d least like to meet. Writing carries me into a parallel world where anything and everything is possible.

So how do you write a novel? You start today.

You throw out your fear; you relax and let your mind take you there. And slowly, but surely, steadily, one by one, the words will stack up. You’ll find your flow. And when you do write ‘The End’ the elation you will feel will make it all worthwhile.

What could be better than that?


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