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GUEST BLOG: LISA HEIDKE, author of Claudia’s Big Break

I’m delighted to welcome the lovely Lisa Heidke to my blog. Claudia’s Big Break, her most recent bestselling book, is a hilarious and heartwarming read that I couldn’t put down. I asked Lisa what she thought were the linking themes running through her work so far. Over to Lisa:

I have written before how my characters are formed first before I consider plot but I have been forgetting a crucial element, theme.

The theme in Claudia’s Big Break — women, generally in their thirties, who are at a cross roads in their lives —is a theme that runs through my other two books, Lucy Springer Gets Even and What Kate did Next as well.

When starting a new manuscript, I’ll think about the general theme and develop it more specifically, for example infidelity and its’ repercussions, and then create a character to embody that crisis. Whilst the characters in every book are very different, they are all struggling with real issues women face such as aging, betrayal, divorce, teenage sexual awakening, career frustration, loss of independence, friendship, etc.

In each of the novels, the characters start in a difficult place but by the end of the 85,000 words they are on their way to resolving those issues. They are not going to lead perfect lives but the characters have developed the strength and determination to keep going and moving forward in a positive direction.

I always write in the first person so while developing Claudia, Kate and Lucy’s stories, I imagined living inside their heads to make their personalities, motivation and dialogue as emotionally authentic as I could.

While Claudia is the main character in Claudia’s Big Break, the story revolves around the relationship between three long-time best friends: Claudia, Tara and Sophie. All are in their thirties and are struggling with personal issues: Claudia has a less than stellar career and love-life, Tara is trying to overcome personal demons so she can finish writing her novel, and Sophie is dealing with the transition from corporate lawyer to stay-at-home mother.

What excited me about writing this novel was creating the intricate and often tricky relationship these women have, and playing that out against the idyllic Santorini back drop.

With What Kate did Next, the focus is very much on Kate and her coming to terms with the fact that the dreams she had at twenty are no closer to becoming a reality as she approaches her thirty-sixth birthday.

Lucy’s husband in Lucy Springer Gets Even walks out on her in the first sentence, so her journey starts in a very bad place, that of being totally blindsided and having to rebuild her life.

I can’t see the general theme of my books changing. I like writing about women, what drives them to succeed (or fail), how they react to adverse situations and how, even though they may start from a dark place, their strength of character pulls them through in the end. My characters generally aren’t going to get ‘the happily ever after’ of fairytales, but I hope that they are interesting and inspirational regardless of how flawed they appear.

You can find out more about Lisa at www.lisaheidke.com. Thanks for visiting, Lisa!

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On pursuing publication

Book pages 1This blog also appeared on the Random House ‘Random Blogs’ website on 9th April 2010

I was recently asked advice on how to become a published writer.

Here’s my take on what it takes:

Originality
In general, the more original your concept, the better. But originality must still be able to be placed within the market. Sometimes what’s original to one person can be just a bit too way out to the next reader, so don’t go too far. Alternatively, you may want to follow a trend – vampires, anyone? – but you still need an original take on it. And you need to get the timing right, so the market isn’t oversaturated by the time you finish your book.

Determination
You have to really want to succeed, be prepared for knockbacks, not get bogged down in them but use them to make you stronger.

Stamina
First of all to finish the book. An enormous feat. Then to go over and over it yourself, figuring out how you can make it better. Then to allow other people to do the same.

Enthusiasm
To learn from those who have been there. Listen to published writers. They can give you so many ideas, and to hear them talk is often inspirational. No one begins life as a published writer, they were all once in unpublished shoes, without exception. Read lots of books. They all have something to inspire you – even if it’s only, ‘I could do better than this!’

Listening skills
Listen to critique. While it’s great to wholly believe in what you have written, it’s also good to remember that your readers might just have a point. Try to look dispassionately at your writing, and pay particular attention if you hear the same comment more than once, even if it’s not what you want to hear.

Insight
Put yourself in a busy publisher’s shoes. They have thirty manuscripts. Four meetings that morning. Which should they pick up? I can guarantee you that it will usually be the one sent with a bit of razzmatazz from an agent. So then perhaps you should find an agent. If you decide to go this route, put yourself in their shoes. They have thirty manuscripts. Four meetings that morning. Which should they pick up? The one that’s double-line spaced, interestingly presented, with a quick-to-grasp concept. And a covering letter that stands out. From someone who phoned or emailed first with a great, succinct pitch (although do check what type of contact each agent prefers before doing this)? Or the single-spaced scruffy sheaf of papers, appended to a meandering cover letter, from a person they’ve never heard of or from. I know which I would choose.

And finally: Passion
For the written word. For writing for writing’s sake, not just for publishing’s sake. Because that joy and commitment will be immediately recognisable to the reader, and there is little more compelling than that.