Whitby is a place I have used in many of my novels. It is a time capsule of links to its past. From St Hilda and her famous abbey, to the Viking connections and on to the seafaring adventures of James Cook, it is a delight to explore.
Here are a few pictures taken whilst researching the location.
For the Love of Writing: Making your goals realistic
Now you are sitting comfortably and have an idea where you will be working, you will be eager to start writing. If you are a hobby writer, then fitting it in around other commitments is not a problem. However, if you are trying to make a profession from it, then here are some practical tips. Having your own workspace is a luxury but, if it is not possible, then have one where you can ‘hot desk’ for set times. For a change of scene I sometimes use a large coffee shop or a library.
Once you know where you will write and when, set realistic deadlines to train yourself to work in a professional way for the day when those deadlines have to be contractually met. This can be fun as it is like setting a personal challenge.
You might write only 500 or 1500 words a day. That does not matter. Whatever your output is you can easily work out a schedule as a guide for your project to be completed.
For example, if you are setting out to write a 50,000 word manuscript and produce (on average) 1,000 words per day, then you will need 50 days to complete a first draft.
If you work 5 days a week, then you will have your finished first draft in 10 weeks.
Add a couple of weeks for editing and polishing it. So your realistic target would be a 50,000 word novella in 3 months!
These figures are a simple guide to illustrate how easy it is to set a credible target for whatever your project is. Be committed to your work, revising the schedule as you go along. Keep the goals achievable and be determined to succeed, and you will!
Six years ago, Willoughby Rossington’s father was murdered while searching for the kingpin of a smuggling and spy ring. Taken under the wing of his uncle, who is running a counter-intelligence operation against Napoleon’s spies, Willoughby is assigned to take up his father’s last mission—and, hopefully, in the process find who killed his father and bring them to justice.
He encounters a young woman, Beth, who works at the local inn. Her spark and resilience against her master’s attempts to break her will strike a chord in him and he, albeit reluctantly, takes her with him when he leaves town.
As they begin to talk, he finds out that her master is more involved in the ring that could have been thought. She overheard things and knows things about the seedy side of villages that could be helpful to him and his mission.
Though Beth hasn’t had the opportunity for education, she’s smart and quite cunning while still maintaining a child-like wonder. Even as Willoughby makes plans to set her up with a family in order to protect her from the perils of his mission, he finds himself a bit melancholy at the thought of losing her company.
Beth is having none of it. She knows she can be of help to Willoughby and isn’t going to be left behind now that she’s found someone nice. Part on purpose, partly because of fate, their two lives become intertwined as they race against the villains that plot to destroy them both.
Will they uncover the truth behind the smuggling ring and find who is responsible for Willoughby’s father’s death?
Did your partnership form and grow through the collaboration as writers or did your published work evolve as a result of your friendship?
A bit of both! In 1999, we had co-authored two books of non-fiction, published by Radcliffe Medical Press (‘Facilitating Groups in Primary Care’, and ‘Facilitating Organisational Change in Primary Care’), while employed by The University of Dundee. That activity, along with several years of co-tutoring and joint research and consultancy, developed our working relationship and eventually led to our being friends as well as boss and junior!
Our fiction writing partnership – and ongoing friendship – is something newer and different, as we are no longer in a formal work situation. We’ve been writing and working together for 16 years in total and are still great friends, despite now living 500 miles apart.
Please tell us something about ‘Eight of Cups’?
The novel is certainly not chic-lit, and is not intended to be literary; rather it fits the genre of well-written contemporary women’s fiction, although many male readers have told us they’ve enjoyed reading it and learnt a lot about women’s minds in the process! It’s a saga spanning over thirty years, beginning in 1972, as the six main characters arrive at Edinburgh as new undergraduates. After leaving university, their roads lead to England, Wales, Ireland, America and the Middle East; lives intertwine and paths cross.
The story is told from two perspectives. One, from the first-person narrative of the primary character, the rather too selfless (as becomes evident) Scottish lass Diane. The other, third person narrative interlocks all six characters in a brindled strand of narrative priorities. The women are all very different personalities: Nancy, the risk-taking country-loving girl from Yorkshire, Alix, the hedonist from Aberdeen, Carys, the studious one from the depths of West Wales, the quietly anxious Lesley, from Cardiff, and bossy, religious Patricia from Dundee.
The book explores the effects of the various attachments each character possesses on their lives: dreams, ambitions, pleasures, plans, obsessions and fears, and asks the question, “What will it take to set them free?”
Where or who did the inspiration and desire to write the novel come from initially?
Marion (Mirren) describes the impetus as being a combination of challenge and opportunity, with a significant event in her social life providing the seed for the story. She was moving to live part-time on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland when her husband took up a post there in the island dental services. He was concerned that she would be bored (does he really know her??) and challenged her to ‘write that novel you’ve been banging on about for years’. Co-incidentally, she attended a reunion of old university friends where one of her old pals divulged a shocking secret to the group. That set her thinking of how life affects plans and attitudes. On hearing of Mirren’s novel-writing plans, Jones was very keen to join in, making a strong case that if we were able to write non-fiction successfully then we ought to be able to do the same with fiction! So after discussion and negotiation, Mirren Jones was born and ‘Eight of Cups’ quickly began to take shape.
Do you split tasks when you approach producing a novel or do you write alternate chapters, swap them and then smooth out the writing style in redrafting?
We work in a highly iterative way – creating, structuring, planning, revising, over and over again until we are happy with the product. Interestingly, we always sit down together and read through all the dialogue before signing off the final draft – this does give unique insights. In the end, the finished work is an amalgam of our ideas, plot lines, character development and physical writing (Mirren’s straight on to computer, and Jones on paper first), critiqued and then polished according to our own standards and preferences, as well as feedback from selected trusted reviewers.
You both have had careers dealing with people within the health sector. Do you think this experience has helped you to feel deeper empathy for the characters you create?
Our work in the NHS, in academia and as organisational development consultants has required us to be attentive listeners, adept at interpreting information from others via all our senses, able to feedback sensitively and imagine ourselves in others’ shoes. We have gained experience over many years of the effects of ill-health on people, and how life impacts on well-being. Hopefully our innate vein of empathy has been enhanced by our real-life experiences which then give us insight that we can apply to our characterisation. Perhaps being co-writers has an advantage over writing solo, in that with our combined life and work experiences we are able to bring a very wide range of knowledges and contexts to our writing, thus giving credibility to our characters and their settings.
How do you keep up the much needed energy and momentum for the projects you start when living so far apart and having such varied commitments and interests?
We put no pressure on each other in terms of deadlines and accept that life will get in the way, as it has done since we became Mirren Jones. We try to fulfil our promises to each other, and to ourselves as best we can, and both would love to have more time to write. Neither of us are the kind of writers who can squeeze in an hour before bedtime, or get up early and write before going to work. But what does help is if one progresses the story and reignites the flame for the next chapter to be written.
Please tell us something about your next novel, ‘Never Do Harm’.
It is a psychological drama about two doctors, friends since childhood, living in the same part of Scotland, but operating in very different settings. Alan is a GP in a busy medical practice, Hugh is a senior hospital consultant in a big teaching hospital. Professional in their working lives, they are rivals as well as friends in their personal life. Alan’s French wife Simone, a sculptress, is the third player in their relationship. Her presence will generate the potential for harm, something the two men promise never to do in their role as doctors, but which doesn’t of course apply outside of work. Our old NHS colleagues will be more than a little worried that we’ve used some real-life experiences to fuel our writing of this novel – and they may well be right!
What is next for Mirren Jones?
Finishing ‘Never Do Harm’ is our immediate aim – we are committed to reaching this goal before the end of the year. Then we have to navigate the world of Indie publishing which has changed considerably since we produced ‘Eight of Cups’, with the advent of digital books on multiple platforms, and embrace marketing with renewed enthusiasm!
As for the future – we have no problem generating ideas for stories, so when we decide to work on a third novel, it will probably progress much as this one has – in a stop-start fashion, with many twists and turns in both the writing and the lives of the writers. Given our personal experiences to date, we can anticipate unexpected changes which might throw up a range of other possibilities. In the meantime, Mirren continues in her role as Practice Manager in her local health centre, and Jones with her work as an Energy Psychology practitioner (humans and horses) / MD of CareandCompare.com – a charitable insurance price comparison website.