Thank you for being my guest this month.
When/how did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?
I was four when I ‘wrote’ and illustrated my first book, and my granddad stapled it together for me. I think I knew back then it was something I wanted to do. I quickly got bored of the books school tried to foist on me, with barely any plots, and my parents introduced me to Enid Blyton and the Famous Five. When I realised the worlds that books could introduce me to, I was hooked! I instantly wanted to reproduce some of that magic for myself.
You were born in Gibraltar. Do you think this has influenced your work?
I am currently working on a short story for Belinda Jones’s ‘Sunlounger’ anthology, coming out this summer. My contribution is set in Gibraltar, but this is the first time I have used it in a story this way. My great-grandfather and grandfather were writers, though, so I suppose the writing gene is in my blood.
Your stories mix reality, romance and fantasy, such as ‘Once Upon A Winter’. ‘The Moon on a Stick’ is another eye-catching title. Where does your inspiration for the titles come from? Do you begin with the plot, character or title first?
This really varies from book to book. Each one has been different. My first four novels, published by Hodder, were rom-coms, including ‘The Moon on a Stick’. Now that I’ve added a magical, fairytale element to my work, I suppose my titles will need to reflect that. ‘Once Upon A Winter’ had an altogether different title while I was actually writing it, but when I finally tested it out everyone hated it! So I started playing around with ‘Once Upon…’ until I hit the right note. When it comes to ideas for the books themselves, sometimes it stems from a fragment of a plot, or a character. I have no set rules I work by. I usually let ideas ‘slow-cook’ before I start putting them down on paper, but with ‘Once Upon A Winter’ it was more of a quick blast in the microwave before I sat down to write the first chapter.
Could you tell me something about the Novelistas?
I could go on all day about the Novelistas! The group has evolved over time, but it was started by Trisha Ashley over ten years ago. I was one of the early members, along with best-selling saga author Anne Bennett. I hadn’t long moved to North Wales from Essex, so it was wonderful to find a group like this so quickly. We became the ‘Novelistas’ about two years ago. I was inspired by the term ‘fashionista’. And the Spanish for ‘novelist’ is ‘novelista’… you can see where I’m going with this. There are a dozen of us at the moment and we meet once a month near St Asaph, coming from as far as Anglesey in one direction and Manchester in the other. We’re also very varied in what we write, and all at different stages in our careers. We’re good friends as well as writing buddies and we inspire and support one another, and we always seem to have something to celebrate, so lots of champagne corks get popped at our lunches – and launches!
What key advice/tips would you give aspiring writers?
OK, my favourite pieces of advice are: firstly, you can never please everyone, so above all please yourself and write something you feel passionately about. It will show if you don’t. Criticism is hard to hear, but it is inevitable because any sort of creative work is subjective. If you can truly connect with just one person through your writing, though, everyone else who may also come to love it is a bonus.
Secondly, don’t rush it. Write with your heart, finish it, put it away for as long as you can. A month or more, if possible. Come back to it and use your head this time. This is the only way you can really discover your inner editor and see your work through fresh eyes. Sending it out too prematurely can be the difference between rejection and acceptance, so why risk it? Similarly, publishing it yourself before it’s ready can be the difference between the best-seller charts and obscurity. Don’t hit that ‘publish now’ button too soon!
What is next for Valerie-Anne?
As well as the short story for the ‘Sunlounger’ anthology, I am working on a novella which will be out spring/summer this year. Just like ‘Once Upon A Winter’ it has a contemporary fairytale theme and is set in North Wales. I’m constantly inspired by my surroundings, and feel very lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world. There is also another full-length novel simmering away, but this won’t be out until 2014.
Thank you for taking the time to write such interesting and inspiring answers.