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  That Gallagher Girl

The O'Hara Affair by Kate Thompson

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writing tips

When I first started out, the best advice the writer Deirdre Purcell gave me was: to persist, persist, persist. I also have learned since that you must avoid negative feedback like the plague. Never show your manuscript to anyone you suspect may be ‘brutally honest’ with you. That’s the kiss of death. Instead, choose someone who you know will accentuate the positive, and kid-glove you about the rubbish stuff without being dishonest. It’s difficult to hit on the right reader. I’m very lucky because as well as being a diplomatic wizard, my husband Malcolm is also an insightful ‘in-house’ editor.

 

Once you find your own voice and gain confidence, you become quite adept at editing yourself. You also become more aware of lazy writing. When I was redrafting my first book, I was horrified to find a ‘capacious’ handbag in chapter two and a ‘venerable’ cedar tree in chapter eight! A ‘venerable’ cedar tree might work in another book, or some pompous character might use the word, but it just didn’t ‘feel’ right for me. You also have to take into account the fact that your narrative voice is an intrinsic element of your writing style. Unless your heroine is a pretentious twat, she is unlikely to use the word ‘ragout’ for ‘stew’ for instance. ‘She took the delicious ragout from the oven’ has a completely different resonance to ‘she took the delicious stew from the oven’. If she’s trying to impress someone she might say ‘I rustled up a little ragout’.

Remember that big or unusual words cut no ice with an astute reader. They only succeed in drawing attention to themselves. I have a weakness for such words myself, and  I allow myself to use them from time to time because they can sound so good, but generally speaking most are gone by the final draft. Incidentally, this does not mean that you’re patronising or underestimating the intelligence of your reader. You’re trying to please her because you want her to finish your book. If she’s tripping over multi-syllabic or obscure words on every other page you’re only going to annoy her.

 

There’s a popular fallacy that everybody has a book in them. It’s true that everybody has a story, but writing is a craft like any other, and if you don’t hone it and hone it, then you won’t hack it. Not everyone thinks they can paint, not everyone thinks they can compose music, but I’m reasonably certain that a huge percentage of people think they can write. The trick is not dreaming up the ideas, the trick is actually to get them down on paper. In fact, writing something that’s easy and enjoyable to read takes a lot of hard graft. All the writers I know work incredibly hard. I read something a very famous Irish writer once said when someone approached her and remarked that she’d enjoyed reading her latest book, but really she could have written it herself. Her response? ‘Maybe. But you didn’t, did you?’

 

On Romance & Literature

 

It’s time to reclaim romance! The quest for romance in our lives is a quintessentially womanly thing - it’s part and parcel of our feminine make-up, and we shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed of it. Men aren’t ashamed to have references made to their masculinity, so why do we women so often belittle our own femininity?

I find it weird that when critics in the broadsheets review women’s fiction they seldom use the word ‘women’ or ‘romantic’. They call romance ‘commercial fiction’ or ‘popular fiction’ (in the words of Kate Saunders: would they prefer that authors wrote unpopular fiction?), and give the impression that they feel it’s really rather infra dig to acknowledge the existence of a genre that’s written by women for women. If Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters were writing today, would they be labelled commercial or popular? Or literary?

Critics don’t seem to have a problem calling a spade a spade elsewhere. Crime fiction’s crime fiction, thrillers are thrillers, sci-fi, sci-fi. The fact that a book is romantic and enjoyable to read shouldn’t automatically preclude it from being well-written. Romantic restaurants and holiday destinations don’t get away with sub-standard service – indeed, the word in these contexts is used as an inducement – consider all the R&R (romance and relaxation) resorts that are springing up all over the world. So why is it so often used as a term of disparagement when it’s applied to a book?

I think a lot of literature these days is very self consciously ‘literary’, and is revered for all the wrong reasons. It’s an Emperor’s New Clothes thing: once upon a time I would have felt embarrassed if I hadn’t read the newest, hippest literary tome to hit the shelves. Yikes! What to talk about at dinner parties if I didn’t? Once upon a time I might even have curled my lip at the genre of ‘Romantic Fiction’, assuming it was all swooning heroines and swash-buckling heroes. Now I’m delighted to call myself a romantic novelist - and to have had a novel (The Blue Hour) shortlisted for the RNA award. 

 

© 2012 Kate Thompson

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