Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Louise Phillips Interview

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I'm delighted to welcome Irish writer Louise Phillips to the blog today to chat about her recently published novel Red Ribbons.

Red Ribbons is a real page turner - any tips for writers on creating and maintaining tension in their novel?
Straight up, I’m not completely sure how you create pacing and tension, other than go with your gut, and try your best to feel the flow of the novel. If lots of things need to happen at the one time, and the stacks are high at particular key points, well, the same way as you inhabit the characters you create, get into the tension, feel the pressure, or indeed the ease,within the narrative, if that makes any sense. In RED RIBBONS, one fast chapter was quite often following by a much slower paced chapter as the narrative voice alternated. This sometimes required either ending a particular text on something reflective after a lot of action, or a heightened tense text, if the requirement was reversed. But getting back to my first point, I think if you really get into it, realising when elements are strained, when certain components dictate slow or fast movement, your instinct as a writer won’t lead you astray.
The Discerning Dolls Book Club are riveted.
Did you know the ending when you began the book?
I had absolutely no idea of the ending until about 40% through the script. I think this was a very good thing for me, because part of the excitement, was wanting to find out what happens next. And even when I decided on the ending, yes, you guessed it, I changed my mind again!!

On a practical level Louise, how many hours a day did you spend writing the novel at the different stages ie first draft, and then later final drafts? 
Time spent on first draft, was about 6 hours per day, grabbed in early mornings, midday between work, and late evenings for 14 weeks - nonstop. Doing the maths, 14 weeks x7 days x6 hours = 588 hoursJ. I had a deadline mentally, so when I got nearer to it,  the writing day was even longer, so you could definitely add another 100 hours in no problem. The editing or rewriting, took another 3-4 months at a similar intensity, and then the final copy editing stage, was about another month. Probably 9 months of long days, especially if you have to juggle other commitments.
Is sustaining that level of work difficult?
 Sustaining the work was difficult, it always is, but for me, I was helped by my decision not to get distracted by dragging the writing out for too long at first draft stage, by setting high word targets per day, and avoiding  the self- doubting voice creeping  in by concentrating on getting the job done.
Any tips for other writers struggling to finish their novel finished?  
Tips for finishing a novel – firstly, sit down and  write it (stop talking about writing it), secondly, don’t expect it to be perfect first time, and finally, aim for a beginning, middle, and end – sounds simple, but it takes hard work and commitment. But if you achieve it, you’ve achieved more than most, and that ain’t bad!
What was the most difficult stage of the process for you, what was the most enjoyable?
 The most difficult stage of the writing process was getting to the point where someone decided they wanted to publish the manuscript. The most enjoyable, was getting to the point where someone decided they wanted to publish the manuscript. I’m not trying to be funny about it. All stages have their own share of difficulty, but also of great enjoyment too. Each presents their own challenges. The hardest thing really, is making key decisions, decisions that if you were to share with others, they might disagree with, and as the writer, you’re never completely sure you are making the right decision – a bit like life I guess, sometimes you have to take a chance. 
 Are you a disciplined writer? - do you create rules for yourself? What are they?
I am disciplined. I don’t profess this as the right or the only way to write, but having a routine and being prepared to work hard didn’t do me any harm.
The rules I apply are usually based around word count. In one way this applies a lot of pressure, but in another way, it tells you, as the writer, that you’re free to get words down on the page. You have nothing without a beginning – and the beginning doesn’t have to be perfect, it simply has to be done. When it exists, perhaps if you’re lucky, you can create a little magic.
You certainly did that! How do your family feel about your writing success?
My family is my life. Without them, none of this would count nearly as much. I keep wanting to use the word ‘amazing’, because it seems like the only word that really fits. They are really proud of me, as I am of them, and one very special moment, was signing RED RIBBONS for our first grandchild, Catriona.

Louise signing Red Ribbons for her first grandchild Catriona

Okay, here's a horrible question for you! Define the 'perfect' novel, what are its ingredients - does any contemporary or classic novel come close?
The perfect novel is any novel which creates the real in the fictional over a sustained period. I write, I read, I love books, and anyone who loves books, knows what a perfect novel is – it’s a story which takes you into that imaginary world and holds you there emotionally, so you to feel part of it , and maintains your interest right until the end.
Lots of novels come very close, and I have my favourite book shelf like many others, but Wuthering Heights, a novel I fell in love with as a teenager, is fairly high up there on the list.
Wuthering Heights, great choice, I agree with you on that! Thanks so much Louise for popping over to Words A Day on this leg of your international blog tour, and best of luck with you next book The Dolls House, which I can't wait to read.  


ABOUT RED RIBBONS



THE SERIAL KILLER
A missing schoolgirl is found buried in the Dublin Mountains, hands clasped together in prayer, two red ribbons in her hair. Twenty-four hours later, a second schoolgirl is found in a shallow grave – her body identically arranged. The hurt for the killer is on.

THE CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGIST
The police call in criminal psychologist, Kate Pearson, to get inside the mind of the murderer before he strikes again. But the more Kate discovers about the killings, the more it all feels terrifyingly familiar.

THE ACCUSED WOMAN
As the pressure to find the killer intensifies there's one vital connection to be made – Ellie Brady, a woman institutionalised fifteen years earlier for the murder of her daughter Amy. She stopped talking when everybody stopped listening.

But what connects the death of Amy Brady to the murdered schoolgirls? As Kate Pearson, begins to unravel the truth, danger is closer than she knows...

The bad man is everywhere. Can you see him?

***
Louise Phillips returned to writing after a 20 year gap spent raising her family, managing a successful family business, and working in banking. Quickly selected by Dermot Bolger as an emerging talent, Louise went on to win the 2009 Jonathan Swift Award and in 2011 she was a winner in the Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice Platform, as well as being short-listed for Bridport UK Prize, the Molly Keane Memorial Award, and the RTÉ Guide/Penguin Short Story Competition. In 2012 Louise was awarded an Arts bursary for literature from South County Dublin Arts. Other publishing credits include many literary journals and anthologies, including New Island’s County Lines. Louise's psychological crime novel, Red Ribbons, is published by Hachette Books Ireland, and her second novel, The Doll's House, will be published in 2013.

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Enjoyed the questions and answers on the daily process of writing a novel. It's great to see talent and hard work rewarded.