Today's guest author was born in the county of Dorset in the UK, and has lived near Fremantle in Western Australia for many years. Writing is her passion. The settings she uses in her novels take her back to her Dorset roots.
The majority of her forty plus short stories have been published in popular magazines internationally.
Others are included in anthologies and a couple of stories written for children have been published in
educational series. With over 25 books in print, her novels are published with Severn House, Simon & Schuster UK, Robert Hale and Belgrave House.
Please welcome RWA R*BY winner, Janet Woods!
When did you start to write and how long did it take to be published?
I started writing 24 years ago, and was published right away in short story form. Almost immediately I put the writing aside because my eldest daughter became seriously ill, and she and her new baby needed constant care.
When I did get back to writing another two years had passed. I was inspired by a Mills & Boon book and thought I’d have a go at that. It was harder than I thought, and the book was terrible. It was also only 35,000 words long!
I knew nothing about what was good or bad about writing then, so sent it off anyway. The very thought that I’d written a whole novel gave me a huge sense of achievement, though it ended up on the compost heap. Big ticks to the publishers I sent it to, for their encouragement, rather than telling me it was rubbish!
I kept on writing, selling quite a few short stories on the way. Things began to hang together, and four years down the track I sold my first novel.
My second novel, in manuscript form, won third place in the Random House/Women’s Day competition, followed by the Romantic book of the year award in 2001 (or was it 2002?).
“Daughter of Darkness” is now available in e-book form, and recently I sold the Portuguese language rights.
What sparks your creativity?
Discovering a well-motivated and emotionally charged character to work with. Basically I’m a lover of melodrama.
I think that was fuelled by a childhood of Saturday morning children’s cinema. There, the heroines were often left tied to the railway line while the villain gave an evil laugh behind his hand and the train bore down of the hapless heroine. The hero usually appeared in the next episode to rescue her within an inch of her life.
I still tend to push my heroines to the limit just to see how they get out of it. I love mean villains and villainesses, and matching them up with an appropriate demise. I’ve killed quite a few of them, and in various ways.
My heroes tend to be quietly intelligent, reliable and reasonable types, though deadly when the need arises. If I were to compare them to an animal it would be a cat. On occasion though, sometimes they are large and rumble voiced, like bears.
I’m emotional, and like to connect on that level with my characters, so I understand where they are coming from and why.
Can you tell us about your latest release?
LADY LIGHTFINGERS is set in 1850s London. It’s the story of Celia, a young female pickpocket who is educated, but impoverished. Left to raise her younger sister when their mother dies, she is befriended by one of her victims, and elderly cleric with whom she forms a fatherly relationship.
Approached by Charles Curtis, a young lawyer who tries to buy her innocence, Celia accepts the money but flees to the country home of a distant relative. There, she tries to hide her past.
Three years later it catches up with her in the shape of Charles Curtis, who doesn’t recognize her. They pair fall in love, and Celia fights with her conscience over the money she stole from him, and the need to fabricate her background.
When the woman who tried to procure her for Charles in the first place abducts her with the intention of selling her off to the highest bidder, Charles stages her rescue.
Are you a pantster, scener, or plotter? Is it your characters or plot that influence you most? What’s your writing process from start to finish when writing a book?
I don’t usually plot up front, since for me, the characters dictate the story. For instance, all I knew about LADY LIGHTFINGERS when I started was that she was a pickpocket, and the book was going to be a bit Dickensian in nature. I might start plotting when I reach the middle section of the book if things slow down. I find that the middle section is the hardest part to write. Usually it’s a crossroad, where several paths are open to me.
With characters set, I have to concentrate more on where the story is going. This is where things might go wrong – sometimes just because I’m tired from sitting on my bum in the same position and everything aches. Sometimes there’s nothing new to discover about the characters, which means I’ve lost touch with them, and that’s a pain in the arse. Or I simply hit a flat patch. Sometimes the journey takes the wrong path, and I have to unravel it all to find out where I detoured, and get it back on track.
I like writing the first six chapters best because I’m developing the characters. I tend to rely on them to give me leads into the basic story line, and the story action. I rush the last third of the book, and in my eagerness to get it all down I usually clip the last couple of chapters, leaving out the details that build up the landscape, and the body language of the characters, so it’s jerky to read and more tell than show. I don’t worry though because the editing fixes it. That’s when I fill in the cracks. I always leave at least 5,000 words to play with in the edits, and usually use all of them up.
What’s the worst writing mistake that taught you a valuable lesson?
It was in a sequel book, in which I gave a character a different name from the one he had in the first book. It got past my own 2 edits, my critique partners’ eagle eyes, the copy editor and proof editor, and made it into the book. I still didn’t notice it, but it didn’t get past one of the readers. She wrote and told me about it. I was tempted to hide under my desk and stay there for a year, but I came to the conclusion that worrying about it wasn’t going to fix it.
The lesson it taught me is that I’m not perfect (not that I’ve ever pretended I was). I’m not going to promise it won’t happen again, because I’m not infallible, and it might. I will promise that I won’t beat myself up over it if I do. One thing everyone can all be sure of, any mistakes that slip into a book are accidental, not intentional.
Do you have any advice/handy tips/craft skills you’d like to share with unpublished authors?
Persistence! Persistence! Persistence! Which, although it's an old chestnut, is advice that never dates.
Janet, is generously giving away one of her books. You'll have a choice of PAPER DOLL (which is set in the 1920's) or her latest release LADY LIGHTFINGERS (set in the 1850's). You have until Thursday 6pm (Aussie EST) to leave a comment to go into the draw.
You can find out more about Janet on her website or follow her on her blog.
Janet's other books: