Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Ask me another - a personal probe into Primula

Where do you hail from?

I'm the third of four daughters brought up in a very conventional Catholic household in the middle of nowhere with teacher parents who had high expectations. My sisters all dropped out and rebelled in various ways, but I ploughed the goody goody path, being head girl of my convent school before my own rebellion when I became pregnant 'out of wedlock' (as my mother put it). Unfortunately my now elderly parents do not approve of my erotic writing, let alone making money from it, so I never mention it to them. I'm secretly trying to write something 'mainstream' that they could actually read.

What do you love most about your hometown?

I was born in Winchester (UK) and although through the years I have lived in Oxford, Venice, London, Cairo, London again, I have settled here because it's near my husband's business and I was ready to leave the hustle and bustle of London when we got married. I never wanted to live in the countryside, either, so Winchester is the perfect compromise: small, historic, friendly, a safe place to bring up kids, bursting with great pubs and restaurants, countryside all around if you're a keen walker or cycler, yet within an hour both of London and the coast.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

I always wanted to be a writer. I was always day-dreaming and wrote a romantic novel in an exercise book when I was eight, complete with illustrations, but had the mickey taken mercilessly when my family read it out loud round the supper table one night. I guess I've got my own back on them now. I also wanted to be a jazz singer, but although I sang soprano solos in the choir at school and once sang 'Summertime' in a Venetian bar, I didn't have the nerve to go further and pursue it as a career. Having said that, if X Factor, Britain's Got Talent etc had existed when I was young free and single then I think I might have entered.

Apart from writing what are your hobbies?

Eating out, cinema and travelling. All of these feature in my novels, especially food, funnily enough. Before I married I lived on taramasalata and Chardonnay, but now I love cooking and would like to write a Primula Bond cook book one day, involving the food that Gustav makes for Serena and what they all eat in restaurants. Travelling is a passion, ever since I went to live in Egypt aged 23 and was blown away by the experience not only of a new language, culture and climate, but the idea that I was totally anonymous and could be whoever I want to be.

Anything you would want to improve/educate about yourself?

I would like to improve my French and Italian language skills.

Tell us about the Silver Chain trilogy.

I was on the point of hanging up my furry handcuffs after 20 years of writing erotica when in 2012 my editor who had worked with me at Black Lace and Mischief asked me to write an erotic romance in the wake, BUT NOT A COPY CAT, of Fifty Shades. Because I was free to write it in a more literary style than previous erotic novels I have indulged myself in the language, story line and characters. It started as a trilogy but owing to the fourth book about to be published (28th January!) it is really a series now. The Silver Chain actually started off as a vampire story but I was dissuaded from that format (maybe in another series?). It's about a young photographer, Serena, who arrives in London ready to start her career and meets an attractive older man, Gustav Levi, who offers to help launch her exhibition of voyeuristic portraits in return for her company. Their relationship flourishes in an atmosphere of sexual experimentation and takes place in locations as various as London, Manhattan, Venice, Paris and Morocco - indulging my love of travel - but is threatened by Gustav's scheming ex wife and his manipulative, dangerous younger brother, Pierre, who is the hero of book 4.

Do you have anything new in the works and can you tell us a bit about it?

I have just finished a thriller under my real name which I have just sent to my agent, so fingers crossed she likes it. I am now embarking on book 5 of my series, which will once again feature naughty Pierre Levi and the new heroine in his life.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing?

Starting a new novel is a really scary prospect, especially when you have a deadline, but even worse is then having to go back and revise it with your editor's stern requirements ringing in your ears! And obviously the dreaded writer's block, which some people say doesn't exist, but believe me it does. (see below). Also, organising your life so that you can find decent chunks of time to get stuck in.

What advice would you give to writers just starting out?

Read, read, and read some more. See how published authors, especially of the genre in which you want to write, do it. Make sure your work is grammatically correct and neatly and the text and dialogue professionally presented (study house style such as spacing and font), otherwise a busy editor won't even pick it up off the slush pile. Be clear about what you're writing, and by all means keep hold of your ambition and vision, but don't rush off a 200,000 door stopper without getting some kind of opinion on the first three chapters (the first few lines are what will hook a commissioning editor). Try some exercises to hone your craft, even if it's just writing a pretend letter to or from one of your intended characters, or using a sample chapter as a short story. Save your work every few minutes, in case, like mine, your laptop crashes!

I used to be dubious about creative writing classes/talks but having been to a few, and given an erotica and short story writing workshop at the York Festival, they are invaluable in pointing up aspects of dialogue, character creation, conflict ,voice and pace which you might not have thought about. Also it is hugely rewarding from a writer's point of view, spending a day or a weekend with a community who's eyes don't glaze over when you tell them what you are trying to achieve and readers who seem really pleased to meet you. Finally, rather than showing it to friends or family who will be inhibited in their opinions, think about a critique service such as the one I contribute to, Writers Workshop. We will pull you up on any issues, advise how to polish, and suggest possible markets.

Do you ever suffer from writer's block? If so, what do you do about it?

For writers' block read PANIC! As I said, it usually strikes me right at the beginning of a novel, or halfway through when you can't think how to get your characters from one situation to the next. Step away from the laptop, and forbid yourself to touch it for say 24 hours. Allow your mind to hover and drift over your work, and the thoughts and words will start to trickle in. Keep a notebook by the bed or in your pocket to jot down those 'brainwaves' before you forget them. When you feel a little more confident, come back to the laptop and see if you can get down some kind of synopsis, so at least you have a series of steps, a framework, to follow chapter by chapter. Also, it helps to end a chapter with some kind of cliffhanger, because that will give you a leg-up to the next.

Who is your favourite author and why? 

Helen Dunmore, Rose Tremain and Rosie Thomas create absorbing characters and worlds. Kate Atkinson writes lively, compelling thrillers.

What books have most influenced your life?

The Magus by John Fowles, for its creepy, dreamy, Greek settig; Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway,a masterclass in pared down writing; Bridget Jones, who opened the way to all kinds of hilarious women's fiction. And not wanting to sound pretentious, Shakespeare's Tragedies and the Bible!

How did you deal with rejection letters?

Most rejection letters are in standard format so offer no constructive suggestions or reasons. In the early days they would really depress me make me give up the manuscript, not forever, but for a month or two. Then I would either rewrite the short story or book (and this is in the days before laptops and certainly emails so this was very laborious) or consign it to 'the bottom drawer' and start a new one. The exception to that, and one which kick-started my erotica career, was a rejection from Mills and Boon because my sex scenes were too explicit, which drove me to turn that explicitness into my first published short story!

What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?

A decent laptop that doesn't crash before you've saved a morning's work, a dictionary, The Writers and Artists' Yearbook, a place to write where inspiration most often strikes, a coffee pot that never stops boiling, an understanding family.

Where do you as an author draw the line on gory descriptions and/or erotic content?

Under age, non consensual or injury-causing sex is a no-no. In one or two of my earlier novels I tried to write about fairly transgressive sexual practices involving groups and bondage and toys and humiliation, but never felt entirely comfortable with some of the more hardcore content, which is why some reviewers have described my work as a tamer version of Fifty Shades. I will use a whip or a sex aid occasionally, but prefer to focus on natural, if energetic, sex between loving couples.
What's the weirdest thing you've ever done in the name of research?

I honestly haven't partaken in anything out of the ordinary myself, but a few years ago I had to go online to find out what a golden shower was.

No comments:

Post a Comment