Wednesday, 27 August 2008

talking to authors

This evening I went to Rendezvous, the Romance Bookshop, because a group of well-known writers were signing their books. They are in Australia for the Romance Writers of Australia Conference, which finished three days ago.

I felt hesitant to go, because I tend to freeze when I meet authors and usually produce a glacial silence, interspersed with bursts of gibberish as I try to squeeze out some intelligent talk. But my sister was the keen fan tonight, so I felt relatively relaxed; I was just moral support.

And then she wandered off.

There I was standing beside Jo Beverley. I've read many of her novels, but 'author phobia' set in and I couldn't remember any of them. I thought I'd better say something, so I asked, 'How much research do you need to do, considering you know your period so well?' It seemed a safe enough question, because I know her historical detail is always accurate.

And the conversation went from there. It was inspiring to a wannabe writer like myself.

Here's some of what I remember of the discussion.
  • Her plot evolves as the events and characters lead her.
  • If she didn't take pleasure in writing a book, it's likely her readers wouldn't enjoy it either.
  • She usually works about four hours a day.
  • Generally she will read back a couple of hundred words of what she wrote the previous day as she starts a new session.
  • She doesn't let her 'internal critic' loose on the first draft and if she can't think of a particular word, she types in symbols as place-holders.

In describing her technique for building characters, Jo used the metaphor of a sculptor building a figure in clay. First she pulls together a rough shape and then adds layers of detail. Which gives me the chance I've been waiting for - to use my newest verbal acquisition. Her characters are made of clay but they don't have argillaceous feet.

And if you don't know what that second-last word means, you might like to subscribe to one of my favorite email services - A. Word. A. Day. If you do, you'll get one interesting or unusual word mailed to you each day.

Today's word was 'argillaceous'; meaning made of, resembling, or relating to clay: clayey.

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