Welcome to the two hundred and seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with novelist Trisha Ashley. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Before we start I’m delighted to announce that Trisha’s publisher Harper Collins have generously offered two of Trisha’s books for readers of this blog post and Trisha’s forthcoming guest post on writing Christmas (one of each title on each post). So, for a chance to win a copy of ‘Twelve Days of Xmas’ or ‘The Magic of Christmas’ just leave a comment at the end of this posting and your details will be put in a draw. Now, down to business…
Morgen: Hello, Trisha. Can I start by asking what have you had published to-date?
Trisha: I’ve had about fifteen novels published to date – it depends on whether you count the two rewrites as new novels or not. Sowing Secrets is a paperback rewrite of The Generous Gardener, while my latest book, The Magic of Christmas, is a major reworking of Sweet Nothings.
Morgen: I’d say “major reworking” sounds as good as new to me, especially with the experience you’ve gained over the novels in between. It’ll be interesting to know what your readers think if they’ve read both. Having an established publisher supporting you, how much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Trisha: Not a lot: I put any interesting links to reviews and that kind of thing up on Twitter and Facebook and I go and do events like radio interviews and book signings when asked, but HarperCollins send out the review copies and deal with that end of it. I am fortunate in that I write under one name, my own, so I am the walking embodiment of my own brand!
Morgen: 🙂 Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Trisha: I have twice been shortlisted for the Melissa Nathan award for romantic comedy, which is a great honour, and an earlier novel, Every Woman for Herself, was recently voted by readers as one of the top three best romantic novels of the last fifty years – I was truly amazed!
Morgen: Wow. Let’s hope your later novels feature in the next fifty years. 🙂 Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Trisha: I have an excellent agent, Judith Murdoch, and her advice early in my career was crucial to my success. When I first met her, I was writing satirical novels and she said to me: ‘Trisha, this romantic comedy hasn’t got any romance in it!’ Which of course it hadn’t, but it soon did and became Good Husband Material, my first novel with Piatkus.
Morgen: I’ve met Judith (at July’s Winchester Writers’ Conference) and really liked her. She’s very forthright and was the one (I’ve mentioned meeting agents in earlier interviews) who looked at me and said, “You’re a crime writer, you need to write crime” – a comment I’m certainly taking seriously. 🙂 Are any of your books available as eBooks?
Trisha: Avon HarperCollins have put all my books with them on Kindle and I do think it makes it easier for readers outside the UK to get hold of them quickly. I can see the advantages of e-book readers while travelling etc, but they hold no charm for me. I spend enough time staring at a screen as it is. Anyway, the feel, smell and weight of a new book in my hands renders me delirious with pleasure and I can’t see an e-book reader delivering on any of those delights.
Morgen: Most people I ‘speak’ to say the same and I agree – pBooks for home, eBooks for away. Do any of your books have dedications?
Trisha: All my books have dedications, to family and friends.
Morgen: Your covers are delightful, do you know who designed them?
Trisha: My covers are commissioned by Harper Collins and created by Dominique Corbasson, who does outstandingly brilliant illustrations.
Morgen: They are. 🙂 What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Trisha: I had my first novel accepted way back in 1983 and was very excited, but I think I get even more so with every new book that comes out!
Morgen: That’s a lovely thing to hear. Many have said the same and it’s true for me (in my small way :)). Given all your success to-date, have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Trisha: I had years of rejections. The trick is not to stop writing and wait to see what happens to the manuscript you sent out, but to start the next one.
Morgen: Absolutely, just finding the right person for the right piece. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Trisha: I am just doing the edits for the new novel coming out next May, Chocolate Shoes and Wedding Blues. It’s set in the same village as A Winter’s Tale and Chocolate Wishes and it has been great fun visiting the characters from those novels and seeing what they are up to!
Morgen: Oh, I love that. I’ve just written three anthologies for NaNoWriMo (I know, not a novel, I cheated but still went over the 50,000-word minimum so I ‘won’ in my eyes :)) and loved mentioning a character in one story then giving them more screen space in another. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Trisha: I even get up early and write for an hour or two on Christmas Day! I increase my daily word count as I get further and further into the novel and towards the end it is not unusual to be writing five thousand words a day.
Trisha: For years I have been in an email triangle with two other novelists, Leah Fleming and Elizabeth Gill – we call ourselves the 500 Club, because we email each other as soon as we have written at least the first five hundred words of the day.
Morgen: What a great idea! <cogs whirring> What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Trisha: Writer’s block is an expensive luxury and is easily cured by taking out a mortgage.
Morgen: <laughs> I’m thinking like that three weeks away from finishing the day job. I think I’ll see writing very differently (but still loving it, I hope) once I have to make some money. I’m lucky that I don’t seem to get stuck.
Trisha: We all reach knots in a novel as we write, but if you sit there long enough it will all resolve itself and you will be able to go forward again.
Morgen: Or go to another project then return, whatever works for you. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Trisha: I’m character driven and write in first person: I create my protagonist and put her in a situation and see what she does with it. It’s always a complete surprise to me as it unfolds.
Morgen: Me too, and I’d say that the part I enjoy the most. You mentioned your 500 Club earlier but who would you say is your first reader?
Trisha: My editor is the first to see it.
Morgen: Mine too, although my writing groups get to hear bits of it, and their feedback is invaluable. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Trisha: I don’t like to send a book in until in my opinion it is ready to publish. Of course, my editor will read it with a fresh eye and have her own ideas about changes and additions after that, but all will be sensible suggestions aimed at enhancing the book.
Morgen: Absolutely. There was a chap (usually very wise) on one of the LinkedIn forums recently who said he self-edits and doesn’t need a second opinion. Needless to say he was shot down in flames by everyone else on there (including me!). Rachel, my editor, comes up with some wonderful ideas, it’s not just about finding fault (fortunately not many). 🙂 How much research do you have to do for your writing?
Trisha: I do a lot of research for my books, but most of what I learn my readers don’t need to know: I distil the essence of the research and infuse it into my novels. A mistake made by many new authors is to lecture the reader, which makes for tedious reading.
Morgen: Especially when they think they’re an expert on a topic – there’ll always be a reader who’s more so and happy to point out inaccuracies . 🙂 What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Trisha: I drink a lot of coffee and talk to the insane Border Collie my son foisted onto me.
Morgen: I grew up with Border Collies but have a Jack Russell-cross for that now. 🙂 Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Trisha: Computer. I touch type, I don’t have to think about it.
Morgen: Me too, although I edit on paper, something very satisfying about attacking it with a red pen. 🙂 Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Trisha: Total quiet is preferable most of the time.
Morgen: You mentioned earlier that your books are predominantly first person, is that your favourite viewpoint?
Trisha: I have also written in third person, but I prefer first person for the contemporary novels.
Morgen: Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Trisha: When you write in first person, a prologue in third person, or from a different person’s viewpoint, can be useful in setting the scene. Often I include a prologue showing a seminal moment from the past.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Trisha: I can pace myself and I expect constantly getting up to make coffee prevents DVT.
Morgen: That’s something I’ve been conscious of since I’ve been blogging so much, and I’ve changed to a better desk. It’s all too easy for the hours to fly by but having a dog who wants to play or go out for a walk (and my love of tea) helps. 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Trisha: Get on with it: if you are a writer, you write. Nothing would have prevented me from writing, published or not. Stephen King says it’s the most fun you can have on your own, and I’d agree with that.
Morgen: That’s how I’ve felt since my first creative writing class – I can’t imagine doing anything else now. Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ book has been the most recommended writing guides, clearly a very clever man. 🙂 What do you like to read?
Trisha: I read widely and among other favourite authors I love Susan Hill’s Serailler detective novels, Leah Fleming and Margaret James’ historical fiction and Marika Cobbold and Elizabeth Buchan’s contemporary novels for their very quirky and individual writing voices.
Morgen: I have three of Marika’s books on my to-be-read pile including her ‘Aphrodite’s Workshop for Reluctant Lovers’ (which funnily enough has a quote from Elizabeth Buchan) which I bought when I met her at last year’s Chorleywood Literature Festival. We chat occasionally on Twitter – I’ll have to point her to this interview, I’m sure she’ll be delighted to be mentioned. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Trisha: Walk the dog, paint pictures, make crazy patchwork, bake (and eat)…
Morgen: I’m with you on the dog-walking and eating. 🙂 You’re based in the UK, do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Trisha: The internet means I am accessible to my readers wherever they are and I get lots of feedback.
Morgen: It does, I love that. Where’s the best place to find out about you and your work?
Trisha: Go to my website at www.trishaashley.com and see my books, leave a message in the guestbook, sign up for my quarterly newsletter, or email me. You can also find me on twitter at @trishaashley and I have a Facebook fanpage.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Trisha: I think there are a lot of interesting opportunities out there for new writers, but the cream will rise to the top, so don’t put your own books out on the internet until you are sure they are ready. A good, independent editing can work wonders!
Morgen: Absolutely. Rachel’s worth every penny. 🙂 If you could have your life over again, is there anything you’d have done differently (writing-related or otherwise)?
Trisha: Yes, I’d have got divorced at least ten years earlier.
Morgen: Oh dear… but maybe you have 10 years’ worth of relationship experience for your fiction? 🙂 Thank you Trisha!
Trisha lives in beautiful North Wales, together with the neurotic Border Collie recently foisted onto her by her student son and an equally neurotic but also vain, bad-tempered and chancy Muse. Her previous book, Twelve Days of Christmas, was a Sunday Times bestseller in 2010.
As mentioned earlier, Trisha’s publisher Harper Collins have generously offered two of Trisha’s books for readers of this blog post and Trisha’s forthcoming guest post on writing Christmas (one of each title on each post). So, for a chance to win a copy of ‘Twelve Days of Xmas’ or ‘The Magic of Christmas’ just leave a comment at the end of this posting and your details will be put in a draw. Trisha returned on 22nd December for a Christmas-related guest post. 🙂
Update August 2012: Since the interview my new novel, Chocolate Shoes and Wedding Blues, has been published, and was my third consecutive top ten Sunday Times bestseller.
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Congratulations, Trisha. 🙂