Novel vs Song Writing – In Conversation with Fairhazel

 

I’m a huge music fan, HUGE.

When I write my books often scenes, chapters, characters and, in one instance, an entire forthcoming novel, have been inspired by song lyrics.  My son Kai and I share the same taste and when he messaged me last year ‘I’ve found a new artist you’re going to LOVE ‘ I was curious. Before he sent me the track, Steady Man, he sent me the opening lyrics ‘I don’t remember anything but if I did I think that I would love you’. In an instant, I was hooked, and that was before I’d heard the melodic guitar and soothing vocals of Hugh Macdonald – currently recording under the name Fairhazel. His genre-defying music (although I’d say its core is in folk) crosses generations. In our house you can frequently hear his songs drifting out of Kai or his brothers’ bedrooms, playing in my husband’s car as he heads off to work, streaming through the Sonas in my study as I write.

Not only is Hugh an extensive traveller who studied at the Berklee College of Music, he’s super talented – his creativity spans not only music but graphic design for his quirky videos and Instagram posts – his work ethic is admirable. The payoff, his forthcoming album ‘Home Movies’ has been worth it. It’s a fabulous collection of songs inspired by the people he has met on his travels, each one a mini-story.

Ever curious about others writers’ processes I couldn’t wait to chat with Hugh about the differences and similarities between novel writing and songwriting. We all have a story to tell and Hugh says of his, ‘I want to use stories to promote things I believe in, and things I want to see changed in this world, and sometimes these stories are just used for entertainment, like a four-minute movie.’

So how does he create a song? Let’s find out… (you can read the interview below or scroll down to watch the video).

Hello Hugh, I Googled you online and I read something that said songwriting was really effortless and you knock out a couple of songs a day?

Yes, I set myself a challenge from November of last year until May of this year to write a song a day and after about 2 months it became easy and I could just tap into it and so I’m riding that wave for as long as I can.

WOW! What comes first for you the lyrics or the melodies?

Either, although they usually come together. I pick up something maybe a line or a melody from being out and experiencing something. Then I have to figure it out from there.

Are a lot of your songs based on personal experience?

Sometimes but mainly about other things and other people and less so about me.

When we write novels we write many versions, is it like that for songs?

I think it’s meant to be but once I have something I’m attached to it. If I have to change it then it ruins the whole thing for me, so I usually keep it. If something isn’t sitting right it goes into a bank of songs never to be seen again.

So you have a lot of songs sitting around – what are you planning on doing with them?

I have an album, which hopefully will come out soon.

Which I’ve heard and it’s amazing!

Thanks! I’ve recorded 9 more songs since then but I don’t know what to do with them all.

I’m curious as to whether they’re similar. When I first started writing I wrote completely what I wanted to write and followed my heart but now I have a publishing deal, I’m marketed in a certain genre. I have to think about what people want from that genre. Do you find the songs you write are purely for yourself, for other people a bit of both?

 A bit of both I think. It’s hard to write purely for myself because I think people expect some level of pop, even if it isn’t pop they expect a standard length and some catchiness but more and more when I write, I write a song I would like to listen to. I figure if I’d like to listen to it then somebody else out there would like to listen to it too.

And how does it feel as a songwriter when people are listening to your music? As an author, it’s always a nerve-wracking time when we release new books into the wild.

I love hearing feedback. I think it’s more nerve-wracking playing to an audience of people who may not be steroid typical of my music, who may not like it.

In that situation do you assume they won’t like it or are you quite confident?

Sometimes I’ve played bars where I think it will go badly and sometimes it does!

Haha. Tell me a little about bringing out your new music. Is that with a label?

It’s by myself. I’m embracing being independent.

So you have full creative control?

Yes over everything.

But also all the work. I see your schedule on Instagram and it’s insane! Sometimes I think mine is unmanageable but then I look at yours and think well, actually…

Yes! I’m doing everything myself, graphic design, organisation. There’s only me.

What’s next for you?

I have a lot of gigs coming up.

And more writing! So who are your influences?

 My no. 1 is Harry Nilsson and people from Beatles era.

 Fabulous. And you’ve travelled the world so are you also influenced by different cultures?

Yes. I lived in South Africa when I was younger and I love the way African music makes you feel so I’m trying to incorporate that a little bit more in the new stuff.

I can’t wait to hear it!

After we’d finished recording our interview we chatted about the inspiration for our writing. I shared with Hugh that a couple of years ago I had spent so much time inside writing, but not getting out and experiencing life, that I felt I had nothing left to say. He told me that he often comes up with songs after meeting new people. One of his songs, Shallow Grave, came about after Hugh was in a cab and the driver started to tell him some crime secrets but didn’t finish his story, instead saying ‘But… if I told you too much, you’d be in a shallow grave.’ Sounds like a great thriller plot to me!

I’ve learned there are lots of parallels between songwriting and novel writing. Writing every day helps it become second nature. If you write the story you’d like to read, the song you’d like to hear, you can guarantee that someone else will enjoy it too. We have to write for ourselves but also consider the market.

The only thing left to do now is to convince my editor that I’m too attached to my first draft to change it. Wish me luck!

You can find out more about Hugh on his website here.

Find him on Spotify & iTunes.

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook & YouTube.

Hugh’s new single, ‘In the Morning’, will be released on August 16th. It has such a chilled out vibe. Do give his music a listen. He deserves every success.

You can watch our full chat on YouTube below.

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3 years in publishing, 10 lessons I’ve learned

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This week marks three years since my debut, The Sister, was published. There was no gentle easing into the publishing industry because, and I am eternally grateful – my first novel soon rose to No. 1 in various countries, spending almost the entire summer in the top spot in the UK. It quickly sold over half a million copies and was snapped up for translation by twenty-five territories, nominated for the Goodreads best debut award, and became the sixth biggest selling book on Amazon in 2016.  As lovely as all this was – and it was – there was no time to sit back and enjoy it, the pressure was on to finish writing my second book, The Gift.

Fast forward to now, over a million sales later, and publication of my fifth thriller, The Family is imminent and yet I still feel as though I’m finding my feet. Often overwhelmed with the thought of having to write more books and yet heartbroken at the thought that one day I might not be in the fortunate position of writing full time. Creating stories is my passion, my reason for getting up in the mornings but, sometimes (generally during a first draft) the cause of my insomnia. Thoughts of ‘how can I make my next book better than my last’ all-consuming.

I have a sense that I know nothing about writing, about publishing and yet I know infinitely more than I did and these are the ten lessons I try to bear in mind.

  • There are readers who will love my story. No matter how daunting it is releasing a new book into the wild, I write stories I would love to read myself and it stands to reason that if my story is one I would love to read, someone else will love it too.
  • There are readers who will hate my story. Negative reviews are inevitable. It doesn’t mean – as I once thought – I should stop writing books because Sandra from Basingstoke doesn’t like them. Not every book will resonate with every reader.
  • The pressure I have felt has been the pressure I have burdened myself with. My agent, my publisher, my readers want future books but no one is chaining me to my desk and forcing me to write (note – that might make a good plot)
  • The world will not stop turning if I don’t ever write another book. My world would be darker, sadder, but if I couldn’t think of a single plot again it really wouldn’t cause the sun to explode.
  • Some books are easy to write. My third – The Surrogate – literally fell from the sky on to the page and I thought I’d finally found the magic formula.
  • Some books are impossibly difficult. My fourth book – The Date – took several false starts and was shoved into the bottom of my drawer multiple times.
  • Social media sometimes brings me down – if I’ve had an unproductive day I avoid twitter as I know that seeing other writers ‘I’ve written thousands of words since breakfast’ posts leave me feeling inferior.
  • My editor is mainly right. Mainly. Not always. Ultimately it is my name on the cover and if I feel strongly that a suggested change is wrong for my characters I will stand up for them. It’s a suggested change, not the law. That said I’m so lucky to have an editor and I’d be a fool to ignore her expertise. A fool!
  • EVERY writer has highs and lows but it’s often only the highs you hear about. No matter what level of success someone has there are still disappointments. Still times the words won’t flow. Self-doubt is ever-present for most creatives. I don’t think that ever fully disappears and nor do I think it should.
  • A dip in sales does not mean the end of a career. Some books sell more than others, some books gain better reviews. All I can do is set out to write my best book every time and never become complacent. I love what I do and I never forget how fortunate I am.

I’ll be giving away some signed copies of The Sister this week so do follow me on my Facebook page for a chance to win one.

 

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The joy I felt holding my first book is something I shall never forget

 

Revisting my primary school where I wrote my first ‘book’ made me feel ALL the emotions, including anger…

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This weekend I went along to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of my former primary school, with a set of my books to donate to the staffroom and a heart full of gratitude for the teacher who encouraged me to write.

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Mr Townsend made a huge impression on my seven-year-old self. Never confident, I could usually be found curled in the corner of the library reading a book. He encouraged me to write my own stories. Patiently reading them, offering kind words and constructive advice. It was him I turned to when I penned my first novel – all seven pages of it which I’d illustrated and had stuck together with sellotape and love. ‘The Fabulous Five’, in no way ripped off from Enid Blyton.

**totally and blatantly ripped off from Enid Blyton**

We were allowed to check out one library book each week but, but always a fast reader, and incredibly careful with the pages, treating the books like the precious treasure they were,  Mr Townsend allowed me to borrow as many as I wanted to. He wisely said ‘the key to learning to write stories is to read as many as you can’ and those words have always stayed with me.

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I was thrilled my two favourite childhood books were still here (albeit newer editions)

It was emotional being back at primary school, trailing through the still familiar classrooms with my sister who had been in a different year to me, sharing memories, trading stories and occasionally disagreeing over whose classroom we were currently standing in (well we are sisters – there has to be a little conflict).

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The 70’s have such happy memories, it’s made me more determined to write a nostalgic novel one day.

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As I stood in the original 1960’s floor with its parquet flooring I remembered the smaller me who had sat crossed legged, listening to stories while drinking her free bottle of milk, dreaming of the day she’d be an author – writing those stories and I felt something else. A fleeting moment of anger for all that came after. The secondary school where I was told it was ridiculous to think I could forge a writing career. Who gradually tore apart my dreams, and replaced them with the ‘achievable and realistic goal’ of working in an office.

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It took me a long time to find the courage, the confidence to pursue writing again and, with over a million book sales so far, I’m so grateful I did.

Mr Townsend’s support is something I’ve held on to for a long time, and I was sad not to see him at the reunion. I wanted to thank him for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself.

Primary schools are instrumental in shaping us in the people we are ultimately going to be, the people we want to be. I’m thankful mine was so nurturing.

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I’m 3rd row down on the right with the wonky collar – upset I’d just had my long hair cut off.

 

 

Inside the home of Literary Nobel Peace Prize recipient – Jose Saramago

 

Lanzarote is one of my most favourite places on earth, coming second only to my dining table when all my family are seated around it. Partly because it’s home to one of my hero’s – Cesar Manrique – but more about him in a forthcoming blog; today’s post is all about literary Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jose Saramago (1922-2010) whose house I visited last week.

There’s something very special about standing in the places other authors once stood. Jose’s home is beautiful. A world away from the cramped space where I write my thrillers.


If you’re not familiar with him, Jose Saramago was a Portuguese writer, once described by Harold Bloom as ‘the most gifted novelist in the world’. Over two million copies of his novels have been sold and he’s been translated into twenty-five languages. When the Portugues government ordered the removal of his novel ‘The Gospel According to Jesus Christ’ from the Aristeion Prize shortlist – claiming the work was religiously offensive – Jose moved to Lanzarote where he resided until his death.

Inspiringly, although Jose supported himself through journalism, his career as an author didn’t take off until the publication of his fourth book when he was sixty. I wasn’t published until I was in my 40’s and I thought I’d changed career quite late in life. There’s hope for all aspiring writers out there!

This is his study inside of the house, although it isn’t where he wrote his books.

And not surprising with this fabulous view to distract him…

But there was a fine collection of pens.

And of course, a Nobel Peace Prize displayed on the wall.

A super tidy desk, the legs of which were covered in teeth marks where his dogs had chewed them.

The whole house had a cosy, lived in feel. The lounge was just as he’d left it. His current reads on the coffee table. The walls covered with paintings based on his books which made me long for a painting based on one of my books!

My heart melted when I learned all the clocks in the house were stopped at four o’clock because that was the time he met his wife.

Jose’s library was jaw-droppingly impressive. There are 15,000 books in his collection. He insisted that people were extremely careful with books stating there were pieces of the author on each and every page. His wife insisted that female authors had their own section as she very strongly felt women deserved better than for their novels to stand side by side with male authors many of whom didn’t respect women or their work.

This is where Jose wrote.

Apparently, every morning he would rearrange his desk and reread what he’d written the day before. Then he’d begin to write, never stopping to edit.

After lunch every day he’d swim in his indoor pool.

Before spending each afternoon sitting in his favourite garden chair, gazing out to sea, meditating and thinking of his wip. Jose formed the words in his head he would write the following day and rarely had to redraft the way that most writers **me** seem to. There was a big lesson here that to spend a few hours writing without distraction is far more productive than a day spent at a desk hopping on and off social media as I do.

After the tour we were given a cup of Portuguese coffee to take into the garden, although Jose’s cat had claimed the best chair.

You can find out more about Jose Saramago and how to visit his home here.

Where do story ideas come from? Everywhere…

My husband had gone to a client meeting, my son had just left to meet friends when I decided to have a break and make a drink. Back in my study, I put my coffee on my desk and it was then I realised, somebody had been into my room.

But I was alone.

Fear prickled at the back of my neck. On my keyboard, was a Biscoff.

‘Hello?’ I called into the silence which now felt heavy and oppressive.

Grabbing my phone, I called my son.

‘There’s somebody in the house,’ I whispered. ‘They’ve left a warning on my keyboard.’

‘A warning or a biscuit?’ He asked.

‘Was it you? But you’re not here?’

‘I found it in my pocket when I got to the bottom of the road and thought I’d pop it back as they’re your favourite. Seriously, mum how could you think it was creepy?’

‘Because somebody could want me to think I’m losing my mind, doubting my reality. They-‘

‘You’ve got an overactive imagination,’ he said.

It’s something I’ve heard throughout my life, usually accompanied by an eye roll and a sigh. My school reports often started with ‘Louise is such a daydreamer.’ I am but now, rather than seeing it as a flaw, as I’ve always been led to believe, I look upon it as something positive. Although gazing out of the window and making up characters in my head may be a problem in many jobs, without my over active imagination I wouldn’t be living out my life-long dream of being an author.

For Mother’s Day, my youngest son bought me a fizzy bath bomb from Lush. We’d not had them before and he wanted to watch as I dropped it into the bath. Just before I let it go he said ‘look mum, there’s a secret message!’

Inside a small hole on the top of the bomb there was a tightly rolled piece of paper.

‘What do you think it says?’ he asked excitedly.

‘I think it says ‘drown, bitch,’ I said. ‘I don’t think it’s supposed to be revealed until you’re in the bath and as you stare in confusion at the words you become aware of someone standing behind you-‘

‘A hand on the top of your head,’ he said (he writes too…)

‘Which pushes you underwater and holds you down until you stop struggling.’

The disappointment when we read it said ‘thanks’ was immense.

My three sons are used to me now. One called me to tell me he’d lost his wallet he quickly followed it up with ‘and no I don’t think anyone will find it and leave my ID at a murder scene.’

‘You never know,’ I said, darkly.

Last weekend, we took our dog for a country walk and my son pointed out the perfect place to hide a body. I didn’t roll my eyes and sigh, tell him he’s got an overactive imagination as though it’s a bad thing. Instead, I encouraged him to explore the idea, write it down. If all potential story-tellers were made to feel having a vivid imagination is a bad thing there wouldn’t be as many books and that would be a very sad world indeed.

Never underestimate the power of a story – My thoughts on genre snobbery

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Recently I had lunch with a fellow psychological thriller writer who was sharing the plot of their current work in progress.

‘That sounds brilliant,’ I said.

They shrugged. ‘It’s not going to change the world or anything, is it? I know I just write cheap entertainment.’

Immediately I pulled out my phone and shared an email I’d received a few days previously.

Dear Louise,

It’s 5am and I’ve just finished reading ‘The Sister.’ I LOVED it so much I thought I’d google you and when I read you were a fellow chronic pain sufferer, and you’d written much of your story throughout the night, I just had to reach out to you. I can so relate to the fact you sometimes use stories to get you through the night, I’m exactly the same but as a reader, not a writer. I’ve had a chronic condition for three years now and although I’d like to say I’m used to it, I’m not. During the day, my pain is manageable. Sometimes a friend drops in although their visits are becoming more and more infrequent as it becomes apparent I’m never going to ‘get better.’ The nights though are different. Long and lonely. I’m too uncomfortable to sleep for long periods and this is the time I feel sorry for myself and sometimes question what the point is to me anymore and my thoughts become really morbid. This is when I open a book and escape. If it weren’t for stories I honestly don’t know where I’d be right now. The characters become my friends. I become so invested in them I stop thinking about myself and worry about them instead. Their world becomes my world, and before I know it, the sun has risen and I’ve made it through another night. It’s such a talent to be able to draw a reader in and I want to thank you for writing books. I honestly don’t know where I’d be without them. Keep at it!

Genre snobbery exists, I know – as a crime writer I’ve experienced it. But I don’t think one genre is better than another. It’s such a privilege as an author to create a world that allows someone whose own world is full of sadness and pain, to escape if only for a short time.

If you’re writing a story and someone asks about it, please don’t say ‘it’s only…’ because you never know when your book might change a life, or save a life.

All fiction can lift and heal. Words can illuminate the dark.

An open letter to the writer who told me I’d likely NEVER be published

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Hello,

While I was going through some papers I found a report you’d written on my first novel and as I read it I felt incredibly sad. You probably won’t remember it, or me, but in 2015 you almost crushed my dreams.

Almost.

I’d longed to be a writer much of my life but, always lacking in confidence, being published seemed unachievable. I didn’t have a degree, any A Levels. I didn’t have the courage to sign up for a writing course.

In my 30’s an accident left me with a disability and my life radically changed. I then spent several years struggling with chronic pain, and my mood until I started writing a story, then entitled ‘Dear Grace’ about best friends, Grace, and Charlie.

For the first time in a long time, I felt I had something to get up for. A purpose. Often I was awake throughout the night, lonely and uncomfortable but now I had my manuscript – a world I could escape to and I escaped often.

I felt a feeling of immense pride when I finished my first draft but then came a bereavement, one of the people I loved most in the world suddenly gone. My depression came crashing back and I didn’t write for a long, long time.

In 2015 I reread my story and a tiny ember of hope began to smoulder. I thought it had potential but I was plagued with self-doubt.

Could I write?

Who could I ask?

It took much courage, several glasses of wine and all of our savings to send my manuscript off to a well-known organisation who offered critiques. When I heard you would be reading my story – someone who reviewed books for a living – I felt delighted.

Until I received your feedback.

Your report started by saying Writing fiction is a long hard slog for anyone and the chances of getting published are very slim.

Immediately I felt deflated, stupid for ever thinking I could achieve my dream. Assuming that for you to have told me it was unlikely I’d ever get published when I hadn’t asked for your advice nor was it something the agency listed as including in the report, must mean my writing was bad.

Very bad.

After your feedback on my story which you weren’t keen on, you ended your letter with ‘you show some flair but I think, bluntly, you need to face up to how difficult it is to get published. You may want to consider self-publishing. Traditional book deals from publishers are increasingly hard to come by. I’m sorry not to be more encouraging and I wish you the best.

Tears rolled down my face as I packed away my manuscript and my dreams for another six months as I spiralled back into depression.

I am writing this to let you know that dreams are fragile and hope easily extinguished. I googled you before I began writing this post and you still critique for the same agency. Please, please think twice before telling someone how impossible it is to be published if they haven’t asked you for publishing advice. You just might make them feel they aren’t good enough to write. Not everyone has an endgame of seeing their words in print and if they do not everyone is chasing a traditional deal. You never know what led them to the story they want to tell and what it means to them. I overcame depression largely because of my characters and it was something I enjoyed. You made me think I was wasting my time. That I shouldn’t. I couldn’t.

But I did.

‘Dear Grace’ became ‘The Sister’ and it went on to spend several weeks at No.1 in various countries, quickly sold well over half a million copies, has been translated into 25 languages and nominated for an award. Three other novels have followed, all with huge success. My fifth is due to be published this October.

Publishing is so subjective and although you thought I couldn’t, I’m so pleased I found a publisher who thought I could.

And for any writers reading this, don’t let anyone lead you to believe that you can’t and if they do, prove them wrong.

From Louise

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