Louise Walters is enjoying well deserved success with the phenomenal reception of her debut novel Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase. She found time in her busy schedule to answer a few questions about the writing process.
What was your starting point for your book? Did you have a firm idea of the plot when you started or an idea you played around with developing?
I had a few starting points: a suitcase I own with a label with “Mrs D E Sinclair” written on it; my experiences of working in an indie bookshop, The Old Hall Bookshop in Brackley, which my bookshop in the novel is based on; and a letter I once found in a book from a Polish squadron leader written at the end of WW2. I put them all together in my imagination, mixed them up, tweaked stuff, and ended up, eight years later, with my first published novel.
How did you develop your characters? Did they evolve naturally or did you start off with a character sheet?
I thought about them for quite a long time and just tried to “see” them. Along the way I did a character questionnaire, similar to those that actors use, to try and sort the characters out in my mind. But that was quite late in the eight year process. I just had to get to know them first, and write about them and re-write, and re-write…. I regard them as real people, which sounds strange, but that’s the only way for me.
I see you graduated from the OU was that in creative writing? How important do you feel writing courses are?
My degree is in Literature but the last two courses were in Creative Writing. They were pretty useful, not least because they introduced me to new writers.
How structured are you when you write? Do you have set days and times. Do you set yourself word or time targets per week?
No targets. With five kids life can be hectic and unpredictable, as you know, so I don’t have daily word counts. I write most weekdays for anything from 1 to 5 hrs. School holidays are a bit different… then I switch to working in the evenings and sometimes at the weekends.
Not having an office at home I tend to have to room hop according to what my family are doing, although I do like it to be pretty quiet. What environment do you like to write in?
I can work pretty much anywhere as long as I have my laptop.
Could you please tell me a little about the drafting process, i.e. do you just write anything and then review it when finished or try to get it right as you go along?
Hmm. I try not to be too picky with a first draft, especially if I’m feeling “inspired” and want to get that story written down. But sometimes I edit as I go. The bulk of my writing on Mrs S was actually re-writing, editing, polishing.
If you think of something that would fit in later in your book would you write it out of sequence or just make notes.
Whichever. I have ideas in the strangest of places and at odd times, I’m sure you do too! I do go back and forth in my editing too… I have a notebook full of stuff like “chapters 37, 40 and 42 too weak. Nothing happens. Add stuff.” That’s a genuine example from my current notebook for my Work in Progress (WiP).
How many drafts of your book did you do before you were happy with it.
I’m not sure I am happy with it! There are always things I think I could have changed – but it’s too late now. It went through several edits… I didn’t completely re-write, but changed enough things to warrant saving it as a new draft. I got up to 22 of those. Then I had further edits to do once I found an agent, and then a publisher. It can feel as though you’re going to be stuck editing for ever. But working with an editor was the best experience, and I learned a lot about writing from that. An editor really helps to whip your work into shape.
Thanks Louise, it has been really interesting to hear a published author’s perspective on the writing process, it has given me plenty to think about.