My guest on the blog today is Kathleen McGurl, who has had several novels published by HQ and Carina UK and has self-published another. She has also sold dozens of short stories to women’s magazines, and written three How To books for writers – including the marvellously-titled Give Up Ironing – A Writer’s Guide to Time Management. Now that’s one idea I could get behind. 🙂
Over to Kathleen, who very kindly provided some interesting answers to my questions.
What inspires your story ideas or characters?
– I am often inspired by places, anywhere there’s a bit of history and I find myself wondering what tales the walls could tell if only they could speak. Once I have a setting, characters and the plot seem to just emerge slowly as though from a mist.
How do you go about starting a new writing project?
– I start by jotting notes in a notebook. Often I’ll be doing this during the editing stages of the previous book. When I feel the story is taking shape in my head, I will try writing a synopsis. This will be a couple of pages outlining the plot. After that I’ll do character sheets for my main characters – I more or less ‘interview’ them to get to know them. Finally I’ll write a chapter plan, with a couple of sentences per chapter, before getting stuck in to writing chapter 1.
Have you a favourite inspirational quote?
– “there’s a word for a writer who never gives up: Published” J A Konrath. It kept me going before I got a book deal!
What was your favourite book as a child and how do you view it now as an adult?
– I think it was Enid Blyton’s Brownie Tales, or perhaps her Castle of Adventure. I read Brownie Tales to my own kids and still enjoyed it.
What are your writing goals long term and/or short term?
– I love writing dual timeline novels and have ideas for loads more. Short term goal is to complete the ones I am working on for my current contract. Long term goal is simply to get another contract and write more novels! I’d love to build up a really decent backlist of books I am proud of.
What’s your favourite book?
– Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. This book is a work of such complexity. There are 6 novellas in one, each in a different style, each in a different time period, and each adds to the overall story. The novel is written in a kind of pyramid structure, with half the first story, half of the second and so on until the middle of the book where you get the whole of the sixth book, before coming back down the pyramid with the second halves. If you’ve read it you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t, I apologise, as this may make no sense! It’s simply the cleverest, wackiest structured book I’ve ever read and I love it.
Who are your favourite fictional characters? (Your own or someone else’s).
– I love Kate Atkinson’s detective, Jackson Brodie. He’s grumpy and quirky and really comes alive in her books. I also loved Katherine Webb’s main character in The English Girl which I read recently. And of my own characters, Kitty McCarthy in The Girl from Ballymor is my favourite. She has a hard life but is strong, defiant and will do all that she can to protect her children.
Which book do you wish you’d written?
– Iona Grey’s Letters to the Lost. It’s a dual timeline book (my own genre) but so beautifully written. Probably the best book I read last year.
What thing or things are guaranteed to cheer you up?
– Lovely question! Chocolate, a cat to cuddle and a roaring fire. Or, a hot bath, glass of wine and a good book. Alternatively, a beautiful day and a walk in the mountains.
What’s your favourite social media outlet and why?
– I love Facebook. I particularly love the groups on there that have allowed me to get to know readers who love my genre.
What are the best and worst things about being a writer?
– Best thing is when a reader contacts me to say they’ve read and enjoyed one of my books. The Girl from Ballymor seems to have inspired a number of people to go to west Cork, Ireland, where the book is set. Worst thing is feeling overwhelmed when the first draft is complete but now you’ve got to edit the whole book and knock it into shape – it’s like trying to wrestle an octopus into a string bag.
What one piece of advice would you give to other writers?
– Write what you want to write, keep at it, but only do it if you truly love it, because it is not a route to instant riches.
Where do you write?
– Curled up on a sofa, with my laptop and the cat on my lap.
Thank you very much, Kathleen. Sounds like the perfect place to write, and I understand your love for Enid Blyton books, all too well.
Kathleen lives near the sea in Bournemouth, UK, with her husband and elderly tabby cat. She has two sons who are now grown-up and have left home. She began her writing career creating short stories, and sold dozens to women’s magazines in the UK and Australia. Then she got side-tracked onto family history research – which led eventually to writing novels with genealogy themes. She has always been fascinated by the past, and the ways in which the past can influence the present, and enjoys exploring these links in her novels.
When not writing or working at her full-time job in IT, she likes to go out running or swimming, both of which she does rather slowly. She is definitely quicker at writing, even though the cat tries to disrupt the writing process by insisting on sharing Kathleen’s lap with the laptop.
You can find out more at her website: http://kathleenmcgurl.com/, or follow her on Twitter: @KathMcGurl .
What would you sacrifice for your children?
Ballymor, Ireland, 1847
As famine grips the country Kitty McCarthy is left widowed and alone. Fighting to keep her two remaining children alive against all odds, Kitty must decide how far she will go to save her family.
Arriving in Ballymor, Maria is researching her ancestor, Victorian artist Michael McCarthy – and his beloved mother, the mysterious Kitty who disappeared without a trace.
Running from her future, it’s not only answers about the past that Maria hopes to find in Ireland. As her search brings her closer to the truth about Kitty’s fate, Maria must make the biggest decision of her life.
You can buy The Girl from Ballymor here.