This week we are privileged to have with us, Patsy Collins, whose latest novel, Firestarter, is being released in Kindle format today (5 November). Read the first question in Patsy’s interview and you’ll see why 5 November was chosen as the launch date. Although Firestarter has been available in paperback since September, I have to confess that I haven’t read it yet, because I read everything on Kindle. I’m looking forward to it.
Patsy is a full-time writer, with 250 womag stories published (plus others in ezines and anthologies) , 4 novels and 2 books of short stories and is a frequent contributor to Writing Magazine. Even though she is now established, she provides helpful feedback to hopeful writers on writing forums and has been a wonderful writing friend and support to me for many years. Below are the questions I asked her:
- Although Firestarter is available in paperback now, its launch on Amazon Kindle is scheduled for 5 November. Any connection with Guy Fawkes Day?
Patsy: Sort of. I think of 5th November as bonfire night, and as this book has plenty of metaphorical fireworks as well as a few flames, I couldn’t resist selecting that date.
- Firestarter is your fourth novel. Most novelists have ideas for three or four novels going round in their heads at any one time. Is Firestarter based on ideas which have been with you for a while or did it come to you quite quickly?Patsy: I started writing Firestarter very quickly after I had the initial idea and just kept going. You’re right about having lots of ideas in my head at once though. There are two others roughly planned out and I have another in the very early stages of plotting.
- How do you plan your novels? Do you plan your novels, or are you one of those people who love to see a blank Word screen in the morning and to take it from there?
Patsy: Planning seemed to me like a bad idea before I tried to write a novel. I imagined that if I knew the major plot points and how it would come out in the end, it would be no fun to write. I was wrong about that and now plot first.
My plots are just outlines really and I tend to add in more scenes as I work. As I learn more about the characters they help me to build up the story and provide extra twists and turns. (That bit will probably sound slightly mad to any non writer.)4. In Escape to the Country and A Year and a Day, I see your womag roots very clearly, but Paint Me a Picture – my favourite – is more serious. I once read that you took ten years to write Paint Me a Picture. Why was that?
Patsy: It’s true – it did take that long. In part that’s because it didn’t start off as a novel. It was a short story which got out of hand. There was no planning at all. Not only did I not know how it would end, I wasn’t sure it ever would – before editing it was over 130,000 words.
5. How do you fix on names for your characters? Mavis Forthright in Paint Me a Picture sticks in your mind like a Dickensian moniker and sums her up beautifully.
Patsy: In that case you’ll like the Bakewell sisters, who’re sweet (and whom Mavis would probably consider a little tarty) Tony Salmon who’s a bit of a cold fish and Hamish Mustarde who’s hot stuff!
To start with I just pick names, especially first names, almost at random. They might be ones I’ve recently heard, or which come to mind as I type. Then if they don’t seem to fit I change them to something more suitable. Actually, it’s fairly rare that I do change names once I’ve started writing. Like people, characters seem to grow to fit their names, or sometimes react against them in a way which helps form their personality.
Surnames aren’t usually created until I need to put them in the text, so I know enough about the characters to select something appropriate by then.
6. So far, all the main characters in your novels have been female. Would you ever contemplate writing a novel with a male main character, or do you take Jane Austen’s view about not knowing how men speak when women aren’t present?
Patsy: Odd you should ask that, as I’m working on a novel for NaNo with a male main character.
I’ve written short stories from a male point of view and not found it to be a particular problem.
I take JA’s point – but I don’t know how fashion conscious young women or middle-aged spinsters talk when I’m not about either. If I stuck to only using characters who think and speak as I do, then I’d write nothing but my autobiography.
7. You always write with a third person point of view and in the past tense. Is this because you feel more comfortable writing in this way? Or do you have specific reasons for avoiding first person point of view and present tense?
Patsy: I suppose I do feel more comfortable with past tense. I’ve written short stories in present, but it’s harder (for me at least) to sustain it over a longer word count and I feel it can be more demanding to read too.
The choice between first and third person is down to the story. Some just seem to work better with one than the other. I use first quite often in short stories and my NaNo novel is currently in first person too.
8. We’re told over and over again that womag stories must convey lots of emotion. Have you any hints for us about ramping up the emotion?
Patsy: Our own experiences can help us imagine how characters feel and act. Generally we won’t have been in the exact same situation, but that’s what imagination is for. When our character is in love, pain or danger then we should think back to when we were and recall and adapt the details.
I build up in layers. The first draft of the scene might just say ‘she fancied him’. Later I’ll think back to my nearest memory and add in what exactly attracted her – his smile perhaps. Then I’ll explain how that makes her feel and show her reacting to him. It wouldn’t matter if I’d never actually been attracted to a man’s smile. My emotions would be very similar if it had been his voice which I’d liked, or if I preferred women’s smiles.
When it comes to painful emotions, pick your time to write them. It will be upsetting, so make sure you can either do, or write, something more cheerful immediately afterwards.
Try to think of characters as real, complicated people. Even when we’re madly in love, our partner can annoy us. In the saddest of situations a funny incident can still raise a smile.
Thank you very much, Patsy. I’m very proud report that Bachelor Boy, one of my favourite stories, has this week been published by A Long Story Short.