Monday, 2 May 2011

Interview with Miranda Dickinson

Miranda Dickinson’s novel Coffee At Kowalski's was spotted on Authonomy, the HarperCollins' website for unpublished writers. With the title changed to Fairytale of New York, it was published by their Avon imprint and Miranda was offered a three-book deal. Also a successful songwriter, Miranda has written over thirty songs and performed in venues across the UK and Europe.


Miranda's books
Fairytale of New York
Welcome to My World
It Started With A Kiss...

What was the very first thing you ever had published?
I wrote a short story called The Christmas Window that was on-demand published in a charity anthology, compiled by some friends from an online writers’ circle. I remember being incredibly chuffed to see my own words in actual print!

Tell us about your proudest writing achievement.
The absolute best thing about the past couple of years as a published writer has been the response from people who have read my books. I adore it when somebody takes the time to write to me to say how much they loved the story – it’s the most amazing thing that someone you’ve never met feels a connection with a story you’ve written. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the thrill of that.

What are your writing strengths and weaknesses?
I’ve always been able to think on my feet, which is both a strength and a weakness! As a strength it’s great because I can improvise easily and it’s especially useful when I’m in a meeting with my editor and I have to quickly create alternatives if she doesn’t like something. As a weakness it often means I end up doing my best work at the last minute – although this has always been the case for me, so I don’t worry about it as much as I used to. I’m still learning in many ways: suddenly becoming a successful published author in the way that I did meant that I’ve had to learn ‘on the job’ – so I hope that each book I write will show a progression from the last. That’s my ambition, anyway.

Do you have a writing routine or any odd writing quirks?
I write whenever I can. I have a part-time job three days a week, so Mondays and Tuesdays are my writing days plus evenings and weekends (and sometimes lunch-breaks!) I don’t have any writing quirks that I’m aware of, other than a lovely wool blanket I always have over my knees when I write and an annoying stack of washing up in the kitchen that always seems to grow when I’m writing…

Is there a special place you like to write?
At the moment I’m writing on my sofa as my house is a very small one-bedroomed place with no garden, but at the end of the year I’m moving to a gorgeous Victorian terraced house that I’ll be renting from friends. This means not only an office but also a kitchen and a garden that I can write in – I can’t wait! I recently visited my friend Ruth Saberton in lovely Polperro when I was speaking at one of her amazing Writers’ Weekends and found that setting was really inspirational to write in, so another trip to Cornwall may be in order soon…

How important is it to you to plot your novels?
It’s becoming increasingly so – writing a book a year makes good plotting essential! I tend to be a bit of a ‘seat-of-my-pants flyer’ so plotting is an important discipline that I’m making myself learn. That said, I love the journey of writing a novel and I like to be surprised by the emerging story, so I always try to leave some of the storyline open for serendipitous happenings. In an ideal world, I would love to start out with a bunch of new characters and just see where they end up, but perhaps that’s better left for when I’m not working to so tight a schedule as I am now!

Are your characters ever based on people you know?
It varies. When you tell your friends and family that you’re a writer, there are generally two responses: either, ‘Can you write me into your next novel?’ or, ‘Whatever you do, don’t write about me!’ Of course, it’s the second response that most makes me want to base a character on them! Most of the time my characters are amalgams of people I know, together with interesting people I see in coffee shops or around where I live. I keep a little notebook with me and sketch interesting people, then make up a thumbnail sketch of who I think they are – what their story is.

For example, Harri, the main character in my second novel, Welcome to My World, was based on a lady I saw in my local Caffe Nero who was drinking the most enormous mug of hot chocolate and laughing when she got cream on her nose. She instantly struck me as the kind of person who would be a fun friend, and that’s where the character idea began. In my new novel, It Started With a Kiss, there is a wedding band based on my best friends in the band I sing with, and two characters are based on people who asked me to write them in: Uncle Dudley is based upon my lovely soon-to-be father-in-law and D’Wayne (the wedding band’s manager) is based on my friend’s boyfriend.

How much of you is there in your characters?
Probably more than I realise! Before I was published, I shared the first half of Fairytale of New York with Bob (who is now my fiancĂ©) before we started dating. On our first date, he bought me some yellow roses (my favourite flower) and I was astounded at how well he knew me. It was only about a year later that he confessed that most of the things he’d learned about me when we started going out were from my novel!

Who is your favourite author and why?
There are so many to choose from! I think if I have to pick one it would be Sarah Addison Allen because I love the quirky inventiveness of her books and also the wonderful atmosphere she creates in them. My favourite book of hers by far is The Sugar Queen – the characters are amazing, especially the girl who is followed by books. I like writers who take risks and aren’t afraid to push the boundaries of their genres. Cecelia Ahern is another writer I admire for this.

What qualities do you think writers should have?
Tenacity, a fierce belief in what you are writing and, most of all, a sense of humour. Tenacity because you need to be able to carry on, no matter what. Before I was published, I thought that all the niggling self-doubts, brick walls and disappointments would disappear if I could only be published; now I know these things only increase! Tenacity is incredibly important because sometimes sheer bloody-mindedness is the only way to push fears aside and achieve as a writer. You need a fierce belief in what you are writing because if you are passionate about your books then your readers will be, too. And you need a sense of humour to keep you grounded and sane!

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m doing the structural edit of my third novel, It Started With a Kiss, which will be published by Avon (HarperCollins) on 10th November this year. I’m also writing a short story for a lady who won the chance to star in her very own story written by me in the Authors for Japan auction earlier this year. And then I’ll be starting research for book four!

What advice would you give to an aspiring novelist?
Keep writing and keep believing. Give yourself permission to call yourself a writer and dream big dreams about what your books will achieve. I often call myself an ‘accidental novelist’ – my first book was spotted as an incomplete manuscript on and I was offered a three-book deal, later extended to six books. I still don’t have an agent (although this is something I’m going to need to think about at some stage) and I did nothing that all the ‘how to be published’ books tell you to do – and yet it happened for me. That means it can happen for you, too!

Thanks for having me!
Miranda x

Miranda Dickinson was talking to Maureen Vincent-Northam, co-author of The Writer's ABC Checklist


DW96 said...

Another fine interview, Mo, Miranda.

Plotting eh? I might try that one day.

Well done both.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely interview - thank you both! Keep writing and keep believing is a wonderful maxim x

sloanwriter said...

What a lovely interview, inspiring and uplifting, well back to my writing world. It was lovely to drop by!