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How to write a book

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How to write a book
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Always wanted to know how to write a book? Us too! So we spoke to Phaedra Patrick, author of The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, about her writing process.

Did you always want to write?

Yes, for as long as I can remember! As a child I read everything I could, from books at the breakfast table to the labels on shampoo bottles. I knew I wanted to be a writer. It was only in my twenties, whilst doing a job that didn’t inspire me, that I decided to give it a go.

Where did the idea from Arthur Pepper come from? Is he based on someone you know?

The idea came to me as I showed my young son my own childhood charm bracelet, and told him the stories behind each of the charms. I’d had a couple of books I’d written about young women rejected by publishers, so I decided to write about an old man instead. A close friend had sadly died so I wrote about bereavement, and I thought of how it might affect someone who’d been in a long marriage. Arthur Pepper wasn’t based on anyone I know personally, but he does feel like a real person to me. A lot of his words and mannerisms are my own and I had a lot of fun putting poor Arthur into some tricky situations.

What are the hardest parts of writing a novel?

It can seem overwhelming when you start to write 90,000 words, especially when you reach a sticky bit and the voices in your head kick in, asking if you really know what you’re doing!

You’re also making up a story from scratch, so sometimes you have to be decisive and choose a route, even if you’re not sure where it will take you. Writing can also be very solitary so it’s good to have a support network of friends and family around you.

Did you ever feel like giving up?

I never felt like giving up, but sometimes I granted myself a few days off from writing the book, to clear my head and look at things afresh. Then I gave myself a good telling off, reminded myself that the book wouldn’t write itself and pressed on.

Did you plan the whole plot before starting to write?

Not at all. I knew how Arthur found his first charm on the bracelet and where it lead him, and I could also picture the last chapter of the book in my head. So then I had to fill in all the bits in between. Because Arthur sets off on a journey to find out the story behind each of the eight charms on his wife’s bracelet, this gave the book a good structure for me to work on.

I like to make lots of notes about characters before I start. One exercise I do is to write a list of the worst things that could happen to my hero or heroine, and then make some of those things happen. It can feel a bit cruel but it’s a great way to generate plot ideas.

How long did it take you to write?

The book took me 18 months to write, whilst I worked four days a week as a communications manager for the Co-op. I wrote long-hand at the station, on the train to work, waiting for my bath to run – everywhere. I then typed up all my words on Friday, my day off.

What did you do if you ever reaching a sticky point in the process?

Such a great question! I found it useful to down tools and do something completely different. One major plot idea came to me whilst I painted the ceiling in my spare room. I also find it helps to browse through my favourite books, to find a few words or a passage that might spark an idea. Sometimes I go for a long walk or even watch loud rock videos on Youtube, to get my adrenaline flowing, then I force myself to get back to the computer.

Did you write by hand or on a computer?

I do both. I find it useful to write by hand and make notes first as you can do this anywhere, even in bed. It’s nice to sit in a café and scribble away and I even wrote part of the book whilst lying down on my son’s trampoline. Writing by hand also means that, when you finally get to sit in front of a computer, you’re not staring at a blank screen. You have words there, ready to type up.

What tips do you have for a would-be novelist?

If you want to do this, then go for it. No-one will wave a magic wand and suddenly grant you more time in your busy week. You have to be determined. Tell friends and family that they might see a little less of you, because you’re going to give writing a novel a go. Their encouragement will help to spur you along.

Write when and where you can, on the back of envelopes or on sticky notes. It all mounts up. Publishing trends move quickly so write what you want to write, from your heart, not what you think the market is looking for. Develop characters that you care about and place them in settings that you love, so you’ll look forward to spending time writing your story.

Read more of Phaedra's writing tips

How did you go about finding a publisher?

Most publishers like submissions to come via a literary agent. An agent can act as your manager, friend and motivator. They know what publishers are looking for and which publishing house might suit your work best.

I’d previously won a short story competition with the Darley Anderson Literary, TV and Film Agency so I was delighted to sign-up with agent Clare Wallace. Clare acted as a ‘matchmaker’ to find the right publisher for my book - and The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper and MIRA were the perfect match.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on completing the first draft of my second book ready to send to MIRA. I’m delighted to have been asked to write for a few blogs or magazines, such as this Q&A for the lovely people at Yours.

My book was also snapped up by MIRA in the US, so I’m heading out there for a week-long pre-publication tour. I’ve never been to the States before so I am very excited about getting to meet some American booksellers.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper will be published in the UK on April 7 (£12.99/MIRA), in the US on May 3 and in 16 other countries, so it’s going to be a very busy year!

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