|Bernadette Strachan is the author of five novels, including The Reluctant Landlady, Handbags and Halos, and How To Lose A Husband And Find A Life – the story of a pampered wife who discovers that her husband’s business empire is built on crime. Bernadette says she’s not sure if she ‘writes romantic books with funny bits or funny books with romantic bits’. Before becoming an author, she was a radio commercials producer, a voiceover agent for many household names, and, briefly, a wool shop proprietoress. She now lives in Surrey with her husband, Matthew, their daughter, Niamh, and their idiotic spaniel, Mavis.
Bernadette’s top 5 writing tips
1. Write. This sounds obvious, I know, but I talked about writing for years before I put pen to paper. I imagined the covers of the books I hadn’t written, perfected a signature for those signings where the police had to erect bollards to keep the crowds at bay, and spent (in my head) the huge advances tossed at me by hysterical publishers. Meanwhile, three chapters of this and eight chapters of that languished in a drawer. So get on with it. Oh, and write a whole book before you approach anybody in the business. Don’t listen to that “I sold it on one sentence” nonsense. Those days are gone. (Unless you’re a soap star selling an autobiography about your drink’n’drugs hell.)
2. Don’t write cynically. By which I mean, don’t research the market to work out what’s selling and then shackle yourself to the most lucrative genre. Write a book you would like to read. And be sensible. A romantic comedy mustn’t morph in to a murder mystery halfway through. Don’t be too self indulgent, this is a job, you know.
3. Defend your writing time. It can be hard to find the time to write if you have a job and/or kids and/or other half and/or a dog. Find the time – just find it! No excuses! And then defend it. Don’t put the washing machine on, don’t make somebody a sandwich. Write. You are a writer. It’s what you do.
4. Get an agent. This should be tattooed on your forehead (although that might make socialising tricky). Publishers don’t have time to read unsolicited work, but they’ll make time for a manuscript from an agent they trust. Find out who represents writers like you, and write a short letter outlining (outlining!) your story, asking if they’d care to read the first three chapters and a full synopsis. Then bite your nails to the quick as you await the postman. Or the email, er, man.
5. Don’t make a schedule. If you concoct a plan of how many words you aim to finish each week you won’t keep to it, and you’ll be depressed. And there’s no need to be depressed: writing is the best job in the world!
Bernadette’s Essential Reads
(click on image to buy the book)
|the trumpet major by thomas hardyOff you’re whisked to Wessex, during the Napoleonic wars, when the ladies of the county were swooning over the tight-trousered soldiers they were sending off to fight. Hardy is so in charge of his pen, it was impossible for me not to be mesmerised. This was my first grown up book, a Christmas present from my Mum, and I couldn’t escape its spell. The period detail is enthralling, I could taste the plain, buttery food they ate and I could feel the muslin dresses on my skin.|
|she came to stay by simone de beauvoir And now you’re whisked off to Paris, a Paris of the mind, full of moody writers and tortured poets. I love de Beauvoir’s self-indulgent style, lingering over every thought she has and analysing it. The story concerns her odd, elbowy love affair with Sartre, and how it was threatened by a younger woman who remorselessly moved in on their relationship. All fictionalised, of course. I remember crying when I turned the last page, and longing for a croissant.|
|the house of stairs by barbara vine Ruth Rendell with her posh hat on. Her pacing is so deft, and her eye for detail so forensic and, at times, so strange, that this book has the seductive rhythm of a torch song. You know it will end badly but you have to stick around for the denouement.|
|the unruly queen by flora fraserI adore biographies and plucked this one as a favourite. Caroline of Brunswick was shipped over to marry the Prince Regent in 1795, and they loathed one another on sight. She was a slattern, rumoured to have lovers, fond of a tipple. In other words, an excellent subject for a biography. She was locked out of her own coronation and beat on the doors of Westminster Abbey – why doesn’t the Royal Family behave like that any more? Oh hang on, they do.|
|the little stranger by sarah watersIgnoring my Grandmother’s advice to ‘winter ’em and summer ’em before you call them friends’, I’ve included a new fave. Sarah Walters’s famously extensive research is impeccably used, while avoiding the novel reading like a history lesson. Gloriously spooky, like the best old ghost stories, and only kind of resolved, this behemoth of a book leaves room for the reader to draw their own conclusions about the eerie goings on at the ‘big house’. Highly atmospheric.|