Bestselling author S D Robertson took a risk when he quit his job as a newspaper editor to follow his dream of writing a novel but, thankfully, it has more than paid off.
Stuart has just published his third book, Stand By Me, which has already received rave reviews on Amazon, including being dubbed “a heartwarming and tearjerking triumph” by one reader.
Read on to find out what he had to say.
You started your writing career as a journalist, ending up as editor of a local newspaper before leaving to pursue your dream to become a novelist. Did you find the transition to a more creative style of writing difficult?
Writing creatively is very different from writing news stories or features. However, I found that my time as a journalist did prepare me well for becoming a novelist, particularly in terms of being self-motivated, meeting deadlines and having confidence in my ability to communicate effectively to readers. I think it’s also important to write sparingly in fiction – particularly with books of a commercial nature, which need to be pacy and easy to read. In my opinion, a good journalist’s greatest skill is the ability to convey complicated ideas in a straightforward, easy-to-comprehend way. As a novelist, I try to do much the same in terms of my characters, plots and themes.
You’ve just published your third novel, Stand By Me, can you tell us about it please?
This book is about the powerful and changing nature of a long friendship. My two central characters, Elliot and Lisa, meet as 11-year-olds in the early 1990s and remain great pals as they traverse secondary school and grow into adults together. Then life pulls them apart – until one day, totally out of the blue, Elliot returns just when Lisa needs him most. As the story flits between past and present, we gradually learn the remarkable truth about Elliot’s return and what it means for both of their futures.
Are you ever sad to say goodbye to any of your characters? They live in your head for such a long time, do you find yourself thinking about them once the book is done and dusted?
Yes, definitely. As an author you spend a great deal of time with your characters and you really miss some of them after you finish working on a particular project. At the end of a story, I often wonder about what might happen to them next. In fact, one character from my debut novel, Time to Say Goodbye, does actually make a cameo appearance in Stand By Me. I won’t say who, as I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. But it was great to reconnect and to see how things had progressed for them since the end of that novel.
Can you tell us about your route to publication with your first book? What was it like getting that phone call (or email) telling you they wanted to publish it?
I left my job as a local newspaper editor and wrote a novel inspired by my early experiences as a reporter. I sent this off to various literary agents and publishers, but after lots of rejections, I stuck it in a drawer and returned to the drawing board. The next novel I wrote was Time to Say Goodbye, which went on to be published by Avon HarperCollins. The first exciting moment was when my (now) agent phoned me to say that she loved it and wanted to represent me. Then, several months and a few tweaks later, I got another call from her saying that Avon wanted to publish it. Both of these were fantastic moments that I’ll never forget. They validated all the hard work I’d poured into pursuing my dream and inspired me to keep on going.
You took a risk to follow your dream, was there ever a moment where you doubted yourself and, if so, how did you bolster your confidence again?
There were lots of moments when I doubted myself at the beginning; there still are from time to time. Authors tend to be introspective types and I’m no exception. Beating your insecurities is one of the many hurdles you have to overcome in order to finish a novel and then get it published. My advice to any would-be novelist struggling with this is to channel it into their work by creating characters with believable flaws, issues and contradictions.
Surrounding yourself with positive people who believe in you and encourage you to follow your dreams is always a big help.
Your novels seem to twist and turn. Do you know before you start writing what is going to happen and when? If you are a planner, how do you do it? Do you use Post-it notes or write a chapter by chapter plot?
I start with a plot synopsis and I do tend to stick fairly strictly to the beginning and end. I think it’s important to know where you’re heading when you start out. However, in terms of the middle, I’m very flexible. I like to allow room to develop things as I go along: particularly the twists and turns, which I find often work best without advance planning. (If I’m surprised, the reader is likely to be surprised too.) I don’t work with Post-it notes, but rather that initial synopsis together with a notebook that I update as I go along. This includes character profiles and any other information I don’t want to forget.
What role does social media play in getting your books out there? Has it changed much since the first book in 2016?
I think social media is a great way of reaching out to your readers and vice versa. It’s hugely important nowadays, although it can be quite time-consuming. As an author working from home, it’s all too easy to procrastinate rather than actually writing; social media can be dangerous in that regard. In my experience it hasn’t changed an awful lot in the last couple of years, although it is probably a little harder now to communicate with your readers on Facebook without paying for adverts.
On your website you say you’re a film buff (who doesn’t love a rom-com?), which of your books do you think would make the best film? Have you ever considered writing a script?
Any of them could be made into films or TV shows, in my opinion. It’s a dream of mine that I do hope will come true one day. I think my love of movies seeps into my writing, giving it a visual quality that would translate well on to the screen. I have considered writing a script, because I particularly enjoy creating dialogue, but so far I haven’t done so.
Are you working on something new at the moment? Can you share any details?
I’m currently working on my next novel, which is still at a pretty early stage, so I don’t want to say too much. What I can tell you is that it’s about a childless couple who suddenly find themselves looking after their estranged teenage niece.
Do you have any writing tips to pass on please?
One of the best writing tips I can offer is to complete your first draft before you start editing it. I don’t recommend reading anything back until you’ve got to the end of the story. Otherwise you’ll probably find yourself so busy tweaking things that you never actually reach that point. And you’re not going to get published without a completed manuscript. Think of it like creating a sculpture. Start with the basic shape and add in the detail later.
Many thanks to Stuart for his thoughtful answers, I especially loved his advice for beating insecurities. Fingers crossed that his dream to see his work on the big (or small) screen also comes true one day.