Her tangled plot lines, authentic characters and wonderful writing style, which is always bursting with heart, has made her a number one best-selling author. The fact that she is also down to earth, friendly and appreciative of her fans, makes me all the more thrilled for her success.
Currently working on book 24 (wow!), Shari has taken time out to be my latest Behind The Book interviewee (and also my last one of 2018).
I had a proper fangirl moment and struggled to narrow down my questions to a number that didn’t rival a book of its own but here’s what she had to say.
I love your books and always marvel at the planning that must go into them. I assume you have a huge glass wall where you write complex diagrams using different coloured markers. Am I close?
I so wish I were that kind of writer, positively oozing organisation and structure! The truth is, I plan absolutely nothing. Not a thing. I just start with a vague top-line concept, then type and see where it goes. Every single word of it lives in my head – I don’t write anything down, no post-its, no notes. This is why I become completely consumed when I’m working on a novel, because my mind just lives in that world from the moment I start a book until I type ‘The End’, usually about six weeks later.
While you always wanted to write, it wasn’t until you hit 30 that you actually sat down and wrote the opening chapters of what would be your first book. Do you think the life experience beforehand helped you become a better writer?
Life experience definitely helped me. I didn’t go to uni or study creative writing in any way. Instead, I worked full time from when I was 16 in a multitude of jobs – sales, recruitment, and managing nightclubs in the UK, China and Hong Kong. By the time I finally sat down to fulfil my lifelong ambition of writing a book, I had loads of stories to tell. Twenty years later, I’m still going.
How on earth do you let your characters go? They seem so real – and I’m just a reader – I imagine they are almost like family to you.
I’m completely hopeless at letting them go! That’s why so many of my characters pop up in later books. In my head, my books are a real world, where you bump into people you haven’t seen for a while, or some of the lives overlap in unexpected ways. One character in particular, Josie, an outrageous, frank, and completely hilarious woman of mature years, stormed into that world back in Temptation Street in 2010, and she’s made an appearance in almost every book since then. She’s based on someone I adored, who passed away many years ago, and it’s my way of keeping that person around.
You’ve written under several pseudonyms, including as Shari King, with your childhood friend, Ross King. I guess the last one is obvious but can you talk about your decision to use pen names?
I think it comes down to style and genre. The books I write under my own name are tales of tangled relationships with heaps of humour and heart. Every now and then, I get the urge to write a raunchy, 80s style bonkbuster, so that’s when I slip on a leopard print jacket with huge shoulder pads and break out the pseudonyms.
You published your most recent book, the brilliant Another Day In December, last month. Will there be any more in this series? (Please say yes). How did you spend publication day?
Yes! I’m working on the third book in the Winter Day trilogy right now – it’ll join One Day In December and Another Day In Winter on the shelves in Oct 2019.
On publication day for Another Day In Winter, I worked all day, then all my mates descended at night. There was definitely gin!
As well as your many fiction books, you also published a non-fiction book, Because Mummy Said So, based on your popular parenting newspaper column. Would you consider non-fiction again?
Perhaps. For fifteen years I wrote the weekly newspaper column about the ups, downs, hilarity, and mortifying moments of family life. Because Mummy Said So is a collection of my favourite stories of chaos, mayhem and disasters. However we could only fit so many in the book and there are loads we didn’t use so there’s definitely the possibility of another volume. I was a relentlessly embarrassing, imperfect parent!
On the day you found out about your first publishing deal, you also discovered you were pregnant (big day!). I know your boys are older now but can you share any tips for mums and dads for juggling family life with writing time?
I write everywhere and anywhere, no excuses. I worked on my newspaper columns and features during the day while the kids were at school, so I had to fit my novels in around that. My boys are both basketball players who have trained every night for the past five years, so my last ten books have pretty much been written while sitting in sports centre car parks drinking tea out of a flask and then overnight while they’re asleep. Oh the glamour! I look fairly close to something from a zombie apocalypse by the time I type the last page.
What’s the best and worst thing about being a writer?
The worst is the ‘head on desk, deadline approaching, oh-I’m-rubbish-at-this’panic that hits me several times during the writing of every book. I’m now on number 24 and it still happens!
Do you have a top writing tip you could share?
I always like to have at least one character that I’m madly in love with – it makes getting to the desk every morning so much easier!
Thank you so much to Shari for taking the time to answer my questions. I’m completely blown away by the fact that she doesn’t plan. I’m even more in awe of her work now.
What about you? Are you a plotter or a panster? I was a complete panster until my first go at National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) and now I’m a bit of a mix of both.