There are some characters I continue to think about long after I’ve turned the final page of a book – and ex-soldier, Sam, the hero in Carla Burgess’ first novel, Marry Me Tomorrow, is one of them.
Luckily, Carla seems just as unwilling to let them go and one of the joys of reading her second and third novels was coming across little updates about Sam and her other creations (must try and remember they are not real people).
She released Stuck With You (which I adored, even though it starts with people trapped in a lift and I’m claustrophobic) in April this year and has just published her most recent, Meet Me Under The Mistletoe (review to follow).
I’ve been wanting to chat to her for ages and I was thrilled when she agreed to feature in my Behind The Book series. Thank you to Carla for not only answering my questions but also giving us peek at her very first (as yet unpublished) book she wrote and illustrated, which I think you’re going to love.
Marry Me Tomorrow was published after you responded to a Tweet from HQ Digital asking for submissions of stories that start with a proposal. Had you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes, I’d wanted to be a writer ever since I was little. It’s weird but I remember being amazed when I discovered that someone had actually physically wrote the books that I read and loved. I don’t know how I thought they’d been made, but I was only little at the time. I suppose I just thought they were written hundreds of years ago and passed down through the generations, and no new books were ever made! But when I found out, I thought what an amazing job that would be. So when I got a bit older, I decided to write my own. I was so in love with Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers books that I wrote my own book about a boarding school. I also adored horses so it had a lot of horses in it too. My daughter was looking through it the other day and laughing at my home-made illustrations!
What happened after you submitted Marry Me Tomorrow? Did you already have the story written? If not how long did it take to write? Had you written any stories before?
I had only written one chapter and a synopsis for Marry Me Tomorrow, and that was completely in response to the tweet. Prior to that, I’d been writing a short story for an online writing course I was doing, and that had been about a homeless teenager who was in love with a girl he’d seen in a café. There had been lots of media coverage about the increasing rate of homelessness and how each homeless person has a different story to tell. Once you start hearing the stories, it becomes clear that it could happen to any one of us if our circumstances were to change. Basically, I really wanted to write a story about a homeless man, so I decided to adapt my initial idea and start from there. HQ (or Carina, as they were called then) phoned me back shortly after receiving it, and said they would like me to write it. I think I was given four months to write the first draft, which was daunting as I’d spent the previous ten or so years writing and rewriting just one book. But, at the same time, I knew I could do it because the previous November I’d participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and managed to write 50,000 words in a month.
You’ve just published your third book, Meet Me Under The Mistletoe, and, as I’ve already revealed, characters from your previous books make little cameos, which makes me so happy. Did you always plan for that?
Ah, I’m so glad you liked that aspect of it. I love books where characters from previous stories pop up and readers can check how they’re getting on with their lives (Yes, they have real lives!). For instance, many years ago I read Rivals by Jilly Cooper and fell so in love with Rupert and Taggie’s story that I look for updates about them whenever she brings a new book out. I feel so excited and happy when they actually do pop up that it’s made me want to do that in my own books.
How do you know when your books are finished? Is there ever a temptation to write just one more chapter?
Definitely. I think that’s why I’m writing a sequel to Meet Me Under The Mistletoe! Rachel and Anthony have so much more to give and I don’t want to say goodbye to them yet.
Writing is often said to be a lonely profession. Do you find that? Does it bother you and if so how do you combat it?
It can be, but I have my lovely dog to keep me company, and I share my writing room with a bearded dragon who is very friendly too. I listen to music while I work so it doesn’t get too quiet, and I drop into Twitter and Facebook fairly regularly. Too regularly, to be honest. Also, the children are back from school before I know it.
How hard is it to come up with titles? Do they usually come as you’re writing?
Titles are so, so hard! Anything I come up with is usually changed by my editor anyway, but I trust her to know the market and what works so I’m quite happy to go with whatever she suggests.
How long have you been writing for? Do you do it full time now? If you don’t, how do you make time to write?
As I said before, I used to write a lot when I was a child. It tailed off as I got older and homework and studying took over, but I always had stories in my head and would often daydream about them instead of getting on with what I was supposed to be doing. After doing a degree in English literature and Psychology, I took a job as an editor on a trade journal called Medical Device Technology and really that took care of my urge to write for a long time. Also, I got married, bought a house and started having children, so I felt like I didn’t have the time. But then, in 2004, I lost my sister to cancer and I felt like I needed an outlet for my feelings so writing became a sort of therapy for me. So, for the past thirteen years I’ve been writing properly. In the beginning, when I was still working, I’d write in the evening after the kids had gone to bed, but after having my third child and being made redundant, I decided to stay home with the children and now I am able to write full time. It’s funny because I used to feel guilty about the time I spent writing. I would constantly be thinking ‘I shouldn’t be doing this, I should be doing some housework instead’. So now, as well as being a dream come true, being published has also been quite liberating because now I think ‘Yes! I am doing what I should be doing!’
How do you write your heroes? They all seem so different. Do you have to fall for them a bit too or are you matching them to your heroine? Speaking of which, are any of them based on you?
I think I’m a little bit in love with all of my heroes and I find it helps if I pick an actor or some kind of famous person to gaze at while I’m creating them! This, I find, is a major perk of my job! I suppose they have to match up to the heroines as well as the plot, and I think for the reader to love them they have to be kind and funny, and treat the heroine right. Sam from Marry Me Tomorrow had to be quite rugged because he was a homeless ex-soldier. Daniel was a tree surgeon and also a guitarist in a band, so I wanted him to be quite outdoorsy and confident. And Anthony is basically Tom Hiddleston. There, I said it. Obviously, the reader will create their own impression of what the hero looks like, so I shouldn’t really influence them in anyway, but that is who I based him on. Oooh, imagine if Tom Hiddleston walked into your flower shop?! Swoon! As for my heroines, I suppose all of them will have some aspect of me in them because I wrote them, but at the same time, I’m quite conscious of the fact that I don’t want them to be too much like me either.
I know you’ve just published your latest book but are you already working on something new? If so can you tell us anything about it?
I am frantically writing the sequel to Meet Me Under The Mistletoe, which should be out sometime in the spring.
Any writing tips you can pass on?
My one big tip is to try and join a writing group. It was easier for me because Authonomy was still in existence, so you could put up your manuscript and people would read and critique it. I wrote for years without showing anybody what I wrote, so it was a big boost to my confidence when people read my work and said it was actually okay. Authonomy has shut down now, but I know there are various online writing groups out there. On top of critiquing each other’s work, you get to share tips and information about the industry, and that can be invaluable. And as for the actual writing:
Reading Carla’s answers really put a smile on my face, I hope you enjoyed them too. I know just what she means when she talked about feeling guilty for writing before she was published. I am exactly the same. In fact, I’m taking part in NaNoWriMo at the moment and have been lucky enough to buddy up with an amazing group of women, many of whom have also spoken about similar issues. Does anyone else feel guilty about time they spend writing?
You can discover more about Carla and her wonderful books by following her on Twitter, checking out her website or heading straight for Amazon where you can buy her books, including her latest, which is only 99p at present.
I’ll have another Behind The Book post for you next month.