Thursday, December 09, 2010

Miranda Writes

You have the right to remain silent, so say the Miranda Rights. But there's one Miranda I'd particularly been looking forward to having as a guest on my blog and since she agreed to pop over here for an interview, what would be the point in her remaining silent? So, a big welcome to Miranda Dickinson, fantastically talented and pretty wonderful bestselling author and one of the true stars of HarperCollins' authonomy site back when I used to patrol that virtual beat.

Anything you say here will be taken down and used, not against you, but very much for you in a promotional capacity.

So, first of all, we're about a year on from Fairytale of New York. Is it all still a fairytale for you?

It is, in that I can walk into my favourite bookshop and see my book there. I will never get over the thrill of that. It’s very odd when something you’ve done for fun becomes the thing that pays your rent (or not, as the case may be…) because suddenly you don’t have the luxury of having a day off, or writing whenever the mood takes you. It always amuses me that, when I’m surviving on three hours sleep, writing like a madwoman every minute I get and panicking about impending deadlines, someone invariably comes up and says ‘Wow, you’ve got a dream come true, haven’t you?’ Living the dream, baby, living the dream… But when all’s said and done, it is a dream come true and an incredible honour to be able to write books that are read by people all over the world.

As far as I understand it, you initially landed a two-book deal with Fairytale. Did you have ideas in hand for the second book or was that something you had to come up with after the deal was signed?

It was a three-book deal, which scared the living daylights out of me because at the time HarperCollins first got in touch with me I only had two ideas! When I had the initial conversation with them, they asked me if I had any other ideas besides the one that eventually became Fairytale. After an embarrassingly tumbleweed moment when I mentioned my mystical wombat novel (it’s still on Authonomy and I think it’s really good, although perhaps not rom-commy enough for Avon!), I mentioned an idea I’d had where for most of the book the protagonist was locked in the middle cubicle of the ladies’ loos at a village hall after an almighty argument at a party. They loved that idea – and that’s what became Welcome to My World, my new novel.

This book concerns Harri and we leave Rosie behind, although I remember you saying that the story took place in the same fictional world and there may be references readers can pick up on. Was there ever a part of you that wanted to do a straightforward sequel to Fairytale or did you consider that story closed?

There are tiny links to Fairytale in that Rosie’s mum Rosemary is in the story and the action takes place in the small Black Country town where Rosie grew up before she moved to America. I like to sneak subtle links in as little rewards for people who’ve read Fairytale, but it’s not vital to have read that before reading this story. As for a sequel to Fairytale, I’ve been asked about that a lot, but to be honest I want to leave the characters where they were. I would only consider a sequel if I felt there was sufficient room for the characters to move their stories on; as it is I feel like I left them in a good place and I’m happy for them to work out their own futures without my intervention!

How was the writing process for your second novel compared to the first?

Very quick! It’s true what they say that you have your whole life to write your first novel and four months to write your second. In my case it was more like three months for the initial draft. The first four chapters were already written before Fairytale was ever spotted on Authonomy, so I had a bit of a head-start, but it was still a lot of work to get done – especially as I still work three days a week.

The main issue I faced was a sudden bout of nerves, which almost stymied me for quite some time. I think this was largely due to Fairytale’s stratospheric rise: within the first month, it had become a Sunday Times Top 10 Bestseller and by Christmas it had passed the 100,000 sales mark. I found the whole thing unbelievably intimidating and instead of enjoying the rollercoaster success ride I’d always dreamed about, I found myself terrified that I’d never be able to live up to the success of my first novel. The words ‘disappointing second novel’ hung over me like the Sword of Damocles and I battled with doubts throughout the whole year.

That said, I’m a big believer in the theory that the things in life that are worth something are the ones you have to fight the hardest for. Welcome to My World is a definite step up from Fairytale and I can see that I’ve learned a great deal from the experience of publishing my first novel. I think Welcome is more of a slow-burner success-wise than Fairytale and actually that’s come as a bit of a relief after all the hype and craziness last year. The point is, I know it’s a better novel and the reaction from reviewers has been a lot more positive – even those who haven’t liked the genre have said it’s well written.

What was the inspiration for Welcome To My World?

When I wrote Fairytale it was as an avid Armchair Traveller – and what interested me was the ambitions so many people hold dear yet never pursue. What stops us from following our dreams? Is it fear, circumstance or history? And how do we break out of that? So Harri, the main character, is completely in love with travel but has only experienced it though other people’s eyes. Worse still, she works as a travel agent in a town where most of the population isn’t bothered about seeing the world. I wanted to see what would happen to her when she met other people who had taken the leap of faith and what effect this would have on her own dreams.

Of course, these days, it's de rigeur to have a preview chapter of your next book included in any novel and I already notice a preview for your third book in the back of Welcome To My World. Does that pile on the pressure or do you see it as part of the ongoing dream?

It was actually a conscious decision of mine to include the first chapter of the next book in the back of each of my novels. This was mainly because they are written in very different styles, so I wanted people to get a taste of what to expect from the next story so it didn’t come as a shock! I want to take people with me on the literary journeys I create, so I think it’s really important to leave people wanting more!

How do you handle the publicity side of your career? It must be pretty hectic for a bestselling author. Would you prefer to shy away from all that and stick to the writing or do you relish that? How on earth do you balance the two - as well as your music career?

I don’t think you can exist in splendid isolation as an author any more, particularly if you write romantic comedies or chick-lit like I do. A crucial part of encouraging people to stick with your writing is to be very open and accessible and now, with social media so much a part of everyone’s lives, this is even more important. I actually love it, if I’m honest. I’m a chatterbox and very gregarious at heart, so chatting relentlessly about writing, life and just about anything else that blows into my mind comes incredibly naturally to me (as my lengthy answers to your questions so far will attest!) But I know I’m fortunate in that respect and that many authors struggle with having to be publicly on show so much. I strongly believe in engaging with the wonderful people who choose to pick up my book when there are so many other shiny titles in the bookshop. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously.

Now, I've read Fairytale and enjoyed that very much. It struck me as very readily translatable into a Hollywood Rom-com. Is that something you'd like to see and if so who would you cast as the main characters?

Absolutely! I write very visually, in short scenes like a film, so it would be fantastic to see it realized on the big screen. As for casting, probably someone like Anne Hathaway or Carey Mulligan as Rosie (good English accent would be crucial), Patrick Dempsey or Justin Bartha (Failure to Launch, The Hangover) as Ed, Alison Janney (The West Wing) or Wendie Malick (Just Shoot Me) as Celia, Zooey Deschanel (500 Days of Summer) as Marnie, Matthew McConaughey as Nate and Jake Gyllenhaal as David.

You wrote about New York for Fairytale and now in Welcome we travel to Venice. To my poorly informed perspective, New York always conjures cop shows and the like, but you painted it with such warmth in Fairytale. While Venice is definitely romantic territory. So first of all, have you been to Venice? And whether you have or not, how do you go about capturing the character of a place for your novels?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, (after writing Fairytale about a place I’ve yet to visit) I’ve never been to Venice! I think the key to making the setting realistic is to really research it. It’s important to get a sense of a place, not just the facts that you’d glean from a travel book. I talk to people who’ve been there, asking them for details like the smells, sounds and feelings they got from the city, and read anything set there. I think it’s an art to get the balance between facts and feelings right: hopefully, if you succeed, you give the reader enough detail to provide a framework and then their imagination will fill in the gaps.

Welcome To My World seems a very inviting title. So go ahead and invite us into Harriet (Harri) Langton's world. What can readers expect to find there?

Harri’s world is one of hopes and dreams yet to be fulfilled; love and friendship from those around her; and a longing for the family she has lost. When she is talked into helping her best friend Alex’s mother Viv into finding him a suitable date, Harri unwittingly sets a chain of events into action that end with her locked in the middle cubicle of the Ladies’ loo at Stone Yardley Village Hall after all hell breaks loose at an engagement party. Find out what causes it – and, more importantly, what lies in wait for her when she finally emerges from the grey-green vinyl sanctuary to finally face the music…

Thanks so much for having me!

M xx

My pleasure!

Readers should know that Welcome To My World (which I'm currently reading!) is available from Amazon (both paperback and Kindle versions) and all good bookstores. As is her first novel, Fairytale Of New York. Miranda herself can be found at her website, where you'll also find details of a competition to win a trip to Venice. And be sure to check out her blog, Coffee & Roses.