Writer-girl Wednesday: Niamh Greene

Niamh Greene's new book A message to the Heart is a combo of ALL my favourite things, it's about Frankie, a book agent (I LOVE books) it's set in San Fran (my most favourite city in the whole wide world) and it's filled with love and destiny and fortune cookies - so much to love all wrapped in a rather pretty book cover. Come meet Niamh, then go buy her book, but be warned, you will need to set a day aside as it is un-put-downable, I read it in one delicious sitting and now wish I hadn't because I have to wait a whole lot of forever for her next book! Describe yourself in a tweet... Easily distracted rom-com writer who spends far too much time on Twitter!

Tell us about the creation of A Message to the Heart - what made you set it in San Fran? How long did it take to write? Is John Bonner real? I fancy him. Well thank you so much – that’s an enormous compliment! I set the book in San Francisco because I lived there for a few years many moons ago. I had some magical moments in the ‘City by the Bay’ and have some very special memories of the time I spent there. I wanted to write a story set there for quite some time and ‘A Message to your Heart’ just seemed like a perfect fit! The book took about a year to write – as most of my novels do. And no, John Bonner isn’t real…..although he felt real to me by the time I’d finished writing about him! And yes, he is quite yummy isn’t he?!! I’m afraid that was deliberate…..

Have you always known that you wanted to be an author? At what age did you first become published and what was that like for you? Yes, I always wanted to write. I was a huge reader as a child, and I had been scribbling short stories on and off for years as a hobby, but I never showed my efforts to anyone as I was too shy about my secret writing. It was only when both my children started school and my mornings became free that I began to devote more time to writing. I gave housework the cold shoulder and tinkered about with my first novel for a few months, purely for fun, really losing myself in it as it began to take shape. I never imagined I would ever be lucky enough to get it published. But the stars must have been aligned because when I eventually plucked up the courage to send off my unfinished manuscript, I got positive feedback from a few publishers almost immediately.

Do you have a room of your own where you write? At the moment I write at a desk in the corner of my bedroom. That will change soon as I’m moving downstairs to the spare room (although I have been saying that since we moved into this house….almost three years ago). The thing is though I keep putting off the move because I’ve become quite attached to the corner I’m in….I’m maybe even a little superstitious about it. I have a ratty old writing cardigan that I always wear too – how glamorous am I?! Also, I’ve written every book on the same computer – it’s probably due to explode right about now…touch wood quick!

Where and when are you at your most creative? Probably at my keyboard – the physical act of sitting in front of the screen and thinking about the story always gets my creative juices flowing. Also, last thing at night, just before I fall asleep, I often get good ideas. That’s why I keep a notebook beside my bed – if I didn’t I’d never remember any of it in the morning. Mind you, sometimes I look at these late night scribbles the next morning and I can’t even decipher them!

What time of the day are you at your most creative? Or do you schedule in creativity as work? I love that phrase – schedule in creativity – because that’s exactly what I do. Now this is sometimes easier said that done, but I try as much as I possibly can to be strict with my writing time. I write when the children are at school so I have the afternoons free to spend with them (or ferry them around more like). This means I have to be very disciplined about sitting in front of the computer every morning! Some days I find this a real pleasure, but other days it’s like pulling teeth and I’ll do anything to avoid getting to work. I squeeze in any extra writing or editing once everyone is tucked up in bed at night. Housework still gets the cold shoulder!

How long does it roughly take you to go from an idea in your head to a finished book o' wonder on the book shelves? Usually a year at least. That includes thinking time, writing time, serious wobbles time –which usually happens about halfway through – and editing time.

Do you have an agent? If so, what are the benefits? Yes, I do have an agent, the very lovely Ariella Feiner at United Agents in London who takes care of me by looking after the business side of things That’s exactly the way I like it, because I just want to concentrate on writing and creating the best story I can for the reader. Of course she does other very important stuff too – like listening to me when I have the wobbles (see above).

Can you tell us about your book writing process please, Niamh? Well, this process has changed a little over the years. When I first started I used to write freely as I loved to see the words piling up on the page quickly. Then, once I had the first draft done, I’d go back and edit and prune until I was happy that the story flowed well. My writing process has changed though in that now I try to plan more so that there is less editing to do – there’s no whiteboard involved, just lots of scribbled notes and bits of paper floating around….. Editing is a complex and often frustrating process. Sometimes, everything makes sense and you feel the story and characters are exactly as you would like, other times you think it’s all hopeless and you get so bogged down that you can’t see the wood for the trees. At moments like that I find it’s good to take some time out and come back when I’m feeling fresher. The end result is always worth the pain though.

What's the best thing about being a writer? Sitting in front of a screen and creating a whole other world – when it’s going well it’s like my fingers can’t keep up with my thoughts. Also seeing my books on shelves and getting feedback from readers is amazing. I try to hold onto that feeling when I’m tearing my hair out because I can’t get the story to work or I read back over a day’s work and feel it’s all hopeless!

What is your favourite book of all time? Now that is not fair! I can’t choose one so here are a few... George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole series, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Maeve Binchy’s Circle of Friends and Edna O’Brien’s Country Girls trilogy. I could go on!

What's your literary pet peeve? There can be a lot of snobbery regarding commercial s fiction – it drives me up the wall – and back down again... No-one should have to explain or defend their reading choices.

What was your journey to being published for the first time like? Did you get published straight away? Did you have an agent? Once I finally plucked up the courage and sent off my manuscript, I got some great feedback and this really encouraged me to keep going and gave me hope. A few short months later Penguin offered me my first book deal. I was so thrilled I almost deafened my poor editor with my screams of delight when she called to tell me! I didn’t have an agent at the time so I then went searching for one. I sort of did it backwards!

What's the biggest myth about being an author? That it’s easy! The industry is a tough one and you need thick skin, which is very tricky because most of the writers I know are very thin skinned – maybe it’s part of being creative? You need to be incredibly disciplined and hardworking to finish writing a novel too – it’s like running a marathon over and over again.

What are your top 3 tips for writers? 1) Read, read and then read some more. 2) Write a small amount every day – even a few hundred words. The process will flex your creative writing muscle and you will gain confidence and inspiration when you begin to see the words add up. 3) Believe in yourself and your work. I never dared to hope that my books would be on book shelves around the world but it happened against the odds. Dreams really can come true.

How important has promotion been to the success of your books? It certainly helps. I like the time around publication when I have to hit the road and meet booksellers and do publicity, like TV and radio. It can be a shock to the system after being sat in front of a PC for months, but it’s always fun – and it can be very creatively inspiring!

Do you do it yourself or have help from your publisher or an outside publicity agency? I do some myself – via Twitter and Facebook, which are great ways to connect with both readers and other writers. The bulk is done by my publisher, Penguin, though. They set up a publicity schedule for me.

What is your number one promo tip for authors? Be nice to everyone and try to enjoy it!

What's next in the world of Niamh? I’m still busy promoting A Message to Your Heart I’m also working on my next book which is about a woman who stumbles across a secret letter...(she says mysteriously). That will be published in the summer of 2013. I’ve written a play – a comedy about the recession - and I’m working on some other top secret projects (she says mysteriously again). Check me out on www.facebook.com/niamhgreenebooks or twitter.com/niamh_greene for more info!