When I discovered that Isabelle Broom, Lisa Dickenson and I were all releasing our latest novels one week today, I thought I would seize the opportunity to put together a Q and A with the three of us. We’re going to talk all about books, writing and what inspires us, and tell you all about our new novels.
Isabelle Broom was born in Cambridge nine days before the 1980s began and studied Media Arts in London before joining the ranks at Heat magazine, where she remains the Book Reviews Editor. Always happiest when she off on an adventure, Isabelle now travels all over the world seeking out settings for her novels, as well as making the annual pilgrimage to her true home – the Greek island of Zakynthos. Currently based in Suffolk, where she shares a cottage with her dog Max and approximately 467 spiders, Isabelle fits her writing around a busy freelance career and tries her best not to be crushed to oblivion under her ever-growing pile of to-be-read books.
Lisa Dickenson is the pseudonym for Beyoncé. OK, FINE, THAT’S NOT TRUE. Lisa lives by the Devon seaside, stuffing cream teas in the gobs of anyone who comes to visit, and writing stuff down that she hopes is funny. Her first novel was the copyright-infringing Sweet Valley Twins: The Twins Holiday Horror, which she wrote in primary school and gave up on after five pages. Twenty-ish years later Lisa went on to be a *real author* and wrote the Novelicious Debut of the Year, THE TWELVE DATES OF CHRISTMAS. MY SISTERS AND ME, will be just the autumnal read you’ll need as the leaves start to rust.
Victoria Walters writes up-lifting and inspiring stories. Her moving debut novel THE SECOND LOVE OF MY LIFE was chosen for WHSmith Fresh Talent and shortlisted for an RNA award. Victoria was also picked as an Amazon Rising Star. Her heart-warming new novel SUMMER AT THE KINDNESS CAFE is available to download now. As well as being an author, Victoria also works as a Waterstones bookseller and buys far too many books there. She lives in Surrey with her cat Harry (named after Harry Potter). Victoria is not only obsessed with books but loves buying slogan tops, mugs and notebooks, and posting them all on Instagram.
1. Tell us about your writing journey – how did you get started, and how did you get published?
Isabelle Broom (IB): I started writing down stories from the age of around five, but I was making them up in my head long before then. My mum had this set of dressing table mirrors that you could angle a certain way and see multiple reflections, and I used to come up with names for each of them and make up all manner of tales. Honestly, I’d sit there for hours, just chatting away to myself, so I guess it’s no surprise that I ended up in this job. When it came to getting published, I think I was extremely fortunate. While I had always wanted to write a proper novel, I never had the confidence to tackle one until I won a short story competition. Once I had the backing and encouragement from people inside the publishing industry, my outlook totally changed, and I started to believe in my ability to write. That was a real turning point, as was the moment I met my editor three months later. The universe seemed to align at that point, and less than six months later, I had an offer from Penguin. My head has not ceased spinning since!
Lisa Dickenson (LD): Hello! I started by writing Sweet Valley Twins knock-offs when I was in primary school, but never finished any of them. From there I ~talked about~ being a writer for years, but again, never actually finished a story. Then one day in 2013 I entered a short story competition – I wanted to prove to myself I could get to the end of something – and it was shortlisted. An Editor at Little, Brown Book Group got in touch and asked for some sample material for a full-length novel, and from there they bought, and published, The Twelve Dates of Christmas!
Victoria Walters (VW): I’ve always written stories ever since I was young, I think being an only child made me use my imagination a lot growing up. I remember hand writing my first novel when I was sixteen, it was a rip-off if Sweet Valley High. As I got older, I started to take writing more seriously. When I read Twilight, I fell in love with the YA genre and wrote a YA novel which landed me an agent. That book didn’t sell though and I then got the idea for what became my debut novel The Second Love Of My Life. Now writing women’s fiction, I found a new agent who secured me a publishing deal and I finally could call myself an author!
2. Do you have any advice for writers who want to get published? Do you have any writing tips? Did any resources in particular help you that you would recommend?
IB: I get asked this question so much, and the first answer I give is always the most obvious – to write. Write and write and write some more. Do it every day, even if it’s a sentence or two while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil. Keep a notebook handy and scribble down ideas as they come to you, or snippets of conversation that you overhear on the bus. I always adopt the Stephen King method of “What if?” in every scenario, and push the boundaries as far as I can – e.g. What if you found out your boyfriend was cheating? What if it was with your best friend? And she was pregnant? But secretly the baby was someone else’s? And that someone else was your father? And your friend was only one of many affairs? And so on. I like to think of thoughts as unspooling ribbons in my mind, which I then chase along until they inevitably become too farfetched. While there are heaps of advice books and how-to manuals out there, I believe the best forms of study are works of fiction. Read the top 5 bestselling books in your chosen genre and break down the plot and character arcs. Ask yourself what makes these books, in particular, resonate with so many readers, then try to plot your own with the same principles in mind. You don’t need an earth-shattering twist or a controversial ending to make a book compelling, you simply need characters that people genuinely care about and a pace that keeps readers turning those pages.
LD: To get published I would say a) get writing, and get submitting. Don’t just dream about it happening because nobody can hear what’s only going on in your head (THANK GOD). b) being an author is only half about being an author, and half about being on social media. You need to be visible and interacting, with (potential) readers, agents, bookish folk, other authors, bloggers. It can be hard to find the time, but unless you can get that six-figure-and-a-movie deal from the outset it has to be done, and it’s also a great way of meeting people, sharing tips and experiences, and building a community around yourself and your books. And my favourite writing tip resources have come from websites like Novelicious and We Heart Writing, listening to ‘Meet The Author’ podcasts (anything with a Jackie Collins interview is gold dust), and recently doing some online courses through Masterclass, listening to some writers who work in completely different genres and mediums, but are really helping to enrich my storytelling!
VW: I still find it hard to give writing advice as I feel like I’m still learning myself. I really think you have to find your own way of doing things. Not everyone writes in the same way, and that’s absolutely fine. Some writers have to write everyday but that doesn’t work for me. So, find what works best for you. My best advice is to read as much as you can. I’m always reading and it definitely teaches you about pacing, plotting and creating characters. I read widely too, not just sticking to my genre. I actually haven’t read any books on writing because I do think it’s best to do it your own way but for general creative inspiration, I would recommend Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.
3. Your new book is published next week. Tell us all about it. How did you come up with the idea for it?
IB: One Thousand Stars and You began as a simple idea: what if you met someone who changed your life in an instant? (See, there I go with the “what ifs” again!) I was in a dark place after a relationship break-up a few years ago, when I attended a book event in London and met a man at the bar. We only chatted for half an hour or so, and nothing romantic ever followed, but just the simple act of meeting someone so wonderful and so on my wavelength changed my outlook almost instantaneously. I went from feeling helpless heartbreak to being suddenly sure that everything was going to be OK – and it got me thinking: what if I could write a story about a young woman who feels content in her life, only to meet someone who throws everything into disarray? Say hello to my new novel! It follows Alice who, on the brink of turning 30, has accepted that her future means settling down with her reliable boyfriend and keeping her overprotective parents happy. When she agrees to go off to Sri Lanka with her two best friends, Alice sees the trip as a last bit of fun before she succumbs – but then she meets Max. Once a soldier and now battling back from a life-altering injury, Max ignites something in Alice that she has long tried to bury. But is the path of excitement and adventure simply a case of “grass is greener”?
LD: It’s called MY SISTERS AND ME, and it’s a story of how three sisters – who got out of their childhood town as soon as they could – come back home. They’re here to renovate their old house, but along the way they meet blasts from their past, rediscover how fun sisterhood can be, and learn a little something about loving the person they’ve become… and the person they once were. There’s also a bit of snoggin’, a Halloween party, and a healthy mix of tears and laughter. The idea actually evolved from an one that involved a more witchy story thread, but at the core I really wanted to write a book about female relationships.
VW: Unfortunately, at the moment there are so many stories of bad things happening in the world so it’s easy to lose sight of small things that happen every day to make life a little better. Sometimes a small act of kindness can brighten someone’s day or even change their whole life, and that’s what my new novel Summer at the Kindness Cafe is all about. Three very different women make a pact to let more kindness into their lives. When Abbie drops her bag on the way to see her sister Louise, a stranger called Eszter returns it to her. They find themselves in Brew, a cosy cafe in the Surrey Hills, which has a Kindness board on the wall where they encourage customers to write up random acts of kindness that people have done for them. The owners tell Abbie that she needs to pay Eszter’s act of kindness forward, and so begins a summer where kindness changes everything.
4. What books do you think inspired you to become a writer? What are some of your favourite books?
IB: I read everything I could get my hands on as a kid, tearing through Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven series, followed in my late teens by Jilly Cooper’s raucous romps, Stephen King’s smart chillers and, a bit later still, anything penned by the mighty JK Rowling. I think of all of them, it was Jilly who had the biggest impact, because spending time with her characters felt like hanging out with friends – it still does. I think the best books are the ones we desperately wish we could walk into the pages of, hence why Harry Potter has had such a huge impact. We all secretly yearn to find that hidden platform 9 and 3/4 at King’s Cross and wonder if that strange man staring at us on the tube is on an undercover mission for the Ministry Of Magic. I review books now, too, so read an endless amount, but my favourite of recent times has to be The Man Who Didn’t Call by Rosie Walsh. Talk about perfection! If I ever manage to write as well as that lady, I will float on happy air.
LD: Well, as I’ve mentioned, I was HEAVILY inspired by the Sweet Valley books while I was growing up – I wanted to create endless tales about Californian beaches and people with blonde hair. To be honest, even when I became a grown woman, I was always inspired by books based in other countries, from the novels by Belinda Jones to those by our lovely friend Isabelle Broom, because I love feeling like a book is transporting me somewhere, and I soak it in through the pages.
VW: I read so much growing up! I loved The Famous Five, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and devoured Sweet Valley High and Point Horror. Sweet Valley High definitely inspired some of my early stories. My favourite author then and now is Jane Austen, and every story I write has romance in it because of her. I also will always have a soft spot for Bridget Jones. Probably the two series that really made me consider becoming a writer was Harry Potter and Twilight. I love those books so much and dreamed of gripping a reader as much as they did with my own books. I also love coming-of-age stories and I think you can see that in my books too, for example, I love I Capture The Castle and Jane Eyre. I enjoy reading inspiring and up-lifting books, such I think comes across in my own writing. Recently, I’ve loved Eleanor Oliphant and Dear Mrs Bird.
5. What are you working on next? Do you find it easy to come up with ideas? How to you inspire yourself to start a new book?
IB: I’m currently midway through the first draft of my sixth novel, which is set in both present day New Zealand and early-90s London – and I also have another three ideas quietly percolating away in my mind. Coming up with ideas has never been an issue for me – it’s making the time to develop them that I struggle with the most. If I could reach into the pages of Harry Potter and steal anything, it would be a Time Turner! I find starting a novel to be the best part – especially when you get to do so on location, as I did with this one. I love getting to know my cast of characters and chasing plot strands around in my head. It’s later along in the process (the 60-80k mark) where I start to flounder and have to be way more strict on myself. Writing books is and continues to be a huge privilege – one that I hope continues for many more years to come.
LD: I’ve recently started my sixth novel, and I’m really excited about this one! It features a big lovely therapy dog and a trip to Switzerland, so I might just have to do a cheeky research trip! I find vague concepts quite easy to come up with, but sometimes the nitty gritty, the idea itself, is harder so look out for inspiration all over the place, from places to conversations, to life events, and sometimes an idea for a working title will actually inspire an idea to form. I don’t think I find any park of it easy, but when I’m in the flow and chatting to the characters in my head, and playing god with their lives, it’s very very fun 😊
VW: I recently finished writing a book set over Christmas in a Scottish mansion, which I’m really excited about. I usually come up with my main character first and then I think about the setting. I knew with this one that my main character was coming home after a long time, and that a big countryside house would perfect for that. Sometimes books or TV shows can spark ideas or brainstorming with my agent and editor. Sometimes you’re not even sure where an idea came from but once it appears, you just run with it! I love writing a first draft and just letting my imagination flow. I have two ideas for what to write next, I might start them both and see if one takes over from the other at some point. I would still love to publish books in other genres too.
I hope you enjoyed getting to know the three of us! Come and chat to us online:
And don’t forget to pre-order our new books all out next Thursday yay!