Alex Beecroft was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the Peak District. She studied English and Philosophy before accepting employment with the Crown Court where she worked for a number of years. Now a stay-at-home mum and full time author, Alex lives with her husband and two daughters in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist. Have you always been interested in writing? Tell us how you got started.
Where is your favourite place to work?
I've set up a desk with an old but still serviceable computer in the spare bedroom. The computer has no connection to the internet, so I can't email or twitter or whatever on it. All I can do is write. I wouldn't say the spare bedroom was my favourite place to work - it's actually fairly cheerless and full of all the lumber that we don't know where to put elsewhere, but it does provide a space where I can get away from everything else. When I'm there, I know I'm there for one purpose only - to write. That definitely helps.
To plot or not to plot? Are you a planner or do you just dive in?
I wouldn't say I was an extreme case of a planner, but I do like to have a plot plan available before I go in. I decide how many words I want the book to be (say 100,000) divide that number by 1000 (the amount of words I usually write in a scene) and figure out the number of scenes I'll need. Then I think of ideas for each scene and arrange them in an order that makes sense. That gives me a sort of synopsis, with no more than a paragraph of ideas and notes for each scene. Once I've got that, I'll start writing.
I don't do all the business with character sheets and three-act structures and figuring out where the black moment is, so I consider myself a mild case. But I am plotting more before each book, so I may get there in the end.
What is the hardest part of the writing process for you?
Because I'm doing more and more plotting, actually deciding that now is a good point to start writing is hard. But I think the hardest part is still pushing through the inevitable slumps where I'm certain what I'm writing is rubbish and that I ought to give up and start something different instead. I've realized that this voice says the same thing in roughly the same places every single time, and that if I ignore it and carry on, I'll get past those places, look back and realize that what I've written is good after all. I know that if I listen to the voice, I will never finish anything. But even so, each time it happens it feels as though this time it's telling the truth. Editing is easy, but the first draft is a long struggle with my own monsters.
How do you develop your characters? In historicals, how do you keep them in period yet sympathetic to readers?
I have to admit that with characters I just start writing and let them come to me as they want to. It does mean that they are a bit nebulous in the first few chapters of the first draft. They begin to firm up as I get to chapter 4-5, and at that point I will browse stockphoto sites to find a face for them (I won't know what sort of face would fit them before that.) Once I've got the face that really consolidates things and I can begin to work out exactly how all this person's differing traits hang together in a single cohesive personality. Then when I've reached the end of the book the first thing I do is go back and fill out the missing detail at the beginning, now that I know what ought to be there.
One thing I've found in researching for my 18th Century books is that attitudes we would consider 'modern' are actually older than we would think. The key for creating historical characters, I think, is simply to immerse yourself in the primary sources of the era until you get a feel for the many different ways a person of that era could be. Then you can use that to create a character in exactly the same way you would create a modern character. I don't think personalities change much, though the way they express themselves might.
What do you think an editor is looking for in a good novel?
I think primarily it's good storytelling - does the story grip you and make you want to turn pages to find out what happens next? Do you care about the characters and want them to succeed against great odds? A nice writing style is good too, but I'm coming to believe that it isn't nearly as vital as a story that hooks you at once and doesn't let go.
How do you relax? What interests do you have other than writing?
I belong to a women's Border morris dancing team called Ely and Littleport Riot, and dance regularly on a Friday and most weekends through the summer. I'm also learning to play the tunes to the dances on my pennywhistle. Apart from that, I do a lot of reading and I'm a member of two reenactment societies - one 18th Century, one Saxon, for which I have to do a lot of sewing.
I am only intermittently present in the real world. I have led a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800 year old form of English folk dance, but she still have’t learned to operate a mobile phone.
What advice would you give a new writer?
Don't give up. The only way to finish a book is to keep writing until you get to the end. The only way to get a book published is to keep writing and submitting one book after another until someone finally takes one. The only way not to be a one-hit wonder is to keep writing after that first published book until you've got a track record, and even then you're only as good as your latest. But still, the only way to fail is to give up - just keep going until you succeed.
What draws you to your particular genre? Are you a specialist or do you have another identity?
I accidentally became known for writing historical romance because my first two novels were historicals. But in fact I like to try out all sorts of genres. I suspect I did myself some damage by switching track suddenly to a contemporary and then to a Fantasy, but I think I'd get very stale if I did one genre exclusively. I hope that eventually people will know that my stuff falls somewhere within the overlap of historical, fantasy, mystery and romance (the contemporary was a fluke), but that will only come with more new releases. I think the thing all my genres have in common is that touch of exoticism or escapism - I like to write about worlds which are more interesting than our own mundane one.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you cope with it?
I get it quite badly in between projects. Now that I do the planning thing before I start writing, I don't get it during the process of writing a book, but if I've finished one book and don't yet have a workable idea and plan for another, weeks can turn into months before I come up with one. That first idea/inspiration is so hard to come by. As it happens, I'm stuck with it at the moment, so I'm coping with it by doing lots of reading, hoping that eventually all the stuff I'm taking in will form a critical mass and explode into a new idea. As soon as I've finished writing this, though, I'm going to at least go and attempt to force myself to think up some characters and something for them to do.
Is there a particular period of history that you enjoy writing about? Why is that?
I do love the 18th Century - it's such a wonderful blend of the ancient and the modern, when the farthest reaches of the world were being explored at the same time as new ideas about liberty and equality were setting the West on fire (literally sometimes.) There's a real feeling of discovery and excitement, progress and hope. Oh, and the clothes are great too!
Tell us about your latest book, and how you got the idea for it.
I live in a small village in the middle of the countryside, and so I tend to get a bit fed up of paranormal romances which are set in the big city. I wanted to write a paranormal romance set in a sleepy little English town, where the Paranormal Investigators have to share the church hall with the Flower Club on alternate Tuesdays, and everything stops for the summer fete. I thought of it initially as a sort of Torchwood meets Wallace and Gromit, though it became rather more epic and serious than that before it was finished.
I'm not sure yet when that one is coming out, though I have BY HONOR BETRAYED out from Carina Press this month - that's a historical m/m romance in which Lt. Conroy Herriot has to choose between his career in the 18th Century Royal Navy and his love for his servant, Tom Cotton. He chooses love, of course, which leads both of them into some life-or-death scrapes.
You can find out more about Alex by visiting her website http://alexbeecroft.com
Interviews on the RNA Blog are conducted by Freda Lightfoot and Kate Jackson. If you would like an interview, please contact me at: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org