I am very pleased to welcome Madeleine Reiss on the blog today.
Madeleine Reiss is the proud mother of two sons and lives with her husband in Cambridge in a dusty terrace with a grumpy cat called Ruby. She has written two novels, ‘This Last Kiss’ and ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’, and is currently writing her third.
Welcome, Madeleine. Tell us a little bit about you…
It was only when I turned fifty that I started to write books. I had been moaning to my mother about my life narrowing down and she happened to see a novel writing competition on the Alan Titchmarsh Show and suggested I enter. I resisted the idea for ages, but my mother kept nagging me about it, so in the end I wrote the three chapters and synopsis that were required just to keep her quiet.
I was astonished to find I had been long-listed and even more surprised to find myself on the show having won a publishing deal with Harper Collins. Alan Titchmarsh said to me he was looking forward to reading the book and I realised with a sinking sensation that I would actually have to write the thing!
In the end I managed it and ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’ was published in 2013. ‘This Last Kiss’ took a long time to write. I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to recover from that and then I kind of lost my stride for a bit. After much heartache and many re-writes, it was finally published by Bonnier Zaffre in June of this year.
Your inspiration for This Last Kiss?
It’s tricky to say exactly where the inspiration for a book comes. I fell in love with Hastings where the book is set first and decided I wanted to write a love story based on characters who lived in the town. I saw a young boy on the pier fooling around with a bunch of his friends and there was something about him that made me wonder about what sort of a person he was and what sort of adult he would become. There was a tough vulnerability about him that intrigued me and so he became my hero Carl. I decided to tell the story through a series of kisses- one in each chapter- because it provided a narrative shape and I really liked the idea of exploring the significant kisses in a love story. How many kisses do any of us remember when we look back?
What’s the toughest part of being an author?
I consider it a privilege to be able to sit and make up stories, but there is a lonely aspect to writing that I sometimes find difficult. In my working life I have always been part of a team and been able to try things out with other people, but writing a book is a solitary endeavour.
The blank page is a scary thing and I always wonder at the beginning how I am going to find the story and the words. I am still something of a novice writer but I have learnt that the best way to approach it is to think of myself driving in a car at night. I can only see as far as the headlights will show me, but all the time I am making progress along the road and in the end I will get to some sort of destination, even if I have to do the journey all over again.
Where and when do you write?
I write three days a week and work for a brain injury charity for the other two. It helps to go out into the world and talk to real people otherwise I can get very caught up in my fictional characters.
I have a lovely old desk littered with photos and pebbles and beautiful notebooks that I buy and then never use. It is in our spare bedroom and so when people come to stay I have to relinquish it and I always feel very protective of my writing corner!
I try and get to my desk as early as possible, but some days I procrastinate terribly and don’t start work until very late on in the day. I tell myself that it is all part of the process, although eating biscuits and watching Jeremy Kyle does absolutely nothing for either my figure or my prose. I have a target of 2000 words a day and I try to stick to it.
Are you a planner or a pantser?
I think I’m probably a pantser. I tend to write out a first draft very quickly and then revise and revise again. It’s almost as if I don’t know how the story should be until I have written it. Once I have my pantser version then I can see where the holes are and where I need to insert more elastic!
Do you do any research?
Both my novels have been very much set in real places and so I spend a lot of time walking around and getting to know locations. If I am writing about a serious issue, I always try and research it well. I would hate to do a disservice to people who are actually living through whatever I am writing about. The internet is a wonderful thing. When I started out as a journalist for women’s magazines I used to have to go to libraries to research my articles, or sit on the floor of book shops frantically making notes because I couldn’t afford to buy all the books I needed. Now if I need the lyrics to a song or to find out exactly how a blackbird sings, it is all readily accessible.
Do you read inside your genre or out when writing?
I am a big reader (I think all writers should read a lot), but when I am writing my first draft I tend not to read at all. Other peoples’ words are a bit like static and seem to get in the way when I am setting down my own stories.
As to genre – I read widely across all genres. I learn so much from other writers, regardless of what sort of a book it is.
Your author heroes?
I try and read great books in the hope that some of it will rub off on me. There are wonderful books of all kinds. I love George Eliot, William Trevor, Jilly Cooper, Anne Tyler, Georgette Heyer, Marion Keyes, JoJo Moyes, Agatha Christie, Sarah Waters……I could go on all day.
Thank you, Madeleine, for joining us today.
You can connect with Madeleine on Twitter.
This Last Kiss is available here.
Someone To Watch Over Me is available here.