Author Q&A with Miranda Dickinson

Photo © Miranda Dickinson

Celebrate everything, no matter how small. If you only wait for the huge, exciting stuff you spend a lot of your time feeling like you’re treading water.

Tell us a little about your writing process

By nature, I am a night-writer. I started writing while working as a copywriter, so all of my book writing happened in the evenings, at weekends and frequently overnight. Even though writing is my full-time job now, I am still far more productive after 10pm!

While my approach to each book can vary, I generally write an outline scene-by-scene plan at the beginning so I can stay on track with the story as I write. I always leave room for my story to surprise me – which it frequently does! This allows lovely serendipities to occur which always make the story better.

I write my first draft very quickly – between six and nine weeks to complete around 90k words – and then go through structural, line and copy edits with my editor and brilliant copy-editor. I love the beautiful mess of a first draft, when I’m telling myself the story. I know if the heart of it feels right, I can fix the rest in the edits.

I always make a book soundtrack playlist before I start writing a novel, to try to capture the feel I want the finished book to have. I then listen to this all the way through from initial draft to finished book.

What did your first ever book cover look like (and can you show us)?

My first book cover is still the one that gives me goosebumps when I see it! The cover of my debut novel, Fairytale of New York, showed a woman on a bridge in Central Park in the snow, surrounded by the buildings of Manhattan and sparkles all around her. It was designed by the brilliant Nic & Lou – they took time to read the book while designing the cover so the end result is the closest representation to the heart of the story I’ve seen. (I get asked so often if the woman on the bridge is me – alas, it isn’t!) When the book came out in 2009, there hadn’t been any other covers that looked like it so it really stood out. After that it set a trend for women’s fiction and was widely copied, but I’m so proud that Fairytale was the first of its kind.

What was the last book you bought?

You, Me & The Sea by Elizabeth Haynes.

And what sealed the deal: The cover, the blurb, or something else?

Firstly I adore everything Elizabeth Haynes writes, so it was a no-brainer to buy her latest book! But I love the cover, too. It’s so atmospheric and draws you in, just like Elizabeth’s beautiful writing does on the inside.

Should a book cover stand out or fit into its genre?

This is such an interesting question and as an author and a reader I can see how both approaches have their advantages. Personally, I love it when a cover breaks the mould, pushing the envelope from a design perspective. But it’s such a fine balancing act to be different, eye-catching and original while still attracting readers within the genre of the book. I’ve had covers that have moved too far from what readers have expected and have been lost as a result, but equally I’ve loved covers in books I’ve bought that take that genre’s representation to a new level. Recent covers I’ve loved that do this so brilliantly are Mike Gayle’s new re-jacketed designs for his books, especially Half A World Away, and in crime fiction (which I love to read), Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders and Moonflower Murders and Joseph Knox’s True Crime Story.

Which three authors (past or present) would you invite to a dinner party and why?

Elizabeth Gaskell, Neil Gaiman and Sir Terry Pratchett. They would have the inside track on everyone and everything and I would love to just let them natter to listen to their conversations. They are all natural comedians, too, so I reckon the banter would be brilliant!

Have you ever bought a book purely because of its cover?

So many times! I bought my very first Terry Pratchett Discworld novel, Interesting Times, because I loved the Josh Kirby cover. That purchase started a lifelong love of Terry’s books, so I have a lot to thank the cover design for. The most recent book I bought for its cover was The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex, designed by Max Ellis and Katie Tooke. Amazingly, the swirling design mirrors the way the story swirls and flows, which added another dimension to the book.

What is the most important lesson being an author has taught you?

Celebrate everything, no matter how small. If you only wait for the huge, exciting stuff you spend a lot of your time feeling like you’re treading water. You have to find the joy in everything and shout about your achievements – you are always your first cheerleader and the more you believe in your words, the better your writing will be and the more resilient you will become. Joy is such an underrated tool for writers, but you won’t survive in this industry unless you constantly seek to connect with love for your words.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

I wanted to be a fairy at the age of three, so when that didn’t work out (my wings never came in), I decided I wanted to be an author. So you could say writing is my fallback career!

What is your top tip for budding authors?

Write. It’s the only way to learn how to write books. Write wherever and whenever you can and learn from the experience of putting words on a page. Novel-writing advice books are good, writing courses are okay, but the only place you’re going to learn how to pull a story from your head and make it work on the page is when you sit down to actually write it. Also, write for you first – not ‘the market’, not to get published, not to emulate an author you want to be like, just write for you. Write what you’re passionate about and pour your passion into the story. Readers can spot real passion a mile away and if you love your book, other people will love it, too.

Miranda Dickinson is a six-times Sunday Times Bestselling Author of eleven novels. She has sold one million books worldwide, been a bestseller in four countries and to date her books have been translated into fifteen languages. She is the founder of WriteFoxy writing resources and events for authors and is also a singer-songwriter. Her next book, The Start of Something, publishes this year.

Twitter: @wurdsmyth

Instagram: @wurdsmyth



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