Chatting to John Boyne – and getting the first draft down

I love my job. How fantastic to spend forty minutes of your day talking to a million copy bestselling author, finding out all about his writing career – how he started, how he writes, where he writes and generally getting inside the head of the man behind such amazing books as The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, The House of Special Purpose and, most recently, the amazing, The Absolutist.

It may have been the first proper day of summer yesterday, but after speaking to John Boyne, I happily spent as much time as I could (children permitting) at the laptop, continuing to write the first draft of my new novel. Of all the insights John spoke about, it was, perhaps, his comments about writing the first draft which struck me most.

His advice on the matter? Simply, get it written. No let up, no distractions, no endless tinkering and fiddling about with Chapters One, Two and Three – just get it written. Find the story first and worry about the wonderful language, perfect sentence structure and themes in subsequent edits. As he points out, how can you perfect the opening chapters when you don’t know how the story will end until you’ve actually written it? Even the most resolute of plotters and planners often find strange and unexpected things happening to their characters during the writing process.

I knew this already of course, but  hearing this from someone as successful as John feels like having a stern talking to from my school teacher: ‘Hazel must not tinker endlessly with opening chapters.’

So, I won’t. My first draft mission starts here. I will let you know when, and how, it ends.

Read my full interview with John on


Chatting to M.L. Stedman, author of ‘The Light Between Oceans’

At London Book Fair last month, I was invited to the launch of M.L. Stedman’s stunning debut novel The Light Between Oceans. Armed with a glass of bubbly and masses of admiration, I was delighted to chat to the author – Margot – about the novel. She was absolutely lovely. I may have gushed a little too much. Here’s the resulting feature interview for


Why Twitter motivates me

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Twitter.

Sometimes it frustrates me – especially when I can feel myself wasting valuable writing time looking at the strange things people feel compelled to ‘say out loud’ rather than to their cat or best friend. Why can’t I stop myself reading? Why? Sometimes it makes me feel like I’m the uninvited guest at a really cool party where everyone seems to know each other and I’m just lurking at the back of the room scoffing the free canapes and wondering where the loo is.

And then I find myself laughing at a piece of 140 character genius wit or I discover a link to something genuinely interesting. I find out what people are up to and I stumble across fascinating people, blogs and information I would never have found otherwise, and then I decide that I like Twitter again.

But the thing I love most about Twitter is that it inspires me (and I’m not talking about those deep and profound quotes that pop up every now and again, or references to scripture or images of a seascape). No. Twitter inspires me in a very practical way. Because, when I see my timeline filled with tweets about an author’s book launch, or shared congratulations to someone on their publication day, or a link to a fabulous window display in Waterstones, or someone having a crisis about their edits, it gives me a ‘real-time’ kick up the bum.

As someone still seeking that elusive ‘traditional’ publishing deal, reading these tweets may often feel like virtual window-shopping; a bizarre form of emotional torture. And yet, as I press my nose against the laptop screen and stare longingly at the tweets I wish were mine, somehow, it helps. Seeing the success of other authors and their books on a daily basis simply helps me to keep writing, when – sometimes – I feel like maybe I’d be better off taking up jogging or cleaning the bathroom (God forbid!).

I will probably fall out with it again next week and not speak to it for a few days, but for now, Twitter stays. We may even go for a drink later.

#ginoclock anybody?

How to get published

How to get published

This is a great post by author and blogger Hollie Smith about getting published. Advice and tips from a number of authors including Ben Hatch (Are We Nearly There Yet), Keris Stainton (Della Says OMG) and Jane Alexander (Walker) who have found various routes to publication. Oh, and there’s also some brilliant advice from me!

First Lines

It is a truth universally acknowledged that first lines are tricky.

What to start with? What profound, intriguing, amusing, exciting words to write on that blank page? It is well known that first lines can hook a reader, excite a publisher and set the tone for what is to come. Get it right, and your words may be immortalised in literary history. Get it wrong and, well, your book may never see the light of day.

No pressure then!

Starting a new blog poses a ‘first lines’ dilemma of its own. What to say? What nugget of brilliance to launch your musings with?  It’s tricky.

For the last three years, I’ve been blogging as Hot Cross Mum. It’s been great fun and a wonderful writing adventure, but times change, life moves on. While there will always be a special place in my blogging heart for dear old Hot Cross Mum, she really needs a rest. So, I’m retiring her for a while to explore a new writing space – here.

‘Whims and Tonic’ is a space for me to write about anything and everything to do with writing. My writing whims, if you will (and other things which take my fancy from time to time). Whether it is the ups and downs of my writing day, a review of a new book, a reminder of an old classic, a favourite quote, observations on what’s happening in the publishing industry, exciting news about a six-figure deal I have secured – or simply an image of a dog sticking its head out of a car window which I find amusing – this is where it will all be captured.

And the tonic part? Well, you can take it to mean something invigorating and uplifting, or you can take it with gin, ice and lemon. I’ll leave that part up to you.

As for a memorable first line, I think I will bow to an established expert for now, and leave you with this opener from the book I recently chose to give away on World Book Night. The brilliant, Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’.

‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’

Ooooo, intrigued….!