Thank you for inviting me to be your guest today, Rachel. It’s great to be here!
Where’s a fairy godmother when you need one?
This is the shout line on the cover of The Wedding Diary.
Sometimes, your fairy godmother can be your editor, as well as a character in your story, and this is how it turned out in the case of The Wedding Diary.
It’s always a fantastic experience to hold a new book in my hands and know I made it all by myself. Well, with a little, or – let’s be honest – with a lot of help from other people! I’m now going to talk about how my latest novel, The Wedding Diary, grew from a chance remark into a satisfying (I hope) story.
‘What if you won a luxury dream wedding, but didn’t have anyone to marry?’ I asked. ‘Ooh, that would be a good starting point for a novel,’ said one of the other members. ‘Go on, write it!’
I always have to let a concept simmer a bit before I start writing. So it wasn’t until a couple of months later that I started working on a story about a girl whose fiancé has done a runner and then hears she’s won a wonderful, all-expenses-paid wedding at a country house hotel.
What’s she going to do about it?
I start all my novels with a premise, a what-if, a what-will-he/she-do, and then I start to plan. I love planning and plotting. I know some novelists never plan anything, or they say they don’t. Personally, I couldn’t get anywhere without a plan, even though I do change my mind from time to time. The plan is never set in stone!
But, as for non-planning – I’ve tried this approach and have half a dozen moribund novels (or rather, openings of novels) to show for it. Sometimes, I’ve been determined to make these non-planned stories work, but all that’s happened is I’ve wandered down so many blind alleys and banged my head against so many brick walls that I’ve had to go and lie down in a darkened room.
The first draft of The Wedding Diary took about six months to write and was – as is always the case with me – very short. A typical first draft for me might be as short as 20,000 words for a novel which will end up being 80,000 words long. But, by the time I’d finished the first draft, I had the story mapped out and I could start to develop the characters.
At second-draft stage, my heroine, Cat Aston, grew and grew from the mere thought of a girl who’d won a competition, and soon she became a tender-hearted, idealistic, generous, kind, thoughtful and actually pretty damn smart thirty-year-old who has dark blonde hair and jade-green eyes. My hero, Adam, also began to take (sexy and gorgeous but troubled) shape, as did my antagonist (or is she?), Fanny Gregory, the organiser of the wedding competition and one-woman scare-factory. The second draft took me another six months to write, and – after a final polish – the book was ready to be seen by my publisher.
Big red letter day – the publisher loved it! There would have to be some revision and reworking, but basically the story was fine, and the next stage would be editing.
The editorial process is often something of an ordeal for authors. Sometimes an editor hates the novel in question so much that it shows in the curt, dismissive and occasionally downright insulting editorial remarks. Some editors try to persuade authors to turn their books into something they were never meant to be. Other editors are or appear to be thwarted novelists themselves and they forget it’s the author’s novel, not the editor’s, and they try to change the novel out of all recognition.
But Choc Lit has a great team of editors, and working with Rachel Daven Skinner on The Wedding Diary was just brilliant. She didn’t try to fix what wasn’t broken, but she did flag up the places where the story was weak or inconsequential, and she tactfully suggested changes. Did I really need that prologue? I looked at it again and was soon wondering why I’d written it in the first place. Out it came! What about putting in a few scenes during which my hero and heroine got to know each other as people before the romantic stuff got under way? Yes, good plan! Did I need to talk about a certain fountain quite so often? Well – no …
At the end of the process, we had a much better, tighter, funnier book.
Initially, I wasn’t at all sure if my publisher – Choc Lit – would like The Wedding Diary. It’s a rom com and I’m mainly a historical novelist who sets my stories in wide landscapes with huge casts of characters. There’s always lots of drama, and people sometimes – gulp – die.
But I do have a lighter side to my personality, and I found I really enjoyed writing a rom com in which nobody died, and it seems my publisher did too.
Hey, maybe I’ll do it again!
Where's a Fairy Godmother when you need one?
If you won a fairy-tale wedding in a luxury hotel, you d be delighted right? But what if you didn't have anyone to marry? Cat Aston did have a fiancé, but now it looks like her Prince Charming has done a runner.
Adam Lawley was left devastated when his girlfriend turned down his heartfelt proposal. He's made a vow never to fall in love again.
So when Cat and Adam meet, they shouldn't even consider falling in love. After all, they're both broken hearted. But for some reason they can't stop thinking about each other. Is this their second chance for happiness, or are some things just too good to be true?
The Wedding Diary, published by Choc Lit, has been available as an e-book since early April. UK paperback publication is the 7th of May, and US paperback publication is the 7th of July.
Margaret James has been a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association for more than 20 years. She has written fourteen published novels, many short stories, and she also teaches creative writing for the London School of Journalism.
Visit her blog and website, check out all her books at Goodreads, and connect with her via social media.