About author, Sophie King: Sophie King is a writer and journalist. Her novels include The School Run, which has been a bestseller twice – first in 2005 and then again in a new ebook edition in 2012. Sophie has written hundreds of short stories for magazines such as Woman’s Weekly and My Weekly. Her first short story collection, Tales from the Heart, was a top 10 short story collection on Amazon. Her latest ebook release, Second Time Lucky, is out now.
Sophie gives regular talks and workshops at bookshops and literary festivals including Winchester and Guildford. Until her recent move to Devon, she tutored at Oxford University and West Herts College. For three years, she was writer in residence at HMP Grendon, a high-security male prison. She has also appeared several times on breakfast television and Woman’s Hour, including a Christmas programme on rivalry in the kitchen!
The other day, I was giving a talk about ‘Writing Secrets’ to a classroom of keen-faced eleven year olds when a little girl shot up her hand. ‘Pleeese,” she burst out, unable to restrain herself . ‘How long does it take to write a book?’
It’s one of those questions which authors always get asked. Usually, I have to confess, my heart sinks a bit because I know the questioner expects me to say a year or maybe two years. But the truth is that (perhaps because I was a journalist before a novelist), I usually write my first draft in three to four months.
‘You must be very disciplined’ is the usual reply to that but actually, I don’t see it that way. In fact, my discipline is mainly taken up with coping with life outside writing! I’d much rather be buried knee-deep in a plot, than cooking or cleaning or nagging my children to do what they’re meant to be doing…..
Writing a book is a bit like reading. If you only dip into a novel every now and then, you lose the thread of the story. You also lose interest. And if you, as the writer, do that, you can bet your last ISBN number that the reader will do the same.
For me, the joy of writing is to see where my characters lead me – and that means sitting down at my desk for three hours every morning and finding that there are around 3,500 words on my screen afterwards.
Of course, all work and no play, makes for a scarcity of ideas. So before I start writing, I run my dog along the beach (my newish husband and I moved to Devon three years ago). After writing, I do the same, followed by a light lunch. In the afternoon, I usually print out my chapter and read it through – much more reliable than reading from the screen – before tackling my emails.
I have to confess that this is the least favourite part of my day. I keep trying new strategies like only checking them once a day, in order not to let them take over my writing life. But it’s difficult when you’re not very technical, like me! (My favourite emails are the ones from readers who have enjoyed my books or tell me about their lives.)
But back to my writing talk at the primary school. ‘How long is your first draft?’ asked the teacher, who’s a keen reader herself. Usually about 140,000 words. Not that anyone else would know, mind you, as I would never show it to anyone. It’s full of typos and changes of characters’ names and ideas. When you start a book, you have just got to know your characters. It’s only when you get into the plot, that you get to understand them. So you have to go back to the beginning, armed with that in-depth knowledge and alter your characters and plot accordingly.
I generally do about five revisions, looking at plot consistency, characters, dialogue, setting and pace (which involves cutting those 140,000 words down to about 130,000). I read the fourth revision out loud and then make changes if necessary, before reading out the fifth one. It’s amazing how reading your own work out loud can help you find things that need fixing. For example, if you pause naturally while reading, there needs to be a comma or full stop in the text. I always say that you need a comma if the pause is equal to the time that you click your fingers. A full stop is for something a touch longer.
“How long does all that take?” asked a little boy who was busy writing all this down in beautiful handwriting. (Clearly, a writer in the making.)
About another three months, which means I will usually have spent about seven months on the book in total. I will then send it off to my editor and agent at the same time. My editor will generally read it quite fast and come back with editorial notes within a month. These notes are vital! An editor’s job is to be a second pair of eyes and make suggestions such as cutting certain scenes. After that, the novel goes to a copyeditor who goes through each word with a toothcomb and makes more suggestions! As the writer, you have to consider these and also answer any of her questions such as why a certain character might do such and such.
All this is done online, with Track Changes which is probably why I’ve just had to invest in a pair of glasses for the first time in my life! After that, the proofs are made up and you have to check those are accurate. And then there’s all the publicity that has to be done to promote the novel. The great thing about this is that it has introduced me to the world of book bloggers who do a great job in promoting reading. I’m all for that!
“Are all your books romantic?” asked the first little girl. There was a ripple of laughter round the classroom.
“Yes and no,” I said. My books do have love in them because that’s life. But they also have lots of domestic dramas in them with plenty of twists and turns. One magazine recently said that I wasn’t afraid to tackle the ‘meaty issues’ in life but that I also made readers ‘cry with laughter’. That’s exactly my intention!
“Are you writing another book?” asked a small boy at the back who’d been nudged into asking a question by his teacher.
Absolutely. The idea for another novel often comes before you finish the first. Initially, you try to bat it away because you want to concentrate on what you’re doing right now. But it always refuses and you end up scribbling down notes which you then have to make sense of, a few months later.
“If you weren’t a writer, what would you do?” asked the teacher as my talk came to an end.
Actually, I quite fancy being an artist (I sold my first watercolour last year) and running an antique shop at the same time (I love old bits and pieces). But I know that before long, my fingers would start itching and I’d have to start the next story . Meanwhile, I just knew, as I left that classroom which was buzzing with energy, that somewhere in that class was a young novelist in waiting…….
“Second Time Lucky” by Sophie King
Blurb of “Second Time Lucky”:
Second Time Lucky: Another engaging tale of love and life from Sophie King, the bestselling author of The School Run. Meet the residents of Bridgewater House, once a grand stately home, but now converted into apartments which house a host of colourful characters, each with their own desires and secrets.
Louise thought she had everything, then suddenly finds herself as a single mum with an uncertain future. Can she build a new life for her and her children? And has real happiness been right under her nose all along?
Roddy was once the heir to Bridgewater House, but now he’s a drunken lord who’s fallen on hard times. Can he prove to his ex-wife that he has cleaned up his act, or is he about to risk everything in a desperate scheme to show how much he loves his kids?
Molly is a famous actress, coming to terms with retirement and the recent death of her actor husband Gideon. But dare she tell anyone that Gideon still comes to visit her? And how will she react to some unexpected messages from beyond the grave?
American Marcie always fantasised about marrying an English gentleman, just like one of her Jane Austen heroines. But will two resentful stepchildren, and failed attempts to have a baby of her own, get in the way of her dream happy ending? And what would her husband David make of her secret shame from the past?
As each of these neighbours faces their own challenges, their lives are about to become entwined in ways they never could have expected.
Second Time Lucky – doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance?
**Click HERE to check out The Sophie King Prize**