An Interview with Louise Candlish
December 2014

Louise Candlish has published nine novels, including "The Island Hideaway", "The Disappearance of Emily Marr", "The Day You Saved my Life", and "Other People’s Secrets". Her stories are a mixture of women’s fiction, emotional drama, and mystery/suspense. Before becoming a novelist, she studied English and worked as an editor and copywriter. She lives in London, England, with her husband and daughter.

Did you always want to be a writer? How did you get started with writing?

Not always. When I was a child I also wanted to be a tennis player, a painter, a detective. I wrote my first novel when I was about twelve and, terrible though it was, it was at least finished. I’ve always tried to finish things. Starting them is easy. I was inspired to write as an adult by Margaret Atwood, in particular by The Edible Woman, her first novel.

What inspires you to write? How do you get your ideas for your novels?

Ideas and inspiration come from all over the place – a news report, a line in a song, a personal fear you want to explore. I’m very inspired by words and phrases. Someone might say something like ‘If all else fails’ and a story will explode in my imagination. Being an ideas person is like having a form of madness. It can feel quite unruly.

Do your novels contain lots of personal experiences, thoughts, opinions, personality traits?

Yes. I don’t see how they could not. But there’s lots besides! The plots certainly don’t come from my own life; I would have had a nervous breakdown by now if they had.

Please describe your journey to finding an agent and to the publication of your first novel.

I followed standard industry advice and approached several agents with a letter and three chapters of my book. I signed with one of those agents and we spent a few weeks improving the book before it was submitted to publishers. I was lucky to find a publisher so quickly, but then unlucky because my new editor left the company almost immediately.

What is your writing routine? Do you plan a particular word count, or do you wait and see how things go each day?

When I’m writing, as opposed to researching or thinking or editing or procrastinating, then I set myself the target of 5,000 words a week. A daily word count is a bit pressurising and I find that this way you can have an off day (or a day off) and not beat yourself up about it.

Do you enjoy the actual writing process?

I do. I honestly don’t think I would do it otherwise, because the emotional highs and lows of a writer’s career are tricky to endure. You need the underlying love of what you do.

How is your actual writing process? (For example, do the words just tumble out like being dictated from an inner voice, do you see the scenes before you that you describe, or is it more a logical, planned-out process, like writing non-fiction or following the instruction of a recipe book?)

It’s visual. I imagine the story as a succession of scenes and, yes, those scenes are dramatized in my mind as I write. I write quite twisty plots and so there is a certain amount of conscious planning and crafting and scattering of clues.

Do you work out the plot and your characters’ personality before you start writing your novel, or do you mostly develop them while writing?

I plan the basics of the plot, but the subplots, the red herrings, the layering, they all come as I write and rewrite. The characters evolve over time too. The narrator, especially if it’s first-person, is the first to develop fully because you have to find his or her voice early in the process.

Do you ever use celebrities as models for protagonists? For example, their physical traits, their facial expressions, a performance in a particular movie, or even some of their real-life characteristics? If yes, whom did you choose so far?

For physical traits, yes, that can be useful. I’m more likely to look to the past than the present for inspiration, because I prefer celebrities from the fifties and sixties. One of the characters I’m writing at the moment looks a bit like Alain Delon, but obviously not that attractive or he wouldn’t be a character in my book set in a London suburb. He would be in a book set in Hollywood.
Occasionally, there’ll be a modern-day inspiration. In my new novel, The Sudden Departure of the Frasers, I imagined Amber Fraser as looking like the French actress in Spiral, Audrey Fleurot.

Are you usually confident when you start writing a new novel, or are you plagued by self-doubts?

I think I’m too old to suffer self-doubt. If I doubted that the story was worth telling, I wouldn’t tell it, but would go off and do something else.

Can being a mom sometimes make it difficult to write and mentally disappear in your world of fiction, when there are major things going on in your child’s life?

Yes, but that’s true to some degree for every working parent. You learn to handle the incongruity, the sudden switches in what’s required of you. It’s much harder with very young children because you go from a cerebral pursuit to a physical one. If there were something major going on in my daughter’s life I would prioritise that. Her well-being is more important than that of a figment of my imagination!

Do you first write verbosely and then need to shorten a lot, or do you write a lean first draft that you afterwards flesh out with more details?

My first draft is more skeletal, but that’s not to say there aren’t whole chunks of skeleton that end up getting the chop.

How long does it approximately take you to write a novel?

With breaks for editing and publicity duties, about a year. That’s also when I start to get bored. However, I think my books would be better with more time.

How do you celebrate a newly published book?

I don’t really celebrate. You are talking to a woman who married in secret. I’m very low key. I’ll have champagne, but who needs a new book for that?

Do you sometimes simultaneously work on two novels?

Yes. The way my schedule works is I’ll have already started a novel when proofs for the previous one come in. I quite like that, though the finished standard is so much higher than the one just started that it can be a bit alarming to compare them.

Which aspects do you enjoy most about being an author?

I like the intellectual satisfaction, to have a job that involves exploring ideas. There is true joy and exhilaration in using your imagination. I also like meeting editors, agents, other authors, people who value books and the arts as much as I do.

Which least?

The isolation. I’m also not keen on the rejection, the criticism, the disappointment. Creative jobs involve a lot of fluctuation in fortunes, more than perhaps in a corporate career. You have to be emotionally very strong.

How do you deal with and feel about destructive criticism from readers?

I ignore it. It’s quite rare, though. I do like a strong reaction to my work, ideally positive, but if negative I try to think ‘Fair enough’. I know I’m not for everyone, as a writer or as a person. And as a reader I often differ in my opinion of a book to the majority, so I can hardly object if others do the same.

Which of your own novels is your favorite?

I really like The Disappearance of Emily Marr. I was pleased with the twist and I was very attached to Emily.

Which genres or types of novels do you enjoy reading most?

I read mainly contemporary fiction and I tend to prefer North American authors. I also love 1920-50s English literature: Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell, Patrick Hamilton. I’ve read a lot of historical fiction lately and am completely converted. I love Hilary Mantel and Sarah Waters.

How would you describe your personality?

I’m quite fun-loving but also sardonic. I have a worm-who-turned personality: I’ll trundle along accepting a certain situation or a certain person and then all at once I’ll see the light and say ‘No more’ and I’ll be very definite about it. I’m very British. My husband would say I’m melodramatic and impulsive.

If your novels would not have been published yet, would you still continue writing?

I certainly wouldn’t have continued writing novels ad infinitum because I wouldn’t have had time while working in another job and having a family. I might have written poetry.

Thank you very much for your time, and all the best for your future!

Thank you!

The Sudden Departure of the Frasers is published by Penguin in May 2015.
For more information, please visit Louise Candlish’s website.