An Interview with Miranda Dickinson
November 2015

 
Miranda Dickinson is a British writer who lives in Stourbridge, UK, with her husband and small daughter. She has a degree in Performance Art and is also a singer-songwriter. She has published seven romantic comedies to date, including “Fairytale of New York”, “I’ll Take New York”, and “A Parcel for Anna Browne”.

 
Please could you tell us a little about your newest novel, “A Parcel for Anna Browne”?

A Parcel for Anna Browne is the story of an ordinary woman whose quiet life is turned upside down when mysterious parcels start to arrive at work addressed to her. Inside each parcel is an amazing gift, chosen especially for her, but no mention of who the sender is. With each new delivery, Anna feels her life changing – but who is sending the gifts and why?

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

I’m always wondering about the ‘what-ifs’ of life: what would happen if something extraordinary happened, or something you weren’t expecting. That tends to be the starting point and the stories grow from there. I daydream a lot and I love people-watching when I’m out and about, so I’m always spotting people I’d like to write about.

 
How did you get started with writing?

I have always written stories since I was very little, but for many years it remained a secret hobby that only a few people knew about. I love to read but from an early age wanted to write stories as well as read them.

 
Please could you tell us your journey to publication and to finding an agent?

I started to write what became my first novel in 1999 and wrote it for fun over the next seven years. Then I heard about a website for unpublished authors called Authonomy.com (which, sadly, is now about to close). I uploaded my novel Coffee at Kowalski’s, which was then only three-quarters finished, wanting to see what the other writers on the site thought about it. To my amazement, two months later I received an email from an editor at AVON (HarperCollins), asking for the full novel. In a panic, I sat up for three days and three nights to write 20,000 words to finish my book and sent it off, never thinking I’d hear anything more. Two weeks later, I had another email – this time from the Publishing Director – asking me to call her. When I did, she offered me a three-book deal! I signed two three-book deals in total with AVON without an agent because I didn’t want to rush into getting one without finding out whether they believed in me as a writer and my books. When I did approach my agent Hannah, we had known each other for a few years and I really felt I could work well with her. I was fortunate to be able to take my time and I would definitely recommend this to anyone considering finding an agent: find someone who you feel understands you, both as a person and as a writer.

 
What is your writing routine? Please describe a typical day.

I don’t have one! I’m a full-time author now but I’m also a full-time mum to my eighteen-month-old daughter, Flo. That means I have to fit writing around her. So I’ll snatch bits of time through the day – such as when she’s having a nap – to write snippets down but most of my writing is done at night when she’s in bed. It’s a challenge but I’m finding ways to make the most of my time.

 
Which aspects do you enjoy most about being an author?

Being able to tell stories for a living! It’s what I dreamed of doing from being a little girl and I feel so lucky to have had that dream come true. Also, I love interacting with readers on Twitter and Facebook. For the last three books I’ve written I’ve tried to involve my readers as much as possible in the process, from asking for ideas for the book to answering the awesome questions they send me for my regular vlogs.

 
Which least?

I really don’t like reviews! It’s lovely when people take the time to say what they think of your book and sometimes it’s really helpful for me to see what my readers are looking for, which helps me to write better books. But it doesn’t help me to read reviews when I’m writing a book – I know what I’m like and even if I read ten great ones, my eye will inevitably be drawn to one really mean one and I’ll obsess over that all day! I stopped reading Amazon reviews a couple of years ago because I was becoming so despondent about the bad ones. At the end of the day, you have to write the story you believe in – and accept that some people will love it while others hate every single page.

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

I wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t feel The Fear about whether I can tell the story I want to! Actually, starting the novel is easy for me – my ideas flow and my excitement carries me through the first few chapters. I find I hit my first wall of doubts around 23,000 words, when the initial enthusiasm wears off and it becomes a longer trek. Having written seven books now (and currently working on my eighth), I’m learning to spot the ‘sticky points’. Now when I start to find it hard going, I’ll recognise why and it will always be around 23k, around 49k and around 70k.

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

Due to limited writing time, I have started to plan my novels more closely than I used to before Flo was born. But what I love best about writing a first draft is getting to know my characters’ personalities and traits as I write it. So while I know where the major plot points and sub-plot points have to be, I try not to plan exhaustively so that the story can surprise me when I’m writing. A lot of what I want the book to be works itself out on the page and I think the end result feels more natural than one where every aspect is intricately plotted.

 
What do you do when you get stuck?

I write another scene, further along in the story. This solves the block every time because it gets me writing again and very often works out the issue that I was stuck on, as the action has moved past that point. Sometimes, I do what I call ‘taking my characters to the pub’. I write a scene that might not make it into the finished novel, where my characters can just hang out and chat. Again, it restores my confidence in my writing, is a bit of fun so I don’t get despondent and helps me over the barrier.

 
Can you write when you have severe worries or are going through a major crisis in your life?

Writing a book a year, I have to. At the start of this year, I lost my beloved Gran and it absolutely stopped me in my tracks. But I still had to write A Parcel for Anna Browne and while my publisher Pan Macmillan was amazing, giving me extra time and being so caring towards me, I knew I had to finish the book. In the end, the only way I could do so was to write it for Gran – I’d talked to her about the book before she died and she was so excited to read it. So there’s a Yorkshire character called Jonah in the book who comes from Ilkley in West Yorkshire (the town where Gran lived for seventy years and where my uncle still lives). He’s there in her honour and talks with a proper Yorkshire accent just like she did.

 
How much research do you do for your novels? Do you travel to the cities and countries you describe in your stories?

I do a lot of research! I try to put places into my books that I’ve actually visited and know well, but sometimes I can’t travel there so put in hundreds of hours of research to make sure my depictions of the places are as authentic as possible. I went to San Francisco for my honeymoon and set my fifth novel, Take a Look at Me Now, there, so all the places in the book I’d visited and loved. For A Parcel for Anna Browne, I’ve written about London and Cornwall, together with references to Ilkley for Jonah, which are all places I know well. I think it’s important to be as true to life as possible, so I take research incredibly seriously.

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

A first draft takes between two to three months to write, followed by four or five months of edits, copyedits and proof edits with my publisher. It’s a very fast turnaround!

 
When working on a novel, do you ever dream about the story or your protagonists?

Yes! I’m constantly thinking about the story and how to make it work, so invariably my characters find their way into my dreams. It can be very annoying at times!

 
How do you celebrate a newly published book?

I’ve had to learn to celebrate when my books are published because for the first couple of years I was too busy writing the next one to remember to celebrate. Now, I take the day off, go to see my book in as many bookshops as possible and treat myself to something to mark its publication. I have a Pandora bracelet, so I now buy a new charm to represent the book. It’s a lovely way to mark a real milestone in my writing year and I look forward to it now.

 
For how long do you usually take a break in between two novels?

I don’t, really. Even if I don’t have a deadline for the next one I’m already thinking about the story. I like to let an idea sink in – I call it the ‘daydreaming stage’. I also have a few other projects that I pick up when the work on the previous novel is done. It’s important for me to keep busy and I try to always think one step ahead.


Do you sometimes simultaneously work on two novels?

Often, although not officially! Sometimes I find I suddenly get an idea for a scene for another story, so I’ll sometimes break from my work in progress to get that idea down on paper. I think that as long as I’m writing something, that’s OK. Having said that, when I’m getting close to a deadline I knuckle down and focus on that book – having too many ideas at that stage can be too distracting!

 
Which of your own novels is your favorite?

That’s like asking me to choose between my children! Some of my books are special to me for certain reasons, for example my first novel Fairytale of New York, will always be special because for seven years before it was discovered on Authonomy.com it was my secret writing project. I’m very proud of A Parcel for Anna Browne because it’s the story I’ve wanted to tell for a long time and I believe it’s my best book yet.

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

I actually read very few novels in my genre, especially when I’m writing and might be influenced by someone else’s style. I’ve recently become a fan of crime fiction and psychological thrillers and I’ve always loved comedy novels. I love seeing how other writers in other genres work their stories. I try to read as widely as possible because I believe you can’t be a good writer unless you’re a great reader.

 
What are your favorite ways to spend your non-writing time? What are your hobbies and interests?

I don’t have a lot of time outside of writing and being a Mum! I’m a singer-songwriter, so playing music and performing in bands is a great way to relax. I love reading, of course and I adore going to the cinema.

 
How would you describe your personality?

I’m a pretty outgoing, positive person, definitely a hopeless romantic and an eternal optimist.

 
What are your top three writing tips for aspiring authors?

1.    WRITE. You learn best by doing it, not reading about it, attending conferences and courses about it or talking about it. Write as often as you can about whatever you want to write about. Fall in love with your writing over and over again and don’t let anyone tell you that writing isn’t a worthy way to spend your time.

2.    STOP CALLING YOURSELF AN ‘ASPIRING WRITER’. If you write, you’re a writer. Period. This sounds an obvious thing to say but it’s so important to believe in your words and write the stories that are burning in your heart. Give yourself permission to be the writer you want to be.

3.    GET YOUR WRITING OUT THERE. Start a blog, join a writing community like Wattpad, where you can get feedback and learn from other writers. Tweet about it and share on Facebook – but remember to interact with other writers as a priority. Most of all, be BRAVE. I took the step to share my work and now I’m a Sunday Times Bestselling Author six-times over, with nearly three-quarters of a million books sold worldwide. If it happened for me, it can happen for you!

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

For more information, please visit Miranda Dickinson’s website.