For me The Novelist’s Guide by Margret Geraghty remains one of the best guides for those embarking on any kind of story writing, but particularly novel writing. How excited was I, then, when I discovered Geraghty on Twitter and that she agreed to be interviewed for my blog! Read and enjoy… especially her writing tips.
Margret Geraghty had her first piece of fiction published in a newspaper when she was 16. It was a blatant piece of plagiarism involving a scene from a film she’d seen at her local cinema. However, that early success encouraged her and she later had many stories and articles published in magazines. On the strength of those, and her work as a tutor, the editor of Writers News/Writing Mag asked her to write a monthly column. That led to her first commission for a full-length book, The Novelist’s Guide. This was followed by two other books, The Five-Minute Writer and More Five-Minute Writing, both of them inspired by her passion for analysing fiction and her time spent studying for a degree in psychology. Margret also has a master’s degree in Film Studies from the University of Southampton.
What are you currently working on?
My garden and house decorating.
What has inspired your most recent novel/writing?
First, people – their quirks, their fears and attitudes to life. In my writing classes, my students’ thirst for fresh ideas led me to develop exercises to help them achieve their writing goals. Second, fiction itself. I’m fascinated by the psychological questions it raises. For example, why do we read fiction? Why do we find the same or similar patterns in fiction as in the days of Aristotle? Both psychology and fiction are dedicated to exploring the human mind and I like to look for links between the two.
How much do you think fiction intertwines with real life?
I think the two interact. One of my favourite cognitive psychologists, Keith Oatley, describes fiction as the mind’s ‘flight simulator’ and I’d agree with that.
Five writing tips?
You can find lots of tips in my books, but I’ll give you one for each:
Characterisation – Remember that people are your source material. Learn to watch and listen.
Plotting – A plot is not just a sequence of events. Rather, it is a sequence of cause and effect, like a row of dominoes.
Dialogue – Watch films. In real life, talk is free. In films, it costs money. Scriptwriters have to make sure that every word pays its way. We can learn from that.
Descriptive passages – Remember that description is not story. Weave description into your narrative and make it specific. Follow Chekhov: ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.’
How would you describe your writing process?
It depends. When I was writing a lot of academic stuff, I’d have a plan. But cold starts can work well for any imaginative work. I discovered this by chance when I had deadlines for articles. I’d have an idea and just start writing. Invariably, the first paragraph was rubbish but it worked to stimulate thought. That’s the premise behind my Five-Minute books.
What helps you to write/what gets in the way?
I like peace and quiet. Music or background conversation distracts me.
What kind of research do you do & how do you go about it?
When writing anything to do with psychology, research is essential and I love doing it. If I read something interesting, I’ll always try and go back to primary sources. Academia taught me to do that and it’s good practice. When it comes to fiction, I once wrote to a motoring mag asking if a particular sports car had a roof that closed automatically when it rained (that was before the Internet and click-of-the-button information.) They didn’t reply so I winged it. The story sold and no one complained.
How can readers find you and learn more about your writing?
I’m quite reclusive but I am on Twitter @margretgeraghty. Both my Five-Minute books are still in print and readily available from Waterstones, Foyles and Amazon.