This week, I am very happy to welcome writer Louise Mangos to my blog. Louise initially studied business communications in the UK, and later studied journalism at CU in Boulder Colorado in her mid-twenties. She took creative writing as an elective during that time, and eventually dropped journalism to continue satisfying her literary passion. Following a series of creative writing retreats and novel-writing workshops during the years since she’s had a family, the idea to pen a novel was born. STRANGERS ON A BRIDGE is Louise’s first novel, a psychological thriller, which was a finalist in the Exeter Novel Prize, and made the shortlist of the Flash 500 Opening Chapter Competition in 2015. She is currently editing her second novel, also a psychological thriller, entitled PALETTE OF LIES. Both novels are based in Switzerland. Her short story SUMMER OF ’76 was read out on BBC Three Counties Radio last autumn and went on to win second prize in the Erewash Writers Group Short Story Competition. She has twice won the weekly Ad Hoc Fiction competition, and her flash fiction has been published on various flash web platforms.
What are you currently working on?
Having amassed a burden of journals and letters sent home from my overseas travels many years ago, I’ve been encouraged by friends and family to write a memoir, recounting one of my more riveting adventures: A solo three-month mountain bike trip along the backbone of the Continental Divide in the US. After completing that journey over twenty years ago, I was invited to return to Switzerland to participate in one of the most challenging mountain competitions in the alpine world: The Patrouille des Glaciers. The memoir addresses the challenges faced as part of a close-knit team of three in the aforementioned race, on the back of the solo bike adventure the previous year.
I’m also plotting a third novel, a psychological thriller about a man who stalks a backpacking traveller around the world.
What has inspired your most recent writing?
I recently read Cheryl Strayed’s memoir “Wild” for a book group discussion. It’s a book I wouldn’t ordinarily have picked up, but Cheryl’s journey along the Pacific Coast Trail re-awakened memories of my own adventures in the Rocky Mountains. I was amazed how much interest has been generated by Cheryl’s book, making me realise there’s a greater audience for this kind of narrative non-fiction than I had initially thought.
And as for my fiction, the psychological thriller is a genre I love to read, so it’s easy for me to write. I have recently been dwelling on my wayward twenties, and am drawing my narrative from my sport and travel adventures.
How much do you think fiction intertwines with real life?
The answer to the last question pretty much answers this. Many published authors tell their budding protégés they should write about unfamiliar subjects, that they should address the challenge of researching and creating literature from a bed of zero knowledge to earn the ultimate accolade of their critiques. For a novelist starting out, I cannot imagine having written any of my narrative without drawing on some of my life experiences, down to characterisation, dialogues between friends and family, or simply basing the story where I live (which I must say is incredibly inspirational.) As someone who has yet to enjoy the advantages of being a published author, writing about what one knows is also the safest way to keep research costs to a minimum.
Could you give five tips on how to tackle a writing technique of your choice?
Dialogue. I’ve been told that my dialogue is one of the stronger points of my narrative. I recommend the following tips:
1. Always, always read your narrative out loud. When you get to the dialogue, try and adopt the voices and mannerisms of your characters. It will make the dialogue ‘real.’
2. If only two people are having a conversation, use as few dialogue tags as possible (he said, she said.) If there are multiple characters speaking, or you need to draw the reader’s attention back to who is speaking after several exchanges, one of the characters could address the other by name from time to time. ‘But Tommy, you promised you would fill the dishwasher.’ If you must use dialogue tags, keep words such as exclaimed, shouted, and screeched to a minimum, and avoid using adverbs with those tags (he pondered drily, she whispered hoarsely.
3. Avoid exclamations or greetings. Show reactions such as shock/sadness/surprise conservatively between sections of dialogue, without interrupting the flow.
4. Avoid dumping information in a long chunk of dialogue. It’s tempting to do this if you need to convey backstory at a certain moment, but this method should be kept to a minimum, ideally one piece of information at a time, if at all.
5. Try to keep conflict in every dialogue. If a conversation takes place where everyone agrees, then the conversation probably didn’t need to happen in the first place.
How would you describe your writing process?
In general I’m a ‘plotter’ rather than a ‘pantser.’ I think anyone who writes (and reads) crime fiction knows how important plot is in this genre. I find it very hard to leave a ragged sentence alone until the edit. I might only write a short section of a narrative before I’m compelled to go back and edit that last section at least once before moving on. I would love to have the discipline of a ‘pantser,’ to leave that section alone until I have written at least a chapter or even a whole book, and then go back and restructure the words I have dashed out. I find the editing process extremely satisfying, watching a sentence that started as a seed inside my head become something that I can re-read in wonder a few weeks later and say ‘Crikey, did I really write that? It sounds really rather good.’
What helps you to write/what gets in the way?
Sleep, domestic chores and social media all get in the way of my writing. I need complete silence, and often wake at 4 am so I can have the blissful calm of a dark house in which to write. Even the white noise of the fridge in the kitchen sometimes causes my concentration to slip. And the Internet… it’s a double-edged sword. I should simply turn off the Wi-fi for huge sections of the day, but I love having my Thesaurus open on my split screen, and researching the minutiae is so much easier with the aid of search engines. The call for friendly banter with my Facebook and Twitter friends, however, dominates when I’m lacking a moment of inspiration.
What kind of research do you do & how do you go about it?
As I mentioned earlier, if you write about what you know, most of your research is inside your head. But there are certain things a writer should make sure they get right in their narrative, and not everything on the Internet can be quoted verbatim. For a crime novelist, the most important research is probably police protocol and procedures in the country or region in which the story is based. I’m amazed at how open people are when I tell them I am researching for a book. A police chief, lawyer, or accountant who might ordinarily charge a small fortune for an hour of his/her time, is often more than happy to offer information for no more than the price of a coffee in the local café. For my second novel I visited the women’s prison where the story is based, and when I required follow-up clarification on some of the information I was given, the head warden was more than happy to answer questions. Of course, they all need to be assured that they will receive a signed copy of your book once it is published!
Can you talk about your chosen publishing route?
I’ve given myself until the end of the year to secure interest in from a traditional publishing house. However, the time frame is interminable. Once a book is finished and the manuscript has been assessed, most self-published authors can have their novel out in the market in as little as a couple of months. A first-time author choosing the traditional publishing route can expect to wait a couple of years before his or her book is seen on the shelves of the local bookstore. Patience is a must.
The question you wished I’d asked you: What compels me to write?
I’ve always had to write – childhood stories, poems, teenage diaries, journals of my adventures as a young adult, and latterly, novel-length fiction. It’s an underlying compulsion, almost an instinct. When I started writing longer works of fiction, I was hesitant, unsure whether people would like what I write. For the most part, I have received only useful critique for my first works, and have been able to adapt and learn from the feedback. Now I’m more confident, especially after the affirmation of being on a couple of shortlists. Once I immerse myself in a project, I sometimes forsake all other functions such as sleep and food, in order to get the words out. It helps that I’m a fast typist, but sometimes not fast enough for the ideas spilling out of my head.
How can readers find you and learn more about your writing?
I have an author website: www.louisemangos.com
and a public Facebook profile: https://www.facebook.com/LouiseMangos
or you can chat with me on Twitter: @LouiseMangos