Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. Those of you who are not a member won’t be aware that the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit it is via membership or an invite to the tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation with all sorts of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers. Over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, I shall be chatting with my guest about their work in progress, or latest book release.
Today, I’m welcoming Liz Harris to the tearoom to chat about her writing. Welcome, Liz and as always my first question is what refreshment would you like to have before we begin?
Thank you so much for inviting me to drop in, Paula. Could I have a gin and tonic, thank you.
Now we have our drinks let’s begin by asking you when you first began your writing journey what drew you to your chosen genre?
My very first book was aimed at Mills & Boon. I hadn’t read any of their books, but saw that they were 50,000-55,000 words only, with no need for a sub plot, and thought, I can do that! So I did.
I wrote a novel called Starring the Bride, and sent it in. I put champagne in the fridge, ready for when the letter of acceptance arrived – after all, I’d taught English for years so I knew all about Plot, Language and Characterisation – and I waited, mentally swaggering somewhat.
The reply was couched in very pleasant terms, but to the point. You cannot start a Mills & Boon with an attempted rape! I was advised to go away and read some Mills & Boons.
That started me on a writing journey, which introduced me to the RNA, and which has taught me so much over the years. I soon discovered that teaching Literature is a very different skill from writing it. And that first instruction from Mills & Boon is still probably the best bit of advice I’ve ever had – read as widely as possible the books in the genre you’re targeting so that you understand the conventions of the genre and the expectations of your reader.
PS. It took me seven of writing before I was accepted for publication. I’d drunk the champagne about three years earlier. Instead of drinking it in celebration of success, on a forlorn day, I’d used it to drown my sorrows at not yet having a publisher.
PPS. My answers won’t all be this long. I promise.
Tell us a little about latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?
My latest writing project is a new series, The Colonials. The series will comprise three novels set in the 1930s, located in different parts of the world, and peopled with different characters.
The first, Darjeeling Inheritance, is set in – yes, you guessed it! – Darjeeling, at the time of the British Raj. It takes place on three tea plantations. The novel, which will be published in October 2021, will be followed by Cochin Fall and then Hanoi Spring.
I spent a magical three weeks in India a few years ago, researching the first two novels in the series, and I travelled the length of Vietnam early last year, researching Hanoi Spring. And the bonus was that the trips, or a part of them, were tax deductible!
How many unfinished projects do you have on your computer?
I hope I don’t sound like a nerd.
The book I’m working on is a work in progress, not an unfinished project.
Each of my books is a project, and I would never start a new book while I had another book on the go. The characters live in my head as I write the novel – I can’t imagine having the characters of more than one book, and all their dilemmas, in my head at any one time.
In my above comment, I’m considering the book/project to be ‘finished’ when I’ve edited it to make it the best I possibly can, and submitted it for editing.
I realise that technically it won’t be finished until the editing is done and dusted, but at the point of submission, the book has been written, and I’ve never so much as once – and I was first published in 2012 – been asked at the editing stage to make structural changes.
So when I’ve sent the book in, that project/book is finished, and I start on the next book, knowing that I’ll have to pause when I get the edits back.
Do you write a synopsis first or write the first chapter?
First, I research the book, building a headed online file for every aspect of my research, such as for Climate, Flora & Fauna, Houses, Transport, etc, so that I’ll be able to access that topic when I need it.
By the time I’ve done that, a story line has developed. This is because the characters and story will grow from my research. I know the environment, and the history of that period, and I outline a story that draws on both the history and the location.
I don’t write a synopsis or a detailed outline. This is because I know the station from which the train leaves, and the station where it’ll arrive, and also the large stations in between, but I don’t yet know the smaller stations where the train will stop. I won’t know those till I’m writing the novel, and standing in the shoes of my characters.
I then write the first chapter.
Were any of your characters inspired by real people?
I have a free book for newsletter subscribers, Word Perfect, that’s set in Los Angeles. In that novel, I’ve used one or two experiences from my six years in California, and some of the characters are drawn from my friends at that time.
What’s more, I have deliberately given a character the surname, and the job, of someone I knew when I was in LA. It’s an unusual name, and if his relatives read the book, they’d recognise about whom I was thinking, and might contact me. I’d like that.
In the novel that has been my free book, and which is going to be sold in June, The Best Friend, Terri Lee Taylor is based on another friend I knew in the days I lived in California. I changed her surname. I’m hoping that if ever she came upon my novel, she would recognise that it was written by her former partner in crime, and contact me. I lost contact with her when real life intervened and I had to get the next flight back to the UK.
So, yes, some of the characters are inspired by real people. And I’ve drawn attention to this in the novel with a reason!
With the Linford Series, of which The Lengthening Shadow is the final novel, I was inspired by the places I know, and by a period that I love – the three books are set between the wars – and my characters rather grew out of that.
Having said that, I imagine that most of my characters are inspired – in terms of their characteristics, rather than the plot – by the people who are, and always have been, a part of my life.
Is there anything about you your readers might be surprised to find out?
My bio gives several details about me, which were invariably dwelt upon in the radio broadcasts I did when the earlier novels came out, so they may not be a surprise for everyone.
If anyone doesn’t know, however, I used to work on Sunset Strip in a clip-strip joint. I was a cocktail waitress, I hasten to add, not a stripper, though the ghastly item I had to wear, purchased from Fredericks on Hollywood Boulevard, left little to the imagination. (No, I’m not including a photo of me thus clad!)
The name ‘clip-strip’ came from the stripping element, obviously, and the fact that customers were unknowingly limited in the amount of alcohol in their glass. It was the absolute minimum you could put and still taste alcohol. If you put less, you’d taste only the mixer; if you put more, you’d cost the club unnecessary money. There was an almost invisible line on the glass so that the waitress knew when to stop pouring the alcohol.
We were checked before we left the behind-the scenes-area with the ordered drinks. The manager made sure you hadn’t hauled your bodice too high, and that there wasn’t too much alcohol in the glass. If you’d put too much in, you had to pay for the drink from your tips.
Did you uncover things about yourself while writing your books, whether that be a long forgotten memory, a positive experience etc.
I learnt, years after writing my first full length novel in about 2008, which is scheduled for publication in 2023, that the story was inspired by something that happened to me, and I hadn’t realised that when writing the book. Not for one moment. It had long been locked in the recesses of my mind.
After I’d finished writing the novel, a top agent took it to publishers, fulsome in her praise for the characterisation, pace, etc, but she was repeatedly told that because I was unpublished, they couldn’t take it on. It had a dark theme, they said, but had I been published, with a fan base, they would have felt more confident of finding a readership. As it was, I was unpublished.
I put it on the shelf, so to speak, and started on a book that I thought might sell more easily.
I still hadn’t connected the first book with anything in my life. It was only when a sleep problem a few years ago sent me to someone for help, and we talked, that it hit me with a force I can’t describe, what I’d done in that first novel. I just hadn’t seen it, not when I was writing it, not afterwards.
The experience, therefore, that was uncovered after years of being blocked, wasn’t positive in any objective sense, but there was a positive element in that we are all the product of our experiences, and the more we understand ourselves, the more we understand our characters and can give them human nuances, which lift them off the page.
Thank you so much for the invite to the tearoom, Paula. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed talking to you today.
It was lovely having you here today in the tearoom, Liz. If you would like to find out more please click on the link below:
Find my books: http://www.lizharrisauthor.com
Here are the universal links for the last three Linford books:
Social Media Links:
Facebook: Liz Harris. https://www.facebook.com/lizharrisauthor
LinkedIn: Liz Harris
Pinterest: Liz Harris
Book Bub: Liz Harris
Amazon Author Page: Liz Harris
If you want to find out more about Clubhouse Members’ Books, don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops too.