louise voss
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Superb author of To Be Someone and Are You My Mother?, Louise Voss discusses her writing practices and emphasises the need for getting a good agent.

What inspires you to write?
For me I think it’s as straightforward as having a good story to tell, and creating memorable characters. There’s something very satisfying about the process too - when it’s going well, that is. When it’s not, it’s like pulling teeth… But I love the feeling of getting lost in what I’m writing.

How long does it take you to write a novel?
About nine months, like gestation. Seven months on the first draft, then a pretty intensive two months of tinkering/editing/fleshing out.

Do you have a writing routine? If so, what is it?
‘Routine’ is perhaps an optimistic way to look at it! But my aim is to write a thousand words a day. Sometimes, when I’m on a roll, this only takes 45 minutes; sometimes it can take hours. When I’ve done the requisite number of words I go and play tennis. I love this job!!

Is it harder to start or finish a novel?
It’s easy to start when you have a great premise; hard to start when you don’t. Finishing, however, is easier than that tortuous bit in the middle when the end isn’t yet in sight. That’s the worst bit for me – I get so bored with it and think that everyone who reads it will be yawning too. The best part is after you’ve finished the first draft, and you can really start to lick the whole thing into shape and inject some energy into it.

How did you go about finding an agent and do you think it's necessary to have an agent?
The usual way, at the outset: letters and a few chapters to people in The Writers and Artists’ Yearbook. I had a rather unenthusiastic agent for the first two years who I feel, in retrospect, shouldn’t have sent my work out at all because it wasn’t good enough. By then I had a better feel about how the publishing business worked, and figured out that an ambivalent agent was almost as bad as no agent at all. I nearly gave up after two years of rejections, and then decided to give it one last shot. I was lucky enough to get taken on by a new big agent who absolutely loved my work, and auctioned my novel. So yes, I think it’s imperative to have an agent. An agent who really rates you.

How do you cure writer's block?
Depends on my mood, and the severity of the block! A minor block can be fixed by skipping over the section of the book which isn’t flowing, writing something new from further on, and coming back to the blocked bit later. Even writing rubbish is better than writing nothing at all – you can always ditch it later, but at least it got you going again.

A more serious block might need a trip to the gym/shops/tennis court! When I’m really stuck I force myself to count my blessings and remind myself how much I love the freedom of the job. The thought of having to go back to a 9-5 usually makes me pull my finger out.

What is your all-time desert island book?
I don’t think I could pick a single novel as a desert island book. Although there are dozens of novels which I’ve absolutely adored, I can’t see myself enjoying any of them after the first ten times of reading. Assuming I’d be on the island for a very very long time, I reckon I’d need something really challenging and meaty, so I’ll say the Bible. Besides, I’d need a bit of spiritual solace, what with all those wild animals, creepy crawlies, and no chips.

What's the biggest myth about being a writer?
I don’t know that it’s the biggest myth, but it’s certainly an irritating one: the supposition that practically everything you write has to be something you’ve experienced in some way yourself - as if writers don’t have the imagination to create their own worlds and characters.

What advice would you give budding authors?
Get a GOOD agent, not just any old one. Don’t be put off by a few rejections, or even loads of rejections. If you have enough people whose opinions you trust telling you that you’re a good writer, then it’s a case of finding the right agent, and then editor, to make it happen for you. I know that makes it sound easy, and unless you’re extremely lucky, it isn’t, but you have to keep the faith.

What can readers expect from you in the future?
I’m just finishing my third novel for Transworld, called Lifesaver, based on the premise that if you save somebody’s life, you become responsible for them. That’ll be out in summer 2004, I think. Meanwhile, the paperback of m
y second, Are You My Mother? is coming out this June, 2003. And the BBC are making a two-part drama from a stalker thriller called Killing Cupid, which I wrote last year with my friend Mark Edwards.

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