First Drafts With… Fanny Blake

Good afternoon everyone, and today I’m delighted to welcome Fanny Blake to the blog.

Fanny worked as a publisher for a number of years, her time spent editing both fiction and non fiction. She then began to work as both a journalist and a writer, and has written several bestsellers. Her latest novel, A Summer Reunion, published by Orion, is out now.

She was kind enough to quickly answer my questions on that all important first draft process.

Over to you, Fanny…

1) When you begin the next book, how do you go about it? 

I start with a theme that can come from anywhere: a conversation; an event; something I’ve read or seen on TV. Then I begin to think about the central characters in the novel, how they relate to the theme and the various arcs their journeys will take. Gradually I begin to build up a more detailed picture of some of the things that will happen to them and how they’ll react. I work out how the book will open and how it will end. When I’ve got all that in my head, I begin. I don’t plot in detail or work out detailed character studies – I wish I did because I suspect it would make the whole process faster- but I like to retain some flexibility and spontaneity that keeps me intrigued as I write.

2) Do you follow the same process you did for the book before? 

Pretty much. I always vow I’ll be more organised next time, that I’ll plan the chapters in detail, write full character biographies, complete all the research. But every time I find I just can’t work like that. I think you have to find the way that works for you, whatever that is. There’s no right or wrong method.         

3) What is your research process, if you have one?  

If a novel is set somewhere I’m not familiar with, I always go there. I believe that’s the only way to inject the real flavour of a place into your work. Those tiny details make all the difference. So for An Italian Summer, I stayed in Rome and Naples for a while, visiting various places I wanted to include and discovering new ones that found their way into the novel. The same went for Mallorca when I wrote A Summer Reunion. I talk to people who have the careers that I’d like my characters to have to find out what they involve on a day-to-day basis. Google is every writer’s friend, of course, and a lot of initial research can be done there before following up elsewhere.

4) How quickly after thinking or planning do you sit down to write?  

A publisher’s deadline makes me focus! I write a novel a year, so don’t have the luxury of time on my side.  I start writing as soon as I’m ready.      

5) How does the draft form on the screen?    

I write from the beginning to the end, however tempted I am to write a particular scene that may happen later in the book.  I create a separate file for each chapter and don’t put them together in one document until the very end when I’m ready to send them to my editor. I try not to edit too much as I go along then, when I have a first draft I go through the whole thing in as much detail as I possibly can until I have the best version I can write. At about this point, I change the typeface which helps me read it in a different way. To get even more distance from it, I print it off and work on a manuscript before putting the changes back on screen. I also read the whole novel out loud. I find I pick up a lot of mistakes that way too. Then my editor reads it and comes back with track changes and editorial notes which I go through meticulously on screen to create another draft.

6) Where do you write the majority of the draft?

I write at home, sometimes on the computer in my office, but I prefer to keep that for admin. So I write mostly on my laptop, sitting on a sofa in the living room. I don’t have any particular rituals any more, but just sit down and get on with it in silence. I aim to write about 1000 words a day, sometimes I achieve more, sometimes less. I start at about 9am when the house is empty, and then just crack on until I run out of steam.

Fanny Blake’s latest novel A Summer Reunion (Orion) is out now.

Thank you for visiting the blog today, Fanny. Finding out about your first draft process has been fascinating.

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