Hi everyone, and this evening on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Louise Fein. Louise writes historical fiction and is based in Surrey. I was delighted when she agreed to answer a few questions. Links on how to contact her are below the Q&A.
Over to you, Louise…
1) Have you always wanted to write? When you were a child, did you have a favourite author?
Like many authors, I have always wanted to write. I wrote ‘books’ aged around seven, stapled pieces of lined paper, which usually involved adventures with ponies. My favourite author as a child was Enid Blyton. I absolutely loved The Famous Five series. I remember one of my teachers sniffily telling my mother I should be reading better quality books, but my mum told her she didn’t care what I read, as long as it was something! I personally think she was absolutely right – I came to the classics and other genres when I was ready.
2) What sort of fiction do you write? How do you come up with your ideas and why did you choose this genre?
I write historical or bookclub fiction, chiefly 20th century to date. I didn’t set out to write historical fiction specifically, although I do love reading and writing it! My interest is in exploring ideas, human psychology and behaviour, and what better source for these than history? My first two novels were inspired by issues which involved my family. In the case of my first novel, fleeing Nazi Germany as refugees, and in the second, the stigma of having epilepsy and the treatment of those considered ‘unfit’ in the 1920s. In both cases, my novels are entirely fictional, but they are based on, and true to, the sentiments and historical events of the time. My third novel is set in the early 1960’s and is about society’s unquestioned expectations of women, in particular mothers, and what happens when they don’t fit the expected mould.
3) What comes first for you when you write? Is it plot, character or theme you would like to explore?
For me, it is always a theme I want to explore first. I then look for an appropriate time in which to set the story and begin some preliminary research – lots of general reading around the subject and the time and place of the setting. That will be both non-fiction and fiction. As much as possible I try to read contemporaneously written work as it gives a better flavour and feel of the time, without any slant of hindsight. A nub of a story is usually swimming around in my head for sometime, and a basic idea of characters. Usually I know the beginning and end when I start to write, but not much idea of what happens in the middle when I start to write. My first draft is extremely messy, and really is just me finding the story. It is really only by the time I get to second or third drafts that it begins to take shape and I get to really know and understand my characters. At this point, I also have to do more detailed research, which as I drill down becomes more and more specific. I don’t recommend my method, it requires many drafts!
4) Was it daunting finding an agent for your work? How did you find the submission process?
I didn’t know any other authors when I started out, nor anyone in the publishing industry, so I was quite naïve, but also had little expectation that my book would find an agent. I thought I would give it a go, and if I was unsuccessful I would approach independent publishers directly, or self publish. My first round of submissions to perhaps eight agents resulted in rejections, although some were promising in the sense that they said there was much to admire about my work. This gave me hope, but also made me think I could improve my book. I therefore decided to get a report from an editor at a literary consultancy as I wasn’t sure what I needed to do to make it better. This resulted in another complete rewrite of the book followed by more editing which took around a year. I sent the book out again, and this time I received some requests for the full manuscript. Then everything went very quiet for a few months! A couple of the agents who asked for the full then went on to reject the book, but one said it was a close call and I should send it out more widely as I had only sent it to a handful. So I sent out another few submissions and the very next day, one of those agents responded, saying she had started reading the book and was really enjoying it. She finished it over the next couple of days and loved it. She is now my agent. The author/agent relationship is an important one as hopefully it will be long lasting and ideally will help you to build your career. I really liked the fact my agent came back to me so quickly and was so enthusiastic about my work. It is key that the agent loves your work.
5) What is your planning stage like before you start writing? A brief synopsis does it for me, but every writer is different.
I am absolutely not a planner! I wish I was because I think it would shorten the writing process, but it just isn’t how I create. The only way I can work out my characters is by writing them, and character and plot for me are so intertwined, the plot really doesn’t get worked out until I have my characters fully formed and real to me. All of it also depends on my research – ideas come as I’m researching, or equally, they might have to change because of something my research has turned up.
6) After your manuscript is finished and sent to your agent and editor, how do you feel? Can you describe it?
Relieved and terrified, in equal measure!
7) What is the post publication process like? How soon would you start writing the next book?
There is always a very extensive gap between submitting a book and publication date, plus edits to be worked on in the interim. I am usually thinking about my next book, even when writing the current one. For instance, I have a fantastic shiny new idea for my next book, even though I’ve not yet finished my current novel. The shiny idea can seem very appealing at this stage, because it is new and perfect, while the draft of my current work in progress is flawed and doesn’t (yet) match up to the shiny, wonderful new idea it once was. This is fine though, and part of the process. I now know that at some point, once I have begun writing it, that the next book will also become imperfect! It will improve with each round of edits. As soon as I send my current book off to my agent/publisher, I’ll begin work on the next one. I will have to stop and break for each round of edits, but my aim will be to get the bulk of the first messy draft done by the time the current book is published.
8) What was the last fiction book you read? What did you enjoy about it?
The last brilliant book I read was Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. I loved his previous novel, All the Light We cannot See, but his latest novel is extraordinary and a masterpiece in my view! It is so far reaching, utterly beautiful in terms of prose and story telling and I savoured every single word. It is definitely my book of 2021.
9) As a writer, how has the pandemic affected you? Has your writing process changed at all?
I wrote my last book during lockdown which was a challenge as I was also homeschooling and suddenly had a houseful of five people, when previously I was used to having the house to myself during the day! I had to put in quite a lot of late nights and early mornings. With schools back, things are more normal in terms of my hours, but the travel restrictions have curtailed my favoured method of going to the places I am writing about. But we are also so lucky these days with the research potential of the internet. I have even had a zoom call with an American farmer, all in the name of research!
10) When you write, do you listen to music or do you prefer silence? Do you have a favourite band or artist that you like to listen to? Would you recommend them and why?
I can’t work to music, unfortunately. I have to have silence, which is a shame!! When not working though, I love jazz and reggae music which is relaxing and uplifting.
Thank you for your time Louise, it has been a pleasure to interview you!
Bio: Louise writes twentieth century historical fiction, based around unheard voices, or from unusual perspectives. Her debut novel, People Like Us (entitled Daughter of the Reich in the US/Canada edition) was first published in 2020 into 13 territories and is set in 1930’s Leipzig. The book was shortlisted for the RSL Christopher Bland Prize 2021 and the RNA Historical Novel of the Year Award, 2021.
Louise’s second novel, The Hidden Child, was published in the UK in September 2021 and the US and Canada in October 2021, and will follow in other territories soon. This book is centred around the eugenics movement in 1920’s England and America. It is a Globe & Mail bestseller in Canada.
Louise, previously a lawyer and banker, holds an MA in Creative Writing from St Mary’s University and now writes full time. Equally as passionate about historical research and writing, she also loves to look for themes which have resonance with today’s world. Louise lives in the Surrey countryside with her family, and is a slave to the daily demands of her pets.