Tuesday 16 July 2013

An interview with Sue Moorcroft

Following on from my earlier post with writing advice - and specifically the part about reading outside of your genre - I thought it might be useful to highlight one of the talented writers I mentioned.

I first met Sue Moorcroft in 1999, when I joined the Kettering Writers group.  We hit it off immediately (at the time, we were the only published writers in the group and, aside from helping our fellow members out, we probably really annoyed the leader by sitting at the back and giggling) and thankfully, that relationship continues to this day.  I’m also lucky enough to be one of her pre-readers and I can honestly say I haven't read a book of hers I didn’t enjoy.

(me & Sue, at the back as usual!)

Sue’s a polymath - she’s a novelist (published through Choc Lit), a short story and serial writer, an active member and vice chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) and a well regarded (and in-demand) writing tutor (in addition to courses, she also writes a column for Writers Forum) as well as being a truly lovely person.

She and I sat down and she was kind enough to answer some questions for me.

MW:  Hi, thanks for agreeing to this.  How about we start off with an introduction, who are you and how did you get to this point in your career?

SM: Hi Mark! Thanks for inviting me onto the blog and saying nice things about me. I'm a writer now but I began my working life in a bank. I was there for nine years, after college, and it remains the only full-time proper job I've ever held. I always wanted to be a writer, but it took me a while to find my way. After writing a couple of novels that were so bad that, I'm glad to say, I threw them away, I decided to take a course, working on writing short stories for magazines as a way of building a CV. The plan was to sell 20 short stories and then a novel, but I'd actually sold 87 short stories and a serial before I got 'the call' - an offer for my first published novel, Uphill All the Way.

MW:  What spurred on your love of writing and at what point did you think, ‘I’m good at this, I could make a go of it’?

SM: It's just a compulsion. I feel writing’s what I am, as well as what I do. I'm incredibly lucky to be able to do a job I love. To be honest, I always thought I was good enough - but the editors took several years of convincing. I sent out 30 short stories before a magazine bought one.

MW:  How important a validation was the Choc Lit deal?

SM: Very, because my first two novels had sold in small numbers and I began to think that I'd be better sticking to short stories, serials and writing 'how to'. (As well as writing 'how to' for Writing Magazine and Writers' Forum, I'd been commissioned to write 'Love Writing - How to Make Money Writing Romantic or Erotic Fiction'.) I'd even left my agent when the Choc Lit opportunity came up. In about three weeks, Choc Lit offered me a contract for Starting Over and optioned All That Mullarkey.  As you know, those two books are linked.

MW:  Can you run us through your process of producing a novel a year - from the initial idea to the final edit?

SM: I often have an idea in the back of my mind for some time before I settle on it. The hero and heroine have been evolving under the surface while I work on other things. Then I make a decision to start and spend quite a while creating bios for the main characters, looking at the hero and heroine from the points of view of other members of the 'cast', creating conflicts and obstacles. I need to know why hero and heroine want to get together and what's keeping them apart, their goals, quests, and stuff like that.

Writing the first draft is the part of the process that I find most challenging. I love beginning. It's like the being on the grid of an F1 race - exciting, and nothing has yet gone wrong! But then I feel as if I’m trying to keep the race going for every car on the track and I don’t find it at all easy. The first draft takes months. I'll also be writing my monthly columns, working with students, judging comps, doing the research for the novel, etc. And I'll have to keep breaking off to do the edits and copy edits of the previous book.

When the first draft is done, I celebrate. I have a couple of weeks away from the book, tell everyone I know that the draft is done, annoy writer friends who are slogging away at their own first drafts, and catch up on anything that requires catching up on. I might also do additional research. The second draft follows. I love editing and playing with the words, deepening characterisation, making the setting more real, cutting out the loose bits. Then I usually send the ms to you (thank you!) and any other beta readers who are helping me with that particular book. I particularly enjoy your savvy sarcasm.

Sue & me at Alt-Fiction Leicester, April 2012 (savvy sarcasm not pictured)

I incorporate feedback from my lovely beta readers, and give the ms another loving polish. Then I send it to the publisher (although now we're selling in the US, they like to see the first draft for reasons of cover and blurb creation and the long lead necessary for US catalogues, so I may have some feedback from them to incorporate, too).

It's lovely when Choc Lit start sending me covers and we all pool our ideas and reactions. I never get over the thrill of seeing my name on my covers! (Sorry to be so up myself.)

I get my first structural edit notes after a few weeks. There may be some negotiation and discussion at this point, ie I'll tell the editor if I think one of her requests won't work, or run by her how I'm going to sort out something she's asked me to sort out. I believe in the editing process and that we're all trying to make my book the best it can possibly be.

There might be another round of structural edits (or might not), then the copy edits. I’ve heard other writers groaning about their copy edits, but I don’t mind them at all. I’m very much in the copy editor’s hands and believe that she knows more about hyphens and commas than do I.

Right at the end of the process I'll be asked for additional information such as acknowledgements, dedication, interview or author's notes.

Then a box of books arrives. Cosmic.

MW:  Do you ever worry you’ll run out of ideas?

SM: Every day.

MW:  What is your favourite part of the writing process?

SM: Editing – so long as I’m not in the situation of suspecting I have a big hole in my plot.

MW:  Your heroines are, on the whole, creative people.  Is this a case of ‘write what you know’ or a specific ideal to appeal to the genre?

SM: It’s more pragmatic than that. I like to give them flexible jobs,. If I made them accountants they'd have to work regular hours, which might not suit my plot. In Starting Over Tess was an illustrator because it was essential that she have a portable job so that she could run away whenever I needed her to. In Want to Know a Secret? I made Diane a home-based boho seamstress because it had to be something she could do tucked away in the rural Fens. I had to do a lot of research for Tess but Diane was easier. Creative jobs do often come over as quite cool.

MW:  To someone who’s never read within ‘Chick Lit’, what would you say were the key things the genre could offer (ie, if asked about horror, I’d say that the genre gave me a broad canvas to examine the human condition - and then laugh at my own pretensions!)

SM: Chick Lit is light and entertaining. It often examines serious issues but is usually readable and character driven. Love and sex are usually involved, although the heat level varies.

MW:  Which is your favourite of your own books, favourite heroine and hero?  And do you ever go back to re-read your own work?

SM: I can't choose between my own books. But I think Dream a Little Dream was the most ambitious, as I gave Dominic Christy the fantastical and rare sleep disorder narcolepsy, which took A LOT of research. I wouldn’t have been able to write the book without endless help from a guy with narcolepsy. (Coincidentally, he’s also called Dominic. You can read an interview about the process from his angle here, and he became a beta reader for Is This Love?) Other people with narcolepsy, and people who have friends with narcolepsy, have read DALD, and nobody has (yet) criticised the research. So I'd say that book gives me the most satisfaction. Also, it was nominated for a RoNA (Romantic Novel Award). And Liza is a fun little strop box.

On the other hand, Love &Freedom won Best Romantic Read Award 2011, so that was pretty satisfying, too.

MW:  I know, as your friend and someone who often gets mentioned in acknowledgements, that it’s a thrill to see your novels in the shops but how did you feel the first time it happened to you?

SM: Strangely disconnected and disbelieving, but also incredibly happy and euphoric. Before any of that happened, I went to the London Book Fair in 2005 and my then publishers (Transita) put Uphill All the Way into my hands for the first time, hot off the press. I got all teary-eyed. Everyone on the stand signed that copy and I still have it.

MW:  I realise this is cheeky, since you’re a tutor anyway, but is there a quick bit of advice you would offer to any would-be Chick Lit writers?

SM: It's not cheeky at all. My two pet pieces of advice to any writer is to persist and to educate himself or herself. For chick lit writers I'd also say make it fun, make it dramatic, make the hero/heroine sizzle all over each other.

MW:  So what can we expect next from you?

SM: Is This Love? comes out in November. It's a book about the various qualities of love. Tamara has a sister, Lyddie, with learning disabilities after being the victim of a hit-and-run. Tamara’s love and care for Lyddie is one of the things that define her, so it’s pretty interesting when Jed Cassius turns up to tell the family who was driving the hit-and-run car. Jed turns out to be an enigmatic character who has no education but a great job. I really like Jed. I was having trouble 'getting' him then he walked into the village pub and kicked one of the blokey-blokes off his chair. It's not that he’s into violence but he has had to develop his own way of dealing with idiots.

MW:  And I can vouch for the fact that it’s a great read, it’s already in my Top 5 of the year!  Thanks very much for your time, Sue and good luck with Is This Love?

SM:   Thanks for inviting me onto ‘Strange Tales’, Mark!


  1. Excellent and informative interview. Sue is a generous and supportive friend and tutor, and a great writer :-)

  2. She's definitely all that, Laura, thanks for the comment!