INTERVIEW WITH SUE MOORCROFT by Lin Treadgold
Romance author Sue Moorcroft writes an account of the days when she was once a new writer and joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association. Within the Association is the New Writers Scheme designed to help writers move their novels into higher places.
First, on behalf of the NWS Forum members I want to thank you for taking the time to answer questions.
When I joined the RNA, one of the first authors I discovered was you. How long have you been a member of the RNA and what have been the benefits for you?
That’s nice to know! I think I joined in 2000, but I didn’t keep a record.
One of the most important things the RNA did for me was to give me a ‘can do’ attitude. I was already writing short stories for weekly magazines and I desperately wanted to take the step into being a novelist. Sometimes it felt like the kind of thing that only happened to others – but then I met so many people who were actually DOING it that it gave me a change of mindset. I was going to do it, too.
Also, the RNA has educated me, and continues to educate me, about our genre and the publishing industry. It has given me loads of contacts and, most importantly of all, lots of friends. It has made me a part of a community.
It has taken me a very long to time to write my first book. There was so much to be learned. Perhaps you would relate the story of your first attempt to write a novel.
I’m going to leave out of the equation the Famous Five rip offs that I wrote when I was in primary school! And the several books I began and threw away after about ten thousand words. The first book I completed was a fabulous experience. My children were small and ‘me time’ was at a premium, so I wrote it a few hours each week. The (cringe-making) title was ‘A Man of Strong Emotion’ and I remember the hero, Mitchell, better than the heroine, whose name escapes me. She had very long hair and didn’t wear a bra, I remember that much. I wrote on a typewriter (early 90s), wrote two drafts and sent the book out twice. The publishers in question couldn’t send it back fast enough! I was ignorant of the proper procedure, and they must have hated my ring binder and lack of return postage. But they were quite polite.
After I completed a second book that was just as unpublishable, I realised I needed education and I took a course. However, I have never enjoyed writing anything more than those first two books, when I had no idea about craft or technique or studying markets. I wrote just what I pleased, and it was mega.
If you were to give advice to anyone considering writing a book, what lessons have you learned from writing your first book?
Don’t do anything I did! Study the market, get educated, learn how to approach publishers in a professional manner. And don’t give up. (I did manage that part.)
How do you deal with juggling your home life and writing?
Writing is my job. I don’t really have to juggle. I work all day, just as if I was working in a bank again – but I work from home. Of course, it’s a flexible career, so if I want to go out one afternoon and work at the weekend, instead, I do. I work about fifty or sixty hours a week, and everything I do apart from actual writing is connected: judging, critiquing, tutoring, etc. I am proud to say that I have wriggled out of all proper jobs.
Many of our NWS members are in the process of submitting to publishers or are about to undertake submissions. How many submissions per month would you consider is a feasible number? This is a question I am often asked.
My rule was that I would only submit to one publisher at a time, but agents were fair game – I would submit to five of them at a time, feeling that if two offered to represent me from one batch, I’d jump that hurdle when I came to it. (It never happened.) Because I was writing short stories and, later, serials, at the same time, I always had stuff to be getting on with, and I had lots of submissions out at once. That means that one never loses hope.
I see you have an international connection, not only your birth country Germany, but also Malta and Cyprus. Have you used your travel experiences a lot in your writing and has this helped you to open your mind for the stories?
Being part of an army family does mean travel, but it’s travel of a certain type. We usually lived in barracks, so we took ‘home’ around with us, to an extent. Postings were for two or three years at a time and we never went back to the UK during a posting, although family members did come and visit. I don’t speak any languages other than my own and I’m afraid I was so young when I lived in Germany and Cyprus that I don’t remember them (although I’ve returned to Germany several times). I LOVE Malta, though, and it finds its way into my writing. I don’t know how many short stories I’ve set there, but my first published novel began and ended in Malta, two serials are set there (one fully, one partially), and the book after next is going to begin there, I think. I return to Malta whenever I can, and feel that part of my heart will always be there.
Your résumé of short stories for magazines is impressive. Did you begin writing short stories, in the early days, as a way of taking small steps into publishing?
Yes. I was given a book written by the late Nancy Smith and in it she said that if you could sell twenty short stories to national newsstand magazines, publishers of novels would begin taking you seriously. So, when I began my course, I concentrated on magazine fiction. By the time I ended the course, I had earned my course fees three times over – just as well as the school instantly went bust so they would never have kept their promise to reimburse me if I failed.
NB I had actually sold eighty-seven short stories and a serial by the time I sold the novel. Loosely, the strategy worked, but I got a bit behind schedule.
How much time do you spend on writing?
Lots. Probably 60% of my working week. My aim is to drop the judging, critiquing and teaching, when possible, if only because of the deadlines, which can be stressful
When you first realised you wanted to be a writer, which writing skill did you find to be the most challenging? For me it was Show/Tell.
Yes, that was a toughie. But sturdy, surprising plots were something I had to work at, too. I was a bit lazy and took the easy route, ie hackneyed, far too often. When I began to concentrate on plotting and originality, my work began selling. Also, I began to see the value of bigger conflicts, making the stakes high for the characters.
Now the question of rejections. Was Choc Lit your first publisher? No doubt, you went down the usual path of rejections. So looking back, perhaps you could advise, based on your own experiences.
Uphill All the Way, was published in April 2005 by Transita. Although it had a strong romantic content, it was more of a family drama than my Choc Lit books. It was about the eighth I wrote, but the first published.
And, oh yes, I’ve had stacks of rejections. I was with an agent for about eight years and during that time two of my books went into five acquisition meetings between them, but were not bought. Then I went it alone and Choc Lit came along, wanting to publish exactly what I was happiest writing. They bought those same two books – Starting Over and All That Mullarkey. Between times, I wrote Family Matters, which was published in hardback by Robert Hale. It was later revised and published in paperback and e-book by Choc Lit, as Want to Know a Secret?
Also, my ‘how to’ book, Love Writing – How to Make Money Writing Romantic or Erotic Fiction was published by Accent Press.
Advice? Don’t give up. Write from the heart but take the market into account.
‘Dream a Little Dream’ is the title of your latest book.
Dream A Little Dream
What would you give to make your dreams come true?
Liza Reece has a dream. Working as a reflexologist for a troubled holistic centre isn’t enough. When the opportunity arises to take over the Centre, she jumps at it. Problem is, she needs funds, and fast, as she’s not the only one interested.
Dominic Christy has dreams of his own. Diagnosed as suffering from a rare sleep disorder, dumped by his live-in girlfriend and discharged from the job he adored as an Air Traffic Controller, he’s single minded in his aims. He has money, and plans for the Centre that don’t include Liza and her team.
But dreams have a way of shifting and changing and Dominic’s growing fascination with Liza threatens to reshape his. And then it’s time to wake up to the truth…
This sounds a fascinating read. I think there is always a story behind a story. Did the idea jump out at you or did something inspire you?
It came from the most whimsical of beginnings. It’s the story of Liza, who is the sister of All That Mullarkey’s Cleo. So I already knew Liza, and that she was a reflexologist. I wanted to use an anecdote that was told to me about a reflexologist, at their first meeting, and I knew that Dominic needed to have some condition that couldn’t be cured. During an e-mail conversation with a writing buddy, we discussed titles and how every single word has to be right for the genre. Further down the e-mail, on another subject, he said, ‘Life’s not a dream’. And I said, ‘Now “dream” would be a great word to have in one of my titles.’ And the idea flashed into my mind of giving Dominic narcolepsy, because of the sleep/dream connection. If I had understood how disabling and complex a condition it is, I might have given him something easier to handle! But I’ve been lucky to have tons of help from a guy, coincidentally also called Dominic, with the condition
Regarding your novel ‘Love and Freedom’ Published 01 June 2011 by Choc Lit. What do think helped you to win Best Romantic Read Award?
A hot hero certainly didn’t hurt! Martyn Mayfair seems to be much loved by readers. Also, I was proud of the plotting in that book – I hid a couple of bombshells and they detonated. And I’d like to take the opportunity to say that I’d recommend winning an award to anybody. It’s the most amazing experience
Viewpoint, quite often. As I’ve appointed myself The Viewpoint Police, they probably get very tired of my pointing out their unnecessary changes of viewpoint or knowing the thoughts of man, woman and dog in one paragraph
When you read first-time unpublished novels, what are the most common faults that occur during the read?
Viewpoint, telling instead of showing, including things that don’t impact on the main thrust of the plot, using adverbs plus weak verbs instead of strong verbs, not giving their characters motivation for their actions.
So, for all our members in the New Writers Scheme and also for everyone else, what would be your personal message?
Educate yourself. Read ‘how to’. Buy writing magazines. Go to writing events, such as conferences and conventions or library talks. Meet authors and learn from them. Meet editors and agents and hit on them.
Don’t give up. I truly believe that the name for a writer who doesn’t give up is ‘published’. It worked for me.