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Pauline Lawless: Six Books On and Still Learning

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Pauline Lawless

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I was a late starter when it comes to writing – a very late starter. Newly retired, I was spending the winter in Florida when I decided to try my hand at writing. I had no idea how to go about it so I sought help from the many ‘how-to-write’ books available. From these I learned the technical aspects, how to format the page, construct paragraphs and chapters etc. I really was clueless. The three most important things I learnt, however, were to:

1) write the kind of book you like to read

2) write about what you know

3) do your research.

I’d always enjoyed books that explore relationships between women so that was going to be my genre for my first book. What I knew about was slimming clubs – I’d run them in Co. Kildare and the midlands for twenty-five years. Most of the ‘how-to’ books advise setting out a plan or plot line for the whole book but I didn’t have one, just an idea of my characters and the setting. I didn’t see beyond that and couldn’t envisage what might happen to them by the end of the book. Luckily, I overlooked this advice to plan it out and just started writing. To my amazement, the three women I was writing about took on a life of their own and the story practically wrote itself. This may be an unorthodox way to go about it, but it worked for me. I don’t know if there are other authors out there who work like this but I know that having to plot the whole book out from start to finish would have deterred me from even beginning. So my advice to any aspiring author who feels like I did, is to follow your instinct. Choose your genre, decide on your characters and the setting, and just sit down and start. The result may very well amaze you.

pauline-lawlessWith my first novel Because We’re Worth It, I didn’t have to do much research as I knew my subject and setting so well. I generally don’t use fictitious names for places, hotels, restaurants etc. and as I based this first book in Naas, I felt readers would identify with it more if I used real places. When I did need to check something, I Googled it. The wonderful thing about the Internet is that you can find out just about anything you want on it so I always Google the places I’m using to check on decor, menus etc. Almost every place has it’s own website now and that gives an authenticity to your writing. It’s fun and you’ll be amazed at the things you learn.

My third novel, A Year Like No Other, I based in Paris. Although I know the city very well, the research for it was much more challenging. I had a map of Paris always to hand to make sure I didn’t make any mistakes. One can’t be too careful and the last thing you want is a reader telling you you’ve got it wrong! Luckily, I live only ninety minutes away from Paris during the summer so as I was writing the book I took a couple of trips there to visit places I wanted to write about. My excuse was that I needed to soak up the atmosphere! I also needed to find out about apartments to rent for my characters and hospitals in the city. All easily found online. Thanks to the internet I’ve also become something of an expert on prescription drugs which some of my characters were overly fond of.

In my fourth novel the main character is getting married and I had great fun organising that for her. There are hundreds of websites that can help you plan a wedding and I think I visited every one. In this book I also needed some information about Garda procedures when charging and arresting someone. Not wanting to get it wrong, I called the Garda Press Office who were very helpful and didn’t think I was a loony. They seemingly often get calls from authors seeking this type of information.

Something I learned very early on is to keep a list of all the names you’re using for your characters, even the minor ones, so you don’t

  • use the same name twice
  • call somebody one thing early in the book and something else later on (as happened to me with my first book) Trust me it’s easy to do when you have a lot of minor characters.
  • have two people with similar names. Readers get confused if you have two names beginning with A for example. I try and keep the names as different as possible and always beginning with another letter. Seems obvious but it’s easy to get wrong. Again the internet is a godsend with all kinds of lists of boys and girls names to help.

Learning from my mistakes with my debut novel, on my second book I started keeping a profile for each character. Things like hair colour, height, way of speaking, mannerisms, clothes style, eating habits, favourite drink, family members, friends names etc. This saves hours of having to search back through your manuscript for the relevant information.

When it came to my sixth book, I had run out of ideas for a storyline. Then at a party, here in Florida, some friends were recounting their experiences with online dating and they were so funny that I thought, why not write about that? I knew absolutely nothing about the subject and drew the line at my daughter’s suggestion that I join a dating-site, incognito. So I took to the internet and after many hours trawling through websites – some quite shocking – I was pretty clued in. That and talking to friends who partake in online-dating, gave birth to Meet and Delete, my sixth and latest book.

Luckily for us writers nowadays, we can become expert on just about everything, thanks to the Internet. I often wonder how writers in previous generations managed without it? I visited Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West, Florida once and was amazed to see the little room where he did his brilliant writing. A simple table, chair and old-fashioned typewriter, that was it, except of course for his genius. How times have changed!

(c) Pauline Lawless

About Meet and Delete

Where to find Mr Right? Online, of course!
Three friends, in their thirties and unlucky in love, turn to online-dating in the hope of finding Mr Right.
The girls meet some Mr Nice guys but more often than not they are Mr Never-Again guys. As they weave their way through the online dating scene, their lives become ever-more complicated.
After some disastrous consequences, they discover that the old way is best after all.

Meet and Delete is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here

About the author

  • www.designforwriters.com
  • allianceindependentauthors.org

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