I wrote my first ever book when I was ten years old on the beach on holiday and I illustrated it with cut out pictures of the supermodels from my sister’s Vogue. I was so proud of it, and I still have it. Funnily enough, the first book I wrote that got published was written the same way – on the beach in a notebook – just without the help of the supermodels! I had many attempts at writing a novel, tapping away on my laptop on the train, after work, in the library on my lunch breaks. But it was when I was away in Italy that inspiration for something new hit and I bought an A4 notepad with glitter and kittens on the front – the only one the shop sold – and started writing. I think it was the combination of being relaxed, having a chunk of time and my partner with me all day to bounce ideas off that made the writing flow. I started and didn’t stop and had to keep going to the shop to buy more notebooks. When I came home I typed it up, added to it and it became a whole book.
There’s a real freedom to writing by hand that you don’t get on a computer. I find on screen, typed words seem final as soon as they appear. On paper you can cross out pages and pages that you suddenly realise aren’t working or write extra lines above the words or turn the book on its side and write in the margin. I have loads of notebooks filled with little asterisks telling me to turn to the back to find an expanded paragraph. It’s a mess but it’s my very understandable mess! On paper the work in progress is very visible as a whole and you can get deep into it. Like painting a picture. Sometimes now I write scenes by hand that I’m stuck on or quite often, with a new book, start the opening chapters by hand then never type them up because, by the time you’ve written your way into a story, the original opening is never quite right.
I’m also a real fan of the record button on my iPhone notes. When I’m walking and an idea pops into my head or a problem solves, I’ll speak a scene into my phone. It’s easy to forget that I don’t have to write at my desk. The philosopher Alain de Botton said the best place to inspire thought is on the train – the magic combination of the world moving slowly past as you’re sitting stationary watching – and I couldn’t agree more. For me, anything that gets you away from the blank computer screen is a winner. Walking, swimming or just even standing up to get a cup of tea gets the blood going to the brain and sparks creativity.
When it comes to getting ideas for a new book, I start by reading lots of the magazines and newspapers. Vanity Fair is my favourite because it has lots of long form journalism about weird stuff and interesting in-depth interviews. When it came to writing Forever Summer, I found a Tatler article called ‘New British Beauties’ featuring a bunch of up and coming talented rich-kids, they were the perfect inspiration for the students at Chelsea High School. I also thought back to key events from school that had left an impact on me or stood out from the norm. For example, a model agency turned up at our school one day to audition for a shoot, and I remember once a girl in a sports team was swapped unfairly at the last minute because of parental influence. I thought about things I aspired to as a teenager and the ways I was hurt. I always take the emotions that have affected me at some point and overlay them onto the characters. Feelings are universal truths. When they say write what you know, it doesn’t have to be exactly what you know but an essence – you can capture the emotion sparked by the situation not necessarily the situation itself.
Finally, as a writer, I’m always prepared to rewrite. There’s no getting around it! Real emotion and depth comes from layers and layers of story and character and that only comes from rewriting.
(c) Jenny Oliver
If you have any questions about your writing, find me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook @jenoliverbooks . I’d love to hear from you.
About Forever Summer:
For all fans of Jenny Han, Holly Bourne and The Kissing Booth comes the must-have teen read from bestselling fiction author, Jenny Oliver!
Summer term and the heat is rising …
It’s summer term at Chelsea High, the most exclusive school in town! The weeks ahead are filled with glamorous events – including a variety show AND a trip to a Greek island! But a shock revelation has new girl Norah Whittaker rethinking everything she thought she knew about herself. With family, friendship and romance up in the air, studying at Chelsea High is NEVER straightforward!
You know you’re in for a treat when you open a Jenny Oliver book (Debbie Johnson, author of The Comfort Food Cafe series)
I loved Chelsea High – a complete page-turner! (Kate Mallinder, author of Summer of No Regrets)
Order your copy online here.