My Writing Process

I was invited to contribute to this ‘Blog Tour’ about that mysterious thing called the Writing Process, by Author’s Electric writer Ann Evans, and, though I’m not usually fond of this kind of baton-passing exercise, the questions seemed so interesting (as well as some of the responses I’ve read) that I couldn’t resist. Thank you Ann! You can find her blog at

The questions Ann passed on to me are:-

1. What am I working on?

I’ve had something of an enforced holiday from fiction recently, because I was commissioned to write a literary biography.  But Norman Nicholson: The Whispering Poet was published just before Christmas, so I’m now putting the finishing touches to the novel I’ve been writing, on and off, for about 5 years.

The Centauress is just a little bit autobiographical, in that the protagonist is a biographer.  Alex Forbes, 39, recently bereaved in a terrorist attack, has been sent by her agent to Istria - a picturesque part of Croatia that once belonged to Venice.  Alex has been commissioned to write the biography of Zenobia de Braganza, a flamboyant artist who is terminally ill and wants to tell her unusual - and often scandalous - life-story before it’s too late.

Alex goes to the Kastela Visoko and is soon caught up in the complicated relationships and rivalries of family and friends as they all compete to inherit Zenia’s legacy of art and property.  But it is to Alex that Zenia discloses the big tragedy at the centre of her life. Sharing Zenia’s experience helps Alex to heal herself, though that process is threatened when Alex meets Gianfranco, a very attractive Italian jazz musician and Zenia’s favourite cousin. Is he trustworthy?  Or is he, like the others, simply there to inherit her wealth? The story is set against the complicated politics of post-war Croatia in one of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Because I’m a poet and biographer, the novels I write tend to contain elements of other genres.  My first novel, The Sun’s Companion, was a historical novel set in the 1930s and 40s, but it was also a family story, and because it was ‘character’ centred, was classified as literary rather than mainstream.  I love language, so I craft sentences carefully, and I’m fascinated by other people’s lives, so my stories are full of characters I’ve observed.

The Centauress is also rooted in fact.  One in 2 thousand babies every year is born with some form of gender anomaly.  Being born ‘inter-sex’ is much more common than people realise and it’s a subject not often talked about.  Zenia’s character is based on 2 people I once knew (both dead) and her story is also based on the life of Herculine Barbin - a 19th century figure who was brought up as a girl and then told as a teenager that she was actually a boy.  She tried for a while to live as both sexes and eventually committed suicide.  Herculine's journals describe how she tried to come to terms with her confusion.  In the novel, I’ve tried to explore what it might feel like not to have any certain gender identity - to be the ‘Third Sex’.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I’ve never tried to answer this question.  I’ve been writing since I was a child - putting down whatever occurred to me - poetry, stories - following interesting pathways through journalism and biography. I’m aware of a fascination with people’s lives and an obsession with words.  Why do I write what I do?  I just do.  Addiction, OCD, call it what you like!

4. How does your writing process work?

The writing process always starts with day-dreaming - allowing the mind to free-wheel for a while until something floats along - a phrase, or an image, and there’s that little tingle along the writing arm. That’s when I get out the notebook and scribble something down.  If the idea has legs then my mind keeps on processing it - running it like a video at the back of my brain.  I try not to write it down too early - but sometimes you miss the moment and the idea vanishes and can’t be recalled.
Darwin's Notebooks
It often takes a while to get from the scribbles in the notebook to a fully fledged draft.  For fiction I buy a special notebook that has some connection to the subject matter - I like colourful notebooks with decorated covers.  Somehow that helps.  I write down fragments - chapter openings, character sketches, conversations - in a glorious muddle, and then, when I’ve filled several notebooks, I try to give the story a bit of structure - find the bones to hang it on.  That’s when I begin to see it as a whole and start balancing the narrative - filling some sections out and trimming others.  When I think it’s finished I print it out and throw it in a box file for several weeks before I get it out again and have an ‘editing’ read.  I read in hard copy and on Kindle because it’s a very different experience and you spot new things.

That’s where I am now with The Centauress, which I hope will be available next month.  And, no, I couldn’t find a publisher to take on such a controversial book, though I’m told by my editor that it’s a very commercial story and beautifully written.  Another rave rejection!  Thank goodness for Indie publishing.

Next week, on the 20th January, the blog-baton passes to three more fiction authors, all very different from each other.

Wendy Robertson 
Having taught history and art in schools, and education in teaching college, Wendy Robertson has published many novels, both historical and contemporary, and two short story collections in addition to a short memoir of her writing life. Her best-selling novels include 'Land of my Possession', 'Sandie Shaw and the Millionth Marvell Cooker', and 'An Englishwoman in France'.  She blogs at 'A Life Twice Tasted', where you can find information about all her books.

Elizabeth Stott Elizabeth Stott writes fiction and poetry, with no set agenda other than to take the form where it takes her. Her most recent story 'Touch me with your cold hard fingers', was published as a Chapbook by Nightjar Press.  She also has a collection 'This Heat' available on Amazon Kindle. Elizabeth blogs on: ‘To Blog or Not’ - and tweets from @ElizabethStott1

Debbie Bennett - Debbie writes both dark thrillers and young adult fantasy. She’s won several competitions over the years and was long-listed for the Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger Award. Her excuse is that the voices made her do it….   Her recent trilogy is available from Amazon and all good bookshops:  'Hamelin's Child', 'Calling the Tune' and 'Paying the Piper'.  You can find her blog at


  1. A fascinating, colourful and informative post - as always.Lovely to be involved in your campaign Kathleen, Wxx

  2. Generous and energetic, Kathy. I have learned a lot from your example. Thanks for inviting me to join in!

  3. Looking forward to your contributions, girls!


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