Thursday, January 20, 2011
This, the latest in my series of writerly conversations, features Lisa Heidke, the fab Australian author whose new book Claudia's Big Break is on the top of my To Be Read pile, despite the fact that I've already read it three times. And yet, I still don't know how it ends.
To explain (and disclaim), Lisa is one of my crit partners, and I first read the manuscript for Claudia's Big Break around five years ago. The Romance Writers of Australia's online manager had put us together in a virtual writing group and we were sharing 'this is what I'm working on' snippets. In fact, Lisa was already writing What Kate Did Next (published as novel number two), and had a kernel of an idea for Lucy Springer Gets Even, her breakthrough novel. Claudia's journey to publishing nirvana took a little bit longer... but I'll let Lisa explain (I do allow her to get a word in occasionally).
Claudia was the first full-length novel you wrote, but the third published. What are the three main things you've learned between writing The End that first time, and publication of this book?
Lisa Heidke: 1. I thought it would get easier. I was wrong. There are no short cuts! Writing takes commitment, patience and discipline.
2. I didn't realise there would be so many drafts...endless writing, rewriting, deleting and fussing. Before I was published, I assume a manuscript needed two or three drafts, maximum. And maybe the manuscripts of other authors do, but Claudia's Big Break went through at least 15 drafts, five of them major.
3. I have also learnt that with the completion of each manuscript I doubt I have another 85,000-word story to tell. I find it incredibly daunting. So far I have managed to come up with ideas, but not all of them are winners.
Is there anything about being a professional author that has surprised you?
LH: "Yes! As an author, you have to get out from behind your computer and generate publicity and interest in your books. I thought that once I'd handed over my manuscript to the publisher, my job would be done. But it's not. The onus is very much on the author to have their own website, create an online presence, and put yourself forward for speaking engagements... Now a lot of my time is eaten up trying to maintain an author profile."
Your books are known for their humour - is it hard to write funny?
LH: "I don't set out to write funny. I don't write puns or jokes. It's more observational and situational humour rather than laugh-out-loud funny. The characters I create lend themselves to drama and hysteria. I write about ordinary women who are thrown out of their comfort zone and I can find humour in that. But I try not to push it. I'm not out to make every page a giggle."
Do you think that 'chick lit' has moved beyond shoes and chardonnay to encompass deeper ideas?
LH: "Definitely! Chick lit is now such a broad term, encompassing mum lit, hen lit, lady lit, farm lit, lad lit... I don't mind how readers classify my books as long as they enjoy them. I am not trying to change the world, but I do write about real issues such as infidelity, divorce, teen sex, eating disorders and I think those topics have emotional depth. However, I don't mind the odd shoe reference being thrown in if it suits the plot line."
What's the one thing you do every time you sit down to write?
LH: "I make sure that the desk is tidy. I also make sure that I've tidied the house, put the dishwasher on, etc etc... delaying tactics, I know. Recently, I've taken to lighting a candle to signify the start of a writing session and that makes me happy."
Claudia's Big Break (Allen & Unwin) is out now. You can find out more about Lisa, her books, and her procrastinating habits (she's almost as good at it as I am) at www.lisaheidke.com