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Chichester Copywriter hears Joanna Trollope Talk at West Dean

Katy of Chichester Copywriter recently enjoyed reading Daughters-in- Law so attended the 5th Chichester Writing Festival to listen to Kate Mosse interviewing Joanna Trollope, the novel’s author. Despite having to sit right at the back of a very crowded space and the un-staggered seating, which revealed little more than the head in front, this was a fascinating talk which gave our creative copywriter food for thought.

Listening to two highly-acclaimed novelists discussing their writing processes and experiences revealed quite a bit of insight into creative writing as a profession. Joanna Trollope wrote her first novel at 14 years old (one of those hidden treasures that no one will ever see) and 17 novels later – all hand-written and edited – she assured an eager crowd that it’s never too late to pick up a pen:

“You can be too young to write but not too old”.

Although, when asked about writing as a career Joanna revealed that it’s difficult to think of doing something that you enjoy in that way. She admitted that while she can’t do a lot of things, “she can do this word thing”. A sentiment that Chichester Copywriter’s sure many fellow writers will share.

Joanna  went on to admit to “dipping her toe in” with her first novels but said that given the choice she wouldn’t go back and re-write them now, as they were all part of finding her true voice. Joanna revealed that she’s “a chronic eavesdropper” and when listening she’s like“mental flypaper”. The ideas for many of her books are gained by listening in queues or on public transport and grow from there as she talks to people in similar, real-life situations to devise a cast of characters.

The audience learned that while Joanna’s research is important to make her novels realistic and factually correct, it’s also an organic process which throws up new avenues for her to explore along the way. She often comes up with character names by reading them in the newspapers. Sometimes she will hear a name and save it up until that character’s book just happens to come along.  Joanna will usually plot the first five chapters followed by the end and then write the parts in-between, letting characters’ relationships develop naturally so as to join the story together. She’s rarely tempted to resurrect characters since she’s so exhausted by them when she bids them farewell.

Kate Mosse mentioned how she once heard Joanna describe the writing process like waiting for a train – where you get on, sit with new people and then get off later. For a writer there’s very much a sense of life continuing before and after your current book and the novel being just something that you visit. Joanna was keen to get across that even when you’ve written as many best-sellers as her, going from invisibility to visibility and back again is a wonderful thing. Having your name all over the press during a book launch then returning to doing the grocery shopping is just a way of life:

“You have to steep yourself in humanity”

The main message from the talk was that it’s important not to become too complacent as a writer and while Joanna still finds the energy to write novels the more she writes, the more effort it takes. She assured a debut novelist in the audience that while the gift can leave at any time having a certain amount of anxiety when sitting down to write is always a good thing as it keeps creativity fresh.

On being chosen to chair the panel of judges of this year’s Orange Prize for Fiction, Joanna revealed that she was happy to accept the invitation as she believes that the writing world is still not quite equal. She said that the Orange Prize “has produced some absolutely corking winners” and went on to express that a more accessible book prize such as the Orange Prize helps give female writers all over the world a leg-up in the industry.

Joanna has also been commissioned by Harper Collins to write a contemporary version of Sense and Sensibility. Given the choice of any Jane Austen novel, she chose this for its fantastic theme of money, making it ideal to re-write for the modern day with opportunities to swap in a fine stallion for an Aston Martin, for example.

The popular novelist finished by saying that she always writes with the recipient in mind, the audience rather than the reviewers whom she tends to ignore. Joanna remembers that the reader is influenced by structure as much as anything else and writes to retain loyal readers as well as attract new ones.

Find out more about Joanna Trollope and her books here.

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