Melissa Hill grew up in Co Tipperary, but now lives in Wicklow with her husband and dog. Her first book, Something You Should Know was published by Poolbeg in 2003. Her latest book Not What You Think is out now.
Melissa, can you tell us about your latest book, Not What You Think, and where the idea came from?
This novel is about female friendship and the reality that occasionally, close friends aren't as supportive to one another as they could be - sometimes they can be just the opposite! The women in the book consider themselves best friends, yet they don’t always act like it. I think that these days, some women are so busy with their own lives and under so much pressure with work, relationships, family etc that when times get tough, they might not always have time to be the best friends they can be. I thought it might be interesting to explore this, as the darker side of female friendship isn't something that's portrayed very often.
How long did it take you to write?
This one was written in seven months, which I know seems short, but it was written in a huge flurry of excitement as I’d just discovered that my first book, Something You Should Know, was going to be published.I’ve calmed down a bit now though, so the one I’m working on now is taking much longer, unfortunately.
How do you organise your writing day? For example, where do you write? And at what time of the day are you at your writing best?
Because I work full-time, I have no routine as such and write evenings or weekends.I’m not one of those writers that do little bits here and there; I tend to need a couple of hours at least, so that I can get a good run at it.The upside of not having a strict routine is that I have bits of the storyline running around in my head all day long, so when I finally do sit down, it tends to rush out all at once – which I suppose, can be a good or a bad thing, whatever way you want to look at it.
Do you use a computer or write long hand?
My handwriting is so bad that if I wrote long hand, I wouldn’t have a clue what I’d written, so yes, I do use a computer, a Sony Notebook. My first two books were quite literally written on my lap as I had no particular writing area, and I wrote them while sitting on a bed.
Do you edit as you go along? Or at the end of the first draft? Do you find rewriting difficult?
Because in my books I tend to use a lot of red herrings, I edit quite a bit as I go along.Then, once the first draft is out I also do a major rewrite, as I need to set up the plot in such a way that the surprise at the end doesn’t come out of the blue. I love misdirecting readers and making them assume things about the story or characters that aren’t necessarily correct. As this is my favourite bit of the entire writing process, I tend to cackle like the Wicked Witch of the North throughout. While I’m doing this, my hubbie, understandably, keeps well away.
Do you do much research for your books? What research tips can you give writers?
I generally find everything I need on the Web. In-depth research is essential as it is amazing what you can get wrong simply by relying on assumed wisdom. What you find through research can actually end up giving the story a whole new dimension. This happened to me when writing Not What You Think.One of the characters has a speech impediment and in order to make a part of the story work, I needed to find out the real reason people stutter. What I found really surprised me.
Are there any books or websites you would particularly recommend for writers in general?
For me, Carole Blake’s ‘From Pitch to Publication’ was invaluable in terms of a good cross-section about the craft of writing, preparing your manuscript for publication, and becoming more familiar with the publishing world.
Can you tell us a little about your ‘day’ job? Do you find it hard to switch off from the job to write?
I run an online gift delivery business I helped set-up a few years ago. We deliver champagne, handmade chocolates, balloon bouquets etc. It can be difficult to switch off and try to write, particularly at busy times like Christmas, Mother’s Day etc but during the quieter periods, I don’t find it at all that difficult.Still, I do have to make an effort to stop my characters gorging themselves with chocolate or champagne, as, subconsciously these things are always on my mind (but only because of work, you understand)
How did you get your first book published? Was it difficult?
I had Something You Should Know fully completed before I allowed myself to even think about finding an agent or a publisher. Luckily I did find an agent within a few weeks of sending it out, and my agent found my publisher, Poolbeg within a further few weeks.It sounds quite straightforward now, but at the time, it was the most nail-biting and terrifying period of my life and it felt like forever.
What are you working on at present? When will it be published?
I’m currently working on my third book, which doesn’t yet have a title (suggestions welcome, by the way). It’s about a group of friends, who on their last day at university plan to reunite on a particular date in the future in order to find out what became of them all. But it never happens, and as the story unfolds, you try to figure out why. It should be published sometime in 2005.
What type of books do you like to read? What books are on your bedside table at the moment? Do you have a favourite book?
I read anything, crime, women’s fiction, thrillers, Harry Potter etc. At the moment, I’m reading ‘Just One Look’ by American thriller writer Harlen Coben who’s terrific.My favourite book of all time is Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’.I’ve always thought it an outstanding book, even more so now, when as an author myself, I can appreciate how much hard work it must have taken to write.
And finally, do you have any advice or tips for writers?
A very simple piece of advice really, but very, very important for anyone starting out: try not to put too much pressure on yourself. If you start comparing your writing to that of other - published - authors that you admire, then you will be terribly disheartened. Remember that most authors have perfected their craft over time and under the guidance of professionals in the publishing industry. Your first attempts are never going to compete, so don't shoot yourself in the foot before you begin.
Also, try not to get hung-up on publication while you're writing the story. You can't think about the possibility until there's something to publish, so the important thing is to get the book finished first. There is a lovely sense of accomplishment about writing a book in the first place, so my advice is to take things one step at a time and try not to think too far ahead.
Thank you, Melissa, for sharing your writing life with us.
Thank you too.