Last update: 5 October 2002
About the Author
"A storyteller" is how I would describe myself. That's what I am. I don't write my novels to further a cause, or to put forward a particular point of view. I just have a story in my head which I hope you'll want to hear, one which will entertain you, perhaps take you out of yourself to some other place. Writing is all about communication and if through my books I communicate with my readers, then that's great.
A few years ago I had a letter from a reader who said "You must be the Elvi I knew when I was a small child. You lived next door and you used to tell stories to the kids in the street!" My only memory of this was sitting on a cold surface, and I wrote back and said so. "Absolutely right!" she told me. "We sat on the ground in your concrete-floored porch, but we didn't mind the cold because the stories were good!" I was eleven.
I am a widow now. I met my future husband, Harry, when I was a sixteen-year-old library assistant. "Why are you changing your library books so often?" his father asked.
I was born and brought up in Yorkshire and the Yorkshire Dales are still one of my favourite places in the world, but for many years now I've lived in a 'picture postcard' village just a few miles from Brighton. My elder son lives in New York, which is why that wonderful city so often finds its way into my books. Of my two American granddaughters, Molly is a journalist in Seattle and Colette, when she graduated, worked in a school in San Francisco. She is now in England for some months and hopes to find a job working with children. Emma, my English granddaughter, is an artist and my grandson, Paul, has a responsible job in the City.
Sadly, my younger son, Anthony, died five years ago. We miss him greatly. He gave most of his spare time from being a university lecturer to working for the Woodland Trust, helping to restore an ancient woodland. His work on that is a memorial to him. His widow, Margaret, is a very successful artist who often exhibits in London and elsewhere.
I'm often asked questions about my writing, of which the most common is "Where do you get your inspiration?" The answer is "I don't know!" Certainly it doesn't come down like a flash of lightning from heaven, delivering the whole novel in an instant! More likely it comes as a faint glimmer from a place I'm in - Blea Moor, for instance, in Yorkshire. Remote, inhospitable - yet I knew as I stood there that once, at the time of the building of the famous Settle-Carlisle railway, it had been alive and bustling, a shanty town. So what happened? I asked myself - and from that arose 'The Mountain'. Certainly a novelist must have a strong imagination.
One of my chief delights is the letters I get from my readers. They come via my publisher, TRANSWORLD (which includes BANTAM PRESS and CORGI) but should you wish to do so you can contact me through this website.
How I Write a Book
Whatever the story is to be it must have a setting, so this will be decided early on. I never, ever, set a book - or even a part of one - in an area I haven't visited, and in most cases know well. I once read of a writer who produced a string of books all set in the wild west of America - cowboy stories which sold like hot cakes. He had never been out of England! That is a talent I don't have.
I read anything I can lay hands on about the subject of the book I'm about to write, and when I know the place in which it will be set I often re-visit it - to pick up the atmosphere again. I avoid reading novels which might possibly be similar to mine because I want to keep my own voice, not catch anyone else's. When I'm research reading I'm also plotting and - even more important - I'm inventing characters. I tear up one plot after another and though I sometimes roughly know how the book will end, mostly I don't. It can come as a surprise to me! What happens to the characters along the way will help to decide that.
Then, when I've read everything I can find about the place and the period and have got my main characters in my head and there's no further excuse for delay, I start on chapter one. I'm almost immediately hindered by having to choose names! I keep a list of possible names and I try never to have two characters with the same initial letter to their names. I also have to think of physical descriptions for the characters and for these I keep written notes, partly so that I don't give the hero blue eyes on page one and brown ones on page 191. I have also to keep in mind significant dates in the lives of my characters and things like how long pregnancy lasts, what sort of school a child will attend at what age, what the seasons are like in the place I'm writing about. There are people out there waiting for writers to put a foot wrong!
Once I start writing I try to keep to a schedule - so many words a day or, if the days are awkward, a minimum number of words in a week - say 4000. This is never as simple as it sounds because I revise and re-write all the time. The sheets of paper which go into the re-cycling bin would be enough to plant a small forest. Until a year ago I did all my novels in longhand, except for the final copy, but when my right hand told me it being overworked I started to use my laptop - though my first drafts are always in longhand. I can't think and type at the same time. I work best in the mornings and afternoons; I am not a night owl.
It takes me about six months to research and a year to write a book. I used to do it all in a year. The worst time of all is when I send the completed manuscript to my publisher and have to wait for the verdict, and the best thing to do then is to think about the next one. That's advice I'd give to anyone - short story writer, novelist - whatever. Don't hang around biting your nails and watching for the postman!
Back to Home page
Web site design and content © 2002, Paul Rhodes & Elvi Rhodes