Writers on Writing: Debbie Johnson

debbie-johnson-author-photoDebbie Johnson is a best-selling author who lives and works in Liverpool, where she divides her time between writing, caring for a small tribe of children and animals, and not doing the housework.

She worked as a journalist for many years, until she decided it would be more fun to make up her own stories than to tell other people’s. After trying her hand at pretty much every genre of writing other than Westerns and spy dramas, she has settled on women’s fiction that seems to make people laugh and make people cry, often at the same time.

Her books include The Birthday That Changed Everything, Pippa’s Cornish Dream, and Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe, all published by HarperCollins. She also ghost-wrote model and presenter Abbey Clancy’s debut novel, Remember My Name.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?

That it’s a craft that needs to be learned, as much as a natural gift. I do think to some extent you have to have a natural talent to tell stories, use words, create pictures and character – but that will get you as far as a couple of scenes, or a lovely few chapters. The rest of it – how to structure a whole book, pace, balance, writing for certain audiences – is a skill. Some of it you can learn through other people, and by reading analytically – but mainly I’d say you simply need to get stuck on, give it a go, and constantly be looking for ways to improve. Don’t be afraid of criticism, always remain open to the fact that your work of genius might not be quite as brilliant as you like to believe!christmas-at-the-comfort-food-cafe-2

How has this helped you as a writer?

It’s helped me to progress from being someone with some great ideas to being someone with some books published! If you want to write for your own pleasure, to create art, then go for it. The world needs that. But if you want to write with the aim of making a living, and if you want other people to read and enjoy your stories, then you have to counter the creative process with commercial realism. I’m not saying you need to chase trends – that doesn’t usually work – but that you need to think beyond your own satisfaction, and try to imagine your book being read by someone who isn’t you. Have you explained your heroines motives in a way that makes the story believable? Have you answered all the questions that need to be answered? Would anybody other than you give a damn? A good editor – or a good friend – can help you with all of this, but you can also get into the discipline of doing it yourself as you gain experience. It’s a good idea to be your own benign critic.

Mac or PC?

PC.

Do you use Word or Scrivener?

Word. I don’t even know what Scrivener is!

Do you write or take notes with an iPad or tablet?

No, I am old school and use a little notebook and a pen.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I get myself into the right frame of mind by drinking vats of coffee, and trying to ensure that nothing else is lurking in the corners of my brain to distract me – because it will! I drop my kids off at school, come home, make the coffee, mess around on social media for half an hour, then plunge right in. I usually work for a solid four hours or so, before doing a few jobs around the house and going off to get the kids from school again.

Do you start by writing or researching first?

It depends on the book, and the topic. It’s easy to get so hung up on research that you lose sight of the fact that you are writing fiction. It’s important to get authenticity, but not so much that you spend the whole day on google maps, or reading up on the history of the Mafia, or whatever!

Favorite spot to write in the winter?

On my sofa, with my dogs by my side!

Favorite spot to write in the summer?

As above – although it is sometimes nice to venture into a green space and enjoy the sunlight.

Visit Debbie’s website for the latest news.

Follow her on Twitter  or on Facebook – but be warned, she mainly talks about dogs.

Copyright © 2016 by Diane Morasco

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