10 questions with best-selling romantic comedy author Trisha Ashley from Lancashire
In the first of our series focusing on authors, we talk to Lancashire's Times best-selling author Trisha Ashley.
She's a single mum from St Helens in West Lancashire, where several of her novels are based, and literally wrote herself out of poverty.
Twice been shortlisted for the Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance. 'Every Woman for Herself' was nominated by readers as one the top three romantic novels of the last fifty years.
Meet Sunday Times top five bestselling author Trisha Ashley whose latest novel The Garden of Forgotten Wishes is out now. Her new book The Christmas Invitation is out on November 12.
1.What’s your name and where do you come from?
My name really is Trisha Ashley, which is a good thing, because I’m sure if I used a pen name, I’d have trouble remembering who I was at any given moment. I did once sign myself ‘British Museum’ on a bookplate, but it was the final one out of a batch of 500 and I’d promised myself that if I signed them all that evening, I could go to the British Museum next morning to do some Christmas shopping.
I was born in the front bedroom over my mother’s shoe shop in St Helens, Lancashire, though since I also had a Welsh granny, I am a quarter Welsh. I always say that my dark Lancashire sense of humour in adversity, crossed with a streak of Celtic creativity from my Welsh side, made me what I am today…whatever that is.
2.Do you write fact or fiction and in what genre?
I write fiction, usually categorised as romantic comedy. My pinned mission statement on twitter reads: ‘With my writing, I want everyone to step inside Trishaworld for a vacation and then walk out of the door feeling happy. And then I’m happy.’
It’s as well to know what you’re writing, and why.
Of course, deep issues will have affected the lives of my main characters, so I always find it interesting to see how they overcome the past and find new ways of moving on.
3.Are you traditionally or self-published and which route do you consider best?
I have spent my entire life on the Blackpool Big Dipper that is the traditional publishing route. Up and down, published, dropped, published again, and so on and so on. I wrote my first novel at eighteen (totally unpublishable), then spent several years writing domestic satire to increasingly rave rejections. Then I had a couple of books published in a different genre, was dropped, and resumed my wanderings in the wilderness, back to writing my domestic satires, until my wonderful agent, Judith Murdoch, suggested I run a romantic strand through my novels – and Piatkus took the first of them – Good Husband Material.
My career only went mega in the year that the Kindle was the Christmas present to get, because my novel, Twelve Days of Christmas, was one of the two top downloads on Christmas morning. I’ve now had nineteen romantic comedies published, twelve of them Sunday Times top ten bestsellers.
People self-publish for a lot of different reasons, not always because they can’t find a traditional publisher. But if you are self-publishing a novel, do get a good editorial critique from someone who knows what they are talking about and then seriously consider their advice – criticism, however helpful, always hurts, but the intention is to improve your novel, so that it doesn’t go out there a half-formed shadow of the great book it could have been.
4.What’s your work schedule like when you are writing?
Since I write a book a year, I’m always writing, or working on edits, or doing events. I tend to write every day of the week and the hours increase as the novel starts to snowball and runs away down the hill to the end. Fear of the contractual deadline gingers you up no end, in the final chapters.
5.What advice would you give to budding writers?
Get on with it, mainly – as Rose Tremaine once said, life is not a dress rehearsal. If they are writing novels, then they should think seriously about what genre they’re aiming at – and read several recently published examples of it that have done well. How-to books can teach you technique, but they’re not going to breathe life into your lump of clay, you have to do that yourself. But writing is, as Stephen King says in his excellent book, On Writing, the most fun you can do on your own – and if it isn’t, why do it?
6.Who/what are YOUR favourite authors/books?
This is such a hard question!
There are so many memorable books that were important at a certain stage of my life: A Victorian novel called Her Benn, that I cried over as a little girl, Elizabeth Goudge, Patrick White in my early teens, who made me see myself as part of a huge cosmic pattern, wheels within wheels. Reading aloud Ted Hughes’ collection of poetry, The Hawk in the Rain and becoming drunk on the the words and the imagery…entering the insane world of Catch-22 as a student, or the Hobbit one of Lord of the Rings… then stunned by the injustice of The Color Purple, amazed by Barbara Kingsolver’s brilliance in The Poisonwood Bible, telling the story from several first person viewpoints…I could go on.
But on a different tack, what do I read now for fun, comfort or relaxation? Well, cosy crime mostly – the old ones, like Agatha Christie, Joesphine Tey, Dorothy L. Sayers, M. M. Kaye, Dorothy Dunnett, Elizabeth Peters and more. But also my current favourite authors of cosy crime, Elly Griffiths and Kate Ellis - and Susan Hill’s not-so-cosy crime series starring Serailler. But then, anything by Susan Hill is worth re-reading.
7.Are you a plotter or a pantster? (i.e. do you plan out your work or fly by the seat of your pants?)
Novelists are usually either plot-driven or character-driven, and I am the latter. I write in first-person from my heroine’s viewpoint and before each book I have to understand what has happened to her in the past to bring her to the present point, before I can begin. I put her into a situation and see what she does, which often surprises me. Of course, various other strands come into play and are woven into the unfolding story, but I don’t have much idea where the first draft is going until I get there. I’d find it terribly boring, mapping the whole thing out and then moving my characters into place like chess pieces, but each to their own.
8.What helps you focus?
Well, some years ago I found myself suddenly a single mother with a mortgage to pay and little money coming in, and that sharpened my focus wonderfully. Having to earn a living is very motivating and I literally wrote myself out of poverty. But if you are a writer, you write anyway– nothing has ever stopped me, or will stop me, published or unpublished, until the last marble has rolled away into the corner.
9.How long did it take you to write your book/books?
I am now writing one book a year – and they’re quite long books – but of course, I can’t take a whole year over it, there must be time for the editing process, promotional events and then the gathering together of thoughts that will lead to the next book.
10. Where can we find your books?
On Amazon, in Waterstones and independent bookshops and often in supermarkets – The hardback of The Garden of Forgotten Wishes is currently in some branches of Asda, Sainsburys and Tesco.
I have a fan site at www.trishaworld.com where you can find my complete backlist, as well as my page on the Penguin hub where you can sign up for my newsletter, find all the latest news about about my books and wonderful competitions.
You can also visit her Facebook page www.facebook.com/TrishaAshleyBooks or follow her on Twitter @trishaashley.