Hazel Gaynor's writing practice includes a lot more (read on!), but begins and ends with no excuses.
"What I’ve learned since first being published is that regardless of where you write, or what mood you’re in when you get there, you have to show up at your writing place every day, even if only for 15 minutes some days, and get the words down. No excuses."
Gaynor has written three best-selling novels, The Girl Who Came Home, A Memory of Violets, and The Girl from the Savoy. Her fourth book, The Cottingley Secret (August 1, HarperCollins), tells the story of two girls who convince the world to believe in fairies, and was inspired by a true story.
For Gaynor, no excuses means climbing the stairway to her attic office/guestroom/playroom every day when her boys head to school and not coming down until 2, when they come home. Some days, she's surrounded by toys, but also it's her space, and she hunkers and, more importantly, she writes … whether the muse is singing, or ignoring her.
"Don’t wait for perfect writing conditions to come along — they rarely exist. Also, find your best and most productive writing time and make it count. When you hit your slump, find other, useful writing-related tasks such as catching up on admin, replying to reader emails, writing a blog post, preparing your next newsletter, researching, etc."
And surround yourself with your must-haves. "The majority of my writing – first drafts especially – is done on the laptop, but I use notebooks, Post-its, hard copies, and walls and floors if necessary, for plotting and editing. My tipple is coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, and gin after hours. They say write drunk, edit sober, right?"
Her early-stage writing practice also includes heavy research. Gaynor's books begin, for her and for the reader, with real history. "My novels so far have been inspired by the Titanic, child flower sellers of Victorian London, the 1920s, WW1 and now, photographs of fairies at the bottom of the garden! It has always been an existing interest in an historic event, or a particular person from history, that has first ignited the creative spark."
Spark lit, Gaynor dives down the research hole. "It’s very important to me to evoke an authentic sense of time and place for my readers, so they are fully immersed in the era my story is set in. Much of my research never makes it into the book, but it all gives me a solid foundation to build my story from," she told Spine.
"In terms of research material, I read a combination of non-fiction and fiction set around the person, place or event I’m writing about, and I always try to get to primary source material wherever possible. Oral history can be especially helpful, and archives and museums are invaluable. Even something as simple as a newspaper from the time can offer an excellent insight into life then through the news, products advertised, personal notices and court records."
For The Cottingley Secret, Gaynor's research included meeting one of the real-life relatives of the girls who inspired her book. In the first quarter of the 20th century, two Yorkshire cousins created photos featuring fairies and kicked off a worldwide sensation. Gaynor wanted her novel to focus on the girls. Her research led her to one of the girls' daughters.
"During early research I found a website with links to the incomplete memoir of Frances Griffiths, the little girl in the first and most famous photograph. When I emailed to order the book, the reply I received absolutely floored me. It was from Frances’s daughter, Christine Lynch. We exchanged emails about my novel and shortly afterwards I travelled to Belfast to meet Christine."
In her own life, Gaynor feels a strong pull to the women who came before her — her mother, who died of cancer when Gaynor was in her twenties, her 97-year-old grandmother. Experiencing that pull between Christine and Frances, while understanding it from her own perspective, pushed the novel's narrative into new directions.
Gaynor had been interested in the Cottingley girls long before starting her novel, but meeting Christine marks the moment she became truly engaged with their story. "Although I knew a reasonable amount about the photographs, I wasn’t aware of the part Sir Arthur Conan Doyle played in them or in the girls’ lives, or the reason the photographs were taken in the first place. Discovering the depth to this story, and the people behind the famous photographs, was where I really became hooked."
In the case of Cottingley, Gaynor's agent Michelle Brower at Aevitas Creative Management suggested a book about the girls. Brower and Gaynor have an excellent working relationship, with Gaynor pulling her into the draft writing process early enough to offer constructive opinions. She also bounces plot ideas off her husband, sends her sister early drafts, and shares everything with her writing partner Heather Webb, with whom she's written Last Christmas in Paris, out this October. "I’ve learned how important, and helpful, that phase of feedback and brainstorming can be."
Gaynor's spent five books honing in on her best practices, but notes what works for her may not work for everyone. "Writing process is a very individual thing. What works for one writer might not work for another. I would encourage new writers to experiment, to find what works for them." And enjoy it.
"Writing, after all, is the best part of the process. It is why we do what we do."
Find Hazel Gaynor online at www.hazelgaynor.com.
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Susanna previously wrote for the online design community Dribbble, helping transform their occasional blog into the online publication Courtside. Her bylines also include AOL News, Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, and Publishers Weekly, among other publications.