Today I'm delighted to welcome Hazel Osmond to my blog for a bit of a natter. Her latest book Playing Grace is published today so happy publication day Hazel, hope you'll be celebrating in style.
Can you tell us a little bit about your latest book ‘Playing Grace’?
Gladly. The Grace of the title is a very calm, organised person who likes her routines and works for a company that organises art tours in London. When a brash young American guy called Tate joins the company to give tours on more cutting-edge art, weird things start to happen – pictures get stolen from galleries and Grace’s life starts to unravel. As it does, the reason why Grace keeps herself so in control, start to emerge.
Where did the inspiration come from?
I’ve always been interested in people who re-invent themselves – pretend to be something they aren’t because they’re trying to hide from their past in some way. I was thinking about that and how you could probably get away with it unless you came up against someone who didn’t have that British sense of reserve and so wouldn’t back off. I liked the idea of avery stiff upper lip woman trying to keep an over enthusiastic American guy at arm’s length.
Are you able to give a hint of what your next novel is about?
I’m very excited to be writing a story mainly from a man’s viewpoint. Tom’s marriage has tanked and he’s returned back to the place he started from, a small village in Northumberland, along with his five year old daughter. His life has kind of gone in a circle and looks like staying that way until a strange woman arrives out of the blue … and I mean strange! And the reader won’t really find why she’s there until quite a good way through the book. I think Dads often get a rough deal in books and I wanted to show one who’s doing the best he can. You’re going to love Tom.
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
I have always written – but it was advertising copy. To be honest, I lacked confidence to write anything more ‘personal’ and creative. I had a bad experience at university of writing a short story and showing it to someone who tore it apart. It was years before I got enough confidence up to try again and I started with something called fan fiction. It’s where you choose an existing story, maybe something from TV or film, and take it off in any direction you like. I wrote a love story based on the BBC TV adaptation of Robin Hood – it was about Guy of Gisborne because I very much liked the actor Richard Armitage, who played him. The feedback I got from writing that gave me the confidence boost I needed to start writing short stories again and then novels.
When I won the Woman & Home short story competition sponsored by Costa in 2008, I was finally able to lay that initial horrible experience to rest!
Have you ever had writer’s block?
As I’ve always written for clients and to a deadline, I haven’t been able to have the luxury of writer’s block!! If they need a job by a certain date, you better have it done by then. As far as my creative writing is concerned, I sit down and write and don’t worry that the first things that come out on the page might not be anywhere near perfect. But they can be worked on. The important thing is to break into that blank page.
Having said all that, when my mother died, I found myself unable to write anything with deep emotions in it for about five months. I suppose I was dealing with my own feelings and couldn’t explore those of my characters. Luckily I have a very understanding agent and publisher who gave me the time I needed to get started again.
If you weren’t a writer, what career path would you have chosen?
I’d have liked to have been an actor. I do amateur acting and have appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe twice – and I’ve got to play both Lady Macbeth and Helen of Troy! Not a lot of people can say that.
Being a writer appears to be such a solitary lifestyle, especially when you’re in the midst of writing, so do you consider the influence of social media – Facebook and Twitter – a blessing or a hindrance?
A bit of both. I think they can be an invaluable way to speak directly to your readers and I have made good friends on some social media outlets. But on the other hand, they can eat up big chunks of time and can also be dispiriting places to be if you’re having a crisis of confidence – when everyone else is going on about how successful they are, you can feel like snapping all your pencils!
I also think you have to be careful about exhausting yourself – I know that sounds a bit precious, but splurging everything in 140 characters repeatedly throughout the day can mean you’re in danger of having nothing much to put on the page.
How long did it take you to get your first book published?
I took about six months to write it and then I was very lucky to find an agent almost straight away. But then it was a year and a lot of rejections before Quercus picked it up. It seemed a long time, but I had my short stories to keep my mind off fretting most of the time.
Do you have a set daily writing routine?
It depends if I’m near a deadline or not. If I’m not I tend to faff around a bit doing research, having cups of coffee, reading, seeing friends – anything that doesn’t involve too much thinking. But characters and situations are all going in the mix and churning around. Then, when I’m about eight months away from a book deadline, I drop the girls at school and write all day with a short break for lunch. If I’m really ‘in the zone’, I’ll write again in the evening. I think people write how they live – and I’m mainly very well organised, but with moments of complete vagueness and disorder!
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?
Take your writing seriously, but not yourself. You’ll have victories and defeats along the way which you have no control over – some of that will be down to luck – so you’ll have to learn to shrug about them and smile But you do have control over your writing. So don’t do it half-heartedly, or dash at it or indulge yourself by not being honest about whether something works or it doesn’t.
If you could invite three authors, alive or dead, to a dinner party, who would they be?
Richmal Crompton because she wrote the ‘Just William’ books and I think she had a cracking sense of humour; Shakespeare because I could ask him about the theatre and writing and what it was like to live in Elizabethan/Stuart times and Bill Bryson because he’s funny and warm and he’d get on well with Shakespeare and we could be really nerdy and
discuss the evolution of language and the meaning of words. Yeah, it might sound dull to you, but I’d be in heaven …
When you’ve finished writing a book do you treat yourself to a reward?
That’s a very good idea – why didn’t I think of that!
Where would be your idyllic location for a writing retreat?
Is there a place where food miraculously arrives on your plate without you having to do anything about it? And the temperature is always warm enough that you don’t have to dress like a Yeti to keep warm at your desk?
Failing that, anywhere I could open the windows in the room and hear the sound of the sea and crickets at night. That would be bliss.