Please welcome today, Lynne Shelby. Lynne, what was the inspiration behind your book? Can you tell us a little about?
I was inspired to write my new book, The Summer of Taking Chances, while I was watching an amateur drama society perform in a small local theatre. The actors were very talented, especially the leads and it occurred to me to wonder why they had chosen not to pursue a professional acting career. What if one of them had passionately wanted to go to drama school, but for some reason they were unable to pursue their dream? By the time the curtain came down, I had the outline of the story of Emma and Jake, who as teenagers, dreamt of glittering careers on the stage. Ten years later – when the book begins – he is a successful actor, living in London, while she is still living in South Quay, the small seaside village where they both grew up, working in a local hotel, and barely remembering the dreams they once shared. Then Jake returns to South Quay for the summer…
How did you decide on the names for your characters and the setting for your book?
I don’t know where the names for my main characters came from – Emma and Jake rocked up in my head demanding that I tell their story! For the names of minor characters, I picked names that I like and which are right for their various ages – I find it fascinating how names go in and out of fashion. I avoid giving characters the names of family members or close friends!
The Summer of Taking Chances takes place over the summer months, and I wanted the setting to reflect the book’s ‘summery’ feel. The fictional village of South Quay where the book is set is based on a seaside village in Sussex, where my family used to have a holiday home, where I spent summer holidays as a child, and where me and my husband took our now adult children when they were young. I have wonderfully vivid memories of long hot days by the sea, eating fish and chips on the beach, and collecting shells and sea glass – all things characters do in the book. The village hasn’t changed much over the years, and families still go there in the summer for a traditional beach holiday complete with sandcastle building and jumping over the waves!
How long did the book take to write? How much re-writing do you do?
From having the initial idea for the story to deciding that the book was finished took nearly a year. I wrote the first draft with hardly any editing, jotting new ideas on post-it notes to add in a later draft, and writing scenes as bullet points if the words weren’t flowing smoothly that day. After typing ‘The End’ on the first draft, I went through the manuscript again four times in all, re-writing sentences or phrases that didn’t sound right when I read them aloud, and moving paragraphs around, rather than making any major structural changes – although I did cut a couple of scenes that I really liked but regretfully had to admit weren’t right for this book. It was when I realised that I’d changed ‘the’ to ‘a’ and back again that I knew it was time to stop re-writing and send the book out into the world.
What is your writing day like?
I’d love to be able to say that I get up at dawn and write 3,000 words before breakfast, but in reality, on a typical writing day, I go to my writing room (also known by my family as the spare bedroom) and sit down at my desk by about 9.30 – and I have to admit that I check my emails and social media before opening the document containing my WIP. Before I start writing, I read back over everything I wrote the day before, to get back into the flow of my story, and then I write up to lunchtime – although I have been known to keep writing and forget to have lunch if a story is going really well – and go back to my desk and write for another couple of hours in the afternoon. I used to aim to write 1,000 words in a day, but as I’m a relatively slow writer, I’ve found it’s much more realistic to aim for 500 words and then be delighted when my word-count for the day is 800. On the very occasional day when I hit 2,000+ words, I’m ecstatic!
What kind of research did you do before beginning the book?
As I write contemporary romance, I don’t have to do the sort of factual research that I imagine is done by writers of historical fiction, and the research I do before I start writing tends to focus on the location of my story. Of course, these days it’s possible to research a location on-line, but I like to visit the place I’m writing about, to absorb the feel of it, the scents and sounds that you can’t get from photos on the internet.
Although South Quay, the location of The Summer of Taking Chances, is a fictional place, I wanted it to have the atmosphere of a typical Sussex seaside village, like the one where I spent holidays as a child. I’ve visited the area many times since then, but I decided to visit again before I started writing the book, and this gave me an opportunity to make notes for scenes in the book in places similar to where they happen. I also took lots of photos which I pinned to a cork board in my writing room to inspire me as I wrote.
There are also a couple of chapters in the book that take place in London. I live in London and know it well, but I walked the routes taken through the city by my characters before I wrote the scenes, to make certain that, for instance, a view I was describing hadn’t been obscured by a new tower-block!
The other research I did was to find out more about the jobs done by characters in the book by talking to people who work in those professions. For example, Emma’s best friend in the book, Lizzie, is a primary school teacher, so I asked a teacher about her working day. Not everything she told me made it into the book, but it was there in the back of my mind as I wrote about Lizzie, and I think it made her a more rounded character. Luckily, I find that most people are very happy to describe what they do at work!
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
The best writing advice I was ever given, advice that I’d like to pass on to aspiring authors, was to keep on writing even when your first efforts aren’t all you want them to be, because you can edit a rough draft, but you can’t edit an empty page.
Ideally, try to write every day, even if it’s just for five minutes, so that the flow of your story stays fresh in your mind. At the same time, don’t beat yourself up if other commitments mean that you can’t write for a while – it’s important for writers to build experiences that can inspire their writing, and listening to conversations really helps an author write convincing dialogue.
Look out for writing competitions that you can enter – having to keep to a word count and a deadline is great way for writers to hone their craft.
Read as many books as you can, not just in your chosen genre, and if you’ve enjoyed a book, ask yourself what it is about the writing that makes you like it.
And if it’s your dream to become a published author, never give up, because dreams really can and do come true.
Can you tell us what you are working on now?
The book I’m working on now is a contemporary romance that begins in London but soon relocates to Athens and then a Greek island. It was inspired by a holiday I spent in Athens, Santorini and Crete, when I knew I simply had to write a book set in beautiful Greece.
About the author:
Lynne Shelby writes contemporary women’s fiction/romance. Her debut novel, French Kissing, was published when it won a national writing competition. Her latest novel, The Summer of Taking Chances, is published on 4 June 2020. She has worked at a variety of jobs from stable girl to child actor’s chaperone to legal administrator, but now writes full time. When not writing or reading, Lynne can usually be found at the theatre watching a play or a musical, or exploring a foreign city – Paris, New York, Rome, Copenhagen, Seattle, Athens – writer’s notebook, camera and sketchbook in hand. She lives in London with her husband, and has three adult children who live nearby.
About the interviewer.
Catherine Lawless lives in Hertfordshire with her husband, daughter and their three border terriers. She writes novels, journals and children’s books. Catherine’s career started out as a singer/songwriter in a rock band. She toured extensively throughout Europe and the UK before settling down and following her childhood dream of writing books.