The next author in our interview series is bestselling author Rona Halsall.
Rona Halsall was a management consultant for twenty years, spending most of her time writing strategies, business plans and grant applications, before dedicating herself to creative writing full-time. Her writing skills have been honed by reading voraciously, as well as undertaking an open university creative writing course.
Rona is a keen book reviewer and belongs to a number of online book and writing groups. She has three grown-up children, and two step-children and she lives on the Isle of Man with her husband. Her first book, Keep You Safe was published by Bookouture in August 2018.
Rona is the author of four psychological thrillers to date. Her latest twisty thriller, Her Mother’s Lies, is published today by Bookouture and was described in an early review by one reader as, “Easily one of the best books I have read this year.”
What inspired you to write?
I’ve always been a voracious reader and have written since I was at primary school. At secondary school, I was the geeky kid who did everyone else’s English homework, because I loved writing those creative pieces. I never thought I’d get to write a novel because it just seemed way too difficult. Then, when I hit 50, and my three children were teenagers, I decided it was time to tick off some of those things on my bucket list and I started writing my first novel. Let’s call it experimental in terms of genre. Anyway, it gave me a writing project, helped me to learn about pace and dialogue and structure. Once I’d started creative writing again, I was quickly hooked on the process of creating characters and giving them stories.
What’s your favourite book/piece of literature?
What – just one? Impossible to say as what I enjoy has changed over the years and I like different books for different reasons. I do love The Hunger Games as an example of how to create a powerful, emotive story using a simple writing style and it’s something I try to do in my own writing, so the story is front and centre, not the language used to tell it. Other favourites are Station Eleven, Little Fires Everywhere and You. I also enjoy a bit of feelgood romance and my favourite this year is The Flat Share by Beth O’Leary.
Where do most of your good ideas come to you?
I tend to have little snippets of ideas floating around my mind, which come to the fore whenever I’m doing menial jobs around the house or garden. Characters – gleaned from the people I see when I’m out and about. Bits of overheard conversations (a good reason for sitting in coffee shops!). An odd situation or anecdote. And then I might read a news story that stirs all these little bits into the start of a storyline. Often it all comes together when I’m out walking the dogs with my husband and I’ll start telling him the story, just making it up as I go along. Usually I’ll get stuck at some point, but I can tell from his reactions whether I’m on to a good idea or not, then we’ll throw ideas around as to how it might end. It grows from there, so it’s very much an organic process.
Where do you write?
I have different places depending on what I’m doing. If I’m writing a first draft, I work on my laptop and sit in the conservatory, which looks out on to fields and woods and hills as I love the feeling of space all around me. It’s also a lovely view to look at when I’m thinking about where I’m going next with the storyline. (You could call it daydreaming.)
When I’m editing, I use the iMac as it has a great big screen and is easier on the eyes when the MS has been marked up by my editor. This is on a desk in the corner of the dining room, where I have nothing to look at except the screen, so can’t be distracted as easily!
What is your writing process?
I am starting to get much more organized as I learn more about the craft. As I write for a digital publisher, the schedule is usually two books a year, so the pace is pretty fast, which I enjoy. If I have lots of time, I procrastinate to gold medal winning levels. I work best with a tight deadline, so even if I don’t have one, I’ll create one! I work on two book contracts, so I’ll send loads of elevator pitches to my editor, to see which catch her attention. Then when we’ve weeded out the best two, I’ll write synopses. If she likes those, I’ll work them into more detailed outlines, and we keep on working at them until she’s happy that we have the structure of the story there and know where we’re heading. Then I break the outline down into chapters – this is to give me stepping stones for the story, although they do tend to swap around once I start. I then write a first draft in about 6 weeks, having a daily and weekly word target, so even if I miss the target one day, I can still meet the weekly target by writing a bit more the next. The first draft is definitely rough, but it means I’m not wasting time editing bits which might get cut out during the first lot of edits. I find this method of working gives my writing more flow, as I know exactly what my end point is every day but how I get is often a surprise!
Where did the idea come from for Her Mother’s Lies?
Her Mother’s Lies is quite a personal story for me, based on some of my own experiences as a child. The abandonment by a father I adored, my mother struggling. So that was my starting point and then I was asking myself why the father left, what secrets might the mother be hiding, why would she lie to her daughter and it grew from there, with snippets of news stories taking my thinking in various directions. I think it’s easy to be critical of our parents, but until you understand their stories properly and the choices they faced at the time, you really can’t judge. So this story is all about the choices a parent might make for the sake of their child. And conversely, the choices a child might make for the sake of their parent.
How do you relax after a day of writing?
Hmm relax, you say? I’m not sure my mind actually knows how to do that! I try and break up the writing day as it’s not productive for me to sit down at 9am and write until 5pm. I am a contrary individual and work better in little spurts, with time between to allow my mind to wander. During the day, I enjoy dog walks and getting out and about in the fresh air. I am also a big fan of coffee shops, especially ones where they have nice squishy seats. In the evenings, I might watch TV with my husband for an hour or two depending on what’s on, but tend to spend my time catching up on social media, chatting to friends. Did I mention I’m a voracious reader? That’s the best relaxation, isn’t it? I always have a book on the go and a stack waiting to be read.
When I’m in the middle of writing a first draft, I don’t think I ever properly relax as I have to keep the threads of the story in my mind and my characters keep talking to me. Having little conversations, telling me things I didn’t know. They’re pesky little blighters and once I’ve created them, it’s a job to get them to shut up.