Thursday, March 05, 2009

EAILF Penny Vincenzi

First a few more links to the Festival:

Kate Mosse blogs again here

English PEN's blog picked up my post yesterday and opened discussion here and continues the debate about censorship with regard to the festival here

Sameer Rahim's blog post for the Telegraph are here

Penny Vincenzi

Liz Thomson opened the session with the comment that Penny said the best perk of the job was flying business class! Liz said Penny’s first book was Old Sins which came out in 1989 and that Penny was the doyenne of the modern blockbuster.

The conversation then came around to how Penny became a novelist which had never been her plan. She spent her early years in Devon then moved to London in her teens. Although the publicity states that her first job was working in Harrods she said it was actually leading donkeys on the beach, but in all seriousness her first proper job was as a junior secretary at Vogue. This led to a discussion of how different things were then – the journalist wore hats at their desk and never went out without gloves.

From Vogue she moved to the magazine Nova as a journalist. The most amazing story she worked on was ‘How to Undress in Front of Your Husband.’ She said that the photo shoot was the most fascinating part was the model who was actually a beautiful transvestite and she had to keep switching in her head from these beautiful feminine images and to this deep masculine voice.

She had never planned to write fiction and she found it obscenely easy to become a novelist and luck played a big part. In fact her first novel sent in by her agent landed in the slush pile by accident. The reader had written a comment that it was rubbish across the top. Fortunately the editor noticed that an agent had sent in it and pulled it out. The editor went onto publish the book.

She said she found her voice quickly and she loved it. Writing the first book was easy the second was the worse, the curse of the second book. She sees no point in a synopsis before she writes. Her characters write the books. She starts with a ‘what if’ and follows with ‘why and how’.

-then characters come on - like at a party
-she gradually gets to know them
-she keeps a list of characters but that is all and yes she has found that their eye colours change through out the book (she thanks good copy editors for picking these things up)
-the story is just in her head
-she writes from 9 to 6
-she loves writing, she loves watching it grow
-she writes 4000 words a day
-she begins the next day by revising these words
-her editor is her first reader
-she talks the story through with her husband, Paul

Absolute Scandal's came from at a cocktail party. She met a couple that had been very rich and now had nothing. The following day she asked her hostess about them who explained that they had lost all in Lloyds. She knew then that she had her next book. She had never done so much research as she had for Absolute Scandal. She wanted to describe the terror of it.

Her latest book begins with a catastrophe and how it brings people together. Each book is about one year in the writing. She researches on the hoof and that can change the story.
She has stated that to be a writer all you need is a kitchen table and paper. It is a seat of pants on the seat of chair thing. Tenacity is the key. If you have talent you will get to the end.

She never takes her luck for granted.

She said it was extraordinary – for so long it is you and the book and then it’s out there. If she sees someone reading it she watches and if the reader’s attention wanders she can’t bear it. She is neurotic about it.

When asked about endings she you can’t rush it. It’s a bit like having a baby. You are waiting but then it doesn’t arrive when expected and the suddenly it’s there. You can’t rush the end.

When asked about her favourite authors she said she loves her genre and in particular Jilly Cooper, Joanna Trollope, Maeve Binchy, and EJ Howard. She loves story tellers and loves the detective stories of PD James. She loves biographies.

When idea comes it is like a tingle down her spine. She talks it through with husband and then her editor.

She then finds she goes away and starts writing and inevitably it is a false start. Usually at chapter four she realizes it. It is a leaden feeling when it goes wrong. The best thing to do is to go back to the point where it still feels right and just press delete. You’re your darlings. Then she is more confident and the story grows but still not knowing exactly what is going to happen.

She told of a time when she was three quarters through a book and she got the feeling that something wasn’t right. A person had died at the beginning of the book. So she was out walking the dogs mulling this feeling over – then she realized that he hadn’t died - he had been murdered. Then she died thinking she would have to go back and rewrite but when she checked the script her subconscious had made that decision right from the start and there was nothing to change.

She must follow her characters and trust them – they are so real to her. She must trust herself and slog, slog, slog.

She couldn’t stress the importance of a good editor enough and the respect that you need to have for them.

She said it’s harder these days to find an agent. She had been lucky enough to have the most wonderful agent, Desmond Elliot, who passed away recently. She said to find a good one asked around. Study the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. A good agent is crucial. A good one will work miracles for you. They are very clever people and you have to trust them.

She was asked how much she used dictionaries and thesauruses and other tools. She said she uses the thesaurus mostly. Otherwise she just works through.

She reads the papers a lot. She suggested studying other writers work. One writer she knows spends the first hour of her work day reading really good writers before she begins to write.

She said you must always try and make your deadlines. Her background as a journalist made this part of her being. A deadline a powerful thing.

Tomorrow should be the Censorship Panel but as the World Cup Rugby 7's is on going tomorrow I make no promises!


DOT said...

Excellent report, Liz. I briefly worked with photographer, Bob Carlos Clarke, and a very famous transsexual model in the early 80s, whose name I've forgotten but wonder if she was the same woman.

I see that Bob died a couple of years ago at the young age of 56

Lane said...

Loving these posts Liz!
4000 words a day!!

ChrisH said...

I heard Penny Vincenzi at the RNA some years ago and she struck me as a very hard worker and very professional. Although she talks about her good luck I thinks it's because she has made her own by applying her bum firmly to seat. Good for her and very interesting to read your reports, Liz, what a good job you've done for us. (I'm also going to try to pick up your NR widget, although I'm not very technical!)

Calistro said...

Loving these posts Liz - really informative and enlightening. I don't think I'll ever grow tired of how other writers work. Am particularly heartened by the fact Penny suffered from 2nd novel syndrome!

KAREN said...

I love Penny Vincenzi's novels, and it made me laugh to imagine wearing hats and gloves at your desk :o))

Debs said...

Thanks so much for these brilliant reports, Liz.

Susie Vereker said...

So interesting, Liz. Thanks for writing these long posts. Great photos of the match too.

richmond said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.