Eleanor Prescott’s debut novel, ALICE BROWN’S LESSONS IN THE CURIOUS ART OF DATING was published by Quercus earlier this year. Set in a fictitious dating agency, it’s a romantic comedy that marries love, laughs and disastrous first dates with drunken sex, romance and gardening! Her second novel is due out in early 2013. Prior to becoming a writer, Eleanor used to work in television PR, most notably for MTV. She agreed to answer a few questions here.
How did the idea for your book come about?
The idea had been kicking about in the back of my mind for a long time. A few years back – before the arrival of my kids – I’d attended a creative writing course on Saturday mornings in central London. We did lots of writing activities… describe a character’s appearance, his/her favourite place/job etc. Out of these lessons the character of Audrey Cracknell was born. I then got thinking about a life to fit around her and somehow – bizarrely – the idea of her being the combination of a (terrible) matchmaker and workplace bully evolved. I had the basic premise of the book in mind, but then the course finished, I fell pregnant and real life took over. It was only later, when I had a lot of time on my hands pushing a pram up and down my local streets, that the plot of the book developed and the character of Alice Brown emerged.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes – from the very first moment I clapped eyes on an Enid Blyton!
It must be quite daunting to put your work out to a wide audience. How do you deal with having other people critique your work and has it ever nearly stopped you from publishing?
The fear of trying and failing stopped me from writing for a very long time… that and having a very busy job! And when I finally started writing, I was initially nervous about people reading my work. But once I had a finished first draft, that fear went away. And now that ALICE BROWN has been published, I just want people to read it! I’ve chosen to approach reviews with a very thick skin!
How would you describe a typical writing day? Do you have a writing schedule that you stick to or is your writing day more ad-hoc?
I write during the school-term mornings… and that’s about it! My daughter is still very young, so I don’t have childcare in the afternoons, and my income as a writer makes hiring childcare for the holidays tricky. So I don’t have time to waste! I get my head down at 9.15am and type like the clappers!
What is your process for devising plots and subplots?
I find an excel spreadsheet invaluable. I plot out a list of all my chapters, detailing what’s going to happen, and when. Seeing the plot written down like this makes it easier for me to see how characters develop throughout the story, and work out when subplots need to peak. When I was writing ALICE BROWN I found the length of a novel overwhelming at first – there are so many characters and threads to keep on top of! But once I’d created my excel sheet I began to feel like I was in control. Oh, and it’s a very handy way to keep track of your word count too!
Do you plan your books before writing them or do you dive straight in and see where the writing takes you? If you plan them, how much time do you spend on the planning stages of the book before starting to write? Do you plot the whole thing before starting to write or do the books evolve as you write?
I plot the whole book out first (on my excel sheet!) and then start writing. My first draft is always so long-winded, I’d hate to think how long it would be if I just wrote myself into a plot!
How long did it take to get from rough first draft to published novel?
It’s a bitty process, but 2-3 years from start to finish. I think with both my books, the first draft took 12-18 months. But then my agent and editor got involved, so I did 5 or 6 rewrites over another year or so. But doing the rewrites isn’t as terrible as it sounds!
What do you think were the key milestones in your development as a writer which helped you to become published? For example, did you do a writing course, win a prize for some writing or have a mentor?
I was lucky enough to get an agent when I’d only written a few chapters of ALICE BROWN (mainly because I’d been lucky enough to meet one whilst doing my old job in PR). Basically, my agent told me she wanted to sign me, and I found out that I was pregnant with my second child within the same three hours! My husband told me that this was my chance… I couldn’t deliver a finished manuscript in 3 years’ time – the agent would have forgotten who I was! So the race was on to finish the first draft before the baby arrived. There’s nothing like a deadline for getting something done, and my expanding stomach gave me no opportunity for procrastination!
How did your publishing deal come about?
It’s a really long story (and it involves my husband getting drunk!), but… The last PR job I worked on, a few years back, was a book awards ceremony. On the night the awards took place, my husband came along to help, and managed to get drunk whilst plying a very attractive blonde with the free champagne. Obviously he was initially in line for a rollicking, but it turned out that the attractive blonde was a publisher and he had drunkenly broken all the rules of etiquette and coerced her into agreeing to read my work. A bit embarrassed, I emailed her three chapters the next day, and to my massive surprise she liked them! She asked to see more (which I sent) but then disaster struck! She got flu, and by the time she got back to the office, her entire inbox had been wiped. She had no way of contacting me – and I took her silence as a rejection. But a few years (and numerous rejections) later, I summoned up the courage to get back in touch. And the very lovely blonde who tolerated my drunken husband is now my editor!
Can you tell us something about your writing history – how long was it before your book was published and how many books and/or articles did you write before that point?
My university degree (years back!) included a creative writing course, and it was always my intention to graduate ‘a writer’. But I got my confidence knocked and ended up graduating to sell pants in Knickerbox! I always intended to try writing again, but once I got a ‘proper’ job I found that it stretched into my evenings and weekends as well. Suddenly ten years had passed! So I enrolled myself on a weekend creative writing course and, bit by bit, started writing again. But it was only the natural career break of motherhood that really gave me the opportunity to write. Since then, I’ve been very lucky; ALICE BROWN is my first attempt at a novel. But it had a year of rejections along the way. That might not sound very long, but trust me… at the time it was painful!
Do you spend time researching for your books? How much time do you spend doing this?
No, I’m afraid to say I did very little research, other than nattering to friends over several large glasses of white and remembering my own (inglorious) dating history.
When writing “Alice Brown”, were there any moments where you got writer’s block and if so, how did you overcome those times?
I’m lucky in that I don’t have enough time for writers’ block. I’m always itching to get to my computer and loose myself in whatever I’m writing.
A very big thank you to Eleanor Prescott for answering so many questions and in such detail. Eleanor’s book Alice Brown’s Lessons in the Curious Art of Dating can be purchased in paperback and Kindle formats on amazon here.