In 2008 Morgan McCarthy started working part-time in order to write her first novel, The Other Half of Me, which received rave reviews from both readers and critics. Morgan’s other novels include The Outline of Love and Strange Girls and Ordinary Women.
We caught up with Morgan to find out how she became a author and to get her top tips on writing a novel.
What did you do for a living before becoming an author?
A few, rather random jobs: I’ve worked in book shops, supermarkets, a fast food chain (for two hours) and, most recently, as a media analyst. I’d always known I wanted to write, so I started when I finished University, trying to choose jobs that would allow me time to write. That was easier said than done! My partner was brilliant and in the end he supported me while I worked part time and focused on writing. That allowed me to finish my first novel.
How did you make that transition to becoming a full time author?
Whenever I’d finished a draft of a manuscript to a point when I (usually wrongly) considered it ‘ready’, I’d send it off to agents. It took several attempts before my agent, Jo Unwin, read the manuscript of The Other Half of Me and offered to take me on. She then sold the novel to Headline as part of a two-book deal, and with the advance from that I was able to write full time.
What are your writing rituals?
I don’t actually have any. The only two constants in my writing process are (1) a laptop and (2) a place to sit down. Nothing else is really necessary.
What do you do when you have writers block?
I haven’t – yet – experienced writer’s block. I do suffer from severe episodes of procrastination. This usually carries on until I get so fed up with my own laziness and inefficiency that I have to sit down and write something just to get back on good terms with myself.
How do you map out the plot for a story before writing it?
I make a very detailed plan, with most key elements outlined before I start. Usually before I start writing I’ll havenotes on my phone, computer and drawer – of scenes, or ideas, or even one liners – which I add into the bare bones of the structure. It looks like an utter mess at this point, but a chronological one. Then I start at the beginning and write the story, absorbing the notes as I go.
What’s the best way to brainstorm story ideas?
I genuinely don’t know. I start with one idea about a story, which usually appears out of nowhere. Then whenever I think about this idea, more ideas attach themselves to it. The more time I spend writing and thinking about it, the more ideas I have. I just record them as they crop up.
How much work goes into developing your characters before you actually start writing?
I know almost everything significant about them before I start. As I write they inevitably develop further, but as my plots are so heavily character based, I need to be pretty well acquainted with the basics.
How long does it take you to research your novel before you start writing?
With my previous novels, which were set in the present day, I didn’t spend more than a month in total researching, and a lot of research was done as I went along. With the novel I’m currently working on – part of which is set in the 1920s – research has taken longer. I’ve spent a few months gathering material.
How do you know if your story line is any good?
I’m still not sure if my story lines are any good!
How long on average does it take you to write a novel?
A year, though the first one was written at intervals over a period of several years and involved many, many rewrites.
How long after you have written a novel can it take until it is published and hits the shops?
It commonly takes about a year from the day you send your first novel to an agent or publisher (assuming they take it on), to the day you see it on the shelves. It can take longer. This includes the weeks waiting to hear whether someone likes the book, and several stages of editing with first an agent and then a publisher.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Read as much as you can of the writers you admire. Then try not to accidentally copy them.
What are your top tips for getting published?
Get some objective advice. If you don’t know anyone who enjoys your type of fiction and is prepared to give you a brutally honest opinion (an extremely rare combination), make an investment and send it to in a professional editorial service. I used The Literary Consultancy, but there are others out there too.
When it comes to submitting, I’d recommend using The Writers and Artists’ Yearbook to find agents or publishers who represent your type of fiction and accept submissions. It also offers guidance in crafting a cover letter and other advice. Finally, make sure you follow any advice on the agent or publisher’s website. The publishing industry is short on time and resources for reading unsolicited manuscripts: don’t lower the chances of your manuscript being read by not following the rules.
Finally, stay positive! It’s tough at times submitting work you’re proud of and receiving only standard rejection slips in return. If you’re not published on the first try, don’t take it to heart: focus instead on continuing to write and improve. Remind yourself that many incredibly successful authors were rejected multiple times.