Ahead of this week’s live book club event, author Susannah Constantine tells us all about her writing process for Summer in Mayfair.
This is new to me – to be part of a book club, where I am talking about my own novel, Summer in Mayfair. Where better to try this out than my publishing home HQ?
I can’t quite believe I am writing about my second book. To write a novel had always been a distant dream, that I longed for but thought I’d never accomplish. Newspaper articles? Not a problem. Non-fiction? Bring it on. But to rely upon my imagination to devise a reader worthy plot was beyond my capabilities.
It took the advice of a publisher who told me to write 3,000 on a 10-second incident that happened in my childhood. ‘Look at what is around you, remember how you felt. Set the scene and draw on the emotions it brought up.’ This unlocked something in my brain. I found I could write using my own life experience to recreate a story. Hence my first novel was semi-autobiographical, with characters based on real people and the setting drawn from my upbringing as a solitary child living in rural Lincolnshire. I wrote After the Snow in a stream of consciousness as and when I had time. There was no preparation – just a long, drawn out brain dump manipulated into some kind of prose! The edit was an agonising process that took months, but I learnt SO much.
So I embarked on Summer in Mayfair with a fully formed plot-line that had 31 scenes. I wrote bullet points for each scene – who was in it and what happened. This roadmap meant I never got lost and would dip into a scene based on how I was feeling at the time. It’s much easier to write about sorrow if you are feeling blue yourself; or anger, loneliness, happiness and so on.
Every author has their own method for racking up the word count. For me, writing environment is essential. There is something about a location where I am alone but not alone. Planes, trains and cafes provide just the right amount of distraction without being disturbed by bleating kids or an annoying husband! My favourite haunt is Tom’s in my local village. I’ll turn up in time for a delicious plate of scrambled eggs and a cappuccino and stay there until mid-afternoon.
When any one of my 3 children are at home, I like to write after dinner when everyone has gone to bed. I love the solitude and silence of a darkened home at rest. Music is an essential part of my writing process. I play it full volume on headphones and only allow myself to listen to it when I write. It’s like a reward and something I look forward to. Anything to avoid procrastination! The house is never cleaner than when I’m supposed to be writing. I’ll do whatever to avoid it!
I adored writing Summer in Mayfair. The story is set in 1979 against a backdrop of the art world and London’s emerging gay scene – two of my most fervent passions. Esme is left a damaged painting by her mother’s lover in his will that requires restoration. I sat with an incredible picture restorer and watched him work over many days. It was fascinating, painstaking work – like solving a mystery. As all my best male friends are gay, there was no research required there! HRH Princess Margaret reappears in this book and Sir Elton John has a cameo. Both of them have played a huge part in my life, so I hope you enjoy reading about two such well-known names, written by someone who knew/knows them well.
Lots of love to you all and happy Summer in Wherever you are!