I would like to welcome Sheila Norton to my blog today. Sheila's book Oliver the Cat Who Saved Christmas was published by Ebury Publishing on 22 October 2015.
A Feline Fable
(or how an old author learned some new tricks)
By Sheila Norton
‘A cat story? Why did you write a cat story?’ somebody asked me when my new book Oliver the Cat Who Saved Christmas was about to be published. The answer was – because I was asked to! True enough, I’d never have thought of writing it if an ex-editor of mine hadn’t contacted me asking if I’d be interested in this project they wanted to commission. All my earlier novels were contemporary women’s fiction. Recently I’d written two books set in the 1960s, and a contemporary novel about grandparents, but an adult Christmas story about cats? Different! Especially as the story was to be narrated by a cat – something which, when I wrote short stories for magazines, was always a definite ‘no’. It reminded me how fashions change in publishing; apparently this was now a new trend.
Despite my surprise, I was very excited by the idea. I’m a cat lover myself – I’d have to be, to even consider it. Although for lifestyle reasons we don’t have cats now, my family have enjoyed the company of three cats over the years and as I started to write Oliver’s story, the memories of their little personalities came flooding back. Oliver had to be a very special cat – one who could understand everything his humans said! But as the story progressed I became convinced that cats probably can understand Human, but to Oliver’s regret, humans never bother to learn Cat! Despite being narrated by a cat, the story is really, like all my novels, about relationships, how people (and animals!) interact and manage their lives.
I can honestly say it was one of the most enjoyable novels I’ve written. But there was a catch – a very tight deadline. For the proposed October publication date, it had to be completed by the 1st July, and it was already towards the end of March when the idea was put to me. But the book didn’t need to be more than 60,000 words – quite short in novel terms – and with a synopsis agreed by the end of the month, I was ready to start work at the beginning of April. Three months: 20,000 words per month. It was doable!
I should probably mention here that I’m not used to working to a deadline. I’m often asked when I give talks, how I schedule my writing work, and the answer has always (up till now) been: I don’t! I was working full-time when my first six novels were published, and my editor was very understanding. She’d ask whether a year was going to be enough, and I’d always agree. I believe it’s important to be an easy author to work with – prima donnas don’t last long in this business. But the year between books gave me plenty of time, working evenings, weekends and days off. I write fast, and those early books hardly needed any research, being about everyday characters with all their laughs, loves and sorrows. Writing was how I relaxed after a day at work, so I didn’t need to discipline myself to do it.
Since retiring from the day job, I’ve had even less need to schedule my writing time, especially as some of the books I’ve written since have been self-published. I don’t have a particular time for writing.
Some days I do a lot, some days I don’t do any. My 1960s books certainly needed more research than the contemporary ones. I did live through those years, which was my main reason for wanting to write them, but memories aren’t always accurate. Ticket to Ride, which is partly set in Australia and concerns child migrants, needed the most research. I did it as needed during the writing, rather than beforehand, apart from a trip to Australia which was to visit family, but obviously helped with the background!
So it’s been something of a surprise to me to find I actually enjoyed working to such a tight deadline for Oliver, and in fact I finished ahead of time. Of course, I realise I’m in an enviable position now I don’t have the constraints of a day job, but I’ve been there, done that! I also had to plan the story in some detail, as my editor and I needed to be happy with the synopsis before I started. There wouldn’t be time for any really major plot revisions later. This again was a change for me, having usually started with a vague storyline and let the characters lead the way. But the whole process has been so much fun, I’m hoping and planning to repeat it soon with another similar book. Which all just goes to show: you can teach an old dog (or an old author) new tricks. We never stop learning – and should never be afraid to try something different.
About Sheila Norton
Sheila Norton lives near Chelmsford in Essex with her husband, and worked for most of her life as a medical secretary, before retiring early to concentrate on her writing. She has three married daughters, six little grandchildren, and over the years has enjoyed the companionship of three cats and two dogs. Most of Sheila’s previous books have been contemporary relationship novels. She has also had over 100 stories published in women’s magazines and has won awards for her short stories and for one of her novels, 'Yesterday'.
When not working on her writing Sheila enjoys spending time with her family and friends, as well as reading, walking, swimming, photography and travel.