I am delighted to welcome Kath McGurl to the blog this week. I put some questions to her.
I was reading one of your own blog posts recently – the one that was NOT about moving from short story to novel writer. What amazed me was learning that your recently published book, The Pearl Locket, developed from a 2,000 word story into a 70,000 word novel. I remember struggling to add 500 words to bring something up to the required magazine word-count. How on earth did you do it?
Hi Natalie – ooh thanks for reading my blog! And thanks for inviting me here. Yes, it was a huge job to turn a 2,000 word story into a 70,000 word novel. But that story lent itself perfectly to a dual-timeline novel (the genre I write) as there was a historical story hinted at in the original tale. I used about 35,000 words to tell the historical story – which is essentially a Romeo and Juliet love story set during the second world war. Then I needed to write the contemporary timeline to weave in and out of the historical. The first draft of this was quite close to the original short story, fleshed out to 35,000 words. I obviously had to add a lot of extra scenes and characters, and let the story develop naturally. It was certainly a challenge but I knew there was enough story there to do it.
Did you use essentially the same characters, apart from developing them obviously, or did their personalities change completely?
In the contemporary story the three main female characters Ali, Kelly and Ali’s grandmother are essentially the same as in the short story. Joan, from the historical story, is also the same. I even kept the same names for them – they already felt real to me, so I didn’t want to rename them! But I needed quite a lot of extra characters – Ali gained a husband and son, Kelly got a boyfriend, there’s a next-door neighbour. Joan gained parents and friends. And Jack – well he’d only been mentioned in the original story but was obviously crucially important, so I worked hard on creating his character before starting to write. He turned out to be a truly lovely person. You know when you fall a little bit in love with one of your characters? That happened with Jack!
Are any of your short stories screaming ‘Me, me, me’ for the next book?
There are a couple more which could become novels, but none I intend writing. I have far too many other ideas to write first! Although – you’ve got me thinking now – there is one which would make a good dual-timeline short novella, and I might have a go at that next…
I believe you also have a day job. And a family. How do you create a balance and still find time to write?
Yes, I work full time in IT for John Lewis. Thankfully I work from home most days, so when I switch off the work laptop at 5pm I can switch on the writing one almost immediately afterwards. My sons are grown up – one’s at university and the other is 17 – so they don’t need a lot of mummying these days. I also need to support my elderly mother.
Balance is always difficult to achieve, and I don’t always get it right. But I think the trick is, to think hard about your priorities. If you want to write, then writing must be a priority, and that means your first thought when you get up in the morning must be, ‘when am I going to write today?’ My husband never lets me say I didn’t have time to do something. ‘You have the same amount of time as everyone else,’ he says. ‘What’s important is how you choose to use your time.’ (I wrote at length about these ideas in my book, Give Up Ironing – a Writer’s Guide to Time Management. Blatent plug.)
What is ‘down time’ for Kath McGurl?
I love to read. Lying on a picnic rug in the garden on a sunny day with a good book or my kindle – bliss. Or the sofa, a throw and a roaring fire if the weather’s not so good.
I also love mountains. So our holidays often involve walking up mountains or skiing down them. I rarely do any writing while I’m on holiday, but will let my batteries recharge in the fresh mountain air.
Will there be any more ‘How To’ books or is your focus now on novels?
I have no more planned, but who knows – if I had a great idea for another book for writers, I’d write it! But yes, having just accepted a second two-book deal from Carina, the novels have to come first. And I love writing them!
Congratulations on the book deal, Kath. Have you abandoned short stories or are they still part of the mix?
I have abandoned them, I’m afraid. I wrote short stories for women’s magazines for about eight years, and loved the buzz I got when I made a sale. But my time is limited, and I am enjoying novel writing more, so the short stories have had to be dropped.
And finally, what are you working on now?
I’m writing another dual-timeline novel for Carina. I can’t say too much about it as I’m still awaiting approval of its synopsis from my editor! It’s nearly half written so I hope she’s happy with the idea. Then I have another three or is it four dual-timeline novel ideas in various stages of gestation – should keep me busy for the next couple of years…
Thanks so much for having me on your fabulous blog, Natalie!
It’s been my pleasure, Kath. Good luck with The Pearl Locket.
Kathleen McGurl lives near the sea in Bournemouth, with her husband, sons and cats. She began her writing career creating short stories, and sold dozens to women’s magazines in the UK and Australia. Then she got side-tracked onto family history research – which led eventually to writing novels with genealogy themes. She has always been fascinated by the past, and the ways in which the past can influence the present, and enjoys exploring these links in her novels.
When not writing or working at her full-time job in IT, she likes to go out running or sea-swimming, both of which she does rather slowly. She is definitely quicker at writing.