Today Ruth Mancini stops by as part of her Swimming Upstream blog tour and kindly answers a few of my questions.
1. Tell us about Swimming Upstream, what’s it about and where did you get the inspiration to write it?
I wrote the first draft of “Swimming Upstream” twenty years ago after a painful relationship break up when issues from my own past came rearing up to haunt me. It was extremely painful because old hurts from my childhood were dragged up. I wanted to read something similar, to know that someone had been through what I had and survived. We all like to listen to songs or watch movies that resonate with us and I wanted to read a novel that had issues similar to mine. But I couldn’t find anything, so I decided to write one. I also wanted to write a story with lots of drama. I love psychological thrillers so wanted to create a story that had some of that aspect to it too. Swimming Upstream is the story of a young woman, Lizzie, who is surprised to realise that she’s unhappy, in spite of having achieved all the things in life that she’d thought would bring her happiness. A road traffic accident brings her into contact with an old friend who is harbouring a secret that will change Lizzie’s life forever. The novel is about friendship, essentially, and the choices we make. It’s been described as “thinking women’s chicklit”.
2. Do you like to plan your new work in progress before you start or do you like to see where the story takes you?
Plan. Definitely. I’m currently writing the sequel to Swimming Upstream and I plotted the whole story in my head months ago, when driving, or walking or having a bath. When I first started writing all those years ago it was much more ad hoc, and the first draft of Swimming Upstream was much more of a stream of consciousness. It needed a lot of work as there was way too much of my own life story in there! I’m finding it much easier to write the sequel now that I have a framework to work with. I know where I have to work in certain aspects of the plot that’s to come – “foreshadowing” – and it’s fairly easy to do that if you’ve planned ahead. I just read “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn and I think that was an amazing book. It was clearly extremely well plotted and I admire the author greatly for that.
3. What’s your way of dealing with the dreaded writer’s block?
To be honest, it hasn’t happened to me yet. I’m probably completely jinxing myself here! I think the last question is part of the answer to that. I personally think it’s easier to write if you have a framework in place already. One of the other things I do when I start writing each day is to go over what I wrote yesterday and “polish” it. I find it helps to exercise the writing muscles and get me going with the next new chapter. I consider it the writer’s equivalent to a runner’s stretch!
4. Do you have any advice for anyone writing their first novel?
Just start writing. About anything. If you don’t have much of an idea or framework, then just get it down on paper and exercise those muscles. You may well edit out three quarters of it later on but at least you’ll have something to work with. One of the most amazing things I find about writing – and other authors have said the same – is that once you start writing your subconscious often takes over and you find you’ve written things you never knew that you consciously thought or felt. It’s kind of magical.
5. How long did it take you to write Swimming Upstream and how did you decide on how you would publish it?
It took twenty years altogether! But I did shelve it while I did other things for many years in between (marriage, kids, a career as a lawyer). I dusted it down and rewrote it a couple of years ago and some friends persuaded me to self-publish it on Amazon. It got some fantastic reviews and then a friend introduced me to Booktrope, who put it out to their reader community. It got a thumbs up! The sequel is unfolding much more quickly though. I’ve written half of it in a matter of a few weeks.
6. You must answer a lot of these questions. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been, and what’s the answer?
I suppose that if I were to try and think of something that your readers might want to know about, they might ask about my personal life. For many years after my ‘big’ relationship breakup I was single, like Lizzie, the central character in Swimming Upstream. I found it really hard and lonely and longed to meet someone and fall in love. But I knew that I needed sufficient time to truly find myself first and to resolve the issues from my past. I’d always lost myself in relationships as a means of escape from my problems. Eventually, I met my husband and a new chapter began, with its own problems. Our first baby (now 11) was born with a severe learning disability. He’s like a baby in a big boy’s body. It was a really difficult thing to come to terms with. It’s still very difficult on a practical level and he can’t talk so he gets very frustrated and upset, because he can’t tell us what he wants. But I’d still say that we are a happy family and there is a lot of laughter. When I look back over my life there have been a lot of challenges, but I think I’ve become stronger for them. Oh, and wine and chocolate help!