Lulu Taylor is married and lives in London. “Heiresses” was her fist book and was closely followed by “Midnight Girls” and “Beautiful Creatures”. Her latest book “Outrageous Fortune” tells the story of two girls born on the same day but lead extremely different lives, as they struggle to survive in the brutal world of business.
- Lulu, your latest book “Outrageous Fortune” is about two girls born to very different circumstances – one a pampered princess and the other a neglected child on a rough estate – whose paths end up crossing in unexpected ways. What inspired you to write this type of story?
I do like a Prince and the Pauper tale, and I’ve always been fascinated by how we are shaped by circumstances. If you’re born to wealth and privilege, are your virtues, such as not stealing, really tested? Similarly, if you’re poor, can you be blamed for being hardened by your life, and for doing whatever it takes to get on? But by the same token, a girl with all the material advantages can be deprived in some ways, and a poor girl can be rich in others. I think we also all love a transformation story – I love TV shows where people or places get a makeover, for example. And there’s also the way the most unlikely lives can cross paths and become entwined. All these things ended up being part of “Outrageous Fortune”, and I hope it’s all come together to make an entertaining story.
- For the readers of the website, that may not be familiar with you or your writing, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing?
I started off with a job in publishing after university, and loved working with books and stories. Although I’d always adored reading and had written stories as a youngster, I never imagined writing my own books. I did enjoy editing and learned a lot about how stories are constructed and also, crucially, how authors often can’t see the problems with their books (or I suppose they would have sorted it out themselves!). So I learned that editors are vital – good, constructive and sympathetic but honest ones in particular. I became a freelance editor and decided I would have a go at writing my own books. It was much harder work than I expected but I really loved telling stories that are intended to amuse, grip and entertain. There are plenty of wonderful writers describing raindrops and sunsets beautifully, and I read and like those books, but I’m not ashamed to enjoy an engrossing story well told. I hope I’m entertaining people – that’s what I set out to do.
- What authors do you admire?
I admire anyone who can tell a good story so well you hardly notice the skill – and I’m always in awe of people who can write comedy, as it’s just the most difficult thing to be funny on the page. It needs enormous skill and lightness of touch. I get furious with critics who think comedy and romantic fiction are somehow rubbish and, not only that, easy to write. I always want to challenge them to write a fabulous, entertaining, witty and touching novel of their own and then see how easy it is. We have some fantastic fiction writers: Sophie Kinsella, JoJo Moyes, Lisa Jewell, Jenny Colgan, Lucy Dillon… to name but a few.
- If “Outrageous Fortune” was to be adapted for screen, who do you imagine would play the roles of Daisy and Chanelle?
Daisy is naturally fair but goes dark, while Chanelle is a bit darker and she goes peroxide white. They’re both spirited but Daisy probably has that privileged prettiness that comes from lots of money. Someone like Blake Lively or Amanda Siegfried, perhaps. Chanelle has had a tough time and I imagine her as a Kristin Stewart type. But she has a fighter’s spirit, so maybe Jennifer Lawrence from “The Hunger Games” would be good!
- How do you feel about the current state of the publishing industry? Do you feel it is an exciting time for authors?
I think the industry is at a weird moment. We’ve been talking about eBooks for ever, but no one really believed that they would take off. Now we’ve been hit by the iPad/Kindle tsunami and eBooks are growing in popularity, particularly for commercial fiction and with younger readers. Not only that, but the chain bookshops, except for Waterstones, have practically vanished from our high streets: Amazon and the supermarkets have almost made them extinct. Smaller independent bookshops seem to be managing to survive, and they don’t tend to sell as much commercial fiction. I know my very sweet and lovely local bookshop would never stock my books, partly because they can’t compete with discounts offered by Amazon and the supermarkets. So we don’t quite know what the future holds for print books, particularly commercial fiction which has traditionally been seen as more disposable. We also don’t know how copyright will be affected by the ease of sharing downloads and so, as an author, I have a few concerns. People are getting very excited about authors self publishing but I’m rather wary of that, perhaps because I used to be in publishing. I know how many bad books are out there being rejected by agents and publishers, and I know how important a good editor is to any text, so I’m not sure that self publishing is the way to go. But on the other hand, the fact it is there is helping writers get some notice when they might otherwise be ignored. I do know that publishers are going to have to think very carefully about how they publish and market books in the future, and how they protect their and their author’s revenue. But readers will always want wonderful stories, so I’m sure we will find a way through the obstacles.
- Of all the books that you have read, which one would you have liked to have said ‘I wrote that’?
I’m a reader and have loved and admired many wonderful books, but I would love to have written “Rebecca”. It’s such a wonderful gothic tale and so incredibly cleverly done.
- What part of the writing process, do you find the most difficult?
All of it has its challenges. Plotting is a grind because it’s such an intricate process – and once I’ve done it and started writing, I realise immediately that I’m going to write something quite different from what I intended because something like ‘they get married’ takes a second in a plot synopsis and pages in the writing. When I sit down to start, I always think that the blank page waiting for text is the most difficult but often editing can be really taxing, as I have to replan the entire book, working out all the ramifications of plot changes. But I do enjoy embellishing and expanding. My theory has always been that the first draft is when you tell yourself the story, the second is when you add all the sparkle and excitement and tension, and tell it for someone else.
- Was there ever a book that you read, that didn’t live up to the hype that surrounded it and left you disappointed?
It’s always hard to criticize someone else’s book publicly, partly because you don’t always know the back story. I did read a novel by a very successful author who had written one of the most famous books of the nineties, and it was hugely disappointing. It read like a first draft, and, because of my publishing background, I had a suspicion that the publishers had a lot riding financially on the book being published that year – so they’d gone ahead with it even when it clearly needed a thorough edit and a rewrite. You can’t blame an author for that decision (although there might have been a late delivery of the manuscript that had pushed the schedule far too tight). The best way to discover a book, though, is to stumble on it without knowing too much about it. That way it feels like your own, personal discovery. I found the Narnia books on my parents’ shelves when I was little, and was terribly shocked and slightly disappointed to discover that other people knew about them and had read them too. I thought they belonged just to me!
- I always thought the opening line to “The Lovely Bones” was quite memorable, are there any opening lines to book that stuck out to you?
I always remember the opening to “Catch 22″ – ‘It was love at first sight’. And of course there’s the famous opening to “Rebecca” – ‘Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again’. But the great thing about novels is that they are not a sprint, and you’ve got a few pages to grip and involve the reader, and pull them into the story. Having said that, a memorable opening line is wonderful if you can do it!
- Here on the Handwritten Girl website, I would like to be able to offer potential writers like myself advice. Are there any areas you would suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
I always say that the first thing to do is to finish something.That puts you way ahead of all the other aspiring writers who are never finishing their books! It’s tempting to keep stopping and editing, but try to press on to the end. Once you’ve finished, you’ll be able to take a step back and start working out what the story is actually about, and whether it’s working. I always recommend taking a break from a book as well – a few weeks without looking at it, so you can approach it again with a fresh eye. Don’t ask family or friends to read and criticise – you’ll probably get unalloyed praise, which is nice but not that useful, or you’ll be incredibly annoyed by their criticism. It’s always great to try and get feedback from unbiased sources, which is why writing groups can be so useful. To first-time writers, I would caution that they beware of trying too hard. Where possible, always take the simple route while you are learning the craft. Steer clear of fancy structures that get in the way of the story, or multiple narrative voices (one novel I read had about fourteen narrators, all of them talking in the same voice), or incredibly overcomplicated plots. Think about a strong story, clear characterization, natural dialogue and how to weave together the elements of plot and description so that the reader is effortlessly transported into the story. Easy to say, very hard to do!
- When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
Naturally I need my laptop (though whether I need my internet connection distracting me is another matter). It depends on the time of day – it could be a cup of tea, or it could be my iPod playing something evocative to help me enter the emotional state I’m trying to conjure up. Sometimes, if I’m writing something a little steamy, a glass of wine seems appropriate to help me feel less self conscious!
- And finally Lulu, do you have any new projects or releases on the horizon, which you would like to share with the readers of the blog?
I’m very excited to see how “Outrageous Fortune” does, I’m very fond of it and really hope others enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I felt so close to the characters by the end, and I really enjoyed the love stories in this one. But as soon as one is finished, it’s time to start thinking about a new set of people and the events that are going to turn their lives upside down for our entertainment, and I hope to have more news about what’s coming up before too long…