After 23 years as a newspaper journalist Hilary Bonner turned her talents to fiction, writing a series of well-received psychological thrillers and crime dramas, including her latest novel The Cruellest Game.
With not one but two writing careers under her belt, we thought Hilary would be the perfect person to provide some useful tips and helpful info for young Reading Activists interested in creative reading and writing careers. Here are Hilary's words of wisdom...
What does a day in the life of a journalist/author look like?
I don't actually do any journalism any more. I am now a full time novelist. But I spent 23 years as a Fleet Street journalist and was showbusiness editor of three national newspapers and assistant editor of one. I quit my last staff job as showbusiness editor of the Daily Mirror in 1993 when that newspaper, like the whole profession, began to change in ways I was not comfortable with. It was then that I wrote my first novel, but I continued to also freelance as a journalist for ten years or so and to write non fiction books.
That period was extremely hectic. I travelled a great deal and was lucky enough to have too much journalistic work to deal with most of the time. I used to get up really early in order to do a couple of hours fiction work before the mayhem descended. In a way, although I now concentrate almost entirely on writing one psychological thriller a year for Pan Macmillan, that hasn't changed.
I get up as early as I can, usually around 7am, quite frequently earlier. I make myself a mug of tea and if the weather is halfways decent take it outside and potter in the garden for half an hour or so. Then I head for my desk. If I'm writing the first draft of a book, which I sometimes feel is like pulling out my own teeth, I try to write 2,000 words a day. I can be through by 10am and have the rest of the day to myself, when I will walk the dog, drive to the seaside, do some gardening, go to watch my cricket team, Somerset, or watch a game on TV, or play backgammon.
When the words do not come easily I can still be messing about into the afternoon, and I may well settle for producing 500 or so. As long as I have written something at least I haven't broken my momentum. Once the first draft is completed I'm inclined to work for longer each day, but that's because I've reached the stage when I relax and actually enjoy the creative process.
What are your favourite and least favourite things about the job?
I love coming up with the ideas, building on that first draft, and holding that newly published hard back. Like all writers I hate the blank page.
When did you decide you wanted to become a writer and how did you set about pursuing this?
When I knew I didn't want to continue in Fleet Street I sat down and wrote my first novel, The Cruelty of Morning. I was turning out at home and found at the back of a cupboard a scruffy two or three chapters and a bit of a treatment for the rest of a book I'd started some twenty years later. So I guess the thought that I would like to be a novelist one day had lurked for a very long time.
I still liked the idea so I just got on with it. I had in mind polishing it up and sending it to a publisher in the form of just those few chapters along with a completed and properly constructed treatment, but I got in such a muddle I realised I had little choice but to finish the thing, I had been trying to write a TV script but failed to get it taken up.
I had, however, acquired an agent in that field. He sent my novel to a literary agent who took it on and found me a publisher, Heinemann, after just a couple of months. I was very lucky. But I had done the hard work in producing 100,000 plus of non commissioned words - totally against the grain for a professional journalist.
What advice would you give to any young people who would like to work in a similar role?
If you want to be a journalist try to get an apprenticeship with a local paper. It's still the best way. If you only want to be a writer, then write. Don't talk about it, write it down. But don't give up the day job! And if you are trying to write a novel, then do what I did, just get on with it until it's finished. Forget that old chestnut advice about submitting a few chapters etc. I now know that almost never works for first time novelists unless they are famous for something else. Also, make sure you write something every day, whatever else you are doing, even if it's only 400 or 500 words. Otherwise it will feel like starting all over again every time you sit down at your keyboard.
How important a role did work experience/volunteering play in getting you to where you are today?
None at all. I know this is the modern way but I remain extremely suspicious of so called internships and the whole concept of young people working for nothing. My first job on a local paper paid nine pounds seven shillings a week, Yep, old money, and it was a very long time ago. It was also a very low wage even then - only to be expected as I was learning my trade - but the important thing was that I was being paid for my work. I really disapprove of a system which it seems to me instils in young people the concept that their labours are worthless.
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