Bookshelf Café News – Helen Aitchison, author of The Dinner Club
Facebook: Helen Aitchison Writes
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24. How do you develop your plot and characters?
I tend to get ideas late at night when my brain has processed the day’s events. When an idea comes, it pours out of me and I have to write it down quickly. Those few minutes become around 75% of what the book will end up being. From that, I usually do a mind map on paper, with colours and lots of bad handwriting. This becomes my baseline and is added too when something pops in my head.
Then I start writing and sometimes it changes slightly, or I add a curveball in. I go with the flow, the story and characters become me and if something feels like it needs to change, I change it and don’t dwell on it.
My characters often share traits and experiences of people I know; family members, loved ones lost and people I have worked with over the years who have left an imprint. Developing character names and traits of characters is my favourite part of writing.
26. How do you use social media as an author?
I use the main platforms on social media; Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and my own website. It’s a brilliant way to share information but the best part of social media for me, personally, is the way I have been able to connect to so many people across the world. From writers, to readers to people who follow my cat! It’s been wonderful, soul nourishing and I have made some friends for life.
29. How long does it take you to write a book?
Each manuscript I have written has varied in length. I’ve fitted all my writing around a full time job and voluntary roles.
I wrote The Dinner Club in five months. My next release, The Life and Love (Attempts) of Kitty Cook was written in just over two months and another manuscript took about ten months.
Once I start writing, I get wrapped up in the excitement of developing characters and plot. I’m impatient with myself and most of the time, with writing, it becomes a positive motivator! However, since becoming an author, I’ve learnt the importance of balance and realise at times, the only person putting pressure on me, is me!
35. If you could be mentored by a famous author, who would it be?
Mitch Albom. He writes so beautifully with emotion and connection. From his memoir of his dying college professor through to fiction, I find all of his work relatable and filled with life lessons. I also love his podcasts, where he talks about ordinary, everyday circumstances in a way that makes the listener reflect.
40. If your book were made into a movie, which actors would play your characters?
I recently shared some posts on Instagram about who readers would see as playing the five main characters in my book, The Dinner Club. It was lovely hearing people’s feedback. The Dinner Club is told from five points of view; Derek, Eddie, Violet, Florence and Cara. I think Eddie Marsan would play Derek, Martin Compston would play Eddie, Carey Mulligan would play Violet, Anne Reid would play Florence and Emma MacKay would play Cara.
42. What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?
Be disciplined and allow yourself the time to write. We all have busy lives, but making time for our passions is essential. It should also be something you enjoy and if it isn’t, stop doing it. Be kind to yourself and set achievable goals. Research process of writing and routes to publishing (if that’s what you want). Experiment with style and genre and consider submitting pieces to competitions and call outs.
Develop a network of support. If this can’t be family or friends, join online support through social media or a local writing group. Read, read and read some more. Reading will always make you a better writer.
Don’t be afraid of failing and rejection as it is inevitable. The only failing is never trying. You will find your right fit.
48. What author in your genre do you most admire, and why?
I write both commercial fiction / women’s fiction and crime thrillers. The authors I admire are Matt Haig, Fredrik Backman, Peter Swanson, Chevy Stevens, Liane Moriarty and of course, Mitch Albom.
60. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
When I’m not writing, I am working in my other day jobs. I am the director of a community interest company called Write on the Tyne. The company focuses on making creative writing accessible for all, through group courses and 1-2-1 mentoring, inclusive to all, but with an aim to engaging marginalised people to write and express through creativity. Alongside Write on the Tyne, I work as a writer for StoryTerrace, a tutor at my local council and a journalist for Radio Gateshead.
Outside of work, I continue to keep busy, enjoying exercise, theatre and live music as well as travelling. To relax, I read and spend time with my partner and rescue cat, Eric.
63. What do you think makes a good story?
Characters people buy into, even if the buy into them through negative emotions, that emotional investment makes a good story. A plot that doesn’t have to be extra-ordinary but has to be engaging, has to make some level of sense and flow well. For me personally, I like to read a story that I can relate to. Not necessarily something I have personally experienced, but something I can empathise with. This doesn’t have to be plot, it could be place, character, dialogue.
I don’t read fantasy and sci-fi books as a rule but those I have read, although limited relatability with plot and place at times, I have found the stories of this genre I’ve liked, have allowed me to connect with character, emotion or circumstance, despite a plot that may not be my preferred genre.
A good story keeps me entertained, engaged, curious. A good story gives me a visual in my mind with characters that I feel invested in.
65. What inspired the idea for your book?
My book was inspired by our intrinsic need to be accepted and by my 20 year career of working with people from all walks of life, all with a story to tell. This alongside my own life experience and feelings none of us are immune from such as grief, heartbreak and fear as well as the beauty of friendship, love and hope.
Food brings people together, so the theme of a dining club felt a perfect fit for five different, lonely people to come together and develop an infallible friendship.