Q&A With Louise Cooper

Louise Cooper, author of the released-in-February Doctor Who novel Rip Tide, as well as the Daughter of Storms trilogy and many more, recently took the time to answer some questions for GW!

1. How do you come up with the ideas for your stories? In other words, how do the muses work for you?

That's one of the hardest questions to answer, because I don't really know! Ideas just sort of germinate, like seeds popping up unexpectedly in the garden. And, like seeds, they tend to appear in unlikely places and at unexpected times. I could be with a group of friends, or messing around in the sea, or walking, or listening to the cricket commentary on the radio... and suddenly, for no discernible reason, I come up with the bones of a plot. It's as well that my husband, Cas Sandall, is (a) tolerant and (b) used to me, as I must be pretty peculiar to live with at times!

2. Do you have a special routine when you're writing, or can you just sit down at a computer and start typing?

I feel ashamed of myself when I hear other writers say that they have definite working hours that they diligently stick to. I'm completely the opposite. If the muse hits - or, to be absolutely honest, if I'm late on a deadline and starting to panic! - I just sit down and start writing, with no routine to speak of. I also have a habit that Cas calls "vaguing" - drifting around the house or garden with a faraway look on my face, apparently oblivious to everything but in fact developing a plot and running it through my inner vision like a kind of mental movie. It *is* work, honestly!

3. Who are your literary influences?

A bit of an eclectic list, starting with the originators of ancient myths and legends, and in particular those of the British Isles and Scandinavia. Favourite 20th-century writers are Rudyard Kipling (who I think had some of the best descriptive powers of any writer ever born) and Nevil Shute, whose ability to pull you into a story and keep you turning the page is, I think, unsurpassed. In children's literature I love C.S. Lewis (I've been a Narnia addict since I learned to read), E. Nesbit, Susan Cooper (anyone who hasn't read the "Dark Is Rising" sequence should go out and buy it right NOW!) and a once-popular but now out-of-print author called Monica Edwards. My favourites in adult SF and fantasy are Ray Bradbury (stunningly evocative), Robert Sheckley (side- splittingly hilarious) and John Varley (an incredible imagination).

4. Generally how long does it take you to write an average novel? How many different revisions do you usually go through?

There are two main factors. Firstly, and logically, a lot depends on the length of the book - a novel for adult readers can be up to 120,000 words, whereas my children's books range between 25-40,000. A shorter children's book, such as "Sea Horses", will take 4-8 weeks, depending on how detailed my original synopsis is, while a longer YA novel like "Demon Crossing" will be 2-3 months. Adult fiction takes longer; up to 6 months. However, I'm almost always working on several projects in tandem, so that period includes time spent on other books, too.

Except in very rare circumstances, I don't do major revisions. Fundamentally, the first draft is the finished book - I seem to know instinctively as I write whether the plot, pacing and flow is working well or going off course; if it is going off course, then I'll go back a chapter or two and make the changes I want before carrying on. It's the way I work best; if I were to write a draft, then re-write and re-write, I'd lose the feel of the story and the finished product would probably be stilted and overly "careful". This is especially true of high-tension scenes; they seem to turn out far better if I simply "go for it", and some of my best writing to date has come about this way. Once a book's finished, I go over it like a copy-editor, looking for continuity slips, grammatical errors, repeated words, etc. But that's about all I do. Mind you, I'm not saying that's a method everyone should follow. It's all a matter of what suits the individual, and this happens to suit me.

5. How do you deal with writers-block?

By having at least two, and more likely three or four, different projects on the go at the same time! Then if I get stuck on one, I can turn to another and work on that for a few days. It usually does the trick!

6. Out of everything you've written, which would you say is your favourite; which gives you the most satisfaction of a job-well-done?

For years my favourite - or rather favourites - were the "Time Master" trilogy and its spin-offs, largely because, over the course of 12 books, the world and its characters became very three-dimensional and real for me. And when my husband created the superb map of the world for the YA "Daughter of Storms" trilogy, that feeling intensified - that world almost feels like a holiday home now!

But in terms of a job well done, my greatest satisfaction comes from my newest adult work. I like to think that as I get older I'm honing and improving my writing skills, so each new project becomes, in those terms, the best for me. That's encouraging, because it suggests that my writing is getting better as time goes by. I only hope that I'll never feel absolutely satisfied with any story, though. If that happened, then I think it would be a sign that I'd stopped developing.

7. Do you have a favourite character that you've created?

Definitely - Tarod, the central character of the "Time Master" trilogy. He made his first appearance in "Lord of No Time" in 1977, then was developed far more fully when I expanded that early book into "Time Master" nearly 10 years later. I won't give away too much about him here, as I wouldn't want to spoil a few surprises for potential new readers: anyone who has read the trilogy and its spin-offs, though, will know Tarod well. I still get letters from female fans who were/are in love with him...

I have two "runner-up" favourites, too. One is Savrinor, the shrewd and cynical castle historian who plays a major role in the Time Master "prequel" trilogy, "Star Shadow". I think I like him more because he was a challenge to portray than for any other reason; certainly if he was a real person I'd have severe reservations about having him as a friend! Then in a different vein I'm very fond of Strann, the itinerant musician who runs himself into major trouble in the sequel trilogy, "Chaos Gate". He's droll, independent, highly intelligent but with a self-deprecating sense of humour. Though I hadn't met my husband when I created Strann, there are definite similarities, so I suppose that adds some bias!

8. What do you think makes a good fantasy author?

The same qualities that make a good author, full stop. For me, that means first and foremost the ability to tell a tale and keep the reader's interest from start to finish. I firmly believe that an author should write stories that he or she would want to read. It almost doesn't matter what the story is; if it's told well, and with genuine interest and enthusiasm, the result will be a good book. If, when I finish reading a story, I'm left with the satisfying feeling that I've actually *been* there alongside the characters, and got to know them as friends - or enemies - then, for me, that's what counts.

9. Can you tell us what you're currently working on and when you expect it will be available in bookstores?

All my current commissioned work is for the children's or young-adult market. Next publications are part of Pearson Educational's new "Streetwise" series for Primary School Years 5 and 6. My contributions are "Kissy, Kissy", a comic story that is a new take on the Frog Prince legend, and two short novels, "Butch the Cat-Dog", another humorous tale about a very feisty feline, and "Pebbleboy", a much more typical Louise Cooper spine-chiller. Work in hand: well, I've just started on a contemporary YA novel for Hodder, set in Cornwall where I live and with a surfing background. The title isn't decided yet, but it's in a similar vein to my last two Hodder titles, "Demon Crossing" and "Hunter's Moon" - and, being me, it has more than its fair share of weirdness. I also have books 3 and 4 in the "Sea Horses" quartet to write for Puffin: that, too, is set in Cornwall, and is a fantasy mystery for younger readers, that centres around ponies and riding. Sea Horses II - "The Talisman" is due for publication around Christmas 2003, but I've got a long deadline on the Hodder novel, so that won't be in the shops until late 2004.

Just to stop me from getting lazy (!), I'm also working on several news children's synopses, and two ideas for the adult market. The adult side of my work is going through a few changes, in that I'm moving more towards the mainstream. The only snag, frankly, is the problem of getting adult fiction published at the moment. It's all getting a little depressing. Editors say that the new work is terrific, but I seem to be typecast in the fantasy genre, and breaking out of it is an uphill slog. Yet at the same time, all my adult fantasy fiction is now out of print, and so far I've had no joy re-selling it. There's certainly a ready market - if I had five pounds for every letter I've received from frustrated fans trying to track down "Time Master" or the "Indigo" series, I reckon I could retire! - but persuading a publisher to take the backlist on is far from easy. At this rate, maybe I should start my own imprint (grin!).

10. Random quote or piece of advice you'd like to share to end this with?

A wonderful quote from John Wain that I found in the Society of Authors' magazine: "Being a writer isn't a profession - it's a condition".

As for advice... to anyone out there who wants to be a writer (or can't stop themselves writing, which is much the same thing), I'd say: NEVER give up! Write, and write, and write. And above all, *enjoy* it. It's an absolute tonic to the soul.

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