An exclusive Authorlink interview with Tilly Bagshawe
Author of Adored (Warner Books, July 2005)
by Ellen Birkett Morris
Jackie Collins, Sydney Sheldon, and Jacqueline Susann are known as masters of the epic Hollywood novel. With the debut of her first novel ADORED, Tilly Bagshawe may well usher in a new generation of authors of the blockbuster novel.
She tells the story of Siena McMahon, the feisty granddaughter of Hollywood movie legend Duke McMahon, in a book that takes readers from the 1940s to modern day.
"I tried to write a more modern, edgier version of the big blockbuster novels I enjoyed reading as a teenager, and a lot of those were family epics with broad, sweeping themes," Bagshawe told Authorlink. ". . . the characters were simply people I imagined that were interesting to me."
Back then her reading list included LUCKY and CHANCES by Jackie Collins, SCRUPLES by Judith Krantz and RIDERS AND RIVALS by Jilly Cooper.
"The appeal was that they were big, sweeping escapist stories full of glamour and excitement. Most teenagers are dissatisfied with their lives and dream of bigger and better things out there. These books were pure indulgence then, and I still enjoy them now," said Bagshawe.
She said the novel was inspired by those novels and her experiences in Los Angeles. "But primarily the characters were simply people I imagined that were interesting to me. Duke was the first character I came up with, and a lot of the story grew from him," Bagshawe explained.
She offers the same kind of enjoyment she found in those novels to modern readers with the tale of Siena, who is determined to become a Hollywood star in her own right. The page turner uses Paris, Los Angeles, London and New York as a backdrop for betrayal, family intrigue and eventual triumph.
Bagshawe's journey to success as an author is equally intriguing. A single mother at eighteen, she won a place at Cambridge University to study English. She arrived at St. John's College with a ten-month-old daughter in 1992. "There's an awful lot of me
in Parker. I use him as way
of looking at the world."
"The whole experience taught me that your life can stretch to fit whatever you need to put into it. In other words, don't limit yourself and don't be scared of life's challenges, because the most challenging things are also usually the most rewarding. That's true for changing a career, taking risks and writing novels as well as for having kids in less than ideal circumstances. Somehow, life just works out," she observed.
After graduating from Cambridge in 1996, she spent five years as a headhunter in London and in Los Angeles, rising to become the youngest-ever partner at Heidrick & Struggles, the world's largest executive search firm. Specializing in investment banking, she became the firm's biggest revenue producer in Europe before moving to Los Angeles in 2000. She began her second career as a writer after quitting headhunting in 2001, and her first article was published in The Sunday Times later that year.
After working as a freelance writer, she decided to write a novel. Bagshawe believes her work as a journalist has been an advantage. It taught her "how to write to deadlines" and how to "make every word count." ". . .with a novel, you're invested, emotionally, materially and in every way, so the stakes are
a lot higher."
"It takes me an hour or so to knock up an article, so if I can't sell it it's no big deal. But with a novel, you're invested, emotionally, materially and in every way, so the stakes are a lot higher. But novels are a lot more fun to write, no doubt about it," said Bagshawe.
During the writing process, Bagshawe consulted James Frey's HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL.
"I followed the advice to the letter. I can't recommend that book highly enough to any new or aspiring author. But I'm not one for classes or writing groups."
She also gets support from a chat room devised by 15 British novelists.
"They've been super supportive to me. Many of them are phenomenally successful, so it's nice that they take time to encourage new writers like me.
A disciplined writer, Bagshawe keeps a set schedule, starting work early in the morning and never writing less than 2000 words. When her creative juices ebb in the afternoon, she does research or editing. "I always start with a synopsis,
but I have a horrible tendency
to stray wildly from that blueprint."
"I always start with a synopsis, but I have a horrible tendency to stray wildly from that blueprint. With ADORED I had to go back and edit quite heavily, tying up loose ends, which took a long time," said Bagshawe.
She worked with two editors, Kate Mills at Orion in London and Jamie Raab, at Warner Books in New York.
"I was very lucky in that the two of them liaised with one another and worked well together. I ended up with only one set of notes to work from, more or less," she noted.
Bagshawe found the editing process painful, but necessary.
"I had to cut a huge amount of material from ADORED (over 200 pages), absolutely huge. I resisted a bit, but I was wrong. . . (The cuts) just brought a lot more coherence to the story. Especially with a big book, where the action is so stretched in terms of both time and place and where there are a number of simultaneous plots, it's easy for the thing to get out of control and confusing. I lost a couple of minor characters that I liked, but overall I think the book gained clarity and cohesion so it was worth it."
She considered the novel "a continual work in progress" and kept herself open to feedback. She advises first time writers to develop strong characters, keep the plot true to those characters, read a lot of books in the genre you write, and try to meet your daily word count goals.
"Don't ever complain about writer's blockjust sit down and do it. If you write crap you can edit it later, but keep moving forward at all costs," she advised.
"Get a good agent, don't ever take rejection personally, have something else to fall back on if it doesn't work out, and don't take too much advicetrust your own instincts and write what you want."
Now age thirty-two, Bagshawe splits her time between homes in London and Los Angeles. She lives with her husband Robin, her teenage daughter Persephone, and her newborn son.
Having tasted success, she is in the process of editing her second book and developing her third. Her second novel is set in the world of quarter horse racing and it involves Californian cowboys and English stud breeders.
"It's very different from ADORED in some ways, but there are core similaritiesat this moment it is insanely long, and there's lots of sex and glitz and drama."
With the success and challenges of her early life behind her, Bagshawe is enjoying every minute of her life as a writer.
"I often wake up smiling to think that this is actually my job now. I know how lucky I am." About Regular Contributor
Ellen Burkett Morris
Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in national print and online publications including The New York Times. She also writes for a number of literary, regional, trade, and business publications, and she has contributed to six published nonfiction books in the trade press. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink, assigned to interview various New York Times bestselling authors and first-time novelists.