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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Pauline Tait shares the inspiration behind her new book, Abigail Returns, and her creative writing process.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Pauline Tait about her life and career, the story of her latest book, Abigail Returns, and her creative writing process.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
Hi JJ, I’m a novelist and children’s author writing both romantic suspense and children’s picture books. I live in Perthshire, Scotland with my husband and two dogs. After working for many years in Primary Literacy Support, I enjoy going back into schools with author visits, encouraging our younger generations with their own reading and writing.
Our children are older and have flown the nest which has left me with plenty of writing time and I’m excited to be working on this next series.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I first thought about writing when I was in my early twenties. I used to make up stories for my children when they were young and would scribble away, secretly. But given I hadn’t studied creative writing I presumed it was a career that was out of reach. How wrong I was! Eventually, in my mid-forties, I decided to give it a go and I haven’t looked back.
When did you take a step to start writing?
The original scribbling for my first published picture book, The Fairy in the Kettle, were jotted down in my twenties. Along with other scribblings and character ideas. But it wasn’t until I was in my forties that I decided to finish the manuscript for The Fairy in the Kettle and look into getting it published. It was first published in late 2016 and has become a trilogy which is still selling well around the world. In 2021, The Fairy in the Kettle celebrated its 5th birthday with a brand-new cover and was published as a 2nd edition.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
From idea to completed manuscript was just over twenty years! But if we discard the years when it was hidden away in a cupboard, then around six months.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
My latest novel, Abigail Returns, is a first in series and falls under romantic suspense, but I also describe it as a suspenseful mystery that’s not short on romance. I had initially started writing it in 2019, but an elderly relative took unwell, and her care was far too important, so I set my writing aside. She passed away early last year and, after things settled a bit, I was able to get back to writing and I finished the novel just before Christmas. I then used January and February to work through final edits.
It was in stark contrast to my previous novel, A Life of Their Own, where I’d a solid first draft written in just under three months.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Abigail Returns?
This novel is set on the Isle of Skye, an island that we as a family have a deep affection for. We have been visiting the island most years for over twenty years and have got to know both the island and its people. It’s home from home for us and setting a book on the island just felt natural.
I find the island utterly inspiring and always want to write when I’m there. This series will allow me to bring my favourite locations on the island to life for readers who haven’t visited. And show the islanders as the warm, welcoming people they are.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Abigail Returns?
The physical writing of the novel was never going to be a challenge, I had the arc fully formed before I began writing. It was initially time, as I cared for my elderly relative. And seeing someone you love so unwell and going through all that their illness entails, quashes the creative juices rather quickly. My concentration disappeared, I was constantly worrying about them and doing all I could in the background to make sure they were okay. There wasn’t much time left over for writing.
Then, alongside my relative being unwell, covid struck and we were unable to return to the island. I had one or two final pieces of research that needed to be done before I could write certain scenes, to ensure I had the details correct. Although the story, characters, and village are fictional, I have placed them within certain areas of the island, and I needed to know I had certain aspects as accurate as possible.
Both south of Dunvegan and Portree are integral to this novel, and incidentally, hold special memories for me personally. So being able to travel back up to the island was crucial to polishing the manuscript.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
You know, I can’t say that it was anyone or anything. The character came to me in a fully rounded form, I didn’t have to do much tweaking to her at all. The only thing that I had to ensure was that she was stronger than she realised.
I find, that when I’m playing around with a storyline, the characters form simultaneously. As the plots progress and come together, so do my characters. I know other authors develop their characters first and then create a story around them, but there’s no real rule here. It’s whatever works for the author.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
Again, this character formed as I progressed my storyline. He is an outsider to the island, though, and so I found myself making little adjustments to his character to set him apart.
The islanders are extremely warm and helpful people, they are welcoming and come together when people need them. I’ve experienced this firsthand; they will go out of their way to help. This meant that I had to ensure my antagonist stood out as different, either through showing his true self or being far too over the top when trying to fit in.
What is the main conflict of Abigail Returns?
With just over a decade missing to Dissociative Amnesia, and a newly broken heart, Abigail finds herself with no choice but to return to Lochside. The supposedly idyllic home on the Isle of Skye she had fled so dramatically six years before.
And while struggling to find her way in a world she can’t recall, she must battle the conflicts of the present with the shocking secrets she uncovers from her past.
Jamie’s support is invaluable, but how much does he know? Greg is loving and attentive, but does he have an ulterior motive?
Meanwhile, the presence of a stranger on the island shakes Abigail to her very core. With no memory, she can only trust her instincts as she strives to build a life and a future, she can call her own.
But Abigail soon discovers the stranger’s trail leads far too close to home.
It has been described as a riveting novel about new beginnings and second chances.
Did you plot Abigail Returns in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I plot. I am the type of writer who needs to have the beginning, middle and end mapped out before putting fingers to a keyboard. But I do let my characters take me off on little detours, I think this is crucial to their authenticity. Sometimes, when I’m fully in the zone, an unplanned scene will suddenly come to mind. I have learned to go with them, you can always remove them later, but I have found that they are often significant and either empower the overall plot, scene or character.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Abigail Returns need?
Yes, any writer should always have their work edited.
I am a perfectionist, so I will take a manuscript as far as I can possibly take it. I will also have my plotline and grammar as solid as I can. But I do know when I’ve reached the point of handing it over.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
If you want to write, write! And let your readers know who you are by finding your genre and sticking to it.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
Oh, yes. Anna’s Promise is the next book in the series and again is set on the Isle of Skye. The plot line for this book takes place in the three areas I love the most on the island, Portree, Staffin and just south Dunvegan. It will be followed by Amelia’s Home. The titles to the other three books are still a work in progress.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Yes, absolutely! Taking that first leap with The Fairy in the Kettle was one of the best things I have ever done. What was once just a dream, is now a reality. I would encourage anyone wanting to embark on something new to go for it. You will never know unless you try.
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