Event report

Conference 2011 - How Do You Do It?

Report published 23 September 2011

RNA Award Winners: Jill Mansell, Elizabeth Chadwick, Louise Allen : How Do You Do It?


The first panel session of the conference was topped and tailed with wise words from Jill Mansell. Answering Jane Wenham-Jones’ opening question, ‘What is the secret of success?’ Jill said, “Start and keep going.” The main two qualities required for writing success are inspiration and persistence. And in illustration of the latter category, she ended the discussion with an anecdote about how she sold her first book. It had been rejected by one agent who told her that not enough happened, and a second who told her that too much happened. She decided that she could only afford to send it out once more, and at the third attempt, the book was picked up by agent Jane Judd.

Persistence was also a feature of the second award winner’s story. Elizabeth Chadwick knew at fifteen that she wanted to be a writer of historical fiction, but it was only at 32 that she sold her first book. She credited some of her success to the time she spent learning the craft. Louise Allen also thought that learning about writing was important. It was only after writing and submitting her first book that Louise began researching the market in earnest, which led to her publication. 

Asked about the ingredients that keep readers coming back, Elizabeth mentioned historical accuracy, a strong storyline, and a period in history seen through the eyes of the characters. Jill credited likeable characters as the main draw, describing a successful book as ‘a book I’d like to read, about people I’d like to know.’ She also thought humour was an important element, as did Louise, who also mentioned characters, in the form of ‘a hero to die for and a heroine readers identify with.’ 

All three writers had developed their own way of working, and acknowledged that their own methods would not necessarily work for everyone. Elizabeth Chadwick begins with three chapters and a detailed synopsis, and then writes on, researching as she goes. Jill Mansell starts with her characters and plans twenty to thirty pages ahead. 

Louise Allen spoke of having three books a year to write, sometimes with a very specific brief such as a book set on a specific day in a National Trust property. While a friend of hers used detailed timelines to help, Louise made less formal notes to herself along the way suggesting future scenes. One such note memorably read, ‘insert camel here.’ 

Coincidentally, camels also featured in Elizabeth Chadwick’s writing story, as one of her books was inspired by the unlikely line, “Renard did not like camels.” Camels, though, are optional, while all three writers see discipline as essential.  Elizabeth Chadwick writes every day. Louise divides the required book length by the number of writing days to the deadline, and writes at least that many words each day. And none of the authors takes time away from writing between books. No wonder Jill Mansell says keeping going is the secret of success.

It's a fact

Women prefer to do it in bed and men prefer to do it in a chair—read that is.