Flight of fancy

Tess Woods, a physiotherapist from Perth, turned a guilty pleasure into a thriving writing career. She sits down with Kelly Fisk to share the secrets of her success.

Everyone has a book in them, or so the saying goes. Indeed, some of us spend our whole lives grappling with the apocryphal manuscript in the bottom drawer. However when Western Australian writer Tess Woods was struck by inspiration (from the most unlikely of sources) she decided not to let it go to waste, writing much of her debut novel in just three days.

The fruits of her labour, Love At First Flight is winning awards and fans from around the world. First published as an e-book by HarperCollins in April 2015, it was so successful it not only won Book of the Year in the AusRom Today Reader's Choice Awards 2015 but also led to a print release of the book in August this year.

You’ve said you were inspired by the intense longing of Twilight when you wrote your first novel. Is it true you hadn’t written fiction until you sat down to write the whole story in a matter of three days?

Not a word of a lie! I was a pathetic obsessed Twi-mum. There was just something so intense about that series that had me gripped from start to end. I thought the connection between Edward and Bella was perfectly captured. The love of her life was the man who ended up effectively ending her life. He destroyed her and she loved him anyway. That premise fascinated me. Why would a seemingly normal, logical, intelligent girl take up with a vampire?

Anyway, I hadn’t written a thing since doing English creative writing pieces in high-school. Reading Twilight triggered my own need to write. I read all four books in the series in a week and as soon as I finished reading the last one, I went to see the first Twilight movie.

The night I watched the movie, I dreamed about Mel [the protagonist from Love At First Flight]. She appeared to me as a woman who, just like Bella, was also about to self-destruct for the sake of a man who was no good for her and she was wanting my help. I told my husband about the dream the next morning and he was looking at me kind of like: ‘Mmm...okay then.’love-at-first-flight

But Mel’s voice wouldn’t leave me alone and in the middle of the day a scene from Love at First Flight, the pivotal scene of the whole book, played out in my head. I literally got out a notepad and a pen and wrote exactly what I had just seen – a confrontation between Mel and her husband when he discovers her infidelity. To this day (eleven re-writes later) that entire scene is unchanged. Once I wrote that scene I then tried to imagine what would have led to that climax and I started from the start of the book. I wrote upwards between twelve and fourteen hours a day (thankfully it was a long weekend and hubby stepped in to look after our small children). After three days I had the basic draft, the bones of the story from start to end which stood at around fifty-thousand words.

Now, seven and a half years later, after having gone through the blood-from-a-stone months upon months scenario to get the second book written, I marvel at how quickly and naturally Love at First Flight poured out of me with no creative writing background at all.

At what point did you realise you really had something and start to truly believe in yourself?

Well, as I was madly writing in those first three days I thought it was bloody brilliant – the best book ever written, yes ever! But in the cold hard light of day, when the first draft was finished, I saw that it was actually a big pile of rubbish. It was about eighteen months later and after four full re-writes that I finally believed I had a good story.

What resources and tools did you use during the fleshing out process to keep you motivated?

I enlisted the help of paid manuscript assessors. I knew nobody in the writing world so I didn’t have a Facebook community to keep me inspired, or a writing group or even a book club to belong to. So those manuscript assessors became very important to me. They guided me and knowing I had to resubmit to that gave me concrete goals to keep me dedicated. As far as research went, I did none apart from looking up Hebrew words to settle on one for a tattoo – that was it for research.

What do you enjoy more? Writing fresh material or the editing process?

With Love at First Flight I enjoyed both because the story came to me so easily. But with my second book, Beautiful Messy Love, I didn’t get a kick out of the first draft at all. I found it difficult and stressful and only started to enjoy the book when it was time to edit my first draft.

Your website has some great information about your own journey to publication – what are your three tips for aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

  1. Write the story you want to write and don’t listen to what anyone says until you’ve written it. Once you have that first draft, by all means take writing lessons, editing lessons whatever you want. But just be sure that you’re then building on solid ground which is the idea that you were passionate enough to make you write a book about it.
  2. Don’t just write when you feel inspired. Set a weekly timetable for writing and stick to it. Even if you feel like the least creative person in the world at that day and time, that you had scheduled – stick to it. Even if you stare at the computer and come up with three lines in an hour that’s still three lines you didn’t have before.
  3. Realise that not everyone will like your work and that’s perfectly okay.

What’s been your experience of the online world authors must now navigate to promote their books?

It’s overwhelmingly difficult to navigate, there’s no doubt about it. I discovered so much through trial and error and I want to spare others from the same fate. I’ve written a piece on my ten step marketing and promotions must-dos for newly published digital and self-published releases.

There’s been some agitation recently from within the romance genre for greater recognition within the broader publishing industry. What’s your take on how the genre is evolving?

Neither me nor my publishing house consider my work to be romance – it’s more contemporary fiction. I write love stories that don’t qualify as romance because I don’t do ‘happily ever afters’. But I have a lot of love for the romance writing community in Australia which is made up of some of the savviest business women I’ve ever met.

Romance writers have the incredibly difficult task to keep the reader entertained and engaged even though the reader knows the ending will be a happily ever after. That requires great skill.

And the romance genre is the most popular genre on the planet. So maybe the haters are just jealous that it’s our romance writers leading the charge with sales.

The genre is evolving – there’s more feminism coming through the characters and there’s more attention on women developing their sense of self, with the male character tossed in just for boom-chicka-boom purposes. So essentially romance books are becoming more about the main character rediscovering herself.

Do you have a plan mapped out of where you’d like to be in, say, five years’ time or are you more relaxed about taking opportunities as they come?

I don’t have a map planned out as such but I do have hope in my heart that in five years I’ll be at least another four books down the track and mega successful with a legion of readers around the world.

Finally, have you been able to give up your day job? If not, how do you balance work, family and writing?

No, I haven’t given it up -  I still work as a physio. I think it will be a while yet before I can do that, and I don’t even want to give it up. I love my job. You’d have to drag me away from my over 75s Tuesday night dance classes teaching Bollywood, the YMCA and twerking!

For more information on Tess, including her fantastic tips for aspiring writers, head to www.tesswoods.com.au

And courtesy of HarperCollins we have one copy of Love At First Flight to give away. Head to the Writers’ Forum and tell us which author (or literary character) you would most like to sit next to on a long haul flight.

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