Let’s face it we are all looking forward to the new year a little more than we normally would. But for Helen McGinn there is even more excitement about seeing in 2021 as it will soon mark the official publication of her debut novel, This Changes Everything, in February. It’s not the first time she has had pre-publication nerves. It’s nearly 10 years since her breakthrough Knackered Mothers Wine Guide was published. But this is different. This is her first novel where any wine involved comes as part of a much bigger story.
Helen McGinn is nervously awaiting the publication of her first novel early in 2021, as she explains to Richard Siddle.
You have a novel out in February which is great to hear. How did that come about?
Much as I love writing about wine, I’ve been doing it on and off for almost 10 years and before that was a wine buyer for a decade so think I just wanted a new challenge. I had the idea fermenting in my head for a few years before I dared to put anything down on paper, let alone say it out loud.
You have written drinks books before but this will be your first novel, had you always had an ambition of writing a novel or has the success of the drinks books given you the confidence to give it a go?
Having written a wine book, a cocktail book and even one about non-alcoholic drinks (I know, apologies) I just didn’t think I had another drinks book in me. The subtitle of my first book was ‘Everything you need to know about wine’ so I sort of set myself up to write something different, but the success of The Knackered Mother’s Wine Guide and the support of my agent and publishing team definitely gave me the confidence to do it.
How did you find the discipline of writing a novel? How did you go about doing it?
It’s very different to writing about wine – obviously. Taking facts and presenting them in an informative and engaging way to whoever you’re hoping might listen is one thing. But writing fiction is terrifying and exhilarating all at once. The beauty is that you can just make it up. The scary bit is feeling a lot more exposed.
Did you take any courses or advice on how to write a novel?
I didn’t but I was lucky enough to have an amazing editor when I wrote my first book. She really helped me understand the process of writing a book, having a structure, knowing your voice. Having a good agent and editor who believe in your story is everything.
Any inspiration you have taken from other writers?
There’s a very long list of writers I love who’ve definitely influenced the type of book I wanted to write. Rosamunde Pilcher, Jilly Cooper, Mary Wesley, Marian Keyes, Jojo Moyes…they’re all brilliant story tellers and can make me laugh and cry from one page to the next.
How long did it take to write?
About four years. It started as a side project and I just grabbed time whenever I could (ha!) and wrote. But I loved thinking about it – in the car, walking the dogs, having my weekly swim – and would plan chapters in my head, then scribble down ideas as notes in my phone.
What is the plot of the book and how do you go about working out the narrative?
It’s based around a mother, her two daughters and a trip to Rome that changes all their lives forever. It covers everything from first love to lost love, eternal love and more. It’s set mostly in Rome and Cornwall, both places I adore. Writing it was a chance to escape (in my head) to these beautiful places. I had a plot line worked out on post-it notes plastered over my wall above my desk, along with maps of Rome. With each chapter I knew I had to get from A to B and then I’d just write.
Is there anything from your own life in the book?
The characters are fictional, but I’ve definitely borrowed bits. Places I’ve been, people I’ve met, stories I’ve heard over the years…it’s all in there.
Who is the book aimed at – your target audience?
It’s for anyone who wants to read a modern love story with characters that’ll (hopefully) take you on a joyous journey and make you laugh and cry along the way.
Do you have any drinking scenes to keep us happy!?
There’s quite a bit of wine involved, yes. Well, I couldn’t not, could I? Negroni, too.
What are your hopes for the book?
I wanted to write an – ultimately – uplifting story so I hope that people love reading it as much as I loved writing it. And I really want the reader to sit, preferably with a glass of wine in reach and escape into the story even if just for a short while.
Do you have plans to write another? Or was the process too difficult to imagine doing again?
I was offered a two-book deal, so I’ve got to write another. I’m almost halfway through my second fiction book. Amazing how a deadline can focus the mind…
Any thoughts on a screenplay yet? And if so who would you cast as your main characters?
My dream! And I would promise not to be annoying on set. I don’t want to say who I’d like to play the characters because I want readers to form their own version of what they look like in their heads. But let me know when you’ve finished it and I’ll tell you.
Any advice for anyone else who is thinking about writing a novel?
I know it sounds ridiculous but honestly, the only thing to do is write. The end.
- Helen’s book This Changes Everything is published on February 9 by Boldwood Books, available to pre-order now in paperback, ebook and audiobook.