Hello! My name’s Lona Manning and I’m a late-blooming novelist. I published my first novel, A Contrary Wind, when I was 60. I did a lot of writing during my career as a non-profit manager—media releases and brochures and such—but hadn’t tried to write a novel until I had an interesting experience a few years ago.
When did you realise that you wanted to write and publish a book?
I had started a second career as a teacher of English as a Second Language and I was having a wonderful time working in China. Now, I’ve always been a huge Jane Austen fan and she wrote only six novels, which is not enough to satisfy the Jane Austen itch. So, in my spare time, I was re-reading Mansfield Park, and I began to think about an alternate version of the story. The characters started talking in my head. I had no plan to write a novel at that point, in fact, I thought it would distract me from my teaching. But the voices wouldn’t go away, so I gave in and started writing it down. The thing that still amazes me is that it was completely unplanned.
Okay, so you have decided to write a book, where did you start? Research? A scene that came to you? A character that you dreamed up? Tell us what got the ball rolling.
I love Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park but I know it’s not a favourite novel with many people, because the heroine, Fanny Price, is seen as being a bit of a wimp. So I was asking myself, what if Fanny Price ran away from Mansfield Park and took a job as a governess or something? What would happen?
Once you had started, how long did the process take?
From start to finish, that is, from the time I started idly thinking about it, to the moment I pushed “publish” on the Amazon site, took about a year. Thanks to modern self-publishing, I pushed the button in a hotel room in Vietnam! Pretty far away from Regency England!
What were the things along the way that both helped and hindered you during the writing of this book?
Luckily, as a teacher, I had the summer off, so I had time to really work on the book over the summer. When I was in China, I didn’t have good access to English libraries and the internet is sketchy. If I learned about a journal article I wanted, I’d email my son and ask him to sent it to me. OTOH, I’m old enough to remember life before the internet, so our research capabilities are fantastic compared to the old days of going to the library and looking at microfilm until you’re cross-eyed!
Did the process of writing this book come naturally to you? Did it run smoothly? Or was it an uphill battle?
I am happy to share my writing process, but I don’t want anyone to think I am recommending my method. I don’t even think you could call the way I write a “method” or a “process.” There are lots of books of advice out there, books which I never knew about at the time! I started writing without an outline, except for the bare outline in my head. I worked with one long document, writing the scenes that came readily to me. Where I needed to put in a scene, I just wrote a little note in brackets about what would happen in that scene. I went back and eventually got all the brackets filled in. Sometimes I tried to be more disciplined and methodical about it, but never managed to!
Set the scene. When you sat down to write, where were you? What did you need to help you? Did you have a routine with your writing? Tell us what was conducive to a successful writing session.
Again, I wouldn’t recommend my methods, it’s just what I happen to do. First – comfortable clothing and a comfy chair. A cup of coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon or a glass of wine in the evening, depending on the time of day. I start a writing session by re-reading and tinkering with a scene I had already written, and that would get the juices flowing and I’d go in and fill in another section. I would skip back and forth through the story.
What parts of the story did you find the hardest to write?
Definitely the scenes set on the African coast, on the British Navy ships patrolling against the slave trade. I was feeling a bit out of my depth there. I did a fair bit of research before writing those scenes and wrote them last. Fortunately the book was well over 120K words by then and for the sake of length, I couldn’t go into many details, which might have betrayed my ignorance!
As a newbie to fiction writing, it has been very interesting to learn about the difference between writing and revising—with writing you ideally want to let the words flow, but then you have to go back and look over what you’ve written with a critical eye, looking for balance and plausibility and plot points and repeated words and all sorts of things. Then comes the day you have to take a deep breath and share it with somebody.
Did you enjoy the process and is it something that you plan to do again?
Oh yes, I enjoyed the process very much, especially the beginning when I started writing without planning to. That was…. interesting. And it’s so much fun to work with the various characters, and find out what they are going to do and say. I’m currently working on the third book of the trilogy. I do have a spreadsheet with a timeline to sort out the various plotlines, to keep my dates straight.
Even when I’m not writing, I think about the book: how do I get from here to here? Shall I do this scene with a narrative summary or with dialogue? Should this section start with a flashback? How shall I introduce this important information? Often (but not always) the answer just bubbles up in my head. Thinking about writing requires a disengaged mind. So don’t reach for your smartphone every time you have a spare moment. Think about your book. (Says the lady who spends waaay too much time on Twitter).
Whilst you were writing the book, what inspired you? What made you keep at it and not push delete?
I’ve always thought the Greeks captured the feeling well, when they described inspiration as a visit from The Muses, who were goddesses who came down from Heaven or Mount Olympus. “The Muse is upon me,” the Greeks used to say. Having experienced that unexpected burst of imagination that came from nowhere, one that I can’t explain, I must give credit to The Muse! Although of course you sometimes need to sit down and write even if you aren’t feeling inspired, if you ever hope to get it finished!
Now the book is written, finished and published, is there anything looking back that you would have done differently?
I didn’t even know about beta readers when I wrote the first book! I didn’t know that there was such a huge Jane Austen Fan Fiction readership out there. But even though JAFF readers are very interested in Pride & Prejudice variations and not so interested in Mansfield Park variations, I wouldn’t change anything, since, as I have said, this idea for this book just came to me, like a gift, and it’s opened up a new avocation to me in my 60’s.
Writing is a solitary pursuit, but I have joined a few Facebook groups and I have made some wonderful new friendships with some fellow authors. We share encouragement and beta-read each other’s work. That’s something I didn’t have when I wrote the first book.
Did you find the cover design part of the process difficult or enjoyable? And what were the feelings and emotions of handing your creation over to someone else to have the cover designed?
I really enjoyed working with Tim. I loved working on the book covers. Before I started, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to convey any ideas to Tim because I am not artistic. But he listened carefully to what I described, and was perfectly patient with me when I changed my mind. I was thinking about the book title – A Contrary Wind – and said, well, perhaps we ought to get across the idea of “wind” on the cover! And Tim made it work. I’m looking forward to my third and fourth go-round for future books!
Is there any advice that you would like to offer anybody reading this who is currently writing, or thinking of writing a book?
I recommend listening to the Smart Author podcast series by Mark Coker. One piece of advice from Coker is, don’t spend more money on your book than you can afford. BUT a good book cover is a priority! I didn’t use one of Dissect Designs off-the-shelf covers, but they are very economical and professional-looking.
The thrill of holding my own book in my hands is greatly enhanced by the fact that it has a professionally-designed cover. And the sales of my books continue to improve, slowly but steadily.
Lona Manning is the author of A Contrary Wind: a variation on Mansfield Park, and A Marriage of Attachment, a sequel to A Contrary Wind. She has also contributed to two anthologies, Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues, and Rational Creatures, a new anthology about Jane Austen’s female characters, which will be published on October 15th.
You can follow Lona Manning at
Cover designed by DISSECT DESIGNS
Thank you for reading this interview. Please check back often for more from the 'Meet the Authors' series of interviews.
If you are an author and in need of a book cover designed, contact me now to find out how to get started.