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Louise Bagshawe: Internationally best-selling author

image-louisebagshawe200Louise Bagshawe is the author 12 international bestsellers including Tuesday’s Child, Glamour, Glitz and her most recent Passion. She is also a parliamentary candidate for the Conservative Party and an advocate for many charities supporting victims of HIV/AIDS, the homeless and children.

From a young age she had a yearning to write but started her career in the music industry until a publishing deal at the age of 22 meant she could take up writing full time. Her first novel, Career Girls, was released in 1995 and was a top ten bestseller in the UK. She has since sold over two million books worldwide.

Click play to listen. Running time: 20.40



* Please note these transcripts have been edited for readability

So thanks for joining us today, Louise.

My pleasure, Valerie.

Now, writing, as we all know, is a very time-consuming process and one that requires a lot of commitment, particularly when you write as many books as you do. How do you juggle your writing, your political work, your charity work and everything that you do?

The most difficult thing for me in the last two years for finding time for writing has been the fact that that I’ve got three small children. The oldest of them is five years old. So I’ve had slightly an unusual process for writing.

What’s happened is I’ve spent 11 months of the year just changing nappies basically and running for office, and the final month of the year my husband, Anthony, has taken our children to his mother’s in New York.

They get one month of guaranteed sun which in Britain is quite something. During that month I knock the book out. I get up at 6:00 and I go to bed at 11:00. I take breaks, cups of tea and I go running but pretty much I work all day, every day. And I knock out the book in a month.

You write an entire book in a month?

Yeah, but it is a month of total solitude. And even the political stuff, I may occasionally have a political appointment that I can’t get rid of but I try to cut it down for that month to absolutely the bare minimum.

And what is that like? Are you a wreck by the end of the month?

A little bit and the worst thing is then he comes home with the kids and he’s exhausted so he just wants to shove the kids at me and I’m exhausted. But it works out. It’s got to be done so we do it.

However we have just now put our youngest child into nursery school so I’m going to go back to a regular writing pattern of ordinary day’s work, 8:00 am to 4:00 pm and that’s going to be very strange for me. I haven’t done that since I was pregnant with my first kid. So it’s going to be really weird.

Pre-children is that what you did? You wrote full-time.

Pre-children, pre-marriage, as a single girl writing my first few novels I combined sort of being quite ambitious with being quite lazy. Again what I would still do even in those circumstances is I would pretty much not work from 99% of the year and then in six weeks I would write 3000 words a day, every day for six weeks including weekends equals 120,000 words.

I would literally do the math and it would work out to approximately six weeks and that’s what I used to do.

It’s like binge writing.

Binge-writing, I’ve never heard that one before. That’s exactly what it was like, yes.

So you are obviously a keen writer even when you are very young but your career has been so varied. How did you stay focused on writing when you were working in the music industry and in politics and so many things?

I never really thought that I could be a novelist and I only turned to it because I was going to get sacked from job in the classical record business. Sometimes being fired is the best thing that can happen to you, because if it had all gone well for me in that job I never would have attempted to write a novel.

So I’m lucky that I thought, “Hey I love these books. I could write one.” And I had a go. Without that emphasis of knowing that I was going to get sacked I probably never would have tried it.

So when you say that you love these books are you talking about the genre of chick lit?

I’m talking about pop fiction, women’s pop fiction. When I was at Oxford and even before then I used to go and read big glamorous airport blockbusters I used to think of them as with sort of gold and silver letters on the front cover. Very much your retro 80’s glam novel style Destiny, Lace by Shirley Conran, Jeffrey Archer, Jackie Collins, all those things I loved them.

Tell us why.

I think that it was just the pure escapism. Also being the child of [Satcher 3:35] on the one hand and Madonna on the other I was all about the 80’s and that whole sort of, not exactly “Greed is Good” but I certainly did believe in the thrusting pursuit of material ambition.
So I loved all these stories about these glamorous chicks who were working in Manhattan. On the one hand they were running their own corporations and on the other hand they were dating billionaires.

That seemed to me like a rocking, great life. I remember thinking, oh, yes. I was so ambitious. I just wanted to write stories about ferociously ambitious women. The sort of drippy Cinderella girl that sits there and gets rescued held no attraction for me whatsoever.

So it was much more Melanie Griffith in Working Girl as opposed to Julia Roberts in Pretty Women?

Indeed it was, exactly. Although Julia Roberts in Pretty Women is quite feisty but it was 100% Melanie Griffith in Working Girl. And I absolutely loved that movie. That is my heroine precisely.

So take us back to when you first thought, “I’m going to give writing a go.” How did you get started? What did you do? Did you actually have, you know?

For you listeners and professional writers I think that this is going to be a very annoying story but it’s the truth so I may as well just tell it.
I got a book called The Writer’s Handbook which is a standard UK reference book for agents and magazines and places that you can submit your work out of WH Smith, a major book chain. I bought that.

I listed the 13 best agents in the country because I thought that I would work my way through. If I got rejections from them I would just work my way through the list and if I came to the end of the list and nobody made me an offer I would give up. That was the plan.
So I got these 13 names and addresses and then I looked a how it said to submit your work. And it said you needed a synopsis, first a sample chapter and a covering letter. I thought, “Okay.”

They said to make sure that your covering letter is tailored to every agency. Do not send a round-robin. So I thought, “Okay.”
Working in the record business I already knew better than to send it to a publisher because of course publishers do not accept unrepresented work. You need an agent. So I knew at least that I had to go to an agent. So I wrote 13 different letters to each agency and I had my synopsis and then my sample chapter. So I wrote a sample chapter and then I sent it off.

The responses came back pretty quickly. Four of them said, “No, thank you.” The other nine to a greater or lesser degree declared an interest but all of them now said, “Can we now see the rest of your manuscript?”

I didn’t have the rest of the manuscript because I assumed that when it said a sample chapter, what they meant was a sample of what the book would be like if somebody was to give you some money for writing it. Honestly I can truly say that my naiveté it never occurred to me that they would expect you to write the entire book on the off chance that somebody might publish it.

I am so lucky because if I had realized that I never would have attempted it. When I got this thing I went in to see my agent and I lied and said that I had written about a third of the book. Then I stayed up late at night in my office working on a third of the book and I gave them about eight or nine chapters I think.

On that partial submission he sold two books to Orion. So that is the true story of how it happened. But if I had realized that you actually have to have your manuscript there, if anybody is interested my first book was called Career Girls and it’s still in print today.
If anybody has a look at it in their library, chapter 7 of Career Girls because I started with chapter 7. I don’t know why I didn’t start with chapter 1. I guess there was too much setting up. This might be a tip for people that are making submissions. Chapter 1 is usually full of set up, information that you have to do.

I always wanted to start in the middle. So I wrote chapter 7 before I’d written anything else and chapter 7 of Career Girls is exactly what I submitted to all these agents, word-for-word. Not a single word was changed. It made it straight into the book as-is.

So I can see why they would have thought that at least if there’s chapter 7, there is bound to be chapters 1 – 6. But there wasn’t.

Obviously you are very prolific but how about the revising and editing process? What happens after that first draft?

It’s only the actual to work on [inaudible, 7:34] first draft that I do without the children. Revising and editing I can do, it’s not usually the submission deadline isn’t there so I can do it. Of course there is a rough deadline but it’s quite [inaudible, 7:45]. So I have time and I do that in a few hours a day, every day, over a period of time.

If I need to go away for a week or somewhere I go into a hotel for couple of days if I really need to. But I try to do that at home and fit it around the kids and fit it around Parliament. It’s not such an intense process, revising and editing for me as writing the first draft.

Tell us how you came into politics.

I’ve just always been a bit of a political geek, I’m afraid. I was as a kid. I was always fascinated by it and I just worshipped Margaret Thatcher. When I was growing up politics wasn’t, it’s all quite [inaudible, 8:21] now everywhere in the world but when I was growing up there were two very distinct ideologies. I knew which side of the debate that I fell on.

I just always wanted to do it. But since my first book was so spicy and sexy I didn’t ever think that they would let me be a Corby candidate. But amazingly enough they did. So here we are.

You also get involved with a lot of charity work. Tell us a bit about that.

Yeah, I mean not so much anymore because since I started running for Parliament and with the kids and no nanny I find that my plate is completely full. But before I was adopted as a candidate I was a school governor of our local primary school.

I was working with War Child which is a charity that puts playgrounds into sort of Bosnia war-torn regions of Bosnia. A small charity, it just provides a bit of joy to the lives of kids and also is a charity called the Terrence Higgins Trust that works with people with HIV and Aids which I have been involved with actually since I graduated college. It was one of the first charities that really took on the Aids problem in Britain before it became fashionable to assist in Aids. The Terrence Higgins Trust was there and they are really well grounded in their work with Aids.

You talk about the ferociously ambitious characters in your novels, these women who are in high-powered situations doing all sorts of things. How do you research your characters and where do you get that information and feel from?

I don’t research the characters at all. And this is something that I get into trouble with in every book. And my copy editors are good at picking it up too because the colour of their eyes will apparently change three to four times through the book and sometimes the colour of their hair as well. Continuity is not my strong point.

Also research is not my strong point because I actually can’t be bothered. It’s a load of work. This is not what I got into writing to do. I got into writing to have escapist fun. So I don’t research either and sometimes I really do get into trouble. Like when I put one of my characters in a pair of white leather Chloe trousers and the reviewer remembers and says, “Hey hold on a minute. Stella McCartney is a vegetarian and she isn’t designing a pair of leather anything, trousers or not.”

So you do get into a bit of trouble but I don’t bother researching and the archetypes of the strong woman is just deeply embedded in my own psyche. It’s easy to just put them into different situations.

And in my current one, Passion, Melissa, the girl, she doesn’t start out as very strong but I put her into a high-octane situation where her back is against the wall and she finds her inner strengths. When she is tested in the furnace she finds out what kind of a person that she can be.

So my girls either start out strong or they become strong through their own reactions to challenges. Which is like lots of us I think.

If you like this genre  do you also like the kinds of television shows that we have seen recently like Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle which are very chick lit TV so to speak?

They sound awesome but to tell you the honest truth I have no time at all to watch TV. I watch things on TV sometimes. The last few shows that I have watched are basically Two and a Half Men and Rome. That was an awesome show, Rome. But I like Entourage as well.
It’s a great show but apart from that I really don’t watch much television. It has to be something that I can watch with the husband too because we only get a couple of hours a day so I really can’t watch anything like Desperate Housewives because he would just refuse to watch it with me. I’m sure that it’s great and everything but I can’t watch it.

You publish pretty much a book a year. Has that been your goal? Is that what you want to do?

No, I could do two books a year but they won’t let me write more than one because of cannibalizing sales. I could easily do more than one.

Have you thought of venturing into completely different genres?

Well, no but I suppose that Passion is stretching the boundaries because it’s a romantic thriller instead of just a straight up romance and it’s something that I hope can appeal to men as well as women. It’s a sign of my publisher’s open-mindedness they allowed me to write it. Because it’s got assassins. It’s got action. It’s got shooting. It’s got jumping off buildings and running through; it really does have a very, very large amount of thriller type content.

That’s a total departure for me and it was quite brave of Headline to have paying me reasonably large amounts of money to write books for them and that they would let me try that. So they are a good publisher. They didn’t try and stamp on my creative expression.

Is that something that you want to continue to do, expand into different types of writing?

Yes, I would like to write these more romantic thrillers because I’m sure that I will go back to straight up just sort of bedroom and boardroom stuff but Passion is my 13th novel. You can write yourself into a rut sometimes. If felt very fresh to me.

I really did enjoy writing it. I’m prouder of it than anything else that I have ever written. I would really like to write something along the same lines. As your publishers will always tell you, “We want the same but different.”

Did you have to get into a different mindset to write about quite different things or was it fairly easy for you?

No because I do read lots of thrillers and stuff for fun so it was not that difficult. I think the last book that I stayed up until 3:00 in the morning to finish was The Pelican Brief by John Grisham. I thought that was just the most wonderful chase story and I have really wanted to write a chase story and now I’ve written one. So it actually makes the work process much easier and it’s simpler to do if you are into it yourself.

Do your books overlap? Are you thinking of the next plot while you are finishing the current one so to speak?

I am if I don’t like the book and that hasn’t happened with Passion and for the first time in my career I find I’m almost stuck for a sequel but I’m going to think of something while I’m over here in Sydney. I’ll think of something.

Are you going to set a book here maybe?

I very well might. I really don’t try to set books when I have never been to the place and it’s truly a good thing too because I would have got Sydney completely wrong. Having been to it now I realize that my image of Sydney was awfully, awfully mistaken. I just had it completely wrong all around.

So that now that I’ve been here I might be able to set something partially here and also in New Zealand. That would be fun to do. I definitely see part of a global chase or hunt happening here. It would be a great setting for that.

Obviously with this kind of genre the women are glamorous and they have fantastic lifestyles. They do really interesting things. How does that compare to your lifestyle?

What, my lifestyle with nappies and The Wiggles? Listen, its escapism. That’s what I said. I’m a politician. I talk all day about Gordon Brown and [inaudible, 14:40] and unemployment rates in Northamptonshire. When I go home, put the microwave chicken on, change a few nappies, whack on the night guard, correct the homework.

My life is not glamorous at all. So these girls represent as much of an escape for me as they do for anybody else.

What would your advice be for aspiring authors who are thinking I would just love to be able to do that?

Get the work right first and then get the submissions right. To this day The Writer’s Handbook is the book that you want to buy. And you can get it off Amazon UK and have it shipped to Australia. It’s expensive but it will be an investment in your career.

You need it. It’s not just full of a listing of agents and stuff like that. It does have very good articles by professional writers on how to do submissions to magazines and so forth.

Avoid the common mistakes. Please don’t think that you can sell a collection of short stories. You can’t. Don’t think that you can sell a novella. You can’t. Make sure that your book can be summed up in single sentence so if I’m pitching Passion to you I’m going to say to you, “It’s James Bond for girls.”

If I’m pitching Confessions of a Shopaholic which is by my friend Maddie Wickham who writes under pseudonym Sophie Kinsella I would say that this is Bridget Jones with a shopping addiction. Make sure that you can tell your best girlfriend what this about or male friends in one sentence. Because that’s what’s going to be talked about in an acquisitions meeting.

Make sure that you only submit to agents, not to publishers. Make sure that your letter to the agents is individualistic based on their agency. Don’t make it really embarrassing and say things like, “This is going to be the biggest best-seller ever. It’s John Grisham meets Jackie Collins.” Just keep it short and business-like.

You are obviously a veteran now so you have got it down pat but when you were starting out did you place much emphasis in work-shopping or working with other writers at all?

No but I tell you what though I nearly lost my commission after I got this great deal. Because I drifted more towards literary and it was nothing like they had been lead to expect from my submission and they very nearly cancelled my contract. So my career could have been strangled at birth.

My editor saved me by giving me this one piece of advice that is the best, best advice. It may sound mundane but I promise you that it works. She said to me, “Just go away. Read five or six of the books that you say that you love. Then come back and write your book.”
It was the best piece of advise that anyone has ever given me and because of course I had kind of written myself into a corner and as I started to read these books. As I picked up my copy of Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer, I was like, “Oh, yeah, I remember how to do this.” And I did it. So if you are writing a police procedural, go and read your Kathy Reichs and go and read your Kay Scarpetta and go and read whatever else. Make sure that they are books by different authors because if you just read one author you will plagiarize their style.
They should be in your genre. They should all be best-sellers. Do not read anything that wasn’t a top ten best-seller. Read four or five of them and it really is “Monkey see, monkey do”.

Finally paint us as picture in say, five years, where do you want to be with your writing and your politics and your life in general?

Where do I want to be with my politics? I’d like to be a minister in a Cameron led Conservative government that is slowly putting our country back together and after five years I think that we will only just have begun to make a dent. Because we are in such a bad shape now I don’t expect that we can change it immediately.

In terms of my writing career I’d like to be still writing books, putting out one a year but selling lots more of them and making more money. That’s pretty much my vision all of the time. This is my five-year plan, my ten-year plan and my twenty-year plan.

Wonderful and on that note, thank you very much for your time today, Louise.

Thanks very much. Thanks a lot.

Aug 15, 2011 Podcasts Australian Writers' Centre Team

Written by Australian Writers' Centre Team


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