10 questions with ‘My One True North’ author Milly Johnson

This week the lovely Milly Johnson, Yorkshire lass and author of 15 best-selling novels, has been kind enough to share an insight into her writing life, inspiration for budding writers, plus a top tip about a technique for getting stuff done. She should know, she’s sold more than two million books!

What’s more she’s been on Come Dine with me and Wikipedia tells me she’s a professional joke writer – a legend. Actually it also tells me she was strongly influenced by the work of Enid Blyton so I think we’re soulmates even though she hails from the wrong side of the war of the roses.

10 questions with Milly Johnson:

Author Milly Johnson
Author Milly Johnson

1 .What’s your name and where do you come from?
My name is Milly Johnson and I come from Barnsley in South Yorkshire. All my books have a very strong connection with Yorkshire.

2. Do you write fact or fiction and in what genre?
I write contemporary fiction for adults. I’m lucky that my readership is so wide – eighteen to eighty and beyond. Mainly women read my books but I have a quite a few male readers too. They tell me they help to see into a woman’s psyche. I often have a male and female protagonist taking centre stage. I suppose they’d be classed romance, as there’s always a love element and a happy ending, but that doesn’t necessarily make them light reads. They’re very multi-layered and often deal with difficult topics. 

3. Are you traditionally or self published and which route do you consider best? 
I am traditionally published, and I did it the hard way. It took me fifteen years of giving up and starting again to get a publishing deal but it was worth it. This way works for me because I have an amazing team who look after the marketing, the publicity, the editing, the foreign rights, the covers, the selling… leaving me to just get on with the writing.  If by any chance I was to self-publish, I would make sure that I hired professionals to do all of the above – they’re essential. But I’d rather stay in traditional publishing with its securities and assistance on tap.

4. What is your work schedule like when you are writing? 
I work from about 10am – 5pm, Monday to Friday, a lot more hours when a deadline approaches or I have one of the big intensive edits to do. I don’t have a daily word count to satisfy – some times writing flows more than others so I work with that. 

5.What advice would you give to budding writers? 
Always keep in the flow of your story. It’s better to write a sheet of A4 every day than a hundred and then nothing for three months. Always have time to read – you absorb so much style and vocabulary without even thinking about it. Read a book you’ve enjoyed for pleasure, then read it again to see how it’s all put together. And remember that writing is HARD. The first few thousand words are easy, then it gets more laborious and that’s when you need to buckle down and plough on and get to the end.

6. Who/what are YOUR favourite authors/ books? 
Daphne du Maurier – I thought Rebecca was perfect. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – my favourite book of all time. Persuasion by Jane Austen – the best love story written. Anything written by Mo Hayder, who is fabulously dark. I have eclectic tastes – I love a good crime book …and I love LOVE joke books. 

7. Are you a plotter or a pantster? (i.e do you  plan out your work or fly by the seat of your pants?)
I’d love to plot but I can’t do it – and eighteen books in, I think I’ve had to accept that this is the way I do things. I just jump in, write and see where it takes me. And it somehow takes me to the end of a first draft and every single time I’m amazed that it does.

8. What helps you focus? 
I am quite good at doing the job in hand. I can sit at my Mac and be straight into work, though it helps to turn off the phone and stop it beeping alerts at me from Twitter. I find the Pomodoro technique, where you have a timed period of concentration and then a short break to do other things, helps on those occasions when my concentration is lacking a little. Luckily I have a partner that supplies me with a lot of coffee so I don’t have to break off to make it for myself.

9. How long did it take you to write your book/books? 
I write in lots of layers so it takes me quite a while to complete a book, although I tend to do an obsessive first draft in a few weeks. Then I pat the story into a timeline, then I do a continuity edit, then an edit where I enrich the language… and then etc. So one book a year is good for me because then I get some semblance of a life as well. However, I have written two some years and it’s been a lot of work. I like the manuscript to ‘rest’ in between edits so I can come to it with a fresh pair of eyes and read it as more of an independent reader than the author. 

10. Where can we find your book/s? 
My books can be found in all the supermarkets, ‘all good bookshops’ and some crappy ones as well. They’re available in all formats and in libraries. I also sell them signed from my website www.millyjohnson.co.uk – where you can find lots of writing advice that I’ve picked up over the years. 

My One True North by Milly Johnson, published by Simon and Schuster

Many thanks to Milly.

If you an author and would like to take part in this weekly feature, please email me via nicolakadam@gmail.com The questions remain the same each week.


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