Writing a novel takes about a year from the first bit of research and the initial plot ideas through to final copy. The Saffron Trail was pretty much the same...
I begin by finding an idea (or it finds me, to be more accurate) and/or a place I feel I need to explore. The Saffron Trail started with me wanting to write about saffron. That was the seed. I was interested in this mysterious spice. Why is it worth even more ounce for ounce than gold? Where does it come from and how is it produced? So I started reading books like Pat Willard’s ‘The Secrets of Saffron’ and scouring the Internet to find out more. Morocco was a top producer and it felt right. I knew it was colourful and warm and vibrant and so I researched the history and culture of the country with a view of developing a backstory and sub-plot that would fit with my emerging ideas.
Then I developed the characters and started finding out more about other themes and content which would feature in the book e.g. The Vietnam War and ‘draft dodgers’. I also talk a lot to my husband at this stage in the process (that’s not to say I don’t talk a lot to him at other times too...) and we do some joint ‘plot-storming’ – often whilst out cliff-walking. The story is usually developing well by now and I’m about ready to start writing.
But first I visit the places I need to visit – in this case Marrakech, Essaouira, a saffron farm and waterfall in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains and Roseland in Cornwall. It was clear from the outset that Marrakech with its labrynthine medina was perfect for the setting of the main story – the maze of alleyways seemed to echo the tangled relationships I wanted to write about - and Essaouira was ideal for my 1960s ‘hippie hang out’. Cornwall has a fascinating history connected to saffron and with its atmospheric landscape, this seemed the obvious place for my saffron growing family to live.
I then start writing in strands of different voices/ stories. So the first story I wrote was Glenn’s – all in one go from start to almost-finish. Then I wrote Lillian’s and then Amy and Nell’s. This works well for me as I can get deeply into the voices – I hope – and the emotions and thoughts of one viewpoint character at a time. And get involved in one lot of research at a time too! But the stories will need to be interwoven later...
I write in my office at home, mainly in the morning from about 10 to 1 and then another session from around 3.30 to 6. It’s all very ‘ish’ as I don’t have strict routines and if it’s sunny and I want to go out for a walk, I do. Walking is also good for working out plots and scenes and by the time I get back I’m itching to start writing. I love writing with a view even though I don’t look at it that much when things are flowing well. My favourite would be a view of the sea but the view from my office is pretty special too. I also try to get to a retreat of some kind during the writing process; often this is Fuerteventura in the Canaries where it’s all writing, walking and swimming in a peaceful place with few distractions. I can get a lot done over there. I like to read every scene out loud, which helps me see if it is working and has a good pace, and sometimes I’ll read it to my husband too, if I need a bit of objective feedback!
When all the writing was done for Saffron (first or zillionth draft) I fitted it all together like a jigsaw puzzle. Fun! (At least, when it works out right). After a few more revisions I sent out to my lovely agent and editor and then did another re-write taking their comments on board.
When I’m not writing and travelling I often take groups on writing retreats and courses. For example, each year I take a writing group to stay in the stunning foothills of the Sierra Almijara, Southern Spain on a Writing Holiday in Andalucía for 7 days in a hotel finca which has been lovingly restored. We meet up as a group for writing practice on a variety of creative writing subjects and themes, with lots of exercises to stimulate the creative juices and help participants develop a current project or begin a new one or three. But there’s also plenty of time for individual writing, leisure (there is a lovely pool) and a group workshop each day will bring everyone together to share writing, thoughts and ideas. It’s a lovely experience – for all of us!
The Saffron Trail by Rosanna Ley is published 21st May (Quercus, £7.99)
About the Author:
Rosanna has written numerous articles and short stories for magazines, and her novels have been published in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Norway, Hungary, Portugal, Lithuania, Turkey and the Czech Republic. ‘The Villa’ is also published by Quercus in the US.
Rosanna’s books are inspired by a range of different cultures and landscapes and feature strong female voices from the past and present, along with an intense undercurrent of mystery and romance. She is represented by Laura Longrigg at the MBA Literary Agency.
Rosanna has also worked as a creative writing tutor for over 20 years. She has led courses for colleges and universities in England, and runs her own writing retreats and holidays in the UK and in stunning locations in Europe. She has worked with community groups in therapeutic settings and completed an MA in creative writing for personal development in order to support this. She also mentors and appraises the work of new writers.
Travelling and cliff walking are two of Rosanna’s favourite things to do. She also likes tennis, swimming, reading, eating very dark chocolate and drinking Italian coffee (preferably in Italy...) She lives with her artist husband in West Dorset and her favourite writing place is anywhere with a sea view.