Tasmina Perry didn’t set out to be a writer. Her first goal was to become a lawyer, but just barely into that career she chucked it all in favor of something she felt more more passionate about – the decidedly less secure world of writing for magazines. A natural, Perry quickly turned that passion into a stellar career as a journalist for publications like Marie Claire and Glamour. She is also the author of 10 international bestselling novels, including Daddy’s Girls and Kiss Heaven Goodbye, which have sold over 2 million copies worldwide. I chatted with her recently about her career and the state of the industry.
RE: You were a lawyer who ditched it all, first for journalism and then to write novels. That is quite an arc. What inspired you to make these big transitions?
TP: A little bit of luck, to be honest. I studied law at university and then went to law school, and before I knew it, I was a qualified attorney. But I was an unhappy lawyer from the get-go. I hated the thought of getting up in the morning and going to work, until then I won a writing contest in a magazine. Through that I got contacts in the publishing industry, and when a job came up as a junior writer, I went for it. My parents weren’t very happy when I switched careers – not when I had spent six years training as a lawyer, but I knew the second I turned up at the magazine offices that I was going to love it. I threw myself into it 100% and was editor in chief of that magazine within two years, proving that you generally do better at the things you are most passionate about. Giving up my editor’s role to become a novelist was less of a leap. It felt more like a career extension than a change. Also it meant that I could work from home and spend more time with my newborn son, so it was a very welcome career switch!
RE. Writers often hate being pigeonholed into a genre. How do you describe your own work?
TP: I think I cross ‘genres’ and this can be both a blessing and a curse. I write novels that I want to read – so they are a romance/thriller hybrid; a love story is always at the core of my novels but there’s always intrigue or a mystery in there too.The benefit of this is that they generally feel quite ‘fresh’ because not a lot of people are writing in this cross genre field, but it does mean that the retailers sometimes don’t know where to place me on the bookshelves. Getting the right tone for my covers take time and work too.
RE. Character development is so crucial to good fiction. How do you go about building your characters? Do you plot first and build characters that fit that scenario or do you develop the characters first and let them drive a plot?
TP: I am a very detailed plotter. I probably spend about three months planning and plotting my novels before I start writing them. Over that time, the main players in the book come to life in my head.
RE. Your books take place in many exotic locales. I understand you often write from those locales. How critical is that to getting the story out that you want to tell?
TP: One of the reasons why I wrote my first novel was that I was lucky enough to have so many amazing experiences as a journalist, things like going to the fashion shows in Milan and I wanted to write about them in a fictionalized way. I think that when you write about something you have seen or experienced, your writing becomes more rich and authentic. But as I am eleven books in now, I’ve exhausted a lot of the rich detail I got from my magazine days, so I try to get out there and sample the world, because I think your writing can become quite flat and stale if you stay stuck behind your desk – an occupational hazard when you are a writer! I’ve just come back from a trip to Charleston and Savannah and I loved it so much I am setting a book there.
A sense of place is really important is my books – the locations are almost as important as my characters. I’ve always seen my novels as a bit of an arm-chair trip!
RE. Is there anything else you can’t live without as a writer?
TP:I have a beautiful pencil my husband bought me when my first novel was published. I use it to make notes and edit my hard copy manuscripts. The pencil is part of the process!
RE. You and your husband John collaborate on the Ravenwood Mysteries YA series under the name Mia James. How has it been for you working with your spouse? For him?
TP: I love working with my husband. I think I am a better plotter, he has a wonderful way with words, so we bring different skills to the table and respect each other’s talents. What is difficult is the fact that we both work from home and we get easily distracted. We break for coffee and we’re still chatting an hour later when we should be working. So now he works in a shed in the garden. The problem now is that I’ve got shed-envy. I think the solution might be to get a she-shed!
RE. You are also still involved in journalism, often interviewing celebrities. Have any of your subjects found their way into your novels? Under different names of course!
TP: Not really. Obviously you are influenced by people that you meet, especially those with incredible life stories, but the lawyer in me is too scared of libel suits to write anything too close to the truth!
RE. I hear Hollywood might be interested in one of your books? Can you tell me anything about it?
TP: A producer has a scriptwriting team working on Perfect Strangers. I’d love to see that make it onto the big screen. When I was writing it, I mentally cast Gerald Butler as the hero Josh. It’s funny – I met Gerry the first year I was working as a journalist. He helped with a feature I was writing and we found out that we had been trainee lawyers at the same time – in fact he was President of his local Trainee Solicitors Association whilst I was President of our local division. We were both unhappy lawyers desperate to do something creative!
RE. The industry seems to change daily. What advice do you have for aspiring writers trying to break in for the first time?
TP: I think self-publishing is wonderful. It’s completely removed the gatekeepers from the process which is such a frustrating barrier for so many talented writers. In fact many publishers and agents are now looking to self-published authors to find fresh talent. It’s win-win for everyone. There are great resources for helping people navigate the self-publishing process. Websites and podcasts like Rockingselfpublishing.com contain fantastic tips.
RE. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a writer?
TP: I really hate the title of my second book – Gold-Diggers. It’s one of my favourite novels but I think the title makes it sound too trashy! You have to really protect your brand positioning these days.