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Write Now with Scrivener, Episode no. 28: Sheila O'Flanagan, Romance Author

Sheila O'Flanagan left a career as a banker for writing, and has written more than 30 romance novels.

Sheila O'Flanagan left a career as a banker for writing, and has written more than 30 romance novels, which "put women in situations where they have to dig deep inside themselves to find their inner strength even though sometimes they struggle to realise it’s there."

"You always regret the things you didn't do more than the things that you did do."

Show notes:

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Sheila O'Flanagan got a job as a banker after graduating from university. "When I was first looking for a job, I fired off my CV to loads of different places. And for some extraordinary reason, I ended up getting the banking job; I had been pretty sure I would get a job in a library or something like that." This wasn't working as a teller; "I was a foreign exchange trader and then a government bond trader."

Sheila had always loved writing, but never expected it to be her career. "I had always wanted to write and I always wanted to have a novel published. I thought maybe, if I was really lucky, I might get to three or four books. And I thought that would be a great achievement. But having written one, it was like the dam burst. Suddenly, I couldn't stop myself. All the things that I wanted to write, all the the ideas that I had, and all the things that I wanted to explore, they just came flooding out, and and they just kept going." She wrote four books, then gave up the banking job. She laughs saying that "the only regret that I had was that I had a whole wardrobe of really snazzy businesses suits. I never wore expensive business suits again."

As a romance novelist, Sheila's books are sometimes shelved in the chick lit section of bookstores, and this term can be seen as derogatory. "A lot of times when somebody says, 'Oh, do you mind your books being described as chick lit?' you would say, 'Well, if you have to ask me if I mind, you're immediately coming from a place where there is a certain lack of respect towards the genre.'" Sheila says that her books are "more about relationships, and wider relationships than simply one romantic relationship. They're about families and the things that happen in families. And for me, that is fundamentally the most important thing in our lives, the relationships we have with other people."

I suggested that romance novels are generally about happy endings, but Sheila pointed out that it's not that simple. "These two people maybe get together, but actually, the happy ending may be that they don't. Interestingly, in Sweden, these novels are called 'feel good fiction.' The rationale is that all the things that happen, and all the things that get explored within the novel, still come to a satisfying ending. At that point, you are feeling good about what has happened to the characters, so they want to be in a better space."

This said, modern "romance fiction" also explores the dark side of relationships. "One of my novels, The Missing Wife, is actually about coercive control. It's about a woman who runs away from her husband, and he comes running after her. In writing that, I was exploring how she got to this situation, how somebody who is an intelligent woman gets into a position where she has been effectively controlled by somebody else. And then how you manage to break out of that, and what happens as a consequence to that. There is romance in all my books, but it's not necessarily the most important part of what the book is."

Sheila has been using Scrivener since 2010. It fits the way she works: storing scenes in files within chapter folders. "For me, each folder is a separate chapter, and then in each folder, I subdivide down into scenes. I do move things around quite a bit. As you get further into the novel, you say to yourself, "Okay, maybe this piece should come sooner, or I should be able to move this around. I can pop it up on the Corkboard, and look and see what the main elements of each folder are. Then when you've got it all together, you can compile, it pops out as one document, it never crashes."

The Word Frequency feature comes in handy for Sheila. "I like little things like the word frequency, because I always find, when you're writing a novel, and it's different for every novel, that there's one word that you use all the time. And I like the fact that you can split the screen, to look at two things side by side, when you're trying to move things around, or when you're trying to compare what you've written to something else."

I asked Sheila if she outlines her novels. "I think if you know everything that's going to happen in your novel, it's not so exciting to write. But if you're writing the novel, and the characters develop in front of your eyes, and change in front of your eyes, and do things somewhat unexpectedly, which always happens, that is so joyful, and it makes a really good journey for you as a writer."

Kirk McElhearn is a writer, podcaster, and photographer. He is the author of Take Control of Scrivener, and host of the podcast Write Now with Scrivener.

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