Interview with Harriet Smart, author and half of Writer’s Cafe Team
Can you tell us how the idea for Writer’s Café came into being?
Julian and I are a husband and wife business team so we had been kicking around ideas for some time, thinking how useful software for writers might work as we wanted to combine our different talents on a joint project. There was one very rainy holiday on the Scottish island of Colonsay when we talked about it for hours! I had tried a few of the early attempts at fiction writing software, like Dramatica but found it less than useful, so we were looking for a sort of Holy Grail of fiction writing software. It took us some time to realise that what was required was a toolkit for writers, rather than a complicated model of what a story should be. We started with Storylines, which came about because I had a practical problem to solve – that of trying to plot a three strand tv drama for a course I was taking on scriptwriting. I was using index cards and bits of papers, but it was driving me crazy so I asked Julian if he could knock something up to help me out. The result was StoryLines and rather magically worked far better than we expected. There is something very relaxing and yet focused about using it that just makes the ideas come easily.
What do you think makes it different than other writing programs currently available?
It doesn’t tell you what to do or try and impose any theory of story. That’s why it works. You can use it for a whole novel or for a section you might be having problems with. In fact, you don’t have to use it for fiction. You can use it to plan an essay or I have even heard of it being used to plan a marketing report (with a fantasy novel being planned at the same time!)
What are a few of the Writer’s Café tools that you find most indispensible as a writer?
Storylines is obviously the crown jewel. I love it and every time I use it, I always think, “well that’s a bit cool, isn’t it?” which is nice. But I have a soft spot for the scrap books because it is just nice to have somewhere to put pictures and research links.
One of the things that I really appreciate about Writer’s Café and why I recommend it is that it has things for both plotters and what I think of as more “inspired” writers. (like the inspirational quotes) Which kind of writer are you? And what do you think Writer’s Café offers different types of writers?
Ah yes the old “pantsters” and “plotters” debate! I think all writers are both these things at different times. It depends on the project, what stage a writer is in their development, what sort of mind set they are in at different times. I think flexibility is key and no writer should limit themselves to one way of doing things, ever, so we have tried to provide tools for all sorts of eventualities. So people who like doing daily pages or journaling can use the journal or the notebook tools, procrastinators can try and focus using the timed writing feature while the exercises are there for people who want something to kick start their imaginations or use in writing practice. Meanwhile with storylines obssessive plotters can record micro-levels of detail to help them build their stories, while others may just want to use it to create a quick road map so that they can make sure they are going generally in the right direction.
What do you think is the most over-looked tool/feature that the program offers?
Don’t really have an answer to that one! Though the random generated excercises are great fun and I hope people find those!
How do you personally use the program?
I tend to use it on an “as and when I need it”, which tallies with the non-dictatorial approach of the programme. StoryLines is something I could not now do without. Sometimes I can plan out a whole novel with it, other times, its is just a small sequence of events that I focus on. Just writing a few cards is often enough to solve the problem for me – and this is one of the joys of the whole thing – you can do as much or as little as you like with it.
Are there any other programs you use in combination with Writer’s Café or does it fill all of your needs?
I’m a big fan of Open Office. I can’t believe it is free! But I don’t any other software on the planning/story development front. I am a great fan of note books and pens as well. Sometimes only the old ways will do. I have even been known to write with a nineteenth century steel pen and an inkstand.
Do you have any plans for additions or changes we should know about? New products?
Writer’s Cafe 3 will be along at some point. In the mean time we are very proud of Jutoh which is our ebook publishing software http://www.jutoh.com/ Jutoh has been designed to help people get their ebooks out on all the different platforms available and deals with all the formatting issues. You can by a bundle of the two products and set yourself up as an author entrepreneur!
Where can writers go to buy Writer’s Café? Can they do a free trial?
Writer’s Cafe is available to download at http://www.writerscafe.co.uk/ and yes there is a free trial, restricted in that you can only use 9 cards in Storylines, but apart from that you can try out all of it and see if it is something for you.
How about updates? (Side note from Lori: I really appreciated how smoothly the last update went through. I have had not such good experiences with updating other writing software programs.)
Julian is extremely conscientious about updates and they are free, and we do everything we can to make sure that it is a pleasant experience for our users. We also pride ourselves on our technical support – Julian will answer email queries and always goes that extra mile to make sure people are happy.
Harriet Smart decided to become a novelist at the age of 10 while sitting in the bay window of her grandparent’s flat overlooking the Tay and Broughty Ferry Castle. She then planned out a three volume family saga despite her family’s suggestions to perhaps start with short stories. She then wrote many, many chapter ones while at school and university, but never managed a chapter two. When, twelve years later, she found herself unemployed and again in a house over-looking the Tay, that she sat down and actually finished a novel. This was A Garland of Vows, an epic family saga about the life and loves of a Victorian architect. It was published by Headline in 1991. Since then she has written and published several more novels but still has failed to master the short story. Her latest projects include a serialised blog novel set in Edwardardian Scotland and a series of crime novels set in Early Victorian England. The Butchered Man, the first Northminster is now available as ebook and as a paperpack.
Harriet credits her old Amstrad PCW for finally getting her from Chapter One to Chapter Two, and has been a technology lover ever since then. With her husband Dr Julian Smart she co-founded Anthemion Software Ltd to develop and launch innovative software products to help other writers, notably Writer’s Café and Jutoh. Writer’s Café is the only writing software on the market co-designed by a published novelist. Harriet blogs at http://www.harrietsmart.com/ and spends too much time on Twitters as @FictionWitch Harriet now lives in Edinburgh, with Julian, their daughter Antonia and a magnificent ragdoll cat called Alfie.More on: author interview • plotting software • writing software • writing tools