The inspiration for a novel can come from anywhere – a moment, a name, an intriguing item. For Alex, her interest in antique keys was a catalyst: 'I knew my heroine ended up with a bunch of keys, and that meant she'd opened a series of doors.' For Maire, a fellow guest at a braai mentioned a relative called 'Ma Bess' and Maire decided to use this gutsy name for a character.
Fit your writing into your schedule. No matter how busy you are, you can find a gap to write. Alex wrote a commissioned novella between the hours of two and four in the morning when her toddler son was a baby! But these days, she writes when he's napping and after 8pm when he's in bed.
Let your story evolve. Have a general idea of where the story's going, but be prepared to change course. Allow your story and characters to take on a life of their own and develop naturally. Maire replaced her elderly narrator with a young girl, Bird: 'I realised she was trying to come out and tell the story.' (So she lost 40,000 words of her manuscript, but the book is all the better for it).
Find a friendly 'first reader'. Show your first draft to one or two friends or relatives who love reading, both authors advise. Ask them specific questions, as these yield constructive criticism: for example, 'I'm not sure about the ending. How do you think I could improve it?'
The main thing is to enjoy the process. The writing of your first draft is the truly fun, creative, anything-goes part, they agreed. When you feel that 'urgency to get the story down', go with it. Write.
Read the novel that teaches you the art of novel-writing: The Presence of Peacocks or How to Find Love and Write a Novel is available in the Kindle store.