Tell me a little bit about your most recent publication.
My latest book is a short story collection called 15 Minutes. The theme of the collection is fame and all the stories have some element of that in it. There are real and imagined celebrities. This thing the stories have in common is that they are really about ordinary people rather than the famous ones, so you get the story of a tramp in New York the day John Lennon died, a chance meeting with a teenage Andy Warhol, a man with a Scartlett Johansson obsession. I’m much more interested in normal people, they have better stories to tell. The book was crowdfunded with Unbound and it was very hard work to get it to a position where it could be published but one thing I will say about crowdfunding is that there is a special connection to all of the book’s backers, it feels as though we made something together. Unbound publish books in the same way as any other publisher, you still have to submit and then when the funding is raised you get in house edits, cover design and whatever promo they see fit to do.
What type of research do you do?
Usually I come up with an idea first. I’ll see an obscure news story or documentary and something will click in my imagination. I don’t research much before I start writing, I just set down the first thousand words or so, at that point I normally know what the end is going to be and write a draft of that, then I’ll research around the subject a bit and fill in the middle. I am an extremely thorough researcher ( I worked as a researcher at The British Film Institute for 13 years) I collect everything I can, articles, photos and I find visual clips very helpful – I use Youtube a lot, especially with period writing, the sounds and styles of the era I’m working in. I quite often associate a song with a story and play that over and over to get it in my head. After I’ve done all this I’ll do a couple of rewrites incorporating all the information I’ve gleaned.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Without a doubt it’s the marketing. I am a short story writer – I don’t have an agent but even if you do the promo is pretty much left to the author anyway. I spent at least as much time on promo for 15 Minutes as the crowdfunding and it still didn’t sell brilliantly, sometimes it just doesn’t work. I did absolutely everything right. Publishing it was still an invaluable lesson for me as a writer but I would have preferred a few more sales.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I didn’t start writing until I was forty. I’d just had a second child and had recently moved from London to Brighton, I was a stay at home mum and to stop myself going crazy I did a creative writing course at Sussex University on a whim. I thought the childcare wouldn’t pan out or something but a week later I was in a room full of people reading out my first creative piece. I went on to do the MA and now I mentor new writers. So, the advice I would give is it’s never too late to start. All these lists of best writers under thirty – what a croc – writing isn’t about age it’s about what you’ve got to say at any age, a teenager can be brilliant and so can a 70 year old. The other thing I’d say is that if you are not writing in the mainstream it is going to be extremely difficult to get anybody interested – difficult but not impossible. There are more ways of getting writing out there than the traditional agent/major publisher route, the likelihood of that happening is very, very tiny but there are independent publishers and journals and podcasts that are much more enthusiastic about new writers. The third piece of advice is that you can’t be prissy about editors, if someone offers you a professional edit prior to publication jump at it. You will need to get used to the to and fro of editing if you want to progress in a writing career, even the most successful writers are edited, their manuscripts go through several rounds of red pen and negotiation before publication every single time, refusing to make any changes simply draws attention to that fact that you are an amateur.
Do you also mentor and teach?
Yes I do. I’m a freelance mentor for local arts organisations and I run talks and workshops for writing groups. I also work privately with new authors. I’ve given feedback on almost every genre there is, if I take on an author we’ll work together over a period of months going through the manuscript. I edit and make suggestions and then we discuss the re-write face to face (or Skype). I also help with the submissions package when we’re done. It’s something I really enjoy doing. I co-run The Brighton Prize for short fiction and we edit all the stories we publish in our anthologies, the process of helping make a story the very best it can be is extremely worthwhile.
Tell us about your writing schedule?
I’m lucky enough to have an office at home. When I first started I had a desk at the back of the lounge piled high with Lego and other toys. I still managed to write my first novel at it, I was very quick back then; I had to fit it around everything else. I am much slower now but I think I’m a better, more careful writer. These days I’ll go into the office at about 9am when the lids have gone to school and do my admin and promo bit for an hour then I write, break for lunch (trying not to eat it at the desk!) and go back for a couple of hours in the afternoon. I don’t write everyday anymore and if it’s not flowing I’ll stop. Some days I’ll only do mentoring, other days I’ll work on a short, if I’ve not worked on the novel for a while I’ll work on a poem or a short first, I’m always working on a couple of things at any given time – and then there’s that research and editing we talked about!