Interview conducted by Margaret Ehuriah
Beth Miller is the author of The Missing Letters of Mrs Bright (2020) ― a bestselling novel that has received rave reviews. Released in January of this year, her most recent publication is called The Woman Who Came Back to Life.
Before becoming an author, Beth worked as a sexual health trainer, a journalist, and a psychology lecturer amongst other things.
Currently, she teaches creative writing in various places ― including, occasionally, the University of Surrey.
I had the opportunity to interview Beth Miller ahead of this year’s festival. We discussed her most recent novel as well as her writing process.
1) Tell me a little bit about your most recent novel The Woman Who Came Back to Life.
It’s about Pearl, who’s been living in a cottage in the middle of a remote French wood for the last few years. She’s hiding from the world there, particularly from her brothers and her best friend, but her past is about to catch up with her…
2) What inspired this novel? Were you influenced by your own life experiences?
It’s my most personal novel yet; about half the things that happen in the story between Pearl and her father are based on fact. But the other half are made up!
3) What type of research (if any) do you do before you start your writing process?
None. I don’t know at the start what research I need to do. I’ll always write quite a lot, maybe the whole first draft, before I get down to research and patch up any mistakes. Research is great but can be a massive tool of procrastination. Plus too much time spent on research can make a writer feel like they have to put in everything they’ve learned, which may be to the detriment of the story.
4) How many books have you published in total? How did you feel when you published your first book?
I’ve published 8 books – 6 novels and 2 non-fiction. I’d been writing the first book for a very long time before it got published so my main feeling was extreme relief that all that time spent on it was worth it!
o Do you still get that same feeling each time you publish a book?
It’s a pretty incredible feeling each time but nothing tops the giddy, disbelieving excitement of that first book.
5) What advice would you give to your younger self about writing?
Oh, so many things! The main one would be: stop faffing, sit on your butt and write! And finish the first draft as quickly as possible so you can see what you’ve got.
6) In your opinion, what is the hardest thing about writing?
Sitting down and doing it. Even experienced and well-published writers will seize any opportunity to procrastinate. Most writers do more talking about writing than actual writing.
7) Have you ever had writer’s block and if so, how did you overcome it?
I’m one of those people who think writer’s block is a collective term for a number of other, less glamourous-sounding malaises including: not sitting down and getting on with it, not having the confidence to let your voice speak, thinking one has to wait for a muse to strike (one does not and indeed, should not), not being sure the idea is worthwhile, procrastination (see above) and a bunch more.
8) Are you working on anything at the moment?
Yes – a book I’ve had in my head for a while, about a circus act! I’m writing a slow and steady amount each week and really enjoying where it’s going. I don’t have the ending in mind so I’m not sure what’s going to happen.
9) If you weren’t a writer, what other career would you choose and why?
I’ve had several other careers already, and my favourite one was in sex education. But if lack of talent was no barrier, I’d love to be a musician.
10) Do you also teach or mentor writers?
I teach creative writing in various places, including for Arvon, the Creative Writing Programme in Brighton, and of course, the occasional session for Surrey University! And I work one-to-one with a great many writers. I call myself a book coach rather than a mentor. Mentoring implies a long process, whereas I often just have one or two sessions with a writer: I feel like I’m helping them get back to match fitness so they can return to the game. (I am extremely unsporty by the way, so that metaphor might not make sense.) That said, there are some writers who I have worked on and off with for several years, and quite a few who have gone on to great writing success, of which I am proud and jealous in equal measure.
My interview with Beth Miller was an invaluable experience. As a published author, her insight and advice are incredibly useful for unpublished and published writers alike. One of the biggest takeaways from this interview was her perception of writer’s block. I think her response perfectly addresses the anxiety many authors feel whilst writing their first draft.
To learn more about Beth’s role in the 2022 Festival, and to buy her work, head to his section of SNWF’s Meet Our Guests.
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About the Author
Margaret Ehuriah is a student at the University of Surrey. She studies English Literature with Creative Writing BA in hopes of becoming a published author and poet in the future. As part of her journey to becoming a published writer, Margaret likes to gain insight from other writers and poets. She primarily does so by regularly attending creative writing sessions held inside and outside of the university. Her open-mindedness and willingness to learn from others is what compelled her to conduct two interviews for this year’s Surrey New Writers Festival. As an avid reader and writer, Margaret is particularly interested in free verse poetry and adult fantasy.