Do you have a writing routine? If so, please give a quick overview.
No, not really. There’s a lot of not writing in writing. When I start the research for a book, I tend to read in every direction and usually read for several months. From this, the book begins to push through, or rather the characters find their voices and assert themselves. Some people write every day and that’s fine, but I can’t seem to until I have the voice firmly in my head. I tend to write in concentrated bursts, heaving the book out of me a chunk at a time. It’s perhaps not the best way to write, but that’s just how it is. I can’t bear the radio on when I write. Background music, anything like that. Drives me mad. What a grump. Sorry.
When did you first start writing? What made you first start writing?
When I look back on my life, I can see that I always enjoyed writing, but the thought of writing a novel never occurred to me. That was something other people did. Then I came out of a bad work experience, truly crushing to be frank, and for some reason that I can’t now remember, I set up an anonymous blog and began posting vignettes. It’s still out there somewhere. God knows. It wasn’t cathartic, not in the slightest, but it gave me something else to focus on other than the rage and despair I felt at the time. I did a creative writing course through the OU and that led to an MA in Creative Writing at Anglia Ruskin Uni. After that, I applied for a place on the Escalator mentoring programme at Writers’ Centre Norwich, now the National Centre for Writing, and that led to me writing my first novel (and first published novel, The Words in My Hand). It all looks like a neat and tidy trajectory when I write it out like that, but every step was tentative and filled with dread and doubt — and yet, also, with surprise and delight (which is what keeps me going). I love writing. I still write short pieces, flash fiction I suppose, just for the fun of it.
What are your influences?
I love Jo Baker’s work. Sebastian Barry. John Banville. Emma Henderson. Elena Ferante. I like books with ambition, that wear their skill lightly. But I am heartily tired of books about men of a certain age looking back on their life to an early love or to when they did something wrong which they must now repent for.
Going to the cinema is one of my favourite things to do. I love the risks the form allows for: the dramatic cuts, the playfulness.
I learned a lot about structure from Louise Doughty. I’d always thought structure incidental but of course it determines how a story will be told. I’m reading Daniel Deronda by George Eliot, and she does not tell the story in a linear way, but moves further back in time after the opening, before jumping time forward again. And just for a moment, I saw her there, writing it, grappling with the structure of that book, as all writers must do. There’s consolation in that, in knowing you’re not alone.
What’s your favourite book?
I can’t say. One book only makes me think of others. I wrote about five books HERE.
Could you share your top DOs and DON’Ts of writing?
1. Yes, writing’s hard, but who else is going to write your book if not you? Stop making excuses and just bloody do it.
2. There is no perfect piece of writing. Realising that, freed me up enormously. Write the best book you can and then let it go.
3. Be ambitious in and for your work.