I had several finished novels, in the drawer. And I had no choice but to keep going; I loved it, it was a compulsion, and just finishing something didn’t seem to be getting me any closer to publication. I think a lot of published writers assume aspiring writers like the idea of being writers, but perhaps aren’t actually grafting and getting the words down. But I was, so the advice to ‘just write’ was always radically unhelpful, because it made me feel as though what I was doing wasn’t enough.
I suppose what I’d say to those aspiring writers who are hoping to land an agent, or a publisher, who are putting the time in, who are finishing those manuscripts, is just don’t lose the faith. If you’re writing because you have to – not because you want to get published, as validating as that is – you are doing the right thing. I knew I’d be writing my whole life, even if I never got a book deal. So if that’s the case for you, don’t forget it. It means you’re doing it for the love of it, and not the book deal. So keep the faith, and trust in the process, and just remember that you’re writing because you’re a writer. You’re already winning.
Which novelists have influenced your writing, and what debut novels have you enjoyed recently?
Ah, so many! Books were my first love, and there are so many writers whose prose just astonishes me, every time; I wish I could bottle their words, and carry them around in my pocket. Elizabeth Strout is one of my favourites – the way she uses setting, and sunlight, and everyday occurrences as vessels for such powerful emotion. Sally Rooney, of course, with her clean prose and contemporary portrayals of raw, difficult love, and David Nicholls, with all his heart and humour and messy, complicated relationships, has been a writing hero of mine for years. I love the lyricism of Evie Wyld and Jessica Andrews, but my favourite novelist of all time has to be Miriam Toews, who is so funny, so poetic, and so unpredictable in terms of where her stories take you. I could go on, but that’s probably plenty for now!
I adored We All Want Impossible Things, a gorgeous novel by Catherine Newman that is somehow about death but also life, and all the sadness and undeniable joy that goes with it. I’m not a big crier, but I sobbed while reading that one, in the bath, no less! I also loved Coco Mellors’ Cleopatra and Frankenstein, the cool, edgy romance novel that sparkles with wit, beautiful sentences and an unforgettable side character who became, for me, the star of the show. And the sugar baby! Oh, it took my breath away.
And looking ahead, what can we look forward to from you next?
I’m writing another novel - not a sequel to Talking at Night, but a standalone story. It’s contemporary fiction, about three people – a love triangle, you might say – told through the eyes of Clementine, a 30-year-old woman who has lost touch with her best childhood friend. It’s been 13 years since she last saw him, but then he walks back into her life, on the night of her engagement party, no less.
It’s a book about loyalty, and family secrets, and complex desire – all the stuff I love to get my teeth into! I wanted to write a book about that period of life, our early 30s, which seem to be a new chapter for so many people, where everyone seems to be settling down or having kids or getting married. But what happens if you don’t do those things? What if you’re not certain it’s what you want? It’s early days with it, but I’m really loving being in the thick of writing again.
And finally, what advice would you give to anyone thinking of entering the Caledonia Novel Award 2024?
My advice is to do it! If your work is ready, if you are happy with it – if it’s the best you think you can get it – then now is the time. Putting your work out there is so brave, but someone has to win, and it could be you – and also, any sort of feedback, positive or constructive, can lead you to the next step in your writing journey. Make sure it’s edited, revised, without any typos, and once you’ve sent it, try to forget about it. Carry on writing. Don’t drive yourself mad refreshing your inbox. Get back to the writing itself; maybe read something really brilliant, that’ll inspire you to keep going; then get back to work. All the rest is just noise, or nice-to-haves. But also excellent motivators!