1. Tell us a little bit about yourself
I’ve moved around quite a bit but live in London now and absolutely love it. It’s massive and dirty and it took me a good year before I properly got my head around it, partly because when I first moved here I was a dealer in a casino and worked nights. Now I work as the press officer for a national sports radio station, which is a lot more fun and also means I get to see the daylight. I live near Brixton and there’s a great indie cinema, a sprawling food market, and a pub full of funny characters as well as a decent secondhand bookshop. I like the fact you never really know what you’re going to see when you leave your front door – London is a great place for eccentrics and misfits.
2. Can you tell us a little about your debut publication, Everyone Knows this is Nowhere?
Everybody Knows This is Nowhere is about a girl who has just left university and feels that life should now be starting, only to realise that nothing is how she thought it would be (including the man she lives with). She gets a job as an office receptionist and is just itching for something else, but really doesn’t know what.
In common with most first novels it’s heavily autobiographical: when I left uni I moved straight in with a boyfriend and had no solid idea about what I wanted to do with my life (beyond being a writer, a profession that everyone told me was a pipedream), but I wasn’t at all prepared for how utterly lost and useless and bored and alone I would feel. This novel was really my exploration of those feelings.
3. I would describe your writing style as ‘fly on the wall’. Do you think this is accurate and is this a style you have purposefully used?
I read somewhere that when you write a novel it should be like you’re taking the reader by the hand and showing them around a world, and I really love that idea because firstly you have a license to take a person on a journey and show them whatever you want, which is amazing, but there’s also an onus on you to make it interesting enough that they continue to want to be there with you.
Everybody Knows is not plot-driven by any stretch of the imagination, so I purposefully had to think of ways to draw readers in and keep them, and I tried to do this by creating an ominous atmosphere and pretty weird ensemble of characters, as well as holding it all together by a deadpan narrator.
I was definitely trying to capture something real, as I was pretty sure that other people must also feel as I did and if I could make them feel less alone then great, because I think that’s what a writer’s job really is.
4. Did you make a conscious decision to self-publish, or was this made for you?
Bit of both, I guess. I wrote the novel a few years ago, and right after it was finished I got an agent interested, who sent it out to his contacts. It got reasonably far at a few publishing houses, but they all said that although they liked it they couldn’t figure out how to market it, so I left it and got on with other things.
About six months ago it occurred to me what an utter waste this was, and that I’d put so much work into something that I’m pretty proud of and no one would ever get to read it. Self-publishing has been made so much easier as technology has advanced and now I have three years experience in PR under my belt, so I just decided to go for it.
5. And what have been the ups and downs of self-publishing?
The main best thing has been seeing the project come to fruition – it feels complete now in a way it didn’t before. It’s had more downloads than I imagined in my wildest dreams, and I get a real kick out of the thought that people are actually reading something that I wrote.
Also, the complete independence and control over what you’re doing is brilliant. I know it doesn’t sound all that fantastic when you compare it to a £20,000 advance, but it’s really something to look at your project and know that you made it all happen. I’m extremely lucky to know a great graphic designer who helped me put the cover together, but I came up with the idea for it and took the photo myself, and seeing the finished cover for the first time was one of the best moments of my life. I don’t say that lightly. I suddenly knew it was what I’d always wanted and I couldn’t put a price tag on that.
I don’t want to go on too much of a downer about self-publishing as there’s enough people who’ll do that for you, but it absorbs a lot of hours and the whole time I had this thought in my head, ‘What if this is a complete waste of time?’
I said before that I loved using my own photo for the cover, but it took me two evenings and a full Saturday mucking about to get that picture and I’d have much rather been sitting on the sofa eating crisps. Learning the ins and outs of formatting a book for Kindle isn’t a lot of fun either, but it just has to be done.
6. Moving on from Everyone Knows this is Nowhere, what are you working on at the moment?
To be honest I’m working on a kabillion things, as usual. I’ve started another novel about London and a girl who has an affair with an older man and I’m about 10,000 words in, but I’ve yet to get my teeth into it properly as I’ve been up until the wee hours most nights getting Everybody Knows up and running and being read.
I’m also working on a couple of short stories to send out to magazines – the one I’m focused on at the moment is a story from my time working in a casino, which is something I’ve never been able to write about much. I’m also trying my hand at writing articles for blogs and newspapers, and just for a laugh I sometimes try to write stuff for a comedy radio station that my friend is building.
7. Do you believe “No one can teach you to write” or have you found that completing an MA in Creative Writing has helped propel your writing forward?
Unbelievably the latter. I guess I would say this because I invested a huge amount of time and money in my writing education, but you can get tons out of a good writing teacher – from initial inspiration and encouragement, to ways of approaching the deeper thematic strands of your work, to the nuts and bolts of avoiding clichés and formatting dialogue.
I had a close relationship to my writing teacher at uni, who was the first (and only) person to tell me that I should try to write a novel, which seemed a laughable notion to me at the time. Post-uni, I’ve found that there’s no substitute for having someone who knows what they’re talking about actually reading what you’ve written and criticising it, not to mention an all important deadline to get you producing something.
A decent teacher should also help you to figure out what makes the writer in you tick – and doing a course gives you the time and space to think about yourself as a writer and establish how you produce your best work. That might mean you write religiously for an hour every morning, or sporadically at night, like me.
8. Not being a full-time writer, how and where do you find the time to write?
I do a lot of work in the evenings, and recently I decided to treat every Saturday like a work day – it’s been good for me to set that time aside for writing. Last year I massively cut down on drinking because I was wasting way too much time mucking about and getting pissed, and that’s helped.
My problem is that I’ve always got a million things I want to do – I’m obsessed with sewing as much as writing, and I’m also training for a half-marathon. I’ve literally had to force myself to focus on one thing at a time so I don’t constantly feel guilty that I’m not getting enough done.
9. What or who influences your writing or inspires you to write?
I’ve been influenced by loads of writers over the years – I want to say Cormac McCarthy because I loved The Road so much, but I actually didn’t write anything for a long while after I read it because I felt I would never be able to write anything even approaching meaningful… The spell broke when I read No Country for Old Men, which I think works much better as a film.
I love Magnus Mills, who had written lots of good stuff but the two novels that stick out to me are The Restraint of Beasts and All Quiet on the Orient Express. He writes in this tight, terse prose that seems simple on the surface but builds into a great climax, and his characters are all so rough and deadpan. I’ve always loved the fact that he works as a bus driver and used to be an itinerant fencer, because you can tell that the characters he’s met doing those sorts of jobs have informed his work.
I was pretty young when I read The Bell Jar and that book will have a place in my heart forever. It has this reputation that it’s only for teenage girls but that’s just bollocks.
For short stories, Raymond Carver and Ali Smith have influenced me quite a lot – Ali Smith has this great device of using second person narration in her stories that I quite like to adopt sometimes.
Lately I’ve been trying to read more biographies and non-fiction, as I think it helps to expand your worldview and improve your writing if you know more about the world and the worlds that people have come from.
10. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
There’s so much good advice out there I don’t know if I can add much to it! For me the main job of a writer is to be able to see things that other people miss and connect them in an original and hopefully entertaining way. It’s a writer’s job to put into words what people know and have experienced, but cannot say themselves. That takes guts, and practice. Fine tune your bullshit detector. Read a lot. You can make stuff up, but never lie. Be awake and observant. Read your work aloud to yourself in the bath to hear your mistakes clang. Never give up. It’s tough – but that’s why most people aren’t writers.