Sarah Perry on her struggle to become a writer

SarahPerry-Author

A fantastic and inspiring article for any struggling writer – read this and keep the faith!

Enjoy x


My first book was published when I was 34. I was at that time a copywriter, earning a living by removing errant apostrophes from clothing catalogues, and drafting news reports for legal journals. Before then, I had been a civil servant (a job to which I was ill-suited in every respect), a minimum-wage shop worker, a nanny, an office temp and a legal administrator. Often I am asked what possessed me to join the civil service straight after graduation, and the frank answer is that I had supported myself financially since I was 18, and needed to earn a living: writing, my long-held ambition, would have to wait.

When it became intolerable to me that I was not doing the one thing I had ever felt would give my life purpose, I applied for an MA and then a PhD in creative writing (funded by a tax rebate and a scholarship respectively). I began a novel, and abandoned it, and wrote a series of earnest and trite short stories; I took up the novel again, and wrote a thesis on the gothic, and all the while carried out my full-time work as a secretary to a committee of barristers.

It never occurred to me that I would be able to make a living from writing fiction, and I did not in the least resent my day job, though naturally I occasionally imagined finding a hoard of Saxon gold in the back garden. I knew that Philip Larkin had been a librarian in Hull, that TS Eliot had worked in a bank, that Harper Lee had worked for an airline. I knew that some books achieved vast advances, but that these were both rare and potentially something of a poisoned chalice. In due course my first novel was sold for an advance entirely in keeping with a strange book already turned down by upward of a dozen publishers, which is to say, roughly a month’s wages.

I continued to write copy for lawyers’ websites, pausing sometimes to look out of the window and think about the legend I’d recently heard of an ancient serpent menacing Essex. Debts were large; money was tight; my laptop – which I’d once inadvertently set on fire while cleaning the keyboard with a canister of compressed air – did not work unless plugged in, and was too heavy to carry for long without backache. The prospect of writing a second novel – destined for an indifferent readership, likely to earn little money – while working late into the night transcribing interminable interviews with businessmen was daunting. But my agent and publisher were warmly supportive, and at any rate I had nothing better to do with my life.

Then, in 2014 I won the East Anglian book of the year award [for After Me Comes the Flood]. The effect of the prize was twofold. First, it conferred the sense of legitimacy that I’d never quite been able to summon up: a group of writers had admired my work, and they wanted me to write more. I was by then already at work on my second novel, The Essex Serpent, but always dogged by a curious sense of foolishness. I was poor, and getting poorer: what was I thinking, staring at the wall making things up, when I could do something both more useful and more remunerative? Ought I to have been a barrister? Should I perhaps teach? Writing felt, obscurely, like a moral failing. Then I was handed a glass trophy and a cheque at a ceremony in a Norwich department store, and felt suddenly at ease.

Most practically, the prize enabled me to replace my laptop with a slender one light enough to carry on trains, and able to retain its charge. I did not need it, precisely – one can write novels in mud with a pointed stick – but I felt like an apprentice carpenter given the tools of the trade by a benevolent guild. I bought stickers reading THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS and DON’T PANIC in nods to Woody Guthrie and Douglas Adams, fixed them to the lid, and set about my writing with vigour vastly renewed. On my laptop, I have written two novels, two short stories, and innumerable essays and articles. It now contains a document tentatively labelled book4.doc, and following a period of immense good fortune I am free to choose what I write, when I write it, and for whom.

This year I am chair of judges for the Desmond Elliott prize, an award for the best first novel of the year. It was set up in memory of the late literary agent, who arrived in London from Ireland with two pounds in his pocket, and went on to represent Jilly Cooper and Penny Vincenzi. But it is perhaps more accurately an award in support of the second novel, since its £10,000 prize is explicitly intended to nurture the winner’s next work, and offer stability and support as they continue to develop their practice.

The debut novelist comes equipped with a certain glamour that swiftly fades. Each year the newspapers present, with an enthusiasm that I at any rate find infectious, the “new intake” of writers. There is always the possibility that among those unfamiliar voices will be one still speaking from the shelves in decades to come. Debuts only rarely constitute the best of a writer’s output but it is striking to note how frequently debut novelists are unable to fulfil their early promise, and how easily the roving spotlight of literary attention moves on to fresher faces.

I am particularly invested in the notion of a prize for debuts which frankly acknowledges the need to help authors into the next stage of their career, because I know how a prize can prove transformative both in terms of financial support and in conveying a sense of legitimacy. When I was first published, I confess I felt some anxiety about myself: about the Essex accent that makes itself known unless I concentrate, my lack of connections through family and friends, my polytechnic degree. Would I feel like Pip in Great Expectations, mocked by Estella: “He calls the knaves jacks, this boy”?

As it turned out, I discovered that organisations such as Arts Emergency and the Arts Council were working to correct a historical skew towards a certain kind of publishing culture (and I was delighted to find that my own publisher was the first to offer internships on a London living wage). Where inequalities in publishing persist, money is often at the heart of the matter. If you are able to devote yourself to writing from, say, your late teens – because you need not earn much, if at all; because you do not need to care for children, or family members; because a friend’s friend needs someone to house-sit their Edinburgh flat for six months – you are at liberty to write, and write, and write. And writing, like playing the piano, or lathing a cabinet smooth, requires practice.

Awards such as the Desmond Elliott prize can help to put a spirit level over the playing field. Any entrant can find themselves suddenly in possession of a sum that is not life-changing, but which will buy a degree of freedom to write, or a necessary research trip, or – as in my case – sharper tools. Writers are not owed a living any more than other artists, and financial prizes are not precisely necessary. Put your mind to it, and you can write a slender volume of verse on the back of till receipts with a stolen Argos biro. But writing is difficult for everyone, and more difficult for some than for others. And in a society in which some communities are significantly more likely to lack financial privilege those difficulties can stultify and narrow the culture. There are many voices going unheard, and it’s both a duty and a pleasure to help pass on the amplifier.

***

Via: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/27/sarah-perry-novelist-literary-award-prize-winning-debut-writer?CMP=share_btn_tw

Claire Dyer on Research and Imagination | The Literary Sofa

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My lovely friend, Isabel Costello of The Literary Sofa, has been talking to Claire Dyer about her new book The Last Day. Here is what they had to say…


Today I am delighted to welcome the first of my Spring Spotlight guests, poet and novelist Claire Dyer. Her novel The Last Day is published by the independent Dome Press, who appear to have an eye for the magic combination of literary merit and broad appeal.  It is very much my kind of book and in my review at the end you can find out why.  But first let’s hear Claire’s thoughts on something which has always preoccupied writers and fascinated readers: the delicate balance between research and imagination in writing fiction:

I once heard that James Joyce trod the pavements of Dublin to make sure it took precisely thirteen minutes to get from point A to point B so he could represent this faithfully in his writing. Also, Wilkie Collins was known to consult astronomical charts to ensure he had a firm grasp of exactly what kind of moonlight fell on the precise night about which he was writing. In addition I also read somewhere that Audrey Niffenegger carefully researched paper making so she could write authentically about Clare’s work in The Time Traveler’s Wife.

However, authors also make stuff up, and it’s achieving a balance between research and imagination that fascinates me and is the topic I wish to explore whilst I’m here on Isabel’s Literary Sofa.

I too have embarked on many and varied types of research: I’ve done pottery lessons (for The Moment), travelled to Athens (for The Perfect Affair), interviewed carpenters, estate agents, doctors, florists, gardeners, bankers and many more to gain insights into the professions I have chosen for my characters along the way. I’ve also checked out train routes, fashions, newspaper headlines, TV listings, the music hits of the day on the internet; I’ve trawled through photographs, books, stared at Google Maps, sent detailed questionnaires to family and friends both here and in the US and have even stood on Newgale Sands in Pembrokeshire breathing in the salty air to help me prepare for the final scene in one of my books. I’ve visited the London Aquarium, Kew Gardens, the Surrey hills and plumbed deeply personal experiences of birth and death and the many stages in between.

I even visited a medium for a scene in my latest novel, The Last Day, a decision which produced a very surprising result. I went fully prepared to take notes, remain unmoved by anything she said and only think of my character, Honey, while I was there. However, half way through the session, the medium told me my mother, who had died when I was a girl, had arrived and wanted to say something to me. I can’t pretend it wasn’t a shock, one that I’m still coming to terms with, and it made me realise that sometimes the line between research and imagination can get very blurred indeed.

Yet amongst all this fact-finding, my imagination is churning away because in the foreground of all this research are my characters and their stories and it’s for them I have to get it right.

And what if I get it wrong? I remember when researching for the day at the races scene in The Perfect Affair, I looked up which horse had won which race, I studied the notes I’d made when I’d been to the races to remind myself of the small details, like how the tannoy sounds, how the horses skitter to the starting post, the press of bodies, the sweat on the animals’ flanks in the winners’ circle, and yet my scene was set in the 60s and so it was only when I pulled up some photographs on the internet that I realised two very important small details which I nearly missed. The first was that all the men in the pictures were wearing hats and the second was that the majority of the punters were smoking. And so, in my scene, I had my characters take off their hats when they arrive in the function room, which itself fills with the smoke of numerous cigarettes as the day progresses.

What if I deliberately fudge the issue? There have been times when I’ve been less than exact about road names, or the distances between places, or timelines, and also when I’ve used a little bit of artistic licence because to me such facts could be in danger of getting in the way of the all-important story. I do feel guilty about this but, on balance, I believe that it’s best for writers to try and achieve a balance between what’s made up and what’s real so that our readers (and, after all, the reader is the person for whom we are writing) can be immersed in the narrative, lose themselves in the ups and downs of our characters’ lives without worrying too much about whether the weather on the particular day in question was actually sunny or not.

And what is getting it right? Is it this immersion, this losing of oneself in the world of the novel? I think it is. And I guess I’m lucky because at least I can check my facts (if I wish to) whereas others who, for example, write fantasy novels can’t. They make up their worlds, they invent currencies, modes of transport, food, clothes and complete ways of life and I admire them greatly for doing so. I don’t think I ever could. And there are even those who like Laini Taylor blend the real with the imagined. In Daughter of Smoke and Bone which I read recently for BBC Radio Berkshire’s Radio Reads, she seamlessly melds modern-day Prague with a fantastical world of angels and monstrous creatures and gives them all hearts and consciences, hopes and fears. It is a huge achievement and one I admire immensely.

I shall continue to base my stories in this world, whether it be now or ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years ago and I shall do my utmost to mix fact with fiction, the exact with the inexact, research with imagination in the hope that my characters will have room to breathe and a voice with which to tell their stories.

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See the original article, including a review of Claire’s book, The Last Day, here: https://literarysofa.com/2018/03/02/guest-author-claire-dyer-on-research-and-imagination/

And check out more fantastic author interviews and book reviews on Isabel’s blog: the Literary Sofa.

Does Being a Journalist Help When Writing a Book?

I thought this was an intriguing article and worth sharing. In it Fiona Mitchell considers whether being in the profession of writing journalism helps with writing fiction. Here is what she found…Enjoy! 🙂

 

Sometimes people nod their heads knowingly when I tell them I’m a journalist. ‘See that’s why you’ve managed to get your book published, you were a writer already.’ But there’s a world of difference between writing magazine features or newspaper stories and writing a book with 300-plus pages. And the differences have become even more apparent since my debut novel, The Maid’s Room, was published in November.

I’ve been interviewed several times over the past three weeks and I’m trying to get used to being the one answering questions instead of asking them. Over the years, as a journalist, I interviewed quite a few people who didn’t have all that much to say for themselves – yes or no answers, without elaboration. All while my blank notebook stared up at me, along with the creeping fear that I wouldn’t have anything to fill my 1,000-word feature with. When I’ve been interviewed, I have to admit I’ve given some monosyllabic answers myself. ‘Why did you write that scene the way you did? ‘Er, I’m not sure.’ ‘And what about the juxtaposition of light and shade in chapter 7?’ ‘Erm . . .’ I’ve also fallen into the other extreme of filling the awkward spaces with seemingly never-ending gibberish.

Yep, I may be a journalist, but I’m definitely a newbie now I’m on the other side.

Here, best-selling authors and debut novelists share their thoughts on the differences between journalism and writing a book.

 

Fiona Cummins: Author of Rattle, and The Collector which will be published on 22 February 2018.

‘I was surprised by how exposing it felt to be critiqued by readers. I was used to writing other people’s stories – the focus of attention was never on me – and, then, suddenly everyone had an opinion. It gave me some sense of what it must feel like to have a newspaper story written about you, whether you liked it or not. Ultimately, you have no control over what others may think.

‘It’s certainly been a steep learning curve. With my tabloid newspaper background, I was used to working at breakneck speed. Publishing moves much more slowly. I’ve also had to learn to pace myself. Writing a 90,000-word manuscript takes time – I can’t just dash it off in a day.’

Francesca Hornak Seven Days

Francesca Hornak: Author of Seven Days of Us

‘The thing I struggled with in fiction is making bad things happen . . . This isn’t true of all journalism, but in glossy magazines there’s a constant aim to create a kind of aspirational, fantasy world, where people cook recipes and buy £200 moisturisers and scented candles. In fiction, you need to make your characters miserable, otherwise there’s no story. At first I was a bit squeamish about that, but I’ve got the hang of it now.

‘Long deadlines can be hard too; there isn’t quite enough pressure in publishing.’

Cholie Mayer Boy Made of Snow

Chloe Mayer: Author of The Boy Made of Snow

‘I work in news rather than features, so the longest it usually takes for my copy to appear as a newspaper article is the next day. In contrast, the book industry moves at a glacial pace! My debut novel, The Boy Made of Snow, was released last month – more than a year and a half after I signed my publishing deal!

‘As a journalist I write stories all day long, but many articles are limited to just a few hundred words. It’s a completely different skill set to make up a story from scratch and tell it over 100,000 words – with an arc, sub-plots, and an entire cast of characters.

‘The first thing all news reporters are taught is that they must tell the whole story in the first sentence; the introduction must contain the crux of what’s happened and why. But with fiction, you must gradually build a world and let the story unfold over time.

‘Another difference is that in journalism you must explicitly lay out all of the facts and be as clear as possible. Whereas with fiction, you often have to hold back – and what isn’t said, or revealed, is often as important as what is. So learning how to write a novel as I went along was the steepest learning curve for me.’

Juliet West: Author of The Faithful and Before the Fall

‘As a journalist, and especially as a news reporter on a daily paper, there’s a pressure to get your story out very quickly. Ideally that story will be word-perfect straight from your notebook. So when I first began to write fiction I attempted the same modus operandi. I thought I could file my story straight onto the page and all would be effortless and wonderful. Of course, what came out was terrible, so I would re-work every sentence, trying to make it perfect before moving on. I think I wrote three paragraphs over a fortnight, and they were desperately worthy and self-conscious and forced.

‘I realised I needed to give myself more freedom to write a first draft, allowing the story and characters to take root before going back to add polish and finesse. So that’s my top tip. Give yourself a break. Your first draft is yours alone – it’s not going to turn up in the next day’s paper with your byline on it.

‘When I did get a publishing deal in 2013 I was delighted, but also daunted by the prospect of a publicity campaign. Somehow I’ve risen to the challenge, and I’m really proud that I’m able to stand up and give a talk, or chat to a presenter on live radio. But I don’t think I’ll ever shake the feeling that I should be the one asking the questions.’

***

Via https://fionamitchell.org/2017/12/06/does-being-a-journalist-make-writing-a-book-any-easier/

Joanna Walsh: Author Interview

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Taking in everything from linguistic dystopianism to Freudian whimsy, the stories in Joanna Walsh’s second collection, Worlds from the Word’s End, are alternately playful, melancholic, subversive and wistful. The collection demonstrates the wide range of Walsh’s writing, and her continual desire to shift the boundaries of conventional storytelling. From the mid-European detachment of Hauptbahnhof to the playful fairy tale Simple HansWorlds from the Word’s End marks Walsh out as one of our most inventive authors.

Here, she talks to Minor Literature[s] about the impact of technology on storytelling, autofiction, and demystifying the role of the author:

In many of your stories, from Fractals (2013) and Grow a Pair (2015) up to your current collection, you examine the influence of technology on the way we communicate; this is perhaps most directly addressed in the title story from Worlds From the Word’s End. As a writer, how do you incorporate these changes in discourse into your work, and what challenges do you face? 

It a no-brainer. We live via technologies–and always have: writing is the original technology if by technology you mean an artifice created to replace or extend a human function–and each technological shift creates different styles of language that facilitate (and hamper) our uses of it, and its uses of us. Language that wants to section itself off as ‘literary’ is dead. Interesting writers keep a close eye on changes in the ways we speak and write to each other, as well as how this speaking and writing changes us. 

As you showed with your novella Seed, you’re very open to experimenting with digital storytelling techniques; what sort of possibilities do you think new technologies open up for your work, and how can this help to move literature forward? 

I’m not interested in the digital reproduction of the conventional book form. If I’m reading a ‘book’ I prefer print. I hope digital offers a huge number possibilities that do not already exist in print for representing experience via words, most of which I know nothing about. In Seed, I’ve used digital to explore written ways of telling developed by modernist and postmodernist writers, and in feminist and posthumanist thought, that challenge conventional linear notions of time and memory, and conventionally coherent subjectivity (aka ‘plot’ and ‘character’). 

You’ve already published short fiction, digital fiction, creative non-fiction (Hotel) and the A7-sized Shklovsky’s Zoo, amongst other forms; do you see yourself as a sort of ‘format agnostic’? Or is there a particular form you’d like to focus on in the future? Equally, is there anything you haven’t yet tackled which you’d like to try?

Form seems to arise to fit individual projects, or projects to fit situations. I’m flexible, and innovation is always also response, depending on collaboration, funding opportunities etc. But Hotel was a challenge to genre rather than form. If it began as response, it became deliberate, which makes me less an agnostic than an iconoclast. It started as an attempt to tell an autobiographical story outside the bounds of ‘memoir’. Traditionally memoir seems to concentrate on the subject. I’m only interested in myself as a starting point for discussing something wider. 

Following on from this, you’ve previously said that in the Anglosphere, the terms ‘writer’ and ‘novelist’ are almost synonymous. Do you think there have been any negative consequences from having moved between styles and formats early in your career, or is this something you’ve ever worried about? 

I started writing with no expectations of a ‘career,’ conscious of  not having written books that fit into easily saleable categories. But I haven’t been a writer all my adult life, and the idea of writing ‘the next book’ for the sake of writing the next book makes no sense to me. If that became the case, I hope I could walk away from it. But I hope I’ll be able to continue as an ‘amateur,’ like Clarice Lispector… though I also hope my amateurism has a long course  🙂

Autofiction has been an influence on your work; at the moment, the most prominent autofiction writers, such as Chris Kraus, Michelle Tea and Sheila Heti, seem to be based in North America. Do you think there’s something in the British literary scene which discourages this style of writing, and if so, are we likely to see that change? 

The UK reviews of Heti’s How Should a Person Be were almost unanimously negative, usually due to a perception that it is ‘narcissistic’ to write about yourself. I don’t see much change to that yet, but I meet (and teach!) people who want to read (and write) something they can’t quite define: a take on their own story, but not memoir or biography… and I spend a lot of my teaching time giving them permission to write what they want. But my influences don’t come only from North America, but also Europe, particularly France: NDiaye, Garreta, Duras, Sarraute, Ernaux… 

You’ve spoken previously about the importance of authors talking about how they make a living, if not solely from their work. Do you think there needs to be a process of demystifying the role of the author? And is this a shift that you see happening? 

Going back to Lispector: though she claimed to be an ‘amateur’ writer, she was a successful journalist, producing hundreds of columns on a variety of subjects for Brazilian newspapers. Perhaps her amateurism resided in her ability to separate paid work from play. “A professional has a personal commitment to writing. Or a commitment to someone else to write,” she said. “I insist on not being a professional. To keep my freedom.

When I read novelists in newspapers complaining they can’t make a living as a writer like they used to, I usually find they are living the sorts of lives I wouldn’t want to live, writing the sorts of works I wouldn’t want to write. They are ‘authors.’  

“If there’s any mystery left around the position or author (rather than around the practice), I’m be happy to see it evaporate.

But who is paid, and what they are paid, to write, is never neutral. These are things we need to question, and re-question. It is nice to be paid for something you’re skilled at, but the relationship between money and art can never be entirely ‘demystified,’ or art would become static. Fair returns should be paid to people whose work is sold,’ but that’s a commercial proposition. If writing can be weighed out and paid for per word, I don’t want to know what that exchange rate is. 

But, to answer your question: in practice, I have earned a living from journalism and teaching and, at the moment, PhD funding plus the occasional grant or residency. I don’t make much money from writing books, nothing like the UK living wage, but this has made my practice wider that it would have been were it easier to comfortably make a living by producing books.

What’s the relationship between the stories in Worlds From the Word’s End, and those in your previous collection, Vertigo? Was there a particular feeling you envisioned for each collection, that influenced your choice of stories? 

The stories for the two collections were mostly written concurrently – I had not idea that they’d be collected into these two volumes. Danielle Dutton of Dorothy made the initial selection of stories for Vertigo, selecting those with a hyperreal focus, about women in family relationships. I realised that the remaining stories had something in common too: a concentration on wordplay and abstraction. With a little work, they formed what I hope is an equally coherent collection. 

If you were an Egyptian pharaoh and had to be buried with a few key objects to take to the next world, what would they be?

It sounds wanky, but I’m not attached to particular objects, though I for preference I will live in a pleasant—though easily-reproducible—environment (a few nice clothes, a reasonable laptop, good coffee & decent alcohol please). I’m happy being temporary, in anonymous spaces, in other people’s houses. And I like to say goodbye to things. Recently I destroyed a lot of my artwork from when I was an illustrator because I have less storage space in my new place. I had a few twinges about that after, but it was probably the right thing to do because I felt it was at the time. I don’t like to go to writers’ houses, but I was in Prague with someone who wanted to visit Kafka’s house, and it’s now my favourite writers’ museum: so beautifully designed, around so little of him. I’m horrified how writers are interpreted via their ephemera: burn it all!

What’s your favourite portrait (it can be a song, a painting, a film, anything)?

This week? Maybe Joni Mitchell’s Carey.

***

Via: https://minorliteratures.com/2017/09/06/an-interview-with-joanna-walsh/

How I Got Published | Louise Beech

Louise-Beech

Today, an article all about “How I Got Published” by Louise Beech, which I hope you will agree is a very interesting read. Enjoy!

How did I get a book deal? It’s one of the things I’m frequently asked about at book events and festivals. How did I get published?

Unless the person asking – usually a hopeful writer, like I’ve been most of my life – has five hours, the determination to still keep writing despite my reply, and a pretty thick skin, I can’t respond fully. Time and a desire not to dishearten them prevents me answering in detail. Because my journey was long. Ten years long. People serve less time for serious crimes. It was littered with rejection upon rejection upon rejection. There was no satnav to tell me which way to go so that I arrived more easily at my destination.

There’s no magical right answer to the question of how to get published. Every single author will likely have a different tale to share. Some might have enjoyed a quick trip from writing a first novel to book deal, some may have got lucky with their tenth book, but most are probably still driving down the motorway, looking for the right exit.

All I can share is my story. And here it is. Are you ready?

I’ve been writing since I could hold a pen. I filled notepads and exercise books with entire novels (chapters and contents page included) from the age of nine. Writing was then – and still is – pure joy to me. The place I escape to, the place I feel safest, the only place in the world where I really feel I know what I’m doing, and that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be. As a teenager, I started my own magazine to rival the school one, and told anyone who would listen that I’d one day be a world-famous novelist. (That I’m still hoping for.) Then life took over a bit when I got pregnant at nineteen…

In my early thirties, I sent some pieces I’d written to our local newspaper and was offered my own column, Mum’s the Word, in which I wrote for ten years about being a parent. I also began to write short stories. Lots of them. I sent some out to magazines, entered some in competitions. Rejections came thick and fast. I cried the first time. But only once. I got up, wiped the tears away, and decided I had to improve. I wrote more. Slowly, they began being accepted. First by small ezines, and eventually by national magazines. I shortlisted twice for the Bridport Prize.

That was what gave me the confidence to write a novel. Every bit of advice I’d read suggested a writer hone their craft via the precise art of producing short stories, and by joining forums to gain harsh critiques in order to improve. I’d done both. So, after we flooded in 2007 and I had more time due to giving up work to care for my ill daughter, I started Maria in the Moon. It took me six months. It was a labour of not only love, but of tears. When I write, I give everything, and that can be draining afterwards. I let it ‘settle’ and then edited it some more. Then I sent it out to every agent and publisher. Over a period of a year, every single one of them rejected it.

I took time to recover – it’s hard, there’s no denying it, when your lovingly created work is rejected by everyone – and in 2009 I started a second novel, The Lion Tamer Who Lost. I tried to use all the advice I’d been given on forums, and all the tips I’d read by successful authors, but most of all I went back to the place where I knew I was supposed to be. Writing. Six months later I sent it out to every agent and publisher. They all rejected it.

In 2011, I went back to Maria in the Moon and tried to improve her. I tried a couple of new agents. Success! (Or so I thought.) A lady from United Agents invited me to visit her. Carol really liked it and took me on. She did everything, but – again – all the publishers she sent it to said no. One of them liked the style and asked if I had any more ideas for a novel. I told her about The Lion Tamer Who Lost but she didn’t like it. I mentioned one I had in my head, and she liked the sound of it. So, in 2012, I wrote The Mountain in my Shoe.

She said no. Carol sent it to other publishers. They all said no. Some had positive comments, but the general problem seemed to be what I was. Where I fit. I was that difficult creature – I didn’t fit into a genre. But I refused to conform. When I write I can only write what must be written. I can’t fit into some narrow niche. It isn’t me. But this was only going to make things harder.

Ironically, after being told that not fitting into a genre would hinder me, in 2013 I started the novel that was my most unusual and hardest to define – How to be Brave. This was one book that refused to kowtow to any market. I knew this would be my hardest sell, and yet I had to write it. Just as I finished, Carol told me she was retiring. She did everything to try and secure me another agent, but no one was interested. I was on my own again. I had written four books now.

I sent How to be Brave to every agent and publisher. They all said no. At the end of 2014 it shortlisted for a big competition. This is it, I thought. The prize was a book deal. And I was going to win. I wore my lucky red dress, told husband Joe that I knew someone in a red dress was going to win. We arrived at the prize-giving and another writer had on a red dress. She won. I was genuinely happy for her, because I knew how happy she must be. But I cried all the way back to the hotel. I was inconsolable.

I’ll admit, that was the hardest time. Friends asked how I could go on writing in the face of constant rejection. I said I did because I knew one day it would happen. I really did. But I began to lose my faith a little. I began to wonder if I could write a fifth book and go through it all again.

Then on Twitter I saw that a vivacious woman called Karen Sullivan was starting up Orenda Books. She wanted to publish beautiful books. Books she loved. I cheekily (this goes against all professional advice, folks!) tweeted her and asked if she would read How to be Brave. She said yes. She and slush reader Liz liked it. I had a tense wait for a definite answer, between Christmas 2014 and February 2015.

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Then on 9th February 2015 Karen emailed to say she loved the book, and of course it was a yes. I think, having read my journey, you can imagine how I felt. It makes me teary now to revisit. I know now that I only got rejected because I was supposed to be with Karen. She’s the only one who ‘got’ me. Got my books. Two years on, she has published the other novels no one wanted. Next year she will publish The Lion Tamer Who Lost too.

And I’m back to do doing what I love, but without all the tears. Writing. I’ve started book five, loosely titled Star Girl. And it’s exactly like when I was nine and filled notepads with words. It’s where I’m supposed to be. What I’m supposed to be doing. And I’m glad I never gave up.

Via: https://louisebeech.co.uk/2017/07/03/how-i-got-published/

Gone Girls, Found | Talking with Gillian Flynn and Cheryl Strayed

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CHICAGO — The pairing of Gillian Flynn and Cheryl Strayed seems at once too obvious and not obvious enough.

Too obvious because both are female writers who happen to have had best-selling books optioned by Reese Witherspoon and made into high-octane, swinging-for-the-fences films.

And not obvious enough because Ms. Flynn specializes in probing dark, unsavory recesses of the human psyche, like her antiheroine Amy in the 2012 novel “Gone Girl.” Ms. Strayed rocketed to fame the same year with her memoir “Wild,” about her redemptive 1,100-mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail as a brokenhearted divorced 26-year-old grieving the early death of her mother.

Yet the authors share similarities that run deep. Feminists both, they create bluntly authentic, deeply engaging stories through characters that defy stereotypes.

They have also forged roads to Hollywood gold. Directed by David Fincher and adapted by Ms. Flynn herself, the film “Gone Girl” has earned more than $300 million globally. “Wild,” directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, adapted by Nick Hornby and starring Ms. Witherspoon, is one of the season’s most anticipated films.

The first and last time Ms. Flynn and Ms. Strayed met was two years ago at a literary event in St. Paul, and they reconvened on a wintry Halloween here, greeting each other happily with hugs. Ms. Flynn, 43, has a newborn, her second child, and lives with her family in Chicago, and Ms. Strayed, 46, happened to be in town with her husband and two children.

Here are excerpts from their conversation.

Q. Tell me about when you first met, in St. Paul.

A. Cheryl Strayed It was freezing. We went on a hike, and I didn’t have a jacket. It was like “Wild” all over again, with the elements for which I was unprepared. And I remember I was talking about how our books are so different, readers have a different relationship to them. People who read “Wild,” they’re like, “You don’t realize it, but you’re my best friend.”

Gillian Flynn [Deadpan] They don’t feel that way about Amy?

Strayed Maybe it’s a little more like they’re fascinated to know who you are. Who’s the person behind that crazy story?

This question is from a Times reader: “Witherspoon wanted to create better roles for women, but has ‘Gone Girl’ shown women in a better role? Is it empowering or continuing stereotypes?”

Flynn I’ve been asked that a lot, and to me the answer is always: “Of course, it’s not misogynistic.” Women shouldn’t be expected to only play nurturing, kind caretakers.

That’s always been part of my goal — to show the dark side of women. Men write about bad men all the time, and they’re called antiheroes.

Were you surprised that that was the reaction you got?

Flynn I had about 24 hours where I hovered under my covers and was like: “I killed feminism. Why did I do that? Rats. I did not mean to do that.” And then I very quickly kind of felt comfortable with what I had written.

Cheryl, it’s your story, but did you get blowback from people, or was it just more relief at having told an honest story?

Strayed It never occurred to me, not once, that the book would be read as an inspirational tale. I really have no interest in likability when it comes to characters. It’s always about credibility, and to be credible you have to seem human. One of the most difficult things reading about the movie “Wild” was when people started writing about it and me in this shorthand way. I knew they hadn’t read the book, because the things they would say about me were just patently untrue.

What kind of stuff were you getting?

Strayed Often, they’ll say my problems were self-inflicted. And really the two biggest problems I began the trail with were the opposite of self-inflicted: the dead mother and the abusive father who wasn’t in my life. Those were my two most significant wounds, neither of which I inflicted upon myself, both of which I had to heal in myself.

It’s interesting what Gillian is saying. I think the lazy interpretation of Amy is she’s this evil psychopath and she’s all darkness. I think so much of the reason “Gone Girl” is so successful is that all of those very winning passages where Amy writes about her romantic life, falling in love with her husband, the way she constructs herself as a woman in the world. Those are very recognizable to us.

Flynn I think we wouldn’t have heard as much anger about it if she was more dismissible. She’s understandable, and that makes her a little harder to just write off. She’s not Norman Bates’s mom just sitting there in a rocking chair being evil.

Is there a double standard, where male characters don’t get that level of scrutiny?

Flynn The likability thing, especially in Hollywood, is a constant conversation, and they’re really underrating their audience when they have that conversation. What I read and what I go to the movies for is not to find a best friend, not to find inspirations, not necessarily for a hero’s journey. It’s to be involved with characters that are maybe incredibly different from me, that may be incredibly bad but that feel authentic.

When you were writing the books, did you think, “I’m breaking the mold and pushing the edges of these women characters?”

Flynn A theme that has always interested me is how women express anger, how women express violence. That is very much part of who women are, and it’s so unaddressed. A vast amount of literature deals with cycles of violence about men, antiheroes. Women lack that vocabulary.

Strayed The story I wrote has an ancient tradition in literature, man against nature, the hero’s journey. I was conscious of the narratives that I was both taking part in and also countering because the variation on the theme is: It was a woman, and it wasn’t “versus.” I say the wild felt like home to me. It wasn’t me trying to conquer it; it was me living in it. So much about “Wild” is about acceptance and surrender and vulnerability. To me that’s the greatest strength, not this conquering kind of narrative that we have embedded in our bones.

[To Ms. Flynn:] Is “Gone Girl” the movie being talked about as a feminist film or an anti-feminist film, or is the jury out on that?

Flynn The jury is still out. That’s what’s been interesting: Is it anti-woman? Is it anti-man?

Strayed What do you think it is?

Flynn To me, it’s neither. It’s about two specific people who are battling and who happen to be a man and a woman. I certainly enjoyed playing with those gender roles. Amy is certainly a character who understands every single female stereotype — and uses it. So when people say she’s embodying awful stereotypes about women, I say, “Yes, exactly, and that’s kind of the point.” She knows every trope there is. She’s a storyteller, she’s a studier, and she has absolutely no compunction about using the female victim role, using the femme fatale role, using the girl-next-door role.

Strayed I was so mindful that I had not written a book for women. I think the death of us would be if our films or our books were interpreted in this kind of “You go, girl” thing. And I think the last frontier for women is to say we are fully human, which means that our stories are as relevant to men as they are to women.

Flynn I would love it if I could do an event without a very well-meaning man telling me, “I don’t normally read books by women.” Do you get that?

Strayed All the time. One of the first experiences I had when “Wild” came out was this male radio host interviewed me, and right before we went live, he said, “I picked your book up and I couldn’t stop.” And then we’d go live and he’d go, “Cheryl Strayed has written a great book for women.”

Where does the twisted girl come from?

Strayed I remember, at our event we did together, you told some funny story about being a kid, it was about some early indicator.

Flynn I had a bunch of cousins, all girls, we’d play dress-up, and they’d always go for the princess costumes, and I was like, “I’ll be the witch” And we had this game called Mean Aunt Rosie, where I was basically their evil caretaker aunt.

Strayed I do think those things are like early indicators of what our obsessions are going to be as writers. When I was 6 and 7, when my mom’s friends were going to come over, she’d say “O.K., you’re only allowed to ask three questions.” Because otherwise I would get them in a corner and just grill them about things that were kind of shocking to them.

I wanted to hear from other people what they thought about their wounds, and I was trying to find out in ways that made adults very uncomfortable. I’ve always been the one to ask a question beyond the one that’s appropriate.

I want to talk about that move from book to screen. Cheryl, were you O.K. with Nick Hornby and was that difficult for you, turning it over?

Strayed He read “Wild” the first week it was out. I didn’t know him, and he wasn’t being considered as the screenwriter at that point. He just wrote me the world’s nicest fan email. So when Nick came on the project, I felt he understood the book on a deep level. It was always clear that I would read the screenplay, I would weigh in on it, I would be listened to, and I was.

Flynn Which is huge. You and I both talked about the stories you know about the author going to Hollywood are full of heartbreak. We both ended up with Reese, who is a woman of her word and does really care about writing, loves telling a story right.

You were working with David Fincher, who is known to be thorough.

Flynn I was on the set, but the script was locked by then. We just had a great back and forth, a lot of it by phone, since I’m in Chicago. When you hear David Fincher is going to direct your movie it’s, “Oh my God, I’ve got to step up my game.” But I wanted a David Fincher version of “Gone Girl,” so I was very much inclined to step back.

Strayed With Jean-Marc, I told him: “I give you my book. The only thing I ask is that you make a perfect film.” And he laughed. I gave him my opinions only when he asked for them.

And I told Reese the first time we talked, “You need to make this your story, not mine.”

Now, because I was so much a part of this, I would totally adapt my own book. I would do what Gillian did.

Via: https://nytimes.com/talking-with-the-authors-of-gone-girl-and-wild

Exploring the Human Animal | An Interview with Crime Fiction Novelist Nick Kolakowski

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Author Nick Kolakowski loves crime fiction. From his work with ThugLit, Crime Syndicate Magazine, and his latest novel A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, it’s easy to tell that the author truly values the hardboiled crime-fiction genre and knows how to write it well.

Kolakowski sat down with Sean Tuohy of Writer’s Bone recently to talk about his love for the genre, the seed that created the storyline for his new novel, and “gonzo noir”:

Sean Tuohy: What authors did you worship growing up?

Nick Kolakowski: I always had an affinity for old-school noir authors, particularly Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson. What I think a lot of crime-fiction aficionados tend to forget is that a lot of the pulp of bygone eras really wasn’t very good: it was all blowsy dames and big guns and writing so rough it made Mickey Spillane look like Shakespeare. But writers like Chandler and Thompson emerged from that overheated milieu like diamonds; even at their worst, they offered some hard truth and clean writing.

ST: What attracts you to crime fiction, both as a reader and a writer?

NK: I feel that crime fiction is a real exploration of the human animal. You want to explore relationships, pick up whatever literary tome is topping the best-seller lists at the moment. You want a peek at the beast that lives in us, crack open a crime novel. As a reader, it’s exciting to get in touch with that beast through the relatively safe confines of paper and ink. As a writer, it’s good to let that beast run for a bit; I always sleep better after I’ve churned out a lot of good pages.

ST: What is the status of indie crime fiction now?

NK: I’d like to think that indie crime fiction is having a bit of a moment. A lot of indie presses are doing great work, and highlighting authors who might not have gotten a platform otherwise. Crime fiction remains one of the more popular genres overall, and I’m hopeful that what these indie authors are producing will help fuel its direction for the next several years.

Not a whole lot of authors are getting rich off any of this, but writing isn’t exactly a lucrative profession. There’s a reason why all the novelists I know, even the best-selling ones, keep their day jobs. We’re all in it for the love.

ST: What is your writing process? Do you outline or vomit a first draft?

NK: I keep notebooks. Over the years, those notebooks accumulate fragments: sometimes a line of two I’ve overheard on the subway, but sometimes several pages of story. Usually my novels and short stories start with a kernel of an idea, and I start writing as fast as I can; and as I start building up a serious word count, I begin throwing in those notebook fragments that seem to work best with the scene at the moment. It’s a haphazard way of producing a first draft, and it usually means I’m stuck in rewrite hell for a little while afterward as I try to smooth everything out, but it does result in finished manuscripts.

I simply can’t do outlines. I’ve tried. But outlining has always felt very paint-by-numbers to me; once I have the outline in hand, I’m less enthused about actually writing. But I know a lot of other writers who can’t work without everything outlined in detail beforehand.

ST: Where did the idea for A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps come from?

NK: A long time ago, I was in rural Oklahoma for a magazine story I was writing. It was early February, and the land was gray and stark. Near the Arkansas border, I saw a Biblical pillar of black smoke rising in the distance; as I drove closer, I saw a huge fire burning through a distant forest. This would be a really crappy place for my car to die, I thought. It would suck to be trapped here.

So that real-life scene rattled around in my head for years. Eventually I began depositing other figures in that landscape—Bill, the elegant hustler, based off a couple of actual people I know; an Elvis-loving assassin; crooked cops—to see how they interacted with each other. The result was funny and bleak enough, I thought, to commit to full-time writing.

ST: You referred to A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps as “gonzo noir.” Can you dive into that term?

NK: I love crime fiction, but a lot of it is too serious. That seems like an odd thing to say about a genre concerned with heavy topics like murder and misery, but more than a few novels tend to veer into excessive navel-gazing about the human condition. As if injecting an excessive amount of ponderousness will make the authors feel better about devoting so many pages to chases and gunfire.

But real-life mayhem and misery, as awful as it can be, also comes with a certain degree of hilarity. You can’t believe this dude with a knife in his eye is still prattling on about football! A reality television star might dictate whether we end up in a thermonuclear war! And so on. With gonzo noir, I’m trying to blend as much black humor as appropriate into the plot; otherwise it all becomes too leaden.

ST: Your main character, street-smart hustler Bill, is on the run from an assassin and finds himself in the deadly hands of some crazed town folks. Why do writers, especially in the crime fiction genre, like to torture their characters so much?

NK: Raymond Chandler once said something like: “If your plot is flagging, have a man come in with a gun.” I think a lot of current crime-fiction writers have a variation on that: “If your plot is flagging, have something horrible happen to your main character. Extra credit if it’s potentially disfiguring.” It’s an effective way to move the story forward, if done right, and how your protagonist reacts to adversity can reveal a lot about their character through action.

Done the wrong way, though, it becomes boring really quickly. Take the last few seasons of the TV show “24.” Keifer Sutherland played a great hardboiled character, but subjecting him to the upteenth gunshot wound, torture session, or literally heart-stopping accident got repetitive. When writing, it always pays to recognize the cliché, and figure out how to subvert it as effectively as possible—the audience will appreciate it.

In A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, Bill has done a lifetime of bad stuff. He’s ripped people off, stolen a lot of money, and left more than a few broken hearts. I felt he really needed to really pay for his sins if I wanted his eventual redemption to have any weight. Plus I wanted to see how much comedy I could milk out of a severed finger (readers will see what I mean).

ST: What’s next for you?

NK: I’ve been working on a longer novel (tentatively) titled Boise Longpig Hunting Club. It’s about a bounty hunter in Idaho who finds himself pursued by some very rich people who hunt people for sport. I’ve wanted to do a variation on “The Most Dangerous Game” for years, and the ideas finally came together in the right way. It’s an expansion of my short story, “A Nice Pair of Guns,” which appeared in ThugLit (a great, award-winning magazine; gone too soon.)

ST: What advice do you give to young writers?

NK: A long time ago, the film director Terrence Malick came to my college campus. He was supposed to introduce a screening of his film “The Thin Red Line,” but he never set foot in the theater—unsurprising in retrospect, given his penchant for staying out of sight. However, he did make an appearance at a smaller gathering for students and faculty beforehand.

All of us film and writing geeks, we freaked out. Finally one of us cobbled together enough courage to actually walk up to him and ask for some advice on writing. He said – and you bet I still have this in a notebook – “You just have to write. Don’t look back, just get it all out at once.”

I think that’s the best advice I’ve ever heard. It’s easy to stay away from the writing desk by telling yourself that you’re not quite ready yet, that you’re not in the mood, that somehow the story isn’t quite fully baked in your mind. If you think like that, though, nothing is ever going to have to come out. Even if you have to physically lock yourself in a room, you need to sit down, place your hands on the keyboard, and force it out. The words will fight back, but you’re stronger.

ST: Can you please tell us one random fact about yourself?

NK: I like cats and whiskey.

To learn more about Nick Kolakowski, visit his official website or follow him on Twitter @nkolakowski.

Via: http://www.writersbone.com/exploring-the-human-animal-with-crime-fiction-novelist-nick-kolakowski