The most common questions strangers ask after "And what do YOU do...?" or when they're interested in writing. Not because I feel especially qualified to give advice, but because I'm asked for it, and searching for answers is something I can certainly relate to...
How did you start writing?
How do I start writing?
Where did the idea for your novel come from?
The novel brings together elements I’ve written about, or wanted to, for a long time. As well as exploring life and loss from women’s perspectives, I wanted to show something of how society and tech have evolved over the last twenty years. I also wanted to write characters who were raised with English middle-class expectations but have a Central-Eastern European heritage, with associated baggage. My own European heritage is unusual; both in terms of where my mum’s family is from, and in being completely secular. People in the UK with Central-Eastern European roots tend to have Catholic or Jewish backgrounds, whether practising or not. So, I felt my characters should have some religion in their families, in different, peripheral ways. Finally, I wanted there to be a hint that a character has some kind of neurodiversity, without naming it, or making the story all about a condition.
Why set a novel in 21st century middle England? Who needs more of those?
Stories are different from each other because of how and why they’re told, not just when and where they’re set. I’m interested in how people fit into that world or don’t, and the cost of fitting in or not. There are many more people who could and should write a better first novel set somewhere else than I could.
What makes someone a writer?
Do writers just write about their own lives?
Most fiction writers draw heavily from the world around them and heavily make things up at the same time, so the two become inseparable and this question is difficult to answer. Writing about something that’s affected you doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve written about it directly in the way it happened to you. Sometimes too, a writer researches and writes about something as an outsider, which then becomes inseparable from their own life.
Do you need lived experience to write about something?
Do you self-publish / crowdfund your writing? Everyone does now, don’t they?
I don’t, and they don’t. To crowdfund or self-publish well, you need marketing experience, confidence and contacts. Self-publishing and crowdfunding are great for types of writing which are easier to sell directly to an audience than through a traditional publisher; like poetry, family history, essay collections, specialist non-fiction, and some genres of fiction which not many agents handle. They appeal to people who want more control over their work, including aspects of marketing which are usually decided by a publisher, like where it’s sold and what goes on the cover. They aren’t so great if you want to write more than one book; or for novels, unless you’ve got a large audience as an expert in something and your novel will appeal to that audience.
I want to self-publish / crowdfund my book, can you help me?
I’m afraid I don’t know anything about self-publishing; The Writers And Artists Yearbook has a guide to the process, and lots of people I know have crowdfunded books through Unbound. When I can, I support crowdfunded work that fits in with my interests; especially involving people who are underrepresented, under-confident or under-connected.
How do you know when something you’re writing is really finished?
What kinds of books and stories do you enjoy?
I like stories involving plucky outsiders, difficult conversations, and women doing things in general. I like writers to remind me what I know, tell me what I don’t, or both. Two books I wish I’d written are Allan Hollinghurst’s THE LINE OF BEAUTY and Zoe Heller’s NOTES ON A SCANDAL. Vonny was named after Veronica Mars – in my opinion, one of this century’s best female TV characters, along with Nadia Vulvukov. The first stories I enjoyed when I was growing up were on television; I will drain my drink and walk away from anyone who thinks popular dramas and soaps are beneath them. I’m not into heavy romance or violence, in fiction or in life.
What's the best / worst thing about writing?
The best thing about writing is the freedom to build a world you’re in control of, and almost everything to do with actually doing it. The worst thing about all creative industries is some people’s eagerness to put other people and their work into boxes, and an unwillingness to accept someone’s background can be layered or complicated.