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?
It depends what kind of writing you want to do and why, but basically, by doing it, and doing it as much as possible. If you’re in your early twenties and your boss has never begged you to resign and go and be the next J.K Rowling; or your Maths teacher never asked you: “Did you forget to write your name on this, or prefer to remain anonymous?” there’s probably a better career for you in something else. But if nothing else you’ve ever done has made you (or anyone else) happier, it’s probably what you’re best at. Many writers and publishing pros started out writing fan fiction, which I slightly regret not doing because it’s a great way of finding your tribe when you’re young and teaches you a lot about writing (among other activities…). Plenty more writers start later in life because the opportunities weren’t there when they were younger. It probably also helps to have a good ear for detail, a long-term memory that scares people, and a tendency towards obsessions (ideally ones you can monetise well, whatever those are…).
Where did the idea for your novel come from?
Why set a novel in 21st century middle England? Who needs any more of those?
What makes someone a writer?
Do writers just write about their own lives?
Do you need personal experience to write about something?
Do you self-publish / crowdfund your writing? Everyone does now, don’t they?
I want to self-publish / crowdfund my book, can you help me?
How do you know when something you’re writing is really finished?
What kinds of books / stories / culture do you enjoy?
As a child, any book in front of me. As a teenager, films, sitcoms and nineties soaps. In my twenties, any play I could get to, and the blog/webcomic Hyperbole and a Half. Now, novels and Netflix. I like stories involving plucky outsiders, difficult conversations, and women doing things in general. Two books I wish I’d written are Allan Hollinghurst’s THE LINE OF BEAUTY and Zoe Heller’s NOTES ON A SCANDAL. I’ve named a character Vonny after Veronica Mars – joint-favourite TV character of the century, along with Nadia Vulvukov. I’m not into heavy romance or violence, in fiction or in life. I love music: the dwindling amount I listen to which was released in the last decade includes Ladyhawke, La Roux, Rumer, Lorde, Saint Saviour, London Grammar, Christine and the Queens, Jain, Mattiel, Georgia, Jesca Hoop and Rina Sawayama. I occasionally have cultural opinions for Hustlers of Culture.
What's the best / worst thing about writing?
The best thing about writing is 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 tight boxes, and an unwillingness to accept someone’s life can be layered or complicated.
What else are you good at doing?
Not much, although my post-30 revelation that it might be emotionally healthy to try something else led to a love of running and horses. Like Vonny in my WIP, I built small websites and kept blogs throughout my late teens and twenties, although, unlike her, mine were generally more devoted to quoting song lyrics than looking for gainful employment. I’m a decent singer but I don’t take drugs and I like getting paid to work, which doesn’t get you far in the music industry. Or in music journalism for that matter, although I got far enough there to make the shortlist for Chief Sub at Record Collector magazine at 24; and for The Quietus to let me commemorate 20 years since one of my all-time favourite singers released her debut album. If I wasn’t a writer with opinions and a Twitter account, I’d probably be a detective or a spy.
What kinds of work have you done other than writing and journalism?
Did you write about Dyspraxia for the Guardian?
Why do you have three names?
In the early-mid 2000s, I sometimes wrote using my middle name, Frances, as a surname to stop nosy acquaintances and temp job bosses finding my student opinions on Google. Then it got confusing. Then someone suggested I use my full name because it made me sound like the right sort of girl, and I listened to him because he was the features editor of a national newspaper section and I was 23. I don’t have my own Scottish island.
What's the best way to get in touch with you?
Will you come to my event / be in my documentary / help with my research about Dyspraxia?
But really though, how do I get into writing?
Really though, no one person or place can tell you that. Writing is a path laid by you, not for you. It’s not like going to medical school or law school where you learn this about arteries or that about probates and then you’re a doctor or lawyer. It’s not like most businesses, where most people chase market trends or market leaders. People write for different reasons. Most people who write full-time do various different kinds of writing, and tutor or mentor other writers. The Literary Consultancy and Nicola Morgan (the writer, not the politician…) give great advice. You can learn a lot by taking notice of people, their accomplishments and their mistakes. But what’s true or right for one person may not be for another. Get to know people, but never expect someone to have all the answers, and leg it if they claim to – especially anyone guaranteeing you’ll earn a living by doing their thing. Think about why you want to write, and ask career questions out of genuine warmth towards whoever you’re asking. As writer Daisy Buchanan puts it brilliantly, people who collect career advice are sometimes more envious of other people’s assumed lives than interested in their work. As a writer – especially a young woman – it’s easy to fall subconsciously into presenting yourself a certain way in order to fit in, then come across in a way which doesn’t reflect the whole picture of your background. My best relationships with writers and performers are open, mutually-appreciative and grew out of shared experiences. My worst ones have been those where I’ve felt more drawn to someone by their confidence than by the value of what they were doing.
No, really though, how do I survive if writing's all I can do?
Leo is the man (or men) who many a woman met in her twenties. The one who belonged in the knotty grey area between an entirely healthy influence and a flat-out unhealthy one. She knew him for years, or maybe for decades, and gave far too much time over to trying to work him out. Maybe something happened between them at one point, or maybe it didn’t, but it wasn’t her he settled down with. Either he never settled down at all, or he married someone else, and she did too. Or he left the life he’d already built, but not for her. She thought it was for the best; mostly. Or, maybe she’s the one who became his wife, who encouraged him to drink less and sleep more. Who had children with him, enjoyed the nice house in the country, and tried to support him in everything he wanted to achieve. Then thought about leaving him now and then, when the fun had gone and all they seemed to do was argue. Or, actually did it. Whatever she ended up being to him, one day she heard bad news about him. And she was shocked and devastated, but also not entirely surprised. Because a part of her knew that wherever his mind took him, it was never going to be easy…