Category Archives: Debut author interviews

Mary Hargreaves’ top podcast recommendations for aspiring authors

Writing – it’s a solitary business. ItMary Hargreaves’s often difficult to stay connected with the wider industry and fellow writers when you’re cooped up with just your keyboard for company. But as author Mary Hargreaves has discovered, one of the best ways of feeling part of the writing community is through the power of podcasts.

Mary, whose debut novel, This Is Not a Love Story, publishes next summer with Trapeze, works full-time alongside her writing and is a big advocate of podcasts being an easy way to keep her passion for writing and reading alive whilst on her commute to work. Here she shares her favourites…

As an author, whatever stage you’re at in your writing career, you will probably fall into one of three camps:

  • Full-time, living-the-dream, oh-my-god-people-are-paying-me-to-just-write
  • Part-time author, part-time money-maker in something bookish/writer-y e.g. journalist or publishing professional.
  • Part-time author, part-time side hustle in something so far removed from the world of books that you almost feel like Spiderman, living a double life and frantically changing your clothes in the staff loos so nobody catches you with the wrong hat on.

Whichever camp you fall into, I think it’s safe to say that you probably love books. The sheer dedication and perseverance it takes to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) over and over again until a novel pops out indicates that if you didn’t, you’d have probably chucked the towel in a long time ago.

Personally, I fall into camp three. My day job is wonderful, but it’s about as creative as a boiled egg. With my writing time consigned to the evenings and weekends, it’s sometimes difficult to keep the fire alive as I’m trundling along the rain-soaked streets on a double-decker bus every morning, my head spinning with thoughts of meetings and overdue signatures and my daily ham sandwich vs. superfood salad lunch debate.

Unfortunately, I barf at the thought of reading in a moving vehicle, so I had to find another way to stay connected to the world of words. I am not an audiobook person (they’re great, just not for me) but eventually, with the help of Twitter, I discovered podcasts.

My commute was instantly transformed from a stressful wasted hour to a timeless, thrilling adventure into the minds and lives of incredible authors and their tales of struggle and success, joy and heartbreak and – most importantly of all – favourite reads. I felt connected, like my writing was more than just me and a microwave lasagne at a makeshift desk every evening. Because no matter what camp of author-dom you fall into, you’re doing all the hard stuff yourself, and it can be pretty lonely at times.

Here are four of my absolute favourite bookish podcasts.

You’re Booked – Daisy Buchanan

Daisy Buchanan is a journalist and author, and every week she visits a fellow author’s house and rifles through their bookcase, quizzing her subjects on their reading habits. The author tells us about books that changed them, shaped them and stayed with them, and it’s a goldmine of new discoveries to add to your TBR pile. So far, Daisy has snooped around in the literary collections of Sophie Kinsella, Lucy Vine and Holly Bourne, and her list just keeps growing. It’s also helpful that Daisy has the most gorgeous, soothing voice – perfect for my commute home towards my bed and that next exciting read.

The High Low – Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton

Pandora and Dolly are journalists by background, who began their podcast in 2017 (spoiler – it exploded). They discuss, as their tagline goes, ‘current affairs and pop culture’, and they also do ‘author specials’, where they interview writers such as Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené, Fatima Bhutto and David Nicholls. Both Pandora and Dolly are almost unbelievably good at articulating the things we’re all thinking, and I walk away from every episode feeling like my brain has gained 6lbs.

How To Fail With Elizabeth Day

If you think you’re alone in feeling like an imposter, think again. Elizabeth is also a journalist, with an incredible knack for interviewing all kinds of people and extracting the most interesting information from them. Each interviewee (many of whom are writers) recounts three ‘failures’ they have encountered in either their personal or professional life, and heads-up: it can get pretty personal. In an industry where failure is a rite of passage, it’s so reassuring to hear that the likes of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Sebastian Faulks and David Baddiel aren’t so perfect either.

The Honest Authors’ Show – Gillian McAllister and Holly Seddon

We’re done with the journalists now; Gilly and Holly are authors (cue cheers from the back of the room). Once every three weeks or so, they either chat to each other about their books, lives and writing strife, or interview an author or publishing professional to gain precious insights from their side of the camp. As the title suggests, they’re honest, and I particularly love that they place focus on debut authors such as Imran Mahmood, Will Dean and Lia Louis. It’s (literally) like listening into a conversation between a couple of great friends.

And that’s a wrap. I’m sure there are many more undiscovered nuggets of podcast gold out there, just waiting for my ears to receive them. If you know of any, please do let me know via twitter: @MKHarg

Podcasts have been transformative for me, and have aided in immersing me in a world that I felt so distantly attached to. No matter what kind of author you are, whether you’re querying or a number-one bestseller, I think we could all benefit from an hour-long one-sided chat with our colleagues every once in a while.

Interview with G X Todd

20180415_222900When her debut came out last year, G X Todd was hailed a talented and original new voice. Defender, a post-apocalyptic thriller ‘already worthy to take its place alongside The Stand in the canon’ (John Connolly), has had readers eagerly awaiting the next installment in the four-part the Voices series.

Hunted, the second book of the series, is out today in hardback. To celebrate her first day as non-debut author, we’ve asked Gemma to look back on life as a new author…

What made you first want to become a writer?

It really comes from being such a massive reader through my formative years. I found the school library when I was eleven and books pretty much became my life. I spent a lot of time in imaginary worlds, daydreaming and making up little stories of my own. Yeah, I was one of those kids. I grew up to be just fine, though… *shifty eyes*

Hunted_HB_R.indd

One of those little stories is now a four-part series! Where exactly did the idea for the Voices come from? 

Initially, I wanted to write something that explored a person’s ability to cope with loneliness. Would it send them mad to not have anyone to talk to? That’s really where the idea of “the voices” sparked from. Survival instincts have always interested me, too. How far would we go to protect ourselves or those we love? Would we run or fight? Maim or kill? I find humans fascinating when placed in such extreme circumstances.

Now for the stories that didn’t get published… Did you write anything before Defender?

I did! It’s what I like to affectionately call “crap”. Defender was the third full novel I wrote. The first was called The Wilds and it was packed with every single idea I’d ever had and, as such, it was 150,000 words of chaotic, messy word-diarrhoea. The second book was a YA crossover called Innocence Falls and, you know, I still really like that book. I might have to revisit it.

What else can we expect from you in future?

I want to write everything. Is that allowed? Science Fiction, Horror, Fantasy, Thriller, Teen, YA, Romance. Okay, maybe not Romance, but definitely the others. I’d love to have one of those ‘Also by’ pages at the front of a book that lists fifty of my previously published books. That’s The Dream™.

Every writer has their own routine – so how do you actually get it done? 

No writing in the mornings. Seriously, I’m no good before 10am. So I generally start around 11-12pm. If I’m writing a first draft, I write until I have at least 2000 words down, whether it takes me three hours or eight. During the editing or redrafting stage, it’s not often I can work for more than five hours a day. My brain dies if I attempt to do more. I generally try to write six days a week (Saturday is my day off), but I can be flexible if I need to be.

Defender final

Do you sit down with a plan, or let the story write itself?

Well, I don’t really plan. I have scenes that I want to get to at some point, and a destination where the characters need to go or people they need to meet (and I often have an ending in mind). But other than those basic bones, I tend to just sit down and let the characters lead me where they want. I find it’s always the characters that speak to me most loudly, rather than, say, plot or story arcs. So I can have a first draft in around four months. Then subsequent drafts are used to backwards plot – where I develop themes, insert better formed ideas, and flesh out characters, etc.

Did your writing change in the process of writing Defender? 

I think I learned a lot about voice (no pun intended), and how to really get into the heads of characters. I didn’t hold back with exploring the darkness inside people, either. I really let my imagination run free with Defender and the Voices series, more so than with anything else I’ve written. It’s been quite the journey so far.

What have you found most difficult as a new, published author?

Having to be extra social. Ha. I’m actually fairly decent at being sociable, but the sheer volume of social events I have to navigate now is x1000 to what I’ve been used to up to this point. Oh, and the edits. For me, the edits are rarely any fun at all.

Finally, what would be your one piece of advice for a new author?

People will tell you that you’re a literary wunderkind and that you’re shooting rainbows out your butt. And you’ll read reviews that say your writing is awful and that your book should never have been published in the first place. Positive or negative, it’s important to keep your feet on the ground and a realistic head on your shoulders.

 

Debut author interview with Imran Mahmood

Imran Mahmood’s debut You Don’t Know Me was met with critical acclaim on its hardback publication last year. The “genre-bending crime novel” (Ruth Ware) has since been chosen for the BBC Radio 2 Book Club, was named one of The Telegraph’s crime books of the year, and was a 2018 World Book Night title.

As You Don’t Know Me is out today in paperback, we’ve asked Imran to share with us some of his experiences as a debut author…

What made you first want to become a writer?

I always loved hearing stories, watching them, reading and telling them. In my day job as a criminal barrister I am in the business of telling stories. These are true stories, but it has always been important to tell them in a way that is as engaging as possible. It was short step from that kind of storytelling to this kind. Ultimately, I wanted to tell people about the things that fell into my experiential ground because I have found them interesting and I hoped other people would too. I am always interested to hear about experiences which are different from mine, whatever they are. I think that by far the most important aspect of writing is the process of exchanging ideas and stories rather than selling them.

You Don’t Know Me is a unique courtroom drama where the Defendant himself tells the story of his life growing up in London’s gangland. Where did you get your inspiration from, and how were you able to research this? 

I was writing a closing speech in a criminal case and suddenly wondered what it would be like if the defendant had to do his own speech. I’ve spent 25 years listening to people and representing people involved in or accused of being involved in gang-related crimes, so it was something I already knew a lot about. My work gives me such a breadth of experience in terms of the people I meet. I can learn about the lives of people in a different world from mine, and I see from a position of privilege how their lives can go wrong or become redeemed.

What has been the best thing about being an author?

Speaking to people. I love meeting new people and hearing from readers whether they liked my book or not. That is the best bit. And I have been really lucky. I have met some amazing and talented people – not just readers, but other authors, editors, agents, publicists, editors, SIMON MAYO!! and Mishal Husain (to drop two of my very favourite names!).

It’s brought lots of new experiences too. I went on live radio (Radio 4, Radio 2, Radio 5 Live), I was interviewed by national newspapers, I went onto the set of a TV show and watched it being made, I met the incredible Adam Deacon as he recorded my audio book. All amazing experiences that I could never have dreamed of achieving in any other way.

 And what’s been the hardest bit?

There is nothing hard about it really, if you enjoy writing. But while writing a complete novel is without a doubt rewarding and fulfilling and all of that, ultimately the thing is a slog. It is hard work and needs commitment and application. The first 30,000 words are the easiest. Most people can do that. The hardest thing is being able to carry on and finish.

So how do you get things done?

I lie awake at night (my only quiet time) and write a chapter in my head (kind of). Then the next day I write it down! I write on the train, in chambers, in court when I am waiting. I don’t have the luxury of a routine so I have to take my chances when I get them.

Finally, what would be your one piece of advice for a new author?

This is advice that I find it difficult to follow myself: it’s to write something every day. And to think. Pen to paper is the easy bit, the real work is done before the pen is even lifted.

29 Seconds publication day: interview with TM Logan

Readers were gripped by TM Logan’s debut novel, Lies, keeping it in the Kindle top 10 for months. Now fans can finally read his second novel, 29 Seconds, out today in eBook. To celebrate, we’ve asked TM Logan to look back on how it all started, as well as give us a hint of what’s to come…

As of today, you’ve got two published novels under your belt. Where did each one start its life?

Most of my ideas come from everyday life – a conversation, a story on the news, a thought that turns into a ‘what if?’ question that might form the core of a plot.

With Lies, it was a conversation with my wife as we drove to Brittany for our summer holiday. She related a story about some friends of hers who had been raising money for charity in memory of a colleague who had died. As part of this, they had used the colleague’s Facebook profile to help publicise their efforts. That got me thinking: what if you did something similar but with criminal motives? Perhaps to cover up a crime? To mislead the police? To frame an innocent man?

For 29 Seconds, I had the original kernel of the idea some time ago, but had been searching for the right setting for the story. Then in the summer of 2016, in my previous job (as head of communications for a large university) I fielded an enquiry from The Guardian – a national investigation into the scale of sexual harassment in higher education, almost exclusively senior male academics harassing younger female colleagues or students. That got me thinking. When I read the story that came out of their investigation, I thought it might make a strong setting for a novel – if the victim was so desperate for a solution that she would resort to desperate measures. It’s been very weird to see it coincide with the ongoing international news story about harassment/#MeToo that has become so huge in recent months.

Now for the hard part – once you’ve had your idea, how do you get your novels finished?

I will spend 6-8 weeks planning a story, getting the plot, characters and key moments clear in my head (I’ve always been envious of people who can just sit down and write off the top of their head, seat of the pants style. I need a plan). My desk – in the spare bedroom – faces the wall so there’s nothing to distract me, no window, no view, no outside world. No TV, no radio. Nothing to tempt me away from sitting in that chair and putting my hands on the keyboard. The walls around my desk are generally covered with notes, chapter plans, lists, reminders and scraps of paper with ideas and quotes for the story I’m working on.

When I’ve got to the stage where I’m just procrastinating to put off the real business of writing, I’ll dive into it and write every day, without fail, until the first draft is done. Writing every day helps me to maintain momentum, to keep on top of the plot and stay in touch with my characters. I keep a tally of my daily wordcount, although it’s less about the number and more about making links in the chain and keeping that promise to myself. If I’ve written for 30, or 50, or 100 days straight, I’m less likely to take a day off and break the chain (at least that’s the idea).

Looking back on your own experiences, what advice would you give an author who’s just starting out?

Being a debut author made me realise how important it is to feed constructive criticism into the writing process. Both Lies and 29 Seconds were improved hugely with constructive input from others. It can be tricky, though: when you’re starting out you have to be so single-minded about writing, to keep going without any guarantee that your stories are ever going to see the light of day – you have to believe that they will find an audience eventually. You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing. But you can’t let that single-mindedness, that belief, deafen you to hearing constructive criticism. Essentially, you need to be proud of what you create, but humble enough to know that it can always be improved with input from friends, fellow authors, family members, reading groups – anybody who’s willing to be constructive. I’ve been lucky enough to work with my brilliant agent Camilla Wray at Darley Anderson and the excellent team at Bonnier Zaffre in that respect.

And finally, what can we expect to see from you in the future?

I’ve been writing full-time for a few months now and absolutely loving it! I’ve just agreed a new two-book deal with Bonnier Zaffre and I’m currently working on book 3 for them, which will come out in 2019. It’s a standalone thriller set in the south of France, where four best friends are holidaying together with their families. As the week goes on, their friendship starts to unravel amid secrets, betrayal and lies, until it becomes clear that someone in the group is prepared to kill to keep a long-buried truth from coming out…

For the future, I’ve always wanted to create a series and would love to be able to do that alongside my standalone thrillers. Watch this space!

Debut author interview: Phoebe Morgan

She didn’t realise it at the time, but Phoebe Morgan’s journey to becoming a published author started when she was only 6, when her dad made her an impressive doll house. This became the inspiration for her chilling debut, The Doll House, which has already been met with rave reviews by early readers.

In the first instalment of our series of interviews with debut authors, Phoebe Morgan, author of The Doll House, talks about setbacks, support networks, and why an idyllic family home is the perfect setting for a psychological thriller…

 

The Doll House is out today, but first let’s look back to where it all started. Where did the inspiration for the novel come from?

When I was about six or seven, my Dad made me a doll house and I was obsessed with it! It was beautiful, with six rooms, a fully functioning staircase and even a loft. I used to spend ages creating the perfect little family set-up, and so when it came to thinking of ideas for my first book, the doll house sprang to mind. A doll house is like a perfect little microcosm of the ideal home, one in which you’re in charge. As a child, I could create the perfect narrative by playing with my dolls – I had a Mummy doll in the kitchen (horribly sexist) and a Daddy who returned home from work with a briefcase (fairly sure my own father doesn’t have one!)  while the small dolls played by the fire (all a tad unrealistic).

As a writer, I wanted to explore that idea of the idyllic family home not being quite as lovely as it might first seem. I knew I wanted to write a book about the complicated relationship that can exist between sisters too, and the memory gaps that can exist between childhood and adulthood. It fascinates me how we all remember certain scenes differently, and as we become adults we sometimes learn things about our families and our parents that do not quite match up with the idealistic childhood memories we’ve remembered. In the book, this concept of a perfect home begins to slowly disintegrate until the characters’ memories are distorted by the truths that have been uncovered. There have been a lot of lies and the sisters in my book have to deal with the repercussions of that!

As plenty of budding authors know, getting published is rarely a straightforward process. What for you was the most difficult aspect of your journey as a debut author?

Oh, it’s always so hard getting rejections! With The Doll House, we had a couple of near misses, and some straight no’s too, and every time you get an email explaining why it’s not quite right for a list it definitely stings. It can be difficult picking yourself back up and continuing to have hope when things aren’t going your way but honestly, I don’t know a single writer who hasn’t been rejected at some point in their career. When you’re a debut, you’re a total unknown so you do need an editor to take a chance on you and your idea, which can be terrifying. I think near-misses have probably actually been the hardest bit, because that’s when you really get your hopes up and start allowing yourself to imagine getting a deal, and so when that comes to nothing, it can feel pretty tough. But you absolutely never know what is around the corner and you have to be persistent, and remember that you only need one yes, and then it really doesn’t matter any more how many no’s you got along the way!

I also remember having a particularly sticky plot point while writing this book which always stays in my mind. I was working on it in the British Library, which is such a lovely place to write (despite the vastly overpriced snacks!) and I just could not figure out this one thing. I called my mum in tears, and then suddenly had an idea for the solution and ended the call very quickly… I did ring back to apologise though.

We’ve obviously loved working with you, but what’s it been like for you to work with an agent and an editor for the first time?

I’m so lucky to have worked with Camilla Wray here at Darley Anderson and with Charlotte Mursell at HQ, both of whom brought new ideas to the book and helped me make it what it is today. When you write, you get so close to your manuscript that you do start to lose sight of it a little, and having those extra pairs of eyes reading everything over makes all the difference. Camilla is a very hands-on editorial agent so we worked a lot on the book before it went on submission, straightening out plot problems, revising sections of the narrative and even cutting out a whole strand at one point! At the time, rewriting can feel brutal and difficult, but the novel is so much better for it. You have to constantly be aware of the reader, how they’ll feel at each juncture, and how the book will sit in the market. I worked very hard on getting my opening just right along with my chapter endings, with the aim of keeping the reader on their toes and giving them that incentive to keep turning the pages. Agents and editors know the market inside out and having that crucial insight is invaluable.

Finally – it’s publication day! How have you been feeling in the run up to the big day?

The run up to publication has been a strange time! I work in publishing too as a Commissioning Editor at Avon, so I do have an insight into how some of this works and what to expect, which is sometimes a blessing and sometimes a curse! I think it means I can’t kid myself, and am realistic in my expectations, but at the same time it makes it easier to torture myself with nerves when I look at the amount of amazing books that I will be competing against! Mostly, I’ve been really overwhelmed with how kind people have been – telling me they’ve pre-ordered the book, leaving positive reviews on GoodReads, getting in touch on social media – but then the closer we get to publication, the harder I’m finding it to sleep too as it does feel as though it’s becoming very real now, when for so long it was a bit of a pipe dream. It’s also been quite a whirlwind fitting in writing publicity bits and pieces in the run up, and making sure I’m on top of extra stuff such as social media.

Having a book go out into the world is without doubt a very nerve-wracking process, but I’ve found that talking to other writers really helps as they know what you’re going through and can offer words of wisdom in that respect. I think it’s also important to remember – and this is something I’m trying to do – that your book is one part of your life, an important one, but that it’s not your whole life, and so things always need to be kept in perspective. If I keep thinking that way, I’m hoping any negative reviews and set-backs won’t feel quite as bad…!