Writing Tips

1. Do you find it important to have some kind of schedule for writing – a structure or routine?

I try to write a little and often, so my only routine is that I always have something I can write on. I have notebooks by my bed, in my bag and in my coat, apps that sync with my laptop so I can write on my phone, pens secreted in all my jeans so I can write on the back of receipts and on napkins. I write in the little gaps that open up before or after sleep. It is good to keep at least one friend who is chronically late to meet you.

2. Is what you write about based mainly on your own experiences or mostly invention?

Good writing has to be based on careful observation of the world around you – what the critic James Wood calls ‘serious noticing’. I don’t think anyone would be interested to read about my life, which has been pretty unexceptional, so for me crafting a good story is about using tiny bricks of real experience, memory and emotion to build something interesting and unfamiliar.

3. Where do you find is the most advantageous place to work?

My favourite places to write are where there is a little white noise. I find the silence of libraries too conspicuous – I spend the whole time waiting for someone to cough. The best places are trains, or cafes where everyone is speaking a language I don’t understand.

4. Do you test out your work on family and friends, or just your editor?

I show work in progress to some of my family and friends in the way that a cat drops a mouse at the back door, but I only ask for editorial guidance from my editor and agent, and a couple of other friends who write themselves.

5. If you were to give an aspiring author one piece of advice for getting their work published, what would it be?

Make it as good as you possibly can, because a novel is a cumulative achievement. Editing is not a compromise, it is the only way to bring the text closer to the perfect version in your head.

First published by the Reading Agency, alongside tips from the other writers on the Desmond Elliott Prize longlist: Carys Bray, Jessie Burton, Claire Fuller, Jonathan Gibbs, James Hannah, Emma Healey, Paul Kingsnorth, Laline Paull and Simon Wroe.

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