How much of your working life does the business of books take up?
I’d say all of it. Until recently I balanced my writing life with a part-time job in London and bringing up my family. However, now that my kids have grown up and left home and my husband is happily ensconced in a new business venture, I am in the very fortunate position of being able to live a full-time writing life.
It’s interesting that you use the phrase ‘business of books’ in the question though, because I do very much consider what I do as a job. My working week comprises of days when I’m at my desk by 9.00 am and finish around 5.00 pm and then two nights a week I teach Creative Writing for Bracknell & Wokingham College. I also attend a regular poetry class in London and am out most other evenings at writing-related events, including workshops, book launches, poetry readings, etc., etc.
However, if you were to ask what I do during those hours at my desk I’d struggle to give it definition because it’s so varied. There’s a lot of networking to do, of course, and lesson planning and I do try and set aside chunks of time to write, but my commitments as Chair of Reading Writers, Poets’ Café Rep for Reading’s Poets’ Café and the work I do for my Fresh Eyes clients also keep me busy. No two days are ever the same and I never quite know what will come through on email or what poem might insist on being written, and if and when I’m involved in writing, editing or rewriting a novel then that’s a whole different kettle of fish altogether!
So I hope I’ve answered the question OK because, for me, being a novelist and poet is a full-time job even though I don’t write novels or poems all the time!
What’s your business model to earn a living from writing?
I guess that unless you’re a regular best-selling author (preferably with a film deal!) or a poet whose work wins major prizes or secures lectureships at high-ranking academic institutions, it’s hard to make a living from writing as many will testify, and I’m afraid I’m not very hard-nosed when it comes to financial things.
I have been lucky enough to earn some money from my fiction, including advances, royalties and the sale of foreign rights, and poetry competition wins and fees earned from Fresh Eyes clients and running workshops have brought in some other income, but my teaching role is done more for love than money, as are the voluntary roles I have within the local writing community.
So I would say overall that my business model is very ad hoc, not thought-through and definitely would not sustain even the lowliest of writing garrets! However, I live in hope that one day I’ll become a regular best-selling author (with a film deal) AND a poet whose work wins major prizes, secures lectureships, etc. etc.!
What do you write and what do you consider to be your major successes?
I write novels which I hope would appeal to quite a wide range of readers and which are probably better defined by what they’re not, than what they are. They aren’t really light commercial women’s fiction, nor are they literary fiction but they do (I hope) tell convincing stories about emotional dilemmas in a prose style which is both succinct yet lyrical!
With regard to my poetry, again I would say I’m more of a lyric poet than anything else. I do, however, believe very strongly in the crossover between poetry and fiction; both tell stories and both need the careful placing of just the right words in the right order!
My major successes must be my published works which include (so far, she says hopefully!) 2 novels and 2 poetry collections and my academic qualifications (I have 3 degrees but alas can’t sing nor do I own a sparkly dress!)
However, success in the writing world is a strange thing to quantify. As I say above it isn’t always (and can’t be) about money; it can be about reputation though and about being supportive to other writers; it can also be about stretching yourself to write more honed and precise poems and novels which could in time prove memorable.
As a novelist and poet I feel I’m always learning and am always challenging myself and I would consider myself successful if I could become a better writer and poet, a better champion for the written word in whatever form this takes and to continue to love what I do.
Tell me about your latest project.
I have a couple of projects ongoing at the moment.
I’ve just finished rewriting a novel in concert with my wonderful agent and have had a huge amount of fun and have learned heaps during the process. I will also be putting together a new collection of poetry over the next few years (the last one took 4 years to complete) and in the meantime am working on a collaborative poetry project with two amazing poets and have started a new novel (with I’m glad to say the approval of my aforementioned wonderful agent)!
I’m not sure what 2017 will bring because the writing life is nothing but unpredictable: good news and/or bad news could be on their way, the only thing for sure is that what any writer needs is a big heart, a huge amount of courage, a thick skin and plenty of chocolate!