This is the first of what we hope will be many spotlights on up and coming entrepreneurs in the UK and Africa.
On Thursday 6th March it was World Book Day, quickly followed by International Women’s Day on Saturday 8th March – so all in all, a great excuse to showcase the brilliant talent of Lucy Clarke, author of The Sea Sisters and new novel A Single Breath. Lucy is a young beach-loving writer and author living on the South Coast of England who is signed to Harper Collins publishers.
To find out a bit more about the route to success as a writer we asked Lucy to discuss a little more about the ‘who, what, where, when, why and how’ of life as an author….
Why don’t we start out by you telling us a bit about yourself?
“I’m 31-years-old and live in Bournemouth in the UK, which is a couple of hours from London. Before I became a novelist, I used to be a presenter of business and enterprise events for students. When I finally got a book deal – after six years of trying! – I sold my business and am now enjoying being a full-time writer.
I love travelling and the first big trip I ever did was with my boyfriend (now husband) and we picked up a van in LA, drove up the west coast of America and into Vancouver, then drove, camped and hiked our way across Canada, before driving down the east coast of the US and flying home from NYC. Canada will always hold a little piece of my heart.”
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
“I’m a morning person, so I set my alarm early and am usually at my desk by 6.30 am. I’m hopeless by evening – it’s as if my creativity fades with the day. I generally write Mondays to Fridays so that I have evenings and weekends free to spend with friends and family who have ‘proper jobs’!
I prefer to write by hand – there’s something about the simplicity of a pencil and a blank page that appeals to the romantic in me. I love to write to music, too. There are certain albums I play to help me step into a character’s mindset, or to inspire a particular atmosphere in a scene.
I only have one rule when I’m writing: get outside every day. Fresh air is good for the soul, and great for the imagination”
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
“Usually I begin with a simple premise that I then thicken into a plot outline. I don’t have the outline pinned down chapter by chapter; rather, I’ll split the book into three ‘acts’: the beginning, the middle and the end, and plot the key events that will take place within these acts. I’ll also create brief biographies for each of my main characters.
After that, I get down to writing. I ‘free write’ the first draft, which to me means writing it in one big gulp without looking back. This draft is always very short – perhaps only 30,000 words. After that I build upon the draft – and often write seven or eight drafts before I have something I’d be happy to show my publisher. I suppose it’s a little like the way a painter may work: they layer colours and play with textures and shading until they can eventually stand back and think, ‘Yes. That’s what I was after.’
Your bio mentions you are an active diarist. What age did you start?
“I’ve kept diaries and journals since I was about eleven. In fact, we have an old wooden trunk in our lounge that is FULL of them. I still keep a journal now. I find them a great tool for taking pause and reflecting about the past – and therefore working out my direction for the future.
I keep a travel journal whenever I’m away. There’s something delicious about sitting on a beach in a new country and opening the first page of a fresh journal. I love to record memories of interesting experiences and my travel journals are also a useful research tool when I’m back in the UK and writing about far flung places”
What was your journey to being a published author?
“I was twenty-four when I realized that I’d love to be a novelist. I’d always assumed that I’d have a career in business, and I pushed aside all the signals that I’d perhaps make a good writer: I’ve always kept diaries and journals; I read hungrily; I studied English Literature at university; I’m at my happiest with a notebook and pen in my hand.
Once I’d made the decision to be a novelist, then came the small matter of actually doing it. Like most writers I needed to work to support myself whilst trying to make it happen, so I set up a small business which afforded me both an income and a flexible schedule so I could make time to write.
It took me until I was thirty to sign my first book deal. I could paper a wall with the rejection letters I received along the way, but eventually good news landed. I was working in Kent when I got the call to say I’d had an offer, and my knees literally went weak with the shock. A month later I sold my business, and now I’m thankful for being able to do what I love full-time.”
How did you find that experience?
“Finally being published is an absolutely incredible feeling! I’m fortunate enough to have sold my novel in the UK, US, Canada, Brazil, Germany, France, Holland and Italy. Even now there are times when I still don’t quite believe it. Like most writers I’ve accumulated quite the collection of rejection letters and, at times, it’s been a battle of sheer will to keep believing in myself and my writing. When my previous manuscript was rejected, I asked my agent what I should do. She said, ‘You take a deep breath and start your next one.¢ So I did – and wrote Swimming At Night.’
What are the highs and lows of being an author?
“I think most of the lows are centred round the struggle of trying to get published. It has taken me several years to finally get a book deal – and there have been plenty of rejection letters received along the way.
The highs are incredible. My agent sold my first novel, The Sea Sisters, in eight different countries, which was something I wasn’t expecting. I’d been grappling for years just to get a small publishing contract in the UK – so to hear it had been sold across the world was hugely exciting. I didn’t stop grinning for weeks. And I’m not even exaggerating!”
What’s the best thing about being an author?
“If I had to reduce it down to one word, I think it would be: freedom. As a novelist I love the absolute freedom I have to create something – whatever I want it to be. Beyond having a deadline, there is no pressure or constraints. The beauty of looking at a blank notebook and thinking it’s going to be the foundation of a novel is, for me, hugely exciting. I also love the freedom of the writer’s lifestyle. I work incredibly hard as a writer – but I have the freedom to choose how I do it, when I do it, and where I do it. That’s what I love the most.”
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten in regards to being a writer?
“For me, the most useful advice was the simplest: read and write. Do these two things as often as you can. I read around fifty books a year – and would love to be reading more still. Even when I was working, I wrote most days – just a few ideas here and there, or an hour squeezed in whenever I could. It’s all too easy to procrastinate and say, ‘I’ll begin when I have a block of time’ or ‘First I’ll tidy my desk.’ Just start writing – now!
Beyond doing those two things, I think you need only to believe in yourself and what you’re writing about. Becoming a published author is a long journey for most people, and a mixture of self-belief, motivation and a burning desire to write will help you get there.”
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
“A lot of people seem to believe that authors only write when inspiration takes hold. If that were true, I’d probably only spend an hour a week actually writing! Rather than waiting for inspiration to arrive, I try and coax it awake by having a routine as to when I write, or having key prompts such as good notes, or mood boards, to stimulate ideas. Even if I’m not feeling particularly creative, I’ll try and push on and get something down on paper: you can’t edit a blank page.”
How did you feel about your novel being selected as a Richard & Judy Book Club member?
“I was in the Philippines researching for my next novel when I got the call. My editor said, ‘I’ve got some wonderful news for you. The Sea Sisters has been chosen to be in the Richard & Judy Book Club. Congratulations, Lucy!’ I think I babbled something like, ‘Oh my god, oh my god! That’s amazing ! I can’t believe it!’
My husband and I celebrated at a beach bar called Sea Slugs, drinking local rum and coke and listening to a band play. I had to keep the news confidential until Richard and Judy made their official announcement. It’s lucky I was abroad as I was grinning so much that everyone back home would’ve guessed!”
And lastly….What are your top five writing tips?
- Write. Try and write as often as you can, even if it’s only ten minutes snatched at the end of each day. Don’t be afraid to write badly.
- Read. Voraciously. I always read with a pen in my hand so that I can scribble notes in the margins about interesting techniques the author may have used. (Not recommended for Kindles!)
- Write for yourself. Don’t try and write for a market trend, or on a hot topic. Just write the type of book you love reading, or on a subject you’re passionate about. That honesty will feed through your work.
- Get feedback. Ask people to critique your work. Feedback is so valuable, but only chose people who will respond to you with honesty. And be prepared: sometimes it can sting!
- Be open to inspiration. It’s all around us. Start keeping a notepad and pen on your person and make yourself write one thing in it every day, whether it’s a snippet of conversation overheard, an interesting sight, or something you watched on TV that caught your imagination. Inspiration is out there; you just need to tune in.