A NOVEL FORMULA
One award-winning author on how to write your very own tome
JUST KEEP WRITING
Ten years ago, I was working as a teacher and writing on holidays and at weekends. Then I submitted three chapters of my first book,
Hollow Pike, to an agent, who then signed me up. My agent sent it to publishers, but it got a lot of rejections. That can be tough, so you need a healthy amount of confidence: I’d had some interest from agents, so I knew my writing couldn’t be bad. But it’s important to keep learning: looking back, I had a long way to go. I was in an online writing group, and constantly asked for feedback. Even now I’m always trying to improve.
DO IT IN STAGES
Sitting down at a computer and thinking “I’m going to write a bestseller” is an impossible task. Instead I look at it in small stages, so if I’ve finished a chapter, that’s a success, and when I make it to 100 pages, that’s a success. And I wasn’t hard on myself when I didn’t feel like writing. I’d just do something different, but relating to the book, like make a Pinterest board of what Lexi [Clean’s heroine, a drug addict] might wear, or watch a documentary on addiction. Research is vital. I relied on the testimonies of addicts who told me about their experiences.
Less is more. Don’t try to be a writer, just try to sound like yourself. With Clean I stopped trying to fit in with what was popular. While I was writing it, I was thinking, “This is never going to get published” – I was between contracts, had a new agent, and was writing about this foulmouthed 17-year-old heroin addict. But it’s my best-selling book. I wrote a very rough draft over the summer of 2016, and just let Lexi’s voice guide it. But you need a bit of planning: I knew how it would begin and end. I couldn’t go off on a total tangent.
I moved to London a fortnight after the 2011 riots, and lived in Clapham Junction, which was one of the areas that was most affected. A year later, I was reading a newspaper and came across the story of a blonde girl who came from this hugely wealthy Chelsea family, who’d been driving a getaway car while her boyfriend looted TK Maxx. She intrigued me so much and lived in my head for a while. Then, one night, I began to write her as Lexi and just couldn’t stop.