One award-win­ning au­thor on how to write your very own tome

Cosmopolitan (UK) - - Contents -


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.


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.

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