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Ep 92 Meet Holly Seddon, journo-turned-author of psychological thriller “Try Not to Breathe”. The fate of CLEO and Penthouse, copyediting mistakes to avoid, Notability app, when to pitch to magazines.

podcast-artwork In Episode 92 of So you want to be a writer: CLEO magazine is closing, Penthouse drops print magazines, copyediting and grammar mistakes to avoid, the book The Thing Explainer by Randall Munroe, and Allison’s top blog posts about blogging. Meet journalist-turned-author Holly Seddon, whose new book is the psychological thriller Try Not to Breathe. Also: the clever note taking app Notability, when to pitch to magazines, and more!

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Show Notes
Bauer Media set to close Cleo magazine

Penthouse drops print magazines to deal with internet porn

6 Copyediting Mistakes to Avoid in Your Content

5 Verb Mistakes You Should Stop Making Today

Thing Explainer

Writer in Residence

Holly SeddonHolly Seddon’s debut novel is Try Not To Breathe, a psychological thriller about a woman’s search for the truth about a brutal attack on a teenage girl.

Holly never quite made it to university, and became a freelance writer instead. In 2003, she launched her own music website, Muso’s Guide, from the kitchen of her house, partly in protest at not being given a job at NME.

Holly has written features on everything from colonic irrigation to robot butlers. As a freelance writer, she has been published on national newspaper websites, magazines and leading consumer websites. From 2010 to 2012, Holly wrote ‘Mumblings’, an irreverent column on motherhood, for award-winning Vine magazine.

A mother of four, Holly’s time is divided between writing fiction, writing articles, walking Arnie the miniature Schnauzer and chasing homework-evaders around the living room. And then some more writing when night falls.

Follow Holly on Twitter

App Pick

Notability

Working Writer’s Tip

When is the best time to pitch to magazines?

Answered in the podcast!

Competition

Kingdom of the Strong by Tony Cavanaugh

Entries close 25th January 2016.

Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Email us

podcast at writerscentre.com.au

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ep 92 artwork

Interview Transcript

 

Valerie

Holly, thanks for joining us today.

 

Holly

My pleasure.

 

Valerie

Now for readers who haven’t read your book yet, can you tell us what it’s about?

 

Holly

Yes, certainly. The basic premise is that a girl back in 1995, a teenage girl called Amy was brutally attacked and left for dead, but she didn’t die. Instead she slipped into a coma and remained in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years, until a journalist called Alex Dale, who is doing a feature article on persistent vegetative state and a doctor who’s treating patients with that condition and she stumbles upon Amy.

 

Both of the women are the same age, Alex has her own demons and has had her own challenges, but she becomes quite obsessed with Amy’s situation and the fact that everybody in Amy’s life has moved on, as they would. Nobody has been caught for the attack. And Alex, being a journalist, it awakens something in her, which she feels that she has to finally solve the crime, but along the way she finds a reason to carry on going herself, and potentially a way to pull her out of her own dire situation.

 

Valerie

Now this is such a great premise for a book. How in the world did this idea come into your head?

 

Holly

It’s the most British thing ever. I was cooking a roast dinner…

 

Valerie

Oh, my goodness!

 

Holly

And I was listening to Radio 4, Radio 4 is a spoken word radio station in the UK. And I was doing my roast potatoes and listening to the health program, which wouldn’t normally interest me, to be completely honest with you. And I was half listening and it was about persistent vegetative states.

 

Valerie

Right.

 

Holly

And the more I listened in the background, the more it kind of started to sink in, and I started to think about, “My god, those people in that situation are in that situation for years.” And all the while there’s no… I mean it’s a bad prognosis, they probably won’t wake up and be cured and live the life that they previously lived, but they’re still there, they’re not… they haven’t died, their family can’t mourn them in the sort of traditional way and then move on, everybody is stuck in limbo.

 

One of the experts who was being interviewed for the radio show described it as a living death, and I just could not shake that phrase — in fact, that was the working title, which I don’t think is a very good title.

 

Valerie

Right.

 

Holly

But, that was the phrase, it sounds a bit hammer-horror, but that was the phrase that stayed in my head the whole time. I was thinking about firstly Amy’s condition, but also Alex’s. Alex is a functioning alcoholic.

 

Valerie

Right.

 

Holly

And much more of the alcoholic than functioning. She finds coping strategies, but they are unhealthy coping strategies. It’s a case of just getting through the day. It’s not that she’s thriving and on the side is an alcoholic, it’s very much the other way around.

 

So, that phrase, ‘a living death,’ is a theme through the whole of the book. So, that’s what started it. My very British radio experience, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what would put somebody into that situation.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Holly

How everybody in their life would cope or not cope with it. I mean I’ve always loved suspense and mystery, and I’m never going to have written something really fluffy and she wakes up and everything is fantastic and she has a romance. So, it was always going to be, “How did she get there?” “What dark situations put her there?”

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Holly

But, also, a little bit of redemption — I don’t want to give everything away.

 

Valerie

No.

 

Holly

But, a little bit of redemption for everybody who is trapped in that situation, that it’s not always — as a phrase that my friend’s mum used to use, and it really sticks with me, and it’s horrible English, but, “Nothing is un-get-out-able.”

 

So, I would say that’s another slight theme for the book as well.

 

Valerie

Was it, “Nothing is…” What was that?

 

Holly

“… un-get-out-able.”

 

Valerie

“…un-get-out-able.” OK, great. Are you a reader of psychological thrillers and crime and that sort of genre?

 

Holly

Yes, I am, unless I’m currently writing. So, I love… I mean I feast on dark stories.

 

Valerie

Right.

 

Holly

I’ve always had, since I was tiny. But, when I’m actually in the middle of writing of a manuscript I’m really… firstly, I can’t take much in because all I’m thinking about is my world that I’m writing about.

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Holly

And secondly, I’ve always been really paranoid about basically taking on board somebody else’s writing style or somebody else’s twists too much, and basically aping it and sort of doing bad karaoke.

 

So, as much as I love those books, I fall really, really behind with that genre when I’m writing, and it drives me crazy because everyone’s talking about these amazing books. People are talking at the moment about a book called The Widow, that’s due to come out next week. I’m desperate to read that, but I’m not going to because I’m writing something else.

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Holly

So, I’m avoiding all the spoilers.

 

Valerie

I want to come back to the book in a minute, but let’s just backtrack, and tell me when did you know that you wanted to be a writing, because you kind of started very early in terms of journalism and reviewing and stuff like that. When did you know? When you were young, or was it after school, or… when?

 

Holly

I cannot remember a time when I didn’t know.

 

Valerie

Really?

 

Holly

Genuinely.

 

Yeah. I used to write stories… as soon as I could write I wrote little stories, I made little books. I mean I was very arrogant, because at the age of four I would distribute these books to anyone, and thought that they would definitely want them and that they were really valid, you know, published books.

 

So, always. It’s always been something that I just… I just… I don’t know. I mean I’m not the first person to say that. I’m just compelled to do it. So, even when I had no obvious prospects to do it, I don’t come from a writerly family and I didn’t even make it to university to study literature or anything like that. Even when I was just doing awful telly-sales jobs and had nothing on paper that I would have a book published, I was writing, writing, writing. And, writing anything that I could.

 

But, always in the background was the fiction. I always wanted to find my path there, and along the way I would, again, I’m probably not the first person to say this, but try to find anyway to inch a little bit closer, so I wanted to be a fiction writer, say the next step along to that was to be a journalist, but I wasn’t qualified for that, so maybe I could be a copywriter, and I was quite qualified for that, so I worked in marketing. And to get there I worked in sales.

 

Valerie

Wow.

 

Holly

So, it was always a kind of just desperately trying to dig my way into it.

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Holly

And it’s worked out really well. So, I’m obviously over the moon.

 

Valerie

So, you did work as a freelance writer on…

 

Holly

I did.

 

Valerie

… newspapers, magazines, websites, all of that sort of thing. So, you obviously had success in that area.

 

Holly

Yeah.

 

Valerie

During that time were you writing fiction on the side?

 

Holly

Yes.

 

Valerie

Is that what was happening? That was happening in your spare time?

 

Holly

Yeah, so it was happening, but not in an incredibly focused way. So, I had children very, very young, so my first child was born when I was 21. So, alongside work there were kids always.

 

Valerie

Yeah, right.

 

Holly

So, the amount of time I had was quite limited, and initially — I think anyone who’s got young children, who is young themselves and working will recognize when I say that it’s just a case of getting through one day to another.

 

So, I was very creative, but I had very minimal opportunities to do that, and when you’ve got young children it’s very much a case of, “OK, but I need to earn some money,” so any spare time that I had was spent freelance writing, rather than writing for pleasure. And I would do what I could.

 

I think that all changed when I got a little bit older and I could actually start to properly buckle down, but I had mis-starts. You know, I would start a novel with a great idea, but I wouldn’t plan it. So, I would get gaps 30,000 words in and realize I painted myself into a corner, I didn’t know what was going to happen. It was a great exercise. I don’t think any of those mis-starts were a waste, because I think you can only be a better writer by practicing. So, I don’t begrudge that, or think of it as a waste of time, but I’ve got a lot of half-finished, quarter-finished manuscripts still around.

 

Valerie

Yeah, right.

 

Holly

And it was only really when I had this idea and I just couldn’t shake it. And I knew what happened. I had a beginning, middle and an end. And, I didn’t know all of the details and I didn’t know all of the characters, but I knew what happened, because I had that framework I could actually finish the thing, and that was a real turning point.

 

Valerie

And so you say you had a beginning, a middle and an end, but you were saying that in your previous half-written manuscripts you didn’t plot, you didn’t bother to plot it out.

 

Holly

No.

 

Valerie

Did you have more than just a beginning, middle and an end? Did you plot out whole sections of it so that you had a path to follow in this particular book?

 

Holly

I didn’t at first, I just had that very loose framework. So, I knew who did it. And I had a real sense of who Amy was, just from the moment that I picked on her as a character, I could just picture her. I knew her. Alex not so much, Alex is the journalist. For me, initially, Alex was a vessel through which the story would be told, she would be the one to unearth the clues. And, it was only really as I started to write that I got a sense of who she was and a few things popped in that I really liked, so I started to work those in.

 

But, I would say that initially I had a very loose framework, this is how I always work, I have a very loose framework, I start to write it, get a feel for who people are, get about 10,000 words in and then I sit down and look at what I’ve got and start to fill in more of the detail.

 

So, the difference was I had a beginning, middle and an end, but, no, I didn’t have absolutely everything button down, because I think I would be a bit bored writing like that. If I knew everything that was going to happen…

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Holly

… I would feel like I was just plodding through getting it done, I think.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

And so were you writing this while you were doing your freelance journalist work?

 

Holly

Yes, initially. When I first managed to strong-arm my way into journalism, I actually worked in-house, and it was only after my third… I’ve got bags of kids. It was only after my third child was born that I really seriously moved more into freelance. I freelanced on the side throughout, but to be honest that was more mercenary. I had loads of kids, I was really young, I needed to earn extra money.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Holly

But, it was only really… there was a tipping point around then when I moved more into freelance writing, and that was around the time that… a couple of years after, that I started to Try Not to Breathe. So, I had one foot in that freelance world, but Try Not to Breathe was something that I started and then I actually had to put it to one side for about a year because all sorts of things were happening with our family and with work and all of the rest of it. But, I couldn’t forget it. It wasn’t that I put it aside because I painted myself into a corner for once, I begrudgingly put it to one side and never stopped thinking about it.

 

Valerie

Wow.

 

Holly

So, when I was ready to pick it back up it really… I was through the last half, because I was just so compelled to get everything down that I had been thinking in that gap, so it was slightly different in that respect.

 

Valerie

So, you have four children.

 

Holly

Yes.

 

Valerie

And a dog, a miniature schnauzer.

 

Holly

Yes.

 

Valerie

And you are writing books. Now take us to when you did pick it up again, or whenever you were actually writing it, and what was your typical day like? Did you have a writing routine? Did you freelance in the morning and then write fiction in the afternoon? Just take us through some kind of typical day.

 

Holly

I wish that I had a writing routine. I have more of one now, but it was a case of… I mean literally I would be making a cup of tea in between phone calls for work, and I would be tapping out dialogue on my phone into a note.

 

Valerie

Oh my god, into your phone?

 

Holly

Yeah. Oh gosh, just anyway that I could do it. My husband and I we have an agreement where one of us has a lie-in on a Saturday and one of us has a lie-in on a Sunday. For my lie-in every weekend I would take my laptop up, initially sneakily, he didn’t know. I would take my laptop up the night before, he would get up with the kids, I would be theoretically having my lie-in, but I would be working on work. I would get up first thing in the morning, if I couldn’t sleep, which I often couldn’t. I would work on it then. I would write little notes on my phone if I was commuting in for a meeting in London. I would write late into the night. Just however. I just snatched whatever bit of time that I could.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Holly

Now it’s a lot more structured and I generally write in the evening. My husband works away a lot, so I have those kind of weird solo adult evenings, where you’re not quite sure what you should do because you’ve still got the kids at home and you don’t go out. So, I write in the evening now and I write on weekends and I have some part-time child care and that time is set aside as my writing time. I don’t do anything else in that time.

 

But Try Not to Breathe, that was like a patchwork of wherever I could get it.

 

Valerie

Wow.

 

I suppose now, the situation that you are in now, where it’s a little bit more structured, do you have targets — like, “I’m going to write 500 words,” or 1,000 words, whatever, in a day, a week, or something?

 

Holly

I do. I have 1,000 word target a day.

 

Valerie

Oh, great.

 

Holly

And, I am the least organized person ever. So, I have to be the most organized person ever or everything falls apart. I have to structure to allow for that weakness. So, rather than say… if I said that I had a monthly target or a weekly target I would do the kid with the homework thing, and it would be all done the night before, and this is too important, too precious to me to sort of let those personal weaknesses affect it. So, I have a very targeted 1,000 words a day. And if I haven’t done that by the time it gets to ten o’clock at night, then I have to do it then.

 

Valerie

Wow.

 

Holly

The only exception right now Try Not to Breathe is obviously the focus. So, rather than try to do two things at once and panic about both, I’ve set my current manuscript to one side just for a couple of weeks so I could focus on all of the exciting commotion that I’ve got for Try Not to Breathe. And so that also I’ve not got two competing worlds in my head and sets of characters.

 

Valerie

Yes!

 

Holly

I need to be fully immersed in the Try Not to Breathe experience at the moment.

 

Valerie
What are you working on now — the manuscript that you’ve set aside?

 

Holly

It’s another thriller, it’s not a sequel. It’s a standalone thriller. It, again, features female characters. They have their challenges, but they’re also very strong and nuanced and without giving too much away it features quite heavily incidents that happen in childhood that people feel that they have escaped, but they haven’t. Either they haven’t escaped the danger from back then, or they just haven’t dealt with what happened so it’s following them around and affecting their behavior.

 

Valerie

Wow.

 

Holly

And it’s set partly in Manchester, which I’m really excited about because I love that city, and partly in 1980s Berkshire, which is sort an area just outside of Greater London.

 

Valerie

Yes. I think I was there in the 1980s.

 

Holly

Really?

 

Valerie

Late ’80s.

 

Holly

Oh my gosh! Wow! Who knew it?

 

Valerie

With Try Not to Breathe there’s obviously the medical condition that Amy is in, and there’s also other aspects of crime — I don’t want to give much away either, but what kind of research did you need to do for this book?

 

Holly

So there were a few things that I wanted to be very accurate to and beyond that I also gave myself permission to use artistic license, because I had to. I mean the story has to come first, it’s a work of fiction.

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Holly

But, I wanted it to feel authentic and I also wanted to make sure that if I was giving details as fact via the mouth of a journalist it had to be quite factual. So, I spoke with a hospital in England that treats people in this condition and they suggested, so helpful, they suggested documentaries and articles to look into, which I did. I read some books, written by people who had not had persistent vegetative state, but similar, like locked in syndrome and read about those experiences to get a rough understanding of what Amy might be going through while in that position.

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Holly

But, one of the main actual medical situations that I wanted to get right in the book is Alex’s alcoholism, so that was an area that I researched equally, to be honest with you, because I think there’s a lot of — I mean the alcoholic journalist is a well-worn kind of area, especially in detective novels and what have you. But, I didn’t want to glamourize it. I didn’t want it to be gross, I didn’t want it to be judge-y either.

 

But, I wanted it to feel authentic and I wanted it to be a realistic idea of what it’s actually like to live with one foot in alcoholism and one foot in the real world. I think in sort of popular culture we’ve got quite a blunt idea about alcoholism. I think we’ve got the guy usually waking up in the morning and looking for his bottle of whiskey and drinks the day away. And the reality is that there are so many more people who are just about holding it together and maybe they’ve got children and they’re female. Interestingly, obviously The Girl on the Train came out just this time last year, which also has an alcoholic female narrator, which I think, but again it’s more nuanced, it’s such a horrible condition.

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Holly

So, I wanted to get that absolutely right, especially when Alex is really struggling with her health as a result of it, again, not giving anything away, but when she speaks with her family doctor I wanted him to give her advice that is the type of advice she would actually have received.

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

With writing thrillers, I mean writing any novels, of course, but in particular thrillers hastening of the story is so important. What did you do in relation to that? Is that something that you were consciously aware of? Or is it something while you were writing or did you kind of go back and then fix the pacing when it needed to be fixed?

 

Holly

Yeah, I think because it’s a genre that I love I think you kind of imbibe quite a lot of understanding without really knowing theory, just as a reader you know that you like things to be drip-fed. You also know that you like changes of pace so it’s not all one kind of flat experience. But, I just wrote it.

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Holly

When I was out there doing the initial first draft I just wrote it. And I knew that I wanted the chapters to be short and punchy, because I like chapters as a reader to be short and punchy.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Holly

I also know that with all of the will in the world often reading, like my writing, is done in snatched bits of time here and there, and I think that when there’s short chapters that works very well for people. So, I knew that, but beyond that the pacing is something that really that I looked at more intensely when it came to edit.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Tell us about how this got published — what was the process? Take us from the beginning.

 

Holly

I’m really lucky that I’ve got a friend who’s also a novelist. I had watched her go through this situation. So, number one, I knew that it took ages.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Holly

And I also knew that it wasn’t a case of sending this manuscript direct to a publisher and them picking it straight off their desk and say, “Yeah, we’re going to publish it.” So, I understood that it was a case of sending it to an agent. The agent is very much — if I said the ‘gatekeepers’ to publishers it sounds very negative, but I think it’s more that they’re filters. They’re fantastic at picking up potential and helping to get a novel more polished and pitching it to the right publishers, the right editors, who they know really love this kind of thing.

 

So, that was my route. I made a list of agents who had worked with — it was very important to me that they were willing to work with debut authors who were perhaps in need of — not hand-holding, but I wanted someone who would work on it with me, and people who had a passion for the genre and who had worked with authors I admire. So, I made a little short list.

 

I was very lucky as well that a friend of a friend was an agent and a writer, before I started pitching I got some feedback from him about the book and that was fantastic and made some sort of last minute changes with his feedback in mind. But, then I started to send it to my list, and I’m so lucky because — this is the only bit of lucky, everything else is hard work. I have to say that.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Holly

But, I have this little short list of who I thought would just be ideal agents who I really would have loved to work with, and had one of them taken it on then my list would have obviously grown and I would have cast the net as wide as it could have gone.

 

At the top of my list was a woman called Nicola Barr. She’s a fantastic agent, she used to be an editor as well, so she’s got that eye. She’s spoken at Faber Academy, which she’s obviously debuted, but talented and serious, committed authors. Again, she had worked with newcomers who wanted to get better. And she’d worked with authors that I admire on similar books.

 

I sent my three chapters and my synopsis and my email introduction I had worked on so much. I sent it to her. One day — I was actually at home recovering from an operation, I was sore. And it was the first day that I could put my laptop on my lap and actually do much, so I sent her the three chapters and the whole package. And then I thought, “This is ridiculous,” because agents spend months to get back to you.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Holly

And the chances are it’s a ‘no,’ because there’s too many good books out there. You know, it’s really, really hard.

 

So, then I sent it to the second name on the list. And then I thought, “I’m going to leave it and then tomorrow I’m going to send it to the next two.” I would just try to be settled about it.

 

And I shuffled into the kitchen and I made a cup of tea. Again, I’m so — so English. I made a cup of tea and plodded about and did the laundry or whatever. And about 45 minutes passed and I checked my phone inbox and I had a reply from Nicola Barr, who was my top name on the list.

 

Valerie

Oh my goodness.

 

Holly

And she said, “I’ve just read the first three chapters, and I really want to know more. Can you send the full manuscript?”

 

Obviously I sprinted around, still with stitches, still in pain, still in a nightie at 1:00 PM, I sprinted around my house, because I didn’t know what to do. The dogs were chasing me. I was just off my head. And then I kind of sat down and I composed a very serious reply, “Oh, that’s fantastic.” Of course I was…

 

And then I frantically — because although I thought it was ready, the actual idea of an agent reading the whole thing suddenly terrified me and it suddenly wasn’t read. So, I edited it all night and into the next morning. I gave up editing about 4:00 AM and then carried on the next morning.

 

Nicola actually emailed that morning to say, “I’m just checking, I haven’t received the full manuscript yet,” which I did think was a really good sign.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Holly

That she keen, but then I also thought, “Oh no, I’ve really annoyed her that I haven’t sent it yet.”

 

Anyway that day I sent the rest. And I think it was a Thursday or Friday and then I stalked her Twitter the whole weekend, as if she was going to say, “I’m reading the best submission ever,” and I’m definitely going to get a publishing deal.

 

She didn’t say that because she’s a professional and she would never say that.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Holly

On the Monday before I was due to go back to work, I had been off for the operation. I was in Sainsbury Supermarket and I was in the milk aisle and I was scrambling through my phone and I got a reply from Nicola saying, “I’ve finished it. I read it this weekend, but I wanted my rights director to read it and I really like it and I would love to work on it with you. It does need some work, but can we meet for lunch?”

 

Oh my gosh.

 

Valerie

Wow.

 

Holly

We did. She’s just got such a great eye. And she really helped pull it into the best possible shape. We worked on it together for months. She really understood where my strengths were, where I had tried to shape it into something I thought it needed to be, rather than have gone naturally with the way that I wanted to write it. And that’s where she was really fantastic, actually saying, “You write your book.” She helped a lot, gave me great notes and we worked on it together.

 

When it was finally ready it was really unfortunate timing because it was summer, and obviously the whole of publishing is on holiday. But, she didn’t want to wait any longer. We talked about it and decided that we would — I say ‘we’ — that she would send it out. And then it was the waiting game. And I was delighted to get an offer from Corvus, which is an imprint of Atlantic, who are part of the same company and Allen & Unwin, which obviously Australian listeners would know.

 

And, yeah, I’m so, so happy that I went with them. It feels like they’re huge fans of the book and they understand what I’m trying to do and they’ve really just got it and got behind it.

 

Valerie

How did you find out?

 

Holly

About the deal?

 

Valerie

Yeah. Take me through the conversation or the moment — I don’t know, the email, whatever.

 

Holly

It was actually an email. I was doing a school run, I was collecting my six-year-old at the time and his friend, Alex. And they were swinging on trees and they were having a really disgusting little kid conversation about toilets and all of the rest of it. Again, I’ve always got my phone in my hand — always. So, I was scrolling through my inbox and I got an email from Nicola saying, “We have an offer.” And I read it and it was amazing and then I stood there like a big numb idiot. I didn’t reply, I sat it back to unread, because I just couldn’t deal with…

 

Valerie

You set it back to unread?!

 

Holly

And then I left and I got in the car and I said to the boys, “Oh, somebody’s offered me a publishing deal.” And I kind of just sat there. And Alex, my son’s friend said, “What does this mean?” He was a six-year-old boy, he didn’t understand the publishing world.

 

But, Elliot, my son, obviously heard me banging on and on and on about this. He explained, he said, “It means that somebody thinks Mommy’s book is good and they’re going to sell in shops.” And then I went, “Oh my god…” I just burst into tears.

 

Valerie

Oh!

 

Holly

It took me quite a while to actually understand — it was too big, it was everything. It was everything that I wanted.

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Holly
Everything that I had worked for so long.

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Holly

Such a dream. It finally happened and I just shut down. I just didn’t know what to do. But, luckily there was a kid there to explain it for me.

 

Valerie

Yeah, right. I love it. I love that story.

 

Now that you’re writing the next one, can you believe it?

 

Holly

Sometimes… sometimes it gets me. You know, sometimes I just stand there and I just think, “Oh my god, it actually… it actually happened.” And funnily enough the second agent on my little got back to me a few months after I first sent my submission and said, “Good luck, it’s a really good book, but it’s not for us.”

 

Valerie

Oh, right.

 

Holly

So, I know that that’s the usual experience.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Holly

And I’m very aware that the planets lined up, Nicola had just sat down for her lunch and it popped into her inbox and it just happened to be right in front of her eyes and it grabbed her. So, I know as much as there’s been hard work, there have been these moments of serendipity. So, I do pinch myself. I’m proud as well. I’m incredibly proud that actually I stuck with something. I think that’s often the hardest thing as a writer is you get to the middle or almost the middle of the book and there’s still a whole other half to write and it’s hard. It takes enormous amounts of work and enormous amounts of time.

 

And you can feel very indulgent. When you’ve got kids or when you’ve got a career, or whatever it might be, and you’re setting aside these chunks of intense time to lose yourself in another world, because I’m no good to anybody when I’m writing as well. It’s not like I can write and also conduct conversation and also cook dinner, and also whatever.

 

So, it can feel very indulgent. To have actually stayed the course and actually done it, that almost is more amazing to me than what happened afterwards.

 

Valerie

Yes, because the moments of serendipity like that don’t happen without the hard work.

 

Holly

Exactly.

 

Valerie

They never would have happened. It’s because of the hard work that the luck came into it.

 

Holly

Yes.

 

Valerie

What would your advice be to aspiring writers who are listening to this and they hope to be in a position like you are in one day?

 

Holly

The first thing I would say is you can’t anywhere unless you finish the book.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Holly

And I know that’s easier said than done, but if you really do have the idea, you’ve got to see it through. You’ve got to finish the thing. Be indulgent. Take that time. You can find time first thing in the morning, you can find it late at night. You can switch the TV off, that’s a big one. Just find that time.

 

And even if that time is 20 minutes a day — yes, it will take you a really time, but 20 minutes a day adds up.

 

That’s my first thing, just do it. You’ve just got to finish the thing. And even if what you’re left with, that first draft is a big, lumpy kind of messy thing that needs a lot of editing, that’s fine. You’ve got a big lump of rock and now you can chisel it down into a sculpture. Just keep going.

 

Valerie

Yep.

 

Holly

And for me, personally, setting daily targets is a big one, so it’s bite-sized. For me, it’s 1,000 words a day. I’m quite a fast writer, other people maybe their target could be 500 words a day, even if it’s 100 it adds up.

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Holly

But then I’m not always looking at how huge the task is, I’m actually looking at how small the task is daily.

 

That would be my second piece of advice.

 

Reading — if you can read while you’re writing, fantastic. I struggle to read the same genre, but I read outside of the genre while I’m writing and it can help kind of clear my head a little bit.

 

And just trust your inner-confidence, because it’s incredibly easy to say, “Oh, well, I work in a shop, I’m not a writer.” “I’m a doctor, not a writer,” whatever it might be. If you know that you have a story and you feel compelled to get it down, get it down. Don’t let anybody else push you off that course.

 

Valerie

Great advice.

 

Thank you so much for your time today. Good luck with Try Not to Breathe — a brilliant read.

 

Holly

Thank you.

 

Valerie

And congratulations. On that note thank you so much for chatting to us today.

 

Holly

Thank you, Valerie. It’s been a pleasure.

Jan 19, 2016 Podcasts Australian Writers' Centre Team

Written by Australian Writers' Centre Team

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