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08 June 2021

Abby Parsons: ‘My top tip is to read as much as you can’

by Katie Smart Course News, Writing Tips

We’re delighted to introduce an exciting new joiner at Curtis Brown Creative: Abby Parsons joins us this week as Senior Manager – Courses and Operations (maternity cover). 

Abby brings with her a wealth of publishing and editorial knowledge, she has been editing commercial fiction since 2014, at Hodder & Stoughton, Little, Brown Book Group and, most recently, HQ, HarperCollins, where she worked on bestselling books and exciting debut authors.

We caught up with Abby to find out more about her industry experience and her advice for aspiring authors…

You have been editing commercial fiction since 2014, you’ve worked at Hodder & Stoughton, Little, Brown and most recently HQ, HarperCollins. What first inspired you to pursue a career in publishing?

To be very honest, it was only after graduating from university that I started to consider publishing, so I’ve always felt that I stumbled into it, even if it ended up being a long and quite determined stumble with lots of unpaid work experience along the way. I initially decided to try it out of a love of books – what else? Once I was in, getting to work with words and other people who loved books just felt like a very natural fit.

You are also the co-founder of Dear Damsels, a publishing platform that shares the words and stories of women. What was the inspiration behind this?

I started Dear Damsels with a friend whose writing I admire. She had a blog at the time, and was struggling to find somewhere to share her writing that didn’t feel like shouting into the void. We decided we wanted to create a space that actively encouraged women to submit and share their words, without any barriers – no submission fee, no previous writing experience required, nothing that might put a new writer off or make them think twice. We also made a point of responding to every submission received, so that whether or not we felt we would be the right home for someone’s writing, they always received a timely and encouraging response.

Do you remember the book that made you fall in love with reading?

Good question! Though part of me wishes it was something a little more whimsical and unexpected, for me it was good old Roald Dahl. I was given a big collection of his stories, and that’s the first book I remember wanting to carry around and keep with me. I should also give a shout out to Angus, Thongs and Full-frontal Snogging. I remember reading Louise Rennison’s hilarious author notes, about things like how her US publishers weren’t keen on the title ‘…and that’s when it fell off in my hand’. I’ve been a fan of an author note ever since!

What’s been your favourite book of 2021 so far?

I loved Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. As well as being brilliantly incisive and clever, it’s the kind of book that makes you gasp out loud and look around for someone to talk to about what’s just happened on the page. It’s my favourite recommendation at the moment, and the best possible book club book.

Who is your favourite fictional character?

A character who has really stayed with me is Maud from Elizabeth is Missing. There’s a line in that book that has stayed with me, about how Maud, who is in her eighties, remembers the world flying by as she walked down the street when she was younger. It shows how older people make for such interesting characters – they have so many memories and such knowledge to share, so any story they are telling immediately has all these layers to it.

What are some common mistakes writers make, and do you have any tips for how they can be addressed in the edit?

I find that when a first draft is very long, the edit then becomes focused on finding the real story and bringing that to the fore, and it’s a lot of hard work for the writer because there is simply so much material to navigate. Discussing the edits for a first draft is such an exciting conversation to have, and it often leads to lots of new ideas for scenes or interactions that will help take the story even further. In my opinion, it’s easier to spot those opportunities when there is a little more breathing space in the manuscript already.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

It’s a common one, but my top tip is to read as much as you can. I can understand it when writers feel worried about reading books in the same genre as they are writing in, in case they end up being influenced, or feel that they should spend all their spare time writing, but it really is one of the best ways to understand your reader. And when it comes to talking to people about your book – which you will have to do at some stage – having a broad understanding of the kind of books you’d find sitting alongside yours in a bookshop is a useful starting point, especially if you’re writing commercial fiction.

What are you most looking forward to about your new role here at CBC?

So many things! Most of my experience so far has been at the other end of the publishing pipeline, getting books ready to send out into the world – but I’ve always been intrigued about all the work that has gone into the manuscript before it gets to that point. So I’m excited to work with new writers for that reason, and I love that Curtis Brown Creative not only works with new writers to develop their writing but also equips them with a practical understanding of the publishing industry. I’m excited to help with that, and to do it as part of such a brilliant team.

We hope you’ll join us in welcoming Abby to the CBC team! Our alumni and current students (particularly those of you studying on our selective-entry courses) will be hearing a lot more from Abby in the coming months, and we know you’ll benefit from her experience.

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