Jodie Chapman took a three-month novel-writing course with us in London in 2016. Among her student cohort were authors Ella Berman and Louise McCreesh (their debuts are set to be published in 2020) as well as Rachael Blok whose second novel The Scorched Earth was published earlier this year. Now Jodie is following suit, and has a major book deal with Michael Joseph for her debut Another Life, scheduled for publication in 2021.
We caught up with Jodie to find out more about her debut novel, her time studying with us and her approach to writing …
You were a student on our three-month novel-writing course back in 2016. How did your time studying with us have an impact on your writing?
I hadn’t written much since school, so the course was useful in allowing me a route back into that space. In 2016, I was a knackered mum-of-two (now three) and spending each Wednesday night at seminars allowed much-needed ‘me’ time and the chance to carve out a new identity as a writer. I was writing a different book on the course, one I ultimately shelved, but I don’t consider it as wasted time because it allowed me to practise finding my voice.
Many of our students find their writing community on our courses, are you still in touch with any of your coursemates?
Yes! We set up a Facebook group whilst on the course that is still active, and we cheer each other on through social media. A couple of my coursemates (Ella Berman and Clare McVey) were also beta readers for an early draft of Another Life and their feedback helped enormously.
Your debut novel Another Life will be published by Michael Joseph in 2021. How did it feel when you got the news of your book deal?
The whole experience has been so surreal since I submitted to agents in the summer and received seven offers of representation. I don’t think I’ve recovered since, possibly due to the amount of fizz I’ve been consuming.
Another Life is a contemporary love story. Can you tell us a bit more about your novel and what inspired you to write this story?
My editor summed it up when saying, ‘it’s not just a love story, but a story about love’. It explores love in all its forms, from the heartache of first love through to the tangle of connections between siblings, parents, and husbands and wives. It’s also about the silences that exist in the spaces between us, and what it means to truly be alive. Much of the book centres on the love affair between Nick and Anna, but woven throughout is the tragic, tender relationship that Nick has with his younger brother Sal. The idea for that element came when I watched my two young sons play together. It struck me how different they were and I began to imagine how their relationship might play out as they grow into men.
Any advice you would like to pass on to aspiring authors?
I’m not sure I qualify to give advice, but one is not to start before you are ready. I think it’s tempting when an idea comes to rush it out on paper, but the gestation time is as essential as the first draft. Allow the story to seed itself into your unconscious; think about it lightly, but keep it in its proper place until it’s ready. We don’t give proper consideration to nurturing our unconscious in the modern world – we insist on constant stimulation – but it is the source of our dreams and imagination. You have to feed it and give it space to do its work in the background. When you’ve thought about it enough – a few months at the very least for me – then sit down to write and it will pour out.
The second is to turn up for work. Don’t just talk about writing. Do it.
Talk us through a typical writing day, do you have any routines?
I wrote Another Life whilst on maternity leave. The story had percolated in my mind for a couple of years, and at the start of 2019, I decided this would be the year. When my son fell asleep after the morning school run, that gave me two hours to bash out a first draft. I wrote every day for two months with 1,000 words a day as my guide, and I didn’t go to bed until I reached it. I also find that I like writing out of sync. I struggle to write in a linear A-Z way, and prefer writing whichever scene is burning brightest. That way, writing remains fun. The second draft is where I tie everything together.
What’s next for you and your writing journey?
I’m about to start edits on Another Life with my editor Jillian Taylor. Then it’s on to Book 2!
If you want to meet your own beta readers and hone your skills on a novel-writing course, our selective six-month spring 2020 courses are open for applications: in London with Jake Arnott or online with Lisa O’Donnell & Andrew Michael Hurley.
We also run three short online courses designed to help writers at different stages of their novel-writing journey: Starting to Write Your Novel, Write to the End of Your Novel and Edit & Pitch Your Novel – all starting in November 2019.