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19 August 2020

Polly Phillips: ‘Write what you enjoy and don’t be afraid to be yourself’

Polly Phillips, author
by Katie Smart Author Interviews, From Our Students

Polly Phillips was a student on our inaugural six-week online Write to the End of Your Novel course in 2019. Her debut thriller My Best Friend’s Murder was recently acquired by Simon & Schuster and will be published next year.

Read on to find out about Polly’s time studying online with CBC and the inspiration behind her debut novel …

You took our online Write to the End of Your Novel course in 2019 – what was your experience of studying online with us like?

Really positive – I was so impressed by some of the other participants’ writing… some of the books that could come out of my cohort will be amazing! Everyone was so generous with their time and feedback and it was amazing what a breadth of topics and experiences there were. Six weeks was the perfect amount of time for me as I was over half way through my novel when i joined – it definitely gave me the final push I needed to get me over the line. I learned so much and would definitely consider signing up for another course. 

How did the course impact your approach to writing your novel?

It definitely improved my dialogue! One of the segments of the course that had such impact was the work we did on dialogue – our tutor had us strip back all of the ‘he says, she says’ and talked about the significance of long and short sentences and it made such a difference. I rewrote entire scenes with the advice she’d given us in mind and as a result I think my dialogue particularly between Bec, the main character, and her brother Rob became so much stronger. 

Your debut novel My Best Friend’s Murder will be published by Simon & Schuster. How did you feel when you found out about your publishing deal?

Ecstatic! It was pre-covid so I was actually in Paris with two friends from school, which felt particularly appropriate because a lot of the book was inspired by my experiences at school and the friendships and relationships I formed there. We drank a lot of champagne!! 

Can you tell us a bit about your debut novel and the inspiration behind it?

My debut novel is a psychological thriller about a toxic friendship between two women who have been friends since they were at school together. Although they would do anything for each other, there’s a rivalry and a toxicity at the heart of their friendship that means they secretly hate each other. The book opens with one of the women lying in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs. The story then goes back to look at the series of events that led up to that… and what happens afterwards. 

Although nobody was harmed in the making of the book (!), it is actually inspired by a very intense toxic friendship I had when i was at school. I think lots of people can identify with that one friend who brings out the worst in them or maybe doesn’t have their best interests at heart. Interestingly when i began writing the book I felt very much the victim of the friendship but by the end I came to realise that some of my own behaviour (which features in the book!) wasn’t particularly stellar either. Maybe when it comes to toxic friendships, there really is no such thing as an innocent party!? 

What does a typical writing day look like for you?

A typical writing day for me is fuelled almost entirely by sugar! I’m a huge hot chocolate drinker and will have at least one while I sit down to write. I tend to write during school hours so after I’ve dropped my daughter off, I race home, make myself a hot chocolate and begin. How I work depends on where I am in the novel – for example when I’m planning or editing, I like to work in cafes. But if I’m actually writing, I’ll do that at home. I aim for about a chapter a day but some chapters are definitely easier to write than others! Generally speaking if I can write upwards of about 800 words, I feel like I’m doing OK. Even if I feel like what I’m writing is not very good, I keep going and tell myself i can fix it when I go back and edit. I’ve read a lot of analogies about a first draft and I’ve really come to believe it is all about telling yourself the story – the prettying it up can come later… 

I’m also a freelance copy editor so alongside my novel writing, I’ll set aside at least one day a week – usually Friday – to work on other projects. This means I tend to be a lot more productive on Thursdays than any other day of the week! 

If you could only pass on one piece of advice to aspiring authors what would it be?

Write what you enjoy and don’t be afraid to be yourself. Before I started writing My Best Friend’s Murder I was writing another book – try as I might, I couldn’t get it to work. I knew there was something wrong with it but I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what it was. I decided to put it away and start writing something else as a distraction – that was My Best Friend’s Murder, which went on to win the Montegrappa First Fiction award at the Emirates Literature Festival. Writing that book came so much more naturally because I was writing as myself, rather than trying to be someone literary like Maggie O’Farrell or Lionel Shriver. 

Finally, what’s next for your writing journey?

I’m just finishing the second draft for my second novel, The Reunion, which is about one woman going back to her twenty year university reunion, determined to get revenge on the people that she believes destroyed her life while she was there. It’s been so much fun to write and, just like My Best Friend’s Murder, there are a lot of twists and turns.

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