28 August 2019

Sarah Linley: ‘The first draft is just the start of the journey’

Sarah Linley, author
by Katie Smart Author Interviews, From Our Students

Sarah Linley studied on our 3-month online novel-writing course back in 2015 – now she has an eBook deal with HarperCollins. We caught up with Sarah to find out more about her time studying with us, her debut thriller and her approach to writing … 

What was the first thing you did when you found out that One More Chapter (HarperCollins digital) were going to publish your debut thriller, The Beach?
The first thing I did was re-read the email. I was thoroughly expecting another rejection so it was a bit of a shock to realise that this was a ‘yes’!

I was in Thailand at the time so I had to run around Chiang Mai to find an internet café to print off the contract, sign it and scan it. Then we went out to dinner to celebrate.

It took a while for the news to really sink in. Even now, I’m convinced that they might change their minds…

How did your time studying on our three-month online novel-writing course help you develop as a writer?
The videos and online discussions about character, plot development, structure, theme, etc. were very useful as were the Skype sessions with my tutor, Lisa O’Donnell. I felt Lisa really cared about the book and it was great to get her advice on how to develop it.

This was the first time I had submitted my writing for critique and it was incredibly nerve-wracking. I nearly chickened out when it was my turn to submit work. It turned out to be a worthwhile experience and now I love giving and receiving peer critiques.

The access to literary agents at the end of the course and the support I received afterwards from Anna and her team has been invaluable in preparing and submitting my work. I am still an avid reader of the Curtis Brown Creative blog.

The book I worked on during the course was subsequently abandoned but I learnt an awful lot which I put into writing The Beach.

Many of our students find their trusted readers on our courses. Are you still in touch with any of your course mates?
Yes, I met my critique partner Phil Parker on the course. He’s the first person I send my work to and I can rely on him to be honest and supportive. He tells me when things aren’t working but is always positive about fixing it. And he is (almost) always right!

Phil writes fantasy and I think it helps that we write in different genres. Reading and critiquing his writing teaches me a lot about world building, developing characters, and pace and tension.

The Beach is centred around a tragedy which occurs when four friends go backpacking in Thailand. What was the inspiration behind this thriller?
I started with setting. I wanted to write a story set in Thailand because it’s a country I’ve been to several times and that I love. I contrasted that with a setting I was very familiar with, the Yorkshire Dales, and I was surprised by the amount of parallels I could draw between the two places. In both settings, and the novel, water plays an important role – it’s both beautiful and deadly.

I have travelled to South-East Asia many times and I have always been fascinated by backpackers. I was lucky enough to take some time off work recently and go backpacking myself. It’s a time when you have lots of freedom, but you can also find yourself in a strange country with different laws and customs and you don’t really know how things work. Typically, my mind always jumps to the worst-case scenario!

What does a typical writing day look like for you?
Like most writers, I have a day job, so I usually squeeze my writing in to evenings, weekends and days off. When I was backpacking, I had more time to write, but I’m not sure I got much more done!

I write anywhere and everywhere, but I love to camp out in coffee shops and libraries and observe the people around me.

I’m a slow writer, I don’t usually get more than 750 words done in any one session. I tried NaNoWriMo last year but it wasn’t for me. I just write rubbish if I write too quickly.

Do you have any advice you’d like to pass on to aspiring writers?
There is lots of good (and bad) advice out there but only follow what makes sense to you. It doesn’t matter if your favourite writer writes 2,000 words a day, produces three novels a year or writes longhand in leather-bound notebooks. Do what works for you.

The best piece of advice I received was when Caitlin Moran described her first draft as ‘word vomit’ on Twitter. That resonated with me. Give yourself permission to write badly, to leave gaps, to repeat yourself and to make a complete mess of your first draft. You can, and will, improve it when you sit down to edit. The first draft is just the start of the journey.

Finally, what’s the next step for you on your writing journey?
My novel will be published in November so I’m very excited (and a bit nervous) about that! I just have the copy edits to come now so I’m hoping they won’t be too painful.

I am currently trying to finish the first draft of my next novel. I have done 68,000 words so it’s not too far-off lengthwise but it’s all over the place and definitely falls under the description of ‘word vomit’. I’m looking forward to editing it into some sort of logical narrative and hopefully securing another deal.

Pre-order The Beach here.

If you’re currently writing a novel why not apply now to our upcoming 3-month online novel-writing course taught by Suzannah Dunn. Or, our 3-month novel-writing course in London led by Charlotte Mendelson.

We also run six-week online courses designed to help writers at different stages of their novel-writing journey, enrol today: Starting to Write Your NovelWrite to the End of Your Novel and Edit & Pitch Your Novel.

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