Zoe Lea was a student on the same online six-month novel-writing course as Jane Harper back in 2014. Now her debut novel If He Wakes has been published by Canelo. Here she tells us about her journey from CBC student to published author, and the challenges of writing a thriller which also explores female friendship.
You were working on your novel on our six-month online novel-writing course back in the Autumn of 2014. How did taking our course change the way you looked at your (then) novel in progress?
Before I started the course I only had a vague idea of what I wanted the novel to be. I had the opening chapter written and that was about it! I knew the theme and the overall story, but not much else. The course helped enormously by making my writing the novel a priority, and it gave me the confidence to tackle plotting. By working through the modules, getting and giving feedback to my fellow students as well as getting great feedback from the tutor, I was able to focus on the structure of my novel and how it would progress. Before the course, I’d always written without a plan, but the modules made me think about the novel as a whole and not just chapter by chapter.
Many of our students find writing companions on our courses. Do you keep in touch with any of your CBC course mates?
We started up our own online writing group for a while, and we keep in contact via social media and are able to cheer each other on when we have writing news to share.
Your debut, If He Wakes, is a crime/ thriller mystery with a female friendship at its core. Would you say it was more challenging to write the twists and turns or a believable friendship?
That’s a tricky question because I can’t answer one or the other – the challenge in writing If He Wakes was to entwine a believable friendship along with the plot twists and turns. To keep the pace moving forward whilst exploring female friendship and how it holds up against a catastrophic situation.
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to publication – from getting an agent to getting your e-book published with Canelo?
The course gave me the chance to pitch to agents in the last module and I was lucky that I’d had some interest from my pitch. When I felt the novel was ready, I set about contacting them. In the midst of that, one agent, Jane Gregory, got in touch to say she’d like to meet up and discuss the novel. We had an excellent meeting and as a result, I signed with Jane there and then. From there we worked on the novel and it went through several edits, before we sent it out to publishers. Jane has so far made two translation deals and Canelo has published in ebook form.
What has it been like reading reader reviews of your debut novel?
Waiting for those first reviews to come in was quite scary, but I was lucky that the first lot came in quickly and they were all really positive. I still jump every time I see that another review has been written, not so much because I’m scared if it will be good or bad, but because it means that someone has read my book, and then taken the time to write about it afterwards. I don’t think the novelty of that will ever go away, it’s wonderful and humbling.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Keep going. Be determined and tenacious. I had so many knock backs, so many times when I couldn’t find the time to write, so many times when I was sure it would all come to nothing – but if you want to succeed, you must keep writing. Another thing you must do is be open to feedback. It’s easy to dismiss negative feedback, to argue against it, but you must learn to take all critiques into consideration, good and bad. Keep working on it and your writing will be stronger for it.
Finally, what are you working on at the moment?
It’s very much in the early stages, but it’s a suspense novel set amidst the school gates about a woman who takes revenge on the cliques of alpha mummies in the worst possible way.
You can buy If He Wakes here.
Zoe took our (selective entry) six-month novel-writing course, taught by Lisa O’Donnell – the next one starts in September and you can apply now (there is one fully-funded scholarship place available).