Yesterday I wrote about a writing workshop I recently attended, led by writer Anna Mansell. It was an inspiring and empowering session, which encouraged me to really think about the kind of writer I want to be.
I thought Anna was so ballsy for walking away from her job (marketing for a theatre company) and focusing on her passion. I had to know more about her experiences, so I interviewed her to find out about her career and influences.
Why did you leave your job to write a book? Was the book always in you? Did you need to free yourself up to focus solely on the book?
I was unhappy where I was working anyway and I’m an all or nothing kind of person; I have to absolutely immerse myself in it. It was a risky strategy and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. I remember reading about Mhairi McFarlane; she’d done the same thing and was grasping at coppers down the back of the sofa and then the book deal came in.
Had you considered self-publishing?
People who self-publish have such confidence and self-belief. I was never that person. I got to the point where I thought it was my only option and spoke directly to my publishers and they were interested to take me on without an agent. At the time they were quite small, maybe they were taking risks.
For a lot of authors, digital publishing makes it a viable career, the income is much greater. Some of my fiends are selling millions of copies of books. There’s a real appetite for commercial digital work.
How many books have you written? How has your process changed between your first book and your most recent release?
I’ve written five books and I’m writing my sixth at the moment. The first one will never see the light of day. The next three were published. My fourth is out on the first of April. The first book I ever wrote, I had a different book to write in my head and then I had a dream and decided I was going to write the dream and then the book I had in mind, but never went back to it. I’m always winging it.
Are your books all stand-alone novels? Do you ever get attached to a character and want to continue their story?
My books are all stand-alone books. I do get attached to the characters and think there’s more of a story but you also need to know when the end is the end. There is a character in my next book who could have her own storyline.
I’m 41. It’s not my goal to get married and have a child. I wanted to write about real experiences in an accessible way. My new book deals with women’s mental health and suicide. It’s a very commercial thing that I write now. Dark things can be funny. Humour can be found in everything.
Can you imagine a future where you’re not a writer?
No, it’s what I do. It’s who I am. I have things I want to explore and say. I’m interested in people. I write things I want to read. I like solitude. Being in my writing shed on my own every day is my idea of heaven.
What is your favourite book and who is your favourite writer?
My favourite writer is Alan Bennett, he’s my absolute hero when it comes to writing. It may be the northern thing. There’s something about his phrasing and his description; they’re so real and relatable but also, god, so beautiful, some of it. Check out Talking Heads. These are people just talking about their lives, really simple straightforward stuff but some of it is so dark, so sad, so beautiful, and I think he’s just brilliant.
My favourite book is Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns. It stands out because it’s raw and slightly clumsily written at times, I suppose because it’s part autobiographical. It’s raw. Relatability, authenticity, all of those things are really important to me. It’s just in abundance in that book.