Abby Clements worked in book publishing before writing her first novel, ‘Meet Me Under the Mistletoe’. She lives with her boyfriend in North London and ‘Vivien’s Heavenly Ice Cream Shop’ is her second novel.
- To the readers of the blog, that may not be familiar with you or your writing, can tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing?
Hi. Thanks for inviting me to contribute to the Handwritten Girl blog, I’m really excited to be here.
I’ve written since I was little, and used to get up at five or six in the morning to work on my stories. My first project was a (largely copied) project on hedgehogs which I wrote in our garden shed. The second was a detective story, starring a mouse, which I wrote in our cellar. So hopefully the women’s fiction I write now is bit of a step on from there – and thankfully I have a proper desk now.
After studying English at uni I worked editorial assistant at a publishing house. It was a dream job, with lots of reading – both manuscripts that had already been commissioned, and ones that had been sent in by aspiring authors. Through my twenties I continued to work in publishing, editing fiction and commissioning new titles and reading on a daily/weekly basis taught me so much about writing and storytelling.
At thirty, I realised that I wanted to have a go at writing myself. The first novel I wrote for NaNoWrimo, the November novel writing project, and it was a brilliant kickstart for me. After that I went on to write ‘Meet Me Under the Mistletoe’ (Quercus), a life-swap story based on two school friends who’ve grown apart – and whose lives are thrown upside-down when a family crisis brings them back together. Since then I’ve written two more novels for Quercus, the second of which – ‘Vivien’s Heavenly Ice Cream Shop’ – is out this May.
- How do you feel about the current state of the publishing industry? Do you feel like it is an exciting time for authors?
In so many ways, yes – more people are writing and engaging with their creativity, and through self-publishing are able to take their careers in their own hands and find readers for their work. That’s a great thing.
At the same time, I think there are real potential downsides to the changes we’re seeing now. One is cheap eBook pricing and heavy discounting on books – this could potentially cause readers to see books as of less value and make them reluctant to buy a book if it costs more than 20p/£1. Long-term I can see this creating an issue for authors who are unwilling (because they wouldn’t be able to make a living) or unable to lower prices that far. It concerns me that this may lead to lower-quality books selling more that books writers have worked for years on.
- Who is your favourite literary hero, that you wished could whisk you off your feet?
Nice question! On the page, I’m a sucker for dark, brooding, dysfunctional men – so it would have to be Heathcliff in ‘Wuthering Heights’.
- What part of the writing process, do you least enjoy?
I love it when an idea is brand new, and I get to sit down and start writing. The bit I find hardest is when I first receive feedback from an editor. This is such an important part of the process and in the end always moves the book I’ve written on enormously. But there’s always a moment when I read through the notes, suggestions of how to reorder events, speed certain things up or change a character’s motivation, for example, where I freeze and think. Oh God, I agree, but I really don’t know how to do it!
What I’ve learned is that rather than staring at a screen, what I need to do is go out shopping, meet a friend, clean the bath – anything but think about the book. By the next day, the solutions have formed like magic. So the one thing I’ve learned is to take a break and not give up.
- Was there ever a book that you read, that didn’t live up to the hype that surrounded it and left you disappointed?
I loved the first half of ‘Gone Girl’ – so much so that I abandoned my weekend plans to hole up at home and read it! But there was something about the end that disappointed me (I won’t leave any spoilers here), and so that was a let-down. If there hadn’t been such rave reviews for it I probably would have been less aware of the slight flaws in what is a really good book, so it’s a little unfair on the author, really.
- If you weren’t an author, what do you imagine yourself doing?
I’m a bit obsessed with dogs, so I’d love to be one of those New York-style dog walkers who take a whole troop of cute pooches walking around Central Park!
- What authors do you admire?
So many… but in terms of commercial women’s fiction, Marian Keyes is tough to match. I love discovering authors who I haven’t read before, though, and recently really enjoyed ‘The Antenatal Group’ by Amy Bratley. She weaves together the stories of different women beautifully, never shying away from serious issues, and by the end you feel like you have a new group of friends. I love that!
- What’s your favourite book of all time?
‘Room with a View’ by E.M. Forster – it made me fall completely in love with Italy before I’d even gone. It’s deliciously romantic and beautifully written.
- If you were stranded on a desert island, which three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
I spend so much time reading and writing, hidden away in dark rooms these days, I like to think that if I was stranded on a desert island I’d sunbathe, swim and learn to hunt instead!
- What area do you suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
The first thing I’d say is make sure you are spending plenty of time writing. Only when that book idea is down on paper can it start to get any better.
Secondly (although I’d suggest this comes before, after and during!) is reading plenty in the area you’re interested in. If you want to write historical fiction, for example, immerse yourself in that world, read the latest novels and decide for yourself what works and doesn’t work. Some writers worry that reading will negatively affect/influence their work too much – it won’t. And if you don’t read in your area you may find it hard to get the quality of your writing and ability to connect with an audience past a certain point.
One last thing – don’t worry about procrastinating every so often. Everyone does it, and while you do need to put words on the page, you also need time for those ideas to percolate. So rather than feeling bad about putting the laundry on/going for a jog/chatting on Twitter in the time you’d allotted to write in, try and accept that as part of the creative process too.
- When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
It’s not so much beside me as on my computer – an app called Freedom that shuts off the internet. This ties in with the note about procrastination, above! There are limits to time-wasting and this app really helps me to avoid reaching them.
- And finally Abby, do you have any projects or releases on the horizon which you would like to share with the readers of the website?
Yes, and I’m really excited about this one! It’s a sunshiney, feel-good novel called ‘Vivien’s Heavenly Ice Cream Shop’ that will be published by Quercus in June of this year. It’s the story of two sisters, Anna and Imogen, who inherit their beloved grandmother Vivien’s shop when she dies. It falls to them to make it a commercial success – and soon realise it’s a far big challenge than they expected! It’s set in Brighton, but the girls travel to Italy and Thailand, so while the drizzle falls in the UK there is plenty of fun (and quite a lot of romance) over there.