This week, I’m delighted to introduce one of my dear friends, Allie Rogers, whose first novel, Little Gold, has just been published. I am a huge fan of Allie’s writing, which is beautifully observed and thoughtful (as she is). I’ve seen her work so hard on this novel and it’s already received critical praise, so I hope it brings her all the success she deserves! She has a wonderfully pragmatic way of approaching creativity too which I think most of her fellow authors will find useful and inspiring. She’s also a native Brightonian and her work vividly captures one of the UK’s most vibrant and bohemian cities – a place I will always consider to be my home. Enjoy!
Welcome to the Book Diner! Can we take your order – coffee, tea or soda? Eggs sunny side up or over easy? Home fries, French toast or biscuit?
Coffee and plenty of it! Poached eggs, please. Nice bit of sourdough toast wouldn’t go amiss.
When did you realise you were a writer?
I’ve always loved the opportunity for escape that writing gives me. My school report from the age of eight says, ‘She writes interesting stories.’
Are there particular symptoms you think people should look out for if they suspect they may be coming down with Writer Syndrome and do you think there is any cure?
Missing your bus stop because you’ve got too involved in a story about a fellow passenger, that’s a surefire sign. Or walking the long way round because you have to know how footsteps sound under the railway bridge. Then there’s standing in the middle of the pavement watching the sky for too long. The only cure is to write.
Can you tell us about your latest project?
My novel, Little Gold, published by Legend Press, is set in my beloved home town of Brighton in the summer of 1982. Little Gold is a boyish girl on the brink of adolescence whose family is falling apart. She finds friendship with her elderly neighbour, Peggy Baxter. But sinister adults start to stalk Little Gold’s fragile family. In an era when so much is hard to speak aloud, can the two friends manage to share enough to avert disaster?
What inspired you to write it? Where do you generally draw your ideas from?
This first draft burst out of me over a few weeks. It was just a sketch of the novel as it is today, but it had the essential elements in place. I don’t think in terms of ideas coming to me really. I think characters come. If they bring a compelling enough stor,y then I’ll write it. The two central characters in Little Gold came to me in a short story in the previous year. Then I found they had much more to say.
Can you talk to us about one or two of the characters from your latest work? How do your characters emerge?
Little Gold is a boyish girl and she is very close to my heart. She loves being in the tree in her back garden. She’s a brave person, but she’s having to cope with more than a twelve year old should.
Peggy Baxter is a very private woman and she surprises herself by opening up to Little Gold as a friend. She’s a lifelong reader, a heavy smoker and a cat-lover. [Sounds like my type of gal!]
Characters come along like people opening doors and walking into my head. Of course, this is because all characters we write express some elements of ourselves, as well as drawing on people that we have met.
Is there a particular theme or message you’d like readers to take away from this book?
I don’t think it’s up to authors to really express an opinion on what readers should take from their book. That’s up to the readers. But the themes of the book are what it means to be family, how those outside the mainstream of society make meaningful connections and how we live on after loss. The book also addresses the hypocrisy of the era in which it is set and how young people at that time had to navigate perilous situations without the openness and honesty they needed to keep themselves safe.
What kind of writing process do you have? Are you very disciplined in terms of having a set work routine and doing a lot of planning, or are you more of a pantster? (You fly by the seat of them – Zinkologism.)
I don’t have a set routine, but I do schedule my writing time a few weeks ahead to make sure that I don’t lose it to the demands of other bits of my life. When it comes to planning the actual writing, that varies depending on the work.
Do you write longhand or on a computer or both? Do you believe that writing method makes a difference to style?
I will jot down observations and brainwaves by hand in a notebook. But most of the time I work on a computer. I struggle to write fast enough by hand to keep up with my brain.
How do you approach research?
There are so many wonderful online resources when it comes to research. I found that the BBC TV schedules for 1982 are all available so I could make sure Little Gold was sitting down to likely programmes. But sometimes the internet doesn’t have the answers. I used our local archive, The Keep, to find newsletters from a lesbian organisation of the 1960s. Fiction is fiction, but if you can get the details right then the world you are creating will be more robust.
How do you deal with autobiographical elements in your work? Do you worry about offending people or baring your soul too much?
Yes. I worry about both those things. But I think that if you don’t bring emotional honesty to the writing then it will show. That said, I write fiction. No one should assume that the things in my stories have happened to me or to anyone close to me.
What’s your editing process?
Once again, that depends on the work in question. But the one thing I’ve learned for certain is that nothing is finished at a first draft – not ever. [Absolutely – I often say that the editing and rewriting process takes as long, if not longer, than the first draft.] That’s not to say that a first draft can’t be good. But it could always be better. And sometimes it’s the eighth draft that’s the best.
That’s horribly difficult! [I know! I’m just mean!] I’m going to go with Ali Smith’s latest book – Autumn. It’s fabulous because it is like someone holding out a hand at this dark moment in human history. Like all Ali Smith’s work, it is deceptively simple in some ways – inviting you in with a conversational style. But underneath that there’s such artistry in the language and, as always, fascinating information about someone or something you don’t know about.
What advice would you offer to writers just starting out?
Write whatever you want to write. You don’t need anyone’s permission. Then learn to listen carefully to feedback and don’t be scared to make big changes. Nothing is lost or wasted. It’s all making you a better writer.
What would you say are the toughest things and the best things about being a writer?
It can be tough if you hit a moment when the whole thing feels painful and slow and you can’t remember why you started. That can feel like an ill-advised trip to the supermarket with a reluctant four year old. [Ha, ha!] But the best moments are when you’re flying in the writing –the words coming thick and fast and wrapping you up in the story.
How do you handle the rejections and bad reviews all writers experience?
I’m a pessimist by nature, which does help when it comes to rejections. Getting work accepted is a wonderful surprise! When it comes to bad reviews, I think you have to bear in mind that some people don’t like the work of [insert name of the author you most admire] so it’s inevitable that some people won’t like yours.