How did you become a writer?
I wrote compulsively from a very young age, but took a break from it when I was first working as a lawyer in London. The break lasted ten years, and came to an end when I suddenly decided that I needed to sit down then and there and write the novel that had been brewing for all that time. Unfortunately, this was right in the middle of a move from London to Somerset, and our eldest son was 18 months old at the time. I was therefore extremely unpopular with everyone involved in the moving process, and I’m probably very lucky that people were still speaking to me by the time the first draft was finished.
That novel got me an agent, and garnered some interest, but ultimately went unpublished. The second got as far as an acquisitions meeting. It was the third, written in the closing months of the Bath Spa Creative Writing MA, after a late change of project, that made it to the finishing post.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
I had a very inspirational English teacher when I was at secondary school. She always encouraged me in my writing, and also encouraged me to read widely. She did, however, once say to me that if I was serious about writing, I needed to spend less time reading science fiction and fantasy and more time on the classics. It was probably the one bit of her advice that I didn’t take, as shortly after that I discovered some of the incredible speculative fiction of writers such as Margaret Atwood and Doris Lessing, and, as a result, realised that ‘literary fiction’ and ‘speculative fiction’ were not mutually exclusive concepts!
While we’re talking about writing influences, I’d also like to give a nod to the wonderful How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. It might make you wince regularly as you recognise some of your own horrible habits, but it’s ultimately an incredibly insightful and accurate look at the worst mistakes that a writer can make, set out in a humourous, laughing-with-you-not-at-you way.
When and where do you write?
I’m a bit of a nomad when it comes to writing. If I try to spend the whole working day in the same place, I generally get bored and find my attention wandering. I therefore tend to move about over the course of the day. I might start in the local bookshop café, then head home to my desk, for a couple of hours, before moving downstairs to the kitchen table for a last burst. If the weather is good. For some reason, I also like being high up when I’m working, so I’ve been known to head up the garden to perch on the kids’ climbing frame with my laptop.
As to the ‘when’, the answer is any time I’m not being harassed by three small boys who expect me to act as cook, cleaner, chauffeur and referee, and be on call 24/7.
What are you working on now?
I’ve returned to the project I put on hold to write The Space Between the Stars. It’s set in an alternate version of London and based around the strange and compelling world of immersive theatre.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
I’ve never suffered from a complete block, but I do sometimes find things very slow going. Oddly, the times when I’m plodding along, thinking ‘Good grief, I’m even boring myself here’ quite often seem to be the times that produce my better work!
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
My MA tutor Maggie Gee put a huge amount of time and effort into getting me to realise that, when it comes to writing, less is almost always more. She once said that I had a habit of ruining a great sentence by going on just a beat too long. That advice often echoes in my mind when I feel myself getting carried away, and trying to remember the last time I hit the full-stop key.
What’s your advice to new writers?
I think that learning to write is a patchwork process. You can’t rely entirely on courses and classes – you have to spend time on your own, just getting the words down on the page and learning from your own mistakes. But equally, there probably aren’t that many writers who can reach publication standard entirely on their own natural ability, with no input from anyone else. It’s probably worth spending a bit of time figuring out what it is that you want to write, and getting a decent number of words down on the page, before starting to look around for ways to hone your skills. Have a look at some books on writing – like How Not to Write a Novel, mentioned above – or online courses. Once you’re feeling confident with the basics, you might want to consider joining a local writing group – feeding back on other people’s work is as valuable as receiving feedback on your own – or investing in a more intensive course or retreat.
Anne Corlett is originally from the north-east of England, but sort of slid down the map and now lives in the south-west with her partner and three young sons. She is a criminal lawyer by profession, but now writes full-time – or as full time as the aforementioned sons will allow. The Space Between the Stars is her first published novel, and was released in the UK on1 June by Pan Macmillan and in the US on 13 June by Berkley Publishing.