A Q&A with author Dorothy Koomson on her new book, My Best Friend's Girl
You are having tea or coffee with one of your favorite authors. Who is it, and what would you ask that author if you only got to ask him/her one question?
I’d love to say I was sipping champagne and my favourite author and I were sitting in a beach restaurant that has been hired out exclusively for us, but as is most likely, we’d be in a small, greasy-spoon café and I’d order a cup of peppermint tea (I don’t drink tea or coffee) and then not drink it because that’s a bad habit of mine. I would be with J G Ballard (Empire of the Sun, Crash) and I’d ask him how it feels to have been so prolific that he has been published in five different decades.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve discovered about having a book published?
That you don’t become a millionaire and you still have to have a day job! Oh, and that you can touch so many people and inspire them with the words you’ve put together.
What’s your typical writing day like? And what environment is most conducive to your process?
My writing day varies so much because I’ve had two jobs—journalist and novelist—for so long I’ve usually had to fit writing books around the one that pays the bills. That has also meant I can write pretty much anywhere because I write long-hand in notebooks first then type it all up. I used to write on the train to work, or during my lunch breaks. I think it’s a little self-indulgent to need lots of space and time to ‘create’. I find that if a story wants to be told, it will find ways of coming out. Also, if you passionately want to be a writer, you’ll find the time to write. (Please remind me of this when I say I can’t write another book until I’ve moved home so I can have an office.)
Can you name the first book you read that inspired you in some special way? Why?
My mum taught me to read and write before I started school so I’ve always been someone who reads a lot, meaning I can’t think of the first book that inspired me. I can remember books that meant a lot when I was younger, though. I remember being blown away by Jackie Collins’s Hollywood Wives — it was access to a life I would never have known about (although I was far too young to have read it!). It inspired me to want to tell stories. I loved Judy Blume’s Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, because it was a tale about being a teenager, which told me that teenagers like myself had stories to tell. And I remember reading a set of books about some talking vegetables called the Garden Patch or something. The books were written by a girl who was about ten years old and that made me believe that if she could be a writer so young then maybe I could, too.
Many writing experts advise “write about what you know.” Do you agree with this? And what practical advice would you give an aspiring author?
I have lots of writing tips on my website (www.dorothykoomson.co.uk) but I would suggest that aspiring authors “write what you love” rather than write what you know. That means writing a story because you believe in it and that you want to tell. I think many, many people make the mistake of trying to write for money or because they think they can do better than another author, or because they think it’s the type of book that will sell. They’re all valid motives for putting pen to paper, and they do work for some people, however, I’ve found that none of them will comfort you when you start receiving rejection slips as much as knowing you’ve got a story you love. Also, the sense of satisfaction of seeing a story you’re truly passionate about on the shelves is second to none.
Which came first: the characters, or the storyline?
I don’t know, to be honest. The people and the story seem to appear in my mind. If you spot me staring off into space when I should be listening to someone or watching something, it’s generally because a scene has just played itself out in my head and I know a story is developing.
If we asked your best friend to describe you in 3 words what would they be? What if we asked you?
Best friend: Warm, determined, ever-so-slightly crazy.
Me: Stubborn, funny, ever-so-slightly crazy.
Is there something in your Bantam Discovery Novel that you are particularly proud, or happy, about?
The fact that I have had so many different people contact me and say the characters are like them, or they have lost loved-ones to cancer and the book has given them comfort, or that the book has made them cry.
Can you tell us about the book you are working on now?
I’m just finishing my fifth novel, Goodnight, Beautiful a tale about a woman who agrees to have a baby for her best friend and his wife, but finds herself in an impossible position when they decide they don’t want the baby any more.
When you finish writing your answers to this Q&A, what will you do next?
It’s 4am UK time, so I will be returning to writing Goodnight, Beautiful because as I say, I’m just finishing it so that means working sometimes through the night. Then I’ll be sleeping for an hundred years, give or take a few hours.