I'm excited to open this brand new sparkly week of interviews chatting with a soon-to-be-published debut author whose book comes out on July 9th!
Check it out...
Charlotte Levin has been shortlisted for the Andrea Badenoch Award, part of the New Writers North Awards, and for the Mslexia Short Story Competition. Charlotte lives in Manchester and If I Can't Have You is her first novel.
Who are you and what do you write?
I'm Charlotte Levin and my debut novel If I Can't Have You is a story about loneliness, obsession and how far we go for the ones we love. Constance Little is a damaged young woman who can't let go of a relationship and so we follow her descent into an obsession that could almost happen to anyone.
It's not a standard thriller. In fact, I never thought that’s what I was writing. Though it does have thriller elements, it’s also very much a human condition piece about what circumstances could make someone act in this way. I wanted to tell a story that felt realistic and was more character driven than plot driven.
Where and when and how did the writing life begin for you?
I feel like I’m a bit different from most authors who knew from being young that they wanted to write. The only writing I did as a child was skits for my drama classes. But I used to think of it in terms of the parts I’d like to play rather than the writing itself as I was hell-bent on becoming an actress. Then, in my early twenties, I attended an acting course at the Royal Court Young People’s Theatre. I wrote the scene for my end of term performance, and the Artistic Director who was in the audience sent a message through to my tutor to tell me that I should keep up the writing. That did plant a seed but I didn’t write anything for years until I attempted a play, which when finished, I pulled from the typewriter (yes, I am that old) and posted it off to the National Theatre without any editing or even reading it back (as you do) and amazingly I not only got a response but it had been passed from the initial reader on to the director. The rejection letter said I could write, but it was ultimately a no. As it should have been! Later down the line I completed courses and was a member of a writing circle, but I never took it or myself seriously despite dabbling with the idea for my novel. Then, when my parents died within the same year in 2015 I both needed something to distract me from the grief and had a real sense of my life passing me by. I knew it was time to give writing a proper shot, and it was at that point I started the novel afresh and my attitude towards writing changed.
How has the journey to this point been? Can you give us a basic rundown?
It’s been a rollercoaster! There were indications that I was on to something with the premise early on - such as winning a couple of pitch comps and an editor whom I'd met at a festival being interested in reading (I’ve still not heard back from her by the way!), but when I started submitting, although I was getting quite a few full requests, they were all rejected. A common theme was that it didn't fit into a specific genre and therefore they couldn’t sell it. Or that it didn't have enough twists and turns for a psychological thriller - but in my mind, I wasn't writing a psychological thriller and I wanted to remain true to my vision. But I was also getting responses saying that although I had something, it was a total mess - and that I could do something about! So, I spent another six months working on it day and night. Once I knew it was much improved, I re-sent it to a couple of agents that had shown interest but said it needed work along with some others. This led to three more full requests within a few days. I posted about this on Twitter and my now lovely agent, Jo Williamson at Antony Harwood sent me a DM asking if she could read it. She liked it and we had a chat and instantly got on. She made an offer, so I followed my gut and accepted.
With regards to submitting to publishers - Wayne Brookes my wonderful publisher at Pan Macmillan got back with a positive response within a day and seemed to really get what I was trying to do with the novel. He eventually made a pre-emptive offer, and although it was still out with other publishers, I knew for certain I wanted to go with him. And I was so glad I did!
What's been the hardest part of your writing/publishing experience so far? And the most enjoyable?
I think it's the up and down element of it all. The constant uncertainty and gut-wrenching rejections but somehow having the will to carry on regardless.
Writing a book is so much harder than I'd ever thought. I often worked obsessively to the point of not looking after myself (I don't advocate this). Even once you get the agent and a deal, there are still umpteen more drafts. But with each one, you can see it getting better and better and that is the payoff.
The most enjoyable is also all of the above. It’s my choice of drug.
Would you go back and change anything?
I’d have more faith in myself. People told me I had talent but it’s hard to believe sometimes and I wish I’d applied myself and taken it more seriously years ago. For some reason, I was convinced that being an author wasn’t a possibility for the likes of me. Which I now realise is ridiculous.
Where would you like to be in 5 years time? And 10? Or, what are your plans for the future?
I want to be proud of my work and be lucky enough to continue to be published. Awards and accolades are the dreams of all writers but being in a position to write for a living is the ultimate gift. And of course, for people to want to continue reading your work. I'm sure I'll never stop learning about this craft and so I'm hoping that each offering will be better than the last.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to new writers just starting out?
I’d say discover what it is that you do well and do that. A lot of writers try to emulate authors they admire, but I think the key is authenticity and finding your voice.
And most importantly...
Ketchup or Mayo? Vegan Mayo
Night or Day? Day
Inside or Outside? Inside
Dogs or Cats? Cats (but I love dogs too)
Twitter or Facebook? Twitter by a mile!
Ebook or Paperback? Paperback
Sun or Rain? Sun
Keyboard or Pencil & Notebook? Keyboard
Comedy or Drama? Comedy
Chips or Chocolate? Chips (I don’t know whether you mean fries which are chips in the UK or crisps but it’s the same answer either way.)
Want to guest blog or be interviewed? Got a cover reveal or book coming out?
Get in touch today!