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Interview | Colette Snowden, author

Meet Colette Snowden in person at the 10×10 Tour event, Waterstones, Newcastle, 6.30 p.m. Wednesday 12 SEPT. Theme: The Northern Influence on Culture. With Kevin Duffy BLUEMOOSE BOOKS chair, authors Dan Micklethwaite (The Less than Perfect Legend of Donna Creosote) and Colette Snowden (The Secret to not Drowning). Book Tickets

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born and brought up in Manchester and found myself back here after university and working abroad. I live in a different area of the city from where I grew up but I have stayed here ever since.

What sorts of books were in your family home?
My dad always read thrillers and my mum was a big fan of historical fiction.

Who were early formative influences as a writer?
I wasn’t much of a reader as a kid, I preferred to write but I’d say Dr Seuss was hugely influential in teaching me how to love and manipulate words. My teacher told my Mum to discourage me from taking those books out of the library but I still think they are wonderful – full of the musicality and versatility of language.
As a teenager I started reading DH Lawrence and I can see a natural progression there because there is so much emphasis on the sound of words and repetition in his work, which is something I do consciously and subconsciously in my work.
Then I discovered William Golding who, for me, is the gold standard for subtlety when portraying human experience. He trusts the reader to read between the lines and peels back the layers as you continue to read.
Because I had a very traditional English education I came to the giants of 20th century American fiction much later but I have definitely been influenced by the economy of expression of writer’s like Hemingway – a well-placed full-stop is a powerful thing.

Do you write every day?
I do write every day because I work as a freelance copywriter. I don’t write fiction every day because there are not always enough hours in the day or enough headspace. I see all writing as a creative process and I overcome the challenge of the blank page every day, which I completely love and I believe is a massive advantage when I do sit down to write fiction.

Do you do many drafts?
I try to make editing a continuous process so that it’s less onerous at the end of the draft. That’s half discipline and half born out of necessity because I write very organically so I often need to rewind and seed something in to an earlier chapter to reference current plot development. With The Secret to Not Drowning there were two drafts (a first draft and an edited first draft really) so I’m hoping to manage the same with the project I’m working on now but I think it’s going to be a bit more complex this time . . . we’ll see!

As an author, what are you most proud (or embarrassed) of writing?
The Secret to Not Drowning was selected for a programme called “Brave New Reads” and as part of that I delivered a writing workshop with vulnerable women. One of them came up to me afterwards and told me that the book had made her think about her life and make some long overdue changes. The impact of my writing on that person has stayed with me and the idea that I have written a novel powerful enough to articulate something as intangible as coercive control makes me feel enormously proud.

Your views on success?
For me success is about having people read your words and find meaning and relevance in them. You have to accept that not everyone will. Success is a relative term; some days it can be measured in carving out time to write or writing words that make sense even to be, let alone something I would show to another human so it’s probably wise to look at success as the sum of many small wins.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on a second novel which is the story of a family and looks at blurred lines between religion and superstition in the context of the events that define a family’s shared history.

Your views on book publishing?
My own experience has been so positive and I feel really blessed to have been picked up by Bluemoose because their passion is finding great stories not calculating the commercial viability of a manuscript, the media equity of the author or the latest big trends in book reader tastes.
As a reader, as I don’t want to read different versions of the same thing but a commercial emphasis gives us that because mainstream publishing is risk averse and, like many businesses, works on an “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” philosophy. In a creative environment every element of the route from author’s head to reader’s hands has to be creative and it’s the indie publishers that are driving that philosophy.

What are your favorite literary journals?
Your views on how new technology has (or has not) changed your writing life? Your views on social media?
It’s definitely a source of procrastination but it’s also a great tool for sharing book reading recommendations , writing tips and events – the hard bit is using it to your advantage and not getting sucked in to a maze of clickbait.

Do you enjoy reading ebooks?
I was enthusiastic about having a kindle for about a week but an ebook doesn’t feel like a real book, or smell like one and you can’t share it by foisting it on your friends because you know they’ll love it in quite the same way. Real books track your personal history on the shelves of your home, they remind you of the time and place you were when you read them.  There is nothing so special as picking up a book you’ve forgotten you’d read and finding a postcard or a shopping list tucked in its pages, seeing where you’ve turned down the pages or made a ring on the cover with your cup of tea. And I love buying a second hand book with someone else’s handwritten note on the fly leaf or in the margins, that layers the story of the book as an object over the story in its pages, which is a really natural process intrinsic to physical books. So no, e-books are not for me, they are like decaffeinated coffee – OK as a last resort if you can’t get the real thing.

If you could go anywhere in time for one day, where would you go and why?
I’d go back to Shakespeare’s time and watch his work performed for the first time as he intended.

Who are the five people, living or dead, you’d invite to a party?
William Golding, Bjork, Emmeline Pankhurst, Van Gogh. My gran – she died when I was eleven and I’d love to spend time with her as an adult.

Your favourite prose authors?
William Golding (again), Benjamin Myers. I have just read a book by an Icelandic author called Sjon which I absolutely loved so I have ordered another of his books and can’t wait to read it.

Your chief characteristic?
Enthusiasm.

Your chief fault?
Procrastination.

Your bedside reading?
I’m not really one for reading in bed – either the book keeps me awake when I need to be sleeping or I fall asleep half way down the page and end up reading the same paragraph three times then losing the thread of the plot.

Your motto?
Live every day.

 

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Published by

georgia DC

Bilingual editor, rewriter, French-to-English translator. Has written for 3am magazine, words without borders, The Independent, The Lady, Banipal, Prospect Magazine, Times Literary Supplement. Currently writes for The BookBlast Diary. Founder (1997) of London-based writing agency BookBlast.

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