15 April 2019

Tracy Chevalier: ‘Consistency is key’

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by Curtis Brown 120 Author Interviews, Curtis Brown 120

Welcome to the next in our series of Curtis Brown 120 blog posts, these blogs include exclusive interviews with authors, agents and publishers; writing tips; industry insights – and much more besides.

This week we are rather excited to be talking to Tracy Chevalier. Tracy is, of course, the bestselling author of the likes of Girl with a Pearl EarringThe Last Runaways and A Single Thread. But we’re hugely privileged to have Tracy as the chair of the judging panel for the Curtis Brown First Novel Prize announced last week (and now open for entries!). Here Tracy talks about some of her favourite novels, and the importance of writing every day…

Tell us about finding Jonny Geller as your agent and the road to publication for your debut novel, The Virgin Blue.
I did the MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia in the early 1990s. A couple years later Jonny managed to get a good deal on a novel by one of my fellow students that he’d fished out of the Curtis Brown slush pile. I wrote to Jonny – who because of that deal was made an agent – and said, “Could you do that for me too, please?” And he did! We’ve been together ever since; you could say we grew up in the business together.

What’s your favourite debut novel?
It’s so hard to pin down just one! Perhaps Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. More recently, The Outcast by Sadie Jones.

If you could tell your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
A lot of your life will happen by accident, but a couple of important things – like becoming a writer – won’t be accidental. Focus on those, and relax about the accidents.

What tips would you give to aspiring writers?
Consistency is key. You have to write every day, or every week, or whatever, but once you start something you really have to keep writing it until you finish. If you leave it aside for months or years, it will feel like that. Think of it like running or playing the piano – you have to train/practice all the time to keep it up.

Which book do you always recommend to others?
Lately it has been Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor – and its follow-up written for radio, The Reservoir Tapes. It’s a novel about a teenage girl who goes missing on the moors while on holiday with her family, and the effect it has on the village she’d been staying at. It is written in such a different way, like a pointillist painting, full of tiny dots of details of many different villagers’ lives, which together makes up a whole. It’s beautiful and haunting, and such a different way of telling a story.

How do you relax when you are not writing?
Reading, of course. Quilting (which I learned from writing The Last Runaway). Walking. Guerrilla gardening in the council plots outside my house. But I don’t really distinguish between work and play, writing and not writing. My life is one big soup, and I can never really tell whether I’m working or not.

Who is your favourite fictional hero/heroine?
Heroine: Laura in the ‘Little House’ books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She is wonderfully curious and naughty and bad-tempered. Not at all perfect. Hero: this is a recent one, as I just read it – Pierre Bezukhov in War and Peace. Pierre is searching for meaning in life, and in many ways the book is about him finding it. He is so all over the place, and I can relate to that.

Do you have any writing rituals– and can you tell us what they are?
I write longhand, with a blue V-Pen disposable fountain pen if I have one to hand (otherwise anything will do). I prefer writing by hand as it’s slower and more organic, and I take more time over the words I choose. When I have a writing day I try to write 1000 words – 3-4 pages. It just feels right. If I hit 1000 words I feel good; more than that, virtuous; less than that, guilty.

What’s your guilty reading pleasure?
I read a lot of challenging stuff – the more literary end of the spectrum, you might say. Every now and then I break it up with a thriller (this is a recent habit; I didn’t use to like them), and marvel at how fast the pages turn and how easy it is to read! But I forget them afterwards. The stuff I read more slowly I retain more of, and think about for longer afterwards.

Find out more about the Curtis Brown First Novel Prize and how to enter. Applications close August 1 2019.

Tracy Chevalier’s next novel, A Single Thread, will be published in September.

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