Our guest is Faye L. Booth, a Preston based novelist whose first novel, Cover The Mirrors was published with Macmillan New Writing. Described by InStyle Magazine as 'precociously talented', Faye's novel is a 'dark and zesty historical novel of distorted truths and suppressed Victorian desires' and despite a preference for going it alone, blogs collectively with her stable-mates at the Macmillian New Writing imprint here.
Faye has taken time out from working on her second novel and other, top secret projects to talk to us about Dickens, influences too many to count, and her path to publication.
PWN: Lets start by talking a little bit about your background. Can you tell us a about yourself and what brought you to writing?
FLB: I was born in Lancashire in 1980, and have lived in the county all my life. As for what brought me to writing, I'm afraid I'm going to have to give the clichéd author answer and say that it was just a natural progression arising from my long-term love of stories. I always loved to be read to when I was a very small kid, and I learned to read pretty early and have been entertaining myself with fiction ever since. Writing my own stories is just another expression of all that, really - I love writing stories just as I love reading them.
PWN: Can you sum up your work in a couple of sentences?
FLB: I write historical fiction (mainly Victorian set, with occasional forays into the Edwardian era), usually with a dark and/or dysfunctional twist to it. I like flawed characters, and those who go against the grain in some way. Readers who enjoy those things might want to check my stuff out!
PWN: What are your influences?
FLB: ...there are far too many for me to list. I think that any art you enjoy - even if it's a different medium to the one you work in - influences you, and I read a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction, so I'm sure they've played their part. Then there's all the music, drama and visual art I appreciate - like I say, it would be a terrifyingly huge list if I were to try and name my influences!
PWN: How important is Preston as a place to your work?
FLB: It's the setting for the majority of my stories, so it's very important. I can certainly enjoy historical novels that are set in London (and there are a lot of them!), but I also think it's a bit of a pity that the rest of the country is frequently under-represented in fiction, because one of the great things about Britain is that it's so varied. Of course, everyone is human and some things are universal (losing a loved one, for example, is tragic no matter where you come from), but a story's setting brings a little of its own personality into the mix as well.
I went to college in Preston, and I've spent quite a bit of time there, so it came naturally to me to bring it into my writing. Plus, there are a lot of beautiful Victorian buildings there!
PWN: And as a writer, how important was the Preston writing and arts community for you?
FLB: I had no doubt that there would be some artistic community activities going on in the city (I still want to call it a town, largely because I spend a lot of my time with my head in the past, when it definitely was still a town!), but I'm a very reserved person, so to tell the truth, my instinct is not to seek out communities. I think it's great that they exist, but I'm not an expert on them! I love the idea of a PWN blog, though - have added it to my reading list.
PWN: Do you think Preston has an identity as a writing city?
FLB: I think it's sadly neglected as a setting in the world of published fiction: compared with many places in Britain, there aren't many published novels set in or inspired by Preston, and unfortunately the author of the most famous one (Dickens - Hard Times) thought Preston was a horrible place! One wonders how much his opinion has influenced public perception of Preston ever since...
PWN: What was your path to publication?
FLB: Once Cover the Mirrors was complete (and had been read and commented on by a few test-readers) I went through all the usual rigmarole of going through the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook and putting together submission packages to send to agents. I spent a considerable amount on postage and was rejected more than a handful of times (I can never remember how many exactly). Then I spotted a mention of Macmillan's New Writing imprint in Writers' News - it was just a little snippet in the sidebar, but it said that MNW accept email submissions from unpublished authors; no agent necessary. I sent them the MS of Mirrors, and it all went from there. I posted about this in more detail in my blog, if anyone would like to check it out.
PWN: Any advice for a Preston writer who wants to get published?
FLB: Well of course, there's all the advice that applies to everyone pursuing publication: trying to find the best people and places to submit your work to, developing a stubborn streak to cope with the inevitable rejections and so on. When I was about to start sending Mirrors out, a (published) friend told me that if an agent or publisher said no, I just picked the wrong one to send my work to, and it's an attitude that really helps, because you need to be determined in order to keep pushing ahead, past all the obstacles that stand between you and the people who will say yes.
As for advice that's specific to Prestonian authors, all I can think to say is - be true to who and what you are. If your roots are a part of your writing, don't play it down - yes, there are stories of authors who were told that, for example, "No one wants to read about working class Northerners" (!), but a) that isn't true, and b) why would you want to pander to people like that even if it were? There is a place in publishing for Northern fiction, and all you have to do is find the people who realise that.
PWN: What's next for you? What are you working on now?
FLB: Well, the Romanian translation rights for Mirrors have been sold to Leda, so it should be coming out over there in the near future. My second novel, Trades of the Flesh (another historical story set in Victorian Preston) will be published by Macmillan in September this year (I'll be posting the cover artwork on my blog as soon as I'm allowed to), and I recently began working with a literary agent, so hopefully he'll be able to strike a deal for the other novel I have completed (time will tell!). I have a number of ideas for future projects, including one I'm really excited about, but I'm a bit superstitious about discussing works in progress (despite not being a superstitious person, as a rule), so I'll have to remain enigmatic on that subject for now. Hopefully my excitement will be justified in time!
Faye's book is available on Amazon, and you can read her blog here. Especially recommended is her 'guide to writing a novel' post - well worth a look.
If anyone has questions for Faye - post them below. She'll be popping back to answer them shortly.
Her portrait picture was taken by Emma Cartmel.