Offering insight into various creative processes and advice towards aspiring and emerging writers, here’s a quick-fire interview with the author of debut novel and true crime commentary Death of a Bookseller.
Alice Slater is a writer, editor and ex-bookseller from London. She co-hosts the literary podcast What Page Are You On?, and edited Outsiders: A Short Story Anthology (3 of Cups Press). Her fiction has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and appeared in Dear Damsels, Cunning Folk, and On Anxiety (3 of Cups Press).
Sinéad: At what age did you start writing?
Alice: Very small! I’ve always loved to write. I spent my childhood typing weird little ghost stories on the family computer, and as a teenager I wrote an entire novel which is now – thankfully? – lost to the great floppy disc drive in the sky.
Sinéad: I understand you studied creative writing at UEA. How did you find this helped your writing and the early stages of your literary career? Would you recommend taking a course in creative writing?
Alice: I did! I have an MA from UEA, and I also have a BA from MMU, both in creative writing. It’s an incredible privilege to spend so much time focusing on reading and writing (and, of course, the extra-curricular concerns of students). I learned a lot, made lifelong friends and the workshopping process was invaluable. Writing isn’t gatekept by qualifications, but I strongly encourage anyone with the chance to study the craft to grab it with both hands – whether that’s a degree, a short course or a local group.
Sinéad: What brought you to find your voice and genre? What other works by writers helped inform this voice?
Alice: I’ve always been drawn to darker, character-driven narratives, both as a reader and a writer. I love novels like We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh and The Collector by John Fowles. I read Boy Parts by Eliza Clark while I was working on Death of a Bookseller and it made me feel a little more confident about sending a character like Roach out into the world.
Sinéád: Can you talk us through your writing process?
Alice: I’d love to be one of those serene writers who’s like ‘Well, after my wild swim, I write my morning pages in the sunroom with a cup of earl grey and a yoghurt’ but unfortunately I work full time as a copywriter, live a goblin lifestyle and really hate yoghurt. On my days off, I generally just stare into the void until the spirit moves me to turn on my laptop. The rest of the time, I write in the notes app during my commute into the office, I email myself scraps to flesh out later, and I often work late into the night to meet deadlines. I then bash the absolute shit out of it all until the story makes sense and I like the way it reads.
Sinéad: Did you submit to or feel supported by literary journals before publishing your debut Death of a Bookseller? Do you ever still look to literary journals for support?
Alice: Yes – I cut my teeth writing short stories, and I’m so grateful to the lit mags that took a chance on a rat like me. I’ve had two pieces published by Dear Damsels, a story in issue three of Extra Teeth and a story in Cunning Folk. The cycle of submission-rejection-submission-rejection can feel tough, but you’ll be thankful for the callouses later down the line. By publishing short stories, my work caught the eye of a couple of editors, which eventually led to me reaching out to agents before the first draft of my novel was complete – usually a big no-no, but it all worked out in the end. Lit journals are an essential string to the creative writing bow and we should all continue to buy, read and support them to keep them afloat, so they can continue to support talented early career writers.
Sinéad: Do you ever experience writer’s block, and how do you overcome it?
Writer’s block usually means I either don’t like what I’m doing, or I don’t know what I’m doing. I reread what I’ve got so far, and if that doesn’t kickstart my feeble creative brain then I turn to my most battered and beloved paperbacks for inspiration. Then I just dissociate, make a strong cocktail, become briefly unbearable and then it usually all works itself out.
Sinéad: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers or writers at an early stage in their career?
Alice: I have two pieces of advice. My practical tip is to learn as much as you can about the industry. It helps to take a peep behind the curtain and have a rough idea of how things work. Follow industry professionals online, make friends with fellow writers at different stages of their careers, read articles about publishing, be nosy and ask questions. My creative tip is a tough pill to swallow: you must finish what you start.
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