Author Interviews

* you can find the original interviews and much more on my 'everything writing' blog (, including author spotlights, guest posts, book reviews, flash fiction or poetry - new items posted 6am UK time Monday to Saturday and writing exercises at 6pm very weekday.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Author interview no.127: Harriet Hopkinson (revisited)

Back in September 2011, I interviewed author Harriet Hopkinson for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...

Welcome to the one hundred and twenty-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today's is with novelist and online writing tutor Harriet Hopkinson. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello Harriet. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Harriet: It sounds a cliché but I have always wanted to write. I was so desperate to write and become a novelist that I cut my studies short, dropped out of university and went to live in a cottage in Scotland on a loch side before moving into a double decker bus!
Morgen: Wow! There's a story there. :)
Harriet: Although the decision to leave university was a little rash, I was true to my word and wrote every morning from 9-12pm. Two years later I signed a two-book deal with Penguin.
Morgen: Fantastic. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Harriet: My most recent novel, Next To Me is literary fiction. My first two novels (both published by Penguin) were about alternative youth culture in the mid-1990s and were written in a more gritty, urban style to reflect the subject matter.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date?
Harriet: Wasted (1997) is about two young men, both heavily embroiled in the drugs scene, trying to ‘go straight’ after a friend of theirs overdoses on methadone. Dirt, Dogs and Diesel (1999) examined life on a New Age Traveller site.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Harriet: This is something I have started to do more of recently, having just launched Creative Writing Online, an online creative writing course. I was very naïve when my first two novels were published and didn’t think of the publishing industry as a business. I think it is important to publicise yourself as much as you can but at the same time there are plenty of examples of successful reclusive authors.
Morgen: There are, those who just want to get on and write, although I think we all do but then these days with the internet maybe we can have both. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Harriet: Winning the Man Booker Prize would certainly help book sales but I haven’t won it yet!
Morgen: It hasn’t done Howard Jacobson any harm and he struggled (or at least semi-struggled) for years. Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Harriet: I wrote my first two novels under the pseudonym, Krissy Kays. I was aware that I wanted to be able to develop my style and did not want to become typecast as a writer who only wrote about alternative/ underground culture. I believed that writing under a pseudonym would enable me to shed this identity as my writing changed. I think this was the right decision. The style of my new novel, Next To Me is considerably more mature and reflective than that of my previous novels and reflects a shift towards literary fiction. Using a different name (my real one - Harriet Hopkinson) for publication will help to indicate that my writing has moved in a new direction.
Morgen: Absolutely, Ruth Rendell writes a different genre as Barbara Vine, and Joanna Trollope as Caroline Harvey. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Harriet: I’m sure there are examples of successful writers who do not have an agent but my view is that having an agent is crucial. They have the contacts, industry insight and business nous to secure a writer the best deal for a book.
Morgen: At probably much more than their commission would have been. :) What are you working on at the moment / next?
Harriet: I have just finished my new novel, Next To Me. The novel explores the psychological impact of violent crime on an ordinary family: when Michael Reynolds is murdered, his wife, Elizabeth and two teenage children, Alison (19) and Joe (16) struggle to cope. Next to Me follows the family as they battle to keep going and piece their lives back together. The story is based on personal experience: when I was nineteen, my boyfriend’s father was murdered.
Morgen: My goodness. What an experience to write about. I bet it’ll be very moving. You mentioned your determination earlier, do you still manage to write every day?
Harriet: Generally, yes. I think having a rhythm and keeping up momentum is really important. Writing is also something that is very important to me personally. I find it very satisfying and miss the process when I’m not writing.
Morgen: Me too, and I think we’re not alone. :) What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Harriet: Relax. Don’t worry about what people think. Having my son cured me of writer’s block. Writing suddenly didn’t seem so important any more. All that mattered was that my children were safe and well.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Harriet: A bit of both. I think it’s important to have structure and plan. I like to start writing with a first sentence in mind and with an end point in mind so that I know where I’m heading. At the same time, it’s important to be open to ideas as you write. I often find myself writing things that surprise me – it’s a wonderful feeling.
Morgen: Sentence starts are one of the exercises I set in my Monday night workshops and one of my favourites but oddly one of my fellow writers says they’re her favourite. It's funny how different things work for different people. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Harriet: I have lots of different methods for creating and developing characters. I write notes and draw diagrams. I cut out pictures from magazines. I think about people I know. I think about myself. I do research on the internet. For example, as part of research for Next To Me, I read internet forums about bereavement. Likewise, I read books about mourning. I talk to people I know. For example, I asked my husband to share some of his experiences of being a teenage boy! I cut out articles from newspapers. I listen to radio programmes and watch TV. I eavesdrop on other people’s conversations on the train, at the beach, in the pub. I watch how people behave and observe how they interact. All the time, at the back of my mind I have my novel and its main characters in mind.
Morgen: :) Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Harriet: My husband. Always loyal. Always supportive. Always honest.
Morgen: A great combination… and presumably always inexpensive. :) Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Harriet: A lot of editing, although some parts are never changed.
Morgen: Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Harriet: On a computer so that I can edit easily. But I write lots of notes in my journals too.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Harriet: My new novel, Next To Me is a mixture of second person and third person. The second person sections are written as if the wife of the murdered man were talking to him, reflecting on her experience of life without him and telling him all that he is missing out on. I think this works well in this scenario as it fits the experience of bereavement and reflects how much she misses him.
Morgen: Oh wow, most authors say they’ve not tried second person or they have and don’t like it. ‘Next to me’ sounds a really interesting format too, but then I love second person so I’m biased. :) What do you like to read?
Harriet: Anne Tyler, Jonathan Franzen, George Eliot…
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? :)
Harriet: Looking after a two year old and a three year old. Does that count as a party trick!
Morgen: I don’t have children (just a dog who thinks he is) but two those ages, I’d say so yes. :) Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Harriet: I have just launched Creative Writing Online, an innovative approach to learning creative writing. Creative Writing Online is unique: the course is entirely flexible. You can work when and where you want. There are no deadlines: you can work through the course materials at your own pace, contributing to forums and tutorials as and when you wish. You can dip in and out of the course to suit you and your lifestyle. For more details, please see my website.
Morgen: Noted and details sent off to my writing group, thank you. I then invited Harriet to include an extract of her writing:
When I woke up this morning, I reached out to find you. Still half asleep, my eyes closed, I patted the sheet next to me, so that we could cuddle up together, just like we always do. My friends always wonder how we’re so romantic after all these years. But what better way to start the day than feeling your warm body next to mine, lying facing you holding your hand or snuggling my bum into your belly? It’s that quiet moment together before the rush of the day begins – before the children and the housework and the shopping intrude. It’s our little moment to connect with each other.
You know what I sometimes think when I’m lying there next to you? You’ll laugh at me - that’s why I’ve never told you. Sometimes I think we’re the same person – no, not that… but that somehow, at the start of time, we were made from the same thing, as if a sculptor made two statues from the same piece of stone. Two halves of a whole. That’s why we fit together so perfectly. What a pathetic, romantic old fool I am!
So this morning I reached out and patted the sheet, but I couldn’t find you. You must have rolled over in the night, I thought. You’re right over on the far side of the bed, so I moved closer to you.
‘Michael, come here, my love. Give me a cuddle.’
There was silence.
Morgen: Ah… my beloved second person. :) Thank you Harriet.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the questions. You complete them, I tweak them where appropriate (if necessary to reflect the blog ‘clean and light’ rating) and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
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