Course alumnus Amy Lavelle’s second novel comes out this month. Heartwarming, uplifting and hilarious, Home Sweet Home is a novel about sisters, misunderstandings and growing up. Here she talks about how the Creative Writing Programme set her on course to be a published author.
When do you first remember wanting to be a writer? I think it’s always been there. But I do remember writing a story at school when I was about 11 and thinking well, this is it: I’ll write books and be a journalist to financially sustain myself between novels.
Before your debut novel Definitely Fine, did you ever have anything published?: I worked as a freelance journalist for years, but in terms of fiction, I think my greatest accomplishments stretched to the school newspapers.
Why did you decide to join the Creative Writing Programme? My husband found the course and paid for me to attend as my 30th birthday present. He will now be duly thanked in everything I ever publish! I started the course in October 2018.
What was the most impactful element of the course for you? Generally speaking, it was just the realisation that I could write a novel. I had an idea in my head that turned into Definitely Fine while I was there. I would never have got there without the course. Of course things like lessons on structure and plot were essential. But more specifically, I used to absolutely hate writing dialogue. I couldn’t do it. I’d make the entire book a soliloquy if I could. Then we had a lesson on dialogue and it completely opened my mind up to it. Now, it’s one of my favourite things to write. I also really valued the workshops and feedback (a great motivation to get work done to have eyes on it) and was lucky to be working as a freelance writer at the time, so in theory, had more flexibility and freedom to write than I would have had had I been in a staff job at the time.
Did you start writing your first novel on the course? I managed to finish a first draft while I was there. As I already had the idea for my book and part of the plot, I was really able to work on it from early on on the course.
What happened after the course finished? I took my manuscript off to agents and started determinedly emailing every agent that had ever mentioned an interest in women’s fiction. A few (many) months and 40-odd rejections later, I found my amazing agents, Hannah Schofield and Amanda Preston at LBA, and it went on from there. I polished the manuscript with them, then they took over and sent it to publishers. I signed with Orion in 2020.
Tell us about your debut novel? And your second one. My debut novel, Definitely Fine, is a—hopefully funny—novel about grief and what happens when you lose the person that makes everything make sense for you. Cosmopolitan picked it as one of their top summer reads of 2021. Home Sweet Home is about four sisters who suddenly inherit their family home and have to come together to make a decision about what to do with it, while their lives are all pulling them in separate directions.
What’s next for you? I had a baby a few months ago, so I’m on maternity leave at the moment, but I’m currently working on something new.
What are your top tips for someone starting out in their writing career? The best advice I have had for writing in general: you can’t edit a blank page. And arse on chair, you need to put the time in or it won’t get written. (Credit to my CWP tutor Beth Miller for both of these.) Also, don’t get it right, get it writ. (Another Beth Millerism.) Otherwise, be prepared for the rejections that will come and try not to focus on other people’s success because it will drive you mad and make you doubt yourself. I do think a bit of bloody-mindedness is necessary.
It’s a real privilege to be able to write and get published and I’m well aware there are so many talented people out there who aren’t given the chance to do so. I’m so grateful to everyone who reads my work or buys a book; I really don’t take that lightly. And libraries are wonderful.