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Sophie Anderson took the Creative Writing Programme from 2016 to 2018. She has since had two novels – The Butterfly Garden and The Sapphire Cove – published and is currently out on submission with her third.

When do you first remember wanting to be a writer? I think I always wanted to be a writer and yet never dared to imagine I could actually call myself one! I read a lot as a child and studied English at University but got sucked into the world of TV in my twenties and it took me a long time to get out and follow my one true passion.

Why did you decide to join the Creative Writing Programme? After the birth of my fourth child I decided to take a break from work and finally scratch that writing itch that wouldn’t go away. I figured I would need the structure of a course to commit to writing and not get distracted by the other demanding elements of my life,  and I found the Creative Writing Programme on good old Google!

Who were your tutors? Susannah Waters and Beth Miller – both amazing and brilliantly different!

What was the most impactful element of the course for you? So many things! Just being asked to write and share my writing was hugely impactful for me, it gave me a structure and a justification to my writing and then ultimately the confidence to carry on and pursue it further. Also, the community of writers that evolved from the group, who I am till in touch with seven years later. And last but by no means least, the content of the course. The tutors equipped us with an invaluable toolkit of writing techniques – about plot, character, narrative voice, dialogue etc. through a mix of practical writing exercises and some more formal teaching. And the understanding of these crucial techniques vastly improved both my own writing and my appreciation of the writing of others.

Did you start writing your first novel – The Butterfly Garden –  on the course? Yes! In the second term of the course Susannah made it quite clear that if we wanted to get the most out of her teaching then we should be working on a piece of fiction. I panicked; I didn’t have that book that I always wanted to write stored up somewhere in my head, so I had to come up with an idea pretty quickly. Again, it was the pressure of a deadline that forced me into that, otherwise I would probably still be deliberating my debut book concept however many years on.

What happened after the course finished? I finished a first draft of my novel towards the end of the course. However, I knew it still needed a lot of work, so I signed up to the advanced course along with many of my cohort, to keep that writing community that I had come to rely on so utterly.

How did you finish The Butterfly Garden and get your publishing deal? It was another year after the advance course finished that I decided my book was finally ready for submission.  And then I was incredibly lucky! It was the week before lockdown and I emailed my tutor Beth and asked her if she thought it was a good or bad time to submit, given the bonkers state of the world. She and I came to the conclusion that there was no precedent for the extraordinary time we were living in and therefore to just go for it! So I submitted my book to the agent that I had decided was the best fit for me. And she came straight back to me and asked for the full manuscript. I couldn’t believe it! In retrospect I think I was extremely lucky with my timing, as she was not going into the office and therefore had time to read my submission. Three weeks later she offered me representation after reading my full manuscript. She submitted it to publishers a few months later after a few rounds of edits, and Bookouture offered me a two book deal. I have recently decided to take my writing in a new direction and find new representation, so I am in the midst of querying new agents and appreciating more and more how incredibly lucky I was that first time around. It is a gruelling process that requires huge amounts of grit and determination to put yourself out there and stay strong in the face of rejection!

Tell us about The Butterfly Garden and your second novel The Sapphire CoveThe Butterfly Garden is about Maggie, a reclusive novelist, who employs the help of younger Erin at her dilapidated house in Cornwall to help her write her last book before she dies. An unlikely friendship develops between them and Erin pledges to help Maggie find her long lost family before it is too late. This takes her to Costa Rica where she unravels the webs of deceit and the terrible tragedy that tore Maggie’s family apart.

The Sapphire Cove is the intertwined stories of three women. Romy, in the Philippines, who is diagnosed with a kidney disease and needs a transplant in order to survive.  Flora, in rural Dorset, who is looking after her sick mother when she discovers a photograph of a baby girl that she doesn’t recognise. And Lizzie, in Sussex, at just seventeen she is running from her past when she meets Edward and embarks on a friendship that will change the course of her life forever. The three women have no apparent connection to each other at the start of the story, but all is revealed half-way through!

You’ve just finished your third novel Time Enough which is currently out on submission. How was the writing process different from your first two books? My third novel Time Enough is different from the first two in that there is a historical element. Part of the novel is set in the Isle of Man at the women’s internment camp during the Second World War. Research therefore played a big part in the development of this book, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this process, but also how strangely gratifying it was to be able to hang my story on a specific time and place. It is also different in that I have a personal connection to this story that I didn’t have with my first two books. It is inspired by the letters of my grandmother, who grew up on the Isle of Man and worked at the internment camps. There has been much written about the men’s internment camps on the Isle of Man but nothing about the women’s, which was an extraordinary female community made of up German Jewish refugees, Nazi sympathisers and Manx island women all living together under the same roofs.

What are your top tips for someone starting out in their writing career?  I think you just have to write and commit to writing as much as you possibly can. Even if it is just writing from the heart, stream of consciousness style, it is all about building up the pages and then the confidence will follow. And I would strongly advocate joining a writing group or course. It gives you structure, deadlines and a community, along with invaluable feedback from tutors and/or peers which helps you to build the resilience necessary for putting yourself out there as a writer.

Anything else you want to say? I don’t think I could have got to where I am today without the Creative Writing Programme,  so I would like to say thank you.