Faye Brann – local author’s tips for aspiring writers
Faye Brann – local author’s tips for aspiring writers
How to write a fantastic book, and get it published
South west London-based writer Faye Brann won the Comedy Women in Print Prize for her debut novel, Tinker, Tailor, Schoolmum, Spy, about a 46 year old mother of three, who is recalled to her former life as a spy to take down a parent at her daughter’s school suspected of illegal arms trading!
Faye shares her tips on how to write a fantastic novel, why she decided to set the book locally, and championing strong female characters in fiction…
Where did your inspiration come from for the book?
I’d just moved back from Dubai to London after nearly a decade and was navigating my way around the school gates all over again. I was quite lonely and it occurred to me that a lot of the time, you never really know the stories behind the smiles and the coffee mornings and so on. I was also trying to get my copyediting business off the ground – I wanted to have a career for myself as well as be a mum – and so there was lots of conflict, for me, about carving out time for myself as well as my family. The fun part of the equation was that I’d always sort of fancied myself as a spy. I sat in a coffee shop on my own one morning and two men were discussing a really important business deal. I could hear the whole thing – they would have been in huge trouble for talking about it so openly – but they were totally oblivious to me. I think invisibility is something women find happens quite a lot as they get older. I realised it might make them the perfect spy… and hey presto, my heroine, Vicky, was born!
How long did it take you to write?
It took me about six months to write and about two years to edit. The editing was a really long process – it’s when I really learned how to write.
How did you research the ’spy’ aspects?
Well it’s pretty difficult! Google ‘what do MI5 do?’ and funnily enough you don’t get many results! I read some kiss and tell spy books and roamed the internet searching stuff like ‘how to hack a phone’ and spy equipment that’s for sale. I looked up arms trades and shipping routes from the UK to the Middle East, that sort of thing… I’m pretty sure there’s a drone parked full time over my house as a result! But the rest I made up. It’s partly why I created the fictional department (and building) for Vicky to work in – I didn’t want to get myself tied in knots over things I couldn’t possibly find out.
What made you want to set it locally?
It just sort of happened that way. I’d recently moved to the area and it seemed to lend itself to the story. I needed the Kozlovsky family to live in a huge house, and I wanted the Turnbulls to be in a more modest home – one of many in a row of Victorian houses. They had to be near enough to be going to the same school, and it seemed plausible. I thought the proximity to Kings Road, Chelsea, etc. would have suited the Kozlovskys, too.
What kept you going?
I knew where and how I wanted the story to end. I’m not going to say much more but I knew exactly what I wanted to happen to my characters and spent most of the book working out how to get them there! What kept me going in terms of submitting it to agents and publishers? Sheer stubbornness. I knew I had a good story and could write well, but getting anyone to take on a ‘funny’ book is hard unless you’re already a famous comedian. I was very fortunate that the Comedy Women in Print Prize exists to recognise writers like me, and even more fortunate to win it.
Are you going to write more?
I’ve got two novels on the go at the moment – one in progress and the other parked as a side project that I play with when I need a distraction. I’ve got more ideas that are bubbling away as scribbles in notebooks. The bigger issue is having the time to write them!
What tips do you have for aspiring writers?
It’s going to sound hackneyed, but read lots of books. In your genre and outside of it. You learn to identify what good looks like from other people and then apply it to your own work. Give your work to people to read but make sure you give it to people who will actually give their honest opinion – and then listen to them! Your book will go through so many edits before it gets to print, and you have to be able to take feedback and act on it. And finally I would recommend going on a course, at the very least an editing course, but any creative writing course is better than none. You not only learn about crafting and shaping a book that’s worthy of publication, but you meet other writers too. I don’t know what I would have done without my writer friends through this whole process.
What common mistakes do you think new writers make and how do you avoid them?
I would say there’s a few classic mistakes that new writers make which can be avoided. One that I made and that I’ve seen a lot is shifting point of view to too many characters. When you’re reading a book it’s really disruptive to suddenly see the story from someone else’s point of view, in the middle of a conversation, for example. The other common mistake is repetition of words, phrases or ideas. I was guilty of this too. I’d say something on one page and then say it again in a slightly different way a few pages later. You can fix this to a large extent by reading your manuscript out loud. You sound a bit crazy doing it but it helps to see where the repetition is.
How did you go about getting your book published?
I didn’t take a particularly traditional route. I signed with an agent in 2019 and we went out on submission to publishers that autumn. I had a few positive rejections but no one that wanted to take the book on. Comedy is a hard sell and there was hesitancy over the whole spy/women’s commercial fiction genre mash up. I entered the Comedy Women in Print Prize at the end of the year, not really expecting much to come of it. However, just after we went into the first lockdown in 2020 I had the news I’d been long listed. It changed everything, because even if I didn’t win, I felt I had a bit of traction. But as it happens I didn’t need it because I won! My prize was a book deal with Harper Collins. I have so much gratitude for Helen Lederer, who set up the prize, and for the judges and in particular my editor, Kate. I’d always encourage people to enter writing competitions because as a debut author it’s a really good way of standing out from the crowd and it does give you a good idea of how your writing stands up to the competition, too!
What do you hope your readers will take away from the book, particularly in terms of strong middle aged female characters?
I love commercial fiction but, the same as on TV, there’s not much interesting or fun exploration of women in their 40s and beyond unless they are murdering their husbands. And yet we have lots of experience of life and have learned a lot about ourselves that makes us more interesting and vibrant than we are given credit for. I wanted to create characters that reflect real women and the real choices we have to make as parents, as friends, as partners and in our careers – but also show that we can be fun, and funny. The way middle aged women are represented in the media and advertising can be really offensive sometimes. All elasticated pants and cardigans and hot flushes… don’t get me wrong, I love my elasticated pants and I write in a big wooly cardigan, but they don’t define me.
What do you love about living in SW London?
The village feel you get in the different neighbourhoods. The river. Hampton Court Palace, which I’m lucky enough to walk by every day. The green spaces. I’ve lived all over SW London at various points in the past twenty five years and enjoyed each incarnation – the local theatres of Barnes and Hampton, the grandeur of Richmond riverside, the common space at Wimbledon… I didn’t grow up here but I did, in a way. It’s great that we’re able to live here now as a family, to enjoy it in different ways. I wouldn’t live anywhere else!
- Faye’s debut novel, Tinker,Tailor,Schoolmum,Spy is available on Amazon and via Waterstones as well as local independent bookstores. Find out more at https://linktr.ee/fayebrann