Writer Wednesday: Caroline Smailes

Caroline Smailes lives in the North West of England. Her latest publication, The Drowning of Arthur Braxton, is her fifth novel.

1. Why did you want to become a writer?
It was because I had stories that I wanted to tell. It’s never been about money or even about other people reading my words, it’s always been about an absolute need to write out something that’s been jumping around inside my head. If I’m honest, my head breaks when I don’t write. But, mainly, I still write because writing excites me and I still have stories to tell. When that changes, I guess I’ll stop.

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you?
At two a.m., around twenty-two thousand words, when the task feels too large and I feel inadequate.

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing?
When I get a seed of an idea and plan out a novel. I become overexcited and have trouble sleeping. The feeling produces anxiety, exhilaration and nervous rumbles that are reminiscent of starting a new relationship. When the seed is planted I feel truly alive.

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why?
I wish that I’d been one of the Grimms (probably Jacob), collecting tales, folklore and mythology, then retelling and reforming. I wish I’d written a collection of fairy tales. The retelling of oral tales and that sense of how we can alter stories, to fit with new readerships and their sensibilities, fascinate me.

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why?
I’d pick Jude from ‘In Search of Adam’ and I’d rewrite that opening scene where her mum commits suicide and leaves little Jude to fend for herself in a dysfunctional environment. I’d give Jude a mum who could protect her from abuse and neglect. And why? Because Jude deserved love and writing that novel left me a little bit broken.

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do?
I’m cheating slightly by selecting three, but I’d quite like to go roller-skating, and then for a spot of afternoon tea (a bit of a Mad Hatter’s style afternoon tea), with The Cat in the Hat, Atticus Finch and Molly Weasley. We could end the day with cocktails, or possibly a few pints. I think it could be the best day ever.

7. What can we expect next from you?
Lots of exciting announcements will be coming in the next few months. 2016 looks to be a thrilling year for me. That’s an annoyingly secretive response, I know. Sorry!

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out?
My advice is simple - writers must write. You can’t be a writer unless you write. That oversimplifies and is super obvious, but so many of us make excuses for not writing, when, essentially, it’s all we want to do but the fear of failure (or even people reading our work) is crippling. So, my tips are:
  • Don’t let fear stop you from writing that novel. I promise you – you’ll spend the rest of your life wishing you’d been that little bit braver
  • Write wherever you can and whenever you can. Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect and neither does the environment where you write 
  • Don’t think about the overwhelming task of writing a complete novel
  • Think about small word targets and write in manageable chunks 
  • Don’t set yourself rules for needing a certain pen or that fifteen people need to favourite your #amwriting tweet before you can start. Avoid excuses and bad habits 
  • Grab those ten minutes, write in the car, write in the bath. Writers will write
  • So many writers have small families and juggle fulltime jobs, but they find a way. If you really want to be a writer, then you will also find that way. Again, avoid excuses
  • Write that first draft as quickly as possible. I often refer to this as a ‘vomit draft’, for obvious reasons  
  • Once you have that first draft, then you can start worrying about everything you feel you need to worry about. Anxiety and angst are in our job description. 

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you.
I work with writing mornings, rather than writing days. My children have all left the house by around eight a.m. and I’d love to say that I start typing the minute they leave. In reality, I spend at least an hour checking various online outlets, then (when I’m fully up-to-date with photos, trending hashtags, book recommendations and essential tweets!) I turn everything off and write. I write quickly and my daily target is always around two thousand words. I’m usually finished in time for lunch, which allows for my afternoons to be about my work as an editor. I always leave my writing knowing what I’ll write next, to avoid staring at a screen and making the most of the precious writing time. If the words aren’t flowing, or if real life has prevented my reaching the word target, I’ll be back at my desk later in the evening. I believe in small word targets and regular writing.

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished a stunning debut, James Hannah's ‘The A-Z of You’, and have ‘A Partisan's daughter’ by Louis de Bernières to read next. I’ve heard wonderful things about it.

The Drowning of Arthur Braxton

Arthur Braxton runs away from school. He hides out in an abandoned building, an Edwardian public baths. He finds a naked woman swimming in the pool. From this point on, nothing will ever be the same.

The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is an unflinching account of the pain and trauma of adolescence, of how first love can transform the most unhappy of lives into something miraculous. It is a dark and brooding modern fairy tale from one of our most gifted writers.

Follow Caroline on Twitter | Buy her books on Amazon | Visit her website |

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