An Interview with Erin Lawless
June 2015

Erin Lawless is a British author of contemporary romances and short stories. Her debut novel “The Best Thing I Never Had” is going to be followed by “Somewhere Only We Know” in July 2015. She holds a degree in Classical Studies and lives in London, England, with her husband.

How did you get started with writing?

I've written for as long as I can remember – I used to annoy my family by making them read great epic sagas about a royal family of spoons that lived in my grandmother's kitchen (true story). When I was a teenager I moved on to fanfiction – staying up far too late each night to finish off another instalment of my stories, sneaking my laptop down to the phone line in the entrance hall so I could get online and upload it (I'm showing my age here).  

Please describe your journey to finding an agent and to the publication of your first novel.

I originally self-published my first novel after the first few agents I approached gave me feedback that although my book was good, it wasn't marketable as it didn't neatly fit into any popular genres. I had some minor success going it alone – until I was picked up on a two-book contract by HarperCollins' romance imprint Harper Impulse. I'm still agentless to this day!

What is your writing routine? Please describe a typical writing day.

As I have a day job (I work in law) I never have a typical writing day! The writing gets done around a million other things. I tend to think about a new book for a very long time before I actually commit anything to paper – my husband has grown used to me having full blown conversations with myself in the shower as I try out "voices" and dialogue for new characters.

Which aspects do you enjoy most about being an author?

I do love writing. It always has been my hobby and would continue to have been even if I hadn't been lucky enough to get a book deal.

Which least?

I have to admit I'm still working on not taking rude reviews personally! For some reason I can recite almost verbatim from every single one of the ten odd 1* reviews 'The Best Thing I Never Had' has received, but not from the 100+ 5* ones! Typical.

What inspires you to write? How do you get your ideas for your novels?

My stories almost always come from a central theme I want to write about – normally inspired by something that has happened to me. 'The Best Thing I Never Had' for example was inspired by my university years where I met and fell in love with my now-husband. 'Somewhere Only We Know' was born when my Russian best friend was deported from the UK. These 'true life' events are a starting point, but the stories always end up miles away from where I began.

Do you enjoy the actual writing process?

The way I write is quite fun and organic, and I honestly do enjoy it. The stage where your characters become so real that they are correcting you in your head ("I don't say couch, I say sofa! Get it right!") is my particular favourite.

How is your actual writing process?

I am really methodical. By the time I've started writing I've thought about the characters and the plot for months and I have a clear idea of where I'm going and what I want from the book. I then write straight – I don't write random chunks and patchwork them together – I stay chronological. As a result my first submitted drafts are very clean – neither of my finished novels changed materially from first draft to publication copy.

Do you work out the plot and your characters’ personality before you start writing your novel, or do you mostly develop them while writing?

I have the protagonists pretty well mapped out, but sometimes the supporting cast surprise me. I've had to drop or cold-introduce secondary character subplots before because they've developed to an extent during the writing process that my original plan for them no longer works!

Do your novels contain lots of personal experiences, thoughts, opinions, personality traits?

While I do admit to having a "this happened to me!" approach to the initial inspiration of my books, I make a conscious effort to never put people I know into my characters – partly because it's quite disrespectful, and also because I find that nothing makes a character more two-dimensional than basing them off a real person! I've been lucky so far in that I've written books with a large cast of characters, and more than a singular point-of-view, so I've been able to showcase a lot of different opinions and perspectives.

Is your head full of story ideas, or do your ideas rather come slowly one after the other?

I always have a few ideas brewing, but I only ever focus on one book at a time.

When working on a novel, do you ever dream about the story or your protagonists?

Constantly. When I finally finished release promo for 'The Best Thing I Never Had' and knew I'd never be focused on that book in the same way again, I felt like I was losing friends – it was a weird kind of bereavement!

Are you usually confident when you start writing a new novel, or are you plagued by self-doubts?

When I'm writing initially I see it as I'm writing because it's my hobby, I'm writing because my friends want to see what happens next – I don't start thinking about it in commercial terms until right near the end of the process. Then, of course, the self-doubt comes crowding in (I'm British, negativity is a pre-requisite!).

Do you sometimes listen to music while writing? If so, which music?

Spotify is integral to my writing process! I used to massively procrastinate by changing tracks, spending ages setting up playlists, but now I can pick a pre-made playlist to match the mood of the scene I'm working on and away I go! I also use Spotify to catalogue the official "soundtrack" for each book, which I work on as I write – loads of fun!

How long does it approximately take you to write a novel?

It takes me about a year to get to something that's okay to submit, but then it will obviously need further tidying in conjunction with my editor. I am a lot slower than other authors and so my output isn't nearly as prodigious, but it's a speed I'm comfortable with, especially with my 'day job' to consider!

Who is your first reader?

I'm really lucky in that I have a small clutch of friends who read as I write and offer immediate and constructive feedback as the story develops. I also find it really useful to read what I've written aloud to check for pace and clunky dialogue, and that's where my husband comes in, patiently listening chapter by chapter!

How do you celebrate a newly published book?

I was a bridesmaid at a wedding when 'The Best Thing I Never Had' published so that was understandably eclipsed somewhat! And this time, with 'Somewhere Only We Know', I'm going to be in an exam. I certainly need to work on my publication celebrations.

What are your favorite ways to spend your non-writing time? What are your hobbies and interests?

I do read a lot – for pleasure as well as to keep my writing mind sharp. I'm also a massive fangirl at heart so there's lots of binge-watching cheesy television shows or anime for me too. My new project has a 'fangirl' protagonist, so that's proving loads of fun to write! I also run a blog based around the 'story' within British history, which basically just enables me to toss about the country eating loads of cream teas at heritage sites.

Which genres or types of novels do you enjoy reading most?

I read almost every genre – I have my Kindle split into genre collections so I can dip in and out of whatever I fancy.

How would you describe your personality?

I have been asked this before, and I used a quote from 'Northanger Abbey' in response: “There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” I am a massive doormat softie who'll probably do anything for you – but I write a mean complaint letter too, I am the Compensation Queen! Two very different sides!

Could you imagine ever not writing anymore?

No, I have always written primarily for myself, and I always will. It's the socially acceptable equivalent of having imaginary friends!

Thank you very much for your time, and all the best for your future!

For more information, please visit Erin Lawless’ website.