An interview with the Avon x Big Issue competition winner, Louise Sharland:
- How did you find out about the Avon x Big Issue writing competition?
One of my previous roles was working for the homelessness charity Crisis UK as a Work and Learning Coach, so I have a deep connection with the work of The Big Issue – some of my clients even went on to become successful Big Issue vendors. I still buy the magazine whenever I can, and that’s how I found out about the competition.
- What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just been doing some pretty intensive, but hugely beneficial, editing with my Avon Editor, Molly Walker-Sharp. I feel this process has really helped me to develop and elevate my writing. It’s really a question of scrutinising my work more closely, and I’m now starting to automatically find things I can improve.
Then it’s straight into book two, another psychological thriller which is full of plot twists culminating in a very big shock ending. I’m also working on a crime series, and then starting research on my dream project about crime, punishment and redemption, set in 1970s Montreal. Don’t ask me about sleeping – that just doesn’t seem to happen at the moment!
- What was your previous experiences with the publishing industry?
I started out writing short fiction and was really buoyed by winning the Woman and Home Magazine Short Story Competition in 2010 with my piece Black Rock. This was subsequently published in an anthology entitled The Best Little Book Club in Town, alongside writers like Ruth Rendall, Lee Child and Jojo Moyes. I’ve also had some sci-fi/near-future fiction published in a University of Exeter Anthology entitled Imagine There’s a Future. It was these successes that made me think maybe I could make it as a novelist as well.
- Has Avon helped you to accomplish some of your writing goals?
Hugely! Just four days before I had the email from Head of PR Sabah Khan at Avon telling me I’d won the competition, I’d received my twelfth rejection from an agent. Even though I really, really believed in the manuscript, I’d decided it was time to shelve it and move onto something else. I have to be honest though, there were lots of those ‘I’m not good enough’ moments. However, a few days later I was informed I’d won the Avon x Big Issue Competition, and all that self-doubt just washed away.
- In what ways has being a competition winner opened doors for you?
This is a really interesting question. I always thought the only route to publication was through an agent, but this competition has proven to me that there are other avenues to seeing your work published. I would highly encourage any writers out there to take part in competitions of this sort (try to find ones without an entry fee if you can). Winning the competition has, first and foremost, given me a renewed confidence in my writing and has also introduced me to the fantastic team at Avon, HarperCollins.
- How have you found your experience publishing with Avon so far?
What super bunch of talented, empowered young women I work with! From the moment I received that email from Sabah, and then meeting Molly, it has been a friendly and relaxed relationship with all the team. They are genuine, professional and kind, and whenever I visit them in London, I always bring West Country fudge!
- What has been your favourite part of the process?
There have been so many great bits so far! It’s not just the thrill of winning, then visiting the Avon offices in London (though that was a thrill!), and the reality of my book being published, but also the opportunity to improve my skills as a writer by working with a talented team. My work with Molly has really helped me to take my writing to a professional level.
- What’s your one piece of advice for an aspiring (as-yet unpublished) author?
I’m going to cheat here a bit and offer three pieces of advice:
- Believe in your work – there are lots of reasons why agents, editors and publisher may not pick up your MS. Don’t take it personally, but also be prepared to look closely at how to improve it. I’ve read plenty of stories of writers with that bottom-drawer MS that they really believed in but didn’t quite make to publication. What it did do, however, was give them the skills and experience to write the one that did get published!
- Work hard! Writing is hard work, and being a good writer is even harder. I have written on planes, trains and the back seats of automobiles. I have written at 6am and 11pm (and all the hours in between). I have studied, workshopped and reflected on my writing in order to make it the best it can be. Trust me, all that hard work will be well worth it in the end!
- Don’t give up! If you love writing, keep at it – keep pushing, challenging and enjoying yourself, no matter what else is going on around you. You do this because you love it. Keep on keeping on!
- What’s coming next from Louise Sharland?
So copy edits for The Lake, then right into my second book with Avon. I’m really interested in themes around why good people do bad things. This book really explores that angle! Otherwise, I hope by the time The Lake is out next year there will be opportunities to attend literary festivals and even run some workshops. I previously taught creative writing for six years, and I love working with other writers to help them make the most of their writing.