Annabel won the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature Montegrappa Writing Prize in 2013. Since then she has gone on to be a full-time author with several published books. During the interview, we talked about finding the time to write, motherhood, and her new book The One That Got Away.
Tell us about your life before you became an author?
I’ve always worked in publishing one way or another. In London, I worked my way up the editorial department of Dorling Kindersley book publishers until I was an editor; I retrained as a journalist and, when I moved to Dubai, took on the editorship of ‘Emirates Woman’ magazine. Before I got my book contract, I’d taken a step back from office life to bring up my children and was freelancing for ‘The Telegraph’ in the UK. I’ve lived in Dubai for nearly twenty years.
You won first place in the first edition of the Montegrappa Writing Prize, hosted at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in 2013. What made you decide to enter this competition and how has it impacted your life?
I decided to enter the competition because I had half a manuscript in my bottom drawer, a dream to be a novelist and nothing – aside from the entry fee – to lose by entering. On the flipside, there was everything to win: the guarantee that a London agent would read my work; the rather remote possibility that he’d like it; and the even more remote possibility that I’d win his attention. Everyone knows how difficult it is to get an agent in the UK – this was a fantastic opportunity to get my foot in the door. I always remember the day the winners were to be announced at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. I got ready to go to the event (not knowing that I had won) and said to my children as I kissed them goodbye: ‘This could be the day that changes my life’ – and I was right. Winning the prize has led to me finishing my manuscript, getting an agent and, ultimately, being contracted to write six books for Harper Collins. I now work full-time as an author so, yes, winning the competition has irrevocably changed my life.
You’ve written a number of novels – where do you get ideas for plot lines and characters? Do you follow a particular process?
I’m very plot-driven. I read widely and always keep an eye open for real-life stories that capture my imagination. My degree is in psychology so I like to have a psychological issue at the core of the plot. When I know what I want to write about – and it may simply be a concept, such as grief disorders, I’ll do a lot of research until I come up with a plausible plot. As I’m imagining the plot in my head, the characters come to me. But stories are like children: each one is different and, as an author, I have to treat them differently to get the best out of them.
What is a typical day for you?
I start work the moment the children leave for school, so I’m at my desk by 7.15am. I work on writing or marketing, whatever is most urgent, until about 12pm, when I go to the gym. Writing is a very sedentary occupation so I try to do this at least four times a week. After lunch, I try to get another one or two hours of writing in before I pick up the kids from school – after that, it’s a bun fight and little to no writing gets done.
How do you balance your time to write and be a parent? What advice do you have to other mothers?
I make the most of every second that my children are out of the house by prioritising writing. It’s tempting when you work from home to do chores or house admin, not to mention fiddle about on social media, but I force myself to leave everything like that until the kids are home so I can use the quiet time to work. I’d tell other mums to think about what their priorities are and to make time for those things above everything else. It sounds obvious, but not a lot of people actually do that.
What do you do to relax?
Relax? What’s that? Seriously, I go once a week for a foot massage or reflexology treatment, which is my little zone of me-time. I also love to read. If I have a spare half hour, I’ll try to find somewhere quiet and lose myself in a book.
Who inspired your career and what’s the greatest piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
I always knew I wanted to be a writer – it’s something that comes from inside you. If I wasn’t writing books, I’d be in another career that revolves around writing. In terms of inspiration – every successful author inspires me.
What are your future plans? Where do you see your career headed/ future books?
I still have two more novels to write under my current contract - my next book, titled The One That Got Away, is out this month. After those, I’d consider a change of genre, but I’d like to be successful enough to be able to continue writing books.
What are your insights into the future of publishing?
I think e-books have made reading much more accessible to people who wouldn’t necessarily have gone out and bought a physical book, but I don’t think we’ll ever see the end of the printed book. I hope not, anyway.
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