sarah rayner
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Sarah Rayner's acclaimed second novel, Getting Even, was a witty update of Othello. Here she talks about how she juggles a career in advertising with novel writing.

What inspires you to write?
I wrote The Other Half, my first novel, partly because I was cross with an ex and wanted to vent my spleen into something productive and partly because I was in my mid 30s and thought it would be a great thing to achieve before I was 40. My second, Getting Even, I wrote because I wanted to prove I wasn’t a one-hit wonder!

How long does it take you to write a novel?
Each of my novels took me about 10 months to complete a first draft and a further 3-6 months to edit.

Do you have a writing routine? If so, what is it?
If so, what is it? Not really, no! This is because I still work as a freelance copywriter in advertising too for some of the time - a life of novel-writing alone would be too lonely for me. I talk far too much to spend months working all on my own. So whilst the majority of my writing I undertake at home during the day, I also write on the bus, on the tube, when I am quiet at work (but shhh, don’t tell my employers) – whatever and whenever the mood takes me.

Is it harder to start or finish a novel?
To start one, definitely. I found it really difficult to come up with an idea for a second and actually started writing something completely different which I binned before settling on Getting Even.

How did you go about finding an agent and do you think it's necessary to have an agent?
My agent was and still is a Godsend and gives me creative input and endless support as well as financial advice, so I certainly think it is a good idea. Without one your odds of getting a manuscript read by the people who matter at a publishers is very slim indeed. My agent was recommended by a friend, so I wrote to her and sent in a couple of chapters and a synopsis. (A good, punchy covering letter is essential – this bit was perhaps easier for me with my history of copywriting). I was extremely lucky as she was the first agent I wrote to and she rang me back the next day and said she was interested in representing me.

How do you cure writer's block?
I don’t! Having been through the experience of trying to MAKE myself write a second novel and having to abandon it, now I go back to copywriting when I don’t have a good idea to work on. No point in flogging a dead horse, in my opinion. But I’m sure Anthony Trollope would have disagreed, and he said one should aim to write 2000 words a day or something.

What is your all-time desert island book?
King Lear. Weird you may think, but actually I used Othello as the basis for Getting Even. So another Shakespearian tragedy might give me fuel for my own writing as well as providing heaps to think on anyway.

What's the biggest myth about being a writer?
That you will make a lot of money! Most budding novelists never make it into print, but if and when you do, you still need to sell an awful lot of books to make a reasonable living. I once read the average income for a published novelist is £10,000 a year. A real eye opener that – wouldn’t keep me in Top Shop outfits, that’s for sure. The income from my books has been vastly improved by selling foreign rights across Europe, but still, it pays to be cynical if you are to meet ongoing financial commitments.

What advice would you give budding authors?
I’m sure a lot of writers will say nice encouraging things like ‘try, try again’ and ‘it took so and so 30 rejections before their work was accepted and now she’s a bestseller’, but I would say, learn to hone your writing. Edit and re-edit your own work so you avoid repetition and kill clichés. I get asked to read a lot of stuff – Lord knows what agents and editors get in comparison – and a vast amount of what I get asked to read is lazily written. Would be novelists should learn to be tough on themselves before showing it to anyone!

What can readers expect from you in the future?
Another novel, when I have a corking idea. And in the meantime, a good many advertisements most people won’t have a clue that I have written!

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