We sat down with Victoria Scott to talk about the impact of a 'positive mid-life crisis', tips for new writers looking to pen their first novel in 2023, and much more!
1) You have had a very successful career working as a journalist. How has your career in journalism informed your writing, and what made you decide to write your first novel?
I think journalism is excellent training for novelists. It enforces a healthy respect for deadlines, emphasises the importance of research and gives you a real ear for dialogue. It also helps you to see the editing process positively. Many writers find others suggesting improvements to their work to be very painful, but as journalists we’re so used to our work being edited that it’s water off a duck’s back.
My first novel, A Girl Called Patience, had been simmering in my mind for years before I finally started it. I have always written creatively. I was the sort of child who wrote poems to process emotional upsets and wrote plays to while away dull days. However, I was in my 30s before I started to write my first novel. It had always been an ambition of mine, and I realised, as the adage goes, that the only difference between an author and a non-author is that the author actually sat down to write the book! So I decided to get on with it.
2) You mention that you wrote your debut novel during your 'positive mid-life crisis', what did this time mean for you?
I’d written the first rough 30,000 words of A Girl Called Patience in my early 30s, when my son was a baby, but I’d done that classic thing of putting it aside and I failed to complete it. Then I had my second child at 36, moved back to the UK from the Middle East where I had been working, and found myself at a crossroads as 40 approached. Journalism shifts were very difficult to fit around family life, I’d taken on a short-term PR contract which I wasn’t enjoying, and I’d also managed to put on a large amount of weight without even really noticing. One day, I weighed myself, recoiled in horror and realised that I had to do something to sort myself out, and crucially, not just for my body, but also my mind. I was feeling unfulfilled and I was having those classic “is this it?” thoughts. So, I made a plan. I started the 5:2 intermittent fasting diet, gave up booze and decided I’d run a half-marathon. I also realised I needed a change of career direction. It was then that my husband said: “Why don’t you do something for you? Why don’t you finish that book you started?” I am eternally grateful for his encouragement. I asked relatives for money to pay for a Faber Academy writing course for my 40th birthday, and that was the impetus I needed. I finished the novel while I was on that course, and I found my wonderful agent, Hannah Weatherill at Northbank Talent, a few months later. I also lost 20 kilos in weight and did actually manage to run the Royal Parks Half Marathon, which was pretty amazing for a girl who was always picked last in P.E.
3) Can you talk to us about your inspiration for writing A Girl Called Patience?
A Girl Called Patience was inspired by my sister Clare, who has Rett syndrome, a genetic disorder resulting from a random fault at conception. She’s severely mentally and physically disabled, and can’t communicate.
Rett is a very cruel disease. It creeps up gradually, stealing away skills bit by bit. So when I read the first news stories more than a decade ago describing the seemingly miraculous recovery of mice given the Rett gene fault after treatment with gene therapy, I was astounded. I had obviously day-dreamed about what Clare might have been like if she’d been born without Rett, but I had never really believed it might be a possibility. However, alongside this magical thought, I also had some concerns. How would it be done? How would her body and brain cope? And what if it went wrong? And really, was it worth it - after all, Clare is a wonderful person as she is - a happy person, a person who loves and is loved. It was this conflict that spurred me on to write the book, to explore how different people might feel about it. I don’t believe these things are black and white. The book is told from four perspectives: Patience, who has Rett; her mother Louise; her father Pete; and her sister, Eliza.
The novel is not just about a medical trial, of course. It’s also about family life, about being a carer, about the sibling’s perspective, about being dumped, and about the apparent invisibility of women in society once they are post-menopause. It’s about lots of things, but it’s mostly, I think, about the power of unconditional love. And Patience is a brilliant character. Hilarious. I love her.
4) Your books have fantastic hooks for readers, what advice would you give to anyone looking to write their first novel in 2023?
Go for it! Honestly, the only way is to grab the bull by the horns and have a go.
I think the ‘write what you know’ advice is really excellent for first-time authors. Choose a subject you know well, and at least the research aspect will be easier for you.
Also, find a creative writing course that suits - there are many, some residential, some in person, some online, some part-time, some full-time - and commit to it.
In terms of the ‘hook’ - I always start with a question. For A Girl Called Patience, it would be: 'What would happen if a severely disabled, non-verbal person was offered experimental, risky gene therapy which might be able to reverse their condition?'
If you crystallise your idea down like that, it helps to give your writing focus. Oh, and one more tip. I’m a planner. I love a spread sheet! Use one to help you ensure that ever chapter drives the story forward.
5) What are you working on next?
I am just putting the finishing touches to my third novel, The Women Who Wouldn’t Leave. It’s about the residents of a small rural housing estate who are all threatened with eviction by their council, and what happens when they fight back. It has two main characters, Matilda, who’s in her 90s, and Connie, who’s in her twenties. They develop an unlikely friendship and discover that they have far more in common than they think. It’s a story about the importance of community and friendship, and I’m really proud of it. I can’t wait for readers to discover it next year.
Follow Victoria Scott on Twitter for the latest updates: @Toryscott