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My First Time...with Fran Cooper

Fran Cooper grew up in London before reading English at Cambridge and Art History at the Courtauld Institute of Art. She spent three years living in Paris, and is now based in London with her fiancé and their three-legged cat...who sounds awesome. Her first novel, These Dividing Walls, is out on 4th May.

Here's the blurb for These Dividing Walls...

In a forgotten corner of Paris stands a building.

Within its walls, people talk and kiss, laugh and cry; some are glad to sit alone, while others wish they did not. A woman with silver-blonde hair opens her bookshop downstairs, an old man feeds the sparrows on his windowsill, and a young mother wills the morning to hold itself at bay. Though each of their walls touches someone else's, the neighbours they pass in the courtyard remain strangers.

Into this courtyard arrives Edward. Still bearing the sweat of a channel crossing, he takes his place in an attic room to wait out his grief.

But in distant corners of the city, as Paris is pulled taut with summer heat, there are those who meet with a darker purpose. As the feverish metropolis is brought to boiling point, secrets will rise and walls will crumble both within and without Number 37...

Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book?

In 2014, I applied to The Womentoring Project and was lucky enough to get to work with novelist Lisa O’Donnell. It made such a difference to hear about the world of writing and publishing from someone who was already in it. At that point, I had lots of little vignettes about the people living in an apartment building and Lisa just said, ‘this is a novel. You need to write a novel.’ Her confidence and enthusiasm was infectious, so I thought, ‘Ok, I’m going to write a novel!’

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before starting to write your first book?

That doing a little, often, does actually work. That one day, the balance tips and you suddenly find yourself looking at an almost-finished novel, a real body of work. You will get there!

What’s your go-to procrastination method?

Reading blogs, looking at Instagram, scrolling through Twitter – I don’t have one go-to method so much as a portfolio of procrastination options!

What was the biggest tantrum you had while writing it?

I wrote most of These Dividing Walls over the summer between finishing my PhD and starting a job, so it was pretty carefree and relaxed. I’ve had plenty of tantrums about Book Two though (which I’ve written while working) – mostly to do with not having enough time and worrying that it won’t ever be good enough.

Best thing about writing your book?

Seeing it through. Getting to the end and looking at a pile of crisp, neatly printed pages (this is pre-editing, of course, when those get destroyed by scribbles). But just finishing a draft – there’s real euphoria in that. And the worst?

Knowing that something’s not quite right, but not being able to fix it in that moment. My friend’s mum is an academic and always gave her the advice, ‘Don’t get it right, get it written’, which for me rings so true. Sometimes you just need to get the words on the page in order to come back to them later and work them into something effective and powerful. But I can be a perfectionist, and it’s hard to know that something’s not perfect at the same time as knowing that you just have to press on.

Go-to writing snacks?

Well, in Paris it was fresh baguettes and cheese! (Don’t hate me)

Who or what inspires you to write?

The world around me; the things that make me pause or ponder or simply take my breath away. I think we all have different ways of expressing our experience in the world – some people bake, some people design, some people take beautiful photographs. For me, it’s always been writing.

The book that changed you?

Oh my goodness, so many over the years. I read Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion when I was 21 and still now shiver to think how beautiful the writing is, so I’ll go with that.

Your pump up song? (The one you blast to motivate you)

Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark gets played a lot in our household!

If you could share a bottle of wine with one writer dead or alive, who would it be?

Annie Proulx. Her use of language is so extraordinary – I think I’d spend the whole time just writing down everything she said!

One piece of advice you’d give first time writers hoping to get a book published?

I was extremely lucky to hear this from a friend who works in publishing partway through the writing process, but the top tip I pass on to everyone is that you shouldn’t submit to agents until you have a finished, polished manuscripts. If someone comes back saying ‘Ooh, I loved the first five chapters, can you send the rest?’ you don’t want to keep them waiting for six months while you get it written!

Snap up your copy of These Dividing Walls, and follow Fran on Twitter

You can follow Fran on Twitter, or learn more about her by visiting her website.

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