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My First Time...with Anna-Marie Crowhurst

Anna Marie Crowhurst, The Riff Raff

Anna-Marie Crowhurst has worked as a freelance journalist for over 15 years. She recently studied for an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, where her debut novel The Illumination of Ursula Flight was born. She lives in London.

Anna-Marie will be reading from her sensational debut at The Riff Raff on Thursday 13th September and with tickets already flying off the digital shelves, we highly recommend you nab yours before they're gone...

Here's the blurb for The Illumination of Ursula Flight...

'Born on the night of a bad-luck comet, Ursula Flight has a difficult destiny written in the stars. Growing up with her family in the country, she is educated by a forward-thinking father who enables her to discover a love of reading, writing and astrology. Ursula dreams of becoming a famous playwright, but is devastated to learn she must instead fulfil her family's expectations and marry. Trapped and lost, Ursula plots her escape – but her freedom will come at a price.

'As Ursula's dangerous desires play out, both on and off the stage, she's flung into a giddy world of actors, aristocrats and artistic endeavours which will change her life irrevocably.'

Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book?

In a seminar near the start of my Creative Writing MA in late November 2015 (specific). I’d spent a few years working on another book; and a few months workshopping said book – the point of doing the MA in the first place was to finally finish that book.

But in this class it just came to me: I saw a young woman in a green dress in a dark, wood-panelled room. I started writing bits of her voice, and everyone agreed that this one was The One. I scrapped the first book and wrote Ursula in one, almost feverish, year.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before starting to write it?

That there wasn’t actually a rush. But in my mind, there was. I’d set myself the deadline of one year, and I was meeting that deadline come hell or high water. For that year I wrote seven days a week – on trains, planes and, er, buses. I wrote on my phone on the tube. I wrote in bed. I wrote on holiday. I didn’t waste a single moment – I was so impatient to publish a book. I felt like I’d been waiting my whole life, and it was now or never.

What’s your go-to procrastination method?

I definitely think historical research can be a form of procrastination for many writers. I have spent some delicious hours poring over ancient, dusty books at The British Library. I recently fell into an internet wormhole about historical crimes and got lost in the Old Bailey court records – that was three hours gone. Nothing to do with the book I’m currently writing – they just fascinated me.

The internet in general is the devil’s work. I hide my phone from myself at home – and go to remote places with no phone signal just to try to get away from it.

Any tantrums while writing it?

I don’t have time for tantrums. I think my journalist training has been good for that. I like to think I am quite workmanlike when it comes to writing.

Best thing about writing your book?

The feeling of being gripped and obsessed by the characters and the story and it just pouring out of me. I have never enjoyed writing so much. It was truly joyous. And the worst?

I was studying for an MA, commuting back and forth from London to Bath and living there two days a week, writing the book, and still working as a journalist to pay the bills. I didn’t have time to socialise, so my life became very insular for a while.

The Illumination of Ursula Flight, The Riff Raff

Go-to writing snacks?

I’m not a snacker: instead I like to make myself extravagant meals at odd times.

Who or what inspires you to write?

I have always written and basically I can’t not do it.

The book that changed you?

I remember reading Tess Of The D’Urbervilles as a teenager (ideal angsty, goth text) and understanding for the first time how writing could be about something beyond telling a good story – how it could be poetic, and beautiful, and tragic – how it could be making a point about something – how it could be art, essentially – though I wouldn’t have explained it like that.

Your pump up song?

As a former music journalist, this question is torture. But for Ursula, it was

Age Of Consent by New Order, which aside from being obviously a BANGER, is relevant to some of the themes of the book – that sweet, sweet agony of love and relationships when you’re young; that are probably unhealthy because you’re a bit clueless.

I feel that if Ursula had been a teenager in the 1980s, rather than the 1680s, she would have had this record on heavy rotation.

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

I think some of my favourite all time writers – Hardy, Waugh, Charlotte Brontë, Dorothy Whipple – wouldn’t necessarily be ideal wine-drinking company, for various reasons.

So I’d pick Nancy Mitford: she’d be full of scurrilous gossip, and hilarious, and would take me to the Ritz and choose the finest wines, and we’d get totally pissed as farts.

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

Make yourself as a writer interesting and unique and a good proposition for agents and publishers. Enter good writing competitions, get things published, get on Twitter and Instagram.

It’s like applying for a job: having written a good book is one thing – but what will you write next – what kind of writer do you want to be? Are you reliable? Are you easy to work with? Do you have longevity? Do you have ideas? Prove it.

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