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My First Time...with S.K. Perry

S.K. Perry, The Riff Raff

(Photo: Naomi Woddis)

As well as writing, Sarah Perry has worked in gender equalities, campaigning, social work, and education. She is currently a full-time PhD student at Manchester Writing School, working on a new novel alongside research into depictions of sex in contemporary, anglophone, literary prose.

Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book?

There wasn’t one single moment… I think because I was just experimenting at first, writing prose poems and little bits and pieces on my journeys to and from work, and then over time I thought maybe they were all speaking to each other, and maybe they were the beginnings of a novel. This process really informed the book’s form: small, fragmented passages. Then I entered what I thought was the beginning into the Mslexia novel competition and when it was longlisted I thought – I better finish it now!

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

I’m actually really glad for all the things I didn’t know. Sometimes having more knowledge about how to do a thing than skill to do it stops you from trying because you don’t feel good enough. I never set out to write a novel (although I have always read them copiously!) so I never questioned what I was doing; I just played. And then when I got into it, I tried really hard, so I wrote the book I could write.

By the time I had written my first draft I’d made so many mistakes – and some of them remain despite all the editing; it’s by no means a perfect book – but by the time I started to correct some of them, it was already written and so I had to learn loads and loads through the editing process.

This meant I kind of grew with the book, rather than having to feel really frustrated about the things I knew I should be doing, but didn’t know how to. I learned on the job, in a way, and I hope it will always be like that, and I’ll keep on making mistakes and getting better, and not trying to battle against where I am in the process. It’s much harder to stick to that now though, I find it harder to just trust that I’ll get there now I am trying to!

What did you enjoy most about writing it? Nurturing my imagination. Observing the detail of a place. Getting to know the characters.

And the worst part?

I feel like I chose to do this; it was something I wanted. So every second of that is a gift to yourself, and I loved it, even when it was difficult.

What’s your go-to procrastination method?

With this novel I was working full time so I couldn’t procrastinate; time to write was time to write, and also that was a joy! I do think there were heat-the-oil-before you-cook-the-onion days though, ones where I was writing without writing.

For me, this happens most often if I spend an afternoon reading or engaging in another art form – going to a gig or a gallery – or if I go for a swim.

Let Me Be Like Water, The Riff Raff

Go-to writing snacks?

I don’t snack when I write actually, and then suddenly realise I’ve not eaten all day and am starving. But I make a big cafetierre first thing in the morning and just keep drinking it without really thinking… so, six cups of coffee? Oh god, that’s awful!

I’m starting a PhD in Creative Writing this Autumn though, so I need to learn to involve food more in my writing process. My aspirational snacks are cashews for extra serotonin and batch made dahl I can keep on the hob; it’s so cheap to make, and really delicious.

The book that changed you?

Small White Monkeys by Sophie Collins and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche.

Your pump up song?

I Like That by Janelle Monae.

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

Zadie Smith or Elena Ferrante, but it’d be a dram or two of whiskey! Oh my god, or JK Rowling would be the real dream but I wouldn’t know how to talk to her, I’d die.

Also lots of my friends (and my husband) are all writers, so I am extremely lucky to share wine and food and book-swaps with them. It is such an important part of growing as an artist – to be in community.

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

Write the book you wish you could read. Don’t think about publication yet, just write, and enjoy it!

Why do you write?

Because I love to read, and I do think stories have the chance to shape a more loving world for us all to live in.

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