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My First Time...with Hannah Begbie

Hannah Begbie, The Riff Raff

Hannah Begbie was a talent agent, representing BAFTA and Edinburgh Comedy Award-winning writers and comedians for fifteen years until her youngest son was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.

In 2015 she joined the board of The Cystic Fibrosis Trust, to raise awareness and advocate for the CF community. She also enrolled in The Novel Studio course at City University, winning that year’s new writing prize. The book she developed there became her debut novel, MOTHER, which was published by HarperCollins on 26th July.

Prior to publication MOTHER won the Romantic Novelists’ Association Joan Hessayon Award for new writing. The television rights have been bought by Clerkenwell Films for adaptation as a drama and it is MUMSNET’s book of the month for October.

Hannah lives in north London with her husband, a screenwriter, and their two sons.

WowEE. With a CV like that we are honoured that Hannah will be joining us at The Riff Raff on Thursday 8th November. Come and bathe in her wisdom...

Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book?

When the premise felt strong enough. When it was ready it just kind of picked me up with its big hairy hand and put me in its rucksack for the ride.

Leading up to that moment, I’d been wanting to write a Romeo and Juliet type romance but I needed some high-stakes obstacles that weren’t political or religious. My child had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, an illness in part characterised by the danger of cross-infection amongst patients, so the two ideas came together and the foundation for a highly dangerous, dysfunctional relationship exploring guilt and parenthood was born.

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

How emotionally taxing it would be to write: though that knowledge would never have stopped me because I was compelled by my main character, Cath.

It was taxing because I was drawing on my own experiences of having a child recently diagnosed with CF and at the same time giving narrative form to my greatest fears.

It was confusing and sad at times because it took me to some dark and difficult places, but that journey was also fascinating.

What did you enjoy most about writing it?

Being able to invent freely on top of a solid foundation. I had such belief in the premise and the needs/desires of my characters that I could go anywhere I wanted with it in.

I learnt quite a lot about myself as a writer in the process: that I am at my most adventurous when I know where home is.

And the worst part?

Waiting for notes. Waiting for my printer to warm up. Waiting for an internet signal. Waiting for the right version of a scene to filter through my brain. I am B minus at waiting.

And yet, being patient is a very important part of the writing process. Things don’t necessarily happen in the way you envisage them. Like when your printer breaks on the day you need it most.

What’s your go-to procrastination method?

Social media, laundry and hanging around at the threshold of my husband’s study asking him if he’s heard from the plumber recently.

Go-to writing snacks?

My study is littered with plates that are too big to hold just a snack. I do meals, sometimes banquets.

The book that changed you?

I live in hope that one day a book I write will change me into someone best-selling like Jodie Picoult, Donna Tartt or Gillian Flynn.

Your pump up song?

Gloria by Laura Branigan. I love the line ‘I think she’s headed for a break-down.’ I love to write a character on the edge.

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

The lot that wrote The Bible. Or Marian Keyes. Or Maggie O’Farrell.

But then I quite like sharing bottles of wine with anyone who writes. They don’t have to be famous or clouded in mystery. Talking about the excruciatingly wonderful process of writing is enough for me.

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

Be interested in your idea: you’ll be spending a lot of time with it. And keep going: the darkest hour is before the dawn.

Why do you write?

Because if I don’t write, my thoughts don’t know where to put themselves. My dreams get weird, I start saying the wrong thing to people I know. And I like it. No day, hour or minute is ever the same.

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