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My First Time...with Carolyn Kirby

Carolyn Kirby's debut novel The Conviction of Cora Burns was begun on a writing course at Faber Academy and went on to win the Bluepencilagency Award for unpublished novels. Published in March 2019 by No Exit Press the UK and Dzanc Books in North America, the novel has been getting praise from reviewers and journalists. The Sunday Mirror called it; 'A great historical novel with bite,' and it was chosen by The Times as an 'historical fiction book of the month'.

Before being a full-time writer, Carolyn worked in social housing and as a teacher. She has two grown-up daughters and lives with her husband in Oxfordshire.

Here's the blurb for The Conviction of Cora Burns...

To believe in her future, she must uncover her past...

Birmingham, 1885.

Born in a gaol and raised in a workhouse, Cora Burns has always struggled to control the violence inside her.

Haunted by memories of a terrible crime, she seeks a new life working as a servant in the house of scientist Thomas Jerwood. Here, Cora befriends a young girl, Violet, who seems to be the subject of a living experiment. But is Jerwood also secretly studying Cora...?

With the power and intrigue of Laura Purcell's The Silent Companions and Sarah Schmidt's See What I Have Done, Carolyn Kirby's stunning debut takes the reader on a heart-breaking journey through Victorian Birmingham and questions where we first learn violence: from our scars or from our hearts.

The Conviction of Cora Burns was shortlisted for several prizes in its unpublished form and won the Blue Pencil Agency First Novel Award. It is a stunning debut with a captivating main character, an atmospheric historical setting and controversial and resonant themes like heredity, infanticide and the mental health of women following child birth.

Carolyn tells us...

'I'm glad I came to writing fairly late in life after my other careers (in social housing and teaching English as a foreign language) had run out of steam, and my children were fairly grown up. Writing novels is an all-consuming, solitary pursuit that wouldn’t have suited me in earlier decades. I feel extremely lucky (and it was almost a fluke) that after ten years, novel-writing has paid off and a fabulous new career is opening up in my fifties.'

Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book?

See ‘book that changed you’ below.

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

It would take more than six weeks.

What did you enjoy most about writing it?

It’s the moment you find something, whether it’s a character motivation or a historical detail, that makes everything else in the plot fit together. There’s nothing more satisfying than putting that missing piece in the jigsaw. And the worst part?

Putting early ideas into a workable structure always results in the question; ‘Is this just rubbish?’

What’s your go-to procrastination method?

Things like this.

Go-to writing snacks?

Hot cross buns. Sorry.

The book that changed you?

The Remarkable Life and Times of Eliza Rose by Mary Hooper which I was persuaded to read by my ten year old daughter. It seemed like nicely researched but pretty straightforward historical fiction with a YA twist. I could do that, I thought…

Your pump up song?

Pump it Up (Elvis Costello) – obvs!

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

Alexei Sayle – a cool novelist and very funny guy.

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

If any reader, no matter who they are, ever tells you about something they don’t like in your book, you need to have an extremely good reason not to change it.

Why do you write?

Still the most satisfying way I can think of to fill the day.

You can follow Carolyn on Twitter and buy her book here:

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