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My First Time...with Fiona Mitchell

Fiona Mitchell started writing fiction in 2011, but writing has been part of her life for years, first as a journalist on local newspapers followed by a news agency, then as a features editor on women’s magazines. She read English Literature at the University of Sussex but it was not until she moved to Singapore that she noticed the stark contrast between expats living in luxury and the domestic helpers that worked for them – many of whom were subject to all sorts of harsh rules – and started to write a novel. The Maid’s Room is the result.

Fiona is reading and talking about her journey to publication at The Riff Raff on Thursday 25th January – get your tickets here.

Fiona Mitchell, The Riff Raff

Here's the blurb for The Maid's Room

Sisters Dolly and Tala have never felt further from home. In the blistering heat of Singapore, they spend their days enabling ex-pats to have lives they could never afford for themselves.

Even though she has little freedom, Dolly can just about live with her job if it means she's able to support her beloved young daughter back in the Philippines. One day - if she's lucky - Dolly may even be able to go back and see her.

Tala, however, just can't keep her mouth shut about the restrictive, archaic rules maids are forced to abide by on pain of deportation. She risks everything to help her fellow maids, who have struggled to have their voices heard for far too long.

In a world where domestic workers are treated so poorly, The Maid's Room explores how women can come together to change each other's lives, and be the architects of their own futures.

Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book?

I was living in Singapore where more than 200,000 women work as domestic helpers. I was trying to figure out a way I could write a feature about that when I started to read Maggie O’Farrell’s The Hand That First Held Mine. It dawned on me then that I could try writing a bigger piece of work instead of a feature. I picked up a pencil and scribbled my first chapter.

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

What show not tell actually meant. I only had a vague idea that I needed to show what my characters were thinking through their actions instead of spelling everything out, so my first draft was littered with telling.

What’s your go-to procrastination method?

Twitter. It’s my New Year’s resolution to stay off it and focus.

What was the biggest tantrum you had while writing it?

I was tantrum-free while writing the book; it was during the submissions process that things got ugly. One agent was reading the full manuscript and contacted me to tell me she absolutely loved it, only to give me an ultimate no. By that time, it seemed as if I’d exhausted all possibility of getting an agent. I lay my head on my desk, sobbed, and swore very loudly indeed.

Best thing about writing your book?

Connection. Writing is like a conversation, you write words and someone else reads them. Not everyone connects with them, but when a reader does, it brings a kind of peace.

And the worst?

Exposure. Everyone who reads your work has an opinion on it. That can feel a little overwhelming sometimes.

Go-to writing snacks?

Tea, and more tea. And buttery toast.

Who or what inspires you to write?

Difficult situations. I spend a lot of time thinking about how people cope in the most difficult of circumstances. All my writing starts from that. But to really kickstart me, I have to be reading a book that’s brilliant.

The Maid's Room, The Riff Raff

The book that changed you?

I’ve read so many life-defining books, but my most recent obsession is Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. It reminded me that no matter how awful the world can sometimes seem, there is always kindness.

Your pump up song?

Almost anything by PJ Harvey or Kate Bush who are so creatively original, but to really immerse myself in my writing, I need complete silence.

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

Gail Honeyman. I’d like to compare notes with her and find out more about her writing process, as well as how she feels about the roaring success of her debut.

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

Find an idea you’re absolutely passionate about. It could take you longer than you think to get it published, but if you’re passionate about your idea, that will sustain you through all the rejections.


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