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My First Time...with Olivia Sudjic

Olivia Sudjic was born in London in 1988 and studied English at Cambridge University. Her first novel, Sympathy, is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (USA/Canada), ONE (UK), Kein & Aber (Germany), Minimum Fax (Italy), Planeta (Mexico) and Wydawnictwo Czarna Owca (Poland).

Olivia has written for publications including FT Weekend, Elle, Sunday Times' Style, The Debrief, Hunger, The Observer, and The Gloss.

Olivia Sudjic | The Rifff Raff

Here's the blurb for Sympathy...

At twenty-three, loner Alice Hare arrives in New York with only the vaguest of plans: to find a city to call home. Instead she discovers the online profile of a Japanese writer called Mizuko Himura, whose stories blur the line between autobiography and fiction.

Alice becomes infatuated with Mizuko from afar, convinced this stranger's life holds a mirror to her own. Realities multiply as Alice closes in on her "internet twin", staging a chance encounter and inserting herself into Mizuko's orbit. When Mizuko disappears, Alice is alone and adrift again. Tortured by her silence, Alice uses the only tool at her disposal, writing herself back into Mizuko's story with disastrous consequences.

Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book.

The “moment” stretched out over a few months, but the most acute memory I have from that period is sending a resignation email to my (lovely and very understanding) boss, only to be persuaded to “un-resign” the following day by my anxious father, which resulted in a job offer in the Dubai office of my company. The prospect of leaving London, my home, family and friends, and continuing a job I didn’t feel I was very good at alone in Dubai, plus the humiliation of the whole thing, really lit the necessary fire under my ass.

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

That trying to please anyone and everyone who might ever read your book makes it sound inauthentic and probably bad. Write for one person, whether that’s an imagined reader, a mentor, or yourself. It’s valid advice for a writer at any stage of their career, but it applies particularly to a first timer, because you may not yet be confident in your voice and feel the pressure to keep all doors open – to appeal to a kind of “committee” of imagined readers. “Death by committee” etc.

What’s your go-to procrastination method?

This may be TMI, but I moult a lot. Head hair, that is. It’s a miracle I’m not bald actually. In fact I’m fairly hirsute but I find long strands of hair on my carpet, floors, clothes, upholstery etc. The best way for me to waste hours of a day is not to hoover but to go around my hairy little flat, picking up the strands by hand. That and planning future events that I have little or no control over in great detail.

What was the biggest tantrum you had while writing your book?

Ha – I have just remembered the time I thought I’d lost five chapters written over the previous few days in a kind of ecstasy of productivity and caffeine and possible psychosis. I almost threw my laptop out a third storey window. I also nearly had one in the copy edit stage as well, but by then you’re close to dead and there seems little point.

Best thing about writing your book?

I had a kind of mystical experience one night in the middle of a heatwave when I locked myself in my room, turned a very loud white-noise electric fan on and set up an ice coffee IV (not quite, I had a straw). I got into a zone where I was able to write three chapters in a couple of hours without pausing, almost without thinking. Or breathing.

I stopped being part of the “real” world and became part of the book. It was like an out of body experience … as irritating to some writers as that will sound. I remember I thought: this, if nothing else in the book, or after it, makes me feel like a real writer. It was this section of the book I thought I’d lost as per the previous question!

And the worst?

Self-doubt, insomnia, debt, and having to expose yourself to reviews after.

Go-to writing snacks?

Coffee and chocolate.

Who or what inspires you to write?

Reading. My bank balance.

The book that changed you?

Lydia Davis' The End of the Story.

Your pump up song?

For this book it was Frank Ocean 'Swim Good'.

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

Megan Hunter and I have already had a glass of wine each together and I’d love to progress to a shared bottle.

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

Publication is the worst part, enjoy the writing while you can.


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