Cally Taylor Interview
Posted on 15 October 2009. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
WriteWords talks to Cally Taylor, aka WW member SheScribbles
Tell us all about your writing background- what you’ve written, what you’re currently writing
It’s almost a cliché to say, “I started writing when I was a child” but it’s true. I wrote my first ‘book’ when I was eight, drew illustrations on the back of each page, bound it with wool and sent it off to Penguin Publishers. It was to me returned some months later with a very sweet rejection letter attached.
I wrote truly awful poetry in my teens (most of which I destroyed years ago) and started writing short stories in my early twenties. I thought they were quite good until I joined a very frank online writing group (not WriteWords) in 2005 and learned that they weren’t. I got serious about short story writing then – writing nearly every day and subbing to every literary market out there. I had some success but felt like a square peg in a round hole. My style – light-hearted, light on description and...I can’t think of another light word... – didn’t really suit literary fiction. It was only when I was awarded the runner-up prize in a short story competition run by Woman’s Own magazine that I realised I was a commercial writer and that’s what I did best. I started writing stories specifically for women’s magazines and, after a while, they started to get accepted and published.
In 2006 one of my best friends from school died suddenly and I re-evaluated my life. I’d always been a procrastinator and high on the list of ‘things I’ll do one day’ was write a novel. My friend’s death taught me that ‘one day’ doesn’t always comes so, in early 2007, I sat down to write a supernatural romantic-comedy about a woman called Lucy who dies the night before her wedding, refuses to go to heaven and decides to try and become a ghost instead. I wrote nearly every day and finished what was to become “Heaven Can Wait” in three months and three weeks. (Editing it took a lot longer!)
“Heaven Can Wait” was published by Orion Paperback on 15 October 2009 and I’m currently editing my second, untitled, novel which will be published in September 2010. Like my first novel it’s another supernatural romantic-comedy, but this one isn’t about ghosts.
Other work besides writing; ie. Editing, dramaturgy, tutoring, and how it works for/against your own writing
My day job is as a Learning Technologist for a London university and basically involves reading, editing and converting paper-based distance learning Masters degrees into e-learning. I’m currently converting malaria, HIV/AIDS and TB modules for the MSc Infections Diseases so, before I do any work on my novel in the evenings, I have to remove my logical head and replace it with my fiction head. The situation works quite well – if I had a day job that was fiction-related (tutoring, editing etc) I’d probably feel creatively spent by the time I set to work on my own fiction.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
My influences have changed over the years. When I was a child it was Enid Blyton, then Judy Blume when I got a bit older and writers like Aldous Huxley, Ray Bradbury and George Orwell when I discovered sci-fi in my mid-teens. These days my favourite writers are more varied and I’m a big fan of Douglas Coupland, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Hanif Kureshi, Maggie O'Farrell, Lisa Jewell and Mike Gayle.
How did you get your first agent/ commission?
In September 2007, when I’d finished the umpteenth edit of “Heaven Can Wait” I decided to look for an agent. I bought the Writers and Artists’ Yearbook and looked for agents who represented chicklit and women’s fiction. Any that represented an author I knew and/or loved got a big star next to their name. I shortlisted six and sent off my cover letter, synopsis and first three chapters.
The first agent I approached sent me a personalised rejection telling me that, while she liked the idea for the premise, she didn’t like stories written in the first person. The second agent I approached – Darley Anderson – rang me within hours of receiving my submission and asked to see the whole thing.
While I waited to hear back I received two more rejections (one personalised, one form) until finally, in January 2008, Darley delivered his verdict on my book. It needed a lot more work, he told me, before he could even begin to consider representing me or approaching a publisher. I was gutted - I thought it was a thinly veiled no - but Darley reassured me that if he didn’t think my book had potential he would have stuck it in the stamped addressed envelope I’d included and sent it back to me.
I worked my arse off for the next few months as I edited my book again and attempted to fix all the things Darley thought was wrong with it. During that time I received a request for the full from the fifth agent on my list but she eventually rejected it saying that she liked my style but not the supernatural premise. (I never heard back from the sixth agent).
In June 2008 I sent the revised version of “Heaven Can Wait” back to Darley. Three agonising months followed while I waited for his opinion. Finally, in September 2008, just as I’d given up and re-opened the Writers and Artists’ Yearbook and drawn up another list of agents to approach, I received a phone call. It was Madeleine Buston, Head of Foreign Rights at the Darley Anderson Agency. She told me Darley had given her my novel to read on the train up to Scotland from London. She said it had made her laugh and cry and she absolutely LOVED it, so much so that she’d asked Darley if she could represent me! The next few minutes were a blur as Maddie told me about her plans for my book and which publishers she was planning on approaching. I couldn’t take it all in. I kept wait for a ‘but...’! When the call drew to a close I couldn’t bear it any longer and asked, “So...er...are you my agent then?” to which Maddie replied “Yes!” I put the phone down, buzzing with excitement and incredulity, then promptly burst into tears!
A month later Maddie rang me to tell me that four UK publishers had shown interest in publishing “Heaven Can Wait” and Orion had won the auction.
Over the last year Maddie has constantly surprised and delighted me with news of foreign deals and I still can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that my novel’s going to be published in Germany, Russia, Hungary, Spain, Brazil, Taiwan and China. I feel like I’m living in a bizarre, but wonderful dream.
What's the worst thing about writing?
Near constant self-doubt and worry.
And the best?
Getting exciting by an idea for a new novel, living vicariously through a character’s life and those rare occasions when the words spill out effortlessly and you actually quite like them when you read them back!
Tell us what kind of response you get from audiences/readers and if/how this affects/influences your writing
I’ve been told that my novel, and some of my short stories, have made people cry and I get a perverse kind of pleasure from that. That sounds awful doesn’t it? But I think that’s what we’re all striving to do as authors – to move the reader on an emotional level. Even more surprising to me is the fact that some people seem to find my stuff quite funny too. When I was writing “Heaven Can Wait” I thought no one would laugh at my jokes – they were just too puerile – but it seems I’m not the only one with a childish sense of humour. And that’s a huge relief.
What was your breakthrough moment?
I think it was being awarded the runner up prize in the Woman’s Own competition. I always thought I’d write a very deep, very worthy literary novel but writing “Wish You Were Here”, the story that won the prize, gave me so much pleasure and came so naturally it made me realise that I had to be the kind of writer I was, not the kind of writer I thought I should be.
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