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Friday, October 9, 2015

Sophie Duffy talks about her latest novel

Bright Stars is Sophie Duffy's new novel, out this month and already twinkling in the Amazon skies! I caught up with Sophie yesterday when we had a coffee in the Debenham's cafe overlooking Exeter Cathedral, and we had a lovely chat about Sophie's story. It features four friends who were at university together and whose later lives don't quite work out in the way they might have expected - or planned. 

MJ: I see this novel is partly set at Lancaster University.  So were you a student there yourself and is this story based on any of your own experiences?

SD: Yes, I studied English there from 1986 to 1989 and I borrowed heavily from the landscape there at that time, both geographical and political. But the story and characters are most definitely fiction. I later got an MA in Creative Writing which I studied for by distance learning. It was strange going back for summer school and revisiting old haunts. Lancaster University is going from strength to strength and I think it’s quite a unique place to study. As long as you don’t mind wind and rain.

MJ: Where did the character of Cameron come from – did he walk into your head and say write about me, is he based on anyone you know?

SD: I wrote the first draft of Bright Stars in the third person from four points of view - Bex's, Tommo's, Christie's and Cameron’s. I wanted to show how four completely different people can become friends when they are thrown together in a confined space. But something didn’t quite work. Someone asked me whose story it was and that made me realise it was indeed Cameron’s story. So I didn’t set out to write in a Scottish man’s voice but that’s how it ended up.

MJ: How did you get into the mindset of a man?

SD: Cameron’s not a testosterone-fuelled man. He’s a sensitive soul. Doesn’t like sport or beer. He’s a little quirky and different and that’s the kind of character I like writing about, so I just went with it.

MJ: What’s your favourite part of the creative writing process?

SD: The last quarter of writing a novel, when it all starts to come together and makes a whole. I love it when that happens but it is a slog getting there.

MJ: Who are your own favourite authors and have any of them influenced your own writing?

SD: I love the Thomas Hardy and George Eliot – their use of flawed, complex characters has definitely informed my writing. I also love writers who use a sense of humour to show the extraordinary in the ordinary – David Lodge, Kate Atkinson, Barbara Pym are my favourites.

MJ: You’re a very successful contemporary novelist. Do you have any ambitions to write historical fiction?

SD: I would love to write an historical novel. In fact, my current work-in-progress begins in the 1920s, so I am creeping backwards… I would also love to write a ghost story and am mulling over some ideas.

MJ: What are you working on now?

SD: I’m writing about the life of a female undertaker – a profession that has always fascinated me. Not that I am morbid or anything.

MJ: As a prize-winning author who is also involved in mentoring and judging the work of other creative writers, do you have any tips for people just setting out on their creative writing journeys?

  • Do a writing class or join a writing group.
  • Read lots of current books.
  • Just write. Anything and everything. You have to write a lot of rubbish until something good bubbles up. 

MJ: Thank you, Sophie - it was good to chat!

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