Sophie entered Stylist’s short story competition in 2016 whilst working on a novel in her spare time. Three years and two books deals later, she’s now a celebrated author.
If you’d told me when I entered the Stylist x Virago short story competition in 2016 that in three years I would have two book deals, my debut would be longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and that writing would be my full-time job, I would have laughed hysterically.
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Back then I was working in an office [as a content executive at Virgin], trying to enjoy city life, and also – quietly, increasingly sadly – spending my free time writing a novel. I was 27 years old, I wasn’t getting anywhere and it was wearing me down. But one day I saw a short story competition in Stylist…
Seeing my story, The Running Ones, in the magazine was surreal. I saw people reading it on the Tube, strangers shared it online, editors started slipping into my DMs – and it was the boost I needed to finish my novel, even if that meant missing every night out and waking at 5am.
A year later I was stunned when seven publishers bid for my book, which allowed me to quit my office job. Soon after The Water Cure was published, it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2018, I appeared on the front of The New York Times, did events all over the country, and even Margaret Atwood read it. I was completely shocked as had no idea my book was on her radar – to know that she had both read it and enjoyed it was incredibly exciting. She described The Water Cure as a “gripping, sinister fable”. Writing had become my job – the thing I’d dreamed of – and every frazzled second was worth it.
5 tips for aspiring writers
Make time, somehow
For me the only reliable time was before work, and so I forced myself to become a morning person. An hour a day is five hours a week – it adds up.
Make it fun
I would go to nice cafes on the weekend to write, and always looked forward to it.
Be kind to yourself
Look after yourself mentally and physically – writing can be solitary, and other parts of your life are important too. Eat well, get outside, don’t forget your friends.
Planning out a book can feel boring, but when the alternative is a blank page you realise how valuable even a loose plan can be to keep you on track.
Keep an eye out for competitions, whether that’s short stories or unfinished manuscripts – plus it’s good practice.
Photography: Tom Jamieson/New York Times/Redux/Eyevine