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Interview: UK Author Lucy Saxon On How Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Gave Her Time To Write
Tuesday 17 March 2015
Interview: Stortford author Lucy Saxon on how Chronic Fatigue Syndrome gave her time to write
At just 18, the former Bishop's Stortford College student signed a three-book advance deal, worth almost £100,000, with Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury – while suffering from a debilitating illness.The book lover wrote her first published novel, Take Back the Skies, in just three weeks while suffering a severe bout of chronic fatigue syndrome at the age of 16. Bedridden and rarely at school, she left the College after achieving top GCSE grades and has continued to write the Tellus book series from her bedroom in her family's Stortford home.
Tom Durham spoke to the self-confessed nerd and comic convention fan about how her illness gave her physical restraints, but provided her the freedom to pen a novel ...
HOW did chronic fatigue syndrome affect your time at Bishop's Stortford College?
After the age of about 12, I didn't spend that much time in school. It definitely made it harder to keep my grades up because I missed a lot of the work. But then I started getting tutors and that helped a lot because then I could work with them at my own pace.
Was chronic fatigue syndrome a trigger for your writing career?
I think so. I wouldn't have started writing, or at least I don't think I would have started writing, if I hadn't got chronic fatigue syndrome. It meant I had way more free time than I knew what to do with. Before, I was doing so many extra-curricular things; I did horse riding and tennis outside of school. I barely had five minutes to sit down and think. I probably wouldn't have started writing or at least it would have been much later in my life.
When did you write your first novel, Take Back the Skies?
I was 16, so it was before my final GCSEs. That was when I was really bad [with ME]. That year, I went into school about three times.
I had a lot of time off school and a lot of time to write. I had written a little bit before that, but nothing that I was really proud of.
I would finish something and think 'Wow, this sucks, why did I write it?' Take Back the Skies was the first thing I had finished and I was like 'Yeah, I'm proud of this.'
Was having Maggie Hattersley (literary agent), who you met through your father, the real breakthrough?
I sent it her because I was told she would give me some honest feedback, but that she wasn't accepting new authors and didn't do children's fiction. I wasn't expecting much. But about two weeks after I sent the book to her I got an e-mail back saying: 'This is great, I'd like to represent you.'
Can you remember the moment you found out about the Bloomsbury three-book advance contract?
Maggie called me and I didn't believe her for a while. I was just like 'Are you kidding me? Is this real?' She was like 'You've got a meeting with one of the editors at Bloomsbury in a couple of weeks and we're going to talk over getting your contract sorted.'
I had, like most authors tend to, quite a few rejections. At the time we were trying to sell, a lot of publishers had already filled their lists for the next year. So for Bloomsbury to come and say 'Yes, we want it' was just amazing.
Is Bloomsbury a publisher which has meaning to you?
It was definitely a bonus that it was the publisher of Harry Potter. That was a huge selling point. When I was looking for publishers, Maggie told me to go to my bookshelf, look through it, see which publishers I had the most books from and we'll go for that. Bloomsbury was one of the ones on that list because if I enjoy reading what they publish then I would enjoy working with them.
Take Back the Skies is a fantasy where the central character adventures away from an arranged marriage. Where did the idea come from?
I had this idea for a sort of steampunk, Victorian vibe. It was definitely much more fun to write about someone else having adventures than it was to watch daytime TV and think about how all of my friends were doing stuff and I couldn't.
What does your day, as you still suffer from ME, consist of?
It's not as bad. It really depends on what I'm doing. If I'm in the middle of editing or writing then I'll pretty much get up, have breakfast, go up to my room, write until lunchtime, take a lunch break and continue writing so that I have just a solid day of work. I go into hibernation mode and write, pretty much. My friends know better than to expect me to do anything when I'm writing.
You're a fan of cosplay and go to comic book conventions. Does this influence your work?
Comic books and conventions are starting to influence the ideas I have for things outside of the Tellus series, but this one I think it's definitely the more fantasy thing that's going on in the novels.
You've said comicons influence your writing outside of the Tellus series. So what kind of work is that?
I've got some ideas – it's just trying to find the time to write them. There's one that's very sort of comic book and superhero-influenced that I'm looking forward to writing, hopefully this year.
What message would you give to those thinking of writing?
Just write what you want to read. If you think of an idea and it doesn't exist then just write it yourself. Because writing is the kind of thing you have to put a lot of effort, time and a lot of yourself into you have to make sure that you are really enjoying what you're writing. Don't write something because you feel you should be writing it or you feel that's what's going to be popular, just write what you want to write.
Were there students at Bishop's Stortford College who had the same interest in comic conventions and fantasy?
Not so much. I was kind of the oddball with the whole nerdiness thing. I mean, there were other students who enjoyed fantasy stuff, but not quite to the same level that I did. I was still at the College when I started going to conventions and everyone just thought it was really bizarre what I did with my weekends. But I was just like 'OK, I'm having fun, but I don't really care.'
How did the Bloomsbury deal change how you write?
I'm still writing in my bedroom, but having been through the first book with an actual professional editor, it makes the writing process a lot easier the second or third time round because I know what they are going to be looking for. I think the great thing about writing is that you are always improving. You never hit the point where you say 'Yes, I'm the best I can be at this now.' You are always learning and improving and developing your style.
Did you feel pressure once you signed for Bloomsbury?
Not so much. I did worry about how much I would be able to do outside of the actual writing bit – like author events and stuff like that – but the actual writing wasn't actually a problem for me. Because I want to do all of the signings and events and everything, I really want to get involved. But I have to pace myself.
The second novel in Lucy Saxon's Tellus series, The Almost King, is due for release this summer
The above originally appeared here.
The video originally appeared here.
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