Dorothy Koomson is a household name in Adult Fiction in the UK. She has written fifteen novels, with the long awaited sequel to her best-selling novel The Ice Cream Girls coming soon. We recently had the chance to interview Dorothy about her writing and publishing career, we asked her for tips for aspiring writers, reading recommendations and which books she’d like to see on school curricula. For an inspiring piece on how Dorothy Koomson has dealt with rejection and what she has learnt from it, click the link below. For the full transcript of the interview, just keep on reading…
A: When did you decide to become a writer?
D: From quite a young age because I enjoyed it so much. I wrote my first book, called There’s A Thin Line Between Love And Hate when I was 13. I used to write a chapter a night and then pass it around my school friends the next morning. It was completely driven by my over-active imagination and love of reading books and watching drama stories on television.
A: When were you first published?
D: After writing the first 3 chapters of my first book, The Cupid Effect, in 2001, I was rejected by pretty much every agent I approached (a lot of them!). I finished the book and tried again. I was rejected by pretty much all of those agents again, so I decided to send it to a publisher directly. Two months later, when I’d pretty much given up hope of hearing back from them, I received a letter offering me a two-book deal. The Cupid Effect went on sale in February 2003.
A: How often do you write?
D: Sometimes every day, sometimes once a week. It depends on where I am in the writing cycle. I don’t always write, books, either. If I have a short story to write, for example, I will keep writing until I’ve finished. My work schedule is not set. I’ve learned that it is dependent on the book and what else is going on in my life. With All My Lies Are True, the rest of the year was so busy that I ended up having to write around the clock during a few short months – up to six months including research. And I do mean around the clock – sometimes, only sleeping for a few hours. While with Tell Me Your Secret, I had much more time so worked on the book every day over a longer period of time. It is all about finding the groove that works for that book.
A: How do you deal with rejection in your career as a writer?
D: You are going to get rejected – if you’re like me, you’re going to get rejected A LOT! And you have to put it behind you. Decide that your book/story/proposal wasn’t for them and carry on. It’s not easy, but the alternative is giving up and for me, I couldn’t give up writing. If you want to write, keep going until you get to where you want to be.
A: What inspired your latest book ‘Tell Me Your Secret’?
D: With this book, I wanted to look at what it means to be a survivor and victim in today’s world as well as exploring how the tentacles of crime reach out and encompass everyone including those who aren’t, at first glance, directly touched by the crime. In the book, Pieta is not perfect, none of the Blindfolder’s victims are, and that is something that effects how the crimes against them are investigated.
A: What would you say is the most challenging thing about living at the intersection of gender and race, especially within the writing and publishing world?
D: Probably people expecting you to write a certain type of book because you’re a black woman and they can’t imagine black characters doing the things my characters do. I’ve been writing contemporary romantic comedies, human dramas and emotional thrillers for years despite people expecting me to write more literary books. I’ve been battling these expectations for many years, and it does seem to be getting better on some levels but nothing has really changed on most other levels.
A: Which book or author would you say has influenced you the most as a writer?
D: I didn’t have people who have influenced me as such. I just read so much and was so inspired by the way people could tell stories and make up whole worlds. I don’t remember a time I wasn’t reading. One set of books that inspired me was a series called the Garden Gang, about a group of talking fruit and vegetables. The books were created by a 9-year-old girl called Jayne Fisher. I thought if she could do it, so could I.
A: Where do you do most of your writing?
D: Most recently in my office at my desk, sometimes in the kitchen. I used to write in bed but not any more.
A: Do you have any tips for upcoming writers?
D: Read a lot; stop talking about it and write; keep going – even when it seems too difficult to carry on. Also, write what you love.
A: What is your favourite genre to read?
D: I love reading different types of books, mostly popular fiction. Novels that are easy-to-read but also packed full of characterisation and plot.
A: What is your (current) favourite book?
D: Probably Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. It’s so good.
A: Which book would you have loved to read while you were in school?
D: Probably Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman or The Chocolate Run by me.
A: Which book would you recommend to young Black readers, who may have only come across non-Black authors in their reading life / in school?
D: Pig Heart Boy by myself, Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence, Oh My Gods by Alexandra Sheppard or Daughters of Nri by Reni K Amayo.
A: What’s next for Dorothy Koomson?
D: I’ve just finished all the work that needs to be done about on my sixteenth novel, All My Lies Are True, the sequel to The Ice Cream Girls, and I am working on several other projects that I’ll be revealing in the coming weeks and months.