Novel Experience Podcast Transcripts - S1 Ep3 Laura Kay
Novel Experience is a weekly podcast for writers and readers where authors chat candidly about writing and books. Full of writing advice, reading recommendations and reflections on the experiences that lead authors, to through and beyond publication.
Series 1 Episode 3: author Laura Kay (THE SPLIT, TELL ME EVERYTHING, WILD THINGS) chats to author and podcast host Kate Sawyer (THE STRANDING, THIS FAMILY) about the experiences that led to her writing her incredibly successful queer romcoms, writing about friendship, finding space to write and reading a writing sexy, funny gay relationships.
Kate Sawyer [00:00:05] Hello and welcome to Novel Experience. I'm Kate Sawyer, author of THE STRANDING and your host for this new podcast, where I'll be chatting to authors about why they write, how they write their experience of the journey to through and beyond publication. Today's guest is Laura K, Laura's debut novel, THE SPLIT. A queer rom com set in Sheffield was published in 2021 and her second novel, TELL ME EVERYTHING, is due to be published this May. I love THE SPLIT for so many reasons. The friendships, the relatable way that Allie deals with her, break up, the cats, the food. And I'm excited to talk to Laura about how all of that found its way into her work and to find out more about her forthcoming book. Hi, Laura. Welcome to Novel Experience.
Laura Kay [00:01:33] Hi! Thank you for having me.
Kate Sawyer [00:01:34] You're very welcome. So I've got lots of things that I want to ask you, but I am going to start with the same question I'm asking everyone, which is: have you always written or when did you start writing?
Laura Kay [00:01:50] Yes, I have always written. I have always been writing stories and poems. And I can't remember a time where I wasn't doing that. I feel like there were always stories like pinned to the fridge, you know, that sort of thing.
Kate Sawyer [00:02:10] So what did you study at University? History? So at that time, you had no idea you wanted to write? Or did you have a secret desire to be an author? Or was it just something that you realized as time went on?
Laura Kay [00:02:26] I think yes, probably. I would always say, oh, I'd love to write a book one day or imagine writing a book or imagine that being your life. And I couldn't really imagine it. It never really felt like something that was possible. I don't know…until I had my book published, I didn't know anybody else that had published a book.
Kate Sawyer [00:02:52] No, I didn't either, actually. Yeah, well, I think I remember once a girl that I worked with at one of my resting jobs. I was working, handing out flyers for a gallery. She told me that her mum was a novelist, and it really stuck with me because I remember thinking how incredibly amazing it was.
Laura Kay [00:03:13] Yeah, right. And like, like a completely different world. Like, I would just be like. I just couldn't see that. How that could become a reality. It just was like, ha. Like, as if sort of thing. Yeah. I think that's probably the case for a lot of people. And it was truly only when I, on a total whim, applied for the Penguin Write Now scheme, a program that they did. And it really was on a whim. I saw it on Twitter the day before applications closed and - I'd never heard of it. Someone must have just retweeted down to my timeline - and I was like: “Oh, well, you only had to submit a thousand words.” And then everything happened from that, like 5 minutes I spent on the application, which is wild.
Kate Sawyer [00:04:02] So you did that course. How long was the course? Is that where THE SPLIT was sort of born? The idea of THE SPLIT?
Laura Kay [00:04:12] Yeah. So, the Write Now course was about a year of a few sort of in-person things. And I worked with an editor, I think I met with her three times and we had like three phone calls or something like that to work on the script for what became THE SPLIT. I had the idea already - I'd probably written like three chapters of something that was very rough. But I had two characters in mind that I wanted to write about. And so it was just kind of them messing about. And the 1000 words that I submitted did sort of roughly end up in the book, but not not really. I like the idea of it, but it really was truly very rough. But, so over the course of that year is when it developed into the story that ended up becoming THE SPLIT. I can't tell you how many drafts there were. I would say, oh, six to ten drafts! It was endless.
Kate Sawyer [00:05:15] And then did you feel as though you had something solid at that point before you started applying to agents, or did you apply to agents or go straight to publishers? Or what was that?
Laura Kay [00:05:26] Yeah, I did. So, yes, I got to a point where I thought, this is something, this looks like a book to me. Yeah. And yeah. And that's when I went and started applying, I think I enquired to five agents in the beginning and I was very, very lucky that one wonderful agent who I'm still in touch with now got back to me. And she was - and this all just goes to show you, how much of this is timing - and she was off sick and had emailed her assistant and said, send me something, feel good. And I think, like, minutes before my manuscript had landed in the inbox and like my first three chapters or whatever, and the person was like: “Oh, well, this sounds like it's pretty feel-good.” And then, yeah, it all just kind of happened from that. And then I met with a few, a few agents and then ended up with my lovely agent Emma, and then I worked with her again on more drafts before we went out on submission. But yeah, it was a process, a long process.
Kate Sawyer [00:06:39] Yeah. I mean, I really like editing. If anybody's listening to this podcast regularly, they will know that by now. But you - when you got your publishing deal with Quercus, did you then do more rounds of edits?
Laura Kay [00:06:57] Yes, I did.. But I'm exactly the same. I love editing. It's my favorite part of the whole process. And, I don't know about you, but I can always get sort of about the first 3 to 5 chapters down and then edit them endlessly myself. It's just getting there, getting the rest of it where I struggle because I just love the bit where I'm tweaking it.
Kate Sawyer [00:07:23] Yeah, well, once you've sort of established the characters, you can start to play with them and play with their boundaries and stuff like that and put them in different situations. But I suppose that at the drafting stage who the characters are still isn’t necessarily clear. I think that's part of the reason. Because your work is character driven, as is mine - although it might not seem from the outset because it's got a big whale and the end of the world - but it's really about the characters and yours is so much about the characters. And it's interesting because your second book is about a therapist. So I was going to say, about psychology, really. So it's interesting that your second book is about that, but we'll talk about that in a minute. I'm just interested…THE SPLIT is a rom-com, but I mean, it's definitely a feel-good book and it has got romance in it in the sense that the way that Allie is finding herself, falling in love with herself and falling in love with friends, but it starts with a breakup. So were you purposely trying to sort of subvert the genre? Were you aware of the genre? Because that's something I'm really interested in, having spoken to a few authors now, I realized that maybe when we were writing our first book, we don't we're not necessarily aware of it. So were you aware that you were writing a rom com?
Laura Kay [00:08:52] No! I absolutely love that question because no! And I wasn't aware of genre either. I had no idea. I had no idea. I just wanted to write a book about, like you say, a friendship. It's sort of that kind of love. Yeah. And I think that is a really romantic friendship. And I loved writing that. And I think perhaps had I thought or been told, you know, “This is a rom-com”, I might have changed it or wanted to shift the focus.
Kate Sawyer [00:09:25] I think it's interesting because it gives you those same sort of warm fuzzies. Well, someone said a warm hug of a book, actually, about your second book, but it does give you a warm hug. It's something that's really enjoyable to read. There's a sort of safety in it that you feel secure that there'll be happiness, I suppose, but without that, like, obvious happy ending.
Laura Kay Oh, thank you.
Kate Sawyer So your second book,TELL ME EVERYTHING. It is also being classed as a queer rom-com. When you wrote that presumably you knew that was the genre you were writing into, did that make it easier or harder?
Laura Kay [00:10:09] I was like a second book and I was prepared for it to be hard because I had had a lot of conversations with people saying the second book: “Oh, that's the tough one”. It's like the, you know, the difficult second album sort of thing. And then, yes, with the surprise, no expectation. But I did know where it would be placed. So I definitely had that in mind in terms of the sort of journey for the protagonist. But I think because I wrote that in lockdown - I wrote that in lockdown one, the original lockdown - and that sort of gave me a bubble around the writing process that felt almost similar to the way that I wrote the first one. Like, I wasn't thinking about it too much other than that. I just wanted to disappear into that world and to do something to do and for an escape. So, yes, I was very conscious of the genre, but - well, I hope! - it hasn't actually changed too much what I was writing.
Kate Sawyer [00:11:20] Can you tell us a bit about it? I mean, can you give us the elevator pitch for TELL ME EVERYTHING.
Laura Kay [00:11:26] Yes, of course. TELL ME EVERYTHING is, as you say, a queer romcom. And it's about Natasha, who is a therapist and her sort of complicated personal life romantically and relationships with her family, specifically with her dad, who she is estranged from. But over the course of the book, we sort of explore their relationship and their sort of coming back together.
Kate Sawyer [00:11:58] I love the idea of a therapist being the person to have the messy life, because that's something - having done a bit of therapy myself - it's something that you can't help but wonder, but never find out, because that's not the relationship you have. So it is really interesting to sort of delve into behind the scenes. I'm really excited to read it.
Laura Kay [00:12:20] Oh yeah, I really enjoyed writing it. And like so many people have basically been like: “Oh yeah, I'm, like, desperate to know what's going on with my therapist.”
Kate Sawyer [00:12:28] Was that - I mean, it's a bit of a personal question - but where did the idea come from? Do you know what the ideas for either of your books have come from? Or is it just that when you started writing it, the characters took the lead?
Laura Kay [00:12:41] Yeah. So with - yeah, with both - It was definitely character driven. So with THE SPLIT and I knew that I wanted to write about Jeremy and Allie, the two main characters, and I, I could have written about them in all kinds of worlds really, and I just sort of built that specific world around them. Then with the second book, the main characters I had were Natasha, my therapist - not my therapist! - THE therapist. That is spilling out now! And her and Georgia, her ex-girlfriend and Natasha’s sister as well, her twin sister. And I really like strong relationships. But I knew that I wanted to write about it, because I know a lot of therapists. Yeah, I'm friends with them and I love knowing what's going on with them and the idea that their clients, can’t see what I see. So it was a really fun and interesting topic to explore.
Kate Sawyer [00:13:42] Yeah, no, it definitely is. THE SPLIT was published during a full lockdown. Right. So, in this series, I'm chatting to authors that were published in 2021. So the likelihood is that there would have been some sort of restrictions in place at the time of publication. But but for you, it was complete lockdown. Is that right?
Laura Kay [00:14:07] Yes. Complete lockdown. No, nothing was open. We were only allowed to do one walk a day. It was that kind of lockdown.
Kate Sawyer [00:14:14] Yeah. So can you tell us a bit about that experience of being published because it must have been entirely online?
Laura Kay [00:14:22] Yes, it was. It was quite surreal. And at the time, it didn't feel too bad or too disappointing because I didn't have anything to compare it to. Yeah. And I think we were - well, I don't want to speak for anyone else - but I feel like I was just in this almost like autopilot mode of just absolutely powering through. So I couldn't really let myself think about it too much. So I enjoyed what we were able to do, which was zoom, zoom, another zoom. And I like my publishers and everyone - Oh, God - they were so brilliant. They were so creative. Just trying to think of anything possible, you know, no virtual. Open. People could really only buy the book online. It was - the whole thing was - just me and it really. So this time around, obviously I'm able to drop off proofs and organize events. Loads of great events are coming up. And right now I'm really conscious of how incredibly sad I was last year, really. So I feel like I'm doing it for the first time, which is actually really wonderful because I get to do it for the first time, but with a lot of insight and some experience. So it doesn't feel too daunting.
Kate Sawyer [00:15:42] Yeah. And I suppose in some ways I think the online stuff or the, you know, all of that review stuff that is still there and you've you've navigated that because that's some of the hardest stuff to realize, because when you see people face to face, they've chosen to be there and be at your event, whereas online, that's it. It spreads a much further net. So some of the harder stuff on the Internet you've done. Now you've got that nice face to face stuff to do now.
Laura Kay [00:16:16] Yeah, you're so right. That's such a good way of looking at it. I've sort of yes. Conquered the really scary stuff.
Kate Sawyer [00:16:23] It's out at the end of May, isn't it? So then you go into the summer and have you got pannel events or are you doing one person events or what sort of things have you got lined up?
Laura Kay [00:16:34] A bit of both, actually. Yeah, I so yeah, at the end of May, as you say, and then all of June, especially with June being Pride Month. Yeah, there's tons of fun, fun stuff going on and bookshops and all are all over the place. It's going to be really great.
Kate Sawyer [00:16:54] So Book Two is almost on the press as we speak. Or are you working on a third book at the moment, or is that something that you've got to wait until after the publication? Or is there an idea simmering?
Laura Kay [00:17:11] Um, yes. Yes, there is a third book is the answer, which is really, really which I'm really excited about.
Kate Sawyer [00:17:20] That's cool.
Laura Kay [00:17:21] Yeah.
Kate Sawyer [00:17:22] Because well, the reason I ask that question is because I'm just interested in how you write, where you write, that sort of thing. Because I think there is this myth or there's this idea that writers have to have a specific desk and, you know, light a candle and maybe do a bit of meditation before they start. And sometimes I do light a candle…but it's interesting to me how writers fit it around their lives. So tell me a bit about your working week, your writing week.
Laura Kay [00:18:00] Yes. So it's actually changed a lot recently! Well, fairly recently in that, my writing week, I used to work full time at The Guardian. I managed a team of people there. And so my working week was just while I'd get up at 6:00 in the morning and write for as long as I could stand to write up until the moment I had to leave. And then I would write in my lunch breaks. This is obviously pre-covid time. Yeah. And then in the evenings and then it got easier when I was working from home in the pandemic obviously because I could use commuting time to write. But I left my full time job in July last year. Okay. And now I do have more time to write, which is like an incredible privilege, but now that I'm not trying to fit it around all the things, I'm very good at putting it off. And I find that if I don't do it first thing in the morning, I won't do it.
Kate Sawyer [00:19:13] So you’re an early bird. I’ve tried different times. But to have my childcare in the morning is a waste; my don't my brain doesn't work until after lunch. I mean, I'm awake and doing stuff, but I will procrastinate more in the morning than I do in the afternoon. So I don't know what I'm going to do when my daughter is school age because obviously then I won’t have a choice about what it is. I'll just have to train myself. But yeah, because I always used to write after work or at lunchtime. So when I wrote THE STRANDING at the weekends. So. Yeah, yeah, it'll be interesting. Do you have a dedicated desk?
Laura Kay [00:19:57] I live in a one bedroom flat and we don't have loads of space. We thought we could put a desk out, like in the hall and create, like a little writing, study space and we did put it out there and now it is covered in keys and post and stuff. And I was like, I was never going to go out and work in the hall. And that was not a thing. And so and I, you know, I don't think it really affects me. Like, I could write at the kitchen table or, you know, sat in the living room. I quite often work from a cafe. Yeah, I find that quite nice. I can relax, sort of listening to other people chatter at the moment. I'm in the stage where I'm trying to link ideas together and I am really struggling with it. So like, for example, like when we finish chatting, I'm going to go out for a walk. I have just for as long as I can just to try and figure out what my brain is doing with this idea. And but when I'm writing and I and I have to, it's like I'm aiming for 3000 words a day.
Kate Sawyer [00:21:06] Yes.
Laura Kay [00:21:06] Like, I was like, yeah, that feels right, doesn't it?
Kate Sawyer [00:21:12] Yeah. Well, my mum's like: “That's an awful lot of words.” Yeah, but I just feel like that is…if I aim for that, you know…I don't always hit it. But at least it just means that that's a solid chunk, sort of like it's a chapter or something like that. That's the way that my brain sort of thinks of it.
Laura Kay [00:21:35] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Same and about like, even if you say you want three, but you get two. Well then that's great. Yeah. And I've just I just do that for as long as it takes to get there, which is then a really good incentive to not stuff around doing other things because then once I've hit, I can stop.
Kate Sawyer [00:21:52] That's exactly the same for me. But the thing is, 3000 words can sometimes take 5 hours. I know, because sometimes, like, do you just stare at the screen and I am someone that needs to get into the zone. And I haven't quite worked out the way that I get in it. Cafes used to really do it for me because of the ambient noise. And I've tried listening to those coffee shops on Spotify. Yeah, it doesn't quite work. I don't know. I think it's the humans around me that make the difference. I'm interested in what your reading is. I mean, just in general, because I'm really nosey, but also because you said you weren't really sure about genre. And I love the fact that people always assume that people that write a particular genre only read in that genre. And I suspect that isn't the case, but maybe it is. So I've asked you to recommend books about starting with that. Do you mainly read RomComs?
Laura Kay [00:22:52] And I love this question too. No, I don't. I don't. I love romcoms and I do read them, but not exclusively. And in the past sort of couple of years, really, I've really, really got into reading loads of crime. So recently I've been on a real crime kick. I've read all of Will Dean's books, yeah. The Tuve Moodasen series especially I love and I made my way through. Elly Griffiths, Ruth Galloway series. All so brilliant. She's just such an incredible writer. So yeah, I'm reading a lot of crime at the moment, which is definitely not romcom.
Kate Sawyer [00:23:42] Would you sayyou have an aspiration to write crime yourself?
Laura Kay [00:23:53] Honestly, I just think I have got really into sort of like the pace of them. And now when I'm reading something that's quite slow and atmospheric, I really I'm like, come on, like, what's next?
Kate Sawyer [00:24:09] So, I asked you to think of three books in advance of our chat. So the ones that I asked about were a book that you'd recommend for fans of THE SPLIT, but I suppose it could be TELL ME EVEYTHING or either or both.
Laura Kay [00:24:24] Okay. So I have cheated and I've got a couple. So something for fans of I guess either THE SPLIT or TELL ME EVERYTHING I've thought IN AT THE DEEP END by Kate Davies.
Kate Sawyer [00:24:41] Okay.
Laura Kay [00:24:42] Which is a fantastic queer rom com and it is so funny and absolutely filthy. It's fun, it’s so, so great. I honestly would recommend it to anyone. It's just so, so funny and sharp and brilliant. And the second one I thought was NO SUCH THING AS PERFECT by Emma Hughes.
Kate Sawyer [00:25:10] I love that. They are so good. It has.I'm going to be talking to Emma on this podcast as well. It is similar and it's sharp, but it's also really observant, like your book. But also it's warm as well and funny and safe.
Laura Kay [00:25:29] Such a good book, I think. Yeah. Her paperback is coming out soon, so I love that. Yeah.
Kate Sawyer [00:25:36] And then a book that you recommend because you’ve always loved it.
Laura Kay [00:25:42] And so for this, I thought. David Sedaris, pretty much anything, but especially CALYPSO. Oh, I'm such a David Sedaris fan. Yeah, I love everything he's written. I've read all of his diaries, these, like, enormous bricks. But I think CALYPSO is just especially funny. It's really moving. And even though obviously he's got sort of decades of work, I think if you haven't read much. David Sedaris it's a really great place to start.
Kate Sawyer [00:26:14] Yeah. I have never read any David Sedaris. My sister will, if she's listening, will be absolutely outraged because she has purchased and gifted me several of his books that I haven’t yet read. But I have listened to him on the radio. I find him really funny on the radio. I don't know why I haven't read him. I should have just read one. I will! So I was just wondering if there's a recent book or an upcoming book that you've read recently you'd recommend?
Laura Kay [00:26:44] Yes, there is a book that is coming out in June. DOUBLE BOOKED and it's by Lily Linden and it is another queer rom com and it is so good that I was cross about it when I was reading it, I was like: “Damn it!” And I gave it to my agent and I was just like, this person has done it phenomenally well. It's really, really funny and really well-observed and just has this fantastic protagonist that you're just rooting for the whole way through and I would recommend it to anyone and I've got loads of really great events coming up with Lily in the summer.
Kate Sawyer [00:27:31] Well, I'll look out for that one as well. That sounds great. Well, that's it. Unless you have any questions for me, Laura.
Laura Kay [00:27:39] Well, actually, my question I want to ask you is that I know that you get absolutely tons of proofs. But is there anything that you've read that you're really excited about, really jealous of that you didn't write?
Kate Sawyer [00:27:53] Yes. I loved Bobby Palmer’s ISAAC AND THE EGG.
Laura Kay [00:28:00] Oh, I keep seeing this everywhere.
Kate Sawyer [00:28:02] I know. Yeah. It's so hard to explain it without giving a spoiler of why it's so brilliant. But basically it's about a man who is dealing with stuff. And this character. An egg, an alien - question mark - that comes into his life. It’s funny, but it absolutely destroyed me, like, to the point where I couldn't really see the page. But it's so funny. And then at the end, it's just so happy. And so, you know, I, I sort of had an idea what was coming because it feels like a twist as well, which is why you can't really talk about it. But I just love magical realism. And so reading that for me was like it was like the best of magical realism because it is so real and so believable, but it's using that heightened thing to talk about something that is so impossible to put into words, really. And he's done it. It's amazing. I think it's out in August and everyone should look out for its bright yellow cover.
Laura Kay [00:29:15] That sounds right up my street. I'm really excited to read it.
Kate Sawyer [00:29:19] Yeah, you can buy it going around all of these many, many bookshops, you're going to be.
Laura Kay [00:29:23] Oh, yes, I will. I will.
Kate Sawyer [00:29:27] Well, Laura, thanks so much for being my guest on NOVEL EXPERIENCE. I've so enjoyed chatting and I can't wait to read. TELL ME EVERYTHING very soon.
THE SPLIT, TELL ME EVERYTHING and WILD THINGS by Laura Kay are published by Quercus Books.
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