She grew up in the western mountains of Maine, in a small town where the sulphur scent of the paper mill was called ‘the smell of money’. Her house was just up the hill from the library, and she spent many hours walking up and down that hill. She wanted to be a writer, and to have her book on the shelf of the Rumford Public Library.
She wrote her first novel at the age of 11. It was about a girl wizard and was more or less a gender-flipped imitation of Ursula LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. She wrote it by hand in a spiral-bound notebook and included illustrations and maps.
She studied English Literature at Brown University in Rhode Island and Cambridge University in the UK, and then did an M.Phil. degree by research on fairies in Victorian and Edwardian children’s literature. As this had very few practical applications, she became a secondary school English teacher. It was about at this point that she realised that if she wanted to become a novelist, she should probably start writing novels.
At first, she failed. In her previous life she had always been pretty good at what she tried to do, so it was difficult when her novels kept getting rejected. She didn’t knew then what she knows now: that writing is a process of getting a good idea and then failing to execute it. The wrong words always come before the right ones.
She kept writing and eventually she found some of the right words. Her novels have been translated into fifteen languages and sold nearly a million copies worldwide. Her book Dear thing was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick. Her latest novel, Together, was published by Orion in hardback July 2017. It was a top book club pick in the Independent, Vogue, Elle and Red magazine, and a number one Amazon bestseller.
© picnicontheshelf, June 20, 2018
he teaches creative writing workshops – for The Guardian, Literature Wales, and Writers’ Workshop, among