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  • Jacci Gooding

Meet the Author: Fran Hill


At SWLF 2023 Fran Hill ran a very popular workshop ‘Finding the Funny.’ Author of Miss What Does Incomprehensible Mean? and the recently published Cuckoo In The Nest, Fran joins us now for an interview.






Welcome, Fran. Tell me a little bit about yourself.


I’m a (probably) retired secondary English teacher, now full-time author, living in Warwickshire with my gardener husband. I worked in the NHS as a medical secretary as my first career before ‘pivoting’, I think they call it now, at 40. I sat my English A level, gained a degree and retrained as a teacher. I have three very grown-up children and two grandchildren. I also have a big fluffy tortoiseshell cat but only in my imagination as our tenancy agreement says no pets.☹  


Imagination is a good thing! Your website tells us you have been a freelance writer for over 25 years. What put you on the path to a career in writing?


As soon as my youngest child went to primary school, I joined a creative writing class after years of writing funny poems to see if I had any other strings to my bow. I did.

 

Was there a particular point in your life that made you decide to be an author?


That writing class and its outstanding tutor (thank you, Colin) gave me regular feedback and huge encouragement that writing could be my ‘thing’. I started publishing humour columns and feature articles in faith publications and educational publications as well as short stories and poems on- and off-line. But I didn’t call myself an ‘author’ until the publication of ‘Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean?’ and even then I was hesitant.  


So tell us about that. Why did you decide to write your memoir, Miss What Does Incomprehensible Mean?


I wrote it because a commissioning editor who had become familiar with my writing said, ‘Why don’t you write a funny memoir about the teaching life?’ and one so hates to disappoint people, especially commissioning editors. As I wrote, it became much more than a ‘funny memoir’ and I found myself exploring my own psyche and why I had become the kind of teacher I was: conscientious and passionate but determined to Do It All Perfectly. In other words, doomed unless I saw sense.


Doomed! Moving on then, tell us more about why you wrote your first published novel, Cuckoo In The Nest.


‘Cuckoo in the Nest’ began in my mind as ‘a novel featuring a foster child’. I was in care myself as a child and I know that often the focus is on the foster parents and the way they ‘rescue’ children from difficult or tragic homes. I wondered, what if that child becomes the ‘rescuer’ of the family with which she is placed?




 

Cuckoo In The Nest as well as being very funny in places, is also very emotive. How did you cope writing about those emotions?


I’m not the world’s most emotional person – it’s taken therapy to explore why - and sometimes it wasn’t until I re-read what I’d written that I would feel its emotive effect. That’s the subconscious for you.

 

Did you feel it was a story you needed to tell?


Yes, because children in care (or ‘looked after children’ which I think is the way they are described now) are often stereotyped as ‘difficult’ or ‘damaged’ and their skills and talents or their potential as people in their own right can be overlooked.

 

Do you intend to write another novel?


I’d like to see Jackie Chadwick, the character in ‘Cuckoo in the Nest’ have a trilogy of books about her progress in life from foster child to independent young woman. A second book in the series is in the publishing pipes and a third is under construction.

 

Can you give us a taster?


In the second one, Jackie will try to reconnect with her father, working out for herself how many chances one gives a person who lets you down.

 

Did you find it easy or difficult to actually start writing?


Scenes for Cuckoo in the Nest  first emerged on my screen as a result of regular meetings with a writing buddy during the first lockdown in 2020. We set each other regular prompts. That week, it was the colour ‘yellow’ and I wrote the first scene in which Jackie is shown around her new ‘sunflower yellow’ bedroom by Bridget, her foster mother. At first, I wrote this in Bridget’s voice and wasn’t happy with it. I switched to Jackie’s voice and up she popped: sarky, intelligent, observant, and definitely not wanting a new yellow bedroom, however sunflower.

 

What was your path to publication?


I submitted ‘Cuckoo in the Nest’ to 12 agents and publishers, deciding I would take whichever accepted me first. None of them did. I sent it to another 12 but, in the meantime, also sent it to several trusted writer friends to read for me. They had some thoughts (!) so I withdrew it from submission to improve its structure and add more jeopardy, then sent it back again. [New writers, don’t do it this way round.] About seven months later, I received an email from a commissioning editor, Cari Rosen, at Legend Press, saying that she’d loved the first 3 chapters and would like to read the rest. Fortunately, she also loved the rest.




 

Describe your writing process for us.


I’m not one of life’s pantsers, preferring to have a synopsis for a book roughed out. This might well change as characters begin to push the story in other directions but I want to see, right from the start, how one event leads to another and to another. It’s called ‘causality’ and it makes a real difference to a narrative. My draft synopsis has the words AND BECAUSE OF THIS all the way through.


That’s an excellent tip. Would you say it was easy writing a book?


It’s really easy to pick up a copy of your newly-published book in Waterstones and stroke it – this takes no effort at all and feels brilliant - but apart from that, nothing else about the process is easy.

 

What is the best time of day for you to write?


I’m at my best first thing in the morning, during the evening and into the early hours. Between 2pm and 5pm, my brain goes to another place and you’d be lucky to get a decent simile out of me.

 

That answer leads well in to the next questions...When writing, do you find yourself distracted by biscuits, or social media, or putting the washing out for example?

Yes, particularly biscuits, social media and putting the washing out.

 

How often do you think you have failed with a piece of work, if at all?

There are plenty of pieces I’ve left unfinished – articles, short stories, even novels – but I don’t think of them as failed because every word you produce, whether it gets an audience or not, teaches you something about how to/how not to write.

 

That’s a very positive way of writing. And while you were writing, did you share any of your drafts for feedback?

I’m learning how essential this is, sometimes the hard way, as I’ve explained about Cuckoo in the Nest which I submitted too early and had to withdraw for improvement purposes!



You also run writing workshops; tell us a bit more about that and why you do it.


I do this occasionally rather than regularly, although I’m open to persuasion. I do enjoy running workshops: I always learn something from the students and there’s nothing so thrilling as hearing a hesitant beginner writer reading out their work and getting a spontaneous round of applause from classmates. I remember how powerful that was when I was learning. Also, workshops are huge fun, particularly if I’m teaching humour and students find out how much funnier they can be just by rearranging a few words differently or finding an exaggerated comparison that hits the spot.

 

And as well - you work as a poet on demand; that sounds like fun! Please tell us more about what that entails and how successful it has been for you.

Occasionally, I get commissions to write a funny poem for a special occasion such as a birthday, anniversary or wedding. By email or on the phone, I solicit some details about the person concerned: likes and dislikes, favourite possessions, hobbies, holiday memories, idiosyncrasies, etc. Sometimes the client is that person but more often they’re buying for someone else as a surprise.


What advice would you give a first-time author?

Never take rejection personally. They’re rejecting the work, not the person, even though it feels like a slap in the face. Also, show your work to people who are not your relatives, lovers, or people you’ve blackmailed.

 

Again, excellent advice there! Are there any particular pitfalls to look out for?

One major pitfall is impatience: sending out work that isn’t ready. You’ll burn bridges you can’t cross again. Another is that agents, editors and publishers all have different requirements, preferences and methods. Scrutinise their websites until you can scrutinise no more and then use their names in your query emails. Spell these names correctly. Thirdly, learn the difference between bona fide publishers and sharks. This could save you thousands.

 

What book are you currently reading?

It’s a perfect example of fiction that combines stunning lyrical prose with a page-turning story. It’s called The Seamstress by Maria Duenas translated from Spanish. I’m halfway through it and the writing is remarkable.


How do you view your readership?


With gratefulness for giving me a shot.  

 

And how important are book reviews?


The positive ones put a spring in your step and anything constructively negative is worth noting especially if several people have the same criticism. My favourite review, however, was this on a book website for ‘Cuckoo in the Nest’: ‘5 stars. Lovely scarf. Beautiful colours.’

 

That has to be one of the best ‘reviews’ I’ve seen for a long time. But at least you got your five stars! Moving on to the festival this year, you will be there as a compere. What in your opinion makes a good compere and how do you prepare?


A good compere tries to make interviewees feel comfortable and relaxed, confident in the way the compere will handle the session and the audience, and valued as a contributor. I’ll prepare by researching the interviewees and planning a range of questions, more than necessary so that I can pick and choose. And I’ll try not to crack my knuckles: a nervous habit.  

 

And please add anything else you would like to say about yourself, your writing, your writing journey and your writing ambitions.

You’ve wrung me dry, in a good way! But should anyone wish to know more or to commission something, my contact details are on the website at www.franhill.co.uk and I’m on X-Twitter and Instagram @franhill123  

 

Thank you Fran. I really appreciate the time you’ve taken and given us a good insight into your writing life.


Link here to buy Fran’s book, Cuckoo in the Nest

 

 

Interview by Jacci Gooding

  

   


 






  



 


 


 


 

 

 

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