Karen Joy Fowler started off this Off the Shelf Literary Festival event by reading from the prologue to her book, We All Completely Beside Ourselves.
She then spoke about how she dealt with a particular surprise in the narrative (fear not, no spoilers coming, in case you haven’t read it). She said having a first person narrator helped her set up a world that could then be completely shattered and we’d really see things from the girl narrator’s perspective.
Advice to Writers
Read a lot, particularly out of your comfort zone. The pleasure of writing can be taken away easily – sometimes through criticism spoken through a writer’s group!
Karen learned a huge amount in writing workshops. She says she didn’t so much learn from hearing what others said about her own work (in fact she said she didn’t listen!) but that where she learned most was in reading other writers’ work and giving constructive feedback.
She spoke about the importance of enjoying the process of writing, checking in with yourself and emotional maintenance. If writing’s not a pleasure, re-work your routine.
Karen said if she got writer’s block it usually meant she had made a mistake earlier on. She goes back and takes a different turn with her story.
Internet and Self-publishing
Karen said before the internet, self-publishing was seen to be a shameful thing. She said not having your book published traditionally straight away forced a certain patience. Sometimes great novels are not published but can be online and while that’s great, other novels are self-published too early and really, they need to be re-worked taking time and patience.
Karen Joy Fowler on Literary Prizes
Karen was nominated for the Booker and Warwick prizes and someone asked if these were a pleasure or a distraction. Karen answered that she had done many things well in her life, but then decided to really go for it with writing and risk failure. The only way not to fail was to not try at all.
She had a few stories published and hoped one would be in a ‘best of year’ collection. It was. Then she hoped for an award. She got one of those too and then you sort of end up hoping for something bigger!
Karen added that being shortlisted for the Man Booker changed way people talked to her. She has been on juries where she sees that so much luck is involved. Mistakes are made… and awards are not a reliable way of judging – but awards do keep you going. She would like to think she would be happy without them!
The Title, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Karen does not remember how she thought of the title! Reviews of the title were mixed but she loves it as did her editor and publishing house. The U.K. publishing house was initially not so keen!
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