When did you realise you wanted to become a writer?
Wanting to write is one of my earliest memories. I remember when I was about four, I took my mother’s diary and started filling it in with fictional details; all mono-syllabic stuff about going to the zoo and things like that. “This is my snot” was one of the highlights, with a big arrow pointing to a smear of nasal debris.
By the age of eight or nine my writing had obviously improved somewhat because everyone at school was convinced I would one day be a poet. I recall writing a poem that made my teacher cry, though in retrospect I can see she may have had a drinking problem.
Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication?
Ah, the journey! The odyssey, more like it! I think the biggest frustration for me was the years and years I spent trying to find my voice as a writer. It was a bit like building a fire: the hearth seemed to be full of the right stuff and I kept striking matches, but nothing would catch. Then, after more than a decade, I simply sat down one day and started writing. The words kept flowing week after week and eventually I had a book. That manuscript got me my first agent, who was based in New York. Although we had some good feedback from publishers in the US, none of them made an offer. It was a very difficult period for me because it was the expectation of this moment that had kept me going for so long. I finally had an agent and a manuscript in circulation, and yet nothing had changed. Cue many months of self-pity!
To cut a long story short, I started to write Lost & Found about a year later. My agent liked the manuscript, but she wanted to try selling it in the UK first, so she introduced me to an agent friend of hers in London, and he introduced me to one of his colleagues, which is how I came to meet the wonderful Juliet Mushens. From that day forward, I knew both the book and I had found our proper home. Juliet became my sole agent and quickly sold the UK and Commonwealth rights. Then the foreign-language rights started selling, which was a really amazing experience.
Funnily enough, I no longer have any interest in seeing my first manuscript get published. Writing it was a good experience, and it proved to be an important stepping stone to Lost & Found, but that’s all. I can see now that I needed to write it for my own growth, not to share it with the world at large.
What was your inspiration for Lost & Found?
In very broad terms, Lost & Found is a synthesis of my personal experiences and observations. I wanted to write about loss and regret, but keep it blackly comic. I also wanted to show how powerful it can be when people reach out and connect with one another. At its heart, I believe Lost & Found is a fundamentally hopeful book.
There are a lot of colourful characters in Lost & Found. Who was your favourite to write?
It was a pleasure to share my life with all the characters, but I’m especially fond of Albert. It’s been very rewarding to hear other people’s reactions to him. He really seems to win hearts!
In terms of pure writing pleasure, I loved writing all the scenes with Mickey Wong and Mandy. In fact, the barbecue chapter with Mandy and her husband still makes me laugh!
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Don’t give up! Family obligations, day jobs, noisy neighbours, self-doubt… the list of challenges and distractions goes on and on and on. Just remember it’s a well-trodden path, so keep going.
I think it’s also important to keep the submissions process in perspective. It’s true there are likely to be some rejections along the way, maybe even many, but if you believe it’s an impossible task, there’s no room for hope. The reality is that agents and publishers are signing new writers all the time. Just keep going!
What was the first book you bought yourself?
Wow, I can’t even remember! I was addicted to the Puffin Club when I was a child. Even now the logo makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. And my local library was like a second home throughout my childhood. I think it’s fair to say that books were my entire world.
And what was the last book you read?
I haven’t been reading much for the last six months because I’ve been so busy on my new book. When I’m reading for pleasure, my preference is generally non-fiction (Malcolm Gladwell and Jon Ronson are two of my favourite writers). One of my most recent fiction reads was A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. An utterly brilliant book.
Finally, what are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently finishing a second book for my publisher, Constable & Robinson. It’s about a brother and sister who are each at a massive crossroads in life. Essentially it’s a story of how we choose to react to disappointments and frightening possibilities. Much like Lost & Found, it deals with some difficult subjects, but hopefully with a wry turn of phrase that makes the journey enjoyable
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Thank you, Tom for taking the time to answer my questions.
Lost & Found is available now.