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Author Interview: Abigail Mann

We’re delighted that the next author in our interview series in the brilliant Abigail Mann.

Abigail’s debut novel, The Lonely Fajita, is published today by One More Chapter / HaperCollins. It was shortlisted for the 2019 Comedy Women in Print Award, and has accrued numerous five-star reviews ahead of publication, as well as being lauded by bestselling author Milly Johnson: Abigail Mann is a sparky new talent on the scene. The Lonely Fajita is comforting, witty, wise and thoroughly entertaining. (And it made me crave fajitas)”

This hilarious, heart-warming novel is perfect for fans of Marian Keyes and Holly Bourne.

Abigail Mann has worked with words in many different guises, from studying English and Creative Writing at the University of Kent, to teaching literature at secondary level in London and Sheffield.

Inspired by the experience of interning in the app industry and living in London in her early twenties, Abigail left teaching to write her first novel whilst working as a freelance editorial assistant. Abigail lives in London, but frequently returns to her homeland of Norfolk.

What inspired you to write?

During my final year at sixth form, I wrote the school pantomime with a couple of friends and found it so much fun and hugely rewarding to see the pages we typed on the school computers come to life on a stage. It wasn’t until I became a secondary school teacher that I thought about writing more seriously. I would set the students creative writing tasks and join in secretly at my desk, forgetting that I was supposed to lead the class again when the timer went off! After that, I read a stack of books on writing, like John Yorke’s ‘Into the Woods’, and listened to dozens of writing podcasts until I’d exhausted them and run out of excuses. Then I wrote every day, just ten minutes a time at first. After a few months, my writing muscles had well and truly warmed up and I started planning my novel.

What’s your favourite book/piece of literature?

It’s impossible to give just one! From childhood, the Stravaganza series by Mary Hoffman set my imagination ablaze. Her protagonists are so well fleshed, I still remember their quirks years later. Anything by Mhairi McFarlane is bound to make me laugh. Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, the Aisling books by Emer McLysaught and Sarah Breen, and Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison are firm favourites too.

Where do most of your good ideas come to you?

Sometimes when I’m doing something completely banal, like hoovering or washing the sink. Other times I’ll be reading the newspaper or a blog post and I see a good jumping off point for a story. Occasionally, my friends and family will bring something odd up that they overheard or saw and it’ll crop up again when I speak to someone else. That’s a good sign that a subject or topic is on people’s minds, so I’ll go and research that to see if it leads anywhere.

Where do you write?

At the moment, I write at a small wooden desk that came from a convent. It’s understated and not too tall, which is perfect for me as I’m quite short and moan a lot about my back. I can fit my laptop, notebook, and a giant cup of tea on it comfortably, which is the holy trinity of writing equipment. When not in lockdown, I like writing first drafts in public spaces, like cafes of theatre bars. Editing requires extra focus, so it’s usually done at home with quick access to coffee.

What is your writing process?

I feel like I’m still figuring it out. I’ve tried so many different methods of planning and drafting that I’ve managed to rule out some that don’t work for me. I like planning on flash cards, as it’s comforting to know that scenes can be added in and sifted around until I’m ready to pin the story down. Research and planning takes a couple of months, then when I feel a compulsion to start the manuscript, I move onto the drafting stage.

I write chronologically and usually start when I’m happy with the first two thirds of the plot. At the halfway point, the narrative becomes much clearer, so I’ll go back and plan the ending.

I love writing dialogue, so chatty chapters flow quite well. Those are my speediest writing days. On a good day, I’ll manage around 2000 words.

Where did the idea come from for THE LONELY FAJITA?

After university, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, so moved to London and took up internships, most of them in the tech world for little to no pay. Ultimately, I couldn’t afford to do this for long before my savings disappeared, so I began thinking about what someone’s last resort might be if they wanted to stay in London but couldn’t afford their rent.

In the same week, I was scrolling through news stories and came across a co-habitation scheme that matched young people with older residents who might benefit from companionship at home. The idea of two characters facing similar issues of loneliness but across generations really struck me, so I wanted to explore than more. I liked the idea of contrasts – the modern tech offices of Shoreditch with a Victorian residential home in Hampstead, modern dating vs old-fashioned courtship.

That’s where The Lonely Fajita emerged!

How do you relax after a day of writing?

I am a reluctant jogger, having avoided it for years and years, but everyone was right. Running through the woods listening to a good audiobook is such a nice way to stretch out after hours hunched at my desk. I also love baking, crafts, and dancing badly to Kate Bush.