How to become a novelist in Dubai

We speak to author Liz Fenwick about getting published

Interview, Time In

Dubai-based American-British author Liz Fenwick is living proof that good books don’t happen overnight. Instead, getting published can be a long, arduous process that requires time and dedication, something Fenwick knows a thing or two about. After eight years, three finished books, seven attempts and six drafts, the 49-year-old’s first published novel, The Cornish House, will be released on Thursday May 24. Now, the mother of three and ‘expert expat’ says a second book for her publisher, Orion, is already in the pipeline and has been nominated for a new writer’s award in the UK.

How long have you been living in Dubai?
This time, five years. But we lived here before, from 2001 to 2004.

What inspired you to write your first novel?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I did a degree in English literature with a focus on creative writing, but I left it behind to earn a living and moved to England in 1989, where I met my husband. We travelled all over the world with his job. On New Year’s Eve 2004, I decided I was going to write more. It took me from 2004 to 2011 to get an agent. After that, everything else fell in place.

How long did it take you to write it?
This is the third book I’ve finished, and the first draft took only three months to write. But somebody read it and said, ‘Oh, this is really good, it should be a young adult novel’. I could see what they were saying, but I didn’t want to write young adult novels because I haven’t got any more in me. I knew that if publishers take you on, they want more than one book. It took me another year to figure out how I could balance the novel between the stepmum and the stepdaughter. Before it was accepted, I rewrote the book a sixth time.

How hard was it getting published?
It took me about a year. I had to understand what the market wanted, as opposed to writing the book of my heart. When I finally understood that and The Cornish House was accepted by my agent, I was writing book seven. Somebody asked me which of my books I thought would launch me as a writer. I knew in my heart it was The Cornish House. So that was the one I kept polishing, and it got me the agent and a two-book deal in the UK.

Is it inspired by real events?
Not really, no. There’s a house I fell in love with that’s very much the Cornish House, but the house developed in the writing of the story. The hero, Mark, was a love interest in a book I wrote before, and Hannah is inspired by a teenage family friend who spent some time with us in summer.

How do you write?
I love writing early in the morning, but because I started writing fiction again when the kids were small, I learned to work during school hours. Because my kids are all in the UK in education, I seem to do a lot of writing on the plane. When I’m revising I sometimes create a soundtrack for the book, which helps me focus on the themes.

What genre is The Cornish House?
I’d say women’s fiction, although many people cuckoo that title. It’s not straight romance, because the biggest relationship in the book is between Maddie and Hannah.

What’s your next book?
Orion bought two books from me and the second is one I wrote first, with Mark from The Cornish House. It’s not really a prequel, because it’s a different story. My unique selling point is all my books are set in Cornwall, and all my books have houses at the heart.

What challenges do you face as a Dubai-based author?
Being a Dubai-based author has given me a huge advantage. For the past few years I’ve been a volunteer at the Emirates Litfest and this year I had my own session. Because of my involvement I’ve met a lot of people in the industry – other writers and agents – and publishing is a very small world. Those connections help.

Do you have any tips for first-time novelists?
Be professional. Treat it as a job, even if you’re only doing it for 20 minutes a day. Be consistent. Take your writing seriously, study the industry. There’s plenty of blogs that will fill you in. Make sure that when you come to the point of submission, your manuscript is as perfect as you can make it.

The Cornish House is released on Thursday May 24. Dhs80, available at various locations including Kinokuniya, The Dubai Mall (04 434 0111).

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