Sophie Snell’s had quite the summer with a Bath Novel Award and more recently the York Festival of Writing Friday Night Live Award with her story, The Pear Drum.
With such accolades under her belt, Sophie spoke to The Fountain about York’s Festival of Writing, how setting is key to this novel and her transition from management consultant to novelist.
TF: You just won the York Festival of Writing Friday Night Live Award with The Pear Drum – that must be exciting?
I was at the York Festival of Writing in 2015 and was in awe of the performers then at the Friday Night Live. To find myself in the line-up this year was totally amazing – and to win? I never expected that! But what stays in my mind is not the “win” but the applause when I stood up – it is such a lovely feeling to think that people enjoyed the work and appreciated the words – that means a huge deal to me.
TF: And this is not the first award you have received for this tale – you must be ecstatic?
I won the Bath Novel Award in July with The Pear Drum. That was such a shock! I’d just been to a series of one to one’s at another writers’ festival (Winchester) and gained several full manuscript requests, then a few days later Bath happened – suddenly I was getting interest from agents and it was a game changer. It was so thrilling to know that people were enjoying the book to that extent, that the story and writing were working. And it was through the Bath Novel Award that I met my wonderful agent, Laura Williams at Peters, Fraser & Dunlop. I have to confess it’s been a fantastic summer!
TF: How would you sum up York’s Festival of Writing to those that have never been?
The York Festival of Writing is a tremendous experience, a weekend packed with workshops both technical and industry related – so many to choose from, covering the whole spectrum of writing. It’s the perfect destination for any writer seeking to get published – a chance to understand how the publishing world works, hone your submission skills, meet agents, editors and publishers as well as immerse yourself in learning. It’s quite intense! But you’ll come away inspired and with a host of new friends and connections – it’s been a revelation, showing me what I needed to do to pursue my writing seriously.
TF: What is The Pear Drum about, without giving too much away in the way of spoilers?
The Pear Drum is a psychological thriller about Caro, a children’s illustrator tormented by the fairy tales of her latest commission.
One of these stories is “The Pear Drum”, about a musical instrument with a box-like arm that can only be opened “if you’ve been bad enough”. But Caro knows the pear drum is real, hidden somewhere in the farmhouse where she grew up, waiting for her to find and open.
It’s a book about suppressed guilt, inhibition and revenge, set in the wild landscape of Derbyshire.
TF: And what was it from your home area of Derbyshire that you took inspiration from?
We had just moved into this old renovated farmhouse, up on a hill overlooking the most beautiful lush green valley. My boys were back at school and each day I was marooned in a sea of mist rolling up against the windows. I’d just read The Woman in Black by Susan Hill and really wanted to write something rooted in a strong setting. Add to that a feeling of displacement at moving to the country, cows braying in the dark, brooding Derbyshire stone cottages and screeching pheasants shooting out from the hedgerows, and I was there, following Caro’s journey into memory. I love Derbyshire in all the seasons, but perhaps the autumn with its growing chill and vibrant colours is the best. It’s probably the reason I defined the character of Caro around her being an artist.
TF: Sophie, it’s also interesting that you have gone from being a management consultant to storyteller. How did this transition come about?
I’d always wanted to write but worried about making a living that way. So for many years I was pragmatic, pursuing a career in finance. I travelled a lot with work, and that was really exciting, but when I finally met the right partner I wanted to settle and have a family. It was a big decision but I gave up work and was a full-time mum for a while. When I had more time for work again, I discovered traditional oral storytelling. I trained with a group of performers and got hooked – it was the start of my journey back to writing. I love stories, I love watching other people enjoy stories, and creating and writing my own – it was inevitable really.
TF: And what are you currently working on? Are there any plans for a new publication at present?
Having just found my agent, I have been doing an edit for her to get The Pear Drum in the best state I can prior to submission to publishers. In the meantime, I am already thinking about the next book and have a couple of ideas that I’m keen to explore – one of which is based around a tiny half abandoned hamlet very close to where I live, a real-life incident and another great snippet of a folktale. But who knows? Brooding on ideas and finding a hook is perhaps the most exciting part of writing a book and I can’t wait to dive back into a first draft.
For more information on the Festival of Writing click here.