An interview with…Hilary Taylor

I was very fortunate to read a proof of Hilary Taylor’s debut novel, Sea Defences, which is due out on 12 January next year.

Sea Defences is a stunning debut with evocative descriptions, strong characterisation and a simmering tension which builds to a thrilling finale. Fans of Broadchurch, in particular, will love this book. 

In this blog post, Hilary talks about her journey to publication and what she’s working on next.

Please introduce yourself and your new book

Hello Sarah. Thank you for hosting me on your blog. I’m Hilary Taylor. I live in Suffolk and worked for many years as a primary school teacher. My debut literary novel, Sea Defences, will be published by Lightning Books (eye-books.com) on 12 January 2023. It tells the story of Rachel, a trainee vicar who learns the terrifying power of the North Sea when her six-year-old daughter goes missing on the beach. She is drawn into an unlikely friendship with defiant loner, Mary, whose son is nursing a secret. The book has been described as a searingly honest psychological drama. 

When did you start writing? Can you tell me about your journey to publication?

I started writing seriously and submitting my work about 25 years ago, in the days of postage stamps and padded envelopes and actual paper rejection slips. It’s been a long road! 13 years ago I began entering short story competitions – and winning prizes, which spurred me to keep going with longer work as well. Although I had plenty of full manuscript requests from agents, none of them wanted to represent me (except one, who tried to sell a couple of picture books I’d written). My short fiction continued to do well, and in 2018 one of my stories won third prize in the Bath Short Story Award. That story, also titled Sea Defences, was the basis for this novel. Again, I had interest from agents, but no takers, and then a fellow writer suggested Lightning Books. I submitted, and a few weeks later they offered me a deal.

Sea Defences is your debut novel. How have you found the experience so far? Was there anything that surprised you?

I’m guessing that the experience of working with my small indie publisher (who, incidentally, was a British Book Awards Small Press of the Year regional winner in 2022) is very different from what it would be with a bigger publisher and an agent. It’s a year since I signed the deal, and throughout that time I have worked directly with one main person at Lightning Books, as well as being able to talk to the ‘boss’! Communication has been excellent, so I know what’s happening and feel involved at every stage.  I don’t think anything has surprised me yet – apart from the fact that I’m a published novelist at last!

Who are your favourite authors?

The ones that spring to mind are Rose Tremain, Helen Dunmore, Susan Hill, Carys Bray, Rachel Joyce, Patrick Gale, Claire Fuller, Joanna Cannon. And when I’m in the mood for crime, my go-to author is Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine.

What advice would you give to other people wanting to write?

  1. Read. It’s probably true that most writers write the kind of books they like to read. Maybe don’t over-analyse, but it’s worth thinking about why you like those books. How does the author do it? And if you read something you don’t like so much, think about the reasons for that, too.
  2. Write. No rules about how or when. Just do it. Hone your craft by practising, and by reading books about writing if they are helpful. But remember that there’s no single right way of doing things.
  3. Even if you aim to write long, write some short pieces from time to time. It feels different, and can be refreshing. And writing to a limited wordcount is excellent practice for cutting out the unnecessary. When I was researching life in the 1940s for my current work-in-progress, reading about ‘Make do and Mend’ gave me the idea for a flash fiction piece which went on to win second prize in the Flash500 competition.
  4. Find your writing community, even if it’s just one or two others. Writers can be a very supportive bunch.
  5. Learn how to pick yourself up and carry on when your submissions get turned down. Think about what success looks like for you. It’s different for different people.

Finally, what are you working on now?

I’m writing the first draft of a novel set partly in the 1940s and partly in the 1990s. The idea was sparked by a page in an old family photo album, where some photographs had been removed. Alongside the captions was an ambiguous note, written years later in spidery handwriting, mentioning an adoption which none of my family members had ever heard about. A mystery surrounded the identity of one person. Intrigued, I explored a series of ‘what if’ questions, and the novel idea began to take shape.

You can order Sea Defences from eye-books.com as well as via Amazon, Waterstones and other bookshops.

Follow Hilary on Twitter and Instagram: @hilarytaylor00

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