KE Payne worked for the British government for fifteen years, “making models of the Taj Mahal out of paperclips” (her words, not mine) before becoming a full-time writer.
Since 2011, she published a total of four novels with Bold Strokes Books. Ther fifth novel, Because of Her, will be published next year.
I’m curious to find out how she manages to stay so productive, so let’s see what she had to say about her writing life.
How long have you been writing full-time?
What was the process of moving into full-time writing for you?
It was never a conscious decision to become a writer, but certain circumstances in my life opened the door for me and led me to where I am now. I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason, and that’s exactly what happened with the writing.
Although I always enjoyed making up stories and poems as a child, I never had a burning desire to actually ever become a writer. In fact, when I was 16 I really wanted to be a vet, but an unfortunate fainting incident with an anaesthetized Yorkshire Terrier told me I was never destined to work anywhere where blood was visible. So, encouraged by my parents who worried I’d end up spending my days sitting by the window watching the trees, I kinda drifted into the civil service and stayed there for the next 15 years. Wanting a change of direction in my life, I took time out to go to university, and emerged bleary-eyed three years later with a nice, sparkly degree in Linguistics and History and – possibly foolishly – thought I’d pick up a fabulous job straight away. Wrong. Instead, I had to take the first job that was offered to me, which, strangely, was the one that led me on the path to becoming a writer.
A combination of a mind-numbingly boring non-job and an absolute dragon of a boss who made Miss Trunchbull look like Bambi led to me going off work with stress. It was during this time, when I was having regular panic attacks and all the other yukky things associated with stress, that my partner suggested I use writing as a way to get back on an even keel. I remember her telling me that because it was work that was stressing me out so much, it made sense for me to leave it so that it might take some of the stress away. After many long conversations with her and my family over it, I handed in my resignation, and even though the stress didn’t magically disappear overnight (five years later and it still lingers), it certainly eased it.
Now, rather than watching the clock tick round agonisingly slowly, my days are filled with writing. So far I’ve had four lesbian YA novels published with Bold Strokes Books, with a fifth due out in March and, under a different name, I write short stories for UK women’s magazines, so it’s all going swimmingly right now.
By some quirk of fate, my first novel, 365 Days, was written while I was still working, both as a way to fill long, boring days in the office, and to relieve some of the stress (or at least try and take my mind off it). I heard that it had been accepted for publication while I was on sick leave. It was almost as if it was meant to be…
Do you write every day? Do you give yourself weekends or days off or vacation time away from writing?
I write most days, yes. Once you’ve got your teeth into a new novel, it’s sometimes hard to stop. But unless I’ve got edits hanging over me, I do take weekends off, and I’ve become very good at shutting the computer down and stepping away from it when my partner is on holiday. We see little enough of each other as it is, so holiday time is precious.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
No writing gets started until at least 9am: that’s after the dog’s been walked and fed, the breakfast things have been cleared away, other various chores have been done, and our two guinea pigs have been fed and let out into their run in the garden. Once all that’s done, I can concentrate on the writing.
Aside from a short break for coffee, I’ll write on until lunchtime. After lunch, I’ll crack on until mid-afternoon, by which time the dog’s wandering around the house, hinting that it’s walk time again. I’ll walk him for around an hour, all the while thinking about what I’ve written so far that day, and turning scenes and plots over in my head. By the time I’ve done that I’m itching to get back to it, before I forget any ideas I might have thought up while out of the house.
I’ll write on until my partner gets home from work. Over a cup of tea, we’ll both chew the day over: if she has work to get on with, she’ll go up to her study and I’ll carry on writing until my stomach tells me it’s time for dinner. Then, helped along with a glass of wine, we prepare stuff together. If I don’t have edits to do, then my working day ends there. If I do have edits to finish, the day ends much later – usually when I don’t feel like I can keep my eyes open any longer.
Do you have a daily word-count goal or a set number of hours you spend writing?
I never have a daily word-count as I don’t like to restrict myself, or ever want to feel like I’ve failed if I don’t match that word-count! As other writers will testify, words either flow like a river, or trickle out like a dried-up stream in summer. I write because I love it, and have never coped well when my back’s against the wall, because then I feel like I’m forcing it.
Even though being a writer takes a great deal of discipline, and a lot of writers thrive on setting themselves goals, I personally don’t want to pressure myself with word-counts, because that (in my opinion) takes the pleasure out of it.
Where do you write?
This is going to make any chiropractors reading this groan, but I write sitting on the sofa, with my laptop on my lap. And the dog next to me. I’ve tried sitting at a desk, but this is what works best for me.
How did family and friends react to you giving up your day job to become a full-time writer?
They were all great. They knew about the stress, of course, and all fully supported my decision to leave work and try my hand at this. My sister has all my books lined up on her bookcase at home and I think my mother has told everyone she meets (possibly even strangers on the street) that her daughter is a writer.
How much time do you spend promoting your books, including blogging, social media, etc.?
Probably not enough time! I don’t have a blog of my own, but I do occasional guest blogs, which are always huge fun. I’m on both Twitter and Facebook and bombard them both when I have some news to tell, but otherwise, I’m fairly quiet on them.
What’s the best thing about being a full-time writer?
There are so many! Working from home and not having those Monday morning blues is definitely a bonus. I love not having a daily commute; I love being home when my partner gets in; I love not having to sit around in an office any more being bored to death. I get so much “job satisfaction” now from what I do, and I know it sounds cheesy, but every day really is a new adventure.
The best thing though, is being my own boss, and being in charge of my own destiny. I even enjoy doing my tax returns!
What’s the most difficult thing about being a full-time writer?
The discipline required. When I’m really ~into~ one of my books, then discipline isn’t a problem; my characters and plot live with me 24/7 and days can disappear with me barely noticing, because I’m so focused on what I’m writing.
But when the words refuse to flow, or when it comes to editing, I find that my mind wanders and I suddenly have an overwhelming urge to clean the oven. That’s what I find the most difficult, and I have to remind myself that writing is my living, and tell myself to take those rubber gloves off and get on with it.
Is there anything you wish you would have known before becoming a full-time writer?
That not everything you write is going to hit the mark with readers. When I first started out I’d read all the available reviews of my books that I could get my hands on. Unfortunately, any nasty comment or review I stumbled upon would really get to me because I took each and every one personally.
Now I know that not everything I write is going to appeal to everyone and that I can’t please all of the people all of the time. You learn to develop a thick skin in this game.
What advice would you give a fellow author who wants to write full time?
I would say make sure you have a back-up plan in case it doesn’t work out, or for those times when you’re really struggling to sell anything you’ve written. I was lucky enough to have a very understanding partner who supported me – both emotionally and financially – in those first few months when I wasn’t earning a bean.
Leaving work to plunge head first into full-time writing is scary stuff. Be absolutely sure it’s what you want to do, and make sure you have a cushion to fall back onto if it doesn’t pan out the way you’d hoped.
Can you tell us a bit about your latest novel?
It’s a lesbian YA novel called The Road to Her, and it came out in July. The main character, Holly, is a successful actress in a UK soap called Portobello Road who finds her life turned upside down when another actress called Elise is drafted in to play her on-screen girlfriend. The new on-screen partnership is an immediate hit with viewers, bringing Holly and Elise closer together in real life: but when Holly starts to develop feelings for Elise, she wonders if her feelings are real, or whether she’s just confusing what she’s playing out on screen with real life.
What books can we look forward to from you in the future?
My fifth YA novel, Because of Her, is currently in the editing stages and will be released in March 2014. In this novel, my main character is a seventeen-year-old girl called Tabby who is uprooted from her school and girlfriend Amy when her father gets headhunted by a London company, 200 miles away. Loathing her father for taking her away from Amy and enrolling her in a posh London school, Tabby rebels, doing everything she can to try and get back to Amy and her old life. That is, until she meets fellow classmate Eden. Through a shared interest, Tabby and Eden grow closer, and Tabby begins to think her new life in London might not be so bad after all.
I have also recently completed my first lesbian romance novel, which is called Once The Clouds Have Gone. In another change of direction for me, I’ve written this one in the third person: it’s currently being considered for publication, so fingers crossed!
Finally, as well as the edits for Because of Her, I’m also currently writing the third and final installment of my 365 Days series. I’ve already had 365 Days published (2011) and Another 365 Days (2012) and this final installment will be called, funnily enough, A Final 365 Days. Each book takes a diary form and features the main character of Clemmie, a young lesbian who, through her humorous daily diary entries, tells the reader of the ups and downs of her turbulent life, from falling in love with her first girlfriend, to plucking up the courage to come out to her family and friends.
I also continue to write numerous short stories, so all in all, I’m being kept very busy right now!
Thank you for patiently answering my questions, KE. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to be a guest on my blog.
Please check back on Wednesday, November 20 for an interview with cosmopolitan writer Diana Simmonds.