Together with the Women's Prize for Fiction, we’ve launched Futures to highlight the talent of the next generation of female writers and support them to have the long and illustrious careers we think they deserve.
Abigail Dean, 32, had been a lawyer for five years when she decided to take a summer off work to write the novel she'd long wanted to, writing every day at Dulwich library in London. That book, Girl A, became a Sunday Times bestseller. Now a lawyer for Google, she's currently working on her second book.
What is the inspiration behind your novel Girl A?
I’ve long been interested in true crime – the podcasts, the documentaries – but I’ve always wondered about the years after the headlines and the trial. How do people live with trauma, amidst public scrutiny? Is it ever really possible to leave that behind? I’m an only child, and those questions combined with my love for big, fictional families. Girl A’s Gracie family may have been made infamous by abuse, but they’re also an ordinary family, with all of the humour, rivalries and grudges of a shared childhood.
Tell us about your journey to publication.
I’ve always loved writing. I first sent a manuscript out to agents when I was a teenager, in hard copy, accompanied by a very serious covering letter! At the beginning of 2018, I was working long hours in a law firm, approaching thirty, and realized that I had abandoned writing in favor of something that wasn’t making me particularly happy. I was in the privileged position of being able to take three months off to begin writing Girl A. It was a long, heatwave summer, and I spent eight hours a day in my local library, working on the first draft. I chipped away at the novel for the next year, while I was back at work, and submitted it to agents in 2019. I remember refreshing my inbox at least 200 times a day in those first anxious weeks. The querying process is long and stressful, but this time around, agents were interested. I worked on Girl A for a further five months with my agent, the wonderful Juliet Mushens, and we sent it out to publishers that autumn. When the first offer came through, I was away with work in rural India, with no phone signal, and couldn’t hear a word Juliet was saying.
What motivates you as an author?
I love reading, and I hope that my books can inspire some of the feelings I’ve experienced reading other writers’ books. It’s a love that’s almost painful, at times: as if you want to clamber inside the stories, and live in them. In my time, I’ve loved and loathed so many characters, and the idea that someone could feel that way about a character I’ve created is one of the best things in the world.
What is your favourite book by a woman?
Oof. That isn’t easy! I go back to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl time and again: Amy Dunne is the most magnificent creation. I also love Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, and Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
Throughout my twenties, I talked wistfully about wanting to be a writer, and my partner gave me the characteristically blunt advice that if you want to be a writer, you really have to write something. In a more professional sense, I love Jessie Burton’s essay on endurance for writers, published by The Novelry, and James Wood’s How Fiction Works.
What do you think you’d be if you weren’t a writer?
I like to think that I’d make a great detective, of course; but I think all thriller writers like to think that!
Which female author do you find most inspiring and why?
I’ve always been inspired by Judy Blume, for writing about topics that should never have been taboo, but were. She was one of the writers who got me through being a teenager. I also admire her work against the censorship of books for young people. When it comes to pure writing inspiration, I always have books by Sarah Hall and Hilary Mantel on my desk, to dip into when I’m stuck or uninspired.
Do you have any writing routines or ticks?
I used to have a very precious writing routine, requiring silence and long swathes of time. The outcome of that was that I never wrote a thing, so I’ve tried to abandon the idea of a writing routine in favour of writing whenever I have the chance – whether that’s on my phone on the commute, for twenty minutes in the evening, or undisturbed on a Sunday afternoon.
What’s your favourite Women’s Prize winning book?
My favourite book as a child was my collection of Greek myths, so I would have to say Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. It’s a sad, beautiful take on one of my favourite stories of all time. I’m also grateful for the novels that have followed it it, the way women writers are revisiting these incredible, epic stories in an entirely original way.
What do you hope to have achieved as a writer in ten years' time?
I hope to be writing books that people still want to read, books that move and entertain people, and creating characters who stick with them long after the pages are closed.
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