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Interview with an author


Nina de la Mer was born in Scotland and now lives in Brighton, England.


In the third year of her undergrad degree she studied in Germany.

It was this experience that inspired her to write her debut novel 4AM, the story of two young soldiers in the early 90s and their struggle to balance the routine of life in the military with hedonistic weekends spent raving.

1. Tell us about life at Sussex UniversityLife at university was a real eye-opener for me: politically, intellectually and socially.

In 1990, when I began my degree at Sussex, students had to study a contextual course called The Modern European Mind, which opened my mind to philosophy, politics and social issues. I loved that about Sussex, because in other universities I would likely just have studied straight languages.

In all honesty though, I found the transition from sixth form to university tough; doing a double-honours degree required many long hours of study and I struggled with my confidence back then so much so that I nearly gave up on my course during my second year. But, thanks to the encouragement of the university, I finished the degree one year later than planned.

Thankfully, because without it I definitely would not be the person I am, or have followed the career path I've enjoyed today.

2. You studied French and German. Did you do any additional creative writing courses?As mentioned, university was quite tough in terms of workload so, though I'd always wanted to write, I didn't have the time. Confidence was also lacking at the point. I didn't really believe in myself at all.

Much later a combination of courage, time and also life experience (which I think is especially important for an aspiring writer) made the urge to write too compelling to ignore. It was then that I did a basic Open University course in creative writing (in 2008).

3. Would you recommend a creative writing course as a route into writing?Much as I think the course I took was interesting, I think it's more important for writers to read widely and to practise their writing every day: writing can be taught, yes, but I think it's more important for writers to feel their way into their own style and to have something interesting to say.

Saying this, creative writing MAs are increasingly popular and are useful for those who lack the self-motivation to complete novels which may otherwise lay gathering dust in a drawer, half-written, for years.


“Writers should have Olympian levels of self-motivation”

4. How did you make the leap into writing?Having worked in book publishing, I was inspired to write myself. The publisher I worked for in 2007 took on my first book, The Modern Maiden's Handbook, a satire on the women's self-help formula and from there I began to get commissions from publishers for further non-fiction titles.

However, my ambition had always been to write fiction so I began work on 4 AM after finishing the OU creative writing course mentioned above: it took over three years to write and I was over the moon when Myriad Editions agreed to publish it last year. Myriad have also recently contracted my second novel, LAYLA


5. How did you find your agent?I don't have an agent. I was teased by a couple, but found the whole process quite soul destroying. I was very lucky that Myriad run a creative writing competition every year (the Myriad West Dean Competition) and that 4AM was shortlisted for it: this was the novel's route to publication. I must say that with my publishing background and the professionalism and support that Myriad offer their authors, I've not looked back or felt the need for an agent since.

6. What are the most challenging aspects of writing as a career?All budding writers should have Olympian levels of self-motivation. They also need to seriously consider, without wishing to roll out hackneyed statistics, something like only 5% of writers (of books) actually make a living from writing.

So the questions you need to ask yourself before you embark on this career are:

1) do you have a thick skin for the (unless you are very lucky) many rejections on the road to publication?

2) do you have a back-up career to make up your income before you break into the big time (stay positive, it helps!)

3) and most importantly, what compels you to write? If it's fame and fortune you're after, another profession would probably be more suitable.

7. What advice do you have for anyone wanting to break into writing?Work hard, finger-achingly hard. Make sure your work is absolutely perfect before submitting to agents and publishers, and lastly, have something to say. No point working hard at the bare bones of your writing, if there is nothing of substance to flesh it out into something fully fledged and challenging for the reader.


“Twitter has opened lots of doors for me with the publication of 4AM (for instance a recent endorsement from Ian Rankin) and it's a brilliant way of staying in touch with other writers”

8. Do you think that aspiring writers need to be social media-savvy to cut it in today's marketplace?Sadly, yes. I saw somebody tweet the other day that writers 'should spend 20% of their time writing, and 80% of their time on social media.' I wouldn't go that far, but Twitter has opened lots of doors for me with the publication of 4AM (for instance a recent endorsement from Ian Rankin) and it's a brilliant way of staying in touch with other writers, who tend to be very supportive to one another.

9. What are you working on at the moment?I'm currently working on my second novel, LAYLA, a week in the life of a naive young lap dancer at the turn of the 2000s. I'm writing it in the second person, which is a challenge, but one I'm hugely enjoying. It should be published by Myriad Editions in 2014.

10. Which authors inspire you?Mainly I'm inspired by those whose writings makes me sit up and think, 'I wish I wrote like that'. These tend to be modernist or social realist writers from the twentieth century, such as Patrick Hamilton, Knut Hamsun or James Curtis.

On a more contemporary tip, I think Carol Birch is amazing: many years as a mid-list writer and then nominated for the Booker in 2012. Such tenacity makes you think, yeah, I should keep going. You never know!

Having worked in publishing for a decade, Nina is the now the author of five non-fiction books and her debut novel, 4 AM. She lives in Brighton, where she happily reads, writes and occasionally reviews novels for online booklovers' community

You can follow her on Twitter @scarydelamarey