Olivia Spring is a London-based writer whose debut novel, The Middle-Aged Virgin, was released in July 2018. When she's not making regular trips to Italy to indulge in pasta, pizza and gelato, Olivia can be found at her desk, keenly pursuing her new career as an author. (Interview by Lindsey Philipson)Interviewee A to Z
1. Where did the idea come from for your debut novel The Middle-Aged Virgin?
I was inspired to write The Middle-Aged Virgin after becoming newly single in my late thirties. Getting to grips with the whole dating scene, which had changed dramatically since I was last single was a challenge and after doing some research, I discovered that there were many other women who were also experiencing the highs and lows of dating following a divorce or leaving a long-term relationship and so I thought it would be the good basis for an entertaining book.
2. The protagonist Sophia has a mid-life crisis effectively following the loss of someone incredibly close to her. Your book is very life-affirming and gives the message that effectively, we should seize the day and live life to the full. Was this the message you were trying to convey to your readers?
Living life to the full is definitely the key message that I wanted to convey. In the novel, after tragedy strikes, Sophia has a massive wake-up call. She realises that life is short and that she owes it to herself to follow her dreams. So she hatches a plan to work less and live more. The reader gets to follow Sophia as she embarks on exciting and hilarious adventures in her quest to find love and happiness.
3. Your book is very empowering of women. Would you agree with this statement and if so, why?
I’m glad that came across, as that was certainly my aim. I wanted Sophia to be a smart and strong character, but at the same time, I was keen to convey that she has her flaws, fears and insecurities just like the rest of us. On the surface, it seems like Sophia has the perfect life: a high-flying job running a cool London beauty PR agency, a lovely boyfriend and a dressing room filled with designer handbags and shoes. But as the reader quickly discovers, her life is not as glamorous as it seems. What I admire about Sophia and find empowering, is that despite being terrified at times about stepping out of her comfort zone, she takes a deep breath and tackles her challenges head-on and is determined to follow her dreams. So I hope that Sophia’s story encourages readers to follow their own dreams and strive to live their lives to the full too.
4. Who inspired you to become an author?
To be honest, I can't say that there was anyone in particular that inspired me to become an author. I just always enjoyed reading and writing from a very young age.
5. How did you start your writing? What made you decide that this was what you wanted to do as a career?
I've always written throughout my life in one form or another. When I was a very little girl I wrote lots of stories, then as a teenager I used to write for the school newspaper, after that I did work experience at my local newspaper and had multiple articles published and then after university, as part of my various marketing roles, I did a lot of copywriting. Writing is pretty much my full-time career. I planned my transition carefully. I did lots of research, read loads of books and articles, went to seminars…I basically tried to learn as much as possible about becoming an author to help maximise my chances of success. I also eased myself into it gently by gradually reducing my commitment to my day job and increasing the time I spent on writing. I always knew I wanted to be an author because I just loved writing so much. In fact, I came across my English school book the other day from when I was eleven years old where I had to say what I wanted to do as a career. Even then I’d said I wanted to be a writer, so it’s great to look back on that now and know that I am!
6. Was it always your dream to be a full-time writer? And at what age did you start writing?
Most definitely! Writing has been a dream of mine ever since I learnt to write at four years old. I was always in my bedroom creating stories and then running downstairs to read them to my parents and whoever would listen. As I got older, I the desire to write a novel remained, but I just didn't have that big idea. Then one night a few years ago, I woke up at 3am and the ideas just flowed out of me! I sat in bed for hours just writing notes about the plot and the characters, then spent the next two and a half years writing and editing my novel.
7. Can you describe to us your writing process?
Sure! Of course, it starts with the idea. I always keep a notepad or my phone beside my bed so that I can jot down ideas that pop into my head, typically last thing at night or first thing in the morning. Once I’ve settled on an idea, I write an outline of how I envisage the story working, the plot etc. Plan the characters, their personalities and traits and then I start writing. I keep going chapter by chapter, evaluating and reading over each one as I go along until I reach the end. After that, I keep redrafting and editing until I'm happy with it, then I send it to professional editors and a proofreader to ensure that it's ready to show to the world.
8. How long on average did it take you to write the book?
My first book took around two and a half years to write, redraft, edit etc. I was doing it whilst working full-time, so after finishing my day job, I'd start writing around 9pm until sometimes two in the morning, then sleep and go to work and repeat the process. I would also write at weekends.
9. Your book has been classed as chick-lit. What is your opinion on categorising fiction into genres? Do you think it is an effective tool or do you think it can also restrict readers in that they are basically relying on other people’s interpretations on how to classify books?
It's an interesting question. Genres I guess make it easier for the bookseller to group books and categories also make it easier for the reader to find books, as if they’ve read novels in that genre before, the chances of liking another book in that category are likely to be higher. That said, sometimes as an author, it's hard to put your work into one genre. For example my book is Chick Lit, but it could also be classed as Romantic Comedy. It also includes sex scenes, which aren’t always typical for the chick lit genre. So then as an author, there isn’t an exact category for my novel as it straddles multiple categories. I’d say The Middle-Aged Virgin is essentially sexy chick lit, romantic comedy and romance rolled into one!
10. How do you feel about people leaving reviews of your book? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
From a potential reader’s perspective, reviews can be helpful as it allows them to see another reader’s opinion of the book before they buy it. For an author, reviews are useful as it’s good way to receive both positive and constructive feedback from readers. I do read my reviews and there’s no better feeling than receiving a glowing five-star review and hearing that a reader enjoyed your novel and couldn’t put it down. Negative reviews are obviously harder to deal with, but if the feedback is constructive, then as an author it can help you grow. The important thing to always remember though is that whether good or bad, a review is subjective. It's based on one person’s opinion.
11. Who are your favourite writers and what genre particularly appeals to you?
I enjoy reading Marian Keyes, Sophie Kinsella and Lauren Weisberger. Chick lit is my favourite genre because I like reading for escapism and entertainment and chick lit gives me all of that and more.
12. What are your favourite books?
It changes from month to month! Most recently, I really enjoyed reading The Break by Marian Keyes.
13. Have you any tips for aspiring writers?
Work hard and follow your dreams! Write as much as you can to develop your skills, join writing groups, read books and study websites which provide advice on becoming a successful author and keep going!
14. Have you any ideas or thoughts for your next book?
I have indeed! I'm currently working on book number two, which is very exciting. Watch this space!