Louise Mumford contacted ASP in mid-August and ‘cheekily’ requested an interview. I was, of course, delighted with the prospect. Thankfully, lockdown was just coming to an end and we were able to meet up for an actual face-to-face interview. We met up at Insole Court, Cardiff in the middle of September in, what turned out to be, beautiful weather. Some questions have been clarified via email since the meeting.
Interview with Louise Mumford, September 2020
ASP: When did you start writing and when did you think to try and get your work published? Has it been a recent decision or have you been plugging away at it for years?
LM: I was a huge Anne of Green Gables fan as a child and spent many a happy hour writing short stories about plucky orphan girls getting into scrapes. I wrote my first novel when I was in university and I still have it somewhere, hidden away and never to see the light of day. But then I became a teacher and the busy day-to-day life of a very full-on job curtailed my writing a bit until a few years ago. I cut down on my teaching hours, wrote a few novels and really concentrated on trying to get published and represented by a literary agent, learning as much as I could about the process on the way.
ASP: Have you written anything in the shorter forms of prose, short stories, flash, micro? Did you submit them for publication? And, if so, what sort of success did you see from submitting?
LM: Short story writing is a very different beast, but I do enjoy the snapshot feel of a short story and the voice you can create in them. I came runner up in the Writing Magazine’s thriller short story competition last year with my story Making a Meal of It – and, let’s just say, everyone in it gets their just desserts! I definitely want to write and submit more, when I can get time between the novel writing and editing.
ASP: You have your debut thriller, ‘Sleepless’ being launched today, 10th December 2020, but before we get to that I would like to know about novels you have written previously, are they to be published? If so, have you ever presented them for publication?
LM: I never attempted anything with the novel I wrote during university – thank goodness! But I did try with another novel I wrote around 2014 and, looking back at it now, there were so many glaring reasons why I struggled to get interest in it. This is where my learning started, really. I didn’t want to make those mistakes again and, for me, that meant nailing a genre and a tight story structure, really honing those first three chapters and getting out there to meet people in the industry whenever I could. If publication is your goal, you have to be in it for the long game. I wrote Sleepless in the winter of 2018 and got my book deal in March 2020 – and I’ve been told that’s quite fast for the publishing world. To me it seemed like it took forever!
ASP: How did you find the experience? Were publishers, editors responsive? Were they polite? Too often rejections can be formulaic, occasionally rude or there are the ones that just don’t bother responding.
LM: I’ve had a long experience of submitting Sleepless and the previous novel and I completely understand why some writers would feel frustrated by the lack of response to queries. The writer has often spent years creating this work and for it not to be even acknowledged can feel awful. However, I do see it from the agent’s/publisher’s point of view, they are swamped with submissions on a daily basis and I try to remember that their main job isn’t reading those submissions, it’s working for their existing clients. In fact, everyone I met during the process was professional and kind, even going above and beyond to help and give me tips.
ASP: So, ‘Sleepless’, can you tell us a bit about it? Give us a lead into the story, obviously without giving too much away.
LM: ‘Desperate insomniac Thea Mackenzie accepts a place on a sleep technology trial designed by internet giant Ing Enterprises. But when the company’s dark motives are revealed and the trial starts to go horribly wrong, Thea discovers that staying awake is the only way to stay alive’.
This book would appeal to readers who love the Black Mirror television series and I aspire to sit on the shelf with books like The One by John Marrs, or Suicide Club by Rachel Heng. I’ve been an insomniac since I was a child, but today sleep really seems to be a modern obsession. This book is about a technology that aims to solve these sleep issues, but the company behind it really want access to people’s dreams and the opportunity to infiltrate them for their own gain. It’s a quest story with Thea trying to escape the island where the trial is taking place but it’s also a mother/daughter story with flashes of humour as, on the mainland, her mother struggles to find out what has happened to her.
ASP: What inspired you to write ‘Sleepless’?
LM: I have always struggled to sleep. As a child my poor mother spent endless nights playing hangman with me, or watching Remington Steele hoping I would get sleepy. I didn’t see the point of sleep when I was little – why would you want to sleep when there were so many marvellous and interesting things to do? As an adult, however, a lack of sleep really starts to bite into your days, and it was that exhaustion and desperation that helped me create Thea. This sleeplessness is something that I think a lot of people can identify with: there are so many books and guides to help people sleep at the moment in a world uniquely designed to snatch it from us. Technology also interests me and our love/hate relationship with it. We rely on it to solve our problems, to do many different tasks for us, we give it permission to do all sorts of things and then berate it when it starts to take advantage of that. It can be a real force for good… or not!
ASP: Getting a little more in depth, is there a character in the book who developed in a way that you hadn’t originally planned them to?
LM: Because of the way I wrote this book – all the characters kind of developed in surprising ways. I didn’t plan the story out. Instead I had a few of the characters and the beginning in my head so just started writing. I’m not sure I advise this method! It meant for a lot of editing afterwards to work out the kinks in the plot, but it was fun to have the characters and story unfold before my eyes.
ASP: So, on that note, is there a character in the book you would like to meet or have at a fantasy dinner party?
LM: Yes! Vivian. I love Vivian. I think having representations of amazing 60+ women are vital in literature and Vivian is a real powerhouse. She doesn’t care what anyone thinks and has spent her life trying to make the world a better place through her activism (whilst also wearing very unusual scarves)! She is Thea’s mother and, suspicious of what is happening during the sleep trial, goes on her own adventure to help her daughter. At a fantasy dinner party, she’d be the one with all the interesting stories, while topping up everyone else’s wine.
ASP: So, could you see a story for Vivian on her own? Is there a possibility of Vivian having her own novel? Or is she done and dusted in ‘Sleepless’?
LM: I could see a story line for Vivian. Having been brought up by my mum and an army of aunties, the uncles were there, just never seen; they were bold, forthright women who knew their own minds. This was what I had in mind when Vivian came into being. So, there’s definitely an opportunity for her to have her own story, just not right now as I’m working on a new novel.
ASP: I might come back to that, the new novel, but first can you tell us how you went about persuading a publisher to take you on?
LM: I think mine isn’t quite the usual story. In the summer of 2019, I went to the Primadonna literary festival in Suffolk. It was its first year and had been started by a fantastic group of women including Sandi Toksvig and Lisa Milton (Executive Publisher at HQ and Mills & Boon). Not only was it just the loveliest experience with friendly people and brilliant workshops and talks, but also, I got to meet Lisa for a brief one-to-one. I’d come prepared, clutching my first three chapters, pitch and synopsis – and she liked them! Despite being one of the busiest women on the planet, she read the whole thing and gave me a detailed breakdown of how I could improve it with a view to publication. So, I sat down, ripped the story apart, and stitched it back together to make it stronger and better. I learned so much from doing that. At the same time, I started to get some requests from literary agents and then signed with Kate Shaw at the Shaw Agency. I was always certain that I wanted an agent, despite having got my book contract on my own, because I wish to make my writing into a career and have the advice and support an agent provides.
ASP: Have you considered whether ‘Sleepless’ would translate well to film or TV?
LM: Funny you should mention film/TV as it’s being submitted to production companies right now via a film/TV agent. Lots of books are submitted every year though and competition is high. Even if it did get optioned, that's not a guarantee it would then get made!
ASP: Best of luck with that. Perhaps we could just quickly look at what your new novel is about? Will you be having to tout it to a new publisher, or has your current publisher shown an interest?
LM: Well, the dream is to stay with my lovely publisher, HQ, and they get first look at anything new that I’m working on. I’d love to bring my next book out with them and I have a few ideas as to what that would be, but should probably keep it under my hat until I finish the first draft!
ASP: And finally, what kind of working environment do you like when writing? I know I prefer silence, but rarely get it.
LM: Definitely silence. I have an office, so silence is easier to come by.
ASP: Thank you, Louise for your time.
LM: Thank you.
You can find out more about Louise at her website: www.louisemumfordauthor.com;
also, Twitter: @louise_mumford; Instagram @louisemumfordauthor and on her Facebook author page.
If you would like to read ‘Sleepless’ you can order a copy here:
HQ publishers: https://www.hqstories.co.uk/products/sleepless/
Bookshop.org (supports independent bookshops):