Fig Swims the World by Lou Abercrombie
What led you into writing?
I started writing a few years ago, during a lull in photography work, when I needed to keep my mind busy. A good friend in publishing had suggested I give it a try, so I wrote a couple of chapters of something and asked her to take a look and be honest with me – could I write? Fortunately, the answer was yes, so I persevered…
I sent the finished book to a couple of agents, and got it edited by a freelance editor. This was one of the best things to happen actually, as I learnt so much about the writing process.
Meanwhile, I started writing Fig Swims the World. I’d been given advice that my writing style (3rd person past tense) was deemed old fashioned for the current market, so I chose to write it in first person, present tense. I suppose because I was writing about swimming, a subject I am passionate about, the character’s voice came through loud and clear.
The book was longlisted for the Bath Kids Novel Award in December 2017, and then I was signed by Gill Mclay of Bath Literary Agency who found a home for the book with Stripes Publishing.
How does a typical day look?
After getting the kids to school, I usually try to get some exercise done – swimming, ballet, weight training and yoga – and then settle down to writing between 11 and 3 before I have to collect the kids from school again! If I’m lucky and feeling focussed, I’ll usually manage a couple more hours writing up until 6p.m.
To be honest though, when I’m in a particularly creative phase, my brain doesn’t really switch off. I’m constantly writing notes on my phone. I also have a notebook by my bed for when dialogue comes into my head, and my husband even bought me a waterproof notebook for when I’m in the bath, which is also a place where I get a lot of thinking done!
In what ways do your characters test your abilities?
My writing has been described as quirky and funny. Trying to make sure that my characters always have this is hard and is usually something I find myself adding in at later stages once the main plot and structure has taken shape.
I’m also a rather emotional kind of writer, so I have to make sure my main characters are different enough and not just teenage mopey! They’re often the first thing that come to me actually, and the challenge is making a story up around who I want them to be while giving them a clearly defined journey or goals.
What’s your setup?
I have an office and a laptop – notebooks everywhere – but do my best thinking when I’m driving to my local outdoor swimming quarry or lying in the bath!
What lasting effects have your favourite authors had on your writing and style?
Most of the books I read when I was growing up were third person past tense. Things like Malory Towers, Chalet School, Sweet Valley High (I was obsessed with boarding school) and anything by Judy Blume. I don’t think they’ve particularly influenced my style but have given me a good understanding of plots and threads and themes.
When I first started writing, I went through a phase of not reading anything at all, as I felt that it was interfering with my writing style. But now that I feel more confident in what and how I want to write, I’m back to reading most nights and constantly observe how other authors do things and if I like something, I try to implement it in what I’m doing.
What do you do for inspiration?
Live a full life! I like writing about my own experiences, so I use it as an opportunity to go on adventures. So far, I have swum a marathon and free dived like a mermaid. Next up is a swimming holiday in the Lake District…
What repeating themes do you find yourself pulling into your stories?
I’m a twin and am constantly tempted to put twin characters into my stories. Growing up, I was always asked what it’s like to be a twin, so this my way of telling it.
I also like to include, swimming, music, maths, mermaids and zombies.
How do you wind down?
Swimming, yoga, ballet, watching Netflix.
What are you reading at the moment?
Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott.
What’s the most useful advice you could give to an aspiring author?
There’s no right or wrong way to write a book. The main thing is to get it finished! Personally, I like to write scenes out of order – just writing whatever I feel like on a certain day. And if I get stuck, I’ll write a message to myself in capital letters that I need to come back to this chapter, then I’ll move on to something I can do.
Tell us about the book you’re promoting.
Fig Swims the World is the coming of age story of a fifteen-year-old girl who comes up with a resolution to swim the world, escaping from her over-controlling, high-flying mother. There’s just one problem. She can’t swim.
The book follows her on a voyage of self-discovery, from learning to swim with the help of some little old ladies, to travelling the world and making like-minded friends, all the while trying to stay under the radar away from her mother. Strong friendships are forged, and fears faced. But with her mother closing in, can she make it to the last swim of her round the world challenge? And will she really go back to being her scared old self when the adventure is done?
Writing Fig Swims the World combined my love of maths, music and swimming. The inspiration came from the group of people I started to meet on my various open water swimming adventures.