It was in January 2017, when I went to the first Wolverhampton Literature Festival and found out debut novelist Briony Marshall had also attended the same university as me. I was intrigued to find out more about her, so I headed off in the direction of her talk held at the Wolverhampton Art Gallery. By the time I'd found my way to the correct room I was left feeling pretty impressed because it was already full of people, so I took a seat at the back. I could see Briony sitting in front of her audience, her bubbly personality instantly shining through as she spoke about her debut novel Unravelled and it's unique theme of knitting! While she was reading chapters from Unravelled with the same upbeat tone to her voice I was sold - it made me want to leave with her book right there and then! But I knew I'd have to wait a while for its release. Later on I sent Briony a tweet letting her know how much I enjoyed her talk, and since then we've kept in touch.
I went to meet with Briony at Wolverhampton Central Library where our shoot took place. After our shoot we headed for some good ol' pub-grub and had a chat about her exciting journey to becoming a published author...
The first bookish twist in this storyline is that Briony's early education and career choice happened to be Drama, and not to become a published author as I'd first would have thought. While we were talking about her childhood and where her interest in writing began, Briony recalls instead of how she would perform shows every weekend for her Nan. English had been in the background as something she enjoyed, but it was always secondary to her passion to be a performer. Even though studying Drama had been a no-brainer and she got good grades, Briony says she always felt she lacked in certain ways compared to her peers, who she felt were more diverse.
"MY ENGLISH TEACHERS BEGAN TO COMPLIMENT MY WRITING MORE AND MORE AND THE CREATIVE WRITING COMPONENTS OF ENGLISH EXAMS BECAME SCARILY ENJOYABLE. BY THE END OF COLLEGE MY DREAMS HAD CHANGED AND I JUST KNEW THAT WRITING WAS FOR ME."
Even though books and story-telling had always been part of Briony's life, it was only during her time at college that her passions started to shift, and she began to take her writing more seriously by joining the newspaper team and entering writing competitions. As a result she began to enjoy her stories more, as well as experimenting with developing her style.
"IN COLLEGE I WOULD LITERALLY HAVE A GO AT WRITING ANYTHING: POEMS, SONGS, REVIEWS, JOURNALISM, SHORT STORIES, PLAYS, COMEDY SKETCHES, THE LIST GOES ON. HOWEVER, I ALWAYS HAD A SOFT SPOT FOR ROMANCE. I THINK I WAS AT THAT AGE WHERE FINDING LOVE WAS AT THE FRONT OF MY TEENAGE MIND AND I CHOSE WRITING AS MY WAY TO EXPRESS WHAT I WAS FEELING"
Starting university became a game-changer for her writing skills because Briony noticed a considerable improvement in her work. She reveals how she had the habit of writing sporadically when an idea first came to her, but university taught her how to fill in the blanks between her ideas and create pieces as a whole.
Briony was still at college when the idea for Unravelled came to her. A romance novel with an added knitting twist which gives it a unique edge compared to other novels of the same genre. Unravelled was born out of her love for knitting which she took up at a young age. It would be especially hard for her to avoid catching the knitting bug since her mum used to work for a local wool shop! She started attending knitting groups at the age of 18 with her mum after her Nan sadly passed away.
"OVER THE YEARS SHE WORKED THERE MY MOM TRIED TO TEACH ME TO KNIT NUMEROUS TIMES BUT IT NEVER REALLY WORKED OUT. JUMP FORWARD TO ME TURNING 18, WE'D JUST LOST MY NAN AND AS A FAMILY WE WERE ALL FEELING VERY RAW. I WANTED TO FIND A WAY TO SPEND MORE TIME WITH MY MOM AND SO I DECIDED TO TAG ALONG TO A FEW OF HER KNITTING GROUPS. I GATHERED IF I WAS GOING TO SIT WITH THESE LADIES THEN I SHOULD PROBABLY HAVE ANOTHER TRY AT LEARNING TO KNIT. WITH ALL OF THEM THERE ENCOURAGING ME AND HELPING ME WHEN THINGS WENT WRONG I GOT IT AND FINISHED MY FIRST EVER SCARF WITH NOT TOO MANY HICCUPS. I'D CAUGHT THE BUG THEN AND MY LOVE FOR KNITTING JUST GREW AND GREW.
THE KNITTING ELEMENT TO MY BOOK WAS ONE OF THE FIRST IDEAS THAT HELPED SHAPE MY NOVEL. I WANTED TO WRITE ABOUT IT BECAUSE IT WAS DIFFERENT AND QUIRKY BUT ALSO BECAUSE KNITTING HOLDS SO MANY COSY AND COMFORTING MEMORIES FOR ME."
Briony reveals that it took 10 years for Unravelled to be at the stage it is now. During this time I can't imagine how many edits Unravelled has been through, and it was the editing itself that was one of the most difficult parts of the writing process.
"I FOUND EDITING QUITE A STRUGGLE, YOU HAVE TO LEARN TO LOOK AT YOUR WORK SUBJECTIVELY. THE WORDS YOU MIGHT HAVE AN EMOTIONAL INVESTMENT IN MAY NOT, IN THE GRAND SCHEME OF THINGS, BE THE BEST FIT. I HAD TO LEARN TO LET GO."
After hearing Briony's story I came to realise leaving childhood dreams and aspirations behind can turn out for the better. If Briony hadn't have realised how much she loves the creative writing elements of exams, she probably wouldn't have gone on a journey that seems to have been meant for her. That journey has included entering a writing competition, winning, and then signing with The Writing Hall with a traditional writing contract!
Here's some advice for aspiring writers from Briony herself...
"START NOW. IT'S NEVER TOO EARLY. THIS PROCESS TOOK ME TEN YEARS. STARTING IT WHEN I DID MADE ME 28 WHEN I WAS PUBLISHED. I WAS AT A POINT IN MY LIFE WHERE I COULD STILL TAKE RISKS. ALSO, START A BLOG AND SOCIAL MEDIA PAGES. EVEN IF YOU DON'T HAVE ANY WRITING TO SHARE RIGHT NOW, YOU CAN STILL START GENERATING A FAN BASE FOR YOUR IDEAS AND GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR READERSHIP AND FIND OUT WHAT IT IS THEY'RE AFTER IN A BOOK TOO."