A powerful new voice in the world of fiction, we found out more about the author of The Charmed Life of Alex Moore – the debut novel EVERYONE is talking about…
When the first (rave) reviews of a book come from none other than cult author Seth Godin, you know it’s likely to be something a little bit special. With a background in writing about books, publishing and digital culture, it could only be so long before Molly Flatt published her very own debut novel. Associate Editor of the Bookseller’s FutureBook and Digital Editor of PHOENIX, The Charmed Life of Alex Moore – Molly’s first foray into fiction – brilliantly fuses the worlds of books and tech. Add a little sprinkle of magic, and you’ve got an absolute page-turner. Shoreditch’s startup scene and remote Orkney islands may seem unlikely bedfellows, but add in ‘the world’s oldest secret,’ and? Mind blown. Unique, thought-provoking and very, very readable – we can’t recommend The Charmed Life of Alex Moore highly enough.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Always. As a child, I never imagined I could do it as a job, because I thought it was just something private you did for fun. Then when I got older I had no idea how you would break into such a thing, and I didn’t think I was competitive or tough enough. My route to becoming a writer was long and circuitous, via acting, digital marketing and consulting. Today, I make my living from a mixture of journalism, editing, copywriting… and, now, fiction (whoop!) I still can’t quite believe I’ve managed to get to a place where I get paid to write.
Where did the inspiration for your first novel come from?
I’ve had the idea for, and mental image of, the Library (and you’ll have to read the book to know what that means, otherwise it’s a total spoiler) for as long as I can remember. As I grew older, that idea evolved along with my burgeoning interest in neuroscience and self-help, and the tension between nature and tech. I had to wait, and write, for years before I was ready to handle it and truly bring it to life. All of my passions are mingled up in that book – from feminism to Orkney to startup culture to the power of stories to, er, yellow raincoats.
Novel v. non-fiction v. memoir?
I am trying to read more non-fiction. I was recently blown away by Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep (and I’m currently writing a short story for Nesta based on his amazing sleep science). But time and again I get lured back in by fiction, novels in particular. The insight, the escapism, the characters, the imagination, the sheer joy of a good plot… I can’t resist.
How long did it take to write your book?
Around seven years. Ouch.
What was the editing process like?
Endless. I started from scratch, having already written 100,000 words, more than once. I really leaned on my writing group, who I met through a Faber Academy course, for help – I couldn’t have done it without their sage and sensitive feedback. God, sometimes it feels agonising. It’s very hard knowing which instincts to listen to, and when rigorous standards slip into crippling perfectionism. But in some ways I prefer editing to first-draft writing. There’s none of the blind panic of the blank page, and this is the bit where you get to turn the chaos into craft.
How did you go about finding an agent?
I did lots of research about who might like my mad cross-genre mashup, and then submitted a covering letter and extract to them as per the instructions on their websites. Luckily, one of my friends in my writing group was already signed up to Cathryn Summerhayes, at Curtis Brown, and he told her that I was going to submit to her. It wouldn’t have made a jot of difference if Cathryn hadn’t liked my work, but it may have helped catch her eye when my email popped into her inbox.
Any tips on pitching to publishers?
My agent did that on my behalf, but I’d say: work really, really hard on your pitch. Try to understand what they’re looking for, and explain why your story is specifically right for them (and why they’re right for you!) Be passionate and honest, but also super-professional and concise.
One tip for would-be novelists/writers?
Just. Keep. Going.
How did the cover design happen?
It was very tricky, actually, because The Charmed Life of Alex Moore is what’s known as a ‘crossover’ – mainstream commercial fiction, but with a genre twist. The amazing Pan Macmillan design team came up with various versions over the months, dialling up and down the ‘genre twist’ bit. I’m delighted with the final result, especially the hand-drawn background pencil sketch of the Orkney landscape they commissioned from Scottish artist Will Freeborn. And, of course, that yellow mac.
What are your hopes for your first novel?
Am I allowed to say global fame, critical acclaim, and a bit fat deal with Netflix?
The sequel. I’m already on Chapter 8. And maybe, at some point, some sleep.