Ahead of the upcoming Author Talk with author Heather Dixon, Huron County Library branch assistant Shannon O’Connor connects with the author to discuss her writing journey, the challenges of writing, advice for aspiring writers, and more! And mark your calendars for Tuesday, Nov. 14, to join Heather in person at the Clinton Branch.
What inspired you to start writing and what was your journey to publication like?
I’m a lifelong book lover and have always been writing–from as far back as I can remember. I used to write silly stories when I was a little kid, and then it turned into writing for my school English classes, which then became essays for my English Literature degree at University. After school, I became a writer in advertising, and then when I had my children, I started writing editorial-style personal essays for parenting websites. It was only after I had done all those things that I thought to myself that I should finally try writing the novel I’ve always wanted to write.
I guess you could say my kids inspired me to finally take novel-writing seriously because they gave me a passion for writing again (which is probably why all of my books tend to have themes of motherhood in them!)
My journey to publication hasn’t been easy, however. I started writing in 2018 and I wrote three manuscripts and had over 200 rejections from agents and editors before I got an offer on my book that would become my debut novel, Burlington. After that, I sent the second manuscript I had written back in 2019 to a new publisher, and it was accepted and became Last Summer at the Lake House.
Why was writing a book about motherhood and female friendship in suburbia so important for you?
I think it’s because I’ve had some very strong female relationships in my life. I’m very close with my mother, I have three daughters, I have some amazingly supportive friends in my life–and they’ve all inspired me to want to write about them. At the same time, I think those relationships can also be quite complex. I love being a mother even though it can be incredibly challenging and it’s not always all sunshine and roses, and making friends as you get older can also be a bit of a challenge at times. I was at a new stage in my life–with my daughter starting to get a little bit older and going to school, so she wasn’t reliant on me for everything like she was when she was a baby and a toddler–and I found it hard to know where I fit.
When do you find time to write and what are some of the most challenging things about writing for you?
I’ve always been a morning person. Even when I was in University, I couldn’t pull all-nighters to study because I did my best thinking in the morning, so I get up at five in the morning when everyone else is sound asleep in my house. I usually have about an hour and a half to myself to focus then.
There are so many things I find challenging about writing, actually! I find it tough to come up with new ideas that will be different and unique enough but also have legs to sustain an entire novel. I find plot to be tough at times. I also find the post-publication stage hard. It’s really hard to not be too sensitive and to not get hurt by what some people say about your writing or your book.
What advice would you give to aspiring first time novelists?
I would say that it’s important to do whatever you can to finish that first draft. Get all the way through it, even if it’s not perfect, because the magic is truly in the revisions and editing. And I would also say don’t give up. I once heard an author say that talent is not as important as persistence. If you keep writing, keep improving your craft, keep trying new ideas, you’ll get there. Basically, if you want to become a published author, you have to be willing to not give up.
Do you have a favorite book or genre to read for pleasure and is there a recent favorite you can’t stop recommending this year?
My most recent favourite book was Hello, Beautiful by Ann Napolitano. I loved the characters and how real and developed they felt. I loved the author’s writing. It was just a beautiful story.
What can we look forward to next from you?
I have a third book coming out in January called The Summerville Sisters. After that, I’m eventually going to get myself back to the laptop to start drafting something new!