Q&A with Olivia Ford, author of Mrs Quinn’s Rise to Fame

6 minutes read

We sat down with Olivia Ford, author of Mrs Quinn's Rise to Fame and a graduate of Faber Academy's online Writing a Novel course, to discuss writing inspiration, baking and the key ingredient for writing good fiction.

 

You previously studied on our flagship Writing a Novel course. How valuable was the course to the writing of your novel?

 

Without the Writing A Novel course, I don’t think Mrs Quinn would ever have existed. I learned so much about the craft of writing, but above all it gave me confidence. Beforehand, writing a novel felt daunting and out of reach, but the course made it feel achievable. It was also so enjoyable and enriching.

 

Did you make writing friends during your Faber Academy course? How important has peer feedback been to your process?

 

I was part of a lovely, supportive and diverse group, and we were all writing such different things which was so refreshing. The peer feedback was invaluable because they were the first people to ever read Mrs Quinn, and sharing my writing in a safe space with people outside of my friends and family really gave me confidence. Because I did the course in 2020, it was online and we were from all over the country (and world) so we never actually met in person which was a shame!

 

Mrs Quinn’s Rise to Fame has been described as ‘delicious and uplifting’. Could you tell us a little bit more about the novel? What gave you the inspiration for it?

 

Mrs Quinn’s Rise to Fame is about 77-year-old Jennifer Quinn, who wins a spot as a contestant on primetime TV show Britain Bakes. After being whisked into an unfamiliar world of cameras and timed challenges, a secret from her past begins to resurface.

 

I am very close to my grandparents and the novel is, at its heart, inspired by their relationship. They have been married for 63 years and it was this lifelong love that I wanted to explore, as well as the fear that comes with it of one of them losing the other. I think when you’ve spent a lifetime with someone, the thought of being on your own must be incomprehensible.

 

The other major source of inspiration was family recipes. We have several at home, many of which have outlived the people who wrote them. For me, recipes conjure such nostalgia and I wanted to tap into that.

 

Are you a baker yourself, like Mrs Quinn? What’s your favourite recipe?

 

I do enjoy baking but I’m very much a home baker, definitely not GBBO standard. My father’s lemon meringue pie is up there with my favourite recipes as it satisfies every sweet craving; the buttery pastry; the tangy lemon; the sweet clouds of meringue.

 

You’ve worked in entertainment TV, most recently as a story producer. Has this influenced your writing in any way?

 

The TV element of Mrs Quinn was very much influenced by my career as a TV producer, as I was able to channel my behind-the-scenes experience into Britain Bakes. Essentially, I was writing a world that I know.

 

I also think my role as a story producer meant that I had lots of experience of plotting, which was useful when it came to planning the novel (something I did early on in the writing process, although some things did change as I got to know the characters).

 

What would you consider to be the key ingredient to writing good fiction?

 

I often hear the advice ‘write what you know,’ but I think the key ingredient to writing good fiction is to write what you feel. If it comes from the heart, people connect with it and it feels authentic.

 

We All Want Impossible Things by Catherine Newman is one of my favourite books of recent years, and I believe it was inspired by Catherine losing her best friend. Similarly, recent hit The List Of Suspicious Things by Jennie Godfrey was set in Yorkshire at the time of the Yorkshire Ripper and was inspired by Jennie’s childhood and the fact her father actually knew him. I think if your idea or themes really make you feel something, then that’s a brilliant starting point.

 

All of my favourite books move me in some way, and are written from the heart.

 

Could you tell us about your writing routine, and how you balance writing with other aspects of your life?

 

I found balancing writing with other aspects of my life the most challenging part of writing Mrs Quinn, as I was working full time. Author Libby Page gave me some brilliant advice early on, which was to book ‘writing time’ out in my diary, as I would if I was meeting a friend or getting a haircut. That way, I could focus on writing for set periods, but not feel guilty when I wasn’t. I didn’t have a set routine, I just carved out time before work, at the weekend and sometimes on holiday.

 

One thing I do find is that I write much better in the morning than I do in the evening. The saying ‘get up earlier than your inner critic’ is very true for me as I am definitely much less critical of my writing in the morning.

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

 

There are two pivotal moments on my journey to becoming a published author. The first is enrolling on the Writing A Novel course. The second is entering the first 10k words into the Women’s Prize Trust’s ‘Discoveries Prize’, a writing competition for unpublished female authors. I was longlisted, which ultimately led to me meeting my brilliant agent, Lucy Morris. In short, do courses and enter competitions. You have nothing to lose on either count.

 

My other piece of advice would be to enjoy the journey of writing. There is nothing better than the feeling of having a good writing day and enthused by your idea, but there are the tricky days too when you can’t get started and self-doubt creeps in. On days like that, I dreamt of having the book finished and how it would feel to have accomplished it. However, when I got there, it was a bit of an anti-climax. I missed the purpose and the characters. Ultimately, I realised that writing is much like life: it’s the journey that needs to be embraced, rather than the destination.

 

What are you reading right now?

 

David Nicholls’ You Are Here. It’s compelling and the characters so beautifully drawn.

 

And finally, what’s next for your writing?

 

I had a baby in November last year so I have taken a break, except for a few short stories. However, I’m excited to start book two at some point in the near future!

Photo of Olivia Ford, Faber Academy graduate

Olivia Ford has spent the last ten years in entertainment TV, most recently as a story producer. Inspired by her grandparents, Mrs Quinn’s Rise to Fame was longlisted for the 2021 Women’s Prize Trust’s Discoveries Prize . Raised in Lincolnshire, Olivia now lives in London with her husband and daughter. She is a graduate of Faber Academy’s Writing a Novel course.

Writing a Novel is designed to support aspiring fiction writers to develop their craft over six months, with courses in London (at Faber’s HQ in Hatton Garden), Newcastle and online.

 

A six-month programme of seminars, sessions will cover all the essentials of novel writing – including character, story, structure, plotting, voice, dialogue, conflict and more.

 

Find out more about the next iterations of Writing a Novel here.

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