Literary Sisters: Author interview with Alison Taft

To celebrate the launch of Alison Taft’s second novel, I Know Why Your Mother’s Crazy, I thought I’d have a chat with her this week.  I met Alison a few months ago at a library event and then again, a few weeks later, when we shared the stage at a readers’ afternoon as part of the Wakefield Literature Festival.  She struck me as funny, sassy and sharp; and that pretty much sums up her writing.  Her debut novel Our Father Who Art Out There…Somewhere  (published by Caffeine Nights in 2011) is a ‘feisty chick noir romp’ (Waterstones), a poignant comedy about absent fathers.  You can read an extract here.  I Know Why Your Mother’s Crazy has just been published in ebook format (by Circa) this week.  Alison doesn’t hang about, either.  She’s also working on a screenplay for Our Father and is waiting to hear whether a sequel to the novel has been accepted by Caffeine Nights.

Here, Alison tells us why her life is like a three legged stool and about the doctor who changed her life by accident.  There are two copies of Our Father to be won by anyone who leaves a comment at the end of the post.  We’ll draw these at random by the end of Friday 23 November.

Alison, tell us how you juggle writing with raising a family and other work.

I spent all of my twenties and a good chunk of my thirties dreaming of being a writer. I’ve lost count of the number of jobs I resigned from in order to give myself the time and space to write (“it’s not you, it’s me…”). I enrolled on several creative writing courses, usually giving them up after the first two or three classes. I even moved to Crete in the hope that if I distanced myself from my friends and my distractions I might finally get round to my novel. Needless to say, I didn’t.

Then at the grand old age of 34 I had my first child. He needed surgery the day he was born and I was struck by the fact that the consultant was about the same age as me and had spent his twenties and early thirties acquiring the skills that saved my son’s life. I made myself (and every god known to humankind) a promise that I would try to match his achievement with some of my own.

We were in hospital for twelve days. When we got home, whenever my son slept, I wrote.

Less than two years later, I’d had another baby and finished a novel. I think my children gave me the security and sense of family I needed to allow the words to come. And writing helps me to stay sane through the challenges of parenting – I can’t have one without the other.

I suppose it’s like a three-legged stool. Family, writing and work. Each supports the other. Work is probably my wonky leg – I teach creative writing, which I love but I don’t feel like I’ve yet established a proper balance.

Where do you like to write best?

The Leeds Library. Established in 1768, it’s like walking into another world.

Who is your most significant influence (literary or otherwise)?

I guess I’d have to say the consultant.

Your favourite time off activity?
Netball (particularly the pint afterwards)

What’s the best thing about being a writer?  And the worst?

The best thing is when you get lost in a story and the characters feel like your new best friends. You get taken over by this other world and afterwards it feels like you’ve been on holiday.

The worst is the isolation – the days when I wish I could just go into an office and be amongst people.


Your latest two books are set partly or wholly in the 1980s.  What does that decade mean to you, and how do you go about capturing or remembering the detail of that period?

I don’t know why I’m so drawn to the 80s. I was an adolescent for most of them and it wasn’t a particularly happy time. I suppose moving away from home, coming to Leeds to go to polytechnic, that period of being 18/19 seems really stuck in my psyche – I’ve written three books that feature 19 year old main characters. I’m quite obsessed with that period – of leaving your old life (your constructed life) and trying to find yourself, your true self.

One of the many things your books explore is female friendship.  Is that conscious?  Where does it come from?   

It wasn’t conscious with my first book but I’ve always formed really strong female friendships. I love women’s humour, their warmth, their strength and their understanding. Last night I played netball with my best friend, who I met on the first day of school. She’s my memory, my witness, my most biased supporter and I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without her.

My latest novel, I Know Why Your Mother’s Crazy, was published by Circa this week. It’s loosely based on my experience of one of my friendships breaking down. This happened six years ago and I still dream about this woman at least once a month. I think the loss of that friendship has affected me more than any boyfriend ever did. I still miss her.

Tell us about your writing process.  Do you plan meticulously before you begin a project, or do you trust the story as it comes out? 

I think there are two distinct schools and I definitely fall into the latter. The exciting part for me is writing without knowing what’s going to happen and I’m loathe to give that up, although it can be a frustrating experience. You can get to the end of a hundred thousand words and realise the story doesn’t knit together.

What I’m learning though, is you don’t have to throw it away when that happens. You can apply a structure to the story you’ve got and find what’s missing. It definitely means more work during the editing process but I think the excitement the writer feels as she discovers her characters and her plot translates onto the page and the reader can share in it.

What are you working on just now?

I’ve just finished the sequel to my first novel (Our Father Who Art Out There…Somewhere.)  The sequel is called Shallow Be Thy Grave and I’m waiting with bated breath to hear whether the publishers (Caffeine Nights) have accepted it. In the meantime I’m trying to keep myself busy (and distracted) by writing the screenplay to Our Father.

Where would you like to be in five years’ time?  And in ten years?

I’d like to be in Thailand researching my latest novel. I’d like to travel with my children, take them on holidays.  They have paid a price for my determination to write – they are probably the only kids in their class who don’t have a TV, DS, Wii, playstation (or microwave, tumble drier, freezer…)

In ten years time I’d like to be on a film set, watching my daughter act one of the roles I’ve written.

If you had one piece of advice to give to your fifteen year old self, what would it be?

Everything changes. Sometimes it’s just a case of sitting it out.


Alison’s website, with more information on her books and events, can be found here.  You can also follow her on Twitter and like her Facebook page for news on I Know Why Your Mother’s Crazy.


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