Philippa Found has been a regular Psycl-ist since the very beginning. You probably recognize her from around the studio but what you may not know is that she is a budding writer, already being met with great success so early in her career. Having graduated with distinction from the prestigious UEA Creative Writing MA (fellow graduates include Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan), she has just had her first story published and is working on her first collection.
First of all, congratulations! How does it feel to have your first story published?
Thank you! It feels incredible and such a validation for the writing. Writing is a pretty solitary pursuit, and while you are doing it you have no guarantee that what you’re slaving over will ever actually be read, so to have the work out there available to read is amazing. What’s fantastic is to have my writing published by such a great publishing house: Galley Beggar Press.
That’s amazing! Can you tell us a bit more about Galley Beggar, the prize and your story?
Galley Beggar are a small independent publisher who are very highly regarded in the industry for publishing very cool, cutting-edge, literary fiction. They are very selective and only publish about 3 novels a year and this year began supporting short stories through a new short story competition they set up, which my story, “How to Be in Love with Your Best Friend” was one of ten long-listed stories, and they publish individual stories as part of their digital ‘Singles’ range, which is where my story has been published. Galley Beggar were the publishers who discovered Eimear McBride’s, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing, which is a really original and experimental novel, which was over-looked by some publishers but Galley Beggar totally got it, and once it was published, the book went on to win the Bailey’s Prize for Fiction. I remember my husband bought me that book for Christmas when it first came out. I remember opening it, turning the book over in my hands (it was so minimalist and beautifully designed with a few lines from the book printed on the cover), reading it and thinking: these are the people who I want to publish my work one day – so for that to actually have happen is incredible.
Stepping back for a second, can you tell us a little bit about your background writing?
I was always writing things as a child: songs, books, plays. I was recently going through some old boxes and found chapter one of my first ‘novel’ I had written, aged nine, about a gang of girls. I was also one of those teenagers who never had a boyfriend but was always desperately in love, so I wrote a lot of poetry as a teenager, but then I got more into art and left the writing aside for a bit, although writing was always a part of my art practice. After uni, I ran an art gallery for seven years, and it was one of the artists I used to represent there, Sarah Lederman, who said to me, ‘If you like my paintings then you would love the short stories of Angela Carter.’ She told me to read The Bloody Chamber. I did and it changed my life. It was after that that I started writing stories, applied for a six month beginners writing course The Guardian were doing in association with the University of East Anglia (UEA): I did that in 2011/2012, and then applied to UEA to do their famous Creative Writing Prose MA, which I just graduated from with a distinction in November.
What is your process like now? How has it changed since you started writing?
Since doing the MA, I have a much better awareness of fiction: how it works, what a story should do, and how to maybe go about doing it. Before I don’t really think I had a clue, it was all instinctive and a bit clunky, but now I have a much better awareness of what I want to do and when it is and isn’t working, which helps!
Generally the way I start is I’ll get a fragment of an idea for a story: it might be a character, or a scene, or just a premise (for example, girl sees other girl flicking through Instagram feed in a coffee shop, they start a conversation), and I’ll either sit with it a bit for the story to take a bit more shape in my mind, or at some point I’ll just start writing it. When I have a full first draft down, or something that’s at least nearly a full draft, I’ll send it to a couple of my friends from my MA course, and they’ll really closely read it and give me amazing feedback. They’ll be able to see what’s not working, where the holes are, possibly what it is I’m trying to get at but not quite reaching, and then I’ll be able to redraft with that outside perspective and awareness, and actually finish it.
On a practical, day-to-day level, I sit down with Chill FM on the radio, or sometimes I’ll be chanelling a certain song in a story so I’ll listen to that on repeat instead while I’m writing.
How does Psycle fit into and support your creative endeavours?
Psycle literally keeps me sane.
Writing is very solitary, I don’t have any colleagues, so I don’t see or speak to anyone for the majority of the day Monday – Friday, so the Psycle community is so important to me and has become my stand in for having colleagues. The fact that everyone at Psycle is so friendly and positive and supportive, really helps.
Also, when I was doing my Creative Writing MA last year, it was super intense. We had deadlines every 3 weeks, where we would have to produce 5,000 words of writing to be workshopped (this is where you sit in silence and listen to 8 of your peers and a tutor comment on your writing: saying everything that is and mainly isn’t working in your piece of writing, for an hour while you listen and take notes), alongside having to closely read and feedback on 15,000 words of our peers work each week, read a novel a week and all the other assignments, so it was pretty relentlessly stressful, and you are opening yourself up on a course like that so it can feel quite exposing: Psycle gave me a place to channel all that stress, and the endorphins I got/get from Psycle, I genuinely believe, kept me sane.
Writing also is very sedentary so the physical side of the exercise is very important but it’s the psychological effects that I find the most beneficial. I find Psycle is a great place to come, whatever my day’s been like: If I’ve had a really frustrating day where I’ve sat in front of the computer all day and feel like I’ve achieved nothing, I take that frustration and pent-up energy out on the bike; if I’ve had a great day and feel like I’ve really achieved, I take that positive energy and celebrate on the bike. Whatever the day, Psycle elevates it.
What or who inspires you?
Art, the artists I used to work with at my gallery, teenagers, celebrities, posts on Instagram, magazine articles. I’m very much inspired by popular culture. This then weaves in with my own memories of being a teenager (I write about female experience and usually with a teenage protagonist), my personal experiences, as well as art and gender theories that I studied on my art history degree and explored in the exhibitions I curated at the gallery: feminism, body ideals, gender representation, etc. I’m also inspired by other writers: I also watch a lot of films, as it’s a great, quick way to see a narrative arc in progress, I read a lot of books, and TV programmes like Girls inspire me. All that gets mixed together and feeds my writing.
Do you have any favourite books, authors or eras of literature?
I tend to read fiction by women writers – probably given the nature of the subjects that interest me and mainly read very contemporary writing; although that being said alongside my current reading list, I’m re-reading Shakespeare. I love poetry and writers who play with language – its musicality, its rhythm, and its potential for creating unique imagery. It was Angela Carter’s short story collection, The Bloody Chamber, which switched me onto reading and writing in a serious way, and after that I devoured everything she wrote. Being a short story writer myself, right now I’m reading lots of contemporary short story writers: I love Lorrie Moore (her first collection, Self-Help, is incredible), May Lan Tan (Things To Make & Break is a constant source of inspiration for me, reading that is like taking literary drugs), Beth Nugent (City of Girls), Laura Van Den Berg (The Isle of Youth). I also like reading plays: Rachel Cusk’s version of Medea is delicious.
What’s next for you?
I just found out that I have another short story, ‘Crush’ being published in the first print edition of The London Journal of Fiction which will be available to buy from 7th March, and another short story, How to Be You, (a tragi-comic piece about a twenty-something girl working in an art gallery) which will be published in the London Journal of Fiction online on 2nd April.
And I have a couple of reading events coming up: I’ve been asked to take part in Books Talk Back at Norwich Arts Centre on Monday 7th March, where I’ll be reading a short story in front of a published author and audience who get to critique the story – like a public version of a writing workshop.
Then, on 10th March, I’m reading at an event to celebrate the Galley Beggar Short Story prize at Second Home on Hanbury Street in Shoreditch. (More info at http://secondhome.io/whats-on/)
But mainly I’m working on finishing my collection of short stories and doing a lot of Psycle classes to get me through! I have eight stories finished that I wrote while I was on my MA, and I’ve got three more currently on the go. Once they’re finished, I’ll start sending the collection out to agents to hopefully have them published as a collection.
I’m also currently trying to get hold of the editors of Lenny Letter as I have a short story which I think would be perfect for them for their ‘Work’ section, but it’s super difficult to get in touch with Lena Dunham and her awesome team. If any of the INSPIRE readers know anyone at Lenny Letter, I would be eternally grateful to be put in touch, please email me!
To download Philippa’s story, ‘How to Be in Love with Your Best Friend,’ click here. And if you enjoy it, make sure to check out her next story, ‘How To Be You’ here. (Published by the London Journal of Fiction and available from the 2nd April, 2016).