Milly Johnson Interview
Posted on 25 January 2010. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
WriteWords talks to author Milly Johnson, who's not afraid to mix chicklit with contentious issues- and wrestling.
Tell us something about your background.
I’ve been writing jokes and poems for greetings cards for many years now, which is still the ‘day job’ but the dream was always to write a novel. I stopped ‘faffing about’ when I hit forty, sat myself down with a ‘now or never’ approach and churned out ‘A Spring Affair’ in about three months. I was terrified my agent would think I might be a one trick pony so as soon as I had finished novel 1, I wrote ‘The Yorkshire Pudding Club’ (which they thought was the stronger concept for a debut novel) Then ‘The Birds and the Bees’ followed. I’ve just finished ‘A Summer Fling’, which is about the cross-generational friendship of five women, and am halfway through novel number 5 ‘Here Come the Girls’ about a group of friends on a cruise ship. I write a column for a local magazine and the occasional newspaper article and short story too – when time permits.
Other work besides writing; ie. Editing, dramaturgy, tutoring, and how it works/worked for/against your own writing
I am the queen of rubbish jobs. I’ve been everything from a primary school teacher to a trainee accountant. I’ve worked in offices, shops, restaurants and nothing satisfied me because I was made for writing and nothing else. I still write the greetings card copy because it keeps my finger on the pulse of life outside my ivory writing tower. Nothing is ever wasted when you are a writer though and the experience of working with lots of lovely people and office psychos in many different environments has given me plenty to write about – as well as gained me some fantastic friends
How did you start writing?
I’ve always written, from being a child. I just liked writing stories and poems for pleasure and that feeling has never left me. I can count on one hand the times I’ve not wanted to sit down and write.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
Charlotte Bronte was my greatest classical influence because reading Jane Eyre had a profound effect on me when I was going through puberty and the saturnine Edward Rochester became the template for many of my heroes. I loved that the heroine was small and plain and I could identify with her so much, and that the hero was flawed and powerfully attractive without being classically handsome. And, once a teacher had shown me just how much fun Jane Austen had with her characters, and wasn’t the stuffy author I had previously thought, I fell in love with her books. Especially Persuasion – mainly because Anne Elliott and Captain Wentworth came from the same mould as Jane and Rochester.
Moving forward – I love Marian Keyes for her comedy and warmth and it’s a huge thrill whenever I’m compared to her! I love Maggie O’Farrell very much and a host of ‘new writers’ like Jane Elmor, Louise Douglas and Lucie Whitehouse whose descriptive powers leave me stunned (and jealous). I also like darker authors such as Sophie Hannah, Mo Hayder and Nicci French for their amazing ability to keep me turning pages – though I hate them with a passion for leaving me feeling bereft when I’ve finished their books.
How did you get your first agent/ commission/publication? Can you tell us about the process/journey? (or if you are still on it?)
I started sending manuscripts off when I was 25 – to my present agent amongst others. The rejection letters came thick and fast but Darley Anderson always wrote a note of encouragement at the bottom. But often I would cast down my manuscripts, think ‘I’ll never be an author’ and tried to forget my dreams. But they kept bursting through and once again I was writing and sending off manuscripts. I didn’t realise that the more I wrote, the more my craft was being refined and Darley’s notes of encouragement were getting longer. I was determined that my agent was going to be Darley Anderson after all the support his agency had given me. Then, when I decided to write about Barnsley and send in the first chapters of my idea about a woman who starts clutter-clearing her life, the agency rang me and wanted to see the whole book. I was so terrified that I had got this far and it might all collapse that I sent the first chapter of ‘The Yorkshire Pudding Club’ in with the last chapters of ‘A Spring Affair.’ Darley thought that my story of three late-pregnancy women would be more commercial and so I had to write the whole of that one up. I’ve never worked so hard or fast in my life. But it was worth the sleepless nights, because Simon and Schuster quickly picked it up and I’ve been with them ever since. They’ve been fantastically supportive – a dream of a publisher. Persistence is the name of the game. It took me fifteen years, on and off, but – as I said to Darley – I got him in the end!
What's the worst thing about writing?
Neurotic feelings that my books won’t be bought and my career will end – because I’m not fit for anything else!
And the best?
Getting paid and appreciated for doing what I would do as an unpaid hobby – and working from home too, which is ideal for a single parent like me. I don’t feel like I’m at work because I enjoy what I do so much.
Tell us what kind of responses you get from audiences\ readers.
I’m very lucky – my good reviews (so far) have far-outweighed any negative ones I’ve had and I’m getting an increasing amount of letters from readers who have enjoyed my books and taken the time to write to me. I love it when readers say that my books feel so real to them and that I make them both laugh and cry but leave them uplifted at the end. It makes me sure that I’m in the right job and that I want to get better with each book and keep my readership.
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