Getting into writing – an interview with Eileen Merriman

Eileen Merriman

Eileen Merriman’s debut YA novel, Pieces of You, was published in June 2017. Her next YA novel, Catch Me When You Fall, is due for release on January 2, 2018. Her awards include second in the 2015 Bath Flash Fiction Award, commended in the 2015 Bath Short Story Competition, and third place for three consecutive years in the 2014-2016 Sunday Star-Times Short Story competitions. Eileen works full-time as a consultant haematologist at North Shore Hospital.

What got you interested in writing/publishing?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in writing. I filled exercise books with stories and poems from a young age, and wrote a short novel when I was 16 years old. I got my first rejection letter for that one (Penguin) although they were very nice about it. I stopped writing when I went to university and picked it up again about 20 years later, when I’d finally qualified as a haematologist. I’ve haven’t looked back since!

What are your happiest memories in your writing career?

Having my first short story published (in Takahe, a New Zealand literary journal). Being placed third in a national short story competition (Sunday Star Times Short Story Competition) in 2014 – that was the moment when I really felt validated as a writer. Having my YA novel accepted by Penguin in 2016 was THE happiest moment. I still remember the day my agent e-mailed me to tell me a publisher was interested in my manuscript. I e-mailed her back to ask which one and she finally replied two days later to tell me it was Penguin Random House. I nearly fell over!

How do you handle success and failure?

Success is usually easy to handle, although even successful moments can be stressful e.g. having my first book published led to new worries about how it would be viewed by reviewers and the public. Fortunately most reviews have been positive. Failure is normal for anyone, but especially for a writer. I’ve had two novels rejected by publishing houses (not counting the novel I wrote when I was a teenager) and each time I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to produce something better, let alone a novel that a publisher saw as commercially viable. But I’ve learnt that success is partly talent, and partly grim determination. Failure doesn’t mean you are not a good writer. All writers face rejection at all stages of their careers.

What is your advice to young and new writers?

Read, read, read. And write, write, write. No one becomes good at anything without practicing their craft for countless hours. Writing is like exercising a muscle. You will get better if you persist. Keep your eyes open to the world around you. Listen in to conversations to get your ear in for dialogue, and people-watch to observe behaviours, how people dress, mannerisms. You will view the world very differently once you start writing about it.

Are you a traditionalist or a digital? (paper or eBook)

I have a Kindle and it’s very convenient – books are available instantly – but I still prefer paper. The reading journey is very different in the electronic version. I find it harder to concentrate on books in the electronic form, and it’s harder to flick back to confirm details. If I read a book I really like on Kindle, then I usually purchase the paper copy at a later date to read again.

Do you self-publish?

I thought about self-publishing an earlier novel, but it’s so easy for it to get swallowed up in the ocean of self-publishing out there, and you can’t market your own book the way a publishing house can. There are some very bad, and very good, self-published books out there, but trying to find the good ones is difficult. That being said, I know of some authors who have self-published and have then been picked up by a publishing house

Catch me when you fall by Eileen Merriman

How did you gain a publisher?

I submitted my first YA novel to an agent who specialises in children and YA fiction last year, and she submitted my manuscript to four publishing houses. Two wrote back to say it wasn’t for them, and the third (Penguin) accepted it.

Why did you start your website?

Publishers like to see that you have a website when you submit work – it’s like a CV with links. It’s also good for the public, so that they can link to reviews, short stories and flash, and places where they can order your book. It’s good to put a face to your name. I don’t blog – I don’t have time – but many blog on their websites too.

Click to find Eileen –

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