“If you want to be a writer finish something”: An interview with Abigail Tartellin

To say that Abigail Tarttelin’s CV is illustrious would be something of an understatement. At only 23 she is a published writer, actress, blogger… the list never ceases to end. And despite these accolades, this Grimsby born entrepreneur of the arts still manages to retain a refreshing air of modesty, coupled with a down to earth sense of humor. Her debut novel Flick was published earlier this year, and was dubbed ‘a slow burnt cult classic’ by GQ Magazine.

I have always been a fan of the gritty ‘social realism’ genre, and my experience of reading Flick was akin to that of watching, say, a Shane Meadows film.  The novel is set in contemporary Marske –by-the-Sea situated in the North East of England. It tracks the (quite often stoned) musings of 15 year old protagonist Will Flicker and his entourage, who philosophise over issues such as ‘the art of the right amount of stoned’ and ‘the merits of Coke and Pepsi’.  Suffocated by his hometown, disillusioned with a failing education system and with very little to do, Flick must overcome his demons in order to sustain his relationship with the enigmatic new girl in town, Rainbow and ultimately break free from Marske’s ‘circle of life’.

After having avidly read Flick and perused Tarttelin’s website and literary blogs, I met her in Camden to talk about the inspiration behind Flick and projects currently in the pipeline.

What inspired you to first start writing Flick?

I was 19 and I was spending a lot of time in the north east and I never intended it to be a book, I was just scribbling, something that I’ve always done. It’s more of a compulsion than anything else (which makes it really hard to write the second one). But as the book progressed it became obvious that it was a story that I was really passionate about- about somebody who has fantastic qualities and so much potential but is disenfranchised by society, the media and education. I really wanted to finish it and became committed to telling the story.

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer, or is something that you came to discover more recently?

I would say I always wanted to be an actress. I always knew I would write a book but thought I’d do it when I was 40 and had something to say. But then realised I knew a lot about 15 year olds and I’d read a lot of books about 15 year olds, and a lot were inaccurate, but because teenagers are generally disenfranchised by realist literature there’s no one to actually say that ‘this is inaccurate’. People who aren’t educated very well don’t read a lot so they don’t know what’s being written about them. So I wanted to write something about them and us, and have it be realistic, to be a voice for the voiceless.

In the novel the protagonist Will feels that his small Northern community is underrepresented in British politics, and as you’ve touched upon, literature. Do you feel that Northern societies are somewhat side-lined when it comes to the arts?

Absolutely. I see it everywhere.  I meet a lot of talented people, who work really hard, but they’re all from the South, and they do all have RP accents. It becomes really obvious when you hang around backstage at a festival, in the artist’s area in a theatre or when meeting other authors that they generally come from the South, people generally want to hear about the South. Something I’ve been interested to note when getting to know the literary world and publishing industry over the past few years is that there seems to be a tendency to buy books written about London. I think audiences are different. Publishers responded well to Flick but readers have raved about it.

In the chapter ‘Ramblings of a Coked Up Critic’, Kyle refers to Irving Welsh and Orwell to illustrate his point about the ‘anti-hero’s’ assigned role within society. How have these writers influenced you in terms of the anti-hero figure?

There was this great essay that stuck with me, it’s from the orange version of Trainspotting, and it’s about how the anti- hero always dies, because the anti- hero isn’t acceptable to society. He must be punished in the end. Trainspotting was about an anti- hero who was disenfranchised by society, but is still alive and out there in the world, and I think that’s a completely truthful way to tell the story. Because generally, the anti- hero doesn’t die, they are still out in the world, and with Flick I wanted the ending to be realistic (I don’t want to give it away though)!

How did you go about getting the book published?

A lot of people ask me that, and I did it exactly the way it says on the agent’s website. I finished the book when I was 21, and I decided to send that edit to the top 6 publishers in the UK, because why not?! Two got back to me and they requested some manuscripts. One read it and said he really liked it but it wasn’t his thing. The other one said ‘I love this, but I don’t represent YA stuff’, and then she got back to me and said, actually I’m definitely up for working on this. I then met my agent Jo, who is incredibly lovely and cool, understands the story of Flick and what I’m trying to get at, and I have a lot of faith in her as an agent.

How did you initially react when you heard that GQ had labelled your debut novel as a potential ‘slow-burnt cult classic’?

I once heard somebody say that the most successful people are those that don’t react to things, and I’m hoping that one day I’ll be really successful because I really don’t react to stuff, I just think ‘oh that’s really nice’! I think it’s because if you want to get anywhere in the arts you know have to work really hard and know that that’s what you really want to do with your life. So no matter what happens I’m going to work really hard, and I will work in the arts for the rest of my life.

As well as a novelist, you’re also books editor at Phoenix Magazine, a scriptwriter and actress. Tell me about any up and coming projects currently in the pipeline…

The September issue of Phoenix Magazine is out, my first one as books editor, we’ve got some really cool articles so I’m excited about that. The official launch was on September the 15th, to coincide with fashion week. I’m also really excited about a feature film script that my business partner and I are working on, it’s called Buddy Movie. It’s a boy-girl road trip movie. It’s really, really funny and irreverent and feels like it’s the sophomore project, after Flick, for me.  We’ve had good reports from a major US studio and are looking for producers with their help.

As the books editor for Phoenix Mag, and the newly appointed Books blogger for The Huffington Post, can you recommend us any new or interesting reads?

The first book that I reviewed for Huff Post was My American Unhappiness by Dean Bakopoulos. It’s an amazing book. It’s really philosophical, and sweet, as it’s about a guy who’s really egalitarian, he’s liberal, he’s hot… I thought I fancied him! And I started reading it again today, despite having read it two weeks ago.

Finally, what advice would you give to any young aspiring writers?

I think one of the best pieces of advice that was given to me was: if you want to be a writer, write. The advice I would probably give people would be: if you want to be a writer finish something. Because everybody that speaks to me says that they have something that they’re halfway through. If you meet that publisher or agent, you have to have it ready. So in short my advice would be finish it, be ready.

Flick by Abigail Tarttelin (Beautiful Books, £7.99) is out now.

By Kate Tatterfield

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