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  • Helen Lederer

An embarrassingly satisfying intrusion into writerly secrets

Tierney Acott, on the 2020 CWIP Unpublished Novel Prize longlist with Nigel

Helen Led here: I love the name Nigel – a great name for a cat – and even better as a novel!

When did you first hear about the CWIP Prize and was your entry specifically written for it or were you working on it already?

I first heard about the CWIP Prize in February from a tweet by Marian Keyes (who is a treasure). It looked like fun, and fortunately I had already written Nigel, so I did another round of edits and submitted.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

I had to learn to write cursive and all that like any child. And I did learn to write my name. So, I suppose since about age four. The novels didn’t come until later, at age six.

coast road in New Zealand
Coastal road in New Zealand © Tierney Acott

Have you ever started a novel and then abandoned it?

I haven’t. However, I have abandoned many short stories.

Did you write poetry as an angsty teenager?

I was too upset I never received my Hogwarts letter to write any poetry.

Can you tell us what your novel’s about in two sentences?

I first read this as ‘two words’ and came up with ‘love’ and ‘life’, which describes most stories. That said, Nigel follows the romance of Nigel and the narrator Rigney after they meet on holiday in New Zealand. They dive in headfirst and obstacles come at them fast, forcing them to decide what’s worth pursuing and for how long.

Summer in Evanston, Illinois © Tierney Acott

My goal was to write a love story that I would want to read. My favourite kinds are the dark, twisted, gothic romances like Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier or Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

Did you set out to write a funny book? Where does the humour come from in your book?

I didn’t, no. But I think that in order for the characters to be interesting to me, there needed to be humour in it. It’s playful wit and banter, and I’d say there’s a decent absurdist streak. Sprinkling of dark humour too.

Can you read funny books when you’re writing your own? Who do you enjoy reading?

I’ve never really thought about it that way. Looking back at my Goodreads from the time I wrote this, I was reading a ridiculous amount of Cold War spy novels (mostly John le Carre), that beach read called Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and the outlier from those Russian genres, Once Were Warriors by Alan Duff.

Have you ever read anyone else’s bad review and felt slightly chuffed? (Lying is permissible in this answer.)

I confess I haven’t. I get very squirmy reading bad reviews, even if I don’t know the person. I suffer from absolutely crippling second-hand embarrassment.

Can you tell us about your writing routine – are you a planner or a pantster?

I was a notorious pantster, but I thought I’d mix things up and plan this one start to finish. I might be a convert now.

Where do you write?

It’s very unusual, but I write at my desk. I’m on the second floor and it overlooks the street below, so I’m also able to fulfil my people-watching quota simultaneously. I would send a picture, but I’m moving in three days and it’s already packed up. Alas…

You can’t find the right words to make a sentence chime: do you (a) swear? (b) cry? or (c) eat? - if (c), what item of food?

I usually put in a placeholder, then get up and move around. I wrote this novel in the mornings before work, so I spent most of my commute emailing myself edits to what I’d written that morning.

What difference has being longlisted for the CWIP prize made to you? What would you say to anyone thinking of entering next year?

Do it! To put it simply, being longlisted is validating and very motivating. I’d like to further recommend entering next year, even just as a reason for a read-through to improve the work.

Me again: Thank you for your undulatingly intriguing replies Tierney. Lucky us. Hxx

Tierney Acott has an M. Phil in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin and has written several screenplays. Some were finalists in the UK Film Festival and Lonely Seal International Film Festival. She was longlisted for Mslexia’s Children’s Novel Competition with I Francis. She studied sketch comedy in Chicago and produced stage shows. She made a comedy web series about thyroid cancer,The C Word, which won a writing award at LA Web Fest.



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