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Exclusive! Fiona Cooper coughs up wit in bed (with wine)

Fiona Cooper

Congratulations on being longlisted for our unpublished prize! Could you tell us about your novel in one sentence?

What happens when a scientist experiences something that she can’t explain which then disrupts every aspect of her life?

Have you always been interested in (comic) writing, or did you fall into it unexpectedly? Have you ever kept a teenage diary?

I’ve always been interested in writing, but for all of my working life, it’s had to be serious and factual. So to have the opportunity to invent characters in my head and let them loose in their own world meant that they often said the things I wasn’t allowed to. I’m also a romantic at heart, so joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writer’s Scheme to help improve my writing. I am trying to write about more serious topics, but my characters can still winkle out the humour and I’ve given in to them. A teenage diary? Yes, but they’re long destroyed – which is probably for the best as absolutely nothing of interest happened to me in my teens. Well, not until I left home to do my degree, and those stories are definitely best left in the past...

We’d love to hear about where you get ideas for your wondrous wit? Do you have any tips you could impart to aspiring witty writers?

I’m naturally drawn to Rom Coms and love writing banter. In fact, I often have to go back and fill in the minor details such as where they are and what they’re doing. I find people can naturally be very funny, and I love word play – the English language is amazing and to have two characters who spark off each other is a joy to write, especially if there is flirtation involved. As for tips – entertain yourself! I started writing my first novel on a quiet night shift at Heathrow Airport. Although that novel will never see the light of day, you do have to spend a lot of time with these characters living in your head so they have to be believable and entertaining. And at least you have the time to think up the witty repartee in books that real life rarely provides.

Speaking of which, where does your writing magic happen?

I’d love to say I have a proper writer’s corner with an extensive library of research books (maybe in the next house as we’re planning to move this year), but most of my writing is done on a laptop at the breakfast bar in the kitchen (within easy reach of the fridge and kettle), on the sofa, or in the garden. But always accompanied by coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon in my favourite mug.

What is the best piece of content by a witty woman you’ve read/watched/listened to/experienced recently?

I loved Star Struck by Rose Matafeo, and was a big fan of Fleabag. I also listen to a lot of podcasts – You’re Dead to Me with Rachel Parris discussing Eleanor of Aquitaine, and The Infinite Monkey Cage episode on How to Teach Maths with Katy Brand and Professor Hannah Fry (who I also love in The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry) are both wonderfully witty and informative. Every day’s a school day!

Finally, what does being longlisted for the CWIP prize mean to you? Do you have any advice for other witty writers thinking about entering the prize?

I’m very new to the whole business of reaching a wider audience with my writing, so thought that entering this competition would be a good start, really not expecting to make the longlist. This, honestly, has been such a massive boost, that people other than my husband think I’m funny (and I think that was a contractual obligation in our wedding vows, so doesn’t count). The e-mail arrived just after I’d taken my first ever positive Covid test, so after a celebratory cough, I went back to bed with some Mulled Wine (purely for medicinal purposes). Of course, I can only advise other writers to enter the competition, and I wish every success to my fellow nominees.

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