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  • Helen Lederer

I love deadlines…(not) plus the joy of seat of pants writing

Helen Lederer here: ‘Thank you Lindsey Symonds for sharing about your re-positioned desk and joining the #pimpmydesk community. Inspiration with plants as well as your funny writing. If you could see my desk ... well, best not….'

Lindsey Symonds, on the 2020 Unpublished Novel Prize longlist with Plan C 

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’d already finished my book when I first came across the CWIP Prize. I’ve always wanted to write a book, but this is my first attempt. I started in 2017 and I finally stopped tinkering with it in summer 2019. One of my (many) 2020 New Year resolutions was to do something with it but by March I still hadn’t. Then I came across the CWIP Prize in the nick of time and it seemed the perfect way to tick that resolution off and a lot less scary than sending the book to agents. I just managed to get my entry in the day before the closing date.

Have you ever started a novel and then abandoned it?

No, but I suppose I nearly did with this one. If it hadn’t been for CWIP, who knows?

Did you write poetry as an angsty teenager?

No, never. No diaries either. In the sixth form I was the editor of our school magazine but the only thing I can remember writing for it was the problem page. I’d make up all these ridiculous teenage dilemmas and then provide equally ridiculous and sarcastic ‘solutions’.

Motivational pictures above desk © Lindsey Symonds

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

Plan C is about a middle-aged, stressed out, working mother who is turned down for voluntary redundancy, has her former assistant promoted above her and so hatches a plan to get her redundancy package anyway by doing no work for a year without anyone noticing.

It follows her year ‘at work’ (the tricks she uses to get away with it and the close calls she has) and what happens at home (with unappreciative teenagers, a marathon-obsessed husband and deteriorating parents and in-laws) as she tries to figure out what she’s going to do with her life.

What made you write your book? Where did the idea or impulse behind it come from?

I was that middle-aged, stressed out working mother! Fortunately for me, I got my voluntary redundancy, but it got me thinking.

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

No, I actually set out to write a blog about my post-redundancy life but I enjoyed writing so much more when I could embellish, exaggerate, be sarcastic or ironic and generally try to get laughs so my draft posts were becoming more and more fictional all the time. In the end, I decided to combine the blog stuff with the idea I’d had for a book and then I was on a roll. It’s so easy to find things to laugh at in our modern family lives and the current corporate world. These are crazy times! And you’ve got to laugh, right?

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

Yes, absolutely. I read a lot and I haven’t yet found myself thinking about my own amateurish writing when reading that of proper published authors.

My mum, sister and I all swap books and have different tastes so I read a lot of different genres. At the moment, I’m really into Frederik Backman since my sister passed me A Man Called Ove, a very funny and uplifting book that stays with you long after you finish it. I’ll be incredibly happy if I can write something even half as good as that one day.

Lyndsey's pre-lockdown desk Lyndsey's lockdown 'writing station'

Can you tell us about your writing routine?

I guess you can tell from my earlier answers that I’m more of a pantster than a planner as far as writing goes. I didn’t even set out to write a book! However, in every other aspect of my life I’m a major planner. Is that a bit weird? Maybe writing is my relief from all the planning…

I don’t write every day, just when I’ve got some spare time and I feel like it. I always start early, usually in my dressing gown whilst eating breakfast. I plan to write for an hour, but I’ll still be sat there five hours later – embarrassing when the doorbell rings and I look like I’ve just dragged myself out of bed!

Where do you write?

Lockdown has changed everything, and I’ve been kicked out of the study by my husband who is now working from home. I had a lovely big desk with an artful arrangement of little cards hanging above it that made me smile or motivated me but now I’ve been relegated to an old bureau in the corner of our living room. It’s been given a quick pretty-up with some plants and stuff for a #pimpmydesk Instagram post (sad, I know - desperate times in lockdown!) but I can’t concentrate anyway.

It’s like bloody Piccadilly Circus as one or the other of my (technically) adult kids or husband interrupt me every ten minutes or our dog stands outside the now-barricaded door banging her head against it in her attempts to get to me. I’ve just started to write a new book, but I don’t think there’ll be huge progress until my rowdy lot get back out again!

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?

(d) run, which usually prompts (a), (b) and (c) in that order. In fact, that’s probably why I ran my first marathon last year in the midst of my editing phase!

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

I still can’t quite believe it - until now no one had even read my book! Getting this far has convinced me that my writing can’t be that bad after all so even if I get no further than the longlist, I’ve already decided to carry on writing.

If anyone is thinking of entering, I would tell them to go for it. Even if you aren’t entirely sure if your book is funny, what have you got to lose? And if you haven’t finished your book yet, a deadline is THE best motivator.

Me again – fascinating system of writing while eating Breakfast – pass me the eggy soldiers! I want what you’re having…

Lindsey Symonds grew up in a suburban South London borough.

After graduating in law from Exeter University, she worked in insurance and risk management for over twenty-five years before leaving in 2016 to try new things and finally get to the bottom of her ironing pile.

She lives in a village near Tunbridge Wells with her husband and two children.



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