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Longlistee Silvia Saunders confesses to staring issue

Silvia's work space

Congratulations on being longlisted for our unpublished prize!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

When Mara inherits enough money to buy her first flat in London, she believes all her problems will be solved, just as soon as she can convince her homesick boyfriend, Tom, to move in; the couple who live above her seem so happy, so why can’t her and Tom be happy too?

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

I love sitcoms, and am fascinated by how script-writers plan each beat, right down to the pauses and the ‘mm’s and ‘aah’s. Nothing is accidental. Comedy is as much an art as tragedy! With that in mind, I always try to make myself laugh first. I have stacks and stacks of childhood and teenage diaries, and when I flip back through them, I do get the impression that the Silvia who wrote them was wanting to make her future self giggle. I’m a big fan of gallows humour - there’s a 60,000-word document on my laptop called ‘Over’ with musings about a breakup, and though I remember being very torn up at the time, all the way through there are little snide asides and one-liners intended to make me smile once I was ready to.

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 have a terrible staring problem, and, wherever I am, I can’t help but zone in to other people’s conversations. It’s definitely got me into trouble before. Just last month, on the tube, I was listening to a group of Italians complaining about their Airbnb, and one of the women caught me looking, cue her muttering (in Italian) that she wanted to ‘throw that f***ing girl with the book onto the tracks.’ The f***ing girl with the book promptly raised said book to cover her face and minded her own business for the rest of her journey. I’ll never learn. I really enjoy observational humour, and in a big city like London, you’re never too far from inspiration. I find the best way to write convincing dialogue is to keep your ears open for how people really speak to each other. They cut each other off, they switch languages, they interrupt, they wilfully mishear, and they’re often very sweary. It’s such a rich seam!

Speaking of which, where does your writing magic happen?

I write either on the sofa or at the Goldsmiths Library in New Cross - I have an alumni card and love the space. It’s also far away enough from my flat that I can’t just give up and go home if I’m having a bad writing day. The only slight issue is that there’s this one library-user who has an incessant wet sniff, so if he comes in and sits even in a fifty-metre radius from me, it’s all over.

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

My all-time best laugh-out-loud book is Not Working by Lisa Owens. So funny. I’d love to see something new from her soon. Podcast-wise, Dear Joan and Jericha makes me howl - they’re absolutely filthy and outrageous. When they start hamming it up more and more to make each other break character, it just kills me off. Julia Davis is a genius in my eyes. Also I found some of the sketches in Ellie & Natasia to be very good - Natasia Demetriou must surely be one of the funniest actors we have in the UK.

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 not joking when I say that being longlisted for the CWIP Prize has been a highlight of my writing career so far. It has given me the confidence to think that I’m on the right track with Happy Above Us. When I opened the email and saw that it said ‘Congratulations’, I immediately burst into tears. Totally off brand. My only advice, I would say, is to write as truthfully as you can. The everyday is absurd enough as it is, without the need for too much embellishment!

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