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PARROT Talks to: Sophie Mackintosh

May 9, 2021 | PARROT Talks

Hi Sophie, thank you so much for taking the time to be a part of PARROT Talks! Could you start by you telling us a bit about who you are, where you’re based and what you do?

Hello! I’m a writer originally from Wales, though I’ve lived in London for almost a decade now. I write mainly fiction, often with a speculative element – I’m very drawn to the strange and slightly off-kilter. My second novel, Blue Ticket, has just come out in paperback – it’s a strange road-trip set in a world where a lottery system at puberty determines whether women can have children or not. When I’m not writing I like cooking, going for long walks, and (as I’ve just moved house) spending a lot of time obsessively browsing kitsch homewares on eBay.

How did you get into being an author? Is it something you always saw yourself doing?

I always loved writing ever since I was a child, but I suppose with being a novelist there’s not a super clear career path towards it and I always assumed I would do something else – maybe journalism or teaching. I did BA English with Creative Writing at Warwick University, and when I graduated I knew I wanted to write a book – I’d always tried to write one but never got very far. I realised that if I wanted to write one I just had to kind of…sit down and write one around whatever else was happening in my life, I couldn’t wait for the perfect moment when I would magically have a lot of time. But actually, arriving at that epiphany gave me a feeling of freedom and determination, because I knew the only thing I had control over was writing a good book. I wrote in between working various temporary jobs and as a waitress, then when I moved to London I started working full-time in PR and marketing roles, but kept the habit of writing on weekends and my spare time. I did this for my whole twenties pretty much, but after writing my first novel (which never got published) I started writing The Water Cure, and while it was hard work I just loved the process of writing it so much (well, mainly – I was quite exhausted by the end!) I quit my full-time job after landing my book deal for The Water Cure to go freelance and have more time for writing; almost four years on, writing is now my full-time job.

PARROT Talks champions small businesses and creatives and one of the things I am most interested in is how people who work for themselves structure their day and time. Can you tell us a bit about your day to day?

It can really vary depending on what I have on. Sometimes I work very chaotically, and other times I have a strict routine. I’ve come close to burnout a few times while trying to juggle everything, so I try and be much more mindful now of accepting when my brain simply isn’t working, and giving myself a break. My ‘ideal’ day would be waking up early, getting in a good few hours of writing before lunch in a calm space (or coffee shop, pre-pandemic), and then in the afternoon doing something else – getting out of the house, reading, anything – I don’t work very well in the afternoons. If I have a lot on then I might work again in the evening for an hour or two, either before or after dinner. But if I’m on deadline or close to the end of a story or book draft then I’ll be at my desk constantly, as I get very obsessed and sucked into it! I know this isn’t very healthy but it works for me and gets me fully immersed into the world I’m building. However, saying all that, I’m currently working from my kitchen table while my partner sits opposite me on back to back Zoom calls, while a carpenter is loudly fitting a new front door. It’s not always ideal but it does always have to get done, and the beauty of writing is that as long as I have my laptop, I can kind of do it from anywhere. I’ve even worked at 5am from an airport Wetherspoons while drinking a huge gin, waiting for a flight, before. Not sure it was massively helpful, but I did meet my deadline at least.

I’m a huge fan of the Handmaid’s Tale and am absolutely dying for to watch the fourth series and so as the Evening Standard said on the back, this will absolutely pacify my need for some feminist, dystopian fiction! I have long adored dystopian fiction and find they often draw parallels with some aspects of the way we live our lives today. Can you tell us some of the inspirations behind Blue Ticket?

That’s why I’m drawn to more speculative / dystopian fiction too – I really like the freedom of being able to approach theoretical ideas and see how they play out. With Blue Ticket, the idea came out of my own feelings on motherhood and conversations I was having with friends around those ideas – sudden biological urges, fear and ideas of maternal ‘goodness’, as well as uncertainty around what we really want, how we can ever really know what we want, and the ideas we have about who we are. The idea of being told you can never have children is quite horrifying, this sorting into not-mothers and mothers, but so much about pregnancy feels quite random – the luck of the draw as to whether your life works out like that, even if you’ve grappled with the decision and decided one way or another. I was writing it in my late twenties and now I’m in my early thirties, still childless, and those conversations with friends have continued and evolved as the years go by.

What’s next for you? I’m sure you are extremely busy right now with the publication of Blue Ticket but do you have plans for your next? We can’t wait to hear more from you!

I’m working on my next novel, which is a bit of a departure as it’s more historical – strange to be writing something set in the past, rather than the future! I’ve been working on it since before the pandemic and first lockdown, so it’s interesting to me to see how that changed my approach and process with writing it – it’s been even more of an intense process than usual so far.

Who are your literary inspirations and favourites authors, either growing up or today?

I particularly love Joy Williams, Angela Carter, Maggie Nelson – they are all quite different writers, but all have incredible ways with image and language.

As I said, PARROT Talks is all about sharing the love of small businesses and creatives, could you tell us your hit list of small businesses, books and local hotspots for us?

I live on the border of Leyton and Walthamstow, and feel like I’m very spoiled for great local businesses! A few I love are Phlox Books and Deeney’s Cafe in Leyton, Hornbeam Cafe and Gnarly Vines in Walthamstow, and Violet Cakes in Hackney.

Blue Ticket is out now in paperback, and you can enter to win your copy on @parrotlondon, along with a pair of Element Hoops here.

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