DD Interview: Francine Toon
As a writer, poet and commissioning editor, Francine Toon is a bit of a triple threat. With poetry published under the name Francine Elena in places including The Sunday Times, Poetry London, Ambit, The Best British Poetry anthologies 2013 and 2015 and the recent Quercus anthology Poems for a World Gone to Shit, Francine is also currently at work finishing a novel that was longlisted for the Deborah Rogers Writers Award, about witchcraft, longing and ghosts. So it’s fair to say she’s keeping busy.
Lucky for us though, Francine will be hosting DD’s upcoming brunch and writing workshop, ahead of which we couldn’t wait to talk to her about what she’s working on, the novel-writing process and her top tips.
DD: Hi Francine! Could you tell us a bit about when you started to write – is it something you’ve always done?
FT: Hello! Yes, I have. I remember it first feeling important to me when I was nine years old and we moved to the Highlands. I had trouble fitting in and was so shy I found it hard to speak in class. When I started writing stories my classmates would volunteer to read them out and in those moments I felt more accepted or even popular. I remember writing stories about girls fighting sharks for buried treasure and a mum who could secretly fly.
DD: As well writing poetry, you’ve recently been working on your first novel. How did you find the process of such a gargantuan task?
FT: Writing 60,000 words when I was working full time did seem quite a daunting task, it’s true. So I planned everything out, told the bare bones of the story in about 30,000 words (which took almost two years) and then fleshed out the rest, setting achievable goals. Writing can be lonely and tiring, especially on those evenings after long days at work. Ultimately you have to enjoy what you’re doing and once you reach a certain word count, it does get a bit easier.
“Accept you will make mistakes, as no-one gets it right first time. That’s fine. It doesn’t make you a bad writer. Everyone edits.”
DD: You’re a poet and a writer, but you’re also a commissioning editor for the literary imprint Sceptre. How does that inform your work?
FT: I think the fact I spend numerous hours a week reading unpublished novels and articulating what works and what doesn’t, creatively, did help when writing my own novel. However it was still hard to see my own work objectively so once I had a first draft I tried to be as open-minded as I could to editorial insight from friends and my agent, even if it meant more work. I tried to imagine my novel as something fluid that could take different shapes. In the process I killed many darlings, which felt less fluid and more like getting my legs waxed.
DD: You’ll be leading the writing workshop at our brunch event with Pots & Pals this month. What would be your number one writing tip?
FT: There are so many I can think of, but perhaps the most important thing is just to finish the first draft. Accept you will make mistakes, as no-one gets it right first time. That’s fine. It doesn’t make you a bad writer. Everyone edits.
Say hello to Francine on Twitter: @FrancineElena
Find out more about our brunch and writing workshop here.