Sophie Duffy lives in Devon, and became a writer after taking a creative writing evening class and then a Creative Writing MA. Her first novel published was The Generation Game in 2011, which has won several prizes. She also published This Holey Life in 2012. Bright Stars is her third novel and follows the life of Cameron Spark as he struggles both to move on from and to accept traumatic events in his past. Sophie is also involved with CreativeWritingMatters, a writing school in Exeter. We send Rachel Stubbs to find out more…
Your website says that you studied your MA at Lancaster University. Are any parts of Bright Stars that are based on your own experiences there?
I studied for my MA at Lancaster University by distance learning from 2002-2004 but I was an English undergrad there from 1986 to 1989 and that is where the inspiration came for Bright Stars. It was post-Falklands, post-miners’ strike, a time of political upheaval with Thatcher in power, Nelson Mandela in prison, a huge gap between rich and poor, north and south. Like one of the characters, Bex, I was (and continue to be) a Feminist and although I was never a hunt sab like her, I had friends who were. It’s shocking to think that hunting with dogs still goes on illegally and that the ban could be lifted in the near future. As we did back in the 80s, today’s students face an uncertain future, and they need to be politically aware.
What inspired you to write this book?
My first two novels, The Generation Game and This Holey Life, were about family relationships. This time I wanted to explore friendships. I still have a group of very close friends from my student days and I was interested in examining this. The novel is about those mistakes we make as young people and whether you have to live the rest of your life in the shadows of these mistakes or if you can wipe them away.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I loved writing as a child and yet when I got to secondary school there were few opportunities for creative writing. I think if I was an undergrad now I would want to study Creative Writing and English but there wasn’t that option back then. So it wasn’t until my three children were young that I started writing seriously. I signed up for an adult education class at the local college in Worthing where we lived at the time, and I was hooked. I wrote for many years before I was finally published in 2011, a decade after that initial evening class.
Could you tell me a bit about your writing process?
I am rather haphazard in my approach. As well as writing short stories and novels, I also mentor developing novelists, appraise manuscripts, run workshops and jointly administer the Exeter Novel Prize and Exeter Story Prize alongside Cathie Hartigan and Margaret James as part of Exeter-based Creative Writing Matters. So I have to swing between writing creatively and writing critically and this can be a difficult balance at times. When I am in the midst of a novel I will spend much of the day writing and much of the evening reading through the day’s work. At the moment, we are busy sifting entries for the Novel Prize which leaves little time for my work-in-progress. In the new year, I hope to crack on.
Are any of your own novels your personal favourites?
The Generation Game is close to my heart as it was my first published novel (I have two in the bottom drawer that will never be shown the light of day). It is set in a sweet shop in Torquay and is an homage to the best (and worst) of 70s and 80s culture and events. Lots of flares, Bruce Forsyth and sherbet lemons.
Cameron’s Scottish identity is an important part of the novel. Could you explain your choices behind giving him Scottish roots?
I didn’t set out to have the narrator of Bright Stars as a young Scottish man but after I’d written my first draft which was in the third person from the four main characters’ viewpoints, I realised the novel was failing to connect emotionally. I had to decide whose story it was. It was clearly Cameron’s. And so I rewrote the novel in the first person from his viewpoint. Although I am a Devon girl, like Bex, I have Scottish ancestry which I have been researching over the last few years. I have fallen in love with Edinburgh and take every chance to go there. Scotland also faces an uncertain future so this resonated through the novel.
Do you think that Bright Stars has a happy ending, or is it more bittersweet in your opinion?
I’d say the ending is bittersweet. It is sad that so many years have been lost to regret and guilt, but there is hope for the future. I always want to leave my readers with hope.
Do any writers in particular inspire you?
I read a lot and this goes hand in hand with my writing. The more I read, the more I write. There are so many writers I love but, put it this way, there are only a few I would go out and buy in Hardback because I can’t wait for the paperback or Kindle editions. Kate Atkinson, Hilary Mantel and David Lodge are three of those. I also love comic novels. I know from judging competitions that humour is a rare thing and very hard to pull off. If you can move a reader to laugh or cry then job done.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Read a lot. Write a lot. Enter competitions. Persevere. Develop a thick skin and learn to listen to your instincts.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
I am working on my next novel, a third of the way through. It’s about a female undertaker and her family business over the years. I think in another life I was a funeral director as I am fascinated by this subject.
Will you ever write a sequel to Bright Stars?
I don’t think I will ever write a sequel to ‘Bright Stars’ or to any of my novels but then you never know.
Are any of the characters your favourite from Bright Stars?
I have a big soft spot for Cameron and I do hope he is happy.
Here are some quick-fire questions:
Tea or coffee?
Favourite holiday destination?
Edinburgh or Canada.
Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson.
Back to the Future.
Favourite genre? (For both books and films)
What do you think the ideal date would be?
A barn dance.
If you could have any magical power, which one would you choose?