“Not going to lie, I might have cried.”
Debut novelist and 2020 longlistee Sarah Lawton on finding agent representation and signing her publishing deal.
Happy publication week for All The Little Things! Tell us about the key moments from first draft to signing your publishing deal…
Thank you! That’s a fun question to find the answer to. I think the key moments for me included getting the email from my agent Felicity Blunt offering me representation – not going to lie, I might have cried in the queue at Next when I opened it – and then getting the offer from Canelo saying they wanted to print my book. Nicely sandwiched between those was the day I spent refreshing the Bath Novel Award longlist page to eventually see that yes, my book had made it!
What sparked the idea behind the book?
I was walking to my writing class, not really thinking about anything, when I just thought – what would happen if someone set out to break up a family unit for their own nefarious purposes? What might they do? Why might they do it? I was surprised to find the characters ready and just waiting for me to start – it was like they’d always been there.
All The Little Things is about secrets and not knowing who to trust. Do you share your early work with trusted beta readers or a writing group?
I do share my work! I am so lucky in that respect I have a really amazing writing group. We used to meet up once a fortnight in the British Library, but since lockdown we’ve been meeting weekly on zoom and we usually contribute a short piece of work each week for critique. I couldn’t have written my book without them and their cleverness and tough questions – not to mention the support.
Your novel starts with a killer opener in “I watched my daughter die”; did you have that from the start?
Not from the start, no! My opening paragraph hasn’t changed since I wrote it, but I took part in a prologue workshop one week and we all wrote one to discuss and that was the first line of mine, and I liked it so much ended up actually using it…it very nearly didn’t make it to the published version, but in the end my editor couldn’t resist it either!
How many drafts did you write and how long was the process from first to final draft?
Probably four drafts properly – I tend to edit as I write rather than redraft. The first one was less than 50,000 words, so I knew I had a problem! One of my drafts included an extra person’s point of view, and that had to go in the final draft because it was just a distraction and not really benefiting the narrative, so I had to make up even more words! On my own, I started in February 2018, and had submitted to agents by the end of October of the same year, I think if I take out the breaks for school holidays, it probably took me seven months to write, and then another six weeks editing with Felicity.
Any tips on plotting twists and reveals?
Argh! I really couldn’t say except maybe – just hold things back. Keep things up your sleeve and just drop hints. I beta read on occasion, and a really common mistake is to offer things up too early when they’d have more impact later on. Also, don’t be afraid to write flawed, dislikeable characters – they have the BEST secrets!
How has All The Little Things changed since the draft that longlisted in 2020?
Not hugely – one character has disappeared, and there are now flashbacks, but the rest is essentially the same albeit with a few slight changes of pace and tone here and there. Editing with publisher is really eye opening. Oh, and you at the Bath Novel might remember that it had a different title back then – it used to be ‘Poisoned Fruit’…
What’s your how-I-met-my-agent story?
That actually came about through the Faber course too. They create an anthology of your first thousand words plus a short synopsis which gets printed up and sent to agents. I was pleasantly surprised to be approached by four agents asking for my full manuscript, and even more surprised that the two I chose to send it to both wanted to represent it! Having met with Felicity and the other agent, I then had to choose, which was really difficult as they were both so lovely and clever and really got the book, but in the end Felicity’s vision for it was more in line with mine, and I thought her list was a really good fit for me too.
What did you was the most important thing you learned on the Faber Academy course?
Find your tribe – I know I just waxed lyrical about them before, but my writing group came from that course and finding them was worth every penny I spent on it!
Sarah Lawton grew up on the Isle of Wight, and following university she embarked on a career in the charity sector. After a few years of full-time parenting, she picked up her pen, and can now be found writing in various locations in East London.
Rachel has made poor decisions in the past, but she has always tried her best for her daughter. When Vivian needed a fresh start, Rachel didn’t hesitate to move them far from London. She just wishes she could shake the nagging doubt that Vivian is hiding something.
Vivian isn’t like other teenagers. On the surface she seems the same as her friends, but she knows she is different. When enigmatic Alex takes an interest in her, Vivian’s cool demeanour hides an intensity of feeling she has never known before. His touch sets her skin on fire.
Mother and daughter are both keeping secrets. But just how dangerous are they? As lust and anger give way to violence Rachel will have to decide: is she prepared to give up everything for her child? Even her own life?
A taut and gripping psychological thriller about toxic families, secrets and life-or-death decisions.
‘Highly recommended… kept me reading FAR too late into the night’ Tammy Cohen, author of The Wedding Party
‘I could not put this down – a riveting, psychological page-turner from a major new talent.’ Cathi Unsworth, author of Bad Penny Blues