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An Interview with... Sophy Layzell

Sophy Layzell (Photography by Tina Downham)

1. Tell us a bit about your background, where you are from, what are your hobbies, and ambitions?

Ooh, where to begin? I was born in Laos, adopted by the Denny family who lived in London at the time, then grew up in Gloucestershire and now live in Somerset. My hobbies include making things, visiting beautiful places and trying to experience the world through art, theatre and books.

Trying to pinpoint my ambitions is harder to articulate. I suppose, ultimately, I’d like my work to reach more people, so thank you for this.

2. Did you always want to write?

Not as a primary occupation, no, I focussed on art for the majority of my life. Having said that, I did win a creative writing competition as a child and always enjoyed putting stories together. I have many hand-bound, fully illustrated short stories that I put together over the years, but to be honest I put more effort into the drawings!

3. Tell us about your journey to publication, what steps did you take?

After completing my first two novels I then sat on them for about two years, too afraid to show anyone. Then in 2017 I self-published Measure of Days on Amazon, purely so I could give copies away to gain feedback. Following that feedback, I re-edited it then submitted it to about five agents. I didn’t hear back, so sent it straight to publishers. The Book Guild offered me a partnership deal which I was over the moon with as they only accept a very small percentage of submissions, so I quickly took it. I’m very pleased with how they have helped me and the second of my trilogy Upon All Men will be published by them in March 2022.

Invisible Thread on the other hand is a very different book and I wanted a great deal of control over how it looked as a finished product so I self-published it this September.

4. What advice would you give anyone looking to publish their work?

I’d say if you want to publish traditionally then be patient. I have learnt so much and it’s no good applying to a handful of agents as I did, you need to apply to hundreds and do it in batches of 8 every 6 weeks. Research how to write a good pitch and the perfect synopsis because there is a formula to it, and be prepared to wait years for the agent and more time on top of that for them to secure you a deal.

If, like me you want to see your book in print NOW, then self-publishing is made easy by platforms like Ingram Spark, Draft2digital, Wattpad and Amazon KPD. Invest in a professional editor, invest in a good proofreader, but if you are on a budget ask fellow authors to help. Whatever you do, don’t skimp on good cover design.

5. Your first novel, Measure of Days, follows the character of Deter and her unique immunity to the dreadful Flesh Eating Disease (FED). The story takes place in several locations and features various dystopian elements. Where did you find the inspiration?

My primary concern was to write a story where organ transplants were a normal everyday occurrence and so I needed to think of how that might transpire. Combine this with my own personal fear of flesh-eating disease and it seemed the ideal scenario!

I wrote this prior to Covid-19, and so not knowing how it would be in reality, I tried to imagine the impact such a virus would have worldwide and so I came up with a single science-based authority that takes over leadership worldwide, the tightening of communities, a greater divide between the wealthy and the poor, and exploitation on all levels. The rise of disaster capitalists if you like. In the midst of this, are ordinary young people who are desperate to see change. People who don’t want to be heroes but feel compelled to act because the situation is so appalling.

6. Talking of Measure of Days, some elements of the story echo the current pandemic we've all been facing. Did you find this a benefit for the release?

No, I didn’t! There were quite a few pandemic based novels released last year and sadly the last thing people want to read during a crisis like this is something so close to the bone. Having said that, once people have read Measure of Days they’ve found it a fun, escapist adventure, but the difficult thing is convincing them in the first place. Also Measure of Days came out in August 2022 and no books shops wanted author events or to take on ‘risky’ stock at that time.

Cover of Invisible Thread by Sophie Layzell

7. Your latest novel, Invisible Thread, has received great reviews. Tell us what it's about and who it is aimed at.

Thank you, I am so relieved! Waiting for reviews is the worst but I had a marvellous one today from the Langport Leveller which answers your question perfectly without me having to blow my own trumpet.

‘It is in essence a story of surviving grief.

If I were to say to you it is a sort of “Lovely Bones”, in many ways that would sell the book short. This is a little more homespun but in being so, it becomes more intimate, more personal and that is the gentle strength of Invisible Thread.’

How wow, is that?

8. What inspired the story?

It is a story very much like my own, of a family struggling after the death of their daughter. My eldest, Jemima, died very unexpectedly when she was 13. So all my stories have her at the heart. The desire to normalise organ transplants comes from her (she was the UK record holder for the most organ donor recipients in 2017) and the way I feel about losing her and death is explored in all my writing. I also like to have characters with resilience and bravery and that comes from my other daughter Amelia who I am immensely proud of.

9. If you were to trade places with one of your characters for a day, who would it be and why?

My favourite characters in Measure of Days are all so flawed and have experienced such trauma, so I think I’d like to be one of the less pleasant ones, who are so blinded by their ambition that they don’t suffer from their conscience. Having said that, character arcs being what they are, I know what happens to them in the end, so maybe I’ll re-consider that! Oh, this is hard … ok, I’d like to be Luna in Upon All Men, she’s ambitious but trying to work ethically and her boyfriend is my favourite character. Plus, she’s tall, slim and blonde which is something I’ll never be!

10.Both your books feature multiple character perspectives, what is it about this format you like? What are the benefits and difficulties?

I love how you can build worlds quickly with multiple POV which is important in fantasy and also ensures that many sides of a story can be told. This is particularly important when writing about organ transplants because the last thing I’d want to be is preachy. It also gives the plot a fast pace, but this can go against you if you aren’t clear enough about time frames. I fell into this trap for Measure of Days but it’s something I’ve consequentially been conscious of.

The other problem is that readers can find it hard to identify with characters because they aren’t spending enough time with them, but I hope over the course of the trilogy that isn’t an issue.

For Invisible Thread it was important to show how grief affects people differently and that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. It also shows how on the surface we might believe one thing about someone whereas the reality is very different.

11.What can we expect from you next?

I’m still very much in the middle of marketing Invisible Thread which comes on out on ebook and paperback on the 1st December. Plus, as soon as energy for that drops I’ll be marketing Upon All Men that is released by the Book Guild on 28th March 2022.

Meanwhile, I am still recovering from the frustration of deleting all my documents last month, so gearing up to re-write sections of Of Stone and Sky fills me with irritation so I might distract myself with tinkering with Wages of Sin which is the last in my trilogy. It’s all pretty much done but I’ve decided to re-write the last few chapters.

12.Where can we stay up to date on all your latest news? (links)

Thank you Sim, I hope your readers will keep in touch.

Links to all bookshops are on my website

But I’m usually on Instagram @sophylayzell

Or Twitter @Maddsophy

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