August 25, 2015

Polly Vernon Talks Twitter Backlash AND How Sleep Is Important For Writing

I really like Polly Vernon’s attitude. To have a job writing your opinions in print and online you have to also stand by them and stick up for yourself, and that’s exactly what Polly does. She writes a weekly column for Grazia, and she writes for the Times and publications like House, Soho House group’s magazine. She recently wrote a book and had to deal with “love and loathe” reviews of her book Hot Feminist in what she describes as “this intensely Twittery point in time” and I was super interested to speak with her about this. She brings up an interesting point around social media spats, that “disagreeing with someone might not actually be the same as completely hating them”. I absolutely love Polly’s responses, and hope you enjoy reading her answers as much as I did.

 

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Emma: When I have writer’s block I just pick a book of the shelf and read and it calms me and prompts new ideas. What do you do when you feel stuck?

Polly Vernon: I don’t really get writer’s block. Some days are much, much easier and more productive than others, but whatever else, I’ll always sit down for two or three hours, and plough on. A few halting pages of crap on one day might well change into something decent when you work on them the following day; in fact, they almost always do. I do however walk for as many hours as I write. So I’ll write for three hours in the morning, walk for three hours in the afternoon. Walking always frees up my head and makes the words come more easily the next time I open my Mac.
 
E: How did it feel the first time you saw your book on the shelf?
 
P: The first time I saw my book as proof, and physically held it, was amazing. You’re like; WOAH! IT’S A BOOK! But as for seeing it on shelves… that was a weird experience, partly because my face was plastered all over it which felt odd, exposing actually, and partly because my book proved incredibly divisive when it was first published. People either loved it or loathed it, and no one wasted any time in telling me on Twitter and so on… That was very complicated and it kicked off from just before my book hit the shelves; so when seeing it at first I was wrapped up in all that drama. Now, a few months in, when it’s all settled down, it does feel really good to see it there. Although being confronted by your face is kinda peculiar. You keep wondering if anyone’s clocked you, effectively looking at yourself.

E. Do you ever read your books when they are published?
 
P: Yes, because I’ve done a few literary festivals and they often start with a reading. I wrote Hot Feminist very quickly, in under six months, and so inevitably there are flaws in it, and that’s annoying. I repeat the word ‘actually’ MUCH TOO MUCH. At the same time, in terms of tone and fundamental message, it is everything I wanted it to be, so it’s quite cool to revisit it. It’s also lovely to read it to an audience and have them respond, laugh at the funny bits etc.
 
E. Do you read Amazon or have Google Alerts, or do you tend to not read too many of your book reviews?
 
P: No, I avoid like the plague. Writers are a bloody hyper sensitive bunch, you’ve got to be sensitive – to your own feelings, and to other people’s feelings – to write at all, otherwise it doesn’t work. But that does mean reviews and comments feel super-intense, it’s impossible not to be impacted by them. On top of which, like most women, I am infinitely more inclined to believe the shitty ones than I am the good ones, and as I got a wide selection of both with Hot Feminist, I realised pretty quickly it was best not to seek them out.
 
E:  Your book cover! How involved were you in choosing the way it looked? 
 
P: Nothing! It came as a big fat surprise. Hodder, my publishers, asked me for an authors portrait, I sent them a recent shot which had been taken when I was interviewing Lena Dunham for Grazia, a few weeks later, I got the proofs back and bam! I was all over them! It was a shock initially, and it took me a bit of time to get my head round it, but I do think it’s a good cover. Love the colouring on it. It’s hard to say OH MY GOD I LOVE THAT PIC OF MY OWN HEAD ISN’T IT FAB?, obviously, BUT I do think it’s appropriate and the book is ultimately about me, so…
 
E: Do you ever write in your phone notes, or in any strange places other than your computer?
 
P: Constantly! So when I’m on my long long walks, I note and note on my phone. With that book particularly, which was so much about ideas and the structuring of them, noting on the go is crucial. I resist doing it in the middle of the night though, I love sleep, I need sleep to operate, and middle-of-the-night ideas generally aren’t all that.
 
E: Do you let any of your family/friends read your material before it’s sent off?
 
P: I select a very few friends whose opinion I trust, but who I know will also be gentle and encouraging, and let them see it, but only if I believe they really want to. Can’t imagine anything worse than inflicting it on people for whom reading it would be a chore.
 
E: Do you identify as a fangirl, and if so, who do you fangirl over?
 
P: I don’t like the expression ‘fangirl’ especially, but I totally identify as a fan. I’m a massive, raging fan, I adore the experience of being a fan; I have been a blissful fan of so many things, for the whole of my life. Starting, I think, with the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats. I get regularly completely lost and obsessed in and by things. The extent to which I love Game Of Thrones is faintly weird, for example. I think it’s hugely important to be able to give yourself up to celebrating and admiring and mindlessly adoring like that. It’s such a gorgeous aspect of life. Anyone who considers themselves slightly above it, slightly too arch, smart and cynical to give themselves up to being a fan, is either a weirdo or lying.
 
E: Whats the best thing and worst thing about writing a book?
 
P: It’s an amazing thing to do. You’re voicing all this stuff you think and believe, you’re getting it out there, you’re just maybe impacting the debate and the conversation, and that’s incredible. I’ve loved doing the literary festivals – especially Hay – but the best thing that happened to me by far was watching a girl on the tube, sitting just across from me and reading the book, and she was SO into it. It was incredible and moving.
The worst thing is that putting new ideas out there, at this intensely Twittery point in time, can be a little like locking yourself in medieval stocks, and then inviting the world to throw rotten fruit at you. We seem to be increasingly polarised and increasingly extreme, and to believe that if something or someone isn’t saying stuff we already think or have already heard, stuff we know we’re comfortable with, then they are completely wrong, and have to be eviscerated, on the spot. We don’t seem cool with the idea that different perspectives can coexist with ours, that disagreeing with someone might not actually be the same as completely hating them, everything they are, and everything they represent. It’s a shame: it’s uncreative, and it’ll lead to a stagnating debate and an awful lot of fear if it carries on. I address all of this in the book; even so, I wasn’t prepared for how it’d feel when it rained down upon me. And it was tough. No question. Having said which, I’ve started a second book, so…

You can order Polly’s book Hot Feminist here

  • Flo

    Thank you for another amazing interview! My favourite line has to be “I think it’s hugely important to be able to give yourself up to celebrating and admiring and mindlessly adoring like that. ” It’s a nice little reminder that it’s ok to fangirl over things sometimes. 🙂
    Flo x

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