After impressing in the BPA First Novel Award 2020, Carole Hailey was highly commended in the Bridport Prize and signed with literary agent Marina de Pass. Her novel The Silence Project will be released by Corvus as a lead title in February 2023. We were delighted that Carole agreed to answer some questions about the inspiration behind the book and her journey to the deal.
We were so thrilled to hear about your deal with Corvus. How does it feel to know your novel will be sitting in readers’ hands soon?
Thank you so much – I’m thrilled too! I have hoped to be a published author for so long and to know that that’s finally going to happen is the best feeling in the world. I’m enjoying being part of the publishing process – it’s been really surprising to see quite how many people are involved in getting a book out into the world, and I feel very lucky to be in the hands of such a brilliant team at Corvus.
Where did you find the initial inspiration for The Silence Project?
A few years ago, I became fascinated with how conversations had become competitions. In Britain we’d been through the toxic Brexit campaign and in America it seemed like Trump had perfected the ability to ignore any view that didn’t match his own.
Somewhere among my obsessive scrolling of news sites and Twitter feeds, I had the idea of writing about a woman who is so distressed by all the shouting that she is prepared to do whatever it takes to try and persuade people to listen to each other again. And so my character Rachel was born – someone who chooses to be silent in order to truly hear what others are saying. In my mind, I felt sure others would join her. After all, isn’t it an intoxicating thought when conversations today can feel overwhelmingly shouty and polarised? But, of course, even with the best intentions, it’s never that straightforward.
“Somewhere among my obsessive scrolling of news sites and Twitter feeds, I had the idea of writing about a woman who is so distressed by all the shouting that she is prepared to do whatever it takes to try and persuade people to listen to each other again.”
As I explored the idea of a community led by Rachel, I wondered whether her ideology would make her as fanatical as the people she’s protesting about. And if so, what would she be prepared to do to get her point across? Who would she be happy to hurt?
Can you tell us a little about your journey to signing with literary agent Marina de Pass?
Well, I have the Blue Pencil Agency to thank for finding me the best agent I could possibly imagine. After entering the BPA First Novel Award with the opening chapters of The Silence Project, Emma Haynes at BPA sent me an email asking me if I would like her to show those chapters to Marina, who Emma was going to be meeting with. Obviously, I said yes! Because I had polished those chapters for submission to the BPA First Novel Award, they were as good as I could make them and, luckily, Marina really liked them. She was very encouraging and asked to read the whole manuscript once it was in a final form. About ten months after entering the First Novel Award, I sent Marina the whole thing, she loved it and offered to represent me.
What is your top advice for writers submitting to the BPA First Novel Award this year?
Although a novel is a few hundred pages long, for competitions where you’re only submitting a few thousand words, it’s really important to grab a reader’s attention within a few pages. After I wrote the first draft, I decided to change the beginning of The Silence Project and begin the novel with a scene that would stick in the mind of a reader, which I hoped would maximise my chances in competitions. Obviously not all novels lend themselves to dramatic first scenes, but you can make your first pages memorable in other ways: a really strong and engaging voice, an intriguing question that the reader really wants to find out the answer to. However you do it, try and aim to make sure the person reading your entry will remember your first pages long after they’ve read them!
“After I wrote the first draft, I decided to change the beginning of The Silence Project and begin the novel with a scene that would stick in the mind of a reader, which I hoped would maximise my chances in competitions.”
We loved how memorable the premise of The Silence Project was. Is a strong hook something you look for when choosing books and do you have any recommendations from your recent reads?
I read really widely (as all aspiring writers should, of course) but I do have a particular fondness for novels that use a framing device. In The Silence Project the framing device is that it is written as a fictitious memoir by a daughter about her mother. Books that I’ve read recently and really enjoyed that used similar devices are:
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton, which is framed as a fictional oral history of an interracial music duo from the 1970s and their break-up and subsequent lives and careers in the industry. It’s absolutely stay-up-all-night-to-read gripping.
Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, which is also the fictional history of a band, told as a series of fictional journalistic interviews as you might find in the pages of NME. I loved this novel and the skill with which Jenkins Reid differentiates the voices of each member of the band means I’ve recommended to everyone I know.
Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson, in which the book’s narrator is relaying a story – really a confession – that he is being told by an old acquaintance he bumps into when their flight is delayed. ‘A stranger tells a story’ is a very old literary device, but Wilson makes it feel fresh and absorbing and SO good.
Are you working on anything new?
I am! Let’s just say I’ve been immersing myself for months in books about psychopaths and the walls of the room where I write are covered in large pieces of paper with lists of psychopathic traits. The room doubles as our spare room which has proved quite disturbing for people when they have come to stay!
Carole Hailey completed the six-month Guardian/UEA novel writing course taught by Bernardine Evaristo, who imbued her with such a love for writing fiction that she abandoned her career in law to undertake an MA in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, followed by a PhD in Creative Writing at Swansea University. Carole was a London Library Emerging Writer 2020/21. The Silence Project was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize Peggy Chapman-Andrews First Novel Award 2020 and highly commended by the judges.