Beth Miller is being unduly modest, I reckon. She’s deputy editor of this very magazine [Viva Lewes], so she’s hardly unfamiliar with writing. But she’s a novelist as well. A novelist whose debut, When we were Sisters, is available from bookshops this month.
The book tells of two teenage friends, Laura and Melissa, and how their relationship changes across two decades. “It's a novel about a slightly dysfunctional friendship and the impact of separation in families. It's got some rude bits and I hope it's a bit funny, too.”
Which of the main characters are you most like? “There's a bit of me in both of them, I think. Originally Melissa was all about me – in fact, she is considerably nicer than I am. Laura is much more spiky and cynical. Initially the book was rejected by publishers because they said Laura wasn't likeable enough. I take that as a massive compliment because I think there's quite a lot of me in Laura.”
Key aspects of the novel’s plot are generated by different perspectives of people who have experienced the same event. Where do Beth’s ideas come from? “Often it comes in the writing: you start writing about what the character would do, you think you're going to make them do something and suddenly it becomes really obvious that they should do something else. I always have ideas in the shower. There's something about just standing there with your head empty, and the water, and not having to do anything for a bit. I'm thinking of getting a waterproof notepad.”
Beth started writing When we were Sisters in 2001 and finished the first draft in 2005. “Since then I've rewritten it so many times that there's considerably more of the original story not in the new book than is actually in the book.” A second novel is already on the way. “This one's completely fictional, there's no autobiography in it. It's about two neighbours whose lives become entwined.”
So what’s it like to be a writer? “Before I was writing regularly, I always felt there was something missing. As far as an anxious mother can feel fulfilled, I am fulfilled in regular writing. It's obviously something I need. And my writing process has improved so much. I just wrote into a void when I started the first book, wondering what would happen. I've now got to the point where it doesn't touch me deeply if someone doesn't like my novel. I'm just interested to know what they didn't like. It's not like someone insulting your baby.”
When we were Sisters by Beth Miller is published by Ebury Press.
First published in Viva Lewes magazine issue 96 September 2014.