Seni Glaister worked as a bookseller for much of her career, and was the CEO of a book retailer before founding her own company, WeFiFo – a UK-based online platform connecting supper club hosts, professional chefs and home cooks with guests hungry for authentic food experiences – in 2016. With a love of books and reading, she turned her talents to writing novels and in 2015 her first book was published. Now as her second novel prepares for release, she talks about the inspirations that feed her work, and how she manages to multitask so brilliantly.
Tell me how you first became interested in becoming a fiction author, and how did you go about writing your first novel; and subsequently this one?
I began as a reader, not a writer, and that passion has been a constant throughout every stage in my life. As the CEO of The Book People, my hobby became my business and I read extensively – and professionally – for more than 25 years. Though I read very widely, my particular specialism was debut fiction, and I think diverse and open-minded reading can serve as very good grounding for writing a novel for a reader’s ear. I come across a great deal of debate these days about whether you should finish a novel once you’ve started it and the fact is, however busy I was, I finished everything I started, as I always wanted to give a new writer the benefit of doubt, and this certainly helped me learn to frame the arc of the narrative. Writing my first novel was not a great surprise to me, but finishing it and submitting it for publication really was! I wrote The Museum of Things Left Behind over a number of summers, and I found it a huge release from all sorts of pressures to immerse myself into the world of fiction. One day I realised, much to my shock, that the novel was complete, but despite being very enmeshed in the book world, it took the good will of a friend to submit it on my behalf, which was done anonymously – I didn’t have the courage to send it out with my name attached, as I knew it would probably land on the desk of somebody I knew, which was terror-inducing! The next novel came much more quickly. Writing is a compulsion for me now, and I can’t imagine not being mid-project. I love it.
What have been the biggest surprises once you started working as a writer?
I am beginning to learn that being a writer is very different from being an author. Writing requires no external validation, but being an author is a whole different ball game. The other big surprise is the reaction of friends. Most people say to me, “I don’t know how you find the time” as if time is all that is required! I don’t know many writers who haven’t had to juggle work, parenting or both alongside their writing.
How do you manage juggling writing with running a business?
I can’t imagine not being at the helm of a business. It’s a very challenging but fulfilling process, and starting something from scratch, as I did with WeFiFo, certainly fulfils a creative itch. So both sides of my life are very creative, but in very different ways. Writing is solitary and, up until submission, the words can only come from me. Whilst running a business has to be a collaborative process at every turn, and success will only ever come as a result of a team effort. I am very fortunate to have a fabulous team around me, who care as much about WeFiFo as I do. (Fortunately, I have a superb team within my publishers too, so I am doubly blessed!)
On juggling: I am the mother of four children, and I have always worked full time, so finding pockets of time to allow different projects to flourish is second nature to me. I am fortunate in that I can write very quickly. The challenge is to create enough headspace to allow the ideas to flow, so providing I walk every morning, this allows me to develop plot or resolve blocks, so that the next time I sit down to write (often on a train or very early in the morning, or in other snatched moments) I can normally get my words down quite fluently.
Do you have plans for WeFiFo to branch out into other areas?
All the events on our platform have food and conversation at their heart, but it won’t come as any surprise to anyone who knows me that WeFiFo is increasingly featuring books and authors in plenty of events on the website. We are launching our WeFiFo Culture Clubs in January, and we plan to have a lot of fun pairing authors with chefs and bringing a new audience to both.
Where do you find inspiration for your novels? (Have your entrepreneurial and life experiences fed into your ideas?)
I find inspiration everywhere I look. Life experiences are definitely reflected, but I don’t think I have really tapped that rich vein… yet!
Do you have any words of advice for anyone who’s thought about becoming a writer who doesn’t come from a writing or literature background?
Read, write and keep your ears and eyes open. All the time!
What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned writing your two books?
I’m still learning. I can’t imagine I will ever stop learning. So ask me again at book five or six.
And what about in business (lessons, that is)?
Trust your instincts and follow them. And give your team plenty of reasons to believe in you.
What, in your experience, are the biggest differences between the books world as compared to the business world?
The books world is a business world – it’s an extremely effective sector, but often people assume that it is somehow distasteful to confuse the two. I disagree. A well-run publishing business will allow the authors’ words to reach the biggest possible audience, and that is what the vast majority of authors require. The older I get, the more I choose to surround myself with those people I like and respect, and I am lucky to have met plenty of both in my career.
What’s in the pipeline for 2019 – any big plans for next year (another novel, other ventures)?
I am closing in on novel number three and will be delivering that to my publisher soon. And as for WeFiFo, there are just too many plans to discuss… it’s all going to be very exciting.
Seni Glaister’s new novel, Mr Doubler Begins Again (HQ, HarperCollins, approx €15), is out January 24.