Haleh Agar | In Conversation

Hello! I’m a Canadian-Iranian novelist. My debut novel Out Of Touch, about a fractured family, will be published by W&N (Orion, Hachette) in Spring 2020. I am currently working on my second novel.

What journey did you take from joining Roehampton to being published?

Writing a novel means drafting and redrafting. It means that you aren’t precious about your words. The Creative Writing MA was only the beginning for me, where ideas started to take shape. The manuscript is very different now than it was when I was an MA student. This is something I think every aspiring writer needs to be comfortable with — change. You have to be able to break your manuscript at any stage to make it better.

Once I was happy with my revisions, I queried literary agents and was lucky enough to have choices. My amazing agent Camilla really got me as a writer and so we started our partnership together. She and her fabulous team at Darley Anderson helped guide me with suggestions for further revisions before we submitted to publishers.

Why did you want to do your degree?

I was always interested in creative writing but lacked the confidence. Was I any good? It’s hard to tell. The MA helped give me the confidence I needed to take my work forward. Sometimes, you just need a push!

How did Roehampton support your writing?

My supervisors were so encouraging and supportive. They gave me critical feedback on my work and a lot of encouragement. So often with writing there’s a crisis of confidence, and sometimes, we just need someone to say — you can do this, you’ve got this.

Where did your idea come from?

I love writing about complex relationships, particularly families. The movie Shame about a brother and sister who both struggle to cope with childhood trauma, really got to me, and I started thinking about my characters Michael and Ava.

How did you nurture that idea?

Really, it’s a matter of reading and writing EVERY day. Not waiting around for inspiration. I am nothing without the books I’ve read. Authors who really inspire me like Anne Enright and Alice Munro are my teachers. If you can’t do an MA, you’ve got access to the best teachers in the world with reading.

Can you talk us through the steps that you took to write your first book?

Routine is so important. I wrote a thousand words a day. This means that in a few months, you should effectively have a first draft. But of course the first draft will be quite different from the final product. I love the revisions and editing phase. Taking a short break after the first draft means you can revisit the manuscript with fresh eyes. And of course, other eyes help a lot. Gaining distance from your work is crucial so that you can see it in more objective terms.

The tough question is — when do you know when the manuscript is ready? It’s not easy to tell. But if there’s something bothering you about it, if deep down you know that there are things that don’t quite work yet, or that you could be better, then work on them. You get one chance to send that manuscript to your dream agent. Query only when you think — I’ve done everything I can to make this the best that it can be.

How did you take your book from manuscript to published piece?

Even once you’ve got the perfect home for your book with an amazing publisher, there’s a lot of work to be done. Your editor will request revisions — structural, and line edits. I can’t even tell you what draft number I’m on! Every time you think — oh yes, this is the one, think again! It’s much easier for me now that I’m working with professionals in the industry who can point me in the right direction.

What have you got planned next?

I’m working on my second novel. It’s very early days, so I’ll leave it at that!

Follow Haleh on Twitter @HalehAgar.

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