Ali Lowe has worked in jobs that I’ve pretty much dreamt about since my journalism days back at uni. She’s been the features editor of OK magazine in London and written for Kidspot, a site which supported me through my nappy changing, exhausting newborn and toddler stages. And NOW, Ali has added another dream job to the list: published author. Ali and I connected through IG when we realised we both wrote domestic noir/thriller and were signed with UK agents. Ali’s book, The Trivia Night, has since been picked up by a reputable UK Publisher and honestly sounds like the novel that will take off once it hits our shelves. Right up the alley of anyone who adores Big Little Lies. Speaking of which, Liane Moriarty’s sister, Jaclyn was the clever person who recommended Ali join a famous writing course that eventually got Ali noticed.
Ali’s story is a bit of a reality check for me. Mainly because it proves, once again, that even if you’ve been working in the field of writing/publishing, you still have to jump through the same hurdles as any other hopeful writer out there. Publishers just want great stories and great writing. I’m so thrilled for Ali and love that someone who’s been writing since childhood gets to write creatively for a living. Joining prestigious writing courses like Faber, Curtis Brown etc can really set you apart from the pack, and Ali’s account is just another example of that.
How long have you been writing?
Technically, since I was about eight years old. My sister says I always had a notebook with me as a kid – I’d sit on the sofa and make up songs and stories, always with my little book by my side. Professionally, I started writing aged twenty, in women’s magazines in London. I ended up as features editor at OK! magazine, where I spent my days hanging out in famous peoples’ homes and writing about it. I moved to Australia in 2006 and continued the celebrity stuff for a while, but felt a little ‘over’ it. After having the first two of my three children almost back-to-back, I went freelance, and found myself naturally veering to newspapers and newspaper feature writing, which I loved. It turned out to be pretty fortuitous, since it led to an interview with the novelist Jaclyn Moriarty who suggested I do the Faber Academy Writing A Novel course in Sydney (thank you, Jaclyn!). The course ended up producing my debut novel, The Trivia Night, which is out in the UK and Australia in early 2022.
What led to your offer of representation with an agent (or contract with a publisher, if you went that way around first?)
A chapter of The Trivia Night was published in the Faber Academy’s annual anthology, and this landed on the desk of the lovely Marina de Pass at The Soho Agency in London. Marina emailed me and asked me if she could see the manuscript when it was finished because she loved the premise of the book, which is about a group of parents at a primary school trivia night who make a reckless pact to partner-swap for one night only. I spent a few days polishing the manuscript before taking a deep breath and clicking ‘send’.
How long did you have to wait to hear back and was it a partial or full request?
I sent the full manuscript on a Friday night at about 10pm, Sydney-time. When I woke up at 7am, I had an email in my inbox from Marina saying she’d been reading the book all day in London while I was sleeping, and she hadn’t been able to put it down. She told me what she loved about it and said that one of the major twists had made her gasp out loud in the office – much to the amusement of her colleagues. She offered representation on the spot. There were happy tears!
How many submissions did you make prior to gaining representation/publishing contract?
Marina was the only agent who read The Trivia Night, and I’m aware how very lucky I am that she was looking for domestic noir at the exact moment she picked up my manuscript – I know it doesn’t always happen that way. The submission process was a little more nerve-wracking. The book went out days before the first Covid-19 lockdown and the cancellation of the 2020 London Book Fair, and so things were a little up in the air. I had a couple of knockbacks, but the call I was desperate for eventually came through and I was offered a two-book deal by the amazing Kimberley Atkins at Hodder & Stoughton in the UK.
Any tips on cover letters/synopsis/pitches?
A pitch should sum up, succinctly, the book’s central theme or the main storyline, but without giving anything away. Offer them a little teaser! My pitch for The Trivia Night was by no means perfect, but it was literally this: ‘A group of parents decided to ‘swing’ during a debauched primary school trivia night, and the book explores the consequent fallout in terms of friendships and relationships.’
It’s a similar story with a synopsis. It should be short (I’d recommend 150 words max) and explain the main outline without going down too many sub-plot rabbit holes. You can explain all of those when you’ve hooked some interest – but in order to get interest, you need to keep the synopsis juicy and to the point.
Your first reaction when they offered the representation/contract?
I cried at both! Marina’s initial email was almost surreal. Reading her words about my characters and what she loved about the story was an incredible feeling. Take that feeling and put it on steroids for the actual book-deal phone call! It’s hard to explain how thrilling it is when a someone as experienced as Kimberley (she’s worked with Liane Moriarty and JoJo Moyes) offers not only to publish your humble little book, but the next book after it. For me it was a validation of all the hard work and passion I’d put in to writing The Trivia Night – the late nights, the edits, the pangs of self-doubt. It was the moment I said to myself, ‘You did it. You really did it.’
What’s next for you?
The Trivia Night will be released in the UK and Australia early next year, and Book 2 will come out in 2023. I’ve finished and submitted Book 2, and am now starting to think about ideas for a third. I have a storyline in mind, and I’m at the stage of jotting down notes, possible sub-plots and character arcs – it’s definitely the most fun bit!
Thank you so much for joining us here, Ali! It’s been an absolute delight to read about your journey and know that you share similar doubts of “Will this ever work?” or “Am I good enough?”. We all go through these emotions when working in such a solitary business, and it’s always wonderful to learn how authors got there in the end. You can find out more about Ali and follow her here. I hope this interview helps those writers who are struggling with confidence! Cannot wait to read The Trivia Night!
Thanks for stopping by,