I grew up in dry, dusty, sun-filled Johannesburg, which gave me a longing for the sea that has never quite gone away; so much so that sometimes I’ll find sand grouting the teaspoons, and an ocean in a teacup. I live now in the Sussex countryside, happily just half an hour away from the sea, with my husband and my sweet, slobbering bulldog, Fudge, and bring my love for the sea and country-living to my fiction.
And now for some things that don’t go in the press sheet …
Here’s a few frequently, and not-so-frequently asked questions …
Do you have a South African accent?
Yes, I do.
What do you miss about South Africa?
The many independent coffee shops, the abundance of blue skies and family.
Your favourite things about the UK?
Cottages, the sense of humour, and lemon drizzle cake.
Your books seem to be a blend of genres, is that accurate?
They are sort of tragi-comedies, blending light-hearted fiction with darker women’s fiction. I love exploring darker themes in a hopeful way – it’s what inspires me most about the human race, how people overcome adversity and go after their dreams.
Is your real name Lily Graham?
Confession time! My real name is actually Dominique Valente, which yes sounds more like the made up name. I chose Lily Graham as my mother originally wanted to call me Lily and because I was far too frightened in the beginning to publish under my real name. Personally, that made it much easier as I could step away a little and it helped as no one I knew had any idea what I was doing … of course, they all figured it out.
You first self-published but are now traditionally published is that right? Can you tell us a little more?
Yes. I’d been writing for years and years, yet never finishing a book as I switched to the next one that ‘I’d get right’. I really suffer from ‘Shiny New Project Syndrome.’ Yes, that’s totally (not at all) a legit term. My best friend heard about Amazon KDP and challenged me to finish one of my half-finished books for once and to try it – which I did. It was such a rewarding, positive experience. Prior to this, I’d tried to get a children’s book published under my own name but that got a positive rejection – which just means they were rather polite when saying no. Self-publishing, in the beginning, was me proving that I could actually finish writing a book, from there things just grew, no one is more surprised than me at how it all turned out! Now almost four books later, signed to Bookouture – one of the best publishers in the UK, a division of Hachete (which feels like a dream come true) it’s been pretty phenomenal, and I owe it all to just deciding one day in 2014 that enough is enough – I will finish a book at last.
Even though you are now traditionally published, would you recommend self-publishing?
Yes, definitely! However, I would add – do what works for you. Some genres don’t always work in the self pub market – though there are always exceptions. It’s about what would make you happy. In today’s age there’s no reason not to go for both. I’m happy I did. If I had the time, and in the future, I may explore hybrid publishing 🙂
What’s your number one writing tip?
Just write, and finish the thing already – there comes a time when we all shut up the voice/s that said we aren’t yet ready/ need more life experience/ schooling/ add an excuse of your own, and sat down and just saw what happened. It’s a tip that alas is just as important on the first book as it is on the fifteenth. There’s no big secret, apart from just going for it. I wish there was as trust me, I’ve looked for them all. Then set yourself a deadline so that you actually finish the thing.
What has writing four books taught you?
The only failure is quitting. My most recent book almost broke me. It needed so many redrafts it’s scary, at one point I even asked my editor if we could scrap it. Luckily she said no, and now it’s on it’s way to being released in the world. This isn’t an easy job, we can’t pretend that. Some books are harder than others, sometime your biggest challenge comes on your third or fourth book – just keep swimming.
Are you a natural blonde?
Yes – well, once upon a time.
I heard that you have a disability, is that true? And does this make things difficult?
Yes, I do – I was born without a left forearm – like Cerrie Burnell. Yes, we are part of a special club … kidding, though I do think she’s wonderful.
Disability is always difficult, but not always for the reasons most people believe them to be, there’s honestly not a single thing that I find impossible to do, except say no to chocolate. I’m lucky in that I experience no physical pain or any real physical challenges – I drive, tie my shoelaces, plait my hair … It’s difficult for me mostly because it’s different and that is always a challenge for most people. Our challenge as people with disabilities is to help ensure that in time that difference is normalised. I’d be lying if I didn’t explain that the hardest part really is other people’s reactions to me, though there are times, every now and again when the best part is other people too.
Is it true that you don’t like it when people refer to you as a ‘disabled writer’?
Yes. Partly it has to do with the phrasing. But even if it is phrased better – such as ‘a writer with a disability’ is it really necessary unless the article is specifically about disability? I don’t think we will make headway until we stop highlighting it as a difference. Shonda Rhymes once crossed out a speech that recognized her as a ‘successful, black woman’ screenwriter. She crossed out black and woman because it was all still true without those adjectives. I think we need to start doing the same when it comes to disability. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it, we definitely should – and I am always keen to chat about it, but I would prefer not to be defined by it.