Melissa has recently had her first novel, The Medici Mirror, published. Here she shares her experiences of Bolton School and how she was inspired to become an author.
What were your favourite subjects and who were your favourite teachers at School?
I loved English and my favourite teacher was Mrs Todd. She was a complete inspiration – incredibly smart and widely read, always encouraging and with a constant and infectious enthusiasm for her subject.
History came a close second and Mrs Palmer, with her brilliant lessons about the art, politics and intrigue of Renaissance Europe, instilled in me a love of the past.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that I ultimately wrote a novel with a historical twist.
What further study have you undertaken since leaving School?
I studied English Language and Literature at Lincoln College, Oxford, and then moved to London where I took the diploma in law and then trained as a lawyer in the City.
What does your job involve and how did you progress to your current role of author?
After completing my training contract, I moved to a niche Media and Entertainment law firm in the West End where I became a partner. I worked with clients in the music, advertising, photography, film and TV industries advising on all aspects of intellectual property and commercial law. Eventually, perhaps influenced by all the creative clients I had, I took a step back from legal work and started writing a novel. However, I still work part-time as a lawyer advising TV production companies and broadcasters on regulatory and strategic risk.
Who/what influenced your career choice?
I chose law as a career because language plays such a fundamental role in it – how words can be used and interpreted, how an argument is crafted and flows to its conclusion. So really it’s always been about the words!
What prompted you to write a novel?
I’ve always loved writing – poems, short stories etc. And I’d always thought that I’d like to write a novel – for a long time I just wasn’t sure what the story was. But then I read A Wild Sheep’s Chase by one of my favourite authors, Haruki Murakami. In that novel, the protagonist is holed up in a spooky old house miles from anywhere and comes across an old, blackened mirror. It was a really haunting scene and gave me the idea for a story involving a darkened mirror, playing on associations with the magical and mysterious. Then, as I began to explore the history of mirrors, I kept coming across Catherine de Medici, an alleged plotter and poisoner and practitioner of the occult. From there my story really began to evolve.
Here’s a short film which trails the novel and gives a good introduction to it:
What do you like most about writing?
Getting paid for daydreaming! A huge part of writing involves coming up with ideas, pulling storylines out of your head.
Would you like to become a full-time author?
Yes. Although I do worry that I might also go insane! Obviously it’s a very solitary occupation and there’s definitely something to be said for putting a limit on the dressing gown days and having to get out of the house and communicate with people who actually exist – rather than being figments of your imagination.
What has been the biggest challenge in getting your book written and published?
It's been a long and at times challenging road from first putting pen to paper on The Medici Mirror to getting it published. It might sound funny, but actually finishing a novel is quite a hard thing to do (a lot of people start them but never quite get to the end). And once a book is 'finished' there is then another process of rewriting and then rewriting again. A crucial break for me was getting an agent and, after I sent out my finished first draft, I was lucky enough to receive an offer of representation from London-based Luigi Bonomi. After we had worked together on improvements to the novel he sent it out to publishers. I was delighted that Random House (Arrow) liked the book and on the back of it offered me a two book deal.
Which skills do you consider essential for your 'day' job and your writing?
'Day' job skills include attention to detail, the ability to make quick but well thought through decisions, to work as part of a team, to communicate and advise clearly and effectively, to write well and construct a good argument. It's much more immediate than writing, so calmness under pressure is also a bonus.
With writing, many of the same skills are required – but the ability to work alone and self-motivate are crucial.
Who/what has been your biggest inspiration?
One of the authors I admire most, and who is consequently a huge inspiration, is a Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami. His work is truly original – inventive, surreal, powerful – and his novel The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is one of my all-time favourite books.
What do you consider to be your greatest career achievement?
Getting my first book published.
How did Bolton School help you to be successful in both your 'day' job and your writing?
It taught me to work really hard, to be tenacious, not to give up if there was something I wanted to achieve. It’s been a really valuable life lesson.
What advice would you give to our pupils interested in writing a book?
Do it. And stick at it. It can be a risky venture and getting it published might be a long slog, but it also might just happen.