the gentlewoman

The Calling

Since winning the White Review Short Story Prize in 2016, Sophie Mackintosh has been the name to drop in literary circles. A native of south Wales, Sophie’s eerie and fantastical brand of poetry and prose has captivated readers and book publishers alike: following a frenzied auction, the 30-year-old Londoner is now releasing her hotly anticipated debut novel, The Water Cure. Here, she responds to the various queries that make up The Calling questionnaire.

Sophie Mackintosh

Richard: Sophie, describe your daily ritual.

Sophie: It’s only the last few months that I’ve started writing full-time so I’m adjusting my daily routine around that. When I was working in an office I used to get up at 5.30am so that I could make time for writing. Now, it’s 7am, which still feels late to me.

R: Do you have an office at home?

S: It’s not an office as such, but I’ve got my own special writing space that I cordoned off in my flat. I sit in a straight-backed fake leather chair that was here when I moved in – it’s just comfy enough for writing. I’ve also been experimenting with a standing desk; I made it from a massive pile of books and put my laptop on top.

R: Are there any particular tools that you need to start your working day?

S: I use an app called Forest, which stops me checking my phone while I’m writing and I turn the internet off – that’s most important. I have Spotify playlists that I’ve put together for the specific piece of writing I’m working on – they’re almost like a soundtrack for it. Right now, I keep listening to “The Partisan” by Leonard Cohen; it gets me into a serious frame of mind.

R: What was the soundtrack for The Water Cure?

S: There was some Leonard Cohen in there, a bit of Schubert, Sharon Van Etten. I find music helps me visualise the scenes and what I want to happen. The Water Cure has quite a lush and humid atmosphere; that music really helped me portray that.

R: Do you write all day?

S: It depends. Always for at least four hours; beyond that I can get a bit tired. Various ideas for storylines come to me as I write so in a typical day, I can whip off quite a few timelines and chapter situations at the same time. I use different documents and spreadsheets to help organise the chaos.

R: What kind of information is in the spreadsheets?

S: It’s like a framework: what scenes are coming next; footnotes about how they feel... In The Water Cure there are three characters of a similar age from the same family so I wanted them to be quite distinct from each other. Having separate documents really helped with that; sometimes I even used different typefaces.

R: How fascinating! Which ones?

S: I have a strange attachment to Times New Roman so I used that for Lia, the main voice in the book, because I felt it was nice and clean. For Grace, who’s quite analytical, I used Arial. It’s really interesting to me the difference it makes – you think it’s just a typeface, right? But somehow it affects the flow of the writing.

R: What are you working on now?

S: My second novel. It’s quite challenging – you’d think, I’ve written one book, how hard can it be to write another? But I can’t just write a book the way I did before.

R: Do you have an idea of what kind of writer you’d like to become?

S: I’d love to be an Angela Carter-type figure. She’s become a byword for her own brand of gorgeous gothic literature. The Magic Toyshop is the best portrayal of adolescence I’ve read. I hope young women read my work and that it speaks to them or helps them in the same way; that they feel known and seen.

Interview by Richard O’Mahony. Portrait courtesy of Sophie Mackintosh.