Writer Spotlight: Karen Phillips

Hi all, I want to treat you to a Q&A today from my friend Karen across the pond. She’s got some fantastic insights about writing resources and a passion for YA.

Take it away, Karen!

Tell us about the first time you knew you wanted to be a writer.
I guess it was when I was recuperating from being pretty ill. I’d come out of the hospital and needed to rest a lot. So I was listening to BBC Radio 4 plays, comedy sketches and dramas. I read 120 novels in one year. The following year, I read 130. Whoa! And I rediscovered the joy of storytelling, and how writing allows the author to connect with readers, at a profound level. That’s very powerful. How you, as a reader, can be taken into another world, fall in love with characters and feel strong emotions. I get very excited about that!

What type of projects are you working on right now?
I’m currently working on my next YA novel. I love YA stories. There’s something very immediate, different and energetic in YA writing. You can push boundaries and explore so much more. I’m having a lot of fun writing my current ms. I’m trying something new, learning how to do it better ,and the cast of characters are people I’m really happy spending time with. They make me laugh every day!

What are your top one or two tips for other writers out there?
Tip number one:  Get yourself a brilliant and supportive writing mentor/buddy. I found mine through the Nathan Bransford forums. She’d written some excellent feedback on other peoples’ work. I totally agreed with her editorial comments and her high challenge, high support style. Luckily for me, she was open to striking up a friendship, and she’s since taught me heck of a lot. Here’s lookin’ at you, kid. ;-))

Aww, thanks Karen! *blush*

Tip number two:  Read. Read. Read. Read everything. Read novels in your chosen genre. Read work outside your genre. Read other writer’s work at critique groups. Read about the publishing industry. Read relevant agent’s blogs, twitter feeds and articles. You get the message.

What is the most helpful writing lesson you’ve learned?
Ooo, tough one. There are so many. Probably the old ‘show don’t tell’ lesson. It’s a tough one that takes a while to get right. And I still have to challenge myself on it. But once you do crack it, it takes your writing to a much deeper level.

Any mentors you want to give a shout out to?
I’m really very lucky in that I have an A-Team of three readers (friends) who read through my drafts and give me their thoughts. I’m also part of an online YA novel critique group via my membership of SCBWI. It’s good to share your work with trusted friends who can keep you going, especially when the going gets tough. Writing can be lonely, and sometimes you need the sanity check. 

What have been your biggest challenges along the way?
One of my biggest challenges is trying to remain focused, sane and not procrastinate by chatting on Facebook/Twitter, when I should be re-reading the ms for the hundredth time. Editing can be tough. Don’t get me wrong, it can be fun to see your novel take shape. But re-reading something that you know inside and out, to try and spot where you can improve it, is crazy-making.

Chocolate helps. So true!

How have you overcome those?
Be telling myself to shut up and get on with it. A good stern talking to never hurt anyone.

Do you have any fun resources, contacts or web links you want to share?
I think Nathan Bransford’s website/blog/forums are brilliant. Lots of excellent info, plenty of opportunities to connect with other writers in the same boat and you feel like you’re getting the inside scoop on the writing world!

I’d also recommend Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. Makes you want to weep over it as you realise just how much work you still have to do on your ms, but worth the effort.

SCBWI membership is another excellent way to connect with other writers. Everyone (published or pre-published) is very friendly and supportive.

Thanks again, Karen!

She'll be back next week to talk about the Swanwick Writer's Conference and some differences in US/UK publishing markets. If you want to catch up with her in the meantime, find her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.


  1. Great interview!Like Karen, I find a lot of value in my writing buddies. :-)

  2. 120 novels in one year is amazing! I am glad you are feeling better now.

    I have never heard of the SCBW, Nathan Bransford forums, or Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. I will have to check that out, thanks.

    It was enjoyable reading your interview and getting great tips. As an aspiring YA/romance author I’m looking forward to reading more from Karen next week! (and love the doggie! so cute)


  3. "the joy of storytelling, and how writing allows the author to connect with readers, at a profound level. That’s very powerful" - love how she puts this!!

  4. 'How you, as a reader, can be taken into another world, fall in love with characters and feel strong emotions' - yep, that sums it up.
    Enjoyed the interview!

  5. Fantastic interview! That old "show, not tell" is a tough but important one.

  6. What a great interview! Love those tips.

  7. Great interview! I'm still working on the "showing, not telling" standby. And I agree that writing buddies are so important. I don't know what I would do - or how I'd ever improve - without mine!

  8. Thanks for all the comments, guys! Isn't she great? And thanks again, Karen, for agreeing to chime in! ;)

  9. I'm all hooked up with Karen. Oh...that didn't sound quite right. *sheepish grin* You know what I mean. Thanks for the introduction! :)

  10. Great interview. :) I joined SCBWI a while back, but I still need to work on connecting with local writers. Thanks, Karen and Nicole!

  11. Hi guys!

    Thanks for all your wonderful comments. Great to connect with you!

    I had fun talking about me, me and me! (Not really like that, honest. But sometimes you only realise how far you've come as a writer, when you talk about your own writing journey.)

    Thanks for the opportunity, Nicole.


    Best wishes