Today I am beyond thrilled to share this interview with Michael Sarais. I met Michael through The Young Writers Initiative, where we are both mentors both their summer program. He is truly an inspiration, as his debut novel just came out in June, and is already making waves in the writing community. Michael gives great advice about contemporary writing, being excited for your own work, and so much more. I hope you enjoy!
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Absolutely! I’m a 29-year-old man living in London, but I have also lived in Italy, Sweden and the States. I love buying books, playing videogames and hanging out with my dog Cloud. I write adult contemporary fiction.
When did you start writing? What has your writing journey looked like?
I started writing as a child. I was in elementary school when I was tasked with writing a short thriller story and I handed in a 40-page document!
I always loved writing. After studying journalism at university I had quite the long break with the written word, until 2016, when I started drafting a thriller. Unfortunately the story wasn’t quite working for me, and after a few years I picked up some of the themes and some of the characters and turned it into the contemporary story that is All Of My Friends Are Rich.
We have to do the obligatory “desert island” question. If you could only have three books with you, what would they be?
Gosh, this is a hard one, so I’ll try to be creative with this. I’d take “The Bees” by Laline Paull for creative inspiration, “Dark Places” by Gillian Flynn for the incredible story and “Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee” by Jeff Zentner for the beautiful cover.
Congratulations on recently making your debut! Can you pitch us All of My Friends Are Rich?
Thank you so much! It has been a very exciting month for me. All Of My Friends Are Rich is a contemporary adult novel which tackles issues such as mental health issues and the pressure we put on ourselves to appear as if we had our whole life together. AOMFAR follows Leo Cotton, a 29-year-old Londoner who suffers from bipolar, a recent divorce and a job he hates. When his best friend Sara gets engaged and asks him to be her best man, he realises he can’t afford to take part to any of her lavish celebrations, so he discovers a quick way to make money through being an amateur escort. The story is told through his point of view, almost like a Fleabag, Bridget Jones sort of character, which can be both funny and poignant at times.
What drew you to writing in the contemporary genre?
I actually wanted to write a thriller first, but I like to make too many jokes or put characters in ridiculous situations. I wanted to write a story that is easily assimilable, but can also throw the punches when necessary. AOMFAR is both of those things.
What is your writing process like?
Nothing crazy. I usually picture my main character and plot first. I try to paint a picture in my head about how the story will look on chapter 1, chapter 20-21 and the ending chapter. Those are the most important ones, as you can then write the rest of the story around those. Getting to that darkest moment in chapter 20-21 is my absolute favourite thing.
I then write a very, very vague outline. I’m a pantser, so I don’t like to spend a lot of time writing words that aren’t part of the novel itself. I need some guidance, but it can usually fit it in one page. I try to aim for a 1000 words a day (although I haven’t been as productive lately) and get the first draft done as quickly as possible. Then it’s editing for a few months!
Who is the target audience for All of My Friends Are Rich?
Hard to say. At first I just imagined this would be aimed at the queer community due to its heavy sexual content, however that’s just the surface. This story resonates with anyone who has felt inadequate at least once in their lifetime. Most of us have a very specific idea of what our life is going to look like at 30, and when that reality doesn’t fit with our fantasy, we panic and re-consider all of our life choices. AOMFAR is very much that. Leo isn’t where he wants to be, but he has to make-do with the harsh reality he’s surrounded by.
What were some unexpected challenges that you found in writing the book? How did you overcome them?
I found the limitations of writing in first person to be the most unexpected challenge. I love reading in first person, so it was a no-brainer for me. But once I started writing, I quickly realised there are things you can’t achieve in first person. For example, Leo has a lot of friends, however, due to the way the book is written, we only see his point of view. So we don’t get to see what his friends think of him or what they say when he’s not around.
What was your path to publication like?
I decided very early on I was going to self-publish this book. I wanted to have 100% control of every aspect of the book. I wanted to pick my own editors, have the exact cover I had imagined in my head, my own formatter etc. This is my first book baby, so it needed to be perfect.
Are you working on any new projects?
I am indeed. I’m working on the second draft of my second book and I have also written the first six chapters of my third one. They’re all standalone stories, which take place in London and have queer MCs.
Do you have any advice for fellow contemporary writers?
I’d say just write the story you want to write. There are so many possibilities when it comes to publishing, you don’t have to write the story you think “may work” or “is popular right now”. Contemporary is such a vast genre, there are always fresh stories to write. No need to be afraid.
Follow Michael on Instagram: @michaelsarais