"Shop Girl Diaries" Blogger Enjoys Being An Auspicious Author
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Written by Nadia Di Martino
Last month, Emily Benet won the overall award for Best Author Blog with her Shop Girl Diaries, which she started writing in her mother’s ‘light shop’ in South London, and has since become a book.
She was with Paulo Coelho and Neil Gaiman among the 28 authors shortlisted for the inaugural Author Blog Awards, run by CompletelyNovel.com and ex-SYP chair Jon Slack, in partnership with publishers including the Random House Group, Simon & Schuster and Penguin.
“I didn’t think I’d still be working in my Mum’s chandelier shop at 24.” is how her book starts. Salt Publishing, which released the book in December, describes Emily as “doing for chandeliers what Bridget Jones did for publishing.”
How has Emily gone from being a shop assistant to giving talks at Birkbeck College in London, publish a book and film a TV pilot for which she has co-written the script?
“I have kept a diary since I was a kid. I was reading one just recently. ‘This is the idea for my novel and I am going to publish it’, it said at one point. I was only 9 at the time!” she says.
“Shop Girl Diaries might sound a bit like Sex & The City but it’s totally the antithesis of it. It’s me in a chandeliers shop, eating a sandwich in a stock room in South London. Not really glamorous.”
But the editors at Salt Publishing loved the insights in the real life of a normal girl working in a ‘light shop’, as they saw how this was a reflection of how London has dramatically changed with the recession. They saw how the blog really spoke to people’s hearts, touching on their everyday experiences - from the customers’ need for some retail therapy to a sweet love story.
“In our journalism classes they always tell us to write about what we know best so my parents’ shop was the ideal choice for me. I am interested in relationships between people but also in the details of life.”
The writing dream started to become reality for Emily about seven months after her first blog entry. “I had written Shop Girl Diaries for about four months when I left a post on the publishers’ website and they got back to me in a week. Just seven months after I had started the blog we were talking about making a book out of it.”
“Pretty soon Facebook became very important to get family and friends to read my blog but it’s not a question of quantity: I don’t have a huge amount of followers but they all are loyal readers.”
Emily was supported, and still is, by her brother, who is very good at helping her market her work. Meanwhile her mother, to whom Emily has dedicated her first book, is usually the first to read her blog entries and advise her.
“I work really hard and I don’t find it easy to write”, said Emily. “I always struggle with time. I complain a lot but then there’s a moment when you slip into writing and you forget you are there. And that is beautiful.”
Emily admitted that it takes her a long time to write each entry because editing is crucial. “Sometimes when I write I can get too serious then I have to step back trying to see the funny side.”
Things are moving fast for Emily. The day after she won the Blog Award, she found an unexpected email in her inbox. Subject line: literary agent.
“I am meeting her tomorrow,” she said to me with a slightly worried look in her eyes; but it only lasted a second before she went on telling me the plot and the working title of her next project.
Seen her enthusiasm, I asked Emily what she would advise to an aspiring writer.
“Value your writing. Create a space in your life for writing. Stick to it. When your writing gets too serious, it’s not good. Find support in people around you. Share your writing. Don’t be precious about it. Let your writing rest, then go back to it and do the editing; that’s the most important part.“
Her best advice is to try and always write as if you were going to be published on a national newspaper.
Emily concluded our interview confessing impatiently: “I don’t even want to be rich but I want to write for a living, not in between part time jobs!”.