WRITERS' MINDS Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Award-winning poet, playwright and best-selling author, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, chats to Sarah Broadley about self-preservation in a digital world.

Kiran’s debut novel for children, The Girl of Ink and Stars, won the Waterstones Book Prize and the Children’s Book of the Year at the British Book Awards. Her work has been long and short-listed for several other major prizes, including the Costa Award and the CILIP Carnegie Award. In September 2019, Hachette Children’s Group published her first novel for Young Adults, The Deathless Girls, which forms part of the Bellatrix collection of novels and tells the untold story of the child brides of Dracula. Kiran is a graduate of both Oxford and Cambridge universities and lives by the river in Oxford with her husband and cat. 

Social media plays a huge part in the marketing of authors and their books as they progress through their publishing career. From the publication of The Girl of Ink and Stars to The Mercies, how has your relationship with social media and the online world changed over this time?

Social media feels like a must have for authors nowadays, and with the coronavirus pandemic stifling all routes to readers but those online, it is more vital than ever. I've always been careful not to artificially build my profile – I've always been myself, been authentic about what I speak about, care about and support. One of the key things for me is supporting other authors' work – I'm a fangirl, essentially, and that has paid in kind. I'm also always attentive to teachers, librarians and other readers contacting me. I try to say thank you to everyone individually if they say something nice about my books. It's not always possible, and I do occasionally take social media breaks if I'm finding things overwhelming, or can't focus on my writing before a deadline. But in general, I have a nice balance, where social media feels like a place to access my community.

Trolls, unnecessary retweets and negative comments, especially when tagging the author in, can be hurtful and sometimes damaging to a writer's career, what steps do you take to ensure you are safe (both mentally and technically) from those who seek to undermine?

I will always allow myself to step away. I've had a few nasty experiences, and I won't pretend I've been perfect in how I've dealt with them – I've allowed strangers to hurt me, to make me cry. But no more – I draw a clear line and believe in my own judgement. I am always willing to be educated, to learn and accept that I'm in the wrong, but equally I know I don't step out of my lane, and I only wade into things I feel strongly about. I feel like I can stand behind most of what I've said online – in fact, all of it. There are too many things to worry about in the real world without letting anonymous strangers ruin your day.

Looking after our mental health is important when promoting our work. Do you have any advice for creatives to help keep the balance once a book is sent out into the world? 

It's hard, there's no denying it. For a long time, your work is only yours. Then it is only seen by people who care about you – friends, your agent and editor. And then comes the day when it's not yours anymore: it's the readers', and not every reader is going to like it. Some will hate it, vocally. But it's important to remember art is not objective – listen to the voices who lift you up, not those that seek to bring you down. It's impossible not to obsess once a book is out there, and so out of your control. Know you're not alone in feeling scared and powerless. Write the next book. I make a list of goals for each book now to remind myself that at one stage, getting published was enough. Don't become bitter – it's so toxic. Far better to channel negative feelings elsewhere – go for a walk to angry music, write down angry thoughts, then burn them. 

Once published, a writer can become fixated with reviews on their work. A healthy approach to this is required but it can be difficult to control the urge to 'I'll just quickly check Goodreads/Twitter/Amazon' etc. Do you look at your reviews? And if so, how do you deal with any negative experiences?

Goodreads is the worst place for authors, because so many reviewers build their profile on hyperbolic, negative reviews. Let that be a place for readers – you don't need to see it. I wish I could recommend not reading any reviews, but that would be hypocritical. Instead, know that the bad ones hurt less the more you get them – and I always get at least one per book that sucks – it's all a matter of perspective. I also trust the opinion of my agent, my editor and my publisher way more than one reader who just didn't click with my writing.

Self-preservation is key. Do you meet with other creatives for support and to share the good (and bad) experiences?

My community on and offline is invaluable. It's so important to have like-minded people to vent to, who can be sounding boards and also remind you how lucky you are. It's also necessary sometimes for them not to – to just let you rant and not judge you for what you say. I feel very lucky to count so many authors as friends and would really encourage you to find your people. 

* Feature photo: Kiran Millwood Hargrave. Photo credit: Janklow & Nesbit UK


Sarah Broadley lives in Edinburgh with her family and two cats. She is a member of SCBWI Scotland. Follow her on Twitter.


Natalie Yates is Writers' Minds editor for Words & PicturesFollow her on Twitter. Contact: writers@britishscbwi.org.

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