Sophie Cousens has worked in television for over twelve years, working her way up from Runner to Series Producer. She has produced, among other things, The Graham Norton Show, Big Brother, Ant and Dec, Russell Howard’s Good News and most recently Murder in Successville for BBC3. Sophie recently won the LoveAtFirstWrite competition, run in partnership with Corvus and LoveReading with her debut novel How to Get Ahead in Television.
Before launching into a Television career, Sophie gained a History Degree from Edinburgh University. She currently splits her time between London and Jersey, TV Producing and writing. She lives with her husband Tim and spends lots of time growing vegetables, baking cakes and yearning for a time when she will be able to own a miniature dachshund.
Poppy goes all out to impress, but somehow things don't go to plan. Whether failing to prevent a washed-up soap star from becoming roaring drunk during Scottish game show Last Clan Standing, or managing to scare the horses during the filming of Strictly Come Prancing, Poppy gets noticed for all the wrong reasons. With highly strung presenters and distractingly handsome producers in the mix, it's Poppy's determination that will see her win or lose her dream job, and maybe her dream man too...
Can you tell us a little bit about your debut novel How to Get Ahead in Television?
How To Get Ahead In Television is a romantic comedy set in the world of TV production. Poppy Penfold desperately wants to work in TV, but when she finally bags her dream roll as a TV runner, somehow things don’t go exactly to plan… The book sees Poppy working across a range of shows such as Strictly Come Prancing (a celebrity/horse themed dance show) and Changing Grooms (the latest wedding format which attempts to break couples up before their big day) all while getting a bit distracted by various love interests at the office. It’s a book for anyone who’s ever had a first job, anyone who’s ever fancied someone at work, and above all, anyone who wants to see what really happens behind the scenes of TV production.
As you work in television yourself, how much of the book is influenced by your own experience in the entertainment industry?
A lot of Poppy’s most embarassing experiences at work, are unfortunately, based on things that have happened to me (for example, driving a celebrity to a shoot and being asked to stop the car because said celebrity ‘didn’t have confidence in my driving ability’ – whoops!) Many of the TV shows featured in the book are also simply heightened, more ridiculous versions of shows already on your screens, so yes, there is a lot of my own experience in the book.
I have loved working in TV, it’s full of so many creative, inspiring, hilarious people, and no day is ever the same, but equally, anyone who works in the industry will acknowledge how ridiculous it can be – the diva talent strops, the insanely bad show ideas and the pressure to go above and beyond the call of duty on a daily basis - It’s a great backdrop for comedy, put it that way!
What three words best describe Poppy?
Clumsy, chaotic, loveable.
(If you can imagine the 22-year-old love child of Miranda Hart and Carrie Bradshaw, you’re getting close…)
Your publishing deal with Corvus came about as a result of winning their #loveatfirstwrite competition, can you remember the exact moment when you heard that you had won?
I can remember exactly what I was doing – I was working on a BBC3 show called Murder In Successville, plotting the (fictional) murder of Simon Cowell for one of the episodes. My team and I were fretting about finding the right celebrity to book for one of the shows, when I received the phone call from Corvus. I answered the call and started squealing “NO! Really! That’s amazing! I can’t believe it! Waaaahhhhh!” then ran around the office with my hands flailing. My team all assumed something VERY exciting must have happened on the celebrity-booking front, quizzing me “Have you booked David Beckham? Harry Styles? Oh my god, it must be someone amazing!” I had to sheepishly admit that the phone call had nothing to do with work, and everything to do with me winning an exciting publishing contract.
How long did it take to write How to Get Ahead in Television?
The idea for the book has been brewing away in my brain every since I started working in TV, but at the point of winning the competition, I had only written the first 5,000 words and a summary, so I needed to get writing pretty quickly. I think the first draft took me about six months, then another three for subsequent drafts and tweaks. It was great to have deadlines to hit, otherwise I’m a bit prone to procrastibaking (procrastination through cake baking).
Do you have designated writing hours or is it a case of writing when you can around your work/home life?
Um no. I am very envious of writers who say they get up at 8am and then write until they have 4,000 words. I had to fit writing around TV work, but even when I had a day to myself, my inner monologue would go something like this:
‘Okay, sit down at the computer and start writing … oh except I probably need a nice cup of tea and a biscuit before I begin... *makes tea, finds biscuits* Okay, write a paragraph…. Hmmm, I can’t possibly write any more until I’ve decided what my favourite font is. How can I possibly carry on writing in the wrong font? *spends forty minutes experimenting with fonts* Font decided, now I can write another paragraph… except now it’s almost lunch time. *checks watch* 11.30 is lunch time right?’
And so it went on. Writing is basically a permanent battle with your inner lazy person.
Did you treat yourself to something special to celebrate publishing your debut novel?
Ooh good idea! I hadn’t thought of that. Maybe I will buy a shark! Or a massive yoghurt! Or a tree with ham all over it! Okay, I’m not sure I’m very good at thinking of suitable treats for myself. Please send suitable suggestions…