A huge warm welcome to Abi Payton today. Now, the authors of Sapphic Fiction February have full control over how much they disclose to me in the interview, and I am touched and honoured to have had Abi Payton share her story with me. We share a theme of mental health in both of our books, and this is why I highly recommend you check out When The Lonely Walk – as well as Abi’s wonderful interview, of course!
Welcome, Abi. To start, tell us a little bit about you! Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Abi Payton and I was born in Bath. I was around the age of twelve when I started to question my sexuality. The all-girls secondary school that I attended was definitely somewhat of a homophobic environment, so this was something that I kept hidden for many years, until finally admitting that I was gay around the age of fifteen to a few friends. Unfortunately one of the friends that I confided this to turned out to be untrustworthy, and I was outed to almost my entire school before I had even had a chance to tell my parents.
Since my teenage years, I have suffered with various mental health issues including paranoid schizophrenia and emotionally unstable personality disorder. Feeling isolated as the only out gay person in my year, especially as I had not been able to come out at my own pace, definitely affected my mental health, as did the homophobic reaction from some of my classmates and even some of my friends. Just after I began my A levels, I was referred to children's mental health services and quickly admitted to a ward for my own safety. I stayed as an inpatient on various wards for the next five years, until I was finally well enough to move to a supported living facility and begin my university studies. I graduated university in 2022 with a degree in Health and Social Care and I am currently working at my local council as a Children's Social Care Assistant; in the future, I would like to train as a social worker, potentially in the mental health field.
How did you become an author?
I have been writing creatively since my early teenage years - starting when I began to read online fan fiction, and decided that I wanted to start making my own stories for others to read. I wrote my first original novel at the age of 16. However, when I began to suffer with mental health problems, both the drive to write, and my creativity, slipped away from me. I wrote a lot of journal entries, but very few creative pieces. 'When the Lonely Walk' is my first novel since I have started to feel more recovered and it has been very reassuring that these parts of me are not lost forever! As a novel dealing with mental health, a lot of my own experiences have shaped the plot and made their way into the narrative.
Who’s your favourite character that you’ve ever written?
Currently my favourite character to write is Alex, who appears in the sequel to 'When the Lonely Walk', though I'm aware that doesn't mean too much as the book isn't even finished yet! My favourite character to write from 'When the Lonely Walk' was probably Maeve; as a naturally very shy person, it's always fun to write someone who is a bit more outgoing and mischievous. It wasn't without its challenges, however, as Maeve was a character with a lot to hide.
Do you ever experience writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?
I have definitely had writer's block in the past though I am lucky that it hasn't been too much of a problem recently. One thing that I have found helpful in the past is making sure that I jot down any ideas that I have, however small or undeveloped, so that when I do sit down to write, I've got a couple of prompts to make a start from.
What do you consider to be the hardest part of writing?
Sometimes I find that it can be really hard to get the image that I'm picturing in my head onto the paper in the way I want to. It can take a few goes and that definitely takes patience! The process of writing a novel is a slow one a lot of the time and takes a lot of work. It can be really hard sometimes to pick up my pen after a full day at work.
And how about the most rewarding?
The most rewarding thing I find is hearing feedback from people who have read my book - not so much just hearing that they enjoyed reading (as much as I love hearing that) but more when people tell me that I have managed to make them feel something. A friend who read the first draft of 'When the Lonely Walk' let me know that one scene made him cry and that was intensely rewarding for me.
What is one piece of advice you wish you had listened to, either in life or with regards to being an author?
I think the most pertinent advice that I've been given is about the importance of communicating how you're feeling. I realise that asking someone who has mental health issues to 'reach out' is not necessarily always useful given the failings of our current mental health system - and I have had my share of unhelpful responses from services when I have reached out to the wrong person. However, things have only really improved for me since I have regularly been articulating how I'm feeling, either to professionals or to my lovely wife. It isn't advice that is going to always work out, but to me it has been something that has eventually actually changed things for me.
You’re putting together a party. Which characters from the Sapphic Fiction genre would you invite?
I recently read 'Love Frankie' by Jacqueline Wilson, which I loved for many reasons; I think Frankie would make a great addition to a party! I think she is someone that I would have a lot to talk about with, and I loved what a no-nonsense kind of personality that she had for a lot of the novel. I was also pleasantly surprised at the lack of cliche in how Frankie was written. I also received 'Keeping You a Secret' by Julie Anne Peters as a gift for my eighteenth birthday from my best friend, and really enjoyed that too. I think the main character, a shy over-achiever named Holland, is someone that I'd love to be friends with too. I imagine we could talk a lot about difficult coming out experiences, and I feel like both Holland and Frankie would be the kind of friends who would rather enjoy having a hot chocolate inside with a film and blankets. As you might be able to tell, I prefer small, quiet gatherings to big parties!
Is there anyone you’d like to highlight, while you’re here?
My good friend Owen B Lewis has always been very supportive of my writing, as well as being a great writer himself - his books can be found on Amazon.
How can people connect with you?
My Twitter/X is @abipaytonwriter and my Instagram is @abiupwards.
Finally a light-hearted one. What ice cream flavours and toppings would you put together in your ultimate sundae?
Cookie dough chunk ice cream with chocolate sauce and little fudge pieces!
If you enjoyed this interview, then make sure you’re following my social media accounts (@kblakemanwriter on Twitter and @katherineblakemanwriter on Instagram) to get all the latest updates! And if you want to support my own Sapphic Fiction journey while you’re here, The Summer We’ve Had is available now, and Love You However is coming on March 22nd!