- Firstly, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you get into writing, has it always been a dream of yours?
- Your most recent book, Listen with Mother, is a collection of flash fiction stories exploring childhood in the 1960s. Are families integral to all of your stories?
- Do you prefer writing flash or full length novels? I am very eager to know what the writing process is for each method, and how it varies?
- I recently read your article on gender imbalance in the publishing world. You say that there are a lot less submission for stories to be published that are by women, and so even with so many women working in publishing, there becomes an imbalance in the distribution of whose work is being distributed today. What advice would you give to female writers to correct this?
- You have had so many pieces of work published, but I particularly enjoyed reading Clocks. It captures the sometimes mundane nature of life, and it made me wonder what your main motivation for writing is? Is it to capture real life emotions, to make readers see the world differently, or something else?
- Thank you so much for your time!! As a final point, we love to ask our authors what their perfect writing conditions are (and also if we can expect any more writing in the future…)?
I was always writing and drawing when I was a kid. My first book was called ‘Sammie the Jam Bear’ (1967 – I still have the copy – unfinished). I was an avaricious reader and I still am. I didn’t write much in my 20s and 30s but when I moved to Hastings I attended a diploma course in Creative Writing run by the University of Sussex and I subsequently did an MA at Sussex (2007). Those two courses sparked me to take my writing more seriously but my first novel, A Bird in the House wasn’t published until 2014.
Families are important in many of my stories but I wouldn’t say I write exclusively about them. My most recent collection of flash fiction, Listen with Mother, is a memoir – a snapshot of growing up in a village in the 1960’s –naturally that involves details of family life. But I also write about refugees and the natural world and many other topics. I think I was able to write openly about my parents and my family life in Listen with Mother because my parents are no longer around and perhaps because my brother is younger I don’t fear his opprobrium. I admire writers who can be open about their personal lives but I’m more cautious. Caution can be positive but it’s a double-edged sword – it can also hold us back as authors.
I enjoy writing both flash and full-length novels and tend to have several projects on the go at once. Right now I’m working on a new memoir-based flash collection and on a novella about a woman who ends up in a remote lighthouse with no idea of how she arrived there. Like most authors, I also have other unpublished manuscripts in my bottom drawer. Working on a full length MS can be a slog. Once the first draft is done I enjoy the editing and re-editing process and can relax a little. My flash pieces often arrive in a flash – I get an idea and write it down quickly. Occasionally a flash piece will tumble out almost perfect but on the whole even the tiniest of flashes require many edits. I also keep a notebook. I never go anywhere without it. I’ll go without mascara but not that notebook.
Opportunities for women writers are so much better than they used to be but there are still imbalances – especially for women of colour and working class women. It’s also still the case that male authors are reviewed in greater numbers than female authors. I can’t speak about women as a whole as we are all so different but women perhaps do have a tendency to be more cautious and self-effacing. However, I see that changing in the younger generation. The only advice I can give new authors is to keep working at your writing, not to be afraid to send out and take rejection (we all hate rejections let’s face it!) and to write what you want to write not what you think you ought to write. And also to accept that few authors can make a decent living. You need the day job.
I love writing but there are times when it’s not going well and I want to give it all up but I soon change my mind and return to it. I liken writing to making a clay pot. At first you just have a lump of clay, then it becomes something resembling a pot but it’s still uneven in places and it needs a handle and firing and then a glaze. There’s something really quite magical in that process. Of course the end product is never quite as you hoped but there’s always a next time and a next…
I’ve written a series of flash fiction pieces about Syria and my two published novels both feature refugees. I am a social activist and have a strong sense of justice and I want people to understand that any one of us might end up in difficult circumstances not of our own making. My social activism and strong beliefs infuse my writing but I try not to be too polemical because that is not the job of fiction. However my social media posts can be quite forthright – I imagine people either like that or are put off by it. But that’s me. It’s how I am.
There are no perfect writing conditions although I’m lucky to have my own writing room. I like working in cafes and trains but at the moment long train journeys and hours spent sitting in cafes are sadly not possible. I look forward to the day when we can return to those things we once took for granted.
I have written 20,000 words of my novella but there’s still a lot more work to be done on it. I was short-listed for the Bath novella-in-flash award earlier this year and I’m hoping I can get that published. Hopefully I will have some more flash fiction pieces published online too. But there are no guarantees in this world. Except for death and taxes of course!