Hello Shel, can you please introduce yourself?
I'm Shel Sweeney, based in Glasgow.
How long have you been writing?
Since I was 8 years old; so 36 years!
What first got you interested in writing?
My dad occasionally used to write erratic, frantic, meaningful poetry in a beat-writer sort of way. But I have been the most persistent writer of the family. I have written all my life, but the first piece of writing that I kept and still have today is from when I was eight years old. I wrote poems, plays and stories. When I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about stories. You get the picture – I love words, I love a well-crafted sentence or poetic phrase, I love weaving worlds from words!
Do you attend a writing group?
I attend the Scottish Writer’s Group and just started this year.
Why do you attend a writing group?
I just moved to the area and wanted to meet people with the same passion as me; to be involved in writerly conversations; to be part of a group to bounce ideas around with; to have my work critiqued; to support other writers.
What is the most valuable thing you have taken away from your writing group?
Courage: to present my work to a ‘live’ audience.
Encouragement: to write and keep writing.
What genre(s)/types of things do you write? What drew you to this/these genre(s)?
Most genre really. Recently I have been interested in historical fiction – having come to the UK from Australia (with a short European history), I have been fascinated by the history of UK. Young Adult fiction – I have a teaching background and like freedom and creativity that this genre offers to explore tough issues. Poetry: I like the denseness of poetic language and the possibilities to play with language. Travel writing: what better way to combine my love of travel with writing! Essays: usually about aspects of writing – I enjoy the research process, learning mew information and applying this to my own ideas.
Are there any genres that you don’t enjoy writing? Why?
Horror – because I’m a scared-ey cat really!
Ha! That's the main reason I don't write horror! Have you ever had anything published?
I have had several short pieces (stories, essays, poetry) published before:
- Gumbooted and Blanket Wrapped, in ‘Splinterswerve’, Issue 9: ebb / flow, February 2013, Calgary and Victoria, Canada.
- Critique of Young Adult Fiction, in ‘The Copperfield Review’, vol. 12, no. 1, winter 2013, USA.
- The Stone Floor, in ‘Vintage Script’, Issue 4, winter 2012, London.
- The Leaving, in ‘Southerly: The Journal of the English Association’, vol. 70, no. 2, 2010, Brandl & Schlesinger, Sydney.
Have you sent your writing to agents/publishers? Have you received any rejections?
No, I send my work to literary journals. I have received a MASS of rejections; it’s par for the course.
Would you consider self-publishing/e-publishing? Why/why not? Are you interested in eBooks, or do you prefer the old fashioned paper-made books?
Possibly. With self-publishing you then face issues of marketing. It doesn’t matter how good your work is, if people don’t know it’s available, you’ll sell very little.
I love paper books, but have no negative feelings towards e-books.
Who/what influences your writing? Where do you get your inspiration from?
Jeanette Winterson is my all-time favourite author. Her use of language is beautiful.
My parents, son, husband and close friends have absolute faith in my abilities, so I have no shortage of support.
My inspiration comes, I think from my background – the way I was taught to see the world: My mum is an artist and I grew up surrounded by ideas of magic and beauty, my dad is an idealist/socialist. My active imagination was encouraged from an early age.
How do you come up with your characters’ names and personalities?
Sometimes through research, sometimes from the spark of someone I know, but mostly from the characters themselves and the situations they fnd themselves in – they kind of evolve.
Do you have a writing routine?
I usually write in the mornings for anything from 1 to 4 hours, depending on how much I get into it at the time.
Do you start out with a complete idea for your stories, or do you just start writing and hope for the best?
I never have a complete idea for my writing, although the concept I start with is quite strong and vivid. I never used to plot anything at all, just write. Now I am trying to plot my stories out in more detail, but I have found if I plan in too much detail, I don’t find the writing process as creative – so it is a balance.
Do you have an editing process?
I usually leave the first draft for a while – I need a bit of space between the writing and the editing so I can come back to the wok with less emotional attachment. I have been known to print a story out and cut it up into sections and physically move these around until I find the right ‘flow’. I like to see the whole thing – a bit harder with a novel!
What is your writing environment like?
I have a desk beside a window – I like to see the sky. It is stacked with books and notepads, but isn’t too messy. I use a laptop. I often head into a library of café with my laptop to write too – I like the background sounds and the hustle and bustle of life. I don’t usually listen to music because I get too caught up in singing and forget to write!
What do you enjoy the most/least about writing?
I most enjoy the creativity of it – making up worlds that didn’t exist before. I like finding expression to feelings and giving voice to stories floating in my head. I love how a story will occupy my thoughts day and night and randomly.I don’t like the small amount of money that I can generate via writing. I wish it could be more financially viable.
How important is it for you to share your writing?
Even if I couldn’t share my writing, I would still write. However, without a readership, my writing is less polished, the challenge is lessened.
Have you ever entered any writing competitions? Have you ever won?
Yes I have entered, but never won anything.
Have you ever attended an open mic night for spoken word performers, and either an observer or a performer?
No I haven’t.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
Read your work out loud to yourself – it helps you work out the rhythm of your work and resolve any awkward phrasing that you may not have noticed.
What advice could you give to a new writer?
Just keep writing. It took me a great number of years of writing sporadically to really get that what a writer does is, well, write…so make a commitment to write at least 5 days out of 7.
Would you rather write a masterpiece and only sell a handful of copies, or produce a badly written book and sell millions?
Maybe somewhere in between…but what writer doesn’t want to sell millions? Or write a Masterpiece?
Apart from writing, what are your other hobbies/interests?
Yoga – practicing every second day keeps me grounded and relaxed. I am interested in education also. Playing guitar (badly) and singing (equally badly) – lots of fun!
I love singing (badly), especially when I'm in my car on my own! What types of things do you read? Do you think your writing reflects your book tastes?
I try to read a range of things. I love libraries! I select books at random, read the first page and if that is interesting, I will read the whole book. This helps me to read things that I wouldn’t usually choose – like crime fiction – and it helps me find authors I might not have read before. But, apart from Jeanette Winterson, I like David Mitchell, Terry Pratchett, Australian Young Adult fiction writers, Michael Pryor and Isobelle Carmody. Steampunk is pretty awesome right now, and of course I love historical fiction too.
If you could have written anything, what do you wish that could have been?
Anything by Jeanette Winterson, Keroac’s On the Road, anything by William Boroughs or Haruki Murakami, or William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing or The Tempest.
Do you judge books by their covers? How important is cover art to you as a reader and a writer?
I try not to, but when you are faced with so many books and authors, cover design can become a selection factor. Cover is all about marketing, and this IS important as it can affect sales of a book.
What is your favourite/least favourite book to film adaptation?
High Fidelity – John Kusak rocks that role!
Agreed! Do you have any favourite lines from novels/plays/poetry/songs, or any favourite literary quotes?
“Every journey conceals another journey within its lines: the path not taken and the forgotten angle.” Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry
What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on a novel currently (my first), I blog every other day and I’m researching myth, legend and fairy tales – looking to write an essay or critique of these genre.
Where can we find you on the internet?
Would you be able to provide a short piece of your work?
The following small piece is taken from The Leaving: a short story of love found and the all-consuming grief of separation told in a series of vignettes that fluctuate between sensuality and melancholy. The raw emotions are carried along by strong imagery that reveal the actual and inner life of the main narrator. With a strong sense of place in streetscapes and interiors, this is the tale of a disintegrating relationship.
His suitcase lies open on the bed. Carefully considered items are neatly placed within. Balled socks fill vacant spaces. And over all of this is the scent of her. He presses his face into the piled clothes and inhales. How can it be that he has been here only six months and already she has permeated his soul? The smell of her, the feel of her hands over his shirt. Damn hard to leave.
He draws the zip around the case. If only he could seal off this part of his life as easily as a zip teeths shut. He feels a biting at his heart. One last thing to do. Pen in hand awkwardly forming the words his tongue cannot. I love you. I will miss you. I don’t want to leave you. Come with me. It all seems clichéd, flat, empty.The ink smudges like a blackberry stain. He screws the paper within his fist. He sighs, picks up the case and leaves. A gush of winter air swirls behind the closing door.
© Shel Sweeney
Thank you very much Shel.