Hello Emma, can you please introduce yourself?
I’m a 28 year old woman, based near Blandford in Dorset.
How long have you been writing?
For as long as I can remember- I think I made up my first story at 3 or 4 and couldn’t work out how to write it down! My mum started teaching me to write and I’ve kept going since then. Now, its my other half who encourages me, inspires me and keeps me going.
What first got you interested in writing?
My mum was reading me stories and looking at books with me from the very beginning and always encouraged me to tell my own stories. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t completely immersed in stories, books and imaginary people.
I grew up in a similar environment; I'd make up bedtime stories with my dad from a young age, and my love for stories grew from there. Do you attend a writing group?
I started my own group up out of desperation- I wanted a warm, free, liberating group to help me write more productively. I’m very glad that I did!
I can imagine. We all need a sanctuary. Why do you attend a writing group?
To be a writer, its really helpful to be around other writers. You watch other people develop and realise that you are developing yourself. You share ideas and feel safe because you have sympathetic people around to share work with. Also, you can see how common some mistakes are and that they can be rectified. It’s also inspiring and often humbling- both of which are important!
What is the most valuable thing you have taken away from your writing group?
Hard to say- delight in the work that people do and delight that they inspire me and listen to me too!
What genre(s)/types of things do you write? What drew you to this/these genre(s)?
I’m interested in writing all sorts of things- literary fiction, erotica, historical and some kinds of fantasy are my favourites. I like to try and write what I like to read, especially if what I want to read doesn’t seem to exist!
Are there any genres that you don’t enjoy writing? Why?
I’m not a great one for things that are heavily plot driven. So no crime or thrillers for me.
Have you ever had anything published?
I was published at 16 after being a winner in a competition run by The Guardian and Piccadilly Press. It was a wonderful experience but one which somehow took away all my confidence. I haven’t dared send off anything since, although I am now working on several projects and opportunities with my fingers crossed.
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?
I think its important to be interested in everything. All forms of reading should be encouraged and exploited. I’m not going to turn down any audience that might want to read my work! E-books are accessed by a vast readership now- who would want to turn that down?
Who/what influences your writing? Where do you get your inspiration from?
I have lots of influences- I read as much as I possibly can and enjoy film, theatre, music and art. All art forms are influential or have the potential to be- it’s good to try and see the world from as many different angles as possible. I’m inspired by all sorts of things. Ideas come from dreams, memories, people I see in the street, questions that I want to ask, things that spark my interest; all sorts of things! If I start getting emotional or wrapped up with something, that’s always a good sign.
How do you come up with your characters’ names and personalities?
My partner often supplies names. He has a fantastic imagination and is a great people person. I can start to describe a character to him and he’ll have a perfect name in no time at all. I have no idea how he does it because I can seldom come up with names at all. He’s also good at helping me with character development. I think the best way to come up with fully formed characters is to practice them by putting them through as many complex scenarios as possible. Don’t just put them in an argument or a love scene, put them in one with their mother in the next room and a pile of unpaid bills on the table- how do they react then? Does any more back story come to light? Always have more material and knowledge on your characters than you need and don’t try and pack it all into a story.
I could do with someone like your partner. I find naming characters more difficult than writing the story. Do you have a writing routine?
I write daily- something, anything, even if its just my diary or notebook at lunchtime. Even if its just a few notes when I’m in the bath. And I’m always trying to write in my head. There will always be excuses why you should be doing something else, but don’t let yourself fall for them. Daydreaming is helpful (and easy to do) but the process of words on paper is vital. That’s the only way to keep the world fresh, my vocabulary alive and my brain constructing whole sentences. I work best early in the morning, before the world has got in the way, although if I can find somewhere safe and quiet, I can usually get something out.
Do you start out with a complete idea for your stories, or do you just start writing and hope for the best?
It depends. I have a lot of ideas and I’m finding that I’m very much a slow burner. Things build up quite slowly in my head so I have to do lots of explorative writing around things, sometimes for years, and watch stories come together. Occasionally I’ve had a bolt from the blue where everything seems to be present but usually when I start working on it, it goes in a completely different direction!
Do you have an editing process?
Yes, I have a process- again, it’s a slow one. Write as much and as far as possible- ideally get a first draft done. Check over once. Leave for a night or day or two, go over again. I always show my work to my partner now, who is a very careful and deep reader and he always has helpful suggestions. Distance is always important- after being totally immersed in something for a long time I find perspective gets lost. I always read aloud, often as I’m going along. It’s the best way to keep things flowing properly, especially when handling pace and dialogue.
What is your writing environment like?
I love writing outside, even in the cold. I wrote one of my best poems when the snow was falling and I was sat out in the middle of it, my notebook turning to mush! Pen and paper is where everything starts and computers are not to be trusted. Useful as they are for a long hike or getting into a ‘proper’ draft, but I print out every version for scribbling over- its too easy to lose early stuff that you may want to go back to, with a computer. I like pencils or ink pens though biros are perfectly fine if necessary. Coloured pens have also known to be useful and doodling is a very underestimated help. I’m also extraordinarily messy- I can’t write in a tidy way- paper everywhere, books everywhere, pens, cds, pictures (always like to have visual prompts) a glass of wine (often spilt) and I often have theme music for what I’m working on. I miss making mix tapes for stories.
I've heard that if we have a cluttered desk, we have an organised mind (or something like that!) What do you enjoy the most/least about writing?
The thing I like least is that when I’m getting close to getting something written, I have a day where everything stops. My head goes completely dead and I can scarcely write my own name. I feel desperate, worthless, lost, unable to concentrate and it physically hurts. I recognise it now and I know it will pass but I hate it violently and just long for it to be gone.
I love so many things about writing, its hard to know where to start. I love stories, and I love having new ones unfolding inside of me. I love getting to know characters who often stay with me for years and I can go back and ‘talk’ to them. I love exploring people, thoughts and places that I would never get close to otherwise. Most of all I love the freedom to play and lose myself and explore- it is basically playing after all. If I don’t do it, I’m always miserable. When I’m doing it, I get accused of being moody and distracted- really, I’m just very happy and totally absorbed.
How important is it for you to share your writing?
Increasingly, very. It has to be read and it has to be criticised. Sometimes, when people get really into it, it’s a really warm feeling. But it fascinates me how personal people’s responses are- how some love something that someone else hated. Some writing is only for me. But most of it is ultimately to be shared and read.
Have you ever attended an open mic night for spoken word performers, and either an observer or a performer?
I would do. Running the writing group has reminded me that when you are reading something of your own in public it can be very scary- far more than public speaking for work. I’m getting some practise in with my group before I try an open mic, but I’m up for it, definitely.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
Write all the time, read all the time.
What advice could you give to a new writer?
Other than the above, I’d say, don’t fret about taking other peoples advice! Lots of people who don’t write are sure that they know better than anyone else how to do it. Just get on with it- write what you like, what calls to you and write as much as you can. Read everything, especially the very best writing that you can find, and constantly pit yourself against the best stuff. Try out why something works. Remember that a lot of what you write will be learning material- it won’t be fit for public consumption. That’s fine. When you’re ready, real work will start to appear. If its less scary, write in a diary. My teenage diaries contained next to no real material- it was all imaginary. It was a lot safer to write fantasies and experiments in a diary- ie something that would never be seen by anyone else- than consciously sit down and write stories. Then, when I was ready, I started to write stories that I could admit to.
Would you rather write a masterpiece and only sell a handful of copies, or produce a badly written book and sell millions?
I don’t want anything out that I think of as badly written. With anything that you do, you have to do your best. A masterpiece would be great and if it sold anything I’d be thrilled.
Apart from writing, what are your other hobbies/interests?
Reading! Everything else is all writing fodder- I love history, walking, music, films, art, going to the theatre, gardening, eating and quizzes. I love learning and talking with my partner about everything under the sun. All of it is raw material though.
What types of things do you read? Do you think your writing reflects your book tastes?
I read poetry, non-fiction, particularly history, popular science, religion, autobiography and literary criticism. I also like to read drama scripts. The fiction I like is quite broad- mostly literary, especially eighteenth and nineteenth century literature, but also some science fiction, short stories, historical fiction like Bernard Cornwell’s ‘Sharpe’. I also like anything different, experimental, or quirky- Angela Carter, Tanith Lee, Will Self, Helen Dunmore, Anais Nin, and Melvin Burgess are all favourites. I love children’s literature too.
If you could have written anything, what do you wish that could have been?
Anything, or everything, by Jane Austen. Especially ‘Persuasion.’
Do you judge books by their covers? How important is cover art to you as a reader and a writer?
Cover art is important- semiotics! In the library it’s something that we are particularly aware of. However, I don’t let it get in the way. I’ve found some brilliant gems hidden between terrible covers and under an appalling title.
What is your favourite/least favourite book to film adaptation? Would you like to see any of your work on the big screen?
There are some excellent adaptations, in fact too many to list really. Number one is probably the infamous BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, followed closely by Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. ‘Sharpe’ was excellent on TV as was the early 1990’s ‘Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’- the BBC again! If either Peter Jackson or Andrew Davies ever want to adapt anything of mine, obviously I’d say yes! However, realistically, I think it would depend on so many things. I’ve heard too many tales of writers being really badly burned. That awful 70’s animation of ‘The Hobbit’ is terrifying and who can forgive the casting of Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett in the latest Pride and Prejudice?
The BBC adaptation of 'The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe' will always be one of my favourites. I got it on DVD a few years ago for Christmas and it always takes me back to my childhood! Do you have any favourite lines from novels/plays/poetry/songs, or any favourite literary quotes?
Loads- my partner quotes from all kinds of movies all the time- it’s our game to pick out where they come from. I do the same with books. Shakespeare’s Henry V is often particularly helpful to quote from to myself to get me through the working day. As are the Famous Five. The Mighty Boosh is a regular mine of inspiring weirdness.
What are you working on at the moment?
Too many things- an English degree with the open university, several slow moving novels and I’m tidying up some short stories that will hopefully go on to a site selling short fiction to kindle users. And I have decided to start re-entering competitions.
Where can we find you on the internet?
You can’t- yet. But I can keep you posted!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Only this- writing is good. It is good for your health, for your awareness of the world, for coming to knowledge and for making a difference. It is lonely and frustrating and stressful and often brings pain of some kind or another. But it is worth it. It will make you read more and appreciate what centuries of other writers have done. It will open up the world, other people and your self. It can make you self-sufficient. Even if you are terrible at it, if you enjoy it, write for yourself.
Would you be able to provide a short piece of your work?
Below is an excerpt from a short novel that I’m working on, working title, ‘What if, Charlie Barker?’ I was working on this for the last NaNoWriMo and although there is still some way to go, I’m feeling hopeful about it. It’s part of a draft, so it is very much a rough.
Mum had packed the last box herself. In a rare flurry of helpful activity, when his father had come to the door, she had taken the box from Charlie's hands and disappeared for the final, final check. It was the first one that he unloaded from the car, the new laptop from his father balanced on top. Having carried it carefully into the cottage, he put it down on the kitchen table to see what she had equipped him with.
His St John's Wort was on the top and he stowed that carefully in the kitchen cupboard. Then there was the bottle of auburn hair dye that had turned his hair from mouse to mud the year before. She had added her jar of pencils from next to the phone and also the sun-bleached, cobwebbed silk poinsettia that had sat from Christmas to Christmas in the corner of the porch. Her angel cards had been added too, their fragmenting box held together with a hair toggle and biro instructions clearly printed on the back of a receipt tucked carefully inside. She was sorry, then. He laid them gently to one side. And then he realised; at the bottom of the box thick with dust, but with its lead carefully wrapped around it, so long confiscated and believed destroyed was his radio. Plugged in to the kitchen socket, it still worked. He sat in perfect re-discovered happiness, moving the dial between static and rustly crackly voices, through woman's hour, to Beethoven, to trance and all the way back again and then to longwave and the pleasant rabbit of French from across the channel. He stood, feeling confident again. He lifted the box, to flatten it for next time when a slip of something white caught his eye. In the very bottom of the box was a card. He turned it over.
In stark black and white, a magpie holding a ring was printed, looking regal and splendid. Beneath it was printed the legend, Nicolas Vordelak, Antiques & Fine Art, and the email address and mobile number. And in that meticulous hand, Call me.
Charlie fled, made it to the bathroom, and was sick.
© Emma Bevin
Thank you very much Emma.