My name is Kate McCormick, but I write my fiction under the name of Elizabeth Ducie.
There are three answers to that question:
My first published piece appeared when I won a newspaper competition at the age of fifteen (and that’s a good few years ago).Throughout the past thirty years, I have been writing technical non-fiction and have been publishing textbooks and articles, reports and training modules for the past fifteen years.
However, and this is the writing I want to talk about, I started writing creatively in 2006. That’s when I adopted my pen name (which is actually my maiden name) to avoid confusion. No-one’s likely to find a textbook on pharmaceutical manufacturing a good bedtime read, but I hope they will enjoy reading my fiction at that time of day (or any other time for that matter).
My day job took me all over the world and I always said that ‘one of these days’ I would get some of my travel stories written down. In 2005, I was off work for three months after collapsing on a plane and spent the time re-evaluating what I was doing with my life. I decided that ‘today was one of these days’ so I enrolled on a creative writing course to learn how to do life-writing. In the end, I learned that I don’t do life-writing too well, but that I can use my experiences effectively in fictional settings.
I am a founding member of Chudleigh Writers’ Circle. We set it up in 2009 and have around 20 members who meet monthly, with a full group meeting during the day and smaller critiquing groups in the evening.
I have recently been invited to join Exeter Writers and have been attending the fortnightly meetings since October 2012.
I also meet up monthly with a group of former MA colleagues; however, that tends to be more of a lunch-group than a writing group at present.
For a number of different reasons: for the companionship and mutual support (writing is a solitary activity most of the time); for the opportunity to have my work critiqued; to pick the brains of other, more experienced writers; as a trigger to get me writing (we all go through fallow phases at some time or another); for the social interaction; in general, as an aid to improving my writing.
It doesn’t matter how good I think a piece of writing is; it’s the reader that counts!
That’s the question I hate having to answer. I’m not sure I fit into any specific genre. My short stories tend to be a bit quirky, with an occasional twist in the tale, often set outside the UK. My novel probably falls into literary fiction, although it seems rather pretentious to say so. I don’t think about it in advance. I write my story and then decide where it fits afterwards.
I don’t write horror stories, as I hate frightening myself. I’m a real scardey cat, afraid of the dark and never read or watch anything of that kind.
I write short stories primarily. I’ve just completed my first novel. I also write articles and blog posts on writing as a small business (a topic on which I present at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in August) and book reviews.
I’ve written about six poems altogether, one of which I am quite pleased with, but I don’t think I’d ever describe myself as a poet.
I have had textbooks published by some of the big publishers, including Gower and Butterworth Heinemann. That has taught me quite a lot about the non-fiction side of the publishing industry, although it is in a real state of flux at present.
I am currently seeking traditional publication of my first novel, which is about an entrepreneur in post-Soviet Russia who dreams of building an ice-rink to train Olympic champions. The story tells of why he says he wants to build it, the real reason why he wants to build it, and the obstacles that get in the way of him achieving his dream.
I’ve started approaching agents as the first step for my novel. It’s very early days yet, and I’ve had a couple of rejections, but I’m realistic that it’s a long road and there’s lots of competition out there.
I have self-published two books of short stories, via my company Chudleigh Phoenix Publications. Life is Not a Trifling Affair came out in July 2011 and Life is Not a Bed of Roses came out in November 2012. They were both co-written with friend and fellow-author Sharon Cook. Neither of us writes typical women’s magazine stories and we recognised the chance of getting a publisher to consider an anthology by two new (to fiction) writers was very small, so we decided to get on and do it ourselves. We rapidly came to the conclusion that the writing was the easy bit, compared to the marketing and sales. But we’re learning all the time.
Trifles was out as a paperback for six months before we put it up on Amazon; by the time we came to publish Roses, the market had changed sufficiently that we brought out the paperback and the ebook on the same day.
I’ve also published Sunshine and Sausages, a how-to booklet on summer garden parties, based on the lessons learned over twenty-plus years of running our own biennial BBQ for everyone we know. I use that as a technology learning tool: firstly it came out as an early ebook, on CD; next I used it to try out the print on demand methodology; and finally I did a short print run myself. I’m also going to use it to test out Smashwords in the next few months.
Who/what influences your writing? Where do you get your inspiration from?
It often starts with a place, especially my Russian stories. Sometimes, the idea for a story comes fully formed, but it’s rare. The main protagonist in the novel is based on someone I used to work with in Russia, and some of the incidents are real.
For non-UK names, I look for lists of typical names and use those. When I was writing the novel, I made sure that every person’s name and patronym (second name, based on Father’s name) were different so the characters didn’t get confused in the readers’ minds. I googled ‘Russian boys’ name’ and ‘Russian girls’ names’ and kept a list of them as I used them. When I wrote a story based in Africa, I used lists of real people that I’d met, but swapped them around, so given names and family names made different combinations. For UK characters, I just try different combinations until I get one that works.With my stories, I let the personalities develop by them selves. For the novel, I did some character sketches to make sure I knew the back stories even if I didn’t use them in the book.
In March 2012, I gave up the day job in order to write full-time. I try hard to follow the advice I quoted above, but it doesn’t always work. I go through phases of making myself sit in front of the screen for four hours before I let myself do anything else; that is usually quite productive, so long as I can keep away from Facebook. If I’m really struggling, I will set the timer for twenty minutes then give myself a few minutes break. After a couple of cycles, I will forget to set the timer and before I know it, I’ve been writing for hours without stopping for anything.
I’m a lark rather than an owl, so I’m definitely most creative in the morning. I rarely write in the afternoon or evening.
I usually have a beginning and an end; the middle often takes care of itself. With the novel, I used a screen writers’ technique to plot out the whole story with a paragraph per scene. Then I expanded each paragraph to a chapter. Mind you, at the end of that process, I realised there was a lot of the story still missing, so I went back and did a lot more expansion. (So I guess there’s a fair bit of hoping for the best.)
I love editing my work. When I’m writing to a word limit, I will often deliberately overwrite, so that I have to edit down the number of words. That’s a great way to tighten the prose. After a piece has been drafted, I will put it to one side for a while and then read it with fresh eyes and polish it. I always read my work aloud to myself; it’s the best way to pick up repetitions and phrases that don’t work. It also helps in checking that dialogue sounds realistic. I also sometimes read it to one of the writing groups. In the final stage, I will let my husband read it. He’s my harshest, but fairest, critic and if he likes something, I’m confident it works.
Write every day, even if you don’t feel like it. It’s your job, so you don’t have the choice.
If you can’t think of anything sensible to write, just write rubbish. Don’t expect to get it right first time. Once you have some words on the page, you can work on them. You can’t edit or polish a blank sheet of paper.
What do you enjoy the most/least about writing?
I love the feeling of satisfaction that comes from finishing a story or article and knowing it works (whatever that means). I love playing with words and editing down; there is great satisfaction in finding the single word or pair of words that can successfully replace a much longer phrase.
I hate the feeling of guilt I get when I don’t write because I’m too busy doing something else.
We run open mic sessions at the Chudleigh Literary Festival in July and I also read at the open mic session at Buddleigh Salterton Literary Festival in September 2012.
I enter quite a lot of competitions. I won one in 2008, with a story I’d worked on and polished for more than twelve months. I took second place in one in 2012 and also was long-listed, short-listed or highly commended in several others. I took a break while I was completing the novel, but have now started entering again.I also run an annual competition via Chudleigh Phoenix. We’re currently judging the third one and the number and quality of entries is going up each time.
It’s very important to me that I share my writing. I know some people say they only write for themselves and don’t worry about anyone else seeing it, but I don’t understand that. Can you imagine Tchaikovsky, Gershwin or Lennon and McCartney putting their compositions in a drawer and never letting anyone hear them, or Monet locking up his water lilies so no-one else can share them? Why should a writer be any different?
I read avidly (as every writer should) and my tastes are fairly broad (apart from horror), but I love a good thick fantasy novel or a well-written romance (although neither genre is one that I’m drawn to myself.
I quite like cooking, but especially love trying out great restaurants with my husband.
Since moving to a small town in Devon, we’ve become heavily involved in the annual summer festival and the Christmas lights (we’re still new enough to be willing volunteers).
The Clock Winder by Anne Tyler or The People’s Act of Love by James Meek for the beauty of the prose; Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell for ingenuity; or the Harry Potter books by J K Rowling for the money.
I read all sorts of books. I used to read mainly ‘potboilers’; anything with a good plot that could keep me amused while I was travelling. Then several things changed my reading habits: firstly, I started learning more about the craft of creative writing and began to recognise that some books (even by some top names that shall remain nameless) were rather badly written or edited; secondly, I studied for an MA and one of my tutors had the most extensive knowledge of books I have ever come across. Whether he has made me a better writer has yet to be seen, but he certainly made me a better reader; while writing the novel, I read a lot of novels set in Russia, both by western writers and translations of Russian books; finally, I have recently joined a book club and am getting to read books I would never have considered previously.
As part of the growing online writing community, I am also downloading and reading lots of self-published books by relatively unknown writers. Some of them are very good; many are less so.
I love fantasies and number J R R Tolkien and Alan Garner among my favourite authors. My current guilty pleasure is the Robert Jordan fantasies. I read the first 8 some years ago and then lost touch with the series. I started rereading them over two years ago and have just finished volume 11. Only 3 more to go! Then I’m going to start on Gene Wolfe.
I’ve never been able to remember quotations apart from the clichés like ‘tomorrow is another day’, but I heard these lines in Anthem by Leonard Cohen and had to write them down so I didn’t forget them: Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.
I sometimes think I should rationalise my online presence! Here are the links:
My email address is: email@example.com
My website is: http://www.elizabethducie.co.uk/
My general blog (small business articles and other writing-related posts) is: http://elizabethducie.blogspot.co.uk/
My book reviews can be found at: http://elizabethducie.wordpress.com/
My publication company is: http://www.chudleighphoenix.co.uk/
I can be found on Twitter as: @ElizabethDucie
The Facebook page for the books can be found here.
The Facebook page for Chudleigh Phoenix Publications can be found here.
Apart from submitting the novel to anyone who will read it, I’m building up my stock of ‘out theres’ through short stories and article pitches. I have a target of 50 by the end of the year (on the basis that one needs to be lucky to succeed as a writer and the more one sends out, the luckier one becomes) which is only one a week, so hard could that be?
With the growth of the internet, e-publishing and self-publishing, the opportunities for getting our works in front of readers has never been greater. It’s no longer a black mark against a writer to admit they’ve self-published; in fact it can show a traditional publisher that an author understands the concept of developing a marketing ‘platform’ and bring a ready-made readership with them. On the other hand, the opportunities for writers to put bad work ‘out there’ have also never been greater. The importance of professional editing and proof-reading should not be underestimated by any aspiring author.
This is the prologue from my novel, provisionally entitled: Bringing Her Home.
Prologue, April 2005
Emma Chambers slipped between the oak doors into the dim interior. The air, thick with incense, grabbed at her throat and threatened to bring back the tears she'd been fighting all morning.
From a hidden room in the corner of the church, male voices undulated in Gregorian chant. Emma studied the icons on the walls and pillars. This was one of the new Moscow churches, built with donations from Russian émigrés in America. No dark wood or smoke-blackened surfaces here. Walls glowed with sour-cream paint and the icons were sparkling confections of enamel and glass.Emma gazed up at the gold-encrusted cupola where pale April sunlight struggled to enter through tiny windows. She glanced around at the other people in the congregation. Several nodded when they saw her looking their way; a couple of the women smiled and gave little waves.Finally, she took a deep breath and turned to look at the sight she’d been avoiding since she entered the building. The ornate urn surrounded by flowers looked so alone, resting on a table in front of the altar screen. To one side a large photograph was propped on an easel and across the bottom ran the words: GORGITO EVGENYVICH TABATADZE, 1940 to 2005.The man in the picture seemed to be looking straight at her. The hairline receded more than she remembered, but the curls and bushy moustache were still jet black. The eyes mirrored the slight smile on his lips. They signalled a private joke — or maybe something amusing just behind the photographer’s shoulder.“Oh Gorgito,” Emma whispered, “I’m so very sorry.”
© Kate McCormick