Why do you write?
I’ve always written, and I think it comes from my love of books. I escaped from my unhappy childhood into the books I read, and it was always my dream to write, or at least be part of, a book myself one day.
What books do you read?
Anything and everything! I’ve read several books a week since I was small. I read more novels than anything else, but also poetry, nonfiction, short stories, vintage cookery books and good children’s books.
What inspires you?
Inspiration can come from anything. Ted Kooser wrote a famous poem about his grandmother chucking out the dishwater. He takes something very ordinary and transforms it into something beautiful. So sometimes inspiration comes from the quotidian, and sometimes it comes from odd things or conversations. My novel ‘Pride and Regicide’ began when I mispronounced ‘Prejudice’ to myself! “Where’s my copy of Pride and Prejudice?” was what I tried to say, but somehow I said ‘Regicide’ instead. Then I remembered the character of Miss King, and the idea for a novel was born.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer and when?
As a child reading books, I knew that these were the most wonderful things in the world (this was before sex, obviously). One book that fascinated me was The Early Asimov, Isaac Asimov’s accounts of submitting his early stories and getting rejections, and then getting publication and payment for them. I wanted to do that! So I was dreaming of being a writer at a very young age. Unfortunately lack of confidence stopped me from pursuing the dream for a long time.
How do you deal with rejection?
I’m used to rejection! I submit around 300 poems and short stories every year, and I get about 50 pieces published, or placed in competitions. So I get about 250 rejections every year! It’s just part of the job and I don’t mind it at all. It’s a huge contrast to my younger self. I got my first rejection when I was twelve and the next at nineteen, and that persuaded me that I couldn’t write and had no business to hope to be a writer. If only I’d known then what I know now!
Who are some writers you admire?
So, so many! Dead: Plato, Aristophanes, whoever wrote Gawain and the Green Knight, Jane Austen, Marie de France, Tove Jansson, all three Brontes, Sylvia Plath, Tanith Lee, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Philip Larkin, Elizabeth von Armin, Dorothy L. Sayers….I could really go on forever with this list.
Living: Keir Thomas, Rosie Garland, Karen Little, Angela Smith, Sheenagh Pugh, Fiona Pitt-Kethley, Ira Lightman, Winston Plowes, Dominic Berry, Sue Barnard…. I could go on forever with this list too!
Is writing the only artistic medium you do?
It’s the only one I do well. I draw and paint very badly, I sew very badly, I sing very badly, I play the ocarina and flute very badly. Fortunately I’m at an age where I’ve stopped myself from prohibiting activities just because I’m no good at them, so I do all those things merrily when there’s no one around to be horrified by them.
What would be some advice you would give to your younger self?
Leave home and take any job to get away from your family. Here’s the name of your soulmate. Be nice to yourself. Sugar is at the root of many of your problems. Don’t worry – everything will get a lot better. The things that happened to you weren’t your fault.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Yes! Have a go at all sorts of things. Don’t shut yourself into a box (e.g. “I’m a poet but I can’t write prose”) too soon. Don’t try to create and edit at the same time. Don’t worry about rejections. Send as many pieces as you can to different places – that way a rejection or two won’t matter as much. Learn from your fellow writers and enjoy the warmth of the writing community. Be warm and helpful to other writers in your turn. Give yourself permission to write and permission to take time for it, whatever your other commitments are. Ignore any nasty ideas that you aren’t good enough – we all get that sometimes. Celebrate any successes with great joy.
What is your writing process?
Because of my health problems (arthritis, fibromyalgia and various other stuff) I spend quite a bit of time resting, so I often write longhand in bed, in an exercise book (a cheap ‘Moleskine’-type one). I use tratto fibre tip pens which are very light but have amazing ink flow, so I can write fairly fast with them despite arthritic fingers. Then stuff gets typed up on my computer, where it gets edited in the cold light of morning. I do all my submitting and editing and practical things like that on the computer. Every writer I know has a slightly different process – we pick what works for us, I suppose.