OXFAM AND AMNESTY SHORT STORIES
I write very few short stories - I find them much more challenging than novels. But this year, I published two.
I contributed a story called The Importance of Having Warm Feet to the Earth-Air-Fire-Water fundraising anthology for Oxfam, one of my favourite charities (and also a major player in my wardrobe). I had such fun reading from it at an Oxfam promotional event last year, and going shopping afterwards.
I was also a proud contributor to the Amnesty International short story collection called Freedom in celebration of 60 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. You can read about the collection here:
Why I Write
(Published in the Guardian 12th March 2008)
1. What was your favourite book as a child and why?
The first book I owned was Mary was Five & The Black Rock by Honor Appleton. I was given it as a school prize when I was about five. I adored The Black Rock, with all those scary cormorants, but I thought five-year-old Mary was a bit of a drip. Later, I was given a book of poetry, and that was the start of a long infatuation. I was especially drawn to sentimental rhyming writers like Alfred Lord Tennyson and Walter de la Mare. I can still recite a big chunk of The Lady of Shallot after a couple of glasses of wine. And don't get me started o n Nicholas Nye.
2. When you were growing up, were there books in your home?
There were, but not very many, and mainly library books; my parents' English wasn't so good when they first came here, and books in Ukrainian and Russian weren't readily available in Doncaster and Gainsborough. But they were great users of the public libraries, and I worked my way through the children's sections.
3. Was there someone who got you interested in reading books or writing?
I had some wonderful inspirational English teachers from Wheatley Hills primary school in Doncaster right through to Grammar Schools in Gainsborough and Witney; if you're reading this, thank you Mrs Holmes, thank you Mr Van Wyck.
4. What made you want to write when you were starting out?
I started writing when I was very young - I wrote my first poem when I was four (it was about rabbits). I think it was the sounds and rhythms that captivated me - it was like creating my own magic spells.
5. Do you find it easy? Has it become easier over time?
No, it gets harder. I'm more self-conscious now. It was easy when I thought no one was going to read it.
6. What drives you to write now?
What drives me most now is a sense of urgency - of time running out. So many things I want to say, stories to tell, techniques and ideas to experiment with, even to make mistakes and learn from them, and so few not-completely-gaga years left in which to do it all.
7. When it comes to writing, do you have a daily routine?
If I can start early - about six am - and go through to lunchtime, I'm most productive. Once I start answering my emails or listening to the news, I'm finished.
8. Do you find working alone difficult?
Actually I like being on my own when I'm writing, and I think I'm probably not very pleasant to be with - I get very absorbed in the world of the book I'm writing. The loneliest thing is the touring and promotion - the feeling of being on display means you can never quite relax.
9. What was the best advice you received when you were starting out?
Of all the dozens of rejection slips I received for my unpublished book, only one gave me any advice. "Show, don't tell." (For example instead of saying someone is a bully, you show them behaving in a bullying way.) That's such a simple and useful hint. Thank you, Robyn Sisman.
10. What advice would you give to new writers?
Go on a course. I'm sure without the creative writing course I did I would still be unpublished. I did learn some very useful things, but most importantly, my course brought me to the notice of my agent.
11. Is there a secret to writing?
I suspect there is, but I don't know it. I just spend hours and hours and hours writing and re-writing, and then deleting it all and starting again. I sometimes think there must be an easier way - if anyone knows the secret, please tell me.
12. What are you working on now?
I'm working on my third novel. It's about an old lady who lives in a house with seven cats. And it's about the conflict in the Middle East. And it's about the end of the world. Among other things.
This Writing Life page one | This Writing Life page two >>