Which writers or poets inspire you and why?
I like writers who evoke strong feelings in their readers: there’s Stephen King and Shirley Jackson with their mastery of suspense and horror. Thomas Hardy has his tragedies; Lorrie Moore and John Irving write incredibly sad, yet funny, moving stories with memorable characters. I was amazed by the clever construction of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. The brevity and power of Raymond Carver challenges me to keep my own writing short and intense–perhaps one day *I’ll* have a story that makes the most of the space between paragraphs.
Where and when do you do most of your reading?
I like to read in the morning. That’s when I’m fresh to concentrate and study the words and rhythms of the writer. Or when there are no other distractions and my phone is switched off: planes are good for this, or remote islands. Occasionally, I can read while stuck on a train—the ‘occasionally’ goes with ‘read’. The train gets stuck more often than not!
What are you reading currently?
I’m reading The Blue Book by AL Kennedy with my local Bookclub. I put this title forward as I wanted to read a modern Scottish writer. I’m a London Ambassador for Moniack Mhor, a fabulous creative writing centre located outside of Inverness, and wanted to increase my knowledge of Scottish writers. In addition to the group book, I’m reading Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber and in the monthly Short Story club I belong to, we’re reading ‘Bullet in the Brain’ by Tobias Wolff.
Are you a library lover, a bookshop bird or an online owl?
I’m a library lover. The Bookclub I belong to is through my local library and I have an additional two borough’s libraries available to explore. I frequent them often as I hunt down each month’s selection. Any book I fall in love with through the library group, I then look for in second-hand shops. It’s only really flash fiction that I read online.
Have you ever been disappointed by a ‘highly recommended’ book?
Yes. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride. It came up at Bookclub and I left it late to start. I wanted to read it, but I soon realised this was a book I was going to have to work at, concentrate on heavily. I wouldn’t be able to skim. It needed my full attention and I wouldn’t be able to give it that in the time remaining before we met. I knew what the book was about and felt I didn’t want to work that hard for such a sobering story. I’m probably more disappointed in myself really. The group discussion made me wish I had read it, that it would be worth the work to read it. So maybe I’ll give it another go when I have the time and space to read it.
What advice would you give your younger writing self?
Write every day no matter what. Don’t use the excuse of telling yourself you need a large block of time. Thirty minutes is fine. Get to that chair and sit in it. Nothing else will stop that nagging voice. Not rearranging your sock drawer, not reorganising your bookcase or sorting through phone photos. Just sit in that chair and write.
What emotion do you associate with good writing?
To me, good writing is any writing that elicits an emotion you can name upon finishing the piece—unless it’s confusion! The reader may not be consciously aware of the emotion at the time, but they are left feeling something and carry that with them long after they’ve finished the piece. In my own writing, I make sure I know what emotion I want my reader to feel at the end. Then I ask. If the reader doesn’t know, then I know I need to spend more time working on it. The stories I’ve had published have always had an immediate emotional response from the reader. So that’s the test I do to see if I’m finished with a piece. I ask ‘What’s the emotion of the piece?’
Social media links: