Welcome to the four hundred and sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with short story author Emma Cooper. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Emma. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Emma: I live in Bedfordshire, England and I’m not sure if I ever ‘came’ to be a writer but I’ve always loved reading and began writing short stories in the last 3 or 4 years. I studied English Literature at University and this introduced me to some great books and writers I would otherwise have never heard of. Unfortunately it taught me little about writing; I found the creative writing teachers uninspiring and unwilling to accept ideas that weren’t along the same lines as theirs.
Morgen: What a shame. One thing that surprised me about the writing fraternity was their supportiveness but I guess not everyone is. (I’m only one county over from you, by the way). What genres do you write?
Emma: I write fiction short stories but the styles vary. I started writing fairy tales and then I experimented with anthropomorphism and finally moved on to more modern stories.
Morgen: Yay, short stories! I love them (and love reading them) and have been writing (and blogging) a short story (albeit mostly flash fiction) a day since 1st May with no plan to stop any time soon. What have you had published to-date?
Emma: Nothing as yet.
Morgen: That’s OK. I have more rejections than acceptances but I think that’s the same with a lot of writers. Have you had any rejections?
Emma: I have had rejections and I actually prefer them to not hearing anything back at all.
Morgen: I agree, although the ‘please read our guidelines’ when I say in the letter ‘Further to your guidelines…’.
Emma: The feeling of your stories just floating around somewhere, not even being read perhaps, is worse to me than somebody reading it and saying they don’t like it. Most are standard rejections but I did get one complimenting some specific ideas but they felt they weren’t suitable for such a small publishing house.
Morgen: That’s encouraging and it only means it wasn’t right for their small publishing house. Is any of your writing available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Emma: My stories are available for anybody to download but I don’t have any eBooks. I appreciate that, as with most creative industries now, the internet plays a vital role and to ignore that could be dangerous for a writer who wants to ‘make it.’ However, I still love buying, holding and keeping books and would always prefer to see any of my stories published on paper.
Morgen: Most people do, most saying they love both formats. Let me know if you come to eBook anything and I’ll send you a handout I did recently for a talk I gave at one of my writing groups… it’s not as scary as you might think. How much of the marketing do you do for your writing?
Emma: Not enough. I know it is important, but the idea of selling myself and doing all the things that go along with it doesn’t always sit comfortably with me. Luckily the writing industry is less about the person and more about the content which I am happy about because to market myself as an image that people need to buy into would make me feel quite uncomfortable.
Morgen: You could always choose a pseudonym, many writers do and they’re not marketing themselves at all but their brand, like a company, really. Do you have a favourite of your stories or characters?
Emma: Pigboy will always be my favourite for how it came about and its simplicity. It was the first story on my website that I wrote: I was bored one night and I wrote it in about an hour and a half with hardly any editing. It felt such a simple process to entertain myself and produce something half decent at the end of it; it almost lures you into thinking how easy it would be to do it for a living (providing somebody was willing to pay for it). But as I began to write more stories I realised that the process is definitely not always like that and hard work plays a big part.
Morgen: But then it feels more rewarding when something does work… and there will be people willing to pay for your stories in the future. You could try writing for women’s magazines (Womag on my Links page has them listed with their guidelines ). Regarding titles and covers of books, how important do you think they are?
Emma: I think images are important. Everybody picks up certain books in a bookshop depending on their covers. At the moment I only have 1 title image on my website which represents the feel of my stories and my website as a whole but my plan is to have lots of illustrations for each story.
Morgen: Story telling started off as drawings on cave walls, children love picture books, adults love graphic novels. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Emma: I have just written an older children’s short story about a day in the life of a stoat and am thinking about adding a children’s section to my website. I love writing them because with children, things don’t always have to make sense. One thing I don’t like when I’m writing is having what I think is a good idea and being tied down to thinking about whether or not it ‘makes sense.’ Sometimes things are explained a bit too much; if you like it, you like it.
Morgen: You might like my spotlight of Mollie Carson Vollath and her book Terrence O’Ferret. Mollie, coincidentally, returns for our interview tomorrow. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Emma: I don’t write every day, I have periods where I won’t write for a long time and then I will write a lot. I can get horrible writer’s block and I think people do depending on what writing means to them. For me it is quite personal and if I feel a certain way I can’t write. But, then, writing can make me feel much better so it can be a vicious cycle.
Morgen: I think almost every writer I’ve spoken to say they do the household chores instead of writing and yet when they do write they love it. I’m the same which is why I write a story a day (Story a Day May then 5pm Fiction) and one a week for Tuesday Tales. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Emma: Both, and both ways are rewarding I think. If you just sit and write without thinking and produce something you are happy with it is a great feeling. But if you research something, make notes about characters and where the plot is going, it feels much more like hard work but that’s not a bad thing and I don’t think one way or the other produces a better story.
Morgen: Sometimes putting too much ‘evidence’ in a story can feel like showing off but it sounds as if you have good balance. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Emma: I have no method for creating my characters and I really don’t enjoy choosing their names. I don’t know why. I’d rather get on with the story if I’m in the mood and trying to come up with a name on the spot feels like an obstacle. But then, because they have had that name for the whole time I’ve been writing my story I feel a bit disloyal changing them at the end! Hence one of my female characters is called Karen Carpenter, because I really wanted to get on with the story before I forgot everything in my head.
I think they are believable because, really, there are just a handful of basic human feelings that are at the core of all stories, novels, songs or films but the creative part is how they are about it. There are a thousand books about, for example, revenge or betrayal but there is always a new way to write about it. And if these feelings are identified in my characters, whether that character is a twenty something woman, a clinically depressed boy or a donkey then I would hope they are believable.
Morgen: I have a strip of letters of the alphabet blu-tacked to my screen’s base so if I have a character starting with one letter I purposely pick another further away so sounding completely different. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Emma: Editing used to really bore me but I realise more and more how important it is to hone your writing skills and get technically better as well as achieving the instant gratification of getting your idea on paper.
Morgen: That’s my favourite aspect of writing, the instant gratification of creating, not the editing. You mentioned research a moment ago, do you have to do much?
Emma: I have only done a lot of research for one story, The Matchbox Sign. I already had an idea in my head that I liked about a woman who, all of a sudden, was unable to get pleasure from absolutely anything she did. I then stumbled upon something by accident on the internet called Morgellons disease, a fairly new condition that was characterised by a range of skin symptoms including crawling, biting and finding fibres under the skin. It came about from a mother taking her son to the doctors because he had sores under his lip and complained of ‘bugs’. She was accused of suffering from Munchausen’s by proxy and the whole thing was disputed by many who thought it was a new name for delusional parasitosis, where patients hold a delusional belief that they are infested with parasites. It sounded like a great David Cronenberg film so I put the two ideas together. Although in The Matchbox Sign, Laura does not have Morgellons and it was only something that inspired how her inability to get pleasure manifested itself, I still researched and read articles from people who believed they had it.
Morgen: What an interesting idea and I love the title. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Emma: Mostly third person although I want the next story I write to be first person. I have never tried second person but I did read yours on your site and I liked it.
Morgen: Oh, thank you very much. Do have a go (feel free to use any of the prompts I did). It’s not to everyone’s taste but I enjoy it. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Morgen: Me too, especially some poems. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Emma: The isolation of writing is both my favourite and least favourite aspect.
Morgen: I love the solitude but I have a dog so not completely alone. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Emma: George Orwell; he is my favourite author. Margaret Atwood because she is also high up there on my list and has an amazing imagination. And to mix it up a bit I’d also invite either David Lynch or Tom Waits because they are both great storytellers. I would probably make a pie.
Morgen: Yum. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Morgen: Dipped in hot chocolate with cream… sorry, wandering off there… Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful?
Emma: The Writers and Artists Yearbook is really useful for finding out where to send your stuff and how to format it. www.mandy.com is good if you are interested in screen writing.
Morgen: Thank you, Emma. I’ve added mandy.com to my Links page. There’s also the Writer’s Yearbook and I have both but I do prefer the W&AY. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Emma: I am on facebook as skewedstories and as Emma Cooper. I find the page really valuable for driving traffic towards my website. My next step will be twitter as lots of people tell me how useful it is.
Morgen: Many people prefer Twitter to Facebook. I have my postings linked to Twitter I generally get more feedback from Twitter as I have 2,500+ followers vs. 900+ Facebook friends although I suspect that’s quantity vs quality. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Thank you, Emma.
I then invited Emma to include an extract of her writing…
Disillusioned with the bores of modern life and the fickle nature of her companions at school, some years ago Martha had cut out her tongue, boarded up her kitchen and gleefully resigned herself to getting everything she would need in life from that small room.
Never again would she have to endure the dull games that were hop scotch and duck-duck goose. Her ears would be free from the monotone sound of marbles knocking together that seemed to fill the other children with such excitement in the playground. And, never again, week by week, would she have to try and remember who was friends with who, nor pretend to care for the ridiculous reasons why they may not be.
Emma Cooper is a Bedfordshire based writer. An advocate and believer in the short story format for today’s time deprived generation, she became inspired to write more of her own stories after continued disappointment that the ones she was reading in newspaper magazine’s were all much the same. Something, she believes, is partly down to the ‘we’ll only publish if you’ve been published before’ rule.
Currently on maternity leave from her day job to look after 7 month old Rita, she will continue to use her time to write short stories and aims to complete her first novel. A collection of her stories can be found at www.skewedstories.com.
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