Welcome to the four hundred and thirty-second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author Marion Grace Woolley. 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, Marion. Please tell us something about yourself, and how you came to be a writer.
Marion: I’ve been a bit nomadic over the past few years, from Australia to Africa, Armenia, and a few other places beginning with ‘A’. I’m now resident in Gloucester, a beautiful area of the UK, near the border with Wales.
I think that I’ve always been a writer, in much the same way that I’ve always been female. It’s just something that I am, rather than something I consciously set out to become. But I have been very lucky in that it comes naturally to me.
Morgen: I’m a late starter (I was in my late 30s when creative writing hooked me ) but I think passion and determination help. What genre do you generally write?
Marion: My genre is the written word. That’s about as narrow as I’ve managed to define it. I’ve written non-fiction, creative non-fiction, historical fiction, contemporary fiction, science fiction – even tried my hand at fantasy. I see writing as an exploration of self; a constantly evolving communication. Nobody wants to talk about the weather all of the time.
Morgen: It’s usually what we fall back on when there’s nothing else to say… although our (English) weather is so varied that it’s often the topic of conversation; a few weeks ago we were complaining that it was too hot, now it’s too wet. See, I’m talking about it even when there’s plenty else to say… OK, back to why we’re here… what have you had published to-date?
Marion: I began writing seriously – that is to say, with the serious intention of getting published – whilst working in Africa. By the time I returned to the UK at the end of 2009, I had a stockpile of material. Nobody tells you how long it takes to get something published. Not just the submissions process, but then the editing, the arguments over cover art, the insecurities, inaccuracies and alliterations.
It took until April 2011 for my debut, Angorichina, to come out. In the past twelve months it’s been followed by Lucid and Georg[i]e. I can proudly say: three books, two publishers, one year.
Morgen: That’s some going. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Marion: I have rejection stories – some of them even funny. But very early on I realised that, if you’re serious about writing as a career, you have to learn to appreciate yourself. Einstein said: “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” You must believe yourself to be that great spirit. The harsher the critic, the more mediocre the mind. It may sound bolshy, but the alternative is not something you deign to entertain without a very large bottle of scotch. Trust your own instincts. If you think your work is good, then the chances are it is. Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin was rejected thirty times, Harry Potter twelve. What more evidence do you need that an opinion is just an opinion – and opinions are often wrong?
Morgen: I heard Harry Potter was fourteen or sixteen, sufficient to be encouraged. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Marion: I was hugely proud to be shortlisted for the Luke Bitmead Bursary for New Writers in 2009. That was for Lucid. I’ve mentioned it in the dedication. They saw the glimmer of potential in a fledgling writer, and blew on that spark. It spurred me on to write Angorichina.
Morgen: The Bursary has been mentioned here a few times… a great thing to come out of a sad situation. Do you have an agent?
Marion: No, but I’ve met enough of them to be wary.
Morgen: <laughs> Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Marion: I certainly think that they can open doors. If you want to get rich from writing, you need a bestseller; they’re in the business of chasing those.
Morgen: They have to be really, especially these days. Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all?
Marion: They’re available in paperback, KDP for Kindle, and in many other e-formats through Smashwords. I managed to retain the e-rights for Angorichina and Georg[i]e, which has allowed me a lot more control over marketing them.
Morgen: Good plan. Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Marion: The conflict between eBooks and paper just seems redundant. For instance – do you like eating ice-cream from a stick, or in a cone? Either way, you enjoy eating ice-cream. This whole electronic v. tree format kerfuffle seems self-defeating. The point is, people are reading. And that’s a good thing, in whatever format. Personally, I love both.
Morgen: They are / it is / I do too. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Marion: Huge, huge amounts. Masses. I blog, Twitter, Facebook and even occasionally YouTube myself to death. But then, I’ve always been a bit of a techno geek. I even remember Fidonet (the pre-cursor to the Internet), so it feels more like play than work.
All new authors who didn’t win a Faber & Faber golden ticket are going to be doing the same. It’s a case of throwing yourself into the arms of free publicity, otherwise you’ll end up losing money promoting a book that won’t make you any money. Sadly, social media is part and parcel of the game.
Morgen: I don’t remember Fidonet (not even heard of it, I don’t think… although I’m sure my dog would approve of the name). I see you on Twitter a lot and I’m not on there all that much… well, I am but a lot if automated via Triberr. Did you have any say in the covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Marion: They are absolutely critical, because people impulse buy on cover art and blurb. It’s more than that, though. If you’re going to commit to promoting something for the next three years, you want to be proud of that product.
The covers for both Angorichina and Georg[i]e were what I had envisioned. Lucid was a bit of a sticking point, but eventually the publisher and I found something that we could both agree on. I do get quite stubborn over cover design. If I don’t think it’s right, I will say so.
Morgen: At least by dealing with the publisher directly they’re more likely to listen to you. What are you working on at the moment?
Marion: I have lots in the pipeline. I’m most excited about a short script I wrote for a talented new filmmaker, Craig Inzana. Scriptwriting is such a collaborative process. It’s like that game you play where one person draws a head, folds the paper, the second draws the body, folds the paper… you have no idea what the big picture will be until it’s finished. As an author, I’m used to having full control over the final product; this has been a really new experience for me. I’ve had a lot of fun doing it. I’ve also got a fourth novel up for consideration, and a set of short stories called Splintered Door, which will be my first foray into the realms of self-publishing.
Morgen: It’s pretty easy… well, once you know what you’re doing. Give me a shout when you’re ready to start and I’ll email you my notes / Amazon & Smashwords templates. Do you manage to write every day?
Marion: No, not unless you count e-mails.
Morgen: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Marion: I tend to write in prolific bouts. The best day that I ever had, I managed 10,000 words! Then I didn’t write again for over three weeks.
It’s all down to the Muse, and she will not be rushed. The louder you shout at her, the harder she ignores you. I’ve become better at not feeling stressed by it. I go out, take some exercise (something writers rarely get enough of!), watch a film. Everything balances itself out eventually.
Morgen: I’ve done about the same for a NaNoWriMo catch up. I’ve written 50K+ (2009 was 117,540) the past four Novembers… last year was a challenge having so much going on on the blog too, one of the days in the last week was a 21-hourer… boy, was I tired. Do you plot your stories?
Marion: Like my characters, I never know how the book will end until we get there.
Morgen: Isn’t that great. You mentioned your short stories, do you write any non-fiction or poetry?
Marion: All of the above. I was responsible for helping to research and publish the first Dictionary of Rwandan Sign Language. I’ve written for magazines like British Deaf News and Eyecon Magazine. I write poetry, which you’ll find on my website, along with short stories. I also write stage and film scripts, mostly for fun, sometimes in collaboration with others. I really do love the written word, so new ways of expressing myself through that medium are always interesting to me.
Morgen: I write a short story a day for my 5pm Fiction slot and every day brings something new… it’s hard work but I love it. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Marion: When I first set out, trying to get published, I thought that my manuscripts were perfect. I didn’t think they needed much editing. Now, my delusions shattered, I realise that they needed a lot of work. I’ve learned in a year all of the things that I had forgotten from six years of high school education. It was a fairly bruising experience. However, I survived, and I am now a much stronger writer for it. The irony being that now my work needs less editing, I’m constantly editing it.
Morgen: It’s all practice isn’t it. How many people would be expected to play a concerto if they’d only played the first bar of chopsticks when they were at school? Do you have to do much research?
Marion: For historical fiction, a ridiculous amount. And you’re always guaranteed to get something wrong. There’s no such thing as a perfectly accurate manuscript. Only a really good story.
Morgen: There’ll always be an expert at something out there so we can only do our best, can’t we. What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Marion: Everything changed for me when I switched to first-person. I tried to start Angorichina twice in third, and it wouldn’t fly. The moment I switched to first, it was like opening the Thames Barrier.
The first novel I wrote – Lucid – was written in third-person. I’m not saying that I would never go back to it, it does have some uses, but right now I am a first-person junkie.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see the light of day?
Marion: My personal slush-pile of the soul, you mean? Of course. I don’t love them any the less for it, though.
Morgen: I love that. What’s your favourite aspect of your writing life?
Marion: When people I’ve dedicated books to receive the copy I send them. That text or call when they open the cover and realise. It is a priceless gift to be able to give somebody.
Morgen: Ahh… What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Marion: Mostly what I’ve said in the question about rejection. Don’t go pinning your sense of self-worth on people who are paid to critique for a living. That can never end well.
Secondly, if I was talking to me a year ago – keep your expectations realistic about the industry. There’s a lot of competition, and you are going to have to put in excruciating amounts of effort if you want to be heard above the crowd. Publishing a book is the beginning of your career as a writer, not the conclusion. If writing is something you truly love, keep your sights on the horizon and start walking. It’s a long road.
Morgen: It is but hopefully an enjoyable one. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Marion: So hard to pick just one! Let’s go with: Pro captu lectoris habent sua fata libelli – which basically means: ‘each book has its destiny according to the capability of its reader’.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites that you find useful?
Marion: I can’t go without mentioning Celtx. If you are interested in writing scripts, it is outstanding, free software with a great community of users, and funding opportunities.
Morgen: I wrote a 102-page script for the now defunct Script Frenzy in 2010 but didn’t enjoy the process (to me that’s exactly what it was; a process… to bitty for my liking). Any books you’d recommend?
Marion: I don’t tend to read technical books about writing, though there are novels that have proven thought-provoking. Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas is a work of fiction with some pretty big questions about what stories are, and what we take from them. It uttered the immortal line: “We only need fiction because we die,” which kept me up for several nights thinking on it.
Marion: I’ve always been a bit of a geek. Before forums, there were BBS (Bulletin Board Systems) – I’ve always thrown myself into communicating in this way. For a writer, it seems natural. One thing I have noticed is that, as the internet has expanded, there is now more of everything. More forums, more websites, more listings. They vary hugely in quality, and I’ve lost interest in sifting through them for good ones. Facebook and Twitter tend to fulfil most of my online needs nowadays.
Morgen: I have my own forum but even I must admit that I don’t go on it nearly as often as I should .What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Marion: Goodness, that’s a big question! The future is written in our own hand. It’s whatever we decide to make it.
The flourishing self-publishing and e-book industry is fast teaching writers that ‘middle wo/men’ aren’t as necessary as once they were. It remains to be seen how the industry will settle in this new era, but as an aspiring author you now have far more control and opportunity if you care to take it. There are plenty of authors doing well for themselves online without agents or publishers. D. H. Lawrence – an impresario of self-publishing – would have been proud. Perhaps the next step should be author-led publishing co-operatives?
Morgen: There may be some… I agree that that it’s a great time for authors and I can’t wait to get my novels out there. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Marion: Through my website: www.authormgw.co.uk.
Morgen: Thank you, Marion.
Marion Grace Woolley studied at the British Record Industry Trust (BRIT) School of Performing Arts, Croydon. After obtaining an MA in Language & Communication Research from the University of Cardiff, she declared that she’d had enough of academia and decided to run away to Africa.
Balancing her creative impulses with a career in International Development, she worked and travelled across Africa, Australia, Armenia, and a few other places beginning with ‘A’. In 2009, Marion helped to oversee the publication of the first Dictionary of Amarenga y’Ikinyarwanda (Rwandan Sign Language), a project of which she was immensely proud to have been a part.
The same year, Marion was shortlisted for the Luke Bitmead Bursary for New Writers. She is the author of three novels and an associate member of the Society of Authors.
She now lives in Gloucester, having just taken on the role of managing the New Olympus Theatre.
Marion and I are involved in booQfest and I hope to bring you more about that (with perhaps some input from Marion ) between now and then.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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