Daily Archives: November 12, 2011

Author Spotlight no.31 – Caroline Walton

Complementing my daily blog interviews, the Author Spotlights give a glimpse of an author, often leading up to the full interview (my interview with Caroline will follow in the next few weeks) and today’s, the thirty-first, is of non-fiction author, mentor, ghostwriter, reviewer Caroline Walton.

Award-winning author Caroline Walton’s book on spiritual survival in extreme circumstances, The Besieged, has just been published by Biteback UK.

Her first three books were published in the US by Garrett County Press: Ivan Petrov – Russia through a Shot Glass the life story of a Soviet alcoholic and vagabond; Little Tenement on the Volga – Caroline’s account of living in post-Soviet Russia; a novel, The Voice of Leningrad, which won a New London Writer’s Award in 2000.

Caroline is also a Russian to English literary translator and a writing mentor. She has worked with the Open College of the Arts, the Wimpole Street Writers’ Group and now privately. Skilfully guiding writers through the process of preparing for publication and submission to agents and publishers, she is a wizard in banishing any demons lurking along the way.

And now from the author herself:

I started writing books in the winter of 1993, when I was 36. I was living in Russia by the Volga, having gone out to discover what life was like post-communism. Feeling depressed after an illness, I went to visit a friend, an elderly wise woman who lived with her animals in a fairy tale wooden hut, dispensing advice and herbal medicine. She started to tell me about her life growing up in Nazi-occupied Ukraine. A light went on. ‘Do you mind if I write this down?’ I asked.

That was the start of my first book. My exploration of Russia and the countries of the former USSR has brought me into contact with the most extraordinary people and their life stories.

I write with the aim of reducing the distance between people. I see my writing as a conduit between east and west. For example, the siege of Leningrad has haunted me since my first visit to that city in 1979. Conditions were inhuman: a slice of bread a day, no heating, light or running water, minus 40 degree temperatures and constant bombardment. Up to a million and a half people died – but as many survived. I thought in their place I would have given up the ghost pretty quickly but people didn’t. They faced a stark choice – succumb to fear, despair and madness (there was cannibalism) or overcome their inner demons and survive. I wanted to know how they did that. The Besieged focuses on creative people – actors, musicians, writers and so on. Their stories changed my life – they also changed my approach to writing.

They showed me how we have to nurture our creativity. For the siege survivors it was literally a question of life and death. For us, we may not die in a physical sense but we certainly damage our spirits by not following our creative impulse. In my own case, I spent too long listening to the ‘voices of reason’ – both inner and outer – that told me to be sensible and get a proper job etc. Once I let go of those, success flowed.

If we have an urge to put words on paper that is exactly what we need to be doing. So-called ‘writer’s block’ arises when we listen to negative voices. I am passionate about helping fellow writers develop and celebrate their gifts. I offer mentoring, face-to-face, by phone or email. All those who are interested are welcome to drop me a line:

Thank you Caroline. 🙂 You can find more about Caroline and her work via her website You can also listen to a podcast interview with her carried out for US public radio stations. 🙂

The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with children’s and Y.A. author Mel Taylor – the one hundred and eighty-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers, agents and publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts here.


Posted by on November 12, 2011 in autobiography, ebooks, interview, non-fiction, writing


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Author interview no.185 with literary novelist Ellen Feldman

Welcome to the one hundred and eighty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with novelist, author of social history and book reviewer Ellen Feldman. 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, Ellen. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.

Ellen: I am a fulltime writer.  All I’ve ever wanted to be was a writer, though for a long time I was too frightened to try, because I thought writers were a breed apart.

Morgen: “too frightened to try” – I love that. What happened next?

Ellen: I worked for a few years in advertising and publishing, then finally got up the courage to start writing.  Lest this sound as if I’m about to say, the rest is history, I’m not.  I spent many years freelancing for publishing houses while I wrote my heart out until I got published.

Morgen: It’s a shame that you felt you needed the courage but you clearly had (have) the passion that so many of us share with you. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?

Ellen: I confess to disliking the idea of genres.  I think it buttonholes writers unfairly and discourages readers who might love the book if it didn’t come with a label.

Morgen: Oh me too. That’s why I stick with short stories. Well, not the only reason (it’s also what I love reading) but I can’t stick with one genre, and that’s the joy of eBooking. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?

Ellen: I’m not a good marketer, however I happily do whatever my publishers in the UK and the US arrange.  I don’t think of myself as a “brand,” because each of my books is different.

Morgen: You’re very fortunate. I’ve heard of so many writers being pigeon-holed because they write a particular genre and then it’s what’s expected of them, from the industry and readers alike I’d say. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?

Ellen: I was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and have won a Guggenheim.  I’m not sure how much they help a writer’s success, but they certainly sent this writer over the moon.

Morgen: 🙂 I have your latest novel ‘Next to Love’ and it mentions the Orange Prize shortlist on the (gorgeous) cover. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?

Ellen: I have an agent in the US and another in the UK.  They work together.  I think they’re invaluable professionally and consider them both personal friends.

Morgen: As do I my editor. 🙂 Are your books available as eBooks?

Ellen: My books are available as e-books, and I think it’s a terrific platform for those who enjoy it.  I don’t care in what form people read my books; I’m just delighted if they read them.

Morgen: Me too. I like to think that most writers write to be read and not just sold. 🙂 Do you read eBooks?

Ellen: I don’t read on an electronic device myself, simply because I like to turn actual pages, but my husband does and swears by it.

Morgen: A lot of people do, although most authors I’ve spoken to love both formats, although some are still fighting eBooks. I think they’re great for different purposes; paperbacks at home, eBooks away. Did you have any say in the title of your books? How important do you think they are?

Ellen: I have chosen all my titles, with help from my US agent.  I think they’re important, though not necessarily crucial.

Morgen: I love titles but yes, they’re not the only reason I buy a book. 🙂 Do any of your books have dedications? If so, to whom and (if appropriate) why?

Ellen: They all have dedications to people, either living or dead, whom I want to honor.

Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?

Ellen: Show me a writer who hasn’t had rejections, and I’ll show you someone who’s not telling the whole truth.  The only way I know of dealing with a rejection is to keep writing.

Morgen: To literally “write your heart out”. 🙂 What are you working on at the moment / next?

Ellen: I’m at work on a novel set against the cultural cold war about a marriage and a nation betrayed.

Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?

Ellen: I write almost every day, but I do so much backing and filling and rewriting that I never know how much I’ve written in any given day.

Morgen: It sounds like you don’t need to search far but a question some authors dread, where do you get your inspiration from?

Ellen: Ah, I wish I knew.  It’s some deep subterranean process that, strangely enough, tends to bubble up when I run my three miles around the Central Park reservoir every morning.

Morgen: Running, walking works for a lot of writers (I have a notebook in every dog-walking jacket). Central Park is featured in so many movies, it’s looks a wonderful place so it’s not surprising that it’s your muse. Do you have a method for creating your characters?

Ellen: I have no method.  I just have to live with them and get to know them better and better as the book goes on.

Morgen: We’ve mentioned your novels mostly so far, do you do any other type of writing?

Ellen: I write either book reviews or magazine pieces on social history when asked to do so.  I recently wrote a short story for BBC4.

Morgen: I know a lot of people listen to the BBC – they’re so supportive of writers. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?

Ellen: I do an enormous amount of rewriting.  In fact, I probably do more rewriting now than when I started out, because I demand more of myself.  There’s an old Hemingway quote that goes something to the effect:  When you start out, it’s fun for you and hell for the reader.  By the end, it’s hell for you and fun for the reader.

Morgen: Oh dear. I guess I would rather have it that way round though. One of poets says she finds writing tortuous which is a shame, although her writing is superb so I guess she’s there already. 🙂 How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?

Ellen: I do a great deal of research and love hearing from readers.

Morgen: Let’s hope we have some comments here. 🙂 What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?

Ellen: Whether I use first or third depends on the demands of the story I’m trying to tell and the characters themselves.  I’ve never tried second person. Finding the person and more important the voice is crucial for me.  Once I start hearing the voice, I know I’m on the way.

Morgen: Oh I love second person. It’s an acquired taste; sadly most editors haven’t acquired it yet. 😦 Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?

Ellen: I have a novel I worked on for two-and-a-half years that I doubt will ever be published.

Morgen: Oh dear. Looking on the bright side, it was practice (not sure that helps when you’ve spent so long on it)… What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Ellen: If you don’t have to write, don’t.  It’s often a difficult life with much heartbreak.  But if you have to write, go to it.  When it’s going well, few things are more wonderful.

Morgen: Absolutely. Thank you so much Ellen.

Ellen was recently a guest on internet writing-related show Radio Litopia’s ‘After Dark’ which I’ve been involved in for the past year. I was in the chatroom that evening when we were asked to come up with the titles for the show. Knowing that Ellen’s latest book was called ‘Next to love’ I suggested something like ‘Writing is the next best thing to love’. It was picked (minus ‘Writing is’) 🙂 and I won a signed copy of Ellen’s book (which is proudly sitting next to me as I type this). I have just started reading it but am already hooked, not surprising when the opening of Chapter 1 is ‘Babe does not take long to learn the dirty little secret of war’. You can listen to Ellen’s episode on Radio Litopia here.


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 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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