Welcome to the six hundred and fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author Rebeccah Giltrow. 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, Rebeccah. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Hello. I’m Rebeccah, a 30-year-old procrastinator based in the small village of Kessingland, just outside of Lowestoft (famous for being the most easterly town in England). I started writing as soon as I could hold a pen and wrote for many years until I fell out of love with all things literary when I was about 15 or 16 years old. My love for the subject was rekindled a few years later and after taking a creative writing module the 3rd year of my degree at University of Essex, I realised that I wanted to write. Strike that. I needed to write. I took a year out after graduating to make some money, and returned to university in 2006 to study MA Creative Writing. Since then, it’s the only thing I do that makes me happy. It’s not easy, but I enjoy it, and I’m learning so much by doing it.
Morgen: What a shame you fell out of love, but great that you came back to it. And yes, I know all about that ‘need’. I’ve described you in the introduction as being a ‘multi-genre author’, what genre do you generally write?
Rebeccah: I don’t have a specific genre. I like to poke my finger into many pies just to see if I can do it. My novel, Lexa Wright’s Dating Sights, is a chic lit romcom. That’s the first time I’ve written anything like that, and I really enjoyed it, so it’s something I may write again.
I tend to steer towards ‘real life’ writing, even if it is fiction. I love the idea of fantasy, where you can be as extreme as you want, making up unusual words and inventing mystical places, but I always find myself writing about things that could happen in reality. One day I’ll take the leap into something more exotic!
I think I’d consider all genres, and only decide against them once I’ve tried to write them and realise that I can’t do it, or I don’t enjoy it.
Rebeccah: In 2009 I was asked to write for a local magazine, The Kessingland and Broadland Times. I contributed children’s stories, articles, interviews and poetry to the bi-monthly publication. I have also self-published a collection of short stories; 12 Days of Krista May Rose, inspired by the traditional song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, and my full-length novel, Lexa Wrights Dating Sights. I published both books through Createspace for Amazon.
Morgen: I’m thinking of going that way for my novel, although I’m still getting constructive feedback on it so am waiting until that peters out. You’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Rebeccah: I have tried to find representation for my books, so that they could be published through traditional channels, but after receiving rejection after rejection I did some research into alternative routes. A friend told me about Createspace, where you can self-publish without laying out any money to start with. I was always a bit sceptical of self-publishing where you had to pay £1000, but by doing it through CreateSpace you only have to pay the price of the book, which is a lot cheaper!
Morgen: It certainly is. I’ve heard good things about them too. They are a contender for my book although a local author friend went to a local(ish) printer for her paperbacks as it was easier to bulk buy (she bought 200 and sold all but 16 at her book launch!). I think she paid an extra £75 for the ISBN and to be put on Amazon. Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Rebeccah: I have to say that I’m old fashioned when it comes to reading. I love books. I love going into a bookshop or a library and seeing all the bright coloured covers and different sized tomes adorning the shelves. I like to be able to pick up a book and flick through the pages, just to get a feel for it. I’ve never read or bought an eBook and I doubt I ever will. Part of the enjoyment of reading for me is to turn the pages. An eBook is too clinical for me. The smell of a book and the feel of the pages all add to the enjoyment of reading. However, I have just e-published two books, in order to get my name out there and known.
Morgen: I used to think that but then I bought a Kindle last year and loved it. I’ve since sold it and read eBooks on my iPad because there are authors, like me, out there who are eBook only. My house is full of books so I still read paperbacks – it’s just great having the choice. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Rebeccah: In my current novel, Lexa Wright’s Dating Sights, my favourite character is Louise, Lexa’s best friend. She’s loud and brash and honest and witty and confident and unafraid and all the things I wish I could be. When I’ve written short stories, I tend to write in the first person with a male voice. I just love the characters who are nothing like me in real life. It enables my creativity and imagination to work overtime!
Morgen: Isn’t that great. It’s funny how minor characters take over. I read Katie Fforde’s Love Letters a few months ago and mentioned to her (she was a judge for one of my writing group’s H.E. Bates Short Story Competition late 2011) how much I enjoyed Monica, Laura’s best friend and asked Katie if she’d bring her back with more of a chunky role. She said she’d enjoyed her too and had thought about it. Which author(s) would you compare your writing to?
Rebeccah: I’ve read a few books recently, and I feel that my writing shares certain traits with them; Fatso by Lars Ramslie, The Bird Room by Chris Killen, dot.homme by Jane Moore. These books have stood out because they are all written in the first person, present tense, and more often than not, I write in the first person, present tense.
Morgen: Do you? That’s interesting. My The Serial Dater’s Shopping List is the only book I’ve written in that tense / pov combination. I enjoyed it but tend to go for third person / past tense which is what most readers prefer (or so agents have told me). What are you working on at the moment / next?
Rebeccah: I’m always working on something, but I’m lucky if anything ever gets finished. I have a collection of 26 short stories in reserve, where each story is a lipogram (each story is made up of 25 letters of the alphabet; each story omits one different letter), and each story is the voice of a different character. Each story mentions at least one of the other characters, so everyone is connected. I keep tweaking the stories, but one day I’ll leave them alone!
I also have to finish my NaNoWriMo novel, Here We Find Ray. I managed to write just over 50,000 words in the 30 days, but I’m far from finishing the story, so I need to get on with that.
Morgen: I’ve not heard of a lipogram before, it sounds intriguing. Congrats on your NaNo novel. Having done it five times I know the doing is just the start (which I guess is why it took me three years to get TSDSL online! My latest is going to be the first of a crime series but at the moment it’s a pickle of characters and scenes so I suspect some will come in later instalments. It was fun to do though. Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Rebeccah: I’d like to say that I suffer from writer’s block, but I’m afraid my illness is procrastination, and I think that is a self-inflicted problem. I would like to write every day, but it doesn’t always happen. I guess that’s part of the reason for starting a blog, as it would almost force me to write regularly. Once I get down to writing, and I manage to get in ‘the zone’, you can’t drag me away from my keyboard.
Morgen: Procrastination is a devil – I found myself washing my bathroom shower curtains the other day but then we have hard water here in the Midlands so they did need doing (I’ve since been zapping them with shower spray which does help). It’s odd that we (in the majority) love writing yet it takes us the effort to actually start it. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Rebeccah: I always have an initial idea of how I want my stories to start, and I sometimes have an initial idea of how I want my stories to end. It’s the bit in the middle that comes as a surprise. When I have a writing prompt or a piece of homework from my writing group, I never know what I want to write. I just write and hope for the best!
Morgen: I run a fortnightly writing workshop (and later put what we did on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/exercises) and we often start from a sentence beginning (one of my favourite prompts so I put 1,000+ (and a weekly tip) in https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine/365-day-writers-block-workbook-vol-1). Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Rebeccah: Creating names for my characters is the one thing I dread. I tend to spend a lot of time on internet name generators or looking through lists of baby names to try and find something suitable. I also don’t like to name my characters after people I know, just in case they think I’ve used them as inspiration. I spend a lot of time people-watching in order to build my characters. A lot of the time, one of my written characters is an amalgamation of a number of people I’ve come into contact with in my daily life.
Morgen: Isn’t it great that we can justify listening into conversations and staring at strangers. I did use one of my closest friends in a story, and gave her a promotion! Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Rebeccah: I do a lot of editing, but I actually enjoy it. I tend to write a whole story or a few chapters without too much editing on the computer (apart from correcting spellings and punctuation) and then I print it out and grab my red pen. I read over my paper copy and scribble notes, cross out sections, rewrite sections, add words, and do whatever I think needs doing. I then make the changes to my computer copy. I print that out and give those bits to my parents with a red pen and they do the same. While they’re doing that, I can get on and write the next few chapters.
Morgen: I love red penning (and do, every week https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/red-pen-critique) although it’s always easier picking apart someone else’s work. I bet it’s great to have your parents’ support. My family’s too far away although I belong to two fortnight critique groups who are great (and tell me like it is). Do you have to do much research?
Rebeccah: I’ve had to do bit of research throughout my writing. Mainly, what would one find on a menu in a tapas restaurant, or popular girls’ names in the 1920s. And I guess people-watching could be classed as research, and I do a lot of that!
Morgen: It can indeed. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Rebeccah: I love first person narratives. I love being able to see things through the protagonist’s eyes and going on their journey with them. I write mainly in the first person as it allows me to develop my main character and give them more depth and substance. I have never tried writing in second person, although I may give it a go now. I like a challenge.
Morgen: Oh do, and it can be a challenge. I love it but then it lends itself to my dark side. The Fridays on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/5pm-fiction will give you some examples, should you need them. Do you write any poetry or non-fiction?
Rebeccah: I write pretty much anything. If I get the inspiration, I write it. I used to only write poetry, and then I found a love for the short story, and in the past couple of years I’ve tried non-fiction.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Rebeccah: Of course! I think all writers do. I know I’ve got my fair share of ‘emo’ poetry hidden away. I can’t bear to throw it away, but I don’t want anyone to ever see it. Ever.
Morgen: <laughs> I have some poetry like that. I do hope that all my old short stories will find a home because I’m more practiced, and know where I might have been going wrong with them. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Rebeccah: I’ve had about ten rejections, so far, for my current novel. I knew they would come, but it was still upsetting to receive them. I know I will get more, but I’m not looking forward to it. Thankfully, I have had support from friends who let me know that some of today’s most famous authors received tens of rejections, if not more, before they were published. So I know it’s a process that we have to go through, but it’s still not very nice.
Morgen: Absolutely. Dean Koontz apparently received over 500 so yours is a proverbial drop. Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Rebeccah: I have entered some competitions in the past, but they can be quite expensive. A submission fee of £4 to £7 for a poem is a lot of money. I know competitions can be a good way of getting your work read and your name known, but it isn’t always cost effective.
Morgen: It is, especially as you don’t know who you’re up against. I used to enter competitions (and may do again in the future), especially themed ones as it got me writing something new and I still had it to do something else with if it bombed. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Rebeccah: Getting started is my least favourite aspect. I have my ideas but I am still scared by the blank page. It doesn’t matter if it’s a white Word document on the computer, or a piece of notepaper; I do not like the emptiness of it. I mainly write on the computer, so I have to insert page numbers and a header just to make the page a bit less daunting and intimidating.
But once I get writing, I love it. I love how ideas form and flow, and new characters get introduced, and different events occur.
And this may be my ego speaking, but I have to say that I really like it when other people enjoy what I’ve written. It gives me the encouragement to keep going, knowing that I have an audience who like my work.
Morgen: Maybe you could try some of the exercises on my exercises page. As the saying goes, you can’t edit a blank page. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Rebeccah: Watch. Listen. Write. Inspiration can come in many guises, and potential characters are lurking in the least likely of places. If you don’t take note of your surroundings, you could miss some lovely little gems. If you keep a notebook with you, you can write down things you see going on around you, such as an odd conversation between two people on the bus or an interesting building you pass on your way to work. The world is an interesting place.
Morgen: It is. It’s wonderful. 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)?
Rebeccah: I would invite Georges Perec, Salvador Dali and Russell Brand to dinner. And if money was no object, I’d get Heston Blumenthal to cook up a feast for us.
Morgen: If you could get Georges Perec and Salvador Dali I’m sure he’d do it for free. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Rebeccah: I think my favourite quote comes from Frank Zappa, when he said, “So many books, so little time.” For me, this has a couple of meanings. My bulging bookshelves show that I have so many books and not enough time to read them. And as a writer, I have so many books inside my head and not enough time to write them!
Morgen: I’ve heard the other version, replacing books with me. I’m the same with ideas. I used to buy newspapers and tear out interesting articles – to the point where I have over a dozen 80-sided display books with them all in but my brain / the world around me has kept me so busy up to now. https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/5pm-fiction starts again on 1st February so I may dip into them then. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Rebeccah: I attend Lowestoft Library Writer’s Group, and have run a number of sessions there. I have started a teen writing group at Lowestoft Library, and we meet once a month. I also perform poetry and short stories at New Words, Fresh Voices open mic night, hosted by The Seagull Theatre in Lowestoft.
Morgen: Which is how you know my friend Tony Tibbenham. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?
Rebeccah: When I’m not writing, I’m procrastinating. And when I’m not procrastinating, I’m making a mess. I paint and collage and make things with wax crayons and a heat gun. I bake, and make a mean pineapple upside down cake. I’ve also taken up knitting. I spend a lot of time at the gym, but I probably spend more time watching The Only Way Is Essex than actually working out! Oh, and I like reading, but that’s a given, surely?!
As for party tricks, I can wiggle my left ear. Does that count?
Morgen: Oh yes, absolutely. How funny. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Rebeccah: My favourite writing related book (and probably my most dog-eared book) is Oulipo Compendium by Harry Mathews and Alastair Brotchie. It is a must have for anyone who likes to push all creative boundaries.
Morgen: What a great sounding book – I’ve added it to https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-other-peoples/writing-related. Thank you, Rebeccah. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Rebeccah: I’ve recently started a blog – http://rebeccahgiltrow.blogspot.co.uk – which I use to present my creativity, in whatever form it has decided to take that day. I also use twitter @RebeccahGiltrow every now and then, and I’ve started a Facebook page dedicated to my writing at www.facebook.com/rebeccah.giltrow.writer. I’m finding that they are extremely valuable ways of letting lots of people know about what you’re doing, with minimal effort. We live in the age of the internet; it would be silly not to use it to our advantage. I’ve made contacts and found useful pieces of advice that I wouldn’t have found if I hadn’t started networking.
Morgen: It would be, although curbing our use of it is hard; it’s so easy to get caught up in it and lose a few hours. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Rebeccah: I think real writers are slowly being made redundant by those “celebrity” writers who insist on filling bookshelves with drivel about their lives. I guess we need to make our own future, and work harder, and persevere, and not be tempted into becoming a reality TV star in order to get ourselves published!
Morgen: I volunteer in a British Red Cross shop dealing with their donated books and have found people getting fed up with celebrity-written books… or rather books with celebrities’ names on the cover. We can’t even sell Katie Price’s at 10p now – they go straight to the book recycling company. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Rebeccah: You can either come up to me if you ever see me out walking the dog, or pretending to work out at the gym, and have a chat. I’m more than happy to bombard you with my writing face-to-face. Alternatively, you can find me on:
- Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/Rebeccah.Giltrow.Writer)
- Twitter @RebeccahGiltrow (https://twitter.com/RebeccahGiltrow)
- My blog (http://rebeccahgiltrow.blogspot.co.uk)
- LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/in/rebeccahgiltrow)
- AboutMe (http://about.me/rebeccahgiltrow)
- YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/user/beckamj)
- Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/RebeccahGiltrow)
- Amazon (http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00A9Q3BY2)
Morgen: Wow. It’s a shame we don’t live a bit nearer. Definitely the next time I visit Tony (and bring my dog – he loves the beach). Thank you, Rebeccah.
I invited Rebeccah to include an extract of her writing and this is a poem she wrote for a competition. It is a haiku, followed by a tanka, followed by a triolet.
the blank white page waits
patiently to be sullied
by the writer’s pen
the paper’s crispness
crunches like fresh whitewashed snow
under the ink’s weight
the words all wander freely
leaving their muddy footprints
the writer fills the void with verse
and turns the whiteness into art
to break the block; creators’ curse
the writer fills the void with verse
through each swift stroke they can converse
and delve inside the mind and heart
the writer fills the void with verse
and turns the whiteness into art
© Rebeccah Giltrow 2011
Morgen: It was great, and about my favourite subject. Thank you, Rebeccah.
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