Welcome to the one hundred and eighty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with literary novelist Laura Wilkinson. 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, Laura. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Laura: I’ve worked as a journalist, copywriter and editor for years, but I started writing fiction about six years ago, after I’d had my children. My youngest was around eighteen months old. In the summer I read Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, which is part memoir, part feminist rant, and one of the many interesting things that she talks about is how having children spurred on her ambition. I totally relate to this; I‘d dithered for years, but after the boys I thought: just do it. Writing is the way I find out about the world; discovering and unpicking characters and the dilemmas they face helps me make sense of things, discover a truth, and I hope to pass some of that understanding on. I like to explore challenging and thought-provoking themes, as well as entertain people, of course!
Morgen: Of course. 🙂 That’s really what we as writers want, me anyway, for people to ‘enjoy’ our books (on whatever level, some of my writing can be quite dark) and not just to switch off at the end. I came to writing about the same time as you, although it was a college course that started my passion (my mum would say “obsession”). 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Laura: I write what would probably be described as ‘literary lite’ and I’d love to feel a desire to write crime (or another big seller), but sadly, I don’t. Or haven’t done to date. Never say never.
Morgen: There’s nothing wrong with that. Although crime and ‘blockbusters’ are popular, with people going the eBook route I think authors are gaining more power in doing what they want to do. I don’t stick to one genre although I love reading crime so perhaps that’ll be what I concentrate on, if anything. What have you had published to-date?
Laura: My debut novel, BloodMining, was published on 13 October this year. Prior to this I have published short stories in magazine, anthologies and digital media.
Morgen: Oh well done. It must be so exciting to see something with just your name on the front (and what a lovely cover). 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Laura: A lot, I’d say. My publisher is small and like so many of the indies, the marketing budget is miniscule. However, even authors published by one of the big six are expected to devote time to promoting.
Morgen: They are really these days with less staff at the publishers, less funds and so on.
Lauren: My sister is amazing, and I’m so grateful for her support. She does the press work for BloodMining and to-date there’s been more coverage than I could have hoped for.
Morgen: Do you rent her out? 🙂 Such a high proportion of the authors I’ve interviewed have said that marketing is their least favourite aspect so maybe she’s on to something there. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Laura: I have been a finalist and shortlisted in a number of competitions including The New Writer, Cinnamon Press, Winchester Writers’ Conference, the Virginia Prize and Brit Writers’ Award 2010. In fact, the first short story I wrote was shortlisted in a competition and subsequently published, and this gave me such an enormous lift. Competitions can help boost your profile, as well as providing encouragement and, in some cases, valuable feedback and even publication. BloodMining won Bridge House’s prize for debut fiction and this led to publication, so I have benefited enormously from competitions. Of course, competitions vary in terms of prestige and value, so my advice to novice writers would be to find out what’s out there (Writing Magazine provides a brilliant supplement once a year detailing hundreds of competitions – worth the subscription price alone, and Mslexia also list competitions and calls for submission) research them thoroughly, work out your budget and go for it.
Morgen: I enjoy entering competitions and although it’s lovely wining or being shortlisted I tend to go for competitions with specific themes so even if I’m not placed I have a story to do with as I wish elsewhere. So your first book is published, does this mean you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Laura: I don’t have an agent, yet (ever hopeful) and I believe they are vital if you are to publish with one of the big name publishers. The big six do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, so without an agent you have to look at the independents, and they can be marvellous, but it’s a battle to get your book noticed on the whole.
Morgen: It is, and there seem to be more people than ever going through the process – just doing these interviews have made me realise that, and many of them are going solo because of the publishing / agency wall they’re hitting. Is your book available as an eBook? If so what where you involved in that process? And do you read eBooks?
Laura: Yes, my novel, BloodMining, is available for download onto the Kindle and Sony Reader. Ether Books have published four of my short stories, and a free app allows you to download them onto iPhones for a small charge – 69p. I don’t own a Kindle or Sony reader, but I’ve a birthday coming up…
Morgen: And if not then there’s always Christmas. 🙂 Do any of your books have dedications? If so, to whom and (if appropriate) why?
Laura: BloodMining is dedicated to my husband and sons – they put up with a lot: a filthy house, burnt suppers, a distracted mother – though as I say in the ‘inspiration behind the book’ at the back of the novel it is as much for my mother and stepfather, Marian and Mike Williams. They gave me opportunities they never had and I’m grateful beyond words.
Morgen: I’ve been very lucky too. 🙂 What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Laura: A short story called Beloved of the Moon. And it is still a HUGE thrill when a piece of work is accepted.
Morgen: Presumably you’ve had some rejections along the way? If so, how do you deal with them?
Laura: Of course! I don’t know a writer who hasn’t. It’s par for the course and once you accept that, they become easier to deal with. At least that’s the theory. It’s always disappointing, but with experience you bounce back faster. And one important difference between a published and an unpublished writer is tenacity.
Morgen: It is. If you want to write you’ll just keep doing it. I’ve had a small number of authors say they haven’t been rejected but only because they either hadn’t submitted anything yet (one thing I’m slack at doing but will have more free time in the New Year… roll on Christmas Eve eve :)) and some extremely talented / fortunate / connected / frugal with their writing (delete as appropriate). 🙂 What are you working on at the moment / next?
Laura: Currently, I’m polishing my second novel. It follows a deformed boy and a beautiful woman, an artist. One is on a quest to look ‘normal’, the other is experimenting with cosmetic surgery as a means of artistic expression. And I’m still battling with a title – it’s had four so far. Titles are so hard to get right. At least they are for me.
Morgen: I love titles and although I don’t buy a book just because of them they do grab me. It sounds like you have a very busy household, do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Laura: During this past couple of months it has been difficult to focus on anything other than preparing for, and promoting, BloodMining. And that won’t stop for a while. However, when I am deep into the first draft of a novel I do write every day (or almost, life stuff sometimes gets in the way). Novels require momentum and if you don’t come back to your characters and story regularly you can lose direction. I’m not sure about my highest daily word count, but I did write 20,000 words in a crazed sleepless 36 hours last year… it’s a long story. And it was mad, but exhilarating.
Morgen: Wow. That’s a NaNoWriMo novel in 90 hours. 🙂 What is your opinion of writer’s block?
Laura: Writers write. I don’t know what else to say. Sorry.
Morgen: No apology needed and it’s true we do write (hurrah!)… once we’ve done the washing up, hovering, walked the dog… 🙂 A question some authors dread, where do you get your inspiration from?
Laura: All over the place: newspaper articles, overheard conversations on buses – I’m a dreadful eavesdropper like most writers – dreams, stories from life…
Morgen: Eavesdropping is fun. 🙂 I pretend to be turning the volume up on my iPod when I’m actually pausing it. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Laura: I get an idea and run with it. I imagine planners have to do a lot less rewriting than I do…
Morgen: I guess it depends on the writer. I planned my first novel but when I actually wrote it the characters too over and it didn’t go as far as I’d planned it… it had it’s own natural end which as it turns out the story was better for it, although it still needs a lot of rewriting but then it’s the first thing I wrote over 4,000 words. 🙂 Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Laura: Yes, I work part-time in a junior school and I’m an editor / reader for one of the leading literary consultancies, Cornerstones.
Morgen: Ah yes, I see their adverts in the writing magazines. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Laura: My sister usually. She studied for an MA in creative writing at City University and had a book deal back in the 90s (non-fiction), so it’s not as daft as it might sound. Generally though, I wouldn’t recommend friends and family as a first port of call. They love you, so will mostly say it’s fab even when it isn’t.
Morgen: Or in my case “dreadful” (to a competition-winning poem!). 🙂 Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Laura: I do tons and tons of editing. Writing is rewriting. Was it Stephen King who said this? Whoever it was, they’re absolutely right.
Morgen: John Updike apparently. I had to Google it. 🙂 What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Laura: I tend to let ideas stew for months – sometimes even years – I always carry a notebook and I jot down thoughts as they occur to me. Usually, I start with an idea and a character and those months of pondering are really just me trying to find that character. I write biographies for all the major characters – everything from their family background, to their deepest fear, to whether or not they pick their nose in public. The minor characters start as plot instruments and gradually take on a life of their own – I hope. Time and setting are crucial too so I spent a lot of time thinking about where my story should take place and the impact this will have on my characters.
Morgen: Wow, and you say you don’t plan. 🙂 Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Laura: Definitely a pc. I make notes and jot ideas down in notebooks, but it doesn’t feel real until I see it on screen.
Morgen: I guess that’s where the fun really begins. Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Laura: Usually I need silence, but I do occasionally write to music. I imagine I’m a concert pianist, which is hilarious because I have little musical sensibility despite being married to a musician.
Morgen: Me neither, dabbled with a piano. I can play the beginnings of a few things but that’s only one-handed (it’s on my list of things to achieve). 🙂 What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Laura: BloodMining is written in close third person, and a number of my short stories are too, but I’d say that I feel more at home in first. Novel #2 is in first. I’ve never tried second, but I’ve seen it work beautifully. Most recently in Jane Rusbridge’s The Devil’s Music and Rosamund Lupton’s Sister and Afterwards.
Morgen: Oh, I know Jane (we met at Chorleywood Literature Festival where I was volunteering last November, and we tweet and retweet each other quite regularly – I’m hoping she’ll be an interviewee in the not too distant future 🙂 Actually I’m pretty sure I’ve asked her but will check) and I have her book, bought and signed at Chorleywood… er, not read it yet though <slap wrist> but I adore second person so that’s just upped it in the pile. I also have ‘Sister’ and ditto <slap other wrist>. 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Laura: Read. Read. Read. Then write. Don’t talk about it, just do it. You’ll never get published if you have nothing to submit. Rewrite. Share your work. Join a writers’ group or show it to people whose opinion you trust, not your mum as she’s obviously going to say it’s great because she’s your mum and she loves you. Take criticism on the chin. Don’t be precious about your work, but stand firm when you feel strongly about something. Unless everyone is telling you it’s not working! The other thing I would say is that when you think it’s ready to send out it probably isn’t. I’d give yourself another 2-4 weeks. Put it away and then come back to it. You need to do this several times, but at that moment when you think ‘you know, I think it’s ready’ hold fire.
Morgen: Absolutely, all the above. I run or belong to three writing groups and can’t sing their praises highly enough – providing everyone’s firm but fair and doesn’t just say “ooh / ahh” or “that was rubbish” and not explain why. You’ve mentioned Jane and Rosamund, what else do you like to read?
Laura: This is hard to answer because I’ve so many. Authors I regularly come back to, and always find inspiring, include Margaret Atwood, who I think is a genius, Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro because he has lots of interesting things to say, Emma Donoghue, who I encountered years ago and found pretty magical.
Morgen: Emma’s ‘Room’ was the first time I’d heard of her and that did really well so hopefully it’s onwards and upwards for her.
Laura: Sarah Waters is really terrific and Maggie O’Farrell – I’ve read all five of her novels, and maybe it’s because I’m a mum but The Hand That First Held Mine was the one that touched and affected me the most. Susan Fletcher is another newish, young writer who I’m full of admiration for. I love many of the classics too. Jane Austen – she’s the business for me – George Eliot, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, the Brontës, Hardy. All the usuals. And the great American novelists, like Melville, Steinbeck, Vonnegut, Lee and Morrison. Men tend not to read books written by women so I make a point of buying more novels by female authors than male, especially contemporary works. It’s a feminist thing.
Morgen: Wow, you read a LOT! (puts me to shame 😦 – something else for the ‘to do’ list when I leave my job at Christmas)… and it seems that less women are published (I’m sure it’s not that less write) so I’m all for supporting them. 🙂 What do you do when you’re not writing?
Laura: With two jobs, writing and two young children I don’t get much spare time. I like to watch movies and eat with friends when I can.
Morgen: Me too – I have a season ticket for the local cinema, it’s great, as I get to see films I would have normally passed on because it doesn’t cost anything other than a couple of hours and I usually see two so as long as one is good it makes up for the other. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Laura: Best writing book I’ve read is Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer – amazing. Jane Wenham-Jones’s Wanna be a Writer is funny and informative, and James Scott Bell has a great serious of ‘how to’ books. And, of course, Helen Corner’s (of Cornerstones) Write a Blockbuster and Get it Published
Morgen: I have both of Jane’s books (the follow up being ‘Wanna be a writer we’ve heard of’). I met her at Winchester Writers’ Conference in July and she’s kindly agreed to do an interview with me… I’m getting braver with who I ask to take part… prolific (19!) novelist Carole Matthews is coming up later this month. 🙂 Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Laura: Writewords, ABCtales, Good Reads, New Writing South, Ether Books, the list goes on. Yes, I find them helpful, though I do have to be careful not to spend too much time on them. Otherwise I’d never write anything.
Morgen: Erm… oops. <note to self: less time online, more writing). Where can we find out about you and your work?
Laura: Here: www.laura-wilkinson.co.uk
Morgen: Thank you Laura and I hope your eBook (and pBook of course) goes well.
I then invited Laura to include an extract of her writing and this pieces is from BloodMining:
Sitting on what had only recently been her home the woman rocked back and forth. Disbelief filled her eyes. Megan didn’t know if the woman rocked to comfort the child or because of the shock. Megan couldn’t tell if the child was alive or not. A leg dangled from a filthy blanket. Tiny toes, encrusted with dirt and dust. It looked peaceful, as if it was sleeping, it might have been, and Megan mused that this creature knew nothing of this momentous event. As a child and an adult he or she would only hear of this day through others: the day that altered the course of its life. Father, mother, sister, brother would be words only, belonging to others. Maybe a few charred images retrieved from the wreckage of a former life, an alternative future. The old woman was bewildered, ancient. Eyes misty with tears and cataracts.
Megan was entranced and knocked by an unexpected feeling of loss. Not only for the woman, and the baby, but for her former life. She imagined how she might have covered such a story. She was obsessed by survivors, how they coped. How people dealt with the pain, the anger, the guilt and the sense of hope that emerges after long periods in the wilderness. She wondered why Elizabeth couldn’t, or wouldn’t, speak of her loss.
Laura grew up in Wales and now lives in a never-to-be-chic area of Brighton. Recently, she’s worked as a freelance writer, an editor, and a copywriter. In between raising her two young boys and working, she’s completing her second novel.
She has published short stories in magazines, an anthology, and digital media like Ether Books.
Her debut novel, BloodMining, is published by Bridge House. You can read some of her work and find out more about her on her website http://laura-wilkinson.co.uk.
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