Bridgehouse

The Tuesday Interview: Laura Wilkinson Author of ‘Bloodmining’.

In March earlier this year I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Wilkinson, mum to two boys for my mother writer series. In November 2010, Laura, who grew up in a Welsh market town and currently lives in Brighton won the debut novel competition run by independent publishers Bridgehouse with her novel Bloodmining.

Bloodmining was launched last month and has been very well received. I ask Laura to tell me more about the novel and her experience of writing it.

Can you give us an idea of the story of BloodMining?

Certainly. Primarily set in Wales in the not-too-distant future, it’s about a mother, Megan, whose son is diagnosed with a terminal, hereditary condition. A condition passed down the mother’s line. Buried family secrets are revealed during the search for a donor to save his life and Megan finds out that she isn’t who she thought she was. The themes are: what makes a parent – biology or culture – and identity – who we are, where we come from, how important that is to us or not.

What gave you the inspiration for BloodMining?

It started with a news piece on the BBC website. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and then a fictional character appeared, started talking to me, and the dilemma she faced. I wrote a piece of flash fiction and showed it to my sister Helen, who’s studied for an MA in Creative Writing and like me has worked as a journalist, and we both agreed that it didn’t work as a piece of flash, but as the germ of an idea for something much bigger it was quite a good one.

Laura Wilkinson launches her debut novel

 

It’s a very unique story. How much would you say your own background fed into the novel?

Very little. I’m a mother myself, but thankfully I have two healthy boys; to be faced with Megan’s problem is every parent’s worst nightmare. So, there’s little of my own story in BloodMining. However, it would be fair to say that my life experience influenced the exploration of identity in the novel, and what it means to be a parent. As a child I knew little about my biological father; he died when I was five years old. My memories were scant and somewhat vague, gleaned mostly from photographs and the odd conversation with my mother and grandparents. Always the ‘good’ girl I sensed that to ask too much would be courting trouble. It seemed that to attempt to dig deep upset my maternal grandparents, and to a lesser extent my mother. I was in my teens before I knew the truth about my father. And many years passed before there was a meaningful conversation about him. But after my mother talked about her first husband, my father, and the subsequent letter she wrote to me – a love story, a beautiful eulogy to his memory, and testament to the enduring power of love, through life and death – I felt more complete. Knowing where I came from was more important to me than I had realised. And I wish I’d had the chance to get to know him a little.

How did you approach writing the novel? What the story very clear from the start or did you discover new strands as you went along?

The simple answer: no! I began with a character clutching a baby and it grew from there. I’m not much of a planner, more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pantser. I knew that there had been a terrible tragedy to get this character to this point, but what it was I had no idea. As I got to know the character, Elizabeth, the catastrophe happened. I discovered it as Elizabeth did, and after this I started wondering about the baby she loved and what kind of person she would grow up to become, and what her relationship with her mother would be like, and I was propelled into the future with a grown up Megan. As for the supporting characters… well, some of them began as instruments of the plot and then morphed into real, three dimensional people in their own right (at least I hope so!) and one of them – Jack – became so important that he transformed into a lead with a story strand of his own. For me, to date, a more organic approach works although I suspect that I have to do a lot more rewriting than those authors who plan.

What was the most challenging thing about writing the novel?

Completing the first draft, perhaps… to start writing a novel is pretty easy, I think. I know a lot of people who have started. Finishing is another matter entirely. But then again, even once you have your first draft of 100,000 words plus, the job has only just begun – unless you’re Faulkner, who claimed to have written As I Lay Dying in six weeks and not altered a word of it. For most of us, there’s the lengthy task of finding the beating heart of your story, shaping it into something compelling. I wrote numerous drafts of BloodMining.

Your novel came to the attention of Bridge House and has recently been published by this small press? Were you surprised that it won their Debut Novel competition?

Yes, definitely yes! In the six months before the call from Bridge House I’d been shortlisted in three competitions and had a couple of near misses with agents. So I’d consigned BloodMining to the ‘failed first novel’ drawer and got on with writing my second.

How has the launch of the book been? Has it been what you expected or what has surprised you?
Amazing really. And wonderful. Having my work out there, knowing that it is being read by people, complete strangers. Becoming published is daunting because it’s a bit like exposing your inner self in public. And it’s little scary because whilst I know that BloodMining will not appeal to everyone, of course I hope that people will enjoy it and get something from it. To answer the second part of your question: I had no expectations, although the response so far has been SO much better than I anticipated.

You are a mum of two boys and have managed to fit writing in around motherhood and working. What does this achievement mean to you in terms of how you see yourself as a writer?

For years now, about six, I’ve taken the work seriously. I’m disciplined and I work hard at the craft. Of course, I’m still learning and I hope I never stop, but having my first novel published has given me some confidence, though I recognise that I’ve been incredibly lucky too. It has vindicated the hours and hours and hours I spend writing, when I could have been cleaning or cooking or hanging out with my kids more.

Where do you see things going from here writing wise?

In all honesty? I have no idea. I’ve completed my second novel and I’m about to send that out into the world. I’d like to attract an agent if possible, though it’s tough out there at the moment. Not that it’s ever been easy. And I’ll keep writing. The loose idea for my third novel is there; I’m spending time getting to know the characters, and in the New Year I aim to dive right in. As I said, I’m not much of a planner – I prefer to find things out as my characters do.

Where can we buy Bloodmining?

Online at BridgehouseAmazon, Waterstone’s, WH Smith, the Book Depository and many other virtual stores. It is also available in ‘real’ bookshops, though distribution isn’t widespread. You may have to order it if you want to support your local independent store.

Congratulations to Laura on the publication of her debut novel and thank you for a fascinating and inspiring interview. All the best to Laura in her continuing success as an author.

Find out more about Laura and Bloodmining on her website.

Voices of Angels: New Anthology

J    ust to let you know that one of my stories is being aired in a new anthology, Voices of Angels by Bridgehouse  . Bridgehouse, run by Gill James and Debz Hobbs Wyatt is an independent publisher who aim to promote new writing and in particular produce short story anthologies. If you are a short story writer they provide a great avenue for publication. They also support charities through their anthologies. Voices of Angels supports the Caron Keating cancer charity and has a foreword by Gloria Hunniford.

My story Meringue has been included in the anthology and it’s not your typical Angel story (as can be said for the others in the anthology.) Rosie is not particularly angelic, she’s a woman of larger proportions who doesn’t take herself seriously, she views the world with black humour. She looks after her two nieces Sasha and Natalie and was recently jilted.

Well it wasn’t actually at the altar. It was two weeks before. As it happens I was trying on my wedding dress, the dressmaker had managed to let it out another two inches and I was just making sure I could get it on. I was looking in the full length mirror and lifting up my head (for once, to minimize the resting chin syndrome) and I was thinking “Meringue” and it was a light, gooey, happy feeling because I like meringue and I could see myself floating in a sweet, sugary, angelic cloud down the aisle of St Judes, and landing precisely in pump encased plump feet beside darling Richard, my own, finally, all six foot two of him and that’s high not wide.

As she sees it she and Richard were “cleaved apart by the forces of inertia. He wasn’t really sure if he wanted to trade in BBC4 for the Living Channel or eau de reheated casserole for rose water and ylang ylang.”

The story takes place in the hospital. Her mother, with whom she’s had a difficult relationship is fading but as Rosie thinks How is it she grows tinier every day but is taking so long to disappear?

The Voices of Angels anthology may have Angels as it’s theme but it has a wide appeal. The stories have a wide variety: from comic, poetic, serious and surprising. The seventeen contributions are from:

Raphaela Bruckdorfer, Carol Croxton  , Sarah Evans    , Kirsty Ferry, Shirley Golden    , Maria Herring, Misha Herwin, Debz Hobbs-Wyatt, A.J. Kirby  , Katie Lilly, David R Morgan, Norma Murray, A.J. Spindle  , Holly Stacey, Sally Tarpey, Alison Wells, Laura Wilkinson   

Every day in Advent on it’s Facebook page     Voices of Angels is presenting extracts from each of the stories. So have a look and see which catches your fancy.

The Kindle edition is available here 

And paperback available from:

Bridgehouse  , Amazon UK     and Amazon US   

Mother Writer Interview: Laura Wilkinson

Laura Wilkinson grew up in a Welsh market town and as a child was a voracious reader. She has a BA in literature and worked as a freelance journalist, editor and copywriter. Her first novel Bloodmining, the story of a young woman’s quest to uncover the truth about her origins to save her son’s life,  is to be published in autumn 2011 by Bridge House. She currently lives and works in Brighton.

Tell us about your children, Laura

I’ve two boys: Morgan, twelve, and Cameron, seven. They’re glorious redheads; I call them Ginger1 and Ginger2, and people comment on their extraordinary hair colour all the time, especially as both their parents are brunettes. You can imagine the comments!

When did your writing begin?

As a journalist, copywriter and editor for many years before the children came along, and then alongside them. Fiction came later, around five and a half years ago, once I was out of the totally sleepless nights period with my youngest. Both my boys were horrendous sleepers! My routine has always been fixed around the major needs of the kids and, so far, it seems to work for all of us.

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

Having the boys focused me. I’d harboured a desire to write fiction for years, but work and other stuff (like going out, partying, and other hedonistic activities) got in the way. As well as fear. After the children came along I became more aware, more centered, and the brevity and preciousness of life hit me, hard. I knew that if I didn’t at least try to write I’d have let myself down, and the boys somehow. Now I use the little free time I have doing something that stretches me, challenges me, surprises me, and I find that really, really exciting.

How do you organise your writing time and space?

I work four days a week, so on these days I tend to write in the evening, once the boys are in bed. 9pm to 11ish, sometimes later, depending on how it’s going. I have been known to rise early, 5am, and write for a couple of hours before the rest of the house wakes up, though this is hard during the winter months. I don’t manage this every day, but I aim for three or four evenings/mornings a week.

On my ‘free’ day I write as much as I am able. On good days, I can write for two or three hours, take a short break, and then carry on for another two. Then it’s time to get the kids from school. Other times I find it much harder to get going, and then I might go for a walk, or pop out to see a friend, and then come back to the work. I cherish this day and I guard it ferociously. No visitors, no housework, no shopping. Writing.

I’m workman-like in my approach. I aim for 1,000 words each sitting. Of course, I don’t always manage this. Some days I might churn out a mere 400, but on others I might reach 3,000. It’s a productive week if I manage 5,000 words. My pattern is that I start slow (and yes, it can be extremely painful) and pick up momentum as I go on.

For first drafts I write on a laptop in bed, often in pyjamas, or slouchy clothes. A bed is a place for dreaming and passion. Perfect for first drafts. When I’m editing I’m at a desk on the landing, or at the dining table, in a straight backed chair, fully dressed, blusher and mascara on. Editing is business-like and often cruel. As you will have gathered I don’t have a room of my own; I would love a writing shed, or office. Twitter is my favourite new online habit and I have tweeted about this, demonstrating severe shed envy. I live in hope.

Is it possible to maintain a balance on a daily basis or do you find yourself readjusting focus from work to family over a longer time-span depending on your projects?

The nature of children and family life requires a degree of flexibility, so, yes, I do readjust my focus periodically. The ease with which I achieve this depends on the stage I’m at with any given piece of work. Long haul projects like novels require momentum, especially when creating a first draft, and breaking the rhythm makes picking it up again difficult. I speak from experience here. Usually, editing comes with deadlines. Writing is a craft, and requires regular practice, so while we all have to adjust to life stuff that comes our way, my motto is to write as often as possible. That said, when the boys are sick, or need extra emotional input, it’s difficult to write and I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t during times like this.

How do the children react to your writing or the time you spend on it?

My eldest is proud, I think. He will ask about the story I’m writing, often presenting some penetrating and challenging questions, and he’s pretty excited about my first novel coming out. My youngest hasn’t shown too much interest. He knows Mummy reads and writes ‘all the time’ (I bloody wish), and often picks up whatever I’m currently reading and flicks through the pages and asks if my books are as long. When I reply that they are, he sighs, shrugs and wanders off. I suspect he thinks I’m fibbing. Perhaps once my debut is out, he’ll believe me!

What do you find most challenging in juggling your role as a mother, your writing and your work?

Practically, it’s time. There’s never enough of it. I wish my sleeping habits were like those of Margaret Thatcher. During her premiership she claimed to sleep for only three hours a night. Unfortunately, I need seven or eight to function. And there’s the need to make money. A private income would remove the need for paid work, and then I could spend everyday writing. Bliss.

Emotionally, I suffer Guilt, with a capital ‘g’. For not playing with the boys more, for daydreaming when we’re together, for not baking beautiful cakes, and so on. But most mothers I know, writers or not, feel guilty. On the plus side, my boys are very good at entertaining themselves. Having a dreamy, distracted mother has made them resourceful and independent.

You’ve had success with having Bloodmining accepted for publication, why do you think your breakthrough happened when it did?

The first short story I wrote won a (minor) competition and was published. My youngest was three. This gave me a misguided opinion of how hard it was going to be. Years later I realized just how lucky I’d been. I began my first novel when my youngest was four and my eldest nine. It took two years and several drafts to complete. Proper authors – people who had masters’ degrees in creative writing and even had books of their own published – were encouraging, and so I entered some debut novel competitions. While I was waiting for the results, a period of around eight months from entry to final announcement, I wrote a second novel.

To my surprise I was shortlisted in two novel competitions, one of which I went on to win. Back in November, when I received the call from Debz Hobbs-Wyatt at Bridge House I was at work, in the staff-room, I had to sit down. For days I wandered round in a state of shock. I told few people; I didn’t believe it was real; I expected the ‘Gosh, I’m so, so sorry – we misread the winner’s name, it was Laura Williams that won, not you,’ call. It never came and, slowly, I’ve come round to the idea that it’s going to happen.

The children were settled at school and content during this period. In September last year they both changed schools and it’s not been an easy time, emotionally, especially for my eldest who started senior school. During this period I completed another two drafts of my second novel, though I’ve not been as productive as I’d have liked. Things have settled down now so I’ve started a third novel, as well as getting a submission package together for novel #2 and working with my editor on BloodMining.

In all honesty, I have no idea why it happened when it did, and I guess you could say that it happened because I was persistent. A writer needs to be tenacious.

Do you think women face particular challenges in career/family life balance?

I’d love to able to say that the pressure facing both sexes is equal but I can’t. It’s a fact that women still do more than their fair share of childcare and housekeeping. But we can’t blame it all on the fellas. We take on too much. And whether we’re conscious of it or not, many of us (I include myself here) are reluctant to let go of these responsibilities, to trust that men can do them as well as we can. It’s a rare relationship where the split is even. Perhaps gay women manage it. I’ll ask a friend about this.

Something has to give when wearing many hats, what is it for you?

Housework. I was never much cop at the domestic: cleaning, home decoration/making beautiful, cooking. But no one died of a grubby house or the odd take-out, did they?

What suggestions do you have for mothers or indeed parents who want to write or further a writing career?

Write. Forget ironing. Don’t give up the day job (at least until you’ve the three book deal with the six figure sum) , your kids won’t thank you if there’s no food on the table.

Thanks so much to Laura for telling us about her experience of being a writer mother. We wish her tremendous success with her new novel Bloodmining and look forward to it coming out in the Autumn. For more news on her novel and other projects visit Laura at her blog Sting in the Tale or follow Laura on Twitter. We’ll be sure to catch up with her again here when her novel is launched.

If you enjoyed this peek into the life of a writing mother, please check out the other interviews in the series.