There are billions of novels out there. There are millions of fabulous writers and tales. There are well known writers who’s talent may be so so but who have captured something that connects with people. There are wonderful wordsmiths who remain obscure. There are authors who managed to get a book deal but then suffered the fate of “mid-list” authors and had to fight over and over to justify their presence on the shelves. There are authors who bypassed the traditional publishing arena and put themselves on the virtual shelves, authors who often give their writing away for free when their excellence should be paid for. There are writers in the wrong time and place and circumstance who have a more difficult task becoming known. There are writers who are hyped beyond worth. There is a laziness in the media sometimes where the same faces and the big names are trundled out over and over. There are books I’ve read by the greats and the well known that don’t hold a candle to those authors I’ve mentioned before who are unknown and who give their writing away for little or free, for the love of it, for the love of doing it. There is no secure correlation between talent and remuneration, between ability and recognition.
I say this plainly, without begrudgery. My background is psychology. I am a relativitist, I say everything depends on perspective. One person’s paradise is another’s hell. Fame is for some and satisfaction is for others. What books becomes known and respected depends on the cultural leanings of the times, the particular individuals who find themselves in the positions of ‘critics’ and now, more democratically but still haphazardly on the swell of interest of ordinary people with an e-reader and a finger on BUY.
I am neck deep in a novel, one of several I have been and am still engaged in. Writing is like breath, it is necessary for my survival, so I will do it, whether or not it comes to what is considered ‘anything’ in the eyes of ‘the world’. It is, beyond looking after my family, my main activity. I pour hours and hours into it, for the intrinsic sake of the work itself and the feeling of creativity. But that’s not to say that I don’t have my eye on publication. Every acceptance of a story to a journal, 3d or virtual is a thrill and I am preparing to submit longer pieces. But I am just one voice. A woman in the early 21st century, an Anglo Irish mother of 4 in an Irish town, a satellite of Dublin, a child of the 70’s who wore tartan trousers, a Live Aid teenager, a graduate of the bleak early 90’s, a girl who moved from an English town to rural Ireland, a woman who wonders what this fragile world has in store for her children, a woman who dances on the inside or in the kitchen when people aren’t looking, forever writing in this gigantic pond of billions famed and anonymous. So yes, like the rest, you could say there is nothing special about this writer but I’m as special as any other who strive to share our particulars, who engage in this ridiculous urge to tell, to spin, to make sense and it’s opposite, to put what is ‘in here’ ‘out there’. I will keep on going.
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.
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.
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:
Edublogs aims to promote the use of social media in providing educational resources to both teachers and students. Their yearly awards highlight blogs and posts that are working to provide those resources or highlight important educational issues.
Michelle Moloney King is a teacher and writer. She also happens to be dyslexic. In this personal and engaging post Thinking Outside the Box she outlines how dyslexia affected her throughout her life, the strategies she used for hiding it and working round it as a student. She also explains how her struggles led her to be inventive about learning, devising manuals that focussed more on visuals than text, manuals which were so popular that it was suggested that she should become a teacher.
Her account of how she persevered with her studies as a teacher despite her challenges is very inspiring and it is for that reason that I’d like to nominate her for the Edublog awards in the most influential blog post category.
I’ve been quiet here for a while because I’ve been spending any spare time completing the 50,000 word challenge of NaNoWriMo. I’ve been working on something that I’m very excited about The Exhibit of Held Breaths and for which I’ve been awarded a retreat in the summer to continue work on it.
It’s been a good NaNoWriMo overall, no major panics. Early morning writing and getting a little bit ahead at the start saved me having to do major catchups as I’ve had two on my two previous NaNoWriMos and the subject matter still remained fresh for me even though the pace was frantic. I am looking forward to writing at a slightly slower more considered pace with breaks for research and thinking about the story. However I will bring forward the writing discipline and particular routine (2 hrs in the early morning followed by a stint later where possible) into the future.
To read more about the journey through NaNoWrimo, you can read my writing journal here.
Best of luck to all those who are still pelting down words today and tomorrow to finish. You can do it!
I’m very happy to have been invited by Johanna Harness to post my #fridayflash today on the #amwriting website. This beautifully designed website has plenty of terrific articles by writers who use the #amwriting twitter hashtag to connect. If for any reason, you can’t access or comment on the story there, here it is:
It was the 70s, sideburns and plaid. There was a birthday party. Gertie had seen the trifle with the sugary spongey fingers and the hundreds and thousands on top. It must have been Saturday because the man who was her Dad was there, he was in the garden trying to catch butterflies with a net, actually a fishing net – it still had straggles of seaweed wrapped round it. Gertie had seen on the telly that nets were made in Bridport by a woman who was very skilled at hooking the twine round. Bridport had a tradition of net making the programme said. They started with fishing nets but later they went on to other nets for things like football. The netmaking people said that one of their brilliant nets had been used in the 1966 World Cup between England and Germany. That wasn’t very fair to Germany then, was it? Dad’s net didn’t come from Bridport, it came from the seafront in a place they had been on holidays.
Gertie was under the table. From out of her pocket she took out the string of a cat’s cradle. She wound it round her fingers in the long parallel strings of candles and the concertina of diamonds. One, two, three, four, five. Gertie wasn’t sure what age she was. No-one had told her.
Gertie thought about the food above her head, about the rows of sponge fingers at the bottom of the trifle, about the bowl in which the trifle was made, pale green glass with a pattern of repeating diamonds, the plaid on her skirt, repeating intersecting bands of colour. The wallpaper’s repeating rhomboids.
The birthday party wasn’t for her, she didn’t think. She wasn’t sure who it was for although that girl from next door was here, the one who’s right thumb was half the size of her left and was constantly spongy. And there was the girl who sat beside her in school and stole her fancy pencils. And there was her cousin Lily who had a very thin and delicate name but a wide body like a descending parachute and fat black boots and a heavy stomp. She was affectionate, like a Great Dane, she often came up close to Gertie whispering gibberish intimacies while spraying a mist of spittle against her skin.
What Gertie wanted right now was a person, a person she supposed you might call a friend who would know how to do the cat’s cradle with her, pinch out the strings, help her turn it into something else
A head appeared under the table, upside down so that he had a beard of curly black hair and his eyes spoke. “You aren’t real” said the boy. “You don’t talk normal. What’s wrong with your mouth?” Gertie didn’t answer. Sometimes she didn’t feel she had a mouth. Sometimes she felt like those special post boxes where you pulled up the lever to see all the letters inside and then pulled it shut again so it was just metal, boxed up. The boy disappeared and then it was just feet. Patent shoes, a pair of wellington wellies, scuffed runners. Then legs, skinny pales ones like cricket bats turned sideways.
There was a lot of noise from the garden. From under the table Gertie could just see out the kitchen door but only through a gap that was triangle shaped like the segments in her aunty’s special tray for what she called ‘nibbles’. From what Gertie could see, her father had put down the net and was helping Barry arrange fireworks beside a realistic cardboard model of an Apollo shuttle. They had laughed at Gertie because she called it a Polo shuttle. She had been thinking about those round sweets with a hole in the middle that came in mint or fruit. Barry and her father had forgotten her, and her mother was busy talking to her Aunty who was holding the nibbles tray. Gertie looked back down at the cat’s cradle. It was lovely once she held it tight but she couldn’t do that forever.
When Gertie’s was three months old her mother left her in the pram outside the butchers and went home. Once they forgot her when they went on holidays – her grandad found her when he called round to put out the bins. He said that her parents were away with the fairies. She thought they had gone with Barry and Gary. When her mother told the stories of her family they always left her out. She heard her grandmother say once that she had been an afterthought. Somehow that made her think of after dinner mints with the green stuff inside. That cheered her up. But then \again there was the time when her mother leapt up after a dinner party exclaiming – “The after dinner mints! I forgot to put them out!” There was always some kind of tragedy or commotion.
Gertie had been hopeful for her mother, despite her forgetfulness until she started hanging things up, wind chimes, dream catchers, those yellow sticky strips that caught flies. Gertie used to dance in front of her, trying to catch her attention but it never worked. It was as if she wasn’t there, as if she was an after dinner mint from the after life.
But if she had been from the afterlife they might have seen her. Gertie’s family were always looking to the sky, to the butterflies and the UFOs, the trajectory of comets, the parallel vapour trails of airshow jets. Gertie looked at the cat’s cradle. She heard the fireworks whoosh in the dusk, she heard the cheers of all the faraway people. Perhaps it actually had been her birthday, but now she was utterly forgotten. She sat quite still under the table until she could not longer be seen, until, in fact she disappeared, in the finger shadows of chair legs.
If this blog has fallen unnaturally silent it is because my writing efforts are being directed towards completing the NaNoWriMo 50,000 word challenge and also blogging about it. It’s going very well over all and I’ve added several posts here on writing.ie with various topics, including Getting in the Zone, Life on Mars (the challenges of the third quarter in long term space missions) and Writing a Mission Statement for your novel.
It’s a physically and mentally challenge endeavour and the most difficult thing is not to have an occasional day off incorporated into it. These last couple of weeks have been really busy in general and I have projects to keep me very busy right through until the end of January so I’m trying to balance work, rest and family life as best I can!
Watch out tomorrow for some more #fridayflash fiction. I have another guest appearance on the #amwriting website.
Back in March I interviewed Irish writer and fellow mum of four Maria Duffy in my mother writer series. I am absolutely delighted to announce that today is the publication day for her novel Any Dream Will Do. It’s been a whirlwind of a year for her, since signing with her Curtis Brown agent Sheila Crowley and getting a two book deal with Hodder Headline. In the last few days she announced that she did a sixteen hour stint to finish a draft of her next novel. But in the meantime huge congratulations to her on the official launch date of Any Dream will Do! Do check it out. I’ll be joining her for the real life book signing launch (all welcome) next Tuesday in Dubray in Dublin and I wish her all the very best.
The folks at Writing.ie have asked me to keep a NaNoWriMo writing journal this year. At the risk of boring you I have agreed to jot down a few notes on my progress, my lack of progress, nasty critic gremlins and so on. So far my early morning regime is working for me but I don’t know how long the momentum will last as I’m working hard on another project too and beginning already to feel the fatigue! If you like adventure suspense, the “will she make it or not kind of thing” then my NaNoJournal might just be for you. Or if you just want to laugh, make yourself feel better or give out because today I’ve finished early you might like it too….