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: