After reading (and loving) Margaret’s powerful writing for 26 Shields, she was an obvious choice for this month’s member feature.
Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from and what do you do?
I was born in Liverpool and moved to Newcastle when I was 7 which is about as far North as you can get before Scotland. I spent most of my teenage years wanting to move to London (Theatres! Lights! No parents!) I’ve come full circle now and spent most of lockdown wishing I could move back North. (Countryside! Peace! No husband or children!)
I have a lovely work set up at the moment. I work as a free lance HR consultant three days a week. (Two favourite clients are The Bike Project and Profile Books.) I spend the rest of the week on creative writing projects and write various blogs and articles on business related issues.
Where did your love of words come from?
Possibly from the old fashioned childhood I had. I grew up in the 1970s but it was all rather 1950s. One of my earlier memories is standing in solidarity with Dad while he wistfully read out all the menus at the local restaurants on holiday. My mother would interrupt and talk about going back to the caravan to eat Smash. It was an early lesson that words are important. Like Marks and Spencers say, a potato is never just a potato. It can be transformed into creamy dauphinoise, sensuously simmered with luscious garlic and garnished with crispy bacon. Or it can be described as Smash, a word that gives you absolutely no idea about how unimaginably awful those dehydrated potato lumps were.
Anyway, I also remember “Listen with Mother” as being lovely and the first time I started curling up to listen to stories. We listened to a lot of radio and records, Flanders and Swan, Swallows and Amazons, different sorts of poetry. I think this meant I paid a lot of attention to the sound of words. We got taken to church every week, where there were lots of beautiful words, which I liked the sound of though I had no idea what most of them meant. We didn’t have a telly until I was a teenager but there were always a lot of books in the house and I worked my way through most of them. I decided I was going to university to study English and write books.
What made you join 26? And how long have you been a member?
I joined after doing a couple of Dark Angels courses. Before this, I’d get stuck trying to write a novel, and but carry on sitting there trying to write it. After the courses, I realized the value of using creative exercises to spark ideas. Sometimes I could use them in the novel, sometimes they just helped me move forward or sparked other projects and energy. This transformed my approach, making my writing life rich and real. One of my follow on goals after the last course was to join 26 and get involved in some creative projects. I joined in January 21.
Have you been involved in any 26 projects?
Three! I’ve done 26 Shields, 26 Habitats and will be a writer in residence for the Bloomsbury Festival/ Shining Light project (also supposed to be helping Andy with project support though thanks to various issues at home and limited IT ability, I’ve been little use so far).
What’s your ideal scenario for writing? (A coffee shop? Quiet retreat? With or without music? What do you do to get yourself in the right frame of mind?)
I’ve always worked at home quite a bit, for variety I’d go to coffee shops or the British Library. Something about having activity around me and tuning it out helped me concentrate.
I found over lockdown that I also really need alone time. Having the teenagers and husband around all the time really messed with my creative psyche! It helped to go for bike rides and walks and tell myself to start with half an hour so it wasn’t too daunting.
I was also very impressed with an interview I read recently with Kazuo Ishiguro. He said when he starts a creative project he tells his family to pretend he’s been sent to prison and takes himself off somewhere to concentrate. I’ve just booked a cottage for a week to have a writing retreat by myself to see if this works!
What are you working on at the moment?
A novel which involves a young woman, excavating a fort near Hadrian’s Wall after losing her job and sense of herself. She finds herself again with the help of a little girl who sees a lot of Roman ghosts. It’s a blend of Tom’s Midnight Garden, Eagle of the Ninth and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. What do you think? Any agents reading who might be interested?
Could you tell us about a piece of writing you’re particularly proud of?
I wrote a piece for the 26 Shields project about my sister. I wanted it to reflect her voice and approach to life. She got involved in planning and reading and commenting on the piece. I haven’t ever done that sort of collaboration before and it felt very special. I think that made the writing much more powerful.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Daily life! I spend my time going “Ooh that would make a good novel……”