I Wish I’d Written That – by Joan Dowling (May 2020)

When reading ‘Little Women’ as a child, I lost myself so completely in a new and exhilarating world that, although I wanted to see a happy conclusion, I dreaded reaching the end of the book. When I did, I felt positively bereaved to be parted from the March family. I have experienced that sense of loss many times since and, whether I am reading a sad, joyful, thrilling, or even disturbing book, I never cease to marvel at the sheer genius of writers who are able to draw me – sometimes reluctantly – into an imagined world of their own creation.

Joseph Conrad wrote, “I, too, would like to hold the wand giving that command over laughter and tears, which is declared to be the highest achievement of imaginative literature”.  This accurately describes my own wishful thinking. As a voracious reader, I spend a huge part of my life living different lives, some uplifting, some exciting, some sad, some life-changing – but, most, totally engaging and absorbing. When I finally emerge, disoriented, back into my own life, I often struggle to regain my equilibrium. I am left in awe at the sheer power of the words that I have just read and the talent that has organised them in such a way that I was transported into an entirely new existence.

Conrad, of course fulfilled his own aspirations, never more so than in his compelling masterpiece ‘Heart of Darkness’. His command in this case was over the mounting sense of evil that pervaded his dark tale of Kurtz in the jungle. The sense of despair and depravity was so palpable that it was difficult to shake off even after the story was finished. “The horror! The horror” came as no surprise. I felt repulsed and contaminated by the book, but I still couldn’t put it down.

In the same vein, Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes of Wrath’ so fully captured for me the choking dust and suffocating heat of the California dust bowl that it was impossible to read it without instinctively raising my head occasionally, just to take in a deep breath of clean air. Despite this, I accompanied the Joads on every step of their grueling, futile journey.

Of course, we all have our favourites. A novel by Jane Austen can be relied upon to comfort, amuse and gently chastise, Stephen King will always keep you on the edge of your seat – and Dickens will break your heart every time. It’s also deeply satisfying to know that, if we ever tire of the classics, modern writers are constantly introducing new, original stories and innovative ways of telling them. We still have many new realms to inhabit and explore ahead of us.

However, sometimes, it doesn’t need to be a whole book that captures our imagination. Conrad also wrote, “Give me the word and the accent and I will move the world.” This for me is the very essence of a ‘great’ writer – and also, I suspect, what holds me back from writing as much as would like to. So many times, when I am writing, the ‘word that will move the world’ hovers, tantalisingly, on the periphery of my brain. Occasionally, it materialises – usually the day after I have sent my story off to the publisher!

I am filled with admiration for writers who are able to select, seemingly at will, a phrase that is so sublime in its context, or an adjective that is totally irreplaceable, that I have to stop reading while I savour and applaud this enviable gift. Then I throw up my hands in surrender and vow that I will never write again.

Who could resist Daphne Du Maurier’s persuasive enticement into her novel ‘Rebecca’ – “Last night I went to Mandaley again”?  And who doesn’t still shudder when remembering the words of Thomas Harris in his ‘Silence of the Lambs’ – “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti”?

When Dylan Thomas wrote the dedication to his father, “do not go gentle into that good night”, I wonder, jealously, if those words leapt fully-formed and unbidden into his consciousness.  Or, like me, would he have agonised over a multitude of inferior alternatives before alighting on that perfect sentence?

During his final illness, Bruce Chatwin wrote about seeing a vision which included a troupe of glass horses that ‘galloped off in a shatter’. It’s years since I read that, but the splintered fragments of those horses have stayed in my head ever since.

I could go on recalling the many memorable words of gifted authors who have made me gasp in astonishment, while highlighting my own inadequacies. But, instead, I will finish with my current favourite.

I am a huge fan of Hilary Mantel. Her fictionalised account of the life of Thomas Cromwell in the Wolf Hall trilogy is a tour de force. Her erudition, riveting story-telling and perfect prose – to say nothing of her sly touches of dry humour – are matchless.

But it was in her memoir ‘Giving up the Ghost’ that she earned my undying envy. When writing about her schooldays, she explained that (like me) she had to wear big convent knickers. Unlike me, she was a rebel. When her first passion killers wore out, she scavenged amongst the usual scraps of cotton and lace in the airing cupboard for a replacement. As a result, she spent the remaining years of her schooldays – including her stint as head girl – ‘with an illicit bottom’.

Oh! I do wish I’d written that.

VRWG Life of a Writer Series (#06) Nemma Woolenfang

Name: Nemma Wollenfang
What genres do you write in?
I dabble in many fields. Mainly speculative – Science fiction, Fantasy, Horror. If it’s novel length it has to have a romantic twist.
Have you ever had any work published? If so, what and where?
Yes. As I’m sure many of you know. 😉  So far only short stories and a few poems – I’m working my way up to trying to publish something novel length. I’ve had a number of small press and pro-sales, as well as shortlistings or wins in competitions. A friend set up a website for me to collate my work if anyone is interested: www.nemmawollenfang.co.uk But I’ll list the more significant traditional publications below.

Ø  ‘You Think You Are Safe’ contemporary horror in Flame Tree Publishing’s ‘Footsteps in the Dark’ (due June 2020).

Ø  ‘A Study of Mesozoic Schistosoma of the Late Cretaceous Period and their Abundance in Large Theropods’ humorous SF in Cossmass Infinites Issue 2 (due May 2020).

Ø  ‘Lot No. #024: Intergalactic Death Ray’ humorous SF flash in Abyss & Apex Magazine Issue 73 (Jan 2020). Free to read on website.

Ø  ‘Weave Us A Way’ reprint fantasy in Flame Tree’s ‘Epic Fantasy’ (Nov 2019).

Ø  ‘Imperatrix’ Space Opera in Beyond the Stars: Rocking Space (Aug 2019).

Ø  ‘The Hollow Tree’ contemporary horror in Flame Tree’s ‘American Gothic’ (May 2019).

Ø  ‘Solved’ in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s ‘The Wonder of Christmas’ (Oct 2018).

Ø  ‘GOD is in the Rain’ reprint SF in Flame Tree’s ‘Robots & AI’ (Sept 18).

Ø  ‘Echo the Damned’ in Flame Tree’s ‘Pirates & Ghosts’ (Nov 17).

Ø  ‘Fragments of Me’ in Flame Tree’s ‘Murder Mayhem’ (Aug 16).

Ø  ‘Clockwork Evangeline’ steampunk reprint in Flame Tree’s ‘Science Fiction Short Stories’ (Sept 15).

(Some of these places have continuous open calls for various themes if anyone is interested in trying themselves – they were all great venues to work with).

Do you have a preferred place in which to write?
Definitely. In a medieval château with soaring arches and dusty tapestries, sequestered in the fathomless depths of its library working by candlelight. In true Shakespearean style I use quill and ink. The quill is a fancy peacock feather.

Or perhaps not…

To certain people’s dismay it’s the floor of my room, with my doddering laptop propped up on a stool. I like it, it works for me. And contrary to certain concerns, so far my back is fine. It has to be quiet too. Night is best for me – no outside traffic or harried daytime noises, or I can’t focus for anything more than to check email.

I’ve never been able to write properly outside my ‘zone’. I envy other writers who can.

Let’s talk about your muse. What/who inspires you to write?
*crickets chirping*

Alright… This is a difficult question. Not because I have no answer but because it’s so expansive. To be honest, I’m often inspired by many other people’s work. It’s hard to pin a select few. Not just big names but those who run in the quieter circuits. There’s a lot of beautiful work out there. And it’s been a privilege to hear/read some it from VRWG members too. Many of the professional short story magazines – several online and free to read – house a lot of exquisite work. Some of my favourite places to search are: Lightspeed Magazine (SF/F), Nightmare Magazine (H), Clarkesworld (SF/F), Interzone (SF/F), Daily Science Fiction (SF/F), Flame Tree’s Gothic Fantasy range… to name a few. I feel that reading from these frequently has definitely helped to improve my own work.

Tell us about your writing ambitions
I very much want to get one of my novels published… when I can eventually convince myself that any of them are ‘ready’ to venture out into the world. I find it harder to build up the nerve to send those out than I do for short stories. The rejections sting more keenly.
Who are your favourite writers?
Haha! *Rubs hands together* Now’s the time to make many of you cringe. I was a big Twilight fan when the books came out, so Stephanie Meyer (I can hear the groans). I also grew up in the Harry Potter era, so J.K. Rowling. I’m sticking by those. They did good jobs in their genres and they prompted me to read more when I wasn’t reading much at all.

But really, I’m happy to try most speculative writers. I’m currently working my way through a lot of the older classics, like H.P. Lovecraft and H.G. Wells, and enjoying all the flourish-y prose – something which seems to be sadly lacking (out of fashion?) in current works. Although, admittedly, a lot of this reading is for specific research purposes.

My most recent favorite would be Josh Malerman – for his ‘Birdbox’ novel. Some of you may have seen the film adaption with Sandra Bullock. Plus, we’re Facebook friends, which after years still has a certain ‘wow’ factor to it (He replied to my comment, eee! Be cool, be cool). An older favorite is Laini Taylor for her ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’ series.

What’s your ideal writer’s life? Go on, let your imagination run wild!
Where every story goes according to plan with limited edits…

Wild? No, no. I have simple dreams. 😉

Outside of writing, is there something else we should know about you?
… There are things outside of writing?

… Are you sure?

Well, considering the current lockdown, I’m not doing all that much that’s interesting. However, I seem to have developed a menagerie of wildlife in the back garden which is expanding daily. It’s like a miniature zoo! Birds, squirrels, hedgehogs, ducks, bats, etc… We have something of a ‘soup kitchen’ set up going on with more dishes being added each day. I’m not sure if that’s because it’s spring or because people aren’t managing to feed them as much as usual. It’s taking more time to get around them all now, morning and evening, as well as to offer/change bedding and clean their baths etc. But it’s fun and they all seem happy, and with less traffic moving about at night I’m less worried about the hedgehogs when they go out roaming (we currently have 2-3 lodging with us).

Well, this has been fun. Take care and stay safe, everyone. ❤

www.nemmawollenfang.co.uk

VRWG Life of a Writer Series (#05) Les Green

Name: Les Green

What genre/s do you write in?

Poetry, humour, flash fiction, puns, limericks, music … I don’t think I have a specific genre, I just tend to noodle based on what pops into my head

Have you had any work published? If so, what and where?

Not unless you count those fabulous anthologies produced by our very own VRWG. Or the blog. I seem to be writing more for the VRWG blog than to satisfy any personal writing urges I may have

Do you have a preferred place in which to write?

No. I don’t usually sit down to write like the serious writers do. If I get the mood to write, it’s done wherever I am at that time. Sometimes it remains in my head and never makes it to paper and I’m okay with that. At the suggestion of a number of people through the years I started carrying a little notebook around with me, but on reading it back some weeks after starting it I discovered it was full of impromptu shopping lists and phone numbers with no names next to them so I don’t do that any more

Let’s talk about your muse. What/who inspires you to write?

A common trigger is boredom. If I’m bored and there isn’t a guitar to hand or an unfinished book to read, then I may compose something in my head. A challenge will also get me going, which is probably why the exercise before group meetings usually works out for me. But sometimes all I need is the challenge to get a cheap laugh (the cheaper the better!) And sometimes I just sit down with an empty mind and some blank paper, then just open the tap until I get the urge to do something else (hello Netflix).  I wrote in one of the blogs that I usually run out of discipline before I run out of anything else, and that’s a remarkably accurate way of describing it.

Tell us about your writing ambitions.

I don’t have any ambition to be a writer, which is just as well because I don’t have the discipline for it either. The longest thing I’ve ever written is only 16 pages long. I enjoy making people laugh though so as long I can continue to do that then I’m happy. To write 17 pages would be ambitious for me

Who are your favourite writers?

There’s been so many over the years. My mum was/is a great fan of horror so I did a lot of Dennis Wheatley type of stuff as a teen, and short story collections about ghosts and vampires etc. And my dad liked westerns and crime so I discovered Elmore Leonard (I love his dialogue and scene setting) and Louis L’Amour. The craziness of Spike Milligan’s war diaries left an impression in my youth too. So many though; Charles Dickens, George Pelecanos, Stephen King, Terry Pratchett. I also admire the blockbuster specialists that people can get a bit snobby about, like Dan Brown, or the rip-snorting page turners by the likes of Andy McNab. I don’t often see that kind of breathless pace in other books. It’s a real skill. But I also read non-fiction too when the mood takes – mainly from the branches of physics … I keep returning to cosmology and quantum mechanics, but I don’t have the kind of memory that can retain complex information so it tends to leak out of my ears, which means I tend to re-read stuff in the hope it’ll stick.

What’s your ideal writer’s life? Go on, let your imagination run wild!

To illustrate my lack of writing ambition (and for comedic effect) I was tempted to leave this bit blank. My ideal writing situation is pretty much what it is now. I write when I feel like it without putting pressure on myself to write a certain number of pages, or for a certain number of hours. I don’t even have a story I’m urged to tell. Plus, I only have to please myself, and I don’t imagine I’ll ever need to present anything to a publisher. My writing life is good and healthy, and exactly like it should be, thanks for asking

VRWG Life of a Writer Series (#04) Tom Ireland

Name: Tom Ireland
What genres do you write in?
Poetry, short stories, travel fiction
Have you ever had any work published? If so, what and where?
Ten novels published on Kindle as eBooks and paperbacks. Short stories and poems in VRWG publications
Do you have a preferred place in which to write?
Gladstone’s, Theology room, second desk on the right at the top of the spiral stairs
Let’s talk about your muse. What/who inspires you to write?
Cake, preferably rich fruit with marzipan, and biscuits. Any biscuits. Coffee, double espresso
Tell us about your writing ambitions
Started the Malinding series as a short story which became an opening chapter which became a trilogy …  the idea was that sale of the books would finance GOES, a micro-charity which sponsors education for girls, and medical care.

Pulitzer prize would be good. Maybe sell a few more books? Generally sell one book a month.  Perhaps finish this pesky ghost story …

Who are your favourite writers?
Ransome, Conrad, Shakespeare, Thomas
What’s your ideal writer’s life? Go on, let your imagination run wild!
A small house in the Gambian village which is the basis of Malinding, not too far from the river, near our friends’ compound. Views of the market place and the river
Outside of writing, is there something else we should know about you?
An archbishop of Canterbury once held a door open for me

 

VRWG Life of a Writer series (#03) Debbie Mitchell

Name: Debbie Mitchell (writing as Deborah K Mitchell)
What genres do you write in?
Mainly paranormal/horror, although I have a crime novel as a work in progress, which may see the light of day at some point.
Have you ever had any work published? If so, what and where?
I have three novels, the Rose Tattoo trilogy, self-published on Amazon and other platforms, as well as Mortem – a short-story collection. I also have various bits and pieces included in Vale Royal Writers Group’s own anthologies. Oh, and I had a poem published in the Liverpool Echo when I was nine.

Do you have a preferred place in which to write?
I love Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, and coffee shops.
Let’s talk about your muse. What/who inspires you to write?
I’ve had the writing bug since I was a child. My maternal grandad was a self-taught reader and writer, and he had ambitions to write a book which were, sadly, never realized. My mum also dabbled in writing, so perhaps the baton was just passed on to me through my DNA. I’m inspired to write by the world around me. I’m a journalist by trade, and there are so many real-life stories I come across that generate great ideas for works of fiction. Or, I’ve had ideas for stories that come from overheard snippets of conversation, or dreams, or even just a glimpse of a scene I’ve passed in my car. The muse can strike anywhere at any time from any source!
Tell us about your writing ambitions
My aim is to build a healthy catalogue of work and gain some traction in the world of indie publishing, so that I eventually make a decent living from it.
Who are your favourite writers?
John Connolly for the cool and clever way he combines horror with crime. Susan Hill for her wonderful ghost stories. Laurie Lee for his gorgeous descriptions of time and place. Also, Joanne Harris, Adam Nevill, Charles Dickens and George Orwell.
What’s your ideal writer’s life? Go on, let your imagination run wild!
I would rise willingly with the sun and take the dogs for a walk on the beach that my house overlooks, before returning for a morning of writing at a large desk positioned by a window facing the sea. I’d take a break for lunch, and stroll into the nearby town to my favourite café where the bohemians hang out. In the afternoon, I would Skype the Hollywood producers who’ve commissioned one of my books to make into a film, or converse with the commissioning editor at the BBC who’s interested in adapting my screenplay. There would be a bit more writing and admin work, before finishing for the day. In the evening, I would open my door to my writer/artist friends for a night of wine, food and conversation around a big, old oak table in my kitchen.

VRWG Life of a Writer series (#02) Debbie Bennett

Name: Debbie Bennett
What genres do you write in?
Fantasy/sf/horror as Debbie Bennett, plus crime & thrillers as DJ Bennett. Why two names? They’re different markets with different readers – but enough similarity to cross-pollinate for the right readers.
Have you ever had any work published? If so, what and where?
I’ve been selling short fiction for over 20 years to women’s magazines and anthologies and I’ve won and been placed in many competitions. I’ve also got 7 novels in print and I’ve recently started dabbling in script-writing with a commission for a Dr Who spin-off set of short films which were released on DVD in 2017. I’m also script-writing for a local community radio play project – think The Archers but darker …
Do you have a preferred place in which to write?
My study in my old house! Sadly, we sold up, cleared the mortgage and downsized nearly 18 months ago and now I have a corner of the dining room, which isn’t ideal. My request to Santa this year is for a good quality set of of noise-reducing headphones, though I doubt they will completely drown out whatever rubbish my husband is watching on tv.
Let’s talk about your muse. What/who inspires you to write?
I’ve always written. Since the age of about 9 when I was reading Brave New World and then moved straight into Heinlein and Wyndham. They didn’t have YA books when I was a teenager, so I haunted my local library and devoured all those plain yellow-covered Robert Hale science-fiction hardbacks. And tried to write like them too. My early efforts were unreadable but I still have them somewhere.
Tell us about your writing ambitions
It’s all about the money! Nah – money would be nice – I’d be able to give up the day job, but really it’s all about validation, isn’t it? I was lucky enough to have a good agent way back in the when, which at least gave me the self-confidence to continue writing, but I’d like to know that people like what I do. I’d like to get more into script-writing too – or at least get my work onto the screen. Recent films The Ritual and The Silence come from novels written by people I know from the convention circuit; so many others have novels under option or even in production, and I love fellowing their stories on Facebook and wishing it was me …
Who are your favourite writers?
Ooh that’s a hard one. I was inspired by fantasy writers like Susan Cooper (The Dark is Rising is simply awesome), Louise Cooper’s Time Master trilogy and pretty much anything Storm Constantine has ever written. I’ve met and shared much alcohol with Louise and Storm and admire them both hugely.

Books I buy in a heartbeat as soon as they are up on pre-order on Amazon? Matthew Reilly for one. Lad-lit – guns, fast cars, silly plots, implausible chases, bigger guns. His books are littered with exclamation marks, badly-constructed sentences and unrealistic ideas – but that man can write. He can have you on the edge of the seat, wondering what’s going to happen next, and he has the ability to sketch a character in a few lines. I’d read his laundry lists, I really would.

What’s your ideal writer’s life? Go on, let your imagination run wild!
Much as it is now, but without the day job. If I had enough money not to worry about the return on investment in our current house, I’d put an extension on the back with a quiet study for me – but otherwise, why change what isn’t broken? Apart from maybe the chance to attend my own film premiere!
Outside of writing, is there something else we should know about you?
My claim to fame is I once asked Stephen King to dance. And yes – I do mean the Stephen King, at a private and very exclusive London party to which I had a personal invitation! But otherwise I’m pretty boring. Married, one adult child and a penchant for a bottle of wine and the local pub quiz every Thursday evening.

You can find out more at http://www.debbiebennett.co.uk

 

VRWG Life of a Writer series (#01) David H Varley

VRWG Life of a Writer blog post questionnaire

Name: David Varley

Q. What genre/s do you write in?

A. Poetry, horror, fantasy and science fiction      

Q. Have you had any work published? If so, what and where?

A. Nowhere terribly glamorous! I had a few bits and bobs published in a local magazine when I lived up north, but since moving to Cheshire I’ve only managed to have a novelette, The Unknown, published by a small indie publisher. It’s being released in a physical anthology soon!

Q. Do you have a preferred place in which to write?

A. I do most of my writing directly at my home computer, but I always have a notebook on me in case inspiration strikes. On nice days, I like to go out into the countryside to find somewhere quiet and beautiful to sit and make notes.

Q. Let’s talk about your muse. What/who inspires you to write?

A. A fiendish need to transcribe the things in my head on to paper for fear that they will otherwise fill up all the available space in there.

Q. Tell us about your writing ambitions.

A. I would love to write something novel-length, but I would also settle for getting a few more publications under my belt.

Q. Who are your favourite writers?

A. Too many to mention, but if pushed I would endlessly extol the virtues of Tolkien, Borges, Lovecraft, Le Guin and Pratchett.

Q. What’s your ideal writer’s life? Go on, let your imagination run wild!

A. A comfortable study looking out on acres of woodland under gently falling snow, a roaring fire in the grate with a happy cat stretched out before it, some light music drifting on the air, a well-stocked drinks cabinet, and absolutely no need to go out to the day-job!