Chandler’s Ford Today covers a wide spectrum of interests – from football to gliding, from local history to reviews of shows in nearby theatres and Thornden Hall. From memories of the Gang Show to news of the latest fundraising efforts by the Scouts and the Fairtrade events.
Naturally a blog like this will attract writers. People like Richard Hardie, whose young adult Temporal Detective Series (Leap of Faith and Trouble With Swords), will be highlighted in Chandler’s Ford library next Thursday 29th October. People like Brenda Sedgwick whose first novel, Marriage, a Journey and a Dog, was out earlier this year.
And I’ve had the great joy of catching up with two friends, Gill James and Felicity Fair Thompson who have both shared what life is like as a small publisher. From a writer’s viewpoint, it is always good to see what life is like on the other side of the fence. And I hope such pieces show the hard work behind the scenes in producing a book, both from the publisher’s and writer’s viewpoints.
This post finishes the interview I conducted with Isle of Wight based ex-ballet dancer, Felicity, who ran the first writing event I ever attended at Sandown. She shares some of her special moments as a writer and gives wonderful tips and advice we both hope will benefit others.
Life as a writer
What have been the best stand-out moments for you as a writer?
- One very nice occasion I was working alongside Sir Andrew Motion at the Bi-Centennial celebrations held on the Isle of Wight at Farringford for Alfred Lord Tennyson. Running workshops beside and with the Poet Laureate was a real honour. He was absolutely charming.
- Way back, selling my first scenic travel article to People’s Friend.
Wonderful writing moments
- The performance in Niton Church on the Isle of Wight of The Wreck of the Irex. I belong to the Shore Women Poets and when I joined them, they had started to write about this shipwreck near the Needles. They asked me to put the story together through their poetry into a play. It was exciting to bring it all into a shaped piece. We had a grant from EU and it was a huge success and a sell out. We went on to do workshops with schools and more performances.
- Seeing my children’s story The Concert Party in an anthology published by Robinson, a collection called Dance Stories. When I was sent a copy of the book I couldn’t believe I was alongside Noel Streatfield, Walter de la Mare, Oscar Wilde, Hans Christian Anderson, and more. I had been in utter awe of them as a child. It was astonishing! Other contributors were current writers I really, really admire.
Allison: The link I’ve attached to Walter de la Mare takes you to a poetry archive where you can type in the name of poets for further information on them. Rather than repeat the link for each poet, I have just selected one but from what I’ve seen of this site, it looks interesting.
Felicity: Being called up onto the stage at the Stationers Hall in the City of London on the prize announcement night.
I was one of the three top finalists in the Beryl Bainbridge Award at the People’s Book Prize for my first novel Cutting In was exciting too – a bit like X-Factor!
I’ve listed some of the most important do’s and don’ts for a writer below. Felicity, what are your thoughts?
1. DO read across genres, including non-fiction.
Absolutely! In a factual account you may find the very storyline that might add to an idea you have yourself. Fact will also teach you about context. Fiction will teach you how to keep your readers engaged, how to end chapters, and no end about setting out rules. If you enjoy a story, read it more than once – see why it worked for you. Film is useful too – dialogue is all important. Listen. Hear how to edit what is said in your own written scenes.
2. DO print work out and edit on paper, not screen.
Do! On paper you see so much more. On screen the work is somehow too familiar, and you fall into the trap of seeing what you think is there!
3. DO put work aside for while and then re-look at it with fresh eyes.
This is an important rule. Again, you are too familiar with your own work to see deficiencies. Lend it to someone else to read too. They will question and probe. Well, they will if you’ve chosen someone who agrees to be impartial. Is what you think you’ve written actually there on the page? Are the characters truly engaging?
4. DO accept that anything worthwhile will take time.
Writing isn’t easy! And you may not make a fortune! For me it is creating something I can be proud of, something I have done to the best of my ability. I want people to care about my characters – really care. Nothing really good can be created without care and attention, and writing takes time, and time, and then more time. And add in careful exploration of ideas, and thought and more thought.
Allison: My DON’Ts are:-
1. DON’T submit work too soon, there will be things to correct.
Rushing is unsafe. As soon as you’ve sent it you just know what you might have changed! Sleep on it before it goes out.
2. DON’T rush the spell and grammar checking. Your work must be the best it can be before submitting it. Use a good dictionary.
Be very careful of computer spell checkers. They will not show up an incorrectly spelt word if that word is a correct word meaning something different e.g If you wanted to write hat and instead you’ve typed hut, no spell checker will point that out! Be careful of your grammar too. Ask someone to read it through just for that if you are not sure yourself. There are books out there to help too: Write Right! by Jan Venolia is just one of many.
3. DON’T rely on your computer’s facilities here. It won’t pick up everything. My grammar checker, for reasons best known to itself, hates the word “their”!
Computers are like supermarket trolleys – they don’t always have four working wheels, and they have minds of their own! They are also programmed by humans who don’t always know all the quirks of the English language! Put in images of computers, spell checkers if possible.
4. DON’T assume rejections are personal. They’re not. They’re an indication that someone thinks your work is not quite right or ready yet. They could be right and in any event it doesn’t stop you submitting elsewhere (though if more than one person tells you the same thing, you have work to do!).
What good advice. Rejections come in different forms. Just a compliment slip and you had better look hard at what you have written. Sometimes you may just have sent it to the wrong person. Take care when you are choosing where to send your work. A complimentary sentence can inspire you to try harder. There’s something about your writing. A really nice letter – you are promising. Keep at it! You’ll get there!
Which author do you think you learnt the most from and why?
Rather sweetly, I think it’s my mother, Joan Kinmont. She was a writer – of plays and narrative poetry. I remember her winning a playwriting competition where the judge was Noel Coward and I remember the stars in her eyes that night in Sydney when he presented her with the prize. Her narrative poem This My Son held the record for the most book sales in Australia from 1939 to 1952. She taught me to like stories and she took us to the theatre all the time too – ballet, opera, plays, revue, film.
Which author has inspired you the most and why?
Dare I say Shakespeare? Look at the range of stories. Look at the structure. Magic!
Allison: I have recently watched Hamlet (at Thornden Hall) with Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role. Amazing story which grips over three hours. Amazing performances. And that is just one Shakespeare play!
Which is your favourite book/author?
Sometimes I come to an author out of the blue. I just love a book I can’t put down – and then I will go on reading until I finish it, even it takes all night.
- Rumer Godden – The River
- Kate Thompson – The New Policeman
- Ruth Rendall – her mysteries – and her writing as Barbara Vine
Allison: The late much missed Ruth Rendell will also be renowned for her Inspector Wexford mysteries, especially given they were set around Romsey, not a million miles from Chandler’s Ford.
Do you outline?
I do outline. I want to see that the story will work before I set out on the journey of writing it. I want to know what will matter to the protagonist and how much it will matter, and where she/he is going to and why. I start out with the basics and keep working on it until it is at a point where I just have to write the story. Of course just writing the story is the big step but if I am faltering, I go back to the outline and improve that before I continue.
How do you develop your themes?
I suppose I do have a theme running through my books – characters who are prepared to chance everything, jeopardise everything, to do what they need to do. It is true of my three novels – and even true of my children’s stories, so I suppose that must be it!
Do themes develop as you go along or do you set the theme first and then write?
I teach about theme as part of the structure of story. I believe the main character’s motivation reflects it – love, truth, validation… those kinds of big ideas are what my characters are chasing.
Hold Tight and Cutting Tight are very different in themselves but also to The Kid on Slapton Beach in that the latter is based around a historical event.
It took me three months to write Cutting In, but then I did know the theatre world well. The Kid on Slapton Beach took two years of research. Hold Tight I wrote and then put down and then came back to it and worked again on it.
With regard to Hold Tight, which is about a missing child, did you find knowing that such disappearances happen far too often for real restricting? What would you like Hold Tight to achieve? Could it be a warning?
I was particularly interested in how a WPC would handle sitting in with the mother, how that relationship might develop, and how the mother would cope with the awful prospect of waiting. Combining that with WPC Velalley’s own life interested me. We expect so much of the people who work for us all. It’s a really tough job trying to do the best for children, to be a law enforcement officer, and try to maintain some kind of balance in one’s own life too.
Did real life experiences as a dancer inspire Cutting In?
Ballet is very particular world full of envy and ambition, all combined with the beauty of dance. Because I wrote the book years after I had given up ballet, I did some research by sitting in on rehearsals and classes with the Vienna Festival Ballet just to make sure nothing had changed. Nothing had! There was still that rivalry and the supreme physical effort involved. I hasten to add my character Elaine is certainly not me!
I want to thank you, Allison, for suggesting these interviews as they are also an opportunity to thank all the people over the years who have helped me with my writing, and with setting up our small publishing house, and most of all, the people who read my books!
After all that is really why I write. I like telling stories! And now all I have to do is make time to get on with the next book!
Allison: Many thanks, Felicity, for sharing your thoughts on writing. Good luck with the next book!
- Inspired by Slapton Beach: Felicity Fair Thompson
- Life as a Small Publisher: Allison Symes Talks to Felicity Fair Thompson
Note: Don’t miss Allison’s next post on Friday 6th November 2015.
Visit Allison Symes’ website: Fairytales with Bite
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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