* you can find the original interviews and much more on my 'everything writing' blog (http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com), including author spotlights, guest posts, book reviews, flash fiction or poetry - new items posted 6am UK time Monday to Saturday and writing exercises at 6pm very weekday.
Wednesday, 20 June 2012
Author interview no.115: Linda Lewis (revisited)
Back in September 2011, I interviewed author Linda Lewis for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the one hundred and fifteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found at http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/blog-interviews.
Morgen: Hello Linda, lovely to get to chat to you having seen your name so often in the writing and women’s magazines. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Linda: I wasn’t one of those people who always wanted to be a writer. I had a rubbish childhood and was never encouraged in anything I did. I’ve written an autobiography which deals with this in far greater depth than I’d want to do here (see www.lulu.com reference 10957595).
Morgen: Oh that’s really sad… but something good came out of it. My childhood wasn’t very memorable so would be a short story rather than a whole book…
Linda: At age 11 I wrote a short play which was a spoof on Batman. I remember my English teacher laughing so much he almost cried.
Morgen: Wow, I do remember my English teachers being very supportive… maybe that’s just the way they are. :)
Linda: That gave me a huge thrill, but it didn’t lead to anything. It wasn’t until I was married to my third husband that the idea of having a go at writing even occurred to me. I started a correspondence course in which they made me write articles. The very first one I wrote (about a tropical fish) was accepted and for the next few years, I wrote hundreds of fishy articles for several magazines. I didn’t complete the course as it covered so many different aspects of writing, many of which I simply wasn’t interested in.
Morgen: I was the same with a 2-year local certificate course; I did the first year which included script, short stories and children’s and poetry which was enough for me… at nearly £700 a year it was an easy decision. But I passed and have the points banked in case I do anything else.
Linda: I switched my focus to fiction after my husband died. Losing him changed my life. I lost interest in fishkeeping, ran down my tanks, and in the end, gave the last of my fish away. Fiction offered an escape route. Until recently, I avoided writing about my own life, making things up was much easier and far less painful.
Morgen: Oh I’m sorry to hear that, again something good came out… I know for the women’s magazines genres vary but is there a genre that you generally write?
Linda: I write in whatever genre I think an editor might want to buy, so that includes romance, fantasy, twist endings and crime. Regarding books, my finished novel is a contemporary romance with an edge, the one I will be working on next is a fantasy novel for young teens.
Morgen: ‘an edge’ I like the sound of that. :) I know the answer to this is going to be ‘a lot’ but what have you had published to-date?
Linda: I’ve been concentrating on writing short stories and have lost count of how many I’ve sold. It must be two hundred, maybe more. My stories have appeared in Chat, That’s Life, Woman, Woman’s Weekly, My Weekly, Yours, The Weekly News, Your Cat, Best, Take a Break (TAB) and Fiction Feast. They’ve always been published in Australia and Scandinavia.
I’ve also had dozens, possibly more than a hundred, articles published, mainly about tropical fish. Again, these appeared in several magazines based in the UK, USA and South Africa.
I don’t write much non fiction these days, apart from my column in Writers Forum. It’s called SHORT STORY SUCCESS. I use it to pass on hints and tips to other fiction writers and tell them about the ups and downs of my writing life.
Morgen: I know, it’s great. I’m a short story writer (in the main) so, without sounding like an über fan (if I don’t already) it’s one of my favourites.
Linda: My only finished novel almost found a publisher but not quite. I have at least four half-written ones languishing in various drawers.
Morgen: ‘Almost’ is great, a lot closer than, sadly, a lot of writers (including myself). Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Linda: I have won a few competitions but none of the ‘big’ ones.
I think competition wins help enormously, especially the high profile ones like the Bridport. I have been shortlisted in Writing Magazine / Writers News competitions, five or six times and have started entering them again as I’d like to win at least once!
Morgen: I’m the same (shortlisted in Writing Mag) so a win there would be great (I’ve won a couple of smaller ones) but it’s still a thrill for me to see my name in there.
Linda: Another thing that can be very useful is submitting stories to anthologies and collections. I have a story in a collection called Diamonds and Pearls (Published by Accent Press) and (together with all the other contributors) donated my royalties to a breast cancer charity. I’m also in Radgepacket 5 (Byker Books) and several other collections.
The fact is it only takes one publisher, or the right agent, to notice you. For me, that’s what competitions and collections are all about. The prize money helps too.
Morgen: They do. And absolutely, it’s about sending it out (note to self: submit more!). :) Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Linda: I use Catherine Howard when I write for Take a Break or Fiction Feast. I have no idea what name I would use for a novel.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Linda: I had an agent for the novel that nearly made it, but she was the wrong one for me. I have just started to look for a new one. Agents make things so much easier for writers and are worth their commission.
Morgen: I do tend to agree for writers who seriously want their books on the shelves. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Linda: I have a few books available as eBooks via Lulu.com – various collections of my short stories (crime – ref 10900373, love stories – ref 10271074, twist endings – ref 10217932), an autobiography telling the truth about my childhood and my relationship with my parents (A Mother’s Love: How I learned to live without it, ref 10957595), plus a series of writing guides of which two have been published so far. The first is a light hearted glossary of terms, ref 10238155. The second looks at why short stories are rejected and what writers can do to increase their chances of an acceptance (ref 10966417). Each of these is also available as a ‘normal’ book.
Morgen: Ooh I love crime, and I love short stories... back in a minute. Only kidding (noted for later though). :) What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Linda: My first acceptance was for an article about the glass catfish – Kryptopterus bicirrhis which appeared in Aquarist and Pondkeeper, a magazine that is sadly no more.
My first piece of fiction was only 400 words long. It was called A DEADLY CONVERSATION and appeared in a local newspaper. I was paid £30. I was so thrilled, I photocopied the cheque!
Morgen: Me too and I never cashed mine (although it was a 60-worder for Woman’s Weekly so only £10). I think they tell their banks to give them pretty cheque books so no-one cashes them. :) Although if it had been much more I would have done.
Linda: Sadly, having short stories published no longer gives me a thrill as I aim to sell at least three every month, but I would be over the moon if I sold a book.
Morgen: What a shame, I’ll swap. :) But then really I’m at the beginning of my publishing career so maybe I’d feel differently after 200+ stories. I hope not but then I’ve gone from writing (and submitting some) short stories to novels, found I didn’t enjoy them half as much and am back to short stories with a vengeance. :) Presumably with so many submissions there have been quite a few rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Linda: I sometimes have ten stories rejected in one day as TAB / Fiction Feast seem to stockpile them. The best thing to do, I’ve found, is send the story off to somebody else a.s.a.p.
Morgen: Absolutely… keep the circulation going (note to self). :)
Linda: As mentioned earlier, I’ve written a guide about coping with rejection which is available via www.lulu.com. It covers the various reasons stories are rejected, and also points out that it is not always the fault of the story.
Morgen: It’s easy to forget that. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Linda: Right now, I’m churning out short stories as I need to build my numbers up after not writing very many earlier this year. After that I plan to totally rework my novel adding a darker strand, then have a go at writing some more radio plays. I wrote two last year which received good feedback from Radio 4, so I feel it’s time to have another go.
Morgen: Oh brilliant, the BBC always appears so supportive so fingers crossed. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Linda: I write almost every day. The most I’ve written is around 6000 words.
Morgen: Wow, that’s good going; three+ magazine short stories. :) What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Linda: I don’t believe in it. I DO believe that there are times when we don’t write as well as we could, but we can always write. You just put your pen on the page and move your arm.
Morgen: A question some authors dread (I guess because it’s sometimes impossible to answer?), where do you get your inspiration from?
Linda: Inspiration comes at me from all directions – TV, other people, songs, newspapers, magazines, adverts… I have so many ideas for books and stories, I have trouble choosing which one to do next. For me it’s all about training yourself to notice ideas. Once you do that, you never run out.
Morgen: I’m definitely there, I do wonder if I’ll write everything I have ideas for… definitely better that way round. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Linda: If I’m writing for a womag, I tend to have an idea of the plot before I start. That said, I often end up with a different ending as many editors enjoy a twist, and those usually come to me when a story is almost fully formed.
Morgen: With short stories, apart from the word count, what do you see as the differences between them and novels and why do you think they’re so difficult to get published?
Linda: The difference is hard to define. You could say that stories concentrate on smaller episodes or events, but some novels are also very narrow in focus. I’d have to say it’s mainly to do with the word count and that in book you have more room to add sub plots and minor characters which would only serve to confuse the reader in a short story.
Morgen: Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Linda: I give talks to anyone who will listen.
Linda: I also run workshops and classes, and act as judge for competitions when asked. I also offer a feedback service to writers of short stories.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Linda: I believe in editing, mainly as I often have to make a story fit a specific word count. I have never written a story that didn’t need some editing.
Morgen: That’s encouraging and I’ve heard a lot of… I was going to say “seasoned” but that implies “old” :)… experienced writers saying that. Plus also, certainly for longer pieces, editors pick up on things that hadn’t occurred to the author which can make a huge difference (talking from experience here). Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Linda: That depends on what I’m writing. Articles go straight on to the computer. Stories are written first in long hand. Novels are a bit of both.
Morgen: :) Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Linda: I like to have some background noise. A favourite CD is Fleetwood mac’s Greatest Hits, but I also like Alfred Brendel playing Schubert.
Morgen: Classical for me too, although FM’s hits is in my collection too. :) What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Linda: I like writing in the first person as that’s more immediate but write more in the third person because that’s what TAB / Fiction Feat prefer. I have written in the second person but nothing that’s been published.
Morgen: I know that feeling – it’s certainly not a popular point of view but then hard to read in anything other than small doses so for specialist outlets I think. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Morgen: :) What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Linda: I love deadlines so my favourite part of my writing life is writing my column (Short Story Success) for Writers Forum. It’s non fiction, which I find much easier, plus I get quite a lot of feedback from readers which is great.
Morgen: I’m much better with deadlines. I’ve been a secretary / PA since I left school so I can prioritise well. Tell me something can wait two months and I can always find enough things to fill the 7-8 weeks before I need to start panicking. :)
Linda: My least favourite part is the isolation which is why I encourage people to join writers’ groups. I belong to Leeds Writers Circle and although I don’t get to as many meetings as I would like, it’s great to know they’re there. I also go to various courses, creative writing groups, festivals and holidays whenever I can.
Morgen: I love being alone (although I have my dog for company) but run / belong to three groups so a great balance. Plus also they’re great critiquers so my sounding board before going off to my editor, Rachel. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Linda: Don’t always take notice of other people’s advice! They may be wrong.
Believe in yourself. Work hard, and keep writing, whatever happens.
I would also recommend writers’ holidays especially the wonderful Swanwick Writers Summer School held in August in Derbyshire.
These are not cheap, but they’re worth it. I always come home with new contacts, new friends, and a notebook FULL of ideas.
The other major piece of advice I have is simple, write in your own voice. Don’t write what you THINK you should write. Follow your heart.
Morgen: I went to Winchester Writers Conference for the first time this July and am hooked. I’d been on many other one-day courses but I did the whole weekend (including a two-part workshop) and it was like being on holiday surrounded by friends (I did know a few people there so really it was :)). Swanwick does sound good, and nearer to me… maybe I could do both next year. :) What do you like to read?
Linda: I like to read a bit of everything, but prefer fiction. I adore Terry Pratchett and would advise anyone who hasn’t tried him to take the plunge. Right now I’m reading the Millennium trilogy and loving every minute. Brilliant. Other favourites are John Wyndham and Ray Bradbury. I also like unusual books e.g. The Time Traveller’s Wife and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time.
Morgen: Ah Mark Haddon, a Northampton man. :) What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? :)
Linda: I like to grow things, especially things you can eat. I like to play tennis on the Wii, bake wheat free cakes as I have an allergy, listen to music, browse charity shops, play board games, watch TV, go to the theatre - all kinds of things. I used to sing with several choirs but sadly, I don’t do that so much now.
Occasionally I look after other people’s pets (mainly dogs) when they’re away which I really enjoy. I get all the benefits of having a dog around the house with few of the disadvantages.
Morgen: What a good idea. :) Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Linda: www.nawg.co.uk The National Association of Writers Groups do a great job, and produce an excellent magazine for members. You don’t even have to belong to a group to become a member.
Morgen: I’m biased here because they’ve published me (April / August 2011 and will be in October’s) but yes, it’s a great magazine – LINK – and I’ve seen you in there Linda. :)
Linda: www.prizemagic.co.uk The man who writes this has a great sense of humour. Not only that, he lists dozens of writing (and other) competitions.
Morgen: Another great site; I’ve recommended it a few times.
Linda: www.womagwriter.blogspot.com This site is a great source of up to date market info and useful advice. It’s a must in my book.
Morgen: Definitely, another recommendation (and on my Link blog page). I’d also recommend www.jbwb.co.uk for competitions, markets etc. Where are you based Linda?
Linda: I’m in Leeds, in England.
Morgen: Ah, the lovely Yorkshire – fond memories of a school trip. :) Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Linda: I’m on Facebook and I also tweet. Just search for Linda Lewis.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your work?
Linda: WEBSITE - www.akacatherinehoward.weebly.com
Morgen: Thanks Linda (you’re now on my Links page). Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Linda: Yes. It’s hard to make it as a writer these days, but it’s not impossible. If you are good enough, work hard and never stop trying, then you will succeed.
Morgen: Absolutely… just keep doing what you’re doing (as HarperCollins’ Scott Pack said to me earlier this year)… so I am, and I’m loving it. Thank you very much, Linda.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the questions. You complete them, I tweak them where appropriate (if necessary to reflect the blog ‘clean and light’ rating) and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) :) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.