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Apr 10

I is for Interviews

One surprising technique I find helps with keeping motivated is to read interviews, whether it be a tête à tête with a famous author or a lowly aspiring writer, delving into the mind of your peers can be a great inspiration. Not only can interviews be a useful source of technical information such as how the author got published, found an agent, and handled a book launch, they can also offer valuable insights into the lifestyles of other writers.

When you demystify the world of the published author you start to realise that even the ones on the bestsellers lists aren’t that different from you and I. Their stories can offer a glimmer of hope as you realise some authors are just as petrified of making mistakes as we are, and are still ‘winging it’ in their career. It’s nice to hear that even authors who’ve written ten or twenty books still suffer from writer’s block, writer’s arse, and even primoliberlibriitis.

And now in a perfect twist of fate, I just happen to have an interview with a fellow author! What a lovely coincidence that today’s post was all about interviews! May I present to you Clare Donaldson.

INTERVIEW: Clare Donaldson

SC: So mademoiselle Donaldson, who the hell are you anyway??

CD: Madame, young man – je suis, Madame! (Please don’t forget the “e”!) And what do you mean by asking me who I am? Can you only Movember and not you remember? *weeps loudly into handkerchief (Kleenex Balsam if you must know)* Je ne regrette rien, Monsieur Steven, rien.

Actually, I’m a guid Scottish wifie, mair at hame spakin’ Scots or Gaelic, than French (That’s Gaelic, NOT garlic – though I’m quite partial to garlic. Not as partial as I am to chillies, mind – I LOVE chillies. Some of your readers, the lucky ones, may recognise me from my twitter name @celticchilli).

I have a tendency to get easily side-tracked but I am positively addicted to procrastination – I’ve done the degree and doctorate and am now writing the ultimate book on the subject – or would be if I didn’t keep getting side-tracked.

What side-tracks me? Running the hotel – otherwise known as “home” to OH and teenage daughter; a stomach-on-legs with GPS-nose – otherwise known as a Beagle; singing silly songs and reading stories to pre-schoolers – it’s called “work”; eating chilli products – from pancakes to pistachios – all in the name of research of course; writing – what I do when I’ve run out of reasons to procrastinate.

So, just to clarify, if you’re wandering in the Scottish countryside and chance upon a redhead carrying a lead (no dog in sight – he’s off rolling in rubbish or raiding rucksacks) and singing Ally-Bally-Bee to the midges, that could be me. (If not singing, I may be found munching chillies and texting myself amendments to the WIP, great ideas invariably strike in the great outdoors!)

Does that answer your question, young man?

SC: Je suis très désolé…madame. So when you manage to avoid the procrastination, side-trackery, and playing hotelier/walker/reader what do you write?

CD: There’s the short answer: words

Or there’s this version:

I write lists and messages to myself – lots of them because I have the memory of a panda. I write cheques – lots of them because I have a teenage daughter. I write book reviews for newbooks magazine – quite a few of those too because they supply me with free reading materiel in exchange.

I also write about things that interest me (though it occurs, as I write this, that I have not yet written about chillies *hastily adds to relevant list*), as a result of which I have had articles published in newspapers, nursing journals, dog magazines etc.

As well as researched articles, I love writing opinion pieces. Quelle surprise, n’est pas? No, I thought not!

Have you made plans for your funeral yet? No, I’m not side-tracking here, that’s the sort of question I write about when I’m not writing about canine epilepsy or MacHavers holistic therapies (you have heard of  Mac’upuncture – the application of thistles rather than needles – I presume?).

Fiction-wise, most of my writing has never seen the light of day. I have three, completed but unedited, children’s novels sitting on my hard drive that I intend to return to someday. Strangely I can’t see “someday” on my current calendar but I suspect it’s the third day of the week-end.

My preferred area of writing is the short story. Unfortunately, I suffer from SUNOS* syndrome which militates against publication and prize-winning (though lack of talent might come into the equation somewhere!). On the rare occasions I can overcome SUNOS, I tend to be so critical of my own work, (yes, hard to believe, isn’t it?), that

I won’t submit it.  However, 2012 is going to be my year of finishing and submitting – and I have already started…

*SUNOS – story unfinished, new one started.

I have also acted as ghost writer for my dog when he needed a paw writing his own regular column in the local paper – I didn’t even get a by-line.

What I don’t write, is poetry. A tongue-in-cheek piece of doggerel I addressed to the Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders Police about the difficulties of parking in Edinburgh while on duty as a District Nurse, found its’ way into print – and hopefully out of print again. The image of my riding down the Royal Mile, in uniform, on a horse that is wearing incontinence pants, is not one I wish to be preserved!

SC: So now you’re a French, Gaelic Ghost…that must be tough. Funeral wise I want to be wrapped in newspapers and put in the nearest dumpster…but I’m guessing that’s not what you wrote about in your article? How did you get into writing articles? And do you have any advice for people who want to do the same?

CD: I didn’t guess your exact posthumous wishes, Steven but that is what I wrote about. What a relief for your loved ones that they won’t have to wonder whether to feed you to the sharks or bury you in a Starship Enterprise pod!

I never made a conscious decision to write articles, it just evolved as something I was able to do alongside the day job. I’m not trying to make a living out of it so I have the luxury of choosing what I want to write about.  It may be a subject I feel strongly about or I may have identified an apparent gap in the market. Sometimes I’ll respond to something I’ve read, sometimes I just want to share something that I think might interest other people. I enjoy the variety of writing styles involved – from serious to tongue-in-cheek. I love writing…and chillies…!

My first article appeared in Nursing Times as a result of my sending them a letter about the treatment of rape victims in hospital. They published the letter and commissioned a follow-up article. In my naivety, I was happy to be sharing my work with colleagues (and even more gratified to be contacted by nurse tutors requesting permission to use my article as a teaching tool) – payment wasn’t a consideration. When the (quite substantial!) cheque arrived, it was the icing on the cake and paid for my first typewriter *suspects young Steven will have to Google that word*. The writing bug had bitten and, unlike its’ rival, our steel-toothed wee Highland Midgie bug, its’ bite has had only positive repercussions!

To anyone interested in writing articles, my main advice would be not to write a complete article until/unless you have a market for it. Editors are interested in ideas, not the finished piece. If your idea is commissioned you will then be able to adapt the subsequent article to the editor’s requirements and the relevant house style. Flexibility is crucial. (This makes me your flexible friend, Steven!)

In these days of shrinking markets, finding the market can be more difficult than writing the article. If you have a job or hobby which has its own specialist publication, this can be a good place to start. The opportunities are out there but they won’t just land in your lap – you have to research your markets and pitch your ideas before the real writing begins.

SC: I’ve heard of typewriters! They’re like paperweights but bigger, right? So those children’s novels you mention (you thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you?!), when are you going to return to them? And what are they about? Details, my flexible friend, details!

CD: That’s right, clever young man, typewriters are bigger than paperweights (you looked at Google images obviously!) but they can do a similar amount of damage if you throw them.

A serious return to the children’s’ novels will have to wait until home and work commitments ease off a bit – you can call it procrastination, I call it life-getting-in-the-way-at-the-moment!

You want details? There’s a book about a raindrop who wants to stay in his cloud (really a picture book rather than a novel); a Banshee who wants to stop being scary; what happens when a family takes a holiday in an area with no mobile or internet connection; a witch who struggles to be environmentally-friendly; a fantasy novel slipping between Brighid’s Ireland and the present day. (There’s a fifth novel in progress as well – not too sure where that one’s going….)

Can’t you ask me questions that need shorter answers before any brave readers that have persevered thus far, give up the ghost or die of boredom?

SC: Ok, we’ll have a quick fire round then – hands on buzzers…favourite genre?

CD: Depends on my mood – and I have many of those! I no longer have patience for books that demand too much of me – I want to read the author’s story, not be challenged by his literary pretensions. My life’s too short for experimental fiction unless it really grips me. I rarely read science fiction because I can’t even understand science fact. So that leaves just about everything else! I’m quite catholic in my tastes – though I do relish a good psychological thriller and my favourite colour is turquoise.

SC: Favourite book?

CD: IMPOSSIBLE question – but Joanne Harris’, “Chocolat”, and Paulo Coelho’s, “The Alchemist”, would be in my top ten and my favourite animal is the wolf, closely followed by the hare, then the sloth.

SC: Favourite author?

CD: IMPOSSIBLE again – but would include Emile Zola, Joanne Harris, Paulo Coelho, James Robertson, Malorie Blackman, Chris Cleave and my favourites foods are potatoes and chillies.

SC: Plotter or pantser?

CD: Definitely pantser – I take an idea and run with it (or ramble, as you seem to think I do! Ramble? Moi? ;)). I’m not organised enough to be a plotter – and, to be honest, that route doesn’t appeal to me. I like to write intuitively, not knowing what will transpire and my favourite drink is Irish coffee.

SC: Where do you see your writing career five years from now?

CD: 5 years on?  If there’s one thing I learned from working with addicts (and I learned a lot), it’s the importance of taking one day at a time. I’ll carry on writing as long as I’m still enjoying it but I have no grand plan or writing ambition. I do set myself monthly writing goals and push myself to meet them though; otherwise I would procrastinate forever and never submit anything.

In the longer term, I’d rather write something that touches a small audience profoundly, than a superficial best-seller. I definitely don’t want fame (I’m shy really – yes, really!) and I suspect it’s unlikely that fortune will come knocking on my door! (though if it did, I’d open it!).

Writing gives me enjoyment (as well as the occasional headache!); if I can share that enjoyment with other people then so much the better. Words are powerful things and with power comes responsibility. It’s my responsibility, as far as I’m concerned, to use words positively to the best of my ability. I strive to do that – if it results in a best seller, so be it.

However, if it just provokes a smile here, shares an insight there, provides comfort elsewhere, I’m satisfied with that. I would no more identify myself as a writer than I would introduce myself as a library assistant, a nurse, or a mum – I’m just an ordinary human, leading an ordinary life to the best of my ability – and having fun along the way! Part of that fun is “meeting” people like yourself and my favourite photo of you is the one where you’re wearing your Dr. Zhivago hat!

SC: Why thank you, I do rock Russian hats…and finally, the obligatory question – any advice for aspiring authors/freelancers?

CD: I’m not an agony aunt, I don’t “do” advice but I would proffer some suggestions from my wealth of inexperience:

1) Keep eating those chillies!

2) Read, read and read some more. It saddens me when would-be authors claim they are too busy to read – I’m not sure if its ignorance or arrogance but it’s certainly misguided.

3) Persevere – like anything else, writing requires practice. Imagine you were born with an innate ability to sprint – you wouldn’t expect to win an Olympic medal without first learning to stand, walk, run – and then years of practice. Writing is no different – perseverance and practice are paramount. It is a weel kent fact that “overnight” in terms of writing success is really shorthand for “over-the-course-of several- years-and-many-a-sleepless-night”.

4) Expect rejection but don’t take it personally. If you’re fortunate enough to get feedback, act on it.

5) Learn from those who have travelled this path before you. Many writers are very generous in their support and encouragement of new writers – read their blogs and you can glean valuable insights into the industry as well as learning how to improve your own writing. Nicola Morgan’s, Help I Need A Publisher blog is a fantastic resource for writers both new and experienced.

6) Beware procrastination! He is very charming and difficult to refuse when he comes cunningly disguised as Facebook games or Twitter conversations. He is the thief of writing time – if you strike up a relationship with him, you are DOOMED….doomed I tell you! How do you recognise him? That’s a difficult one, but if you suddenly feel a pressing need to go and clean the oven instead of writing your masterpiece, you know you have been smitten. (I was fortunate to recognise this quite early on – so my oven has never been cleaned! I have also managed to convince myself that Words With Friends is both sociable and educational. It stretches my vocabulary so it must be beneficial to my writing n’est ce pas? Please don’t tell me I’m doomed…).

7) Retain or develop a sense of humour – it helps keep things in perspective and stops you from taking yourself too seriously…

Writing may be a serious business but that doesn’t mean it can’t be FUN as well. (This is just MY opinion because I can’t take myself seriously – if you are seriously serious about your own writing then you can seriously disregard everything I write – seriously!)

8) WRITE! So many new writers get caught up in reading about writing and talking about writing but rarely actually get around to doing the real thing.

9) Never run out of reading materiel or chillies – otherwise you’ll be too miserable to write.

SC: Thank you, Clare, for a hilarious – and not at all long-winded – interview! I could have asked questions forever but I’m guessing most people wouldn’t enjoy watching two crazies conversing continuously. May the chilies be with you!

12 comments

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  1. Sam Perkins

    Again, I love it!

    Clare hits the nail on the head. And it is, yet again, entertainingly written. I look forward to tomorrows post!

    Now, I must go and write – a list of lists, then a list of what to do. By which time it will be too late to do anything on any of those lists. Oh well!

    1. Steven Chapman

      I do enjoy a good list 😀

  2. Shirley Elmokadem

    LOL what an entertaining interview! Thanks.

    1. Steven Chapman

      Thank you, Shirley 🙂 I had great fun interviewing Clare.

  3. carolb

    Great interview Clare.

    Good to see Steven’s interview technique has developed since his first one… :-)_

    1. Steven Chapman

      My technique is unique! If you only count 5-year old interviewers using crayons…

  4. Annalisa Crawford

    Great interview, very entertaining.

    I’m touring the A-Z challenge list.

  5. Clare Dugmore Writes

    Interviews are a fantastic way of connecting with other authors, and I’ve already learned a lot through interviews with my favourite authors. It humanises them and makes you realise many of the struggles we face as a writer they’ve faced too.

  6. Clare

    He-he, that was a fun interview, Steven – thank you!

    (Can’t help but notice that your parting shot, “May the chillies be with you!” has coincided with the return of snow outside! 🙂 )

  7. Lesley Mc

    Well done for keeping her talking, sir. Now if you could just herd her towards this large butterfly net – that’s it sir – the one with the dangling chilli inside – I have men fixing the extra bars to the windows as we speak, sir. It doesn’t do to let them escape willy-nilly as I’m sure you’ll agree.

  8. Mary

    That was a very amusing interview. I find when reading of others’ experiences of all the no’s they got before getting yeses very inspiring. Nice meeting you.

  9. Katie W Stewart

    Very entertaining! I’m relieved to know that I don’t need to feel guilty about not writing when I’m playing Words with Friends against some Madame in Scotland!

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