An interview with Sarah Collie about writing, location, language, and Not Stalking

I met Sarah online through a friend who brought me chocolate when I was feeling blue at Uni, and since she’s so much fun to PM it seemed the obvious next step to get her on here for an interview.  So, without further ado, guys … meet Sarah Collie!

the stunning Sarah Collie

the stunning Sarah Collie

You grew up in Oban, on the Scottish coast, and now live  in Yorkshire and about as far from the sea as you can get in the north  of England!  Has this shaped your writing in any way?  Do you notice a  difference between then and now linked to the change in culture,  scenery, and location?

I miss the sea enormously, it’s a strange thing to try to explain to anyone who hasn’t had that presence in their life.  You miss the smell, even on the ripe days of summer when it didn’t smell particularly pleasant… I think you don’t realise until it’s gone how there’s a sound, not loud but just there, a constant thing that I noticed was missing once I’d moved.

I lived in Australia for four years but I was near the ocean then as well, this is the first place I’ve ever lived where I can’t just walk there, it’s a 2 hour drive away.  I think moving around is good for writers, you experience new things and new cultures.  Even within the UK there is such a vast difference even down to how people talk.  I have to sometimes rethink how I ask questions or the words I use because people have no idea what I’m talking about, or how ideas of what is polite to ask or to say differ depending on where you are.

Making (what I thought was) polite conversation, I asked a person here recently if she lived in Huddersfield and she gave me a look that implied I was obviously considering stalking her, we worked it out but it was funny at the time.  I love that, because I notice that other people find it fascinating as well, try asking a person from Yorkshire why they’re looking “scunnered” and you’ll see what I mean.  I’m sure half the time they think I’m making them up.

Yep, same here.  The food differences are what tickle me the most – fruit cake and cheese in Yorkshire seems just as much an acquired taste as deep fried pizza with salt and vinegar in Scotland.  Anyway, before I soak my lap with drool, back to the writing!  You’re part of Holmfirth Writers’  Group.  Tell me a bit about how that came about, how you got involved,  what you gain from it as a writer, and if you’ve anything exciting lined up in the coming months.

Holmfirth Writers Group has been a fantastic experience for me, it’s very democratic although there is a committee who do a great job dealing with everything from meetings, to organising a spot on the local radio for us to do readings once a month. (I’ve included this link, the first story is mine read by a lovely fellow writer called Christina Longden http://www.twovalleysradio.co.uk/listenagain/holmfirth-writers-group-relationships/  )  we all take turns to volunteer to run workshops which works really well because there’s such a broad range of writers there.

The rule is constructive criticism only which I love.  They’re a really nice group anyway but it means that you feel comfortable sharing what you’ve written because you know that anything that they say is only to help you improve your writing.  I personally have come on a lot as a writer since I joined about two years ago and I’ve published a horror anthology ebook called “Souls of Darkness” with two of the other writers under a pen name.  I’d written for years but joining the group gave me the confidence to start putting my work out there and I’ve been really touched by the feedback I’ve received, which in turn has given me even more confidence!  I started actually telling people that I’m a writer and as a result that has led to more introductions and more opportunities, like this piece.

That’s great!  Have you had any key moments as a writer, times when everything has come together and helped you progress to the next stage?

A few years ago my writing started to get neglected because I had so much else going on in my life, I’d just moved house, got married and started a business very close together and I was working a lot of hours and sleeping whenever I wasn’t working.  Things happened in my life that changed absolutely everything and I suddenly had time when I couldn’t leave the house but I had time when I could write again, so I did.  It wasn’t exactly a fun time but it brought me back to my passion instead of focusing so much on running a business which I enjoyed for the ability to meet and talk to people but if I’m honest I didn’t love as a job anymore.  Circumstances made moving to England a necessity and without that I wouldn’t have found my writing group or progressed so quickly.  I feel much more confident sending off my stories now than I ever would have if I’d stayed in Oban, much as I loved it there.

Likewise – it’s freeing to start again, don’t you think?  Especially far from wherever you made the usual teenage mistakes (I know I made more than a few).  Have you been given any bad advice about writing?  Anything you think people should perhaps avoid, or only pay heed to in very limited situations?

I don’t think I’ve been given any bad advice to be honest, not yet anyway!  I’ve found that people are usually happy to see someone else succeed, I think it gives them hope, that’s how I feel when I hear about someone’s good news anyway.  I’ve found that the writers who I’ve met or talked to online are very supportive and encouraging, I hope that one day I can inspire and help someone else the way the people I’ve met have with me.

You’ve certainly been a wonderful sounding board and source of support (and chocolate) for me!  And definitely an inspiration.  What about good advice?  Do you have any suggestions to writers or those interested in writing?

“Be brave” I was so nervous about people sending me messages back saying ‘are you serious? Do you honestly think that you can write?’ but having a folder full of beautiful, imaginative and creative stories is no good unless you have the faith in yourself to send them out into the world to be read and enjoyed.  My grandmother wrote lovely poetry, a skill I did not inherit, but they stayed on scraps of paper or in notebooks and will never be read by anyone now which is sad.

Aw, that’s so sad!  Yes, definitely be brave.  It makes such a difference!  Do you have any favourite sites – for submissions, reading, inspiration, craft tips, etc?

I love reading the work at Pure Slush, and I was recently recommended a site called Literary Orphans which has some amazing writers.  I’m writing a piece just now that I’m hoping to submit, although it’s my first time so I’ll be happy just to have the confidence to send it off.  That in itself will be progress, if they like it then that’s even better!

I’m a big fan of both of them, too.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.  What have you achieved this year with your writing that you’re particularly  proud of or satisfied with, and how did this come about?

I started my first proper novel!  Everything I’d written before was a short story or a not so short story in some cases but I never had something that I felt strongly enough about to be able to see it as a full novel.  It started out of one of the writers workshops actually, the piece I wrote is now the opening scene but my mind couldn’t let it go.  I dreamt about it, I would have ideas for how to develop it at the most inappropriate times, like when I was driving or when I was in a meeting or doctors appointment.  I have a stationery fetish, I believe it’s common among writers, and I devoted a beautiful red leather notebook that my dad had given me a year before to notes for it.  I buy gorgeous notebooks but I won’t use them until I have something worthwhile to put in them.  Luckily I also have some lovely family and friends who feed my habit!

What did you do to celebrate?

Nothing… yet.  Once it’s finished, and I’ve sent it off to see if anyone else loves it as much as I do, I’ll probably return to Oban for a girls’ weekend with my friends.

Sounds fab!  What are your aims for 2013?  How do you propose reaching your goals?

Finish my novel is the main one.  Hmm, write, write and write some more?  To get some of my short stories published online.  Not getting distracted and to trust in myself more, I feel happiest when I write so to spend more time being happy.

Very best of luck for 2013, Sarah – hope to see your name up in links if not lights in the near future! 

Sarah writes a range of genres depending on her mood.  She contributed five stories to a ebook anthology of short stories along with two other authors under the pen name Louise Hunt called “Souls Of Darkness”. Sarah is working in her first full length novel under the working title of “The Beach In Winter”. She is currently studying for a degree in English Literature with the Open University.

You can find her blog and ask her about the potato connection here http://spud09.blogspot.co.uk/?m=1 and check out “Souls Of Darkness” here http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/B0088DCG4Y/ref=mp_s_a_1?qid=1356047239&sr=1-1

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Review of 2012 – with thanks to Vic Watson

Delighted to be part of Vic Watson’s blog, reviewing my highlights of 2012.

elementaryvwatson

Gill Hoffs is an up ‘n’ coming writer that I’m sure you’ll all be familiar with this time next year. Gill has just signed with Pen & Sword’s Social History imprint. They are looking forward to releasing her book in January 2014. Check out how her 2012 has been.

2012 has been a great year for you. Do you have a favourite memory professionally?

It’s been delightfully busy, yes!  Hmm, I’m torn between a few – alright, a lot of – highlights, mostly relating to my book “Wild: a collection” (out now from Pure Slush). Taking my son for a long walk along Ayr beach looking for – and finding – the cover shot, building sandcastles, and throwing pebbles in the water?  Having the first box of books delivered?  The speech by Matt Potter (my hunky Australian editor/publisher) at the launch party, the book-cover-cake, the readings, and fun with SO…

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Dr Emma L Briant – a writer of very little confidence…

Emma Briant is a gifted writer whose work is rapidly gaining the respect it deserves in the worlds of academic and creative writing.  Read on for her tale of a magical month where her hard work pays off – and her words of advice for new and aspiring writers.  I’m delighted to call her my friend, and to have her guest on my blog today.

Dr Emma Briant

I have always been a writer of very little confidence. A cliché I know. Maybe you’re the same. But November was a turning point for me, so I want to tell you about my month.

Now, I’m not a shy person, I’ve done lots of presentations for my research work in the past, I’ve even done a talk in a hangar at the British Defence Academy with rows of tanks and artillery pointed in my direction. I’ve presented in front of NATO and very scary-looking Generals and intelligence personnel from all around the world!

But for my creative writing, presenting my work was scary in a whole new way, because for that I was exposing my deeply personal inner-world.

On the 9th of November I did my very first reading, my story ‘Everything you need’ at ‘Little Bit of Theatre’ in the 13th Note bar, Glasgow (See below: 1). For about a week before I was so utterly petrified I kept praying that none of the people I’d invited to it would turn up! Nothing I’ve written looked anywhere near good enough all of a sudden. Gill Hoffs had done a reading the previous month, but she’s a really good writer, I thought. Who was I to think I was a writer? And why did Gill put me up to this?!!!

The night grew nearer. The tension grew. I realised I’d possibly made a bad choice of story – I’d forgotten that ‘Everything you need’ (about a child and his Mum in a women’s refuge) has a couple of lines in the middle that need to be sung… NO!!!!! I broke out in a sweat imagining a room full of people and me at the front doing wobbly vocals to ‘Fireman Sam’!! (Yes, really, Fireman Sam) For better or worse I made quick alteration to the story.

I dashed down to the basement of the ’13th Note’ and sat at the rows of brightly painted school desks with my friend Alex. I was shaking and sipping a much-needed pint, at least reassured in the knowledge that I was second on the list… I could get one pint of Dutch courage down before the humiliation began. 3 sips into that pint, the organiser, Marta, came over – there was a change in the line-up at the last minute and now I was opening the night! I practically fell over wires in my stupid heels as I got up on the stage, looked out at everyone looking at me, and as I stood in front of the mic I realised I had no idea how you talk into a mic…!

I began to read, stumbled a little but eventually got into a kind of a flow. People seemed to enjoy it. I didn’t do Fireman Sam… I felt ok. Then I got more nervous toward the end, not knowing what their reaction would be. Thankfully it was positive, one guy asked about my website saying he wanted to read more, but I was practically running off stage at that point! It did take a day or so to recover but it was all worth it once I calmed down. I had another person message me on Facebook after to ask about my stories, and now that first one is over, I’d feel better about the prospect of doing another.

I don’t know how, but it all seemed to flow on from that November start. Before that it seemed like nothing I wrote ever found a home, for ages I was getting so many rejections. So many I couldn’t deal with it and I stopped sending them out. This year I forced myself to start again, prompted by Gill and my other writer friends.

It was only a day or two after the reading that I found out I was getting my stories published! I got an email from Lyz Russo of the small, very supportive South African publisher P’kaboo asking if I would like to submit another story for an online collection she’s putting together. I already have one going in the collection but when she told me my story ‘By the wayside’ (See below: 2) was one of their best downloaders I was bouncing all over the office at work! I quickly submitted a short piece ‘Outside’ which I’d been looking for a home for and was extremely pleased when she accepted.

Then a few days later Literary Orphans (LO) got in touch saying they wanted to include ‘Outside’ and my other story ‘Bite Down’ in their new issue (See below: 3). I was so excited, they wanted both pieces, but I realised with sinking disappointment that publishers don’t usually want to publish stories if they’ve featured somewhere else. I probably couldn’t get it published twice. I sought advice from friends on what to do.

Some said, you win some, you lose some, LO won’t take it if it’s in P’kaboo, but at least you have it published. True… One person suggested rudely pulling the piece from P’kaboo (like good publishers are two a penny?!) – that seemed awful advice, bad publishing karma. I really wanted my work to appear in both publishers. P’kaboo are smaller, but they have been good to me, Lyz is great and I was very pleased she liked my work. I was excited they were including the story in an ebook.

Eventually I decided to be a little cheeky and explain the situation as politely as possible to both publishers, saying what I really would love is to see my work in both publications and humbly appealed for their making an allowance in this case. Literary Orphans and P’kaboo were very nice about it and approached it with a lot of understanding. ‘Outside’ has now been published by P’kaboo (See below: 4), and in the November issue of LO (See below: 3), with a note of recognition to prior publication at P’kaboo. I was pleased as punch to see both, and super-grateful to have such understanding from each publisher. I’d recommend to anyone in a similar position to do the right thing and don’t take bad advice like I was offered.

Following this, also in November I managed to get a contract for publishing my first book, an academic propaganda book, and I got a book chapter examining British media coverage of US events published in a collection by US Defence analyst John Stanton (See below: 5). I then got a new job on the same day working for the Scottish Government! I’m sure you can imagine how my confidence improved!

But the main point I am trying to make is that sometimes it takes time. I have struggled getting things published, got very down about my writing, feeling I wasn’t good enough. I kept working and working and feeling that none of my investment was ever going to pay off. I was wasting my time. I worked my ass off this summer, juggling everything and working 70 hours a week often, but I didn’t give up.

It’s not luck or some kind of genius that gets you there, sometimes hard work is slow. You have to wait. But you get there.

The important thing if you are a writer of very little confidence, like me, is not to let the fear overcome you… keep on working and waiting, blindly pushing through it… because WOW are you going to feel great when ten things come at once!

 

Emma L Briant is a freelance writer and researcher based in Glasgow, Scotland who loves to write both fiction and political comment. She is currently writing a book critique of Anglo-American propaganda coordination during the ‘War on Terror’, a novelette set in Alaska, short stories, and a non-fiction book about media coverage of refugee issues in Britain. Emma L Briant’s published work can be seen at www.emma-briant.co.uk

Links Referred to in the Article: 

1) Everything You Need, Shaking Magazine: http://shakinglikeamountain.com/2011/05/05/everything-you-need/

2) By the Wayside, P’kaboo: http://www.pkaboo.net/bythewayside.pdf

3) Outside & Bite Down, Literary Orphans: http://www.literaryorphans.org/?wpb_portfolio=bite-down-and-outside-by-emma-l-briant

4) Outside, P’kaboo: http://www.pkaboo.net/outside.pdf

5) My chapter: Searching for a Spy in the British media: Auntie’s pervert, the American President and Hurricane Sandy in John Stanton’s book: The Raptor’s Eye, Jieddo, General P and The Prophet Smith, Available from: http://www.amazon.com/Raptors-JIEDDO-General-Prophet-Smith/dp/1480276413/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1353688348&sr=1-6&keywords=the+raptor%27s+eye