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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Matt Potter talks money

Matt Potter

Writer, editor, teacher, all round good guy

I’m delighted to introduce my friend, editor and publisher Matt Potter as author of the first in a series of guest blogs.  A gifted writer and sharer of knowledge, Matt is earning a name online as THE editor to work with if you want to learn how to improve your writing, fast.  He’s also great at highlighting the cultural differences a writer should bear in mind for their target market.  Here, he tackles the timely subject of money and discusses the difficulties of gaining employment as a capable, experienced adult in Australia.

The largest pool of money in Australia is – apparently – that created by superannuation funds. All employees by law have to contribute to their own super (the word super in everyday vernacular years ago used to mean superphosphate, the fertilizer: funny how things change) so even the crappiest savers have some money set aside for when they retire. It’s currently 9% of your salary, paid directly by your employer. In 2013 it’s set to increase to 12%.

You can also pay money yourself into your super fund, which many do. And it’s the source of endless conversations, particularly at any gathering of anyone over 40. How much super do you have? How much are you putting in yourself? When can you claim it tax-free and at what age can you then retire? How much of your retirement will be self-funded and what will a part-pension (from the government) give you? And for government employees, Are you under the old super scheme or the newer scheme? (The old one is a lot more generous and pre-dates super becoming compulsory.)

What’s great about superannuation in Australia is no one thinks it’s a bad idea. I’ve never heard anyone complain about its existence. Ever. Though sometimes I wonder what we as an ageing nation talked about before compulsory super was introduced in 1992.

I don’t have any super beyond what employers have paid on my behalf. (Remember, my employers paid it but it’s actually my money.) I receive a statement in the post once or twice a year (I can’t remember how often) and I open the A5 envelope and turn to page 4 to look at the pretty graph, purple and mauve columns climbing towards a funded future.

But I try not to think about my super too much because it worries me I’m not contributing anything voluntarily and I’ll be poor (or poorer than others) when I retire, whenever that is. I worry I’ll have some money, but not enough.

This worry is exacerbated by the fact that, at the moment, I’m also unemployed.

What is ridiculous is that I’m hugely employable! No one needs to tell me this: it’s a given. When describing my CV, the word prospective employers, recruitment agency personnel and obsessive resumé-readers always use is comprehensive. (If you want to see just how comprehensive, email me and I’ll send it to you: maybe you have a job for me.)

I’ve worked a lot of jobs and packed in a lot of experience, mainly in community services, marketing and promotions, the media, and English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching; mainly in not-for-profit organisations; mainly earning shit money; mainly doing a lot of interesting things; and mainly on-the-ground, though sometimes in management. My last job was for a British multinational, and while I loved the job teaching English to refugees in detention, I loathed the management structure and the fake ethos of the company. (Really, I just don’t do private enterprise. And I hate it when for-profits pretend to be about service in the ways not-for-profits are about service. The company was turning a profit doing work the government should be doing, making money out of other people’s misery!)

That job finished six months ago. (Okay, three of those subsequent months were spent travelling in North America and Europe. But to do this I had to resign from the ESL teaching job, which paid okay.)

But I had a job interview last Tuesday. It was for an admin support role with a company working in gas and oil exploration. (“Sure,” I’d said to the woman from the recruitment agency when she’d emphasised the communications aspect of the position, before she said the words it’s basically reception, “put me up for it.” But I went through with it because I’d said I would, despite later thoughts. Plus, I thought it should make me look dependable to the recruitment agency.)

My interview time was 3.00pm, so from when I stumbled out of bed at 9.00am (remember people, I’m not working at the moment) to 3.20pm when the interview finally commenced, I had a lot of time for my stomach to put itself through its back-flipping, somersaulting, spasm-churning paces.

I ’phoned my partner at work. “I really don’t want to do this,” I said, my voice athrob. “I just want it to be over.” Buying some new ‘interview’ clothes took my mind off my unease briefly, but I couldn’t work out why I felt so squeamish about it.

But I think it was this: I knew I had to lie. I knew I had to sit in the interview room and pretend I wasn’t über-overqualified for the glorified-reception-with-the-possibility-of-advancement, fulltime, starting next week (hopefully), initially twelve-month contract position.

Aged 46, bullshitting is getting too hard for me. And given my experience, as egotistical as it might be, in my heart of hearts I don’t see why I still have to prove myself. Take me as I am: I’m not shitting you.

And they must have known, the man and woman (she clearly eight months pregnant), both in their very early thirties at most, smiling faces sitting on the other side of a round table asking me questions so I can reveal to them, through my targeted answers, how suitable I am for a job I am eminently not suitable for, each answer I give only emphasising that.

The interview lasted forty minutes. And I shook their hands when I left.

There are certainly worse ways to spend time in the western suburbs of Adelaide, but afterwards, walking back to my car parked on the street a few doors away, I wondered who should get the flowers for the best performance: them, or me?

I’m hoping a job that suits my varied skills and comprehensive work experience will reveal itself soon. Because until then, I won’t be contributing to Australia’s giant superannuation pool and I won’t be saving for my retirement, whenever that will be.

And one of the fewer things sadder than a 46 year-old man who’s not good at bullshitting and who can’t adequately provide for his retirement, is a 66 year-old man who’s not good at bullshitting and who’s still looking for work so he can retire in 20 years time.

Matt Potter’s collection, ‘Vestal Aversion’, is available to buy NOW from http://www.lulu.com/gb/en/shop/matt-potter/vestal-aversion/paperback/product-20230601.html

You can leave a comment for him here or contact him via his site ‘Pure Slush’, where he publishes short pieces of nonfiction and “flash without the wank” – http://pureslush.webs.com/