Q & A

How do you deal with writer’s block?

I know that this is a very serious question for some writers but I don’t honestly suffer from it. Not to date anyway. If I feel I might be getting stuck, there are three ways I might try to get out of it:

1. Give it a break – a couple of days perhaps – to let things gestate. It’s amazing how the answer to a vexing problem is just there when you wake up one morning or as you’re lying in the bath. The brain carries on working when you’re not aware of it.

2. Do something else. Read – review – research – market – write a short story.

3. Just write. You might have to junk the first few paragraphs but the cogs will mesh and you’re moving again.

How do you get inspired to write?

There is usually a seeding crystal around which the whole thing grows. This can be anything, a cat pursuing a blackbird, a Victorian newspaper cutting, a complete stranger waving to me, shadows on a curtain, a myth, a rumour, memories from distant times and places fused together alchemically into a new element.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Power! You are the creator of worlds. You sit down at your desk and by the end of the day you have made something that didn’t exist in the universe before. You make things happen: you put your characters in peril and you rescue them, or you allow them to make fools of themselves and then redeem them. You can marry them off and you can kill them. Then when the story or novel is completed and edited and polished and you hold the physical book in your hands, there’s a warm sense of pride.

When you get an idea for a story does it tend to originate from a specific situation or from a character(s)? In other words, does an intriguing person/personality arise and you develop a story around the character? Or are you inspired by a type of event or situation first and characters form after that?

Great question. It usually starts with an event or a situation which conjures up disparate memories which then fuse, sometimes subconsciously. The process is like a kind of reactor which goes on generating ideas in the process of writing. For instance, Humphrey and Jack began with my sitting in the garden watching bees and blackbirds and then the cat arrived and the cat had to have an owner and Mrs Bellingham had to be someone with whom Humphrey was feuding and so on…

I think ‘fusion’ might be the key word. Sometimes, things happen while I’m asleep! I get up and I sit at my keyboard and find that my sleeping mind has worked out the next step. It’s a fascinating process. Someone ought to write a book about it. Haha!

What writers have influenced your story-telling?

Vladimir Nabokov, with his ‘rain-sparkling’ prose and hide-and-seek games with the reader, has been a massive influence. I did my finals dissertation on his work and became thoroughly immersed. The black humour and menace of Ian McEwan’s earlier work has cast its mischievous shadow over some of my stories and Waugh and Amis (père) have been good dialogue coaches. Jane Austen and Nancy Mitford also get a wickedly demure look-in.

What are you currently working on?

A short novel called The Northern Elements, so called because the ancient elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water are thematic links – and because it’s set in my native Lancashire. It involves two gangs of five small boys and their adventures and explorations. One gang is from 1890 and the other from 1960. What links them only emerges in the second part, set in 2015. I am interested in what aspects of our nature are the product of a specific time and what can be said to be universal in our humanity. 

That sounds a bit deep but I never write to propound a theory, though I might pose questions. The story is what matters.

The book is aimed at teens but will (I hope) be enjoyed by adults too.

These Questions and Answers first appeared on goodreads