Today we welcome Linda Mitchelmore from Devon who is going to tell us something of her writing life.
Can you tell us what made you want to write and how you got your first break?
I began writing when my hearing dropped so badly I could no longer hear music or TV – it was a way of communicating in a way. I could make my characters ‘hear’ which stopped me feeling so isolated.
My first break into the world of print was a short story competition in Woman’s Own. I didn’t get the first prize, but I did get £50 and my story was published. It was the first short story – post leaving school – so it was a wonderful boost to my ego. I often wonder if the winner of that competition went on to be a successful writer, or not.
What is your favourite mode of working?
Having a deadline works for me! That said, I have two preferred methods. If I’m hand-writing – which is the way I often write short stories – then I can happily write, curled up on the couch while my husband watches TV or listens to music. I then type up the stories from my scribble the next morning. For novels, I write straight on to the computer but, although I don’t like interruptions of the ‘where’s my striped shirt?’ ‘what time’s lunch?’ variety, I do write better if there is someone else in the house.
Are your novels character driven or are you a plotter?
My novels are very definitely character driven. My first line in To Turn Full Circle (TTFC) is something my father always used to say to me if I left it longer than a week to call in and say hello! It just sort of popped into my head one day when I was thinking about him. He always said it in a jokey way but I thought - what if it was said in a very snide, nasty way? And by whom and to whom? I knew I didn't want Emma in TTFC to say it because she isn't that sort of person. The plot started with a harridan - Mrs. Phipps - saying 'Well, well, well, look what the cat's brought in' to the lovely Emma and went from there really, although I'd decided from the start that Emma would be an orphan....but at that stage the logistics of how she'd come to be in that state hadn't been plotted out.
What is your work schedule? How do you relax? What interests do you have other than writing? Do you think it important for a writer to take time off?
I love gardening, but alas this summer it has not looked at its best due to the launch of my début novel when there was much to do by way of book signings and library talks, and getting on with the sequel. But I do love it, and have been on garden tour holidays which have gleaned more than a few short stories as well as more horticultural knowledge. I also like cycling in Brittany along the Nantes-Brest canal…nice and flat, beautiful scenery, and lots of little roads leading off to bars for a cool lager. I do try to find time to see friends – at least once a fortnight I meet up with one of them for coffee or lunch. Not all are writers – in fact I think it’s very important not to get too insular about writing so my non-writing friends are equally as important as the writing ones.
Do you believe writing is a skill anyone can learn? What advice would you give to a new writer? Can you remember what craft tip helped you the most when you were starting out?
I believe anyone’s writing can be improved but there has to be that ‘writing voice’ unique to us all in there somewhere – some who try very hard simply do not have that voice.
A very well-published writer once said to me never lose sight of whose story it is you are telling. What does she want? Who helps her? Who hinders her? How does she achieve her aims – BY DINT OF HER OWN HARD WORK. I am a reader for short story competitions and I’d like a pound for every story I’ve read where the heroine is poor but wins the lottery! – which neatly sums up how not to do it, I think.
. Do you have a critique partner, or share your work with anyone before you submit to an editor?
I belong to a writing group. Brixham Writers. We are a very small group – just twelve of us – but we are all published. We meet every Thursday and are expected to bring something to read out. This can be work-in-progress or something to the ‘homework’ theme which is set each week. I’m a short story writer, too, so I often use the themes to write a new short story. Some of us will read from a novel-in-progress – a scene here, or a scene there, sometimes a whole chapter. I’m always happy to read out a short story but I tend to keep my novel close to my chest.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you cope with it?
I suffer from lack of a BOSS (Bum On Swivel Seat) sometimes but once I’m sitting down I find I can get back into it easily enough. A trick I’ve devised is – until you need to write THE END – never to stop work at the end of a chapter … always open the next. Never finish a sentence ….just don’t put that full stop …then you’ll always have a pick-up point.
You are a member of the Romantic Novelists Association. In what way has the RNA helped you or your career?
Just joining the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme has been instrumental to my career. Having to produce a manuscript by the end of August each year was a pretty good ‘whip’ to keep writing. The networking is also second to none. When I was awarded the Katie Fforde Bursary it gave me such encouragement and also the determination to restore the RNA’s faith in me that I could become a published novelist. I’ve also made pretty good use of the membership at The New Cavendish Club …it’s like a home from home now.
Do you enjoy research, and how do you set about it?
TO TURN FULL CIRCLE is the first historical novel I’ve ever written – all my other NWS entries were contemporary so I didn’t need to research things like clothes and vehicles and technology for those. TTFC is set between 1909 and the end of 1911 and I was given access to a whole year’s worth of local newspapers from that period. They were so interesting that the novel was in danger of never being finished – there were so many avenues I could have gone down. And so much I learned. For example….there was a report of an aircraft carrier shipping planes across the channel which surprised me – obviously not an aircraft carrier as we know them today, but all the same….a surprise. I was also intrigued to discover that best beef was 6d a pound and lemons were 1/- a dozen.
I’m now working on the sequel to TTFC and my first draft was to get the plot and the emotions of the story down, and to define my characters. In the second draft I added more social period detail, and in the third draft I’m working on putting in some political detail – although not too much as my writing is very emotion-led.
Tell us about your latest book, and what inspired you to write it.
TO TURN FULL CIRCLE came about when my husband was researching some family history. He found that a great uncle of his had fished out of Brixham and had owned two fishing boats. One of those boats was lost to the sea. The other was sold on after said great uncle was badly injured in a fishing accident and had to come off the water. It got me thinking…..what happened back then when many fishermen and their families lived in tied cottages if the man died, or was incapacitated and the tied cottage went…..and I took it a step further and made Emma Le Goff a 16 year old orphan.
I beIleve Gone with the Wind is one of your favourite novels.
Yes, it is one of several favourites but I was thrilled when my book was placed next to Margaret Mitchel’s on the shelves in Waterstones.
Thank you Linda, you have raised some interesting points about the life of a writer.