My Writer of the Week is Alison Carter. Alison’s actually Alan’s writer but I’ve “borrowed” her because of how her story Just This One Thing in this week’s issue got started…
You wrote this story to go with an illustration Alan sent you from our stock. Can you explain your thought process in coming up with the story?
When I get an emailed image, I take a day to stare at it. Slowly, the characters in the picture worm their way into my head. The boy is not cheerful; his granny-to-be looks like the one to solve his problem. Then details prompt me – his formal clothes said ‘wedding’. I think I had been talking to a teacher friend about the way kids need control over their environment. Writing fiction, you have to gather ideas like burrs, then pick them off and make your story.
Which do you prefer – starting from nothing, or from a story starter like this? Do you ever look at an illustration Alan sends you and just think, nope, nothing here?
Never! Alan’s ‘image’ emails are a gift. Every experienced writer knows that ideas dry up. Getting characters ‘on a plate’ is a joy. They always have something to say.
Your stories are unfailingly varied and creative – where do you find the majority of your inspiration?
I steal – an eccentric character on the radio, a magazine real life story, a fragment of the plot of the film I’m watching while ironing. Historical events provide a rich vein: they supply ready-made obstacles for characters.
Many writers switch from short stories to serials to novels. You’ve taken the first of those steps – do you have a novel on your to-do list?
I’m scared. A novel is so … big. I’ve read a lot of bad ones, and I don’t want to write one of those. Also, I enjoy the craft of short stories and serials. It’s hard to abandon something one is competent at for a stab in the dark.
Notebook and pencil or laptop? Kitchen table or study? Blank wall or inspiring view?
My desktop Mac, and being alone. But I am always emailing ‘improvement’ notes to myself while walking, or on a bus. You should see the gobbledegook in those emails!
And a PS: What’s your one top tip for aspiring writers?
Read Shirley’s blog post on Themes. Get a theme. Start there.