Fiction Team member Alan chats to writer Celia Kay Andrew, whose story, Make Believe, appears in our September 29 issue.
Q.1: Make Believe is a finely-balanced storyline where you portray a modern Welsh setting and give it historical significance. Was this a challenge, and why did you choose Wales as your location?
Wales was the automatic choice for the setting because I preferred the Welsh idea to any other mining districts, and I’d been reading Cronin’s The Citadel (it’s on Radio 4 this week – what a coincidence!) and it fitted. I am not entirely sure if a miner in the 19th century would get a headstone with names and dates carved on it, but I thought ‘poetic licence’ – may the Welsh forgive me for errors. I don’t wish to offend anyone.
Q.2: The characters in the story are descriptively described. Is this important to you, in that you like the reader to have a clear picture of what they look like?
I don’t mind leaving some things to a reader’s own imagination. That way the reader can put in the faces of famous actors if they want to. I am aware, however, that some readers like to sink back and just read without having to do more, and so some of my stories go into deeper detail, feeding the reader everything from hair colour, skin type to shape of nose, chin, hands and even shoulders. But the dreaded word count has to be obeyed.
Time and season are visually important to me, though; I like the reader to see what I can see. If I can, I’ll put scents, sounds and tactile descriptions (the iron of the lychgate for example) to make the reader feel like they are there. You could call it brushing in the touches that make it come alive, but doing them lightly.
Q.3: What writing ambitions would you still like to achieve?
To have some novels published – but not by me! I want a proper publisher. I think that might be just a pipe-dream now, though. Short stories and serials are so much quicker.
I’ve actually written (but never had published) eleven full-length novels, the first when I was seventeen and the last for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). In 23 days I wrote 50K words – no editing, no stopping for thought, just pounding away every night with no real idea of where anything was going. It was extraordinary that a proper story came out of all the loose threads. Good discipline, though it nearly killed me!
Q.4: You work as a theatre nurse, so do you find your writing helps in terms of relaxation, or do you simply enjoy doing something far removed from your day job?
Yes, I do two days in the operating theatre and the rest of the week in a GP practice. It’s a busy life and I have no inclination to write about ‘what I know’; it doesn’t interest me at all to make my hero or heroine a doctor or nurse. I write because I enjoy doing it.
My diaries (starting in 1978) span my time abroad as an au pair, my secretarial temping, my days at the Foreign Office, life in a riding school in Norfolk, abroad again in a Swiss hospital, and all the human dramas and agonies of Intensive Care and Coronary Care Units. Not to mention 13 years in a country ‘Casualty’. Diaries are the way to get hell out of your system; a great discipline to write something every day. And they sometimes return a lost memory or resolve an argument.
Q.5: Notebook and pencil or laptop? Kitchen table or study? Blank wall or inspiring view?
My writing method is to type straight on to the computer. I can type almost as fast as I can think. But sometimes slowing it all down, writing by hand, makes me think much more deeply. That’s another exercise for a writer to learn – changing the pace of putting your words down. It brings up a different set of thoughts somehow, and changes the style.
The inspiring views are before the work begins. I reckon the harder I work at it, the harder my writing works for me and one day maybe that radio play or novel will get accepted.
P.S., What’s your one top tip for aspiring writers?
Read a lot and write a lot. Don’t be ashamed of what you think looks like drivel. From little acorns mighty oaks can grow. But if you don’t put the seed down on paper/screen in the first place, nothing can develop at all. You may never be famous or rich, and you may never produce a Great Work. But if you want to write then just do it – and enjoy yourself.