I’m talking this week to Rebecca Holmes, who happens to have not one but two short stories in this week’s issue.
The Swan’s Companion is a lovely story about being solitary, while Our Master Plan is about family life. They’re very different stories, but would you agree that at their root they’re both about the plans we make and how often they don’t quite work out?
Although Our Master Plan was about that, The Swan’s Companion came from a sense of a solitary woman walking by a lake and grew from there. But, yes, her life clearly hadn’t worked out as planned, and she needed to recover. I think when we’re younger, we make plans and think we know it all, only gradually learning not have so many fixed expectations. This was borne out recently when I was on holiday in Italy and went on a day’s excursion to Venice. I’d been there as a teenager when staying in nearby Lido di Jesolo with my parents, expecting this magical place, and was disappointed to find it hot and very crowded. Many years later, I had mixed feelings about returning, but my husband had never seen Venice, so I agreed to go. This time I fell in love with it, being ready to accept it as it was instead of imposing my own idealised version.
As a theme it’s a rich seam, isn’t it? Is theme something you consciously pick in your writing or does it emerge with the story?
Definitely, and something we all have experience of. For me, the theme emerges from the story. If I try to start with a theme, the story always wants to go a different way. I’ll end up shoehorning it to fit, and that never works.
Writing can be a solitary pursuit. Do you or have you ever belonged to a writing group?
I’ve been a member of Lutterworth Writers’ Group for over fifteen years. When I first joined, it was such a relief to find I wasn’t the only person who loved writing. I also go to a monthly lunch with other writers, as well as a small group working on novels. (I’m very slowly writing a novel set in the Lake District.) They all provide much needed motivation, and of course the social side.
You’re a regular Friend writer. Does it still give you a kick, seeing your By Rebecca Holmes byline?
Absolutely. I love seeing my stories and byline – and the illustrations – when they appear in The Friend. It can be a welcome boost if I’m feeling a bit flat. I keep them all in a special folder, along with the covers.
Notebook and pencil or laptop? Kitchen table or study? Blank wall or inspiring view?
Notebook and pencil, every time. I can’t think onto a laptop, though I have to type up soon afterwards, while I remember what I’ve put, as my handwriting is appalling.
Study, so I can escape into what I’m writing and visualise what’s happening.
Wall, because a view would be too distracting, though I have a window next to me for natural light, where our cat sits and waves her tail over my coffee when she sees a bird outside. I usually have a couple of pictures on the wall – currently a postcard of John Ruskin’s study at Brantwood, his house by Coniston Water in the Lake District.
And a PS: what’s your top tip for aspiring writers?
A first draft doesn’t have to be right, but it has to be written.