Lucy meets Emma J. Myatt, whose short story, “Signs” appears in this week’s issue.
Welcome, Emma! Tell us about your life as a writer.
I always wanted to be a writer; it’s been my dream since I was very small. I’ve always written a journal and the odd story, but it was during a round-the-world trip on the back of a motorbike that I began in earnest, 12 years ago. I’d write in internet cafes when we stopped. I began submitting stories to magazines and competitions and was published in a couple of magazines. We then came home to Scotland and settled here to raise our young family, during which time all writing ground to a halt! About four years ago I began writing and submitting again, and have been quite successful, with stories accepted by the “Friend”, and I’ve been published in fourteen anthologies after winning or being shortlisted in competitions.
I was also lucky enough to be in Scottish Book Trust‘s library giveaway book – twice – that they publish for Book Week Scotland. I own a business and teach English as well as having a busy family life so there isn’t much time at the moment! I write well under pressure and I’m always jotting down ideas, to be developed when there’s time. At the moment I’m editing a collection of stories to self-publish.
In “Signs”, Laura’s a driving instructor who sticks to the rules of the road. Would you say you had any rules when it comes to writing?
Yes! Never edit until you’ve finished a story. Develop a really thick skin and ask people to give constructive criticism of your work. I like to sit down and bang out a first draft as quickly as I can whilst I’m “in” the story. I can’t type very well so this involves a lot of typos. Then I polish and polish and polish it until I’m as happy as I can be. I submit it somewhere and then play the waiting game… I try to have lots of stories out at a time – the hope keeps me going! If a story gets rejected I polish it a little more and resubmit to somewhere else. I might do this five times until a story finds a home.
Laura texts Kenny to let him know she’s safe. How do you feel about text spelling – does it drive you mad?! Are you happy with language evolving due to social media?
I’m a secondary school English teacher so “text speak” is a big no-no for me! I try to get my students to write properly at all times during lessons though I accept that it can take ages to do that on a phone. I’m old-fashioned and I always type long messages. I do use my phone to take photos, and in my short story collection I hope to include some photographs to go along with my stories.
Where do you get ideas for your stories? Are you a member of a writing group? Do you write quickly, or does an idea take time to form in your mind?
I have absolutely no idea where ideas come from. They appear randomly – sometimes just a phrase, or an image, or a name. I then spend a while letting it roll around my head whilst I find out where it’s going. I’ll sit down to write whilst I’m still excited about the idea and then I simply follow the story to see where it wants to go! This story was “born” on a long drive when I wondered how funny it would be if the signs started “talking” to you. I’m not a planner; and even if I do know an ending, it often changes as I write and the characters decide what’s going on.
If I’m stuck for an idea I look in my notebook where I keep every scrap of paper with every idea I can grab (often they appear whilst I’m in the middle of a lesson, or on my way to bed and I scribble them on whatever comes to hand) and I might develop an old idea, or I might try a prompt and doodle a mind-map. I get a real buzz when I get a new, off-the-wall idea and I can’t wait to get started on turning it into a fully-fledged story. My imagination is always on the go and I find myself describing things as I would in a book, trying to find the perfect way to paint a word-picture.
I’m a member of a local writing group called Mearns Writers who are a lovely, supportive bunch of people and we all encourage each other. There are some really great sites which give you writing prompts like ‘Hour of Writes’ which are great online communities of writers if you’re nowhere near a group. The internet is a wonderful tool for writers!
Notebook and pencil, or laptop? Kitchen table, or study? Blank wall, or inspiring view?
I write at the kitchen table on a battered laptop with a “p” that doesn’t work properly, so I often have to go back and put all the “p”s in. I would love an office! I tried to turn our porch into an office – it’s too bright in the summer and too cold in the winter and it’s now pretty impossible to use the back door due to piles of my stuff and a desk, so that wasn’t such a good plan! I’d find a view distracting so I look at the piles of mess all around me and think – “if I stop writing, I’ll have to tidy this up”, and even if I’ve had enough, I’ll stay to finish a first draft because it’s so preferable to housework!
PS. What’s your one top tip for aspiring writers?
Get to the end of a first draft. That’s it. Get to the end, however rubbish you think it is. First drafts are generally sketches and you’ll change all sorts of things before it’s finished. But if you start to fiddle with it before it’s finished, you’ll never get anywhere. Finish it first, then read it through, and polish. Read it through, and polish. And then again, and again. The ending might change. You might scrap the beginning. You might cut whole sections, or change the order of events. But until it’s a whole, finished picture you can’t possibly see it. I probably read and polish twenty times before I’m happy, and then I might let someone else read it and ask for help/opinions.