My Writer of the Week is Lesley-Anne Johnston, whose story The Sound Of The Seventies is in this week’s issue.
Your story is, obviously, set in the Seventies – but you’re surely too young to remember them. Did you have to do lots of research – and how? – or are you a fan of the period?
I grew up with a love of music, and only my mum’s 7-inch records to listen to most of the time, so my musical taste has always been quite eclectic as a result, with a solid base in the 1970s. I often think I was born a bit late, as my ten-year-old self was massively into Take That, but also fascinated by the Bay City Rollers. I managed to find one of the tartan hats their fans wore, courtesy of a local jumble sale, and wore it every day for most of 1992. I think my love of music really helped with this story.
You attended The People’s Friend’s short story writing workshop in Newcastle in 2017 and since then you’ve had several stories published. Does that mean you found the workshop helpful?
I found the workshop in Newcastle enormously helpful. My writing experience before then was small, and being around other more experienced writers did feel a bit nerve wracking at first. The workshops are so friendly and inclusive though, you can’t help but relax into them. The advice Shirley and Kate gave on the day also gave me the confidence to plough on with my writing, and opened my eyes to what “The Friend” are looking for.
Had you tried writing or submitting stories to anywhere before the workshop?
Before the workshop I had only ever sent a couple of stories into “The People’s Friend”, both of which came back as rejections. At the time, it knocked my confidence a bit. I did wonder if perhaps I wasn’t cut out to write, but after the workshop I could see exactly where I had gone wrong with the two stories that had been rejected. I learned from my mistakes, and the rest is history.
You write quite quirky, fun stories – do you think you have other styles in you that you’ll try in the future?
Quirky and fun kind of sums up my personality; I must remember to use that description if I’m ever asked to describe myself using only two words. I guess my personality must seep into my writing a bit, although I do like to write in various ways, including more serious styles. I love bringing characters to life though, and I try to showcase characters that are memorable – especially their quirks. I do like the idea of writing a cosy crime. I have an idea for one baking in my brain at the moment. It’s not quite done yet though, and no doubt there will still be a pinch of quirkiness sprinkled on top for good measure. I just can’t help myself.
Notebook and pen or laptop? Kitchen table or study, blank wall or inspiring views?
I mostly use my laptop when I’m writing a story, although sometimes I scribble ideas in a notepad too, as and when they come to me. What I find really helpful is an app I have on my phone called Scriblr. It throws a word and emoji at you and you use one or both of them to type whatever comes to mind within the app. I guess that’s another way of writing, and quite a quirky one. My writing table faces a wall, but I have a cork board with lots of notes on it and a picture I’m going to use as inspiration for a novel – one day. I do like to take a notepad to the beach though, and write with a view of the seaside and a can of Irn Bru. I find that really inspiring.
And a PS Your one top tip for aspiring writers.
My cousin Frazer once told me “Create and let people like whatever they want to like.”
If you don’t enjoy what you’re writing, because what you’re writing is created with other people’s opinions in mind, it shows in your work. Just create, and your love for the story will shine through, then that’s what will impress people.