Helen, welcome! Tell us a little about your writing background. Have you always written? In addition to your short stories, do you write in other formats, such as poetry ?
I’ve enjoyed writing stories (and I’ve kept diaries) since I was little, but what really kick-started it all was joining a creative writing evening class back in the early 1990s. I’ve written one serial (for “The People’s Friend”, of course!) and I also dabble in poetry and – more recently – novel writing.
Your story, ‘A Dress For The Occasion’ appears in our latest issue. Can you tell us a little about the story behind the story?
I often get story ideas from the lifestyle sections of magazines and newspapers. I spotted an interesting article about women who keep their figures in check by regularly trying on their wedding dress. I asked myself that well-known writer’s question, ‘What if? What if, one year, the dress didn’t fit?’. The story just grew from there.
Who are your favourite authors? What are your own favourite books?
I enjoy reading anything by Anne Tyler, William Boyd, Kate Atkinson, J K Rowling/Robert Galbraith and Joanna Cannon, amongst others. I have too many favourite books to mention but Pride and Prejudice is definitely one and I also love The Help by Kathryn Stockett.
Can you tell us a little about being a writing tutor? How you did get started, and what type of work you do?
I started teaching adults 10 years ago, when a friend, who’d double-booked herself, persuaded me to take over one of her classes. She assured me they were all ‘beginners’ but of course, they weren’t, so that was a baptism of fire! I taught local authority ‘Adult Ed’ classes for a few years and ran a class of my own when I moved to a new area. Now, I’m involved with a lovely activity group for seniors in Stratford-on-Avon, called ‘Sunny Side Up’. I run the writing group and it’s really good fun. I thoroughly enjoy it.
Are you a member of a writing community, in real life or online? What are the advantages, and are there any negatives?
I belong to a poetry group that meets once a month. Poetry is a good discipline for writers, I think, as it forces you to be precise and to think about word choice and imagery, amongst other things. I’m a member of a couple of Facebook groups for writers, which offer support and information. I also blog and tweet and follow other writers’ blogs and twitter feeds. The only negative is that it’s easy to waste hours on social media ‘chatting’, when I should be writing!
Have you attended a “People’s Friend” Writing Workshop and if yes, how did you find it?
I’ve attended a couple of “People’s Friend” Writing Workshops – once as an attendee and once as a ‘guest author’, alongside Fiction Editor, Shirley Blair. I enjoyed them both immensely. I am actually a bit of a writing workshop addict. I love getting together with others who share my passion and discussing writing and no matter what stage you’re at in your writing career, you can always learn more!
Notebook and pencil, or laptop? Kitchen table, or study? Blank wall, or inspiring view?
All of the above! I flit between the kitchen table, which overlooks the garden, and my study, which is in an annexe over the garage. Sometimes I’ll scribble down the start of a story in a notebook but in the main, I write directly onto the laptop. I’d love to be one of those writers who can take a notebook to a café and sit and write for hours but I find it too distracting. I need silence and solitude!
And a PS – What’s your one top tip for aspiring writers?
A quote I heard once, which has stuck with me, is ‘Give yourself permission to write rubbish’. Just get that rough, first draft down and then spend time polishing and improving it. Very few people can write perfect prose in one go: it’s the reworking and the editing that makes all the difference.