This week, our Writer Of The Week is Joanne Duncan. Lucy from the Fiction team was delighted to sit down for a chat with her.
Welcome, Joanne! How long have you been writing for the “Friend”, and how did you get started?
Thank you, Lucy, I’m very proud to have been asked! The first story I had published by the “Friend” was in 2011. Sales were sporadic after that until I attended one of your workshops in York, which seemed to make all the difference. I could see much more clearly where I might have been going wrong and, from then on, the whole process was far less hit and miss.
I made a good friend with a small “f” that day too – Margaret Skipworth, who’s a “Friend” regular and lives only a bus-ride away from me.
You write under a pen name – what made you choose to do that?
Partly shyness, and partly because I fancied trying a different name!
Your story, “Striking Out”, appears in this week’s issue. Tell us the story behind the story – where did you find the inspiration?
I grew up in Lancashire during the 1960s, and quite a few of my stories have been set in that era. It was an inspiring time, when people were beginning to realise they no longer had to “know their place”.
In the story, Susan strikes out by leaving home behind and heading to the unknown. Do you often write about strong female characters?
I suppose a need to avoid being too dependent on others is a recurring theme. If I had to choose an example from literature who embodied that, it would probably be Jane Eyre – a young woman, “poor and plain”, who is alone in the world but relies on a strong moral sense to keep her self respect.
Family dynamics and expectations are a big part of the story. Do you find ideas/inspiration in your own family?
A lot of my stories are based on real incidents that happened during my childhood and teenage years, but I tend to steer away from trying to depict the actual people involved.
Are you disciplined about your writing? Do you stick to a strict writing schedule?
Now that I’m retired, I write in the mornings when I can. But I also try to leave plenty of room for other interests.
Have you encountered any sticking points in your writing, and how have you overcome them?
I’ve always had terrible trouble with endings. The problem is ensuring that the reader understands what you’ve been trying to get across, while not weighing the final paragraphs down too much with wordy explanations.
Ideally, the ending should arise out of the characters themselves and slot in naturally as the logical, but not totally foreseeable, outcome of what’s gone before. But that’s easier said than done.
The best thing, I believe, is to keep it in mind all the time you’re writing the story and to leave signposts at strategic points.
Are you a member of a writing group, and if so, how have you found it helpful?
I belonged to an online critiquing group for several years, which I found very useful, both in building up my confidence and learning to analyse what worked and what didn’t. I do recommend it for anyone starting out.
Notebook and pencil, or laptop? Kitchen table, or study? Blank wall, or inspiring view?
Laptop, while sitting in an armchair.
And a P.S. – what’s your one top tip for an aspiring Writer Of The Week?
Never send out your story until you’re one hundred percent happy with the ending.
Joanne’s story, “Striking Out”, is in the latest issue of “The People’s Friend”, in shops on Wednesday, August 7.
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For more from our Writer Of The Week series, click the tag below.