Our Writer Of The Week is Eileen Gilmour. Eileen’s short story, “New Tricks”, appears in the March 20 issue of the magazine.
Your stories often feature humour. How important is it to you to make the reader smile?
Growing up in Liverpool you’ve got to see the funny side. Eccentricity is widely celebrated along with a strong sense of the ridiculous.
I never made a conscious decision to write humour – but I doubt whether I could effectively write anything else. I’d call it “under-stated humour peppered with throwaway one-liners”. I’m not aiming for belly laughs – a twitch of the lips is fine.
I have to confess that my husband has been a rich source of comic material over the years. Fortunately, he’s also from Liverpool.
Your love for animals, and in particular dogs, shines through your stories. Does it help when looking for story inspiration?
As a child all my favourite books were animal stories. I still occasionally dig out “Jill’s Gymkhana” and revert back to my pony obsession.
When our black and white TV arrived for the Coronation I was soon lapping up “Champion The Wonderhorse”, “Lassie” and the Grand National. In later years when I met my husband, we bonded over our joint favourite book, “Shadow The Sheepdog”.
Recently I’ve been dabbling in family tree research. I found my mother’s family were farm workers living in the same Oxfordshire village over many centuries. So, there’s no point in fighting it – I have animals in my genes. They invariably pop up in my stories.
Sometimes they take centre stage and rampage all over my pages and sometimes they sneak in unannounced through the cat door.
Many of them are quite badly behaved, loosely modelled on all the pets I’ve ever owned.
If we could learn one thing from man’s best friend, what would it be?
Our senior dog is a fluffy free spirit called Alfie, who has taught me all he knows.
You could either describe him as untrainable or an independent thinker. His philosophy of life is clearly “Don’t follow the crowd”.
He has no interest in sitting, staying or shaking paws for a piece of chicken like the other dogs. He’s more than happy to walk away from such bribery and lie on a nice cushion in the sun.
I think he’s got a point.
It strikes me that writing stories is very much a hobby for you. Does this alleviate any pressure when it comes to actual writing?
Oh yes, it’s a great hobby. It made me “Friend” Writer Of The Week, after all!
If the ideas fairy is feeling benevolent I ignore the housework for a couple of weeks and play “let’s pretend” in my writing shed.
I did have a slightly obsessive period about fifteen years ago when I’d make a beeline for my computer first thing every morning and the stories flowed. It was exciting, but probably not very healthy in terms of lack of fresh air and my biscuit consumption.
Then the retirement wanderlust overcame us, and four house moves later, with my desk shoved in a variety of nooks and crannies, my writing routine was never quite the same.
These days I ask myself, “Can I remember how to do it?” It’s always a relief when I find I can.
Notebook and pencil or laptop? Kitchen table or study? Blank wall or inspiring view?
Scribbly notebook initially, which I carry round for a couple of weeks and fill with a tangle of jottings until some clarity starts to emerge. Then it’s off to Wonderland, my garden shed, to try and make sense of it all.
I have a piled-high computer desk, walls of bookshelves and a nice double bed for the dogs to snooze on while I write. We overlook a fairly chaotic patio with a tempting swing seat with room for everyone, pots of unidentified droopy plants, fairy lights and a doggie paddling pool.
Beyond that it’s a wild garden with lots of massive trees and loads of mud in the winter. (Obviously we moved here so the dogs would be happy.)
What’s your one top tip for an aspiring Writer Of The Week?
I always like to scour my scribbly notebook for material that may not be directly related to the narrative, but will add texture and interest to my story. Like a tiny backstory or a running joke.
For example, I might have a minor character, perhaps a next-door neighbour who doesn’t warrant too much attention, but I might give her an unusual attribute or interest. Perhaps she’s obsessed with trying out weird recipes from TV cooking shows.
So, when she pops round she brings a sardine and celery casserole, or is covered in beetroot juice, or the burning smells wafting over the garden fence signal that she’s been making bread again.
If I’m very lucky this additional thread might suddenly link in with the main storyline in an unexpected way.
At the very least, it might provide a neat punch line at the end. Magic!
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