Writer Of The Week: Stefania Hartley

Our Writer of the Week is Stefania Hartley. Stefania’s new series, “Welcome To Quayside”, starts in the January 21 issue of the magazine.

Your second series for the “Friend”. How did the writing compare this time around?

When I wrote “Tales From The Parish”, I had a general idea of where the series was going and what the theme was, but I treated each episode almost like a separate short story, and I didn’t follow an outline.

I gave secondary characters their own episodes and, in a way, the main character of the series was the whole village community. But, without an outline, at times I became stuck.

So, writing “Welcome To Quayside”, I outlined the plot for the whole series in advance, and I’ve kept the focus on the main character, Tanya.

Where did the idea come from for “Quayside”?

Most of my life, I’ve lived in flats. Block of flats, where you live on top of each other, sharing communal spaces; the dynamics are different compared to streets of houses or villages.

“Tales From The Parish” was about a rural community and “Welcome To Quayside” is about an urban one, so I guess community living is my pet topic!

Your stories often have positive messages to them. Is it important for you to highlight this through your writing?

I love it when a story works on many levels – entertainment, information, inspiration. But first and foremost, it has to be a good story. That’s the most important thing.

Before I can write a story, I have to be excited about it. Sometimes I’m excited by a setting, a situation, or a plot twist, and that’s enough to start me off.

In the case of “Welcome To Quayside”, what made me excited was discovering the existence of Libraries of Things. For some time, I had fancied writing a story set in a block of flats. The two things fitted so well together that I immediately knew I had to write this story.

What items would you like to see in your ideal Library of Things?

I once saw a photo of a Library of Things in the Netherlands where people could borrow canoes. That would be great fun!

But, first of all, a Library of Things would have to stock all the boring stuff that people don’t need often enough to justify buying and storing them: power tools, carpet cleaners, wallpaper strippers etc.

On top of that, my ideal library would have fun things like party kits, sound systems, gazebos, chocolate fountains . . . I’d love to have a go with a table-top wood-fired pizza oven, an ice cream maker and a waffle maker. I guess you can spot a pattern here.

What books do you hope to read in 2023?

I’m a slow reader and, between the books I read for research, the books my friends publish and the book club picks, I haven’t got much room for independent choice. But I’m currently enjoying “The Marriage Portrait” by Maggie O’ Farrell, and I’ve just borrowed from the library another one of hers.

I’ve also just finished “Book Lovers” by Emily Henry and I’m planning to read more rom coms of hers, and try something by Mhairi McFarlane.

Notebook and pencil or laptop? Kitchen table or study? Blank wall or inspiring view?

I can’t stop myself editing as I write, including shifting large blocks of texts around, and I’d be very frustrated if my words were stuck on paper. So it’s laptop for me.

The plan was to take over the room of the first child to leave home and turn it into my study. It hasn’t happened; other people have needed the room. But I’ve also discovered that I enjoy hotdesking around the house, following the sunniest window and the warmest radiator.

​P.S. What’s your one top tip for aspiring writers?

Read a lot and write a lot. But that’s nothing new, so I’ll add one more tip and that is write what excites you. Trends pass, markets change, and what has worked for one writer won’t necessarily work for you. But you can rely on this: if you write what excites you, your passion will come across.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.